HALIFAX, THURSDAY, APRIL 28, 2016
SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
Mr. Gordon Wilson
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I would like to call the Subcommittee of the Whole on Supply to order. I now call for the estimates of the Department of Community Services.
Resolution E4 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $929,957,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Community Services, pursuant to the Estimate, and the business plan of the Housing Nova Scotia be approved.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I invite the minister to make some opening comments, and also if she wishes, to introduce her staff members who are with her.
The honourable Minister of Community Services.
HON. JOANNE BERNARD: It's my privilege to be here today to present the Department of Community Services' estimates for the 2016-17 year. Before I start, I would like to introduce Lynn Hartwell on my left, who is my deputy minister; and Peter Newbery on my right, who is the department's director of budget and results. They are here to assist me with your questions. Sitting behind us are Dale MacLennan, our chief financial officer; and COO of Housing Nova Scotia, Lindsay Wadden.
It's my pleasure to share our goals for the coming year and how this year's budget will advance our ambitious agenda for change to better support the Nova Scotians we serve. Improving the health and well-being of Nova Scotians is key to strengthening our province. This 2016-17 balanced budget demonstrates a strong will to support our most vulnerable, helping those who need us most. At Community Services, we are investing in the future of Nova Scotians, stronger families, and communities.
The Employment Support and Income Assistance budget is $348 million. The ESIA program has 412 staff who are supporting 26,500 households. The Disability Support Program budget is $319 million. We work with more than 100 service providers to provide programs and supports for 5,300 people with different abilities and their families.
The budget for Child, Youth and Family Supports is $94 million. Just under 800 staff work to support about 1,000 children and youth in care, along with a wide range of programs and services for families, women, children, and youth.
Housing Nova Scotia's budget is $209 million, $38 million of which is funded by the Province of Nova Scotia and included in the budget of Community Services. They support 11,600 housing units providing affordable homes for 18,000 Nova Scotians and a rent supplement program for 1,000 individuals.
The Status of Women budget is $9 million, and the Disabled Persons Commission budget is $457,000.
To recap, the 2016-17 budget of $930 million is up by $14.6 million, or 1.6 per cent. We are allocating significantly more base funding directed into programs for people with different abilities and for children, youth, and families. The 2016-17 budget reflects an increase to the Disability Support Program of $9.9 million and to the Children, Youth and Family Supports program of $5.4 million.
I am excited about the opportunity we are taking to reinvest $10.5 million in new initiatives that will directly address the needs of the people we serve and support transformational change. Our goal for the coming year and this year's budget is to continue the momentum created by transformative change. This is about doing what is right for the people we serve by creating a system that better supports them in reaching their goals, because transforming our social supports is only meaningful if it helps people to transform their lives.
Transformation has involved rigorous restructuring in the department. Resources, including money and staff, have been moved to the most appropriate places to ensure greater and more effective use and transparency. This opportunity to completely redesign the province's social support system is historic. We have not embarked on such an ambitious change in this province since the Canada Assistance Plan redefined the country's social supports in 1967. Our redesign of the province's entire social services framework will result in a department that is responsive to the challenges and diversity of Nova Scotia in the 21st Century. The Nova Scotians we serve will have greater control over their own lives, safety from abuse and violence, the ability to meet their basic needs, and inclusion in the community and workplace.
These changes will have a direct influence on the well-being of Nova Scotians. We are talking about the future of our province. We are talking about strengthening our families, our neighbourhoods, and our communities. When we are talking about the numbers, let's not lose sight of the names and faces that represent this future.
Mr. Chairman, Community Services is where many Nova Scotians turn during times when they are vulnerable and need support. At any given time, that's actually one in five Nova Scotians. We want to be sure that we get the best possible results for the people we serve - people receiving employment support and income assistance, people with different abilities, and our children, youth, and families. The new investment of $10.5 million includes $7.5 million to increase the monthly personal allowance for income assistance recipients by $20, and $3 million for the Disability Support Program to increase community living and day program opportunities.
In Nova Scotia, approximately 26,500 households rely on employment support and income assistance to help meet their basic needs for food, shelter, and clothing. Comprehensive changes are coming, and they will improve the quality of life, health and resilience, social and community inclusion, self-sufficiency skills, and access to jobs.
Changing the ESIA program overall will take some time, but we're making some improvements right away. We are investing in the largest increase to the personal allowance to date. The personal allowance is increasing by $20, or 8 per cent, bringing it to $275 each month. ESIA recipients will see this benefit in May.
We want Nova Scotians to be better able to use the ESIA program to achieve their goals, just like Goldie Robson, a former ESIA recipient. Goldie has kindly offered to share her experience with the program in the hope that this will encourage others. Not only has she been able to find a full-time job, she also made a successful career transition. A few years ago, she faced challenges caused by a prolonged illness, and she needed help, so she turned to Community Services for income support. Goldie longed to drive for a living, but before she could earn her living on the road, she needed specific training and a specialized driver's licence. Her lack of direct experience was daunting, and she wondered if she would always work in food service.
Goldie posed a challenge to herself, how do I get from who I am, where I am now, to there? She visited a caseworker at Community Services in Dartmouth who was supportive and encouraging. He made a referral to reachAbility for employment support service. ReachAbility helped her to develop personal worth, identify transferrable skills, write a strong resumé, and tap into her creativity.
Goldie threw herself into job search techniques and interview preparation. She persevered and achieved her goal. Now she is proud to have 50 different routes under her belt, after her first year as a bus driver for Stock Transportation. She has a strong will to survive, an appreciation of new experiences, and a love for children. I want to congratulate Goldie for achieving her dream of driving for a living.
I want to support many other Nova Scotians to reach their meaningful goals. With this in mind, work to transform the Employment Support and Income Assistance program continues and will bring additional positive changes.
Nova Scotians with disabilities want new opportunities to live as independently as possible and to be supported and included in the community. We're committed to offering people with disabilities more inclusion in the community. To achieve this, we're changing the Disability Support Program. The road map for transforming Nova Scotia's services to persons with disabilities continues to guide our way forward. In 2016-17, the government is reinforcing this commitment with an additional $3 million investment that will specifically support the road map. New funding of $2.2 million will support moving 25 residents out of larger, adult residential or regional rehabilitation centres into the community. These 25 individuals will be supported by Independent Living or the Alternative Family Support Program. We are growing these programs to increase community living opportunities.
We are increasing investments in adult service centres by $800,000. Every day, almost 2,000 Nova Scotians with intellectual disabilities and their families benefit from valuable day programs and employment provided by adult service centres. We will work with organizations to identify and create opportunities to grow their revenues thereby providing opportunities to increase capacity. We want to expand coaching and skills development for participants.
Nova Scotians with disabilities and their families told us they needed more choice and control over their respite funding. In response, we rolled out a new Flex Program across the province in March 2016. This replaces the Direct Family Support for Adults and the Enhanced Family Support for Adults policies and reduces the administrative burden on families. This will provide greater flexibility and control for participants who live at home with their families. The intention is to enhance natural supports that people with different abilities receive from their families and friends.
While it is clear that significant progress is taking place, building capacity in the community to support these changes will take some time. We recognize that being on a wait-list is difficult for people looking for support or for a different kind of support - and for their families. We have committed to reducing that wait-list. As of this month, we now have an updated and streamlined wait-list system for the province. This will make it easier to keep information up to date and to track people on and off the list. We will continue working with our 5,300 clients and their families, service providers, and the community to continue to design the future of programs and supports.
We want Nova Scotians with different abilities to have choice and flexibility in the DSP program to achieve their own goals, just like Dartmouth couple Stella MacIsaac and Todd Goyetche, who have travelled a long road to be together. They first met more than 25 years ago when they were living at the Halifax County Rehabilitation Centre. Todd had an acquired brain injury, and for most of his life he lived in a group residential setting. Over the years, Stella had struggled with depression, and it was a hospital visit that first separated them.
Many years later, they were both living in separate group homes managed by Colonial Community Services. They instantly recognized one another during a chance meeting on a field trip to Kentville, and this happy coincidence took place 25 years to the day after they had separated. Speaking of dates, Todd proposed on Valentine's Day 2014. Stella explains their wishes: we talked it over. We wanted to get married and move in with one another. We love each other, and we love helping people.
The goal of the independent living program is to increase housing opportunities with appropriate supports in the heart of the community. Today, Todd and Stella are living in a Dartmouth duplex together. Their married life is filled with music, poetry, faith, and laughter. I want to support many Nova Scotians with different abilities to have greater choice and flexibility in their lives, like Todd and Stella and Goldie.
The department is planning to introduce the province's first accessibility legislation this Fall. This legislation will provide a framework to help to make Nova Scotia a more accessible and inclusive province. The Disabled Persons Commission and the Disability Support Program have provided leadership to work together with many volunteers, advocates, and communities to bring us to this exciting moment. Every Nova Scotian has the right to live, work, learn, and play in an environment that's inclusive, welcoming, and accessible. Accessibility legislation is the first step in addressing challenges but will require a commitment to work across governments and with the non-profit sector as well as the diverse business sectors. We're looking at access to information, the labour market, employment opportunities, client services, public transportation, housing, and recreation, as well as attitudes and awareness.
Communities across the province are already taking steps to improve accessibility in partnership with the province, including Eastern Passage, Lower Onslow, Springhill, and New Victoria. The Community Access Program offers grants to community groups for accessibility-related capital improvements such as interior renovations to make entrances, doorways, and washrooms accessible, or exterior improvements or repairs to access ramps outside of buildings. We expect to make these CAP grants available to community groups again in 2016-17.
Housing Nova Scotia is committed to addressing the needs of a growing number of seniors, families, and vulnerable Nova Scotians who need safe, affordable housing. In 2016-17, we are continuing a 10-year commitment to upgrade and repair public housing for families and seniors in partnership with the federal government. Housing Nova Scotia will strategically invest $42 million available from the deferred federal contribution fund over the next 10 years. These funds will support rent supplements, housing co-operatives, and capital renovations for public housing. Housing Nova Scotia's repair and adaptation programs help over 21 households each year. Home adaptations often have a profound effect on improving home safety and quality of life. Programs for seniors and individuals with disabilities support about 1,000 Nova Scotians to live in their homes longer.
We recognize the challenges and difficulties faced by thousands of people, including seniors and families, who are waiting for social housing. Over the past year and a half, the public housing wait-list decreased by nearly 600 people to just over 4,000. That's the biggest movement of that waiting list in over a decade. This significant drop was achieved in part by making 353 more rent supplements available for seniors and families. We will continue this progress to reduce wait-list numbers. The wait-list for affordable housing will be reduced by another 10 per cent this year.
We will build more affordable homes together with our community, business, and government partners. These will be for one- and two-person households with low to modest incomes. Recent partnerships with developers added over 100 new affordable rentals in New Glasgow, Shelburne, Yarmouth, Sydney, Port Hawkesbury, and Dartmouth.
We will help end homelessness by supporting the Housing First project in Halifax. People who access emergency shelters will be helped in their transition into more permanent housing with rent supplements. We're also continuing to provide $450,000 in funding for housing support workers in greater Halifax. Workers are helping people at risk of homelessness to access housing and supports. This program has a 90 per cent success rate, and helps about 500 people per year.
We will build healthy and diverse communities by improving older urban residential neighbourhoods to create healthy, vibrant, and diverse communities. We've invested in the New Aberdeen area of Glace Bay and in the Main Street area of Yarmouth. More than $200,000 has been dedicated to date to help eligible homeowners. This helped 100 residential property owners to make exterior improvements to homes in Yarmouth and in Glace Bay. I've seen the results, and they are beautiful. In 2016, we will invest in two additional neighbourhoods in Amherst and in Dartmouth.
We will provide assistance to the Freedom Foundation in Dartmouth to assist men who are recovering from the disease of addiction. We are supporting a new transition navigator to help individuals make medical appointments and obtain formal identification. After recovery, more support is offered for goal setting, finding permanent housing, budgeting, and the job search.
We will continue our ongoing and more robust partnership with Habitat for Humanity to build new homes for families with modest incomes. We will support six additional builds in 2016, making it possible for more families to own affordable homes.
We will explore shared priorities in the upcoming federal-provincial social housing meeting in Victoria, B.C. Discussions will include innovative financial solutions for social and affordable rental housing. We are looking forward to finalizing the details of the federal government's renewed commitment to investing additional funds dedicated to seniors, families affected by violence, renovations for social housing, and investment in affordable housing.
Mr. Chairman, I want to take a moment to touch on the work being done at the Advisory Council on the Status of Women. We're working to improve the lives of women and girls in Nova Scotia, in association with national and international efforts. This crosscutting work has wide impacts, and today I want to highlight our work on violence prevention, economic security, and gender equity. Fully 90 per cent of the $9 million allocated to the Status of Women supports the important work of women-serving organizations. Over the last year, responsibility for the province's transition houses and women's centres, along with Alice Housing, were transferred to the Status of Women. I have made it very clear why I made that transition: because I always want women-serving organizations to be seen through a feminist lens.
We're taking a collaborative approach to developing new service agreements which will strengthen our relationships and increase transparency. We are collaborating with Mount Saint Vincent University on a research project that will examine the best prevention pathways to end violence against women and girls. This has involved creating a government-community-academy model for collaboration, and this new collaborative group now has more than 20 participating members. I'm looking forward to their knowledge-exchange plan for this Fall.
We continue to work closely with the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association. In November, we collaborated to bring together Aboriginal women leaders for a visioning session to consider how best to move forward to change outcomes for Aboriginal women and girls in Nova Scotia. This visioning work guided the strong delegation that represented the province at the historical National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls this past winter. We added our voices and perspectives to these important national discussions. I had the honour of joining family members of two Mi'kmaq women who lost their lives to violence and participating in a healing circle with others from across the country.
I look forward to returning to these discussions this June when ministers responsible for the Status of Women meet. We will look at a range of actions that will support the 2016 National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. At the invitation of Patty Hajdu, the federal minister of the Status of Women, I was pleased to join Canada's delegation to the 60th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in March. The Canadian delegation hosted several sessions on violence against Indigenous women and girls, domestic violence in the workplace, and adolescent reproductive health. Canada hosted a UN round table where my fellow ministers and the Prime Minister came face-to-face for talks with girls from around the world.
We're bringing this innovative approach home to Nova Scotia. We have held many girls' round tables here. In collaboration with the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association and Leave Out Violence Nova Scotia, we are hosting a girls' round table with an Aboriginal perspective next Friday at the offices of Leave Out Violence Everywhere.
I am so pleased that we've had the support of a wonderful group of girls from Sipekne'katik, the former Shubenacadie Band, formerly known as Indian Brook First Nation, who have been helping design this unique approach to the UN model. Our round table, which the girls have named the Peaked Cap Project, in honour of Mi'kmaq traditional dress, will take place next week. Our girls will be joined by leaders from our government and First Nations.
One of the key ways we can change outcomes for women and girls is through building their economic opportunities. Our WINS Bursary, named for Women Innovating in Nova Scotia, supports young women taking training in science, engineering, and trades at the Nova Scotia Community College. This collaborative project with the Nova Scotia Community College Foundation has assisted over 150 women since its inception in 2009. This year, we were able to significantly grow its reach and impact. Through the combined supports - and my constant badgering - of the Ministers of Business, Energy, Natural Resources, and Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, the province's support for this bursary was enhanced by $19,000.
Another important way to change outcomes for women and girls is, of course, leadership. We sponsored a Municipal Campaign School for Women. With the support of the Department of Municipal Affairs, a diverse group of 35 women engaged in a workshop which equipped them to consider running in the upcoming municipal elections. As a feminist, I'm a champion of these important opportunities, and I want to see Nova Scotia make good strides in gender equity.
I'm very pleased to report that over 60 policy staff members across government engaged with our training and awareness series on gender equity and gender-based policy analysis, an historical first for the Province of Nova Scotia. The awareness and resources these professionals have will support our shared responsibility to attend to gender equity.
Significant momentum has been created since the province released its first Sexual Violence Strategy in 2015. This strategy is a continuing three-year commitment with a total budget of $6 million.
I recently announced a Community Services investment of just over $600,000 to support innovative and evidence-borne prevention initiatives. These grants will be available again this Fall for a total investment of more than $1.2 million over two years. These grants help community groups and organizations, including youth and underserved populations such as African Nova Scotians, First Nations, and the LGBTQ community, to reach out to their peers and help put creative prevention initiatives into practice.
We've announced a number of these grant recipients in the last two weeks. They include the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association, who are receiving $36,000 to provide culturally relevant programming to Aboriginal women and girls in the Sydney area to enhance skills, bolster confidence, and improve the community's ability to prevent sexual violence. In Kentville, the Valley African Nova Scotian Development Agency is receiving almost $30,000 to engage with young African Nova Scotian men to help them become advocates and leaders in preventing sexual violence.
Acadia University is receiving almost $27,000 to develop and implement a campus-wide prevention strategy focused on consent and coercion. This collaboration with the Acadia Students' Union will create a community that celebrates and values sexual health and challenges sexual violence in all of its forms. Student leaders will take responsibility to develop activities. We look forward to announcing the rest of the grant recipients in the next few weeks.
We have also supported community networks across the province through $1.25 million in community support network grants. The initiatives were developed together by a variety of stakeholders and service providers at nine regional workshops. The purpose of these grants is to coordinate counselling and support services; increase the visibility of services; provide navigation support; foster safer, inclusive, and non-judgmental services; and ultimately build collaborative and compassionate service responses for victims in their communities. The funds for these grants were distributed in March, and we can anticipate seeing this important work unfold over the coming months.
In addition to these exciting grants, a public awareness campaign on sexual violence will be launched this Fall. We hope it will lead to important conversations and a cultural change, especially among our youth.
Importantly, staff of 211 and 811 were provided with professional development on responding to calls related to sexual violence. This will enhance their ability to help victims and survivors access supports in a compassionate and trauma-informed manner.
In January, an important initiative began to work across government so that our policies will better support the work of communities. The interdepartmental committee will do an inventory and align policies and procedures that are related to sexual violence. This will provide us with a clear understanding of what is working well and where any gaps exist. We have a plan to move forward with this by this Fall.
As I mentioned, the core funding for the Maintenance of Children program in Children, Youth and Family Support is increasing by $5.4 million in 2016-17. We all want children to be safe and supported, and parents to have the tools they need to raise healthy families. That's the motivation behind the suite of new prevention and innovation programs for child welfare and our efforts to strengthen the Children and Family Services Act.
Community Services invested $1.2 million last year to create Stronger Families Nova Scotia. As a result, families have access to new programs that support stronger families in the province.
We are expanding the successful Parenting Journey program to 15 new communities across Nova Scotia. Family Connections, a new program, offers increased training for Parenting Journey staff so they can better support attachment relationships between parents and children.
Family Plus, an intensive family preservation program, will be piloted in Cape Breton and Halifax. We will offer more practical and clinical supports to strengthen at-risk families.
Stronger Families Nova Scotia is also supporting three new culturally-relevant programs in Aboriginal, African Nova Scotian, and Acadian communities. In Cape Breton, the Native Council of Nova Scotia will offer a cultural-specific Parenting Journey program. My colleague Tony Ince, the Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage and African Nova Scotian Affairs, recently launched the province's first African Nova Scotian Parenting Journey program. The community support evident at the East Preston Family Resource Centre was impressive.
We launched Stronger Families Nova Scotia in Sydney at the Cape Breton Family Place, where I had the chance to hear directly from mothers with young children. They told me how parenting programs helped them to identify and resolve problems before they were more serious or they were in crisis. I've heard the same important words from parents who are involved with the Dartmouth Family Centre. That's why I am so pleased that these new program initiatives are making a difference for Nova Scotia families and communities.
Children and youth who are vulnerable to neglect or abuse deserve our protection and updated legislation that addresses the realities facing families today. We anticipate the proclamation of the amended Children and Family Services Act in the Fall. The amendments extend protection for youth aged 16 to 19 and promote early intervention to prevent long-term harm. These changes will help provide the best protection for Nova Scotia's children and families.
We want our families to be culturally relevant to First Nations communities. We've taken an important step in this direction by creating the first Mi'kmaq child welfare specialist position. Natalie Doucette - or Curly, as she is known in her community - is often on the road offering support to families in transition as the province's first Mi'kmaq child welfare specialist. She brings a different perspective, one that is grounded in her culture. In her own words, "this will open the doors overall for better communication and understanding."
Natalie's priority is to connect with First Nation communities across the province as she gets under way in this newly-created position. At times, this will involve a regular commute between offices in Sydney and Eskasoni, and other days, she will be reaching out to the 13 First Nation communities as far afield as Pictou Landing, Millbrook, Bear River and Acadia. Natalie will be working in conjunction with Mi'kmaw Family and Children's Services, and this close relationship is based on the strength of experience she gained by working with the agency for 24 years. She continues to be inspired by her late father, Chief Noel Doucette, who helped found the Mi'kmaw Family and Children's Services.
Natalie spent her childhood at Potlotek First Nation, also known as Chapel Island on Bras d'Or Lake in Cape Breton. Natalie shared with us, "we always had people come to our family home who were on the forefront of social and economic issues facing our Mi'kmaq communities. This provided me with a good sense of the issues affecting our communities which directed my desire to become a Mi'kmaw social worker."
I wish to thank Natalie sincerely for adding her wisdom, experience, and perspective. We were able to meet a couple of weeks ago in Sydney, and she truly is an extraordinary woman.
The Community Services budget for 2016-17 is $930 million, an increase of $14.6 million or 1.6 per cent. There are no reductions to programs or services included in this budget. After three years of financial challenges, this budget contains significant increases to reflect current expenditures in all major program areas. We've also reinvested in major new initiatives, and this reinvestment is made possible by a reduced caseload in ESIA and by continued efforts to manage expenditures. I'm proud that this budget demonstrates our commitment to supporting those Nova Scotians who need it the most.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We will begin the questioning with the Official Opposition. Before that, I would just like to mention for the folks here that we will dispense with the formality of going through introductions each time on two conditions: one, that it's a question and answer, and we don't talk over each other; and two, that we keep decorum. I think that will have better flow.
The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. LARRY HARRISON: I want to thank the minister for that presentation, and I also thank the staff members who are here to assist with whatever questions may be asked.
I was thinking about a road map as you were talking. We've talked a lot about roads in the Legislature - the good roads like Highway No. 102, and then of course a lot of the gravel roads out in rural communities. I'm probably going to deviate off the main road once in a while because the gravel road is the one I'm most concerned about. That's for the rural folks. If I'm off in the dirt, bear with me, because that's really where I want to go.
The first question concerns the Child, Youth and Family Support. You had mentioned that there was an increase in the monies available for that. I have a note here that administration for that has decreased by 50 per cent.
MS. BERNARD: We have had no decreases in any child welfare offices across the province.
I probably should have read something first before you asked your first question, and I will read it. We have changed the operating model in the department, and therefore, we have moved people and money to the appropriate and most transparent areas within the department. I'm just going to read this little blurb, which may help. In 2015-16, DCS created a new operating model for the department to better support transformation in the three main program areas. This resulted in changes in the organizational structure and the allocation and presentation of some costs. The 2015-16 estimates structure as presented in last year's book was based on the old operating model. Going forward, the new operating model structure is reflected in these new estimates.
It's really difficult to go estimate-to-estimate. A reconciliation has been prepared to explain the change. I believe we have copies coming to give to folks. (Interruption) They're here now? Okay, great. We will hand those out to Opposition members.
MR. HARRISON: Okay, thank you.
MS. BERNARD: But there has been no reduction. In the 2016-17 estimate, the decrease is mostly due to the transfer of Prevention and Early Intervention program grants to its own budget line. That moved out of the administrative budget line. It also was partially upset by the transfer in positions from the service delivery division as well as several additional positions created due to the new DCS operating model. We haven't made any reductions in any administrative lines or any reductions in staff. They have been moved to the areas that are best reflected in the new operating model that we have transformed in the last year.
MR. HARRISON: That explains my second question.
Just a moment on service delivery itself: it is indicated that Service Delivery Administration has been decreased by about 50 per cent. Is that right?
MS. BERNARD: It has been moved.
MR. HARRISON: It has been moved?
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MR. HARRISON: Is it true that the income assistance payments have decreased slightly?
MS. BERNARD: The payments haven't decreased. The caseloads have decreased by a considerable amount. That's something that we as a government, and all members of the Legislature, would like to see. It means that people are moving away from our system and becoming self-sufficient. We have seen a decline in income assistance relatively steadily over the last five or six years.
MR. HARRISON: In light of the job situation and the poverty that is around us, I'm wondering how it decreased over the last few years. What would be the reasons for that?
MS. BERNARD: Various things. People are moving into paid employment. Last year, the caseload actually declined by 2.8 per cent. We have actually seen a decline since the late 1990s of single parent families. They represent about 16 per cent of our caseload right now. The single largest demographic on the caseload at this particular point is single individuals.
Caseloads decrease for a number of reasons, but mostly it is because people have attached themselves to the labour force in some way, shape, or form.
MR. HARRISON: I hope that trend continues. It would be nice.
MS. BERNARD: So do I.
MR. HARRISON: The Pharmacare Program for people on social assistance, how does that work?
MS. BERNARD: Every person in the Province of Nova Scotia who is on income assistance is automatically enrolled in the Pharmacare Program. It is administered through Medavie. It covers a wide range of drugs on the dispensary, and there is a minimal copayment that occurs with that.
We also have the ability to work with caseworkers. If there are multiple drugs being prescribed, they can talk to their caseworker about having some assistance with the copays. I know of a couple of cases in my own riding where a person may have compounding medical areas where they need many different drugs. Of course, when you're on a fixed or limited income, having a copay can create hardship. We work with people who find themselves in that situation.
MR. HARRISON: Am I correct in understanding that if they get off social assistance, the Pharmacare will gradually work itself out?
MS. BERNARD: We do. We have a transitional program that transitions people over time so that they don't lose their benefits anywhere near leaving the system. It is very daunting to move from your social safety net into the workforce and not have your drugs covered as you make that transition.
MR. HARRISON: I'm glad to see that because that certainly would be necessary for people to make that transition.
I know special diets have been mentioned in the House the odd time. There may be other factors, too, so that people may need special things. Is there kind of a separate budget line for that?
MS. BERNARD: The special diet, or special needs - it's not always the same thing - are included in the income assistance payments each month. The average is roughly $83, and currently between 65 per cent and 70 per cent of our current caseload have some sort of special need or special diet attached to their income assistance payments each month.
MR. HARRISON: A pretty high percentage, isn't it?
MS. BERNARD: It's a very high percentage.
MR. HARRISON: I'm looking at some questions here for the Association for Community Living. Prior to the last fiscal budget, they received about $79,000 in discretionary funding, and that was reduced to $55,000.
MS. BERNARD: It was actually reinstated.
MR. HARRISON: Oh, it has been reinstated, good. The reason for that?
MS. BERNARD: We reinstated funding for a few organizations. We only actually made cuts to about nine. A few of the organizations we had made cuts to actually didn't have those programs being delivered anymore, so you're not going to fund what's not there. We reinstated last year. I can give you a list of the reinstated, if that will help.
MR. HARRISON: It would be nice just to have.
MS. BERNARD: The Canadian Mental Health Association was reinstated. Community Living was reinstated. People First Nova Scotia was reinstated. We transferred responsibility for CNIB to the Department of Health and Wellness. Feed Nova Scotia - actually, the program we were funding didn't exist any longer.
MR. HARRISON: Feed Nova Scotia did get added?
MS. BERNARD: No, they didn't, because the program they required funding for doesn't exist anymore. We weren't going to fund a program that didn't exist.
MR. HARRISON: Is this still doing the job that it should be doing, in your opinion?
MS. BERNARD: Feed Nova Scotia? Yes, absolutely. They choose on their own to cease a program that we were funding. It wasn't a cut from us; it was an operational decision by the Board of Directors of Feed Nova Scotia.
MR. HARRISON: I have just one support system that was cut, I guess. I don't know whether that has been reinstated, that is the family support facilitator in the Valley.
MS. BERNARD: Is it with an organization?
MR. HARRISON: That's with the association. It says that a 30 per cent cut in funding has resulted in many hardships, the most serious being that they were unable to hire a part-time family support facilitator in the Valley region.
MS. BERNARD: That funding was reinstated. We don't know what they do with their funding. One of the challenges I have as minister is that there's no service level agreements, which we're working very diligently on.
One of the areas of frustration I had as a former executive director was trying to figure out how government decided to fund what they decided to fund and how I could see other organizations, particularly ones that serve women, not really being adequately funded - not core funded, not gap funded, not even project funded in some cases. Unfortunately, that level of frustration, I brought in with me as minister. One of the first questions I asked was, how do you decide to fund, and how do you know what you fund is making a difference to the people these organizations serve?
My personal management mantra was, if it matters, you measure it. I became very educated very quickly about millions of dollars leaving the Department of Community Services each and every year with no accountability whatsoever on how that money was being spent. There was no reporting for outcomes. There was no financial reporting. In fact, there were many organizations that didn't even bother to produce an audited financial statement, which I was amazingly incredulous at. A major funder should have some sort of way to explain - in this case, it's to the taxpayer - how money is being spent on community organizations.
Part of my mandate letter for the first year was to start service level agreements, which many organizations had been asking for for many, many years so that we could sort of level the playing field. Many executive directors who were in my shoes just didn't understand the funding formulas that existed. In many cases, it was from an historical context. It was because they'd always done it that way. That would often be the answer. Great organizations like my own, Alice Housing, which received 8 per cent funding, and other organizations like Elizabeth Fry, which didn't receive core funding from the province - various other organizations were always left at the sideline, particularly if they were not involved in a provincial umbrella group.
Over the last few years, we've done a tremendous job of outcome monitoring. I didn't want to make it difficult for organizations. All I wanted to know was, who do you serve, and what difference does your work make in the lives of the people you serve? If you can't tell me, then we'll help you. We'll help you measure your work. If you don't want to tell me, that's a problem. Why wouldn't you want to measure your work? Why wouldn't you want to know the difference you make? Every organization, every business, must always strive to provide the best set of services that they possibly can. You do that through outcome measurement. You do that by looking at your programs and making sure they're reaching the goals for the people that you serve.
That's what the Department of Community Services has been embarking on. We have been making great strides with many different organizations helping them - much like the United Way did years ago with funded agencies - with what their work is and how they best deliver it and what their core work is because a lot of organizations don't know what their core work is. It's a reflective exercise, and it has worked quite well.
MR. HARRISON: We know that discretionary dollars just are not there like they were in the past. That's for sure. Are those the questions and approach that you used with the Association for Community Living, for instance?
MS. BERNARD: Yes. When you have rare dollars in discretionary funds, making very difficult choices is not easy. In some cases, it was easy. When organizations don't provide any reporting on what they're doing, and you can't find a website, or you can't find an audited financial statement from the last couple of years, it's very easy to make those decisions. But when you look at front-line services, you always want to make sure that, in whatever area this department helps - the three major areas - effective front-line services are being supported properly.
MR. HARRISON: Transformation is a tough go for a while. It's just like the tortoise and the hare, I guess. When you start transforming, you're not going to go like the hare up the road. You've got to go like the turtle and take it step by step by step to get where you want to go.
MS. BERNARD: One of the most frustrating areas for me is that, since coming into government, I made nine strategic decreases of funding to nine organizations, but I increased funding to the tune of about $3.3 million to 71 organizations that had been left out in the cold. They included every single family resource centre in the province - in some cases, their funding was doubled - every transition house in Nova Scotia, and every women's centre in Nova Scotia. We added to Boys and Girls Clubs in the realm of youth outreach services. We developed five new outreach programs throughout the province. We made significant increases in organizations that have previously been ignored. We reopened SHYFT, which was in Yarmouth. That was a $350,000 investment in that organization that provides shelter. We reopened that.
We know there are programs being run today in East Preston, in Sydney-Whitney Pier, in Kentville, in Dartmouth North, and in Spryfield, in every area that has a family resource centre or a Boys and Girls Club that did not exist three years ago. There are programs dealing with men as fathers, men as role models. There are support systems for young mothers in place now in new programs that didn't exist before. That's a significant investment that is added on to the investment that we've made just over the last year. This was in the first year of government.
Family resource centres had not had any increase in their funding in over a decade. When you look at a small family resource centre like in New Ross, their annual budget was $37,000, and their budget was increased by $75,000. I didn't worry about the capacity because I knew they were turning people away. I knew they could grow their catchment area, and I knew we had money set aside to help them with training for that capacity.
It has been amazing, the work that has been done by these organizations. There are, I want to say, 26 of them throughout Nova Scotia that are certainly in every area of the province.
MR. HARRISON: Did you have any other concerns with the association? I'm assuming that was the big one, as to how the groups were functioning.
MS. BERNARD: Not so much in how the groups are funded. We had to look at what the core business of DCS is. Providing front-line services to persons with disabilities is a core service of DCS. Funding advocacy groups, there could be an argument made that that's not a core service of government, but I'm happy to report that it was reinstated. They do great work. They do wonderful advocacy work. They are responsible for a lot of the work with the road map and getting that manoeuvered throughout government.
There are other organizations that, quite frankly, hadn't reported to us in years, and yet funding was renewed every year without question.
I've been told that, as we go through our service level agreement exercise, we are up to 50 organizations that now have service level agreements that really provide transparency and accountability not only to the organization but also to the department.
MR. HARRISON: And well they should. The Community Homes Action Group released a 2015 report card on Transforming Services for Nova Scotians with Disabilities. Many families said they feel like the government has abandoned that 2013 road map. If some of the people most affected by the transformation were unhappy, what went wrong?
MS. BERNARD: I would say timing went wrong. I've always been a tremendous supporter of the road map. I read it before I became elected. I knew very well what the purpose was. The road map was accepted in principle from the previous government in August 2013. Six weeks later, there was an election call. Our Party put it in the platform. We were committed to it, but I think there might have been a lack of understanding of the complexity and the vast transformation that had to happen within the community in order to support what we wanted to do in the road map.
When the folks were here at the Legislature, I completely understood the marks of the report card. I completely understood their frustration. I completely understood their impatience. But I'm happy to report that we have been working on transformation interior to the service Disability Support Program. Now there are investments so that we can actually move people from the larger residential facilities into community facilities.
I've said from the very beginning that this is at least a 10-year process. I have seen other provinces do it quickly, with tragic results. When you have a huge system like we do in Nova Scotia, with ARCs and RCs, to try to bridge that and then put people into the community, you have to make sure the bridge is there and that the capacity is in the community. Investing $3.3 million this year, which is a huge commitment, to move 25 people from residential facilities to the community is important.
When we came into government, roughly 67 per cent of persons with different abilities lived in the community, in some way, shape, or form. Now we're hovering near 70 per cent, so we are moving. I understand that we may not be moving fast enough for some folks.
Folks from the community housing group are part of the working committees we have within DCS on the road map. They are actually helping us define the path. That includes defining the word "community." What does community look like?
I hate sharing this, but I will. Most Tuesday nights, I go to the Bedford Legion and play bingo with three elderly people who I bring. One of them has a 53-year-old son in Sunset. He has been there since he was 18. She is 79, and she has begged me, in no uncertain terms, not to have her son moved out of that large residential facility because for him that is his community. She believes he would be devastated and negatively affected if he moved to community.
There are those voices that you have to balance those needs. There's also the needs of individuals. What defines a community? A person sitting in an apartment with 24-hour care with no contact with the outside world except for those four walls, is that community? We have to define it, and that's what we're working on right now with the community groups. That really is going to help pave the path as we go forward.
We've talked to many of the community groups over the last couple of weeks. They are thrilled with the investment because they see commitment and movement, and we'll go from there.
MR. HARRISON: What kind of answer did you give that lady?
MS. BERNARD: I told her that, in my mind, there will always be some need for some larger facilities because there are complex needs of people that are too medical to be met safely and responsibly. Her son is non-verbal. He has multiple medical challenges. The thought of him moving to a small options home, quite frankly, puts her in an anxiety attack.
It's all about balancing the needs of different families. In her mind she is his executor, and she has his power of attorney - where he is at happily. When we were doing renovations at Sunset, it was a complete upheaval for him just to move to another room next door. She didn't want to see her son go through that. So it's honouring those families as well.
MR. HARRISON: That's right. It really affects them when any change takes place.
MS. BERNARD: Whenever I go to a large facility, and I see people who are sitting in a hallway, that probably keeps me up at night more than anything else. They need to be in community. They need to reach a better potential. They are dwindling. They provide great care, but we need people in their own community.
MR. HARRISON: Yes, you're right. Probably some are going to function better within that larger complex, but others need to get out into a different environment.
MS. BERNARD: We know it will improve outcomes for some people.
MR. HARRISON: The committee that worked on the road map expected to be working on updates to the Homes for Special Care Act. Has work on the Homes for Special Care Act been put on hold, or has the department decided not to involve a lot of the stakeholders?
MS. BERNARD: Replacing the Homes for Special Care Act was part of my mandate. Currently, until we get clarity around what a replacement would look like, it's on hold. But that's part of the work of these working groups of community and government, to look at what would be the replacement for that Act. It will be replaced, just not until we get more ducks in a row.
MR. HARRISON: I hope you involve the stakeholders, though, when you do that.
MS. BERNARD: Oh, yes, they're part of that working group.
MR. HARRISON: I'm going to go off the main road and on to the gravel road for a while.
On the website, it states that the goal of transformation is to make it easier for people to get the services they need in order to reach the goals in the best and most efficient way possible. One of the biggest complaints that we receive on the phone is that folks are not always sure who they're going to get as a caseworker when they make the call. I don't know whether you've had other concerns about this, but I know that has been one in our area. I don't even know whether you're working on having consistent caseworkers.
Just as you're talking, in the cases that I've been involved in over the years, I know that people are really wanting to have someone that's consistent.
MS. BERNARD: One of the major themes that we were able to mine from the hundreds of people who participated online and face-to-face over the last three months was that people who use our services want more efficiency. They want a better relationship with their caseworker. They want to be involved with their community. They want to enhance their standard of living. They want to be able to talk to their caseworker in a way that's going to have a better outcome for themselves.
When I was on income assistance, I had that relationship with my caseworker, and it worked. She was interested in making sure that I reached the goals that I needed to.
Over the years, this system has become so cumbersome with administrative burdens that front-line workers have lost the ability to consistently deliver social work practice, to sometimes - and I've asked them to do this, but it's a culture shift within the department - think outside of the box, to use empathy and common sense in decisions which they know, if they follow policy, would not result in the best outcome. That culture shift, I find, is starting to be ignited, but it takes a while. Making sure that folks have a productive, respectful relationship with their caseworker is paramount. That's why we changed the operating model within DCS.
With my input - I had a little bit to do with it - Lynn collapsed the regions. We were finding that the single mother in Meat Cove was not receiving the same level of service or anything in the program similar to a single mother in Hebron. By collapsing these regions and breaking down those silos - the four regions were like little fiefdoms. They were doing their own thing. Now we actually have centralized client service delivery, and those services are expected to be delivered to the same standard in Meat Cove as they are in Hebron.
When you work in a system that is made up of people, that is not always going to happen. But it is our goal to make sure that we get to a level of service delivery that delivers a level of service where people now have respectful, effective relationships with their caseworker, and they're not submitting forms that the caseworker has lost three times, not submitting receipts for every 20 cents they've spent, not chasing doctors' notes for chronic, long-term diseases. That's the goal. That's one of the efficiency goals of transformation, to try to streamline just the basic level of service delivery.
MR. HARRISON: I've dealt with a lot of people who were dying. They have services going to the homes, like the VON, palliative care, and so on. One of the things they've always asked for is to have consistency in the nurse or the caregiver who was coming in. You know very well that when you are dying, everything is kind of stripped away from you. They just don't want to have a lot of people involved in that. They want to keep it at a minimum of people that they can actually trust.
I'm seeing the same thing with folks who are on assistance or whatever. They need to trust the person who is coming in to know their situation to try to find ways that will help them - not out there, just them personally. They really need to trust that. Are you saying it's working in that direction?
MS. BERNARD: We're moving in that direction. People have told us - and I know that all 50 MLAs besides myself hear this every day - we want a call back. We don't want to have to wait for three days to get an answer on something that may not seem like a crisis to you but is a crisis to me.
When you are on income assistance, and I'm speaking from experience, you are at the lowest point in your life. It is as simple as that. You are not calling that department because you are having a great day. You're calling because you need help. The administrative burden we put on front-line workers in the Department of Community Services and not empowering them to be able to make the decisions we know that many of them want to make is ineffective. In my mind, it's unnecessary.
MR. HARRISON: That is one of the main issues I have, I guess, with Community Services, having that one person who is going to look after this person and to be able to get hold of them. That is another huge complaint that comes through the office, that folks have a hard job getting through to the caseworkers. Why? I'm not sure. Maybe you can help me with that to understand.
MS. BERNARD: We monitor the caseloads so that we make sure we're within the standards of what people have. One of the things that I found, that we have since stopped, was if clients didn't want or didn't require home visits, why would you spend five afternoons a week doing home visits essentially to count boots at the door? So we stopped that. We'll do it if clients still want it, but we're not into checking. It took people away from their desk. It took people away from reaching out to their clients. It took people away from meeting with people who came into their office looking for help. That's one of the reasons.
There's always turnover within front-line work. There is a level of burnout for many people. When I was in the community, I would deal with one caseworker one week, and in subsequent weeks, it would be somebody different each week, which is not helpful to any situation. A lot of it is the nature of the work. But there are front-line workers who have been there for 30 years and have managed the stress that they have.
MR. HARRISON: Will they initially go to the home? If someone new came on, they would go and assess?
MS. BERNARD: Yes, if they want, absolutely.
MR. HARRISON: They would do that in person.
MS. BERNARD: Yes, or if it's a shut-in or someone - especially in rural areas - who doesn't have a large supportive network outside of the home. Those visits continue, absolutely.
It was more the punitive visits - over years of working with women and even in my own situation - just coming and taking a glance around the house, making sure that a man wasn't living there, that type of thing, if I want to be blunt about it. Those were punitive measures and very paternalistic measures that really needed to cease.
MR. HARRISON: I know that when something comes into the office in the constituency, I don't even go on the phone anymore. I will go and initially find out what that situation is like by going to the home. After that, I maybe do the phone calls and the emails and so on. But at least I know what's behind that door, and I'm hoping that that will continue with Community Services because it is so important.
On workers, I hate to say this, but it's a reality. You mentioned that workers do get burnt out. They sometimes have difficulty. Is there anything in place whereby the workers can get together periodically for retreat or whatever just to get their focus back?
MS. BERNARD: Transformation, as you can appreciate, takes up the bulk of the time for what we're doing. One of the things that's part of that transformation is new professional development opportunities, which include taking cohorts of different program areas and going on retreats.
When talking to front-line workers, and I had great relationships with folks post- and pre-election. If they can meet the need of the client that they're serving, that boosts their morale within the workplace. Over the last year, in the northern area, we've introduced a new approach to communication where - what is it - 75 per cent of requests being taken care of immediately in the first phone call. That frees up time for the front-line worker to go out into the community to deal with crises that may come up every day. That has actually been expanded to the Dartmouth office as well. It's working. When it's working, the clients are happy, and when it's working, the caseworkers are happy. That's the balance that you want to create.
Our department, over decades, has been incrementally piecemealed together in terms of process, policy, and regulations. Quite frankly, I don't know how people keep up with the differences, the changes. One government will come in, and it's done this way. Four years later somebody else will come in, and it's done this way.
The one great thing about transformation is that this can't be undone. Nobody should want to undo it. This can't be undone because this is the right thing to do.
MR. HARRISON: I suspected you would just say no, and I would not have been disappointed had you said that. I am throwing that out there as maybe something to look at. I was talking to my CA this morning, and she said there had been at least five people in probably the last few weeks who have used the word "harassed" about a social worker.
Now what the circumstances were, I have no idea. I don't want to come down hard on social workers. It's a tough job. It's a darn tough job. I'm just wondering if something could be in place, when they get to that stage of being maybe a little cranky, just stepping away from it for a bit and getting refocused on what they are doing. We can all do that. I was a minister for 41 years. I got cranky, but you never showed it. I would walk away and go in my office or whatever and get rid of it, and then I would go back out again. I'm just tossing that out as a possibility, that's all, to avoid situations like that.
MS. BERNARD: I agree. We're providing client focus refreshers every year, but it really is up to the individual caseworker, when they feel they're being burnt out. Like any front-line service, or any non-profit, you hope you have a manager or a supervisor who can recognize the signs and then do whatever to manage that person to make sure that they are healthy and that they are performing at the level they need to perform at.
Any job is self-regulating. I knew when it was time to go when I was at a certain job. You hope that there's enough relationship in offices between co-workers and managers that there is that support system set up that the person can say, I snapped at somebody today; she felt terrible when she came in, and when she left, she felt worse. That should never be a thought or a goal or a situation of anybody who comes to our department. It's really up to people to monitor that.
MR. HARRISON: We're just in conversation here. You mentioned the managers, and I would say that would be an important role for them, even getting them together once in a while just to get refocused as to how to handle the clients. It is a person-to-person mandate, and people are always going to be people. There's going to be difficulties between them but if you can minimize it or help.
MS. BERNARD: Or de-escalate.
MR. HARRISON: Yes. I'm just going through my notes here, I've actually covered a couple here already. Maintenance enforcement, oh my.
MS. BERNARD: That's not me.
MR. HARRISON: That's not you?
MS. BERNARD: No. The minister made some significant announcements about enforcement yesterday. That actually is a priority.
MR. HARRISON: I hope we're changing the system a wee bit because that's not working well either.
MS. BERNARD: The Premier actually has taken the lead nationally on maintenance enforcement.
MR. HARRISON: Mental health issues, we know the stresses that are out there on families, and it is huge. There's a gal who comes in, and thank goodness Kim handles her well. She has a disorder, an anxiety disorder, and to go in and actually see someone in social services, she is terrified, absolutely terrified. Again, I'm asking the question - I know certain policies need to be put in place because that's how you function. But for cases like that, is there room to move, whereby she can still get looked after without going through that huge anxiety that she's going through now?
MS. BERNARD: Intake is usually done over the phone. Once she's assigned a caseworker, a social worker, they can absolutely go to her home. Those home visits are still available. Having her come into the office is cruel, really, when you get down to it. There are many caseworkers who are registered social workers within DCS, who have a background in those issues. She can request one, or it can be identified that she needs a caseworker who has that background to help alleviate some of that stress for her.
MR. HARRISON: Okay, that is good to know. I know Kim, God love her heart, has even volunteered to go in with her, if need be, which is at least something.
What I'm doing now is going through some of the things that my CA has copied down about situations that have come into the office. According to the CMHC Rental Market Report, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Nova Scotia is $992, and of course, income assistance doesn't allow for anywhere near that. What is the thought process when there are not enough low-income homes? How does the department handle that for folks?
MS. BERNARD: My thought process has been clear from the beginning that the fastest way to move people off of a wait-list is to provide rent supplements because the housing stock is there. Safe housing is available in our communities. The fastest way to get somebody housed is not to wait till it's being built. Yes, do that, but in the meantime, people are on a wait-list.
That's why, two years ago, I chose to release money from the deferred federal contribution and invest $42 million in various strategies over the next 10 years, which included 300 new supplements throughout the province that we could leverage with the private sector. We go to the private sector, the private landlords, and say, look, this is what we've got. What can you do? Can you come to the table with some?
We've had some progress with that. We've been able to fulfill 353 over the last 18 months, and our wait-list reflects that. We're almost down 600 from where we were two years ago in terms of the wait-list. It's just hovering near 4,000, which is nothing to brag about. Don't get me wrong. I'm not happy with that.
MR. HARRISON: Hey, it's something.
MS. BERNARD: It's going in the right direction, but I'm still not happy with that number. Investing in rent supplements while trying to build and partner with the private sector is really the fastest way for people to get housed.
MR. HARRISON: When you go to see these folks, are they receptive to the idea, some of the landlords?
MS. BERNARD: They love it because what you do is, you work with landlords throughout the community. Our staff will go and assess the building because the last thing you want to do is provide a rent supplement to a slumlord. You go and make sure that it's a safe building: good security, whatever is needed if the person has special needs - that there's elevators or lifts - lighting, the whole bit. Then there's an agreement between the landlord and our department, through Housing Nova Scotia, that we will make up the difference between the shelter rate and what the market rate is. The average rent supplement is about $230 or $235. That really bridges that so that people aren't spending other monies for their rent, and they can have really suitable, lovely apartments. We've seen that movement over the last 18 months.
Do I want the private sector to come more to the table? Yes. I harp on it all the time whenever I meet with the investment property owners. We're doing this. What are you doing? We've got all the skin in the game. What are you doing? It's about developing those partnerships because, at the end of the day, their units are staying empty. It's in their best interests to fill them, and we can certainly help them do that.
MR. HARRISON: I know of a couple of landlords myself, and I'm trying to work on them, to have these apartments.
What I mentioned before about harassment by workers or whatever, it's not always their fault. Sometimes information gets lost. A letter might not have gone out or whatever the case may be. There's probably a reason, if you really went at it. I know of a couple of folks who have had their cheques stopped because they've missed something. They've missed a letter, and therefore an appointment, or whatever the case may be.
I'm just wondering again how much effort would be put into finding out exactly what the reason was and not stopping the cheques until something was found out.
MS. BERNARD: My hope is that there would be extensive investigation into the change in circumstances of anyone's life before you get to a point of cheques being cut off. I can honestly say that in my riding, and I probably have the highest percentage of income assistance recipients in HRM per capita, that I don't come across that often, but I do know that it happens.
It happens for various reasons: no communication, people moving and not telling their caseworker a new address and so cheques come back. It is my hope and my expectation that there is investigation before that gets to that point.
MR. HARRISON: That's where your leadership is going to have to come in.
MS. BERNARD: It does.
MR. HARRISON: Not to do the work but just to set an atmosphere.
MS. BERNARD: Communication is a two-way street. I know of times when it's hard to find a caseworker, but I also know that caseworkers - some, many - go above and beyond to try to track down folks. If they can't, then you have to make a judgment call at that point around policy.
MR. CHAIRMAN: One minute.
MR. HARRISON: One minute!
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is that a question?
MR. HARRISON: No, that wasn't a question. Actually I do have other things, but I'll get another chance at it. Anyway, I thank all of you for the information.
MS. BERNARD: I tell all MLAs, and everybody, that if you have an extenuating circumstance in your riding and you need assistance, I encourage you to reach out to my executive assistant.
MR. HARRISON: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Time has elapsed for the Progressive Conservatives. We'll now rotate to the NDP.
The honourable member for Dartmouth South.
MS. MARIAN MANCINI: Thank you to everybody for being here. I just wanted to get a little bit of clarity on things before we start. When I was preparing for today, of course, I was using the budget from 2015-16, and when I do refer to it, I'll refer to as the old. Then I was looking at the new one. I guess I'll say the current or the new, and you'll know that I'm referring to the 2016-17 budget. That is basically the material that I was using. You can probably understand there was a little bit of scurrying going on and trying to match up.
I was in the lockup on April 19th, but I wasn't aware of the new document we got today. It is dated April 19th. Is there any reason why we weren't able to access it?
MS. BERNARD: I hadn't seen it till last week. It wasn't prepared. I think staff realized during lockup that there were questions trying to compare the old estimates to the new estimates and that we needed some clarification. There have been multiple versions of this, and I just received this one yesterday. (Interruption) Oh, okay. I don't even have that one.
So your question maybe should have been, could we have gotten it to you earlier?
MS. MANCINI: Yes, essentially. I see it's dated April 19th, and I'm just getting it today. It would have been really helpful if we could have had it earlier, that's all. I'll probably make this somewhat tedious because I'm going to have to follow through on my original.
First, I'd like to refer to the current Page 6.3. We're looking under Senior Management. I'll just be following along through.
I guess I'll leave it to you to explain the implications of this new piece of paper, if it has an effect. Is there anything in this that's going to affect the numbers in the current budget?
MS. BERNARD: No. The numbers are the same.
MS. MANCINI: All right. Under the Office of Minister and Deputy Minister, this is showing a reduction of $366,000. Would the minister explain what the implications are of this reduction?
MS. BERNARD: Sure. When I arrived at the department, we had a deputy minister and two associate deputy ministers . . .
MS. MANCINI: Could I just - here's the thing with me if you haven't noticed. I have a little bit of a hearing impairment. If you were able to just nudge the mike up a little bit. I was pretty well hearing everything, but this would really help. Thank you. I appreciate that.
MS. BERNARD: When I arrived at the department, there was a deputy and two associate deputies, then your regional managers, and your executive directors. We no longer have two associate deputies. We haven't filled that position, and we're not going to. It's part of the new operating model. We have a transfer of four positions within my office to other divisions and the elimination of one vacant position. There's also a transfer of one position on a temporary assignment to the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
MS. MANCINI: Do you have a sense of what these cuts might mean to service delivery?
MS. BERNARD: They won't make any difference; they've been transferred out. We don't deliver service at head office, on my floor. We were, quite frankly, top heavy and really needed to streamline that. The transfer out is part of the operating model refit of putting people where they are best aligned in terms of what they do.
MS. MANCINI: The new operating model that was referred to, when did that come into being?
MS. BERNARD: April 1, 2015.
MS. MANCINI: Was there an update for that provided for the change, the new operating model? It certainly could have been that I missed it. Did that become public at all?
MS. BERNARD: It has been public. We were able to provide the outline of what the changes were going to be in the last budget. It's certainly something that has been public with stakeholders and with community groups that we work with because their point of contact and access would be different. We no longer have four regional managers. We no longer have four regions. We now have directors, executive directors of service delivery, and managers who work with stakeholder groups of various different demographics.
MS. MANCINI: Did the department actually issue anything? Any kind of formal documentation advising of the operating model change?
MS. BERNARD: We have information on our website. I can't see the reason why internally restructuring any government department would require a press release. We let our stakeholders know. It was published on our website. We've been quite open that we're transforming and that the first part of that was going to be restructuring internally. Certainly all the positions have been advertised publicly.
MS. MANCINI: I don't have it right with me, but the December update, would it have been reflected in that?
MS. BERNARD: In the budget, the Department of Finance? Yes.
MS. MANCINI: I would like to bring your attention to the second line under Senior Management Programs and Services, Communications. What role does communications play at the senior management level?
MS. BERNARD: We have a director of communications. We have two advisers. Then we have one half-time media relations adviser who splits her time between my department and another department. We are quite lean in communications.
When we need extra help, we can certainly go to CNS and ask for that, but that's where we are.
MS. MANCINI: Looking at the numbers there, there appears to be a reduction in funding for this. I'm just wondering if this will impact the department's ability to get the message out to the public.
MS. BERNARD: We've actually had more success in the last year with the new operating model in terms of communication, in terms of getting our story out, and in terms of getting proactive responses out. We have seen an increase in traffic through all social media. We have done various campaigns, everything from recruiting foster care to highlighting the work that is done with the Sexual Violence Strategy. If anything, this is the best the communications department has worked in coordinating our communications strategy in a long time.
MS. MANCINI: I'm just seeing that communications was over budget by $88,000 in 2015-16. Are you feeling confident that the department will be able to hold the line with even less resources?
MS. BERNARD: Well that over-budget is from when we go to CNS and say we need that extra support for whatever we need. I am confident that the four people who provide communications support, the three under Kristen Tynes, are extraordinary. They are effective. They're efficient. They know the story of the department. Sometimes it's very difficult to tell the story. We deal with very challenging cases. We deal with very sensitive material. I have the utmost confidence in all four of them.
MS. MANCINI: I'm looking at Funded Staff. It shows a decrease of five FTEs that were eliminated in senior management. Were some of those vacant positions?
MS. BERNARD: One was a vacant position. Of course, we don't have our second ADM. The rest were transferred out into other areas to better reflect the operating model.
MS. MANCINI: So nobody was laid off then?
MS. BERNARD: No.
MS. MANCINI: Under Policy and Innovation, this used to be Policy and Information Management?
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MS. MANCINI: So this is a new budget category . . .
MS. BERNARD: What page are you on? Sorry.
MS. MANCINI: I'm still on Page 6.3.
MS. BERNARD: Okay. Yes, okay.
MS. MANCINI: This is a new budget category, and I guess I indicated it's been hard to follow the numbers from the 2015 budget to the new one. One line item that's missing in this budget is Licensing, which was previously under Policy and Information Management. I'm just wondering why the decision was made to push that somewhere else.
MS. BERNARD: We actually moved it to Service Delivery, where it was more in line with the work.
MS. MANCINI: Pardon me?
MS. BERNARD: It was more in line with service delivery because these are staff who actually go out to our service delivery partners and license the organizations and make sure that standards are met and adhered to by service providers.
MS. MANCINI: Still under Policy and Innovation, the second line item is Policy, Planning and Information Services. This had been originally called Policy and Planning. Is that correct? That's the same?
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MS. MANCINI: Why was the decision made to bring information services into Policy and Planning?
MS. BERNARD: We decided to move it to this particular category. The work that we do mines and creates a lot of data. We do a lot of data analytics which actually inform the policy, so it made sense to marry the two of them together.
MS. MANCINI: Could you just outline a little more specifically what exactly information services are as they relate to policy and planning?
MS. BERNARD: The three main areas would be reporting, research analytics, and program evaluation. We are the largest direct service delivery provider in Nova Scotia - more than education, and more than health. Their services are delivered by school boards and the Health Authority. The delivery of our services is directly through our department.
MS. MANCINI: I note, in looking at the figures in that section, that an additional $299,000 will go towards this department. It's $1.973 million, $1.644 million, and then the $2.092 million. That calculates to an increase of about $299,000.
MS. BERNARD: That $299,000 is comprised of transferring in two staff people who are research and statistical officers, and also the creation of one new position entitled manager of business intelligence.
MS. MANCINI: Is this investment being spread across regional offices, or is it just staying central?
MS. BERNARD: It's head office.
MS. MANCINI: Service Strategy, Design and Support - I believe that this line item in the previous budget was called Business and Integrated Services?
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MS. MANCINI: Why was the decision made to create this new area rather than Business and Integrated Services? What would be the main differences there?
MS. BERNARD: One of the parts of the operating model is that we have extensive IT because we're going to be doing business a different way. We really focus on client service, and we wanted to bring those folks who have that expertise in the department into this area. They are responsible, really, for designing service delivery and making sure that we develop standards, that the standards are monitored, that the program evaluation happens, and that they are setting much of the foundation for everything that has to do with the eventual transformation of the system, in terms of what we already have.
MS. MANCINI: The budget has been increased by $390,000 this year. What exactly will this money go towards?
MS. BERNARD: That increase of $399,000 is due to the transfer of four positions from other divisions within DCS: staff trainers from budgets and results, two positions; one position from DSP administration; and one position from ESIA training. These transfers, of course, are reflective of the operating model of bringing the people who have that expertise in their areas all together under one office, one category.
MS. MANCINI: How many did you say? That's additional staff, is it?
MS. BERNARD: It is additional staff. It is four.
MS. MANCINI: And would they be full-time equivalents?
MS. BERNARD: Four, yes.
MS. MANCINI: I do note as well, in looking at the numbers, that the budget was underspent in 2015-16 by $162,000. I'm wondering about that, why that was.
MS. BERNARD: It's due to staff vacancies in that area.
MS. MANCINI: The final budget line there, Transformation Administration shows $120,000 for transformation administration, but it doesn't seem to have been allocated in 2015-16. I'm just wondering where that money would have gone in this current year.
MS. BERNARD: It was an error last year. It shouldn't have been reflected whatsoever.
MS. MANCINI: It was what?
MS. BERNARD: An error in the estimates of last year. It shouldn't have been reflected alone. It should have been included in . . .
MS. MANCINI: So it was an error. That amount of money didn't exist in the first place, or was it put back?
MS. BERNARD: It existed. It just shouldn't have been isolated out. It was on the wrong budget line.
MS. MANCINI: So it's still in the department. It didn't go back to general revenue?
MS. BERNARD: No.
MS. MANCINI: Okay. Would you know where that went in the budget?
MS. BERNARD: Yes, it's Policy, Planning, and Information Services.
MS. MANCINI: Finally, Funded Staff is showing an increase of 11.2 FTEs. Can you provide me with a breakdown of those FTEs?
MS. BERNARD: I can. We have nine positions that were transferred into Policy and Innovation from other divisions. We have the creation of a manager of business intelligence position, and there was the creation of another position as a result of the new operating model. I can give you a breakdown of the nine positions transferred in, if you would like: four trainers from budgets and results, two DSP administrators, one ESIA trainer, two research and statistical officers from licensing, and three secretaries from senior management.
MS. MANCINI: What would an ESIA trainer be?
MS. BERNARD: Employment Support and Income Assistance, they train staff on doing front-line work, particularly around the computers.
MS. MANCINI: I'm now on Page 6.4. Corporate Services, I think this budget section has also been shifted around.
MS. BERNARD: It has, yes.
MS. MANCINI: The confusing part about the new Corporate Services unit is the 2015-16 estimated costs are roughly about $2.9 million. Nowhere in the 2015-16 budget does the Corporate Services unit have a line that totals $2.9 million. I'm asking for some clarity on that.
MS. BERNARD: Last year, the amount would have been $3.471 million, which is probably what you have.
MS. MANCINI: Is this in here?
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MS. MANCINI: Could you direct me to where that would be?
MS. BERNARD: Page 1 of 4.
MS. MANCINI: Okay.
MS. BERNARD: The $2.962 million - we moved the staff that were associated with mortgage and loans who were in Housing Services to Administration and Operations. The $509,000 would be the difference between those two amounts.
MS. MANCINI: Just bear with me for a minute. That $2.9 million, we could find somehow meshed into Finance and Administration Services, is that correct?
MS. BERNARD: On the Finance and Administration Services line from last year, yes, so you would be looking for $3.47 million.
MS. MANCINI: Okay, right, sorry, I see it now. And this moved the mortgage and loans unit to Housing Services, okay.
In 2015-16, the past budget, the line item of Finance and Administration Services was the same as in this year's budget? The total estimate was $3.47 million?
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MS. MANCINI: That's a difference of $509,000?
MS. BERNARD: I'm hoping.
MS. MANCINI: That $509 million was moved to Housing Services.
MS. BERNARD: Yes, mortgages.
MS. MANCINI: Great, okay. Nothing went into general revenue. It just stayed there, okay.
In the 2015-16 budget, Corporate Services Unit also housed Human Resources. Where has that moved? Were all the funds transferred?
MS. BERNARD: The actual transfer of Human Resources - this is not people. It's actually services and programs for staff, like WCB and EAP payments. They were moved to Service Delivery to reflect the administration part of our new operating model.
I guess I should clarify first so that you don't keep asking me, nothing that has been switched around has gone back to general revenue, nothing. It has just been allocated in the best way possible to reflect the new operating model of the department.
MS. MANCINI: Okay, so my questions will be really about where it did go. In addition to Human Resources, the Corporate Services Unit also housed IT services at a total of $1.15 million.
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MS. MANCINI: Maybe you could say where that is.
MS. BERNARD: That has been moved to Policy and Innovation, in Administration.
MS. MANCINI: There is no line item for IT services. I wonder about that.
MS. BERNARD: IT has been embedded now into Policy and Innovation under the Administration line.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order. May I do a very brief introduction of the group in here? We don't usually do introductions in the Red Room, but we usually don't get this large a group for Supply. I would just like to recognize THR!VE Education, an after-school educational program that has joined us here today. Thank you.
MS. MANCINI: I was asking about IT services.
MS. BERNARD: Yes, IT services has been moved to Policy and Innovation under the Administration line.
MS. MANCINI: Under Finance and Administration Services then, it's showing the funded staff. Okay That's close to double. Why is the FTEs for 2015-16 under Corporate Services Unit close to double the estimated?
MS. BERNARD: Could you give me the numbers that you're talking about? (Interruption) Okay, so from 27 to 68, or to 50?
MS. MANCINI: Yes, that's right. It went from 27, and then we have 68, so an increase of 41.
MS. BERNARD: It's increased salaries associated with the transfer in of those folks from regional finance support positions during the year from the regional offices. No staff changed their work location; it was simply an administrative change to consolidate the responsibility for all the finance staff under one Corporate Services Unit.
MS. MANCINI: Just so I'm clear, the Corporate Services Unit has added a total of 41 yet only has one area, which is Finance and Administration Services. I'm just wondering, what are the roles of these 41 FTEs?
MS. BERNARD: The bulk of the transfer in were regional folks who were financial clerks working with our ICM system, regional coordinators for finance, and operational risk managers as well. It's basically people who are responsible for coordinating and tracking payments in the regional offices, in the field offices, and inputting all the information that comes when somebody puts in an income statement at the end of the month. Those were all regional folks. They haven't moved physically, but their function now reports under this one umbrella.
MS. MANCINI: Why is there a need for an additional 41 in corporate services?
MS. BERNARD: It's not new staff. It's just a reallocation of staff to reflect the new service model. It's not 41 new positions.
MS. MANCINI: Why would they have been reallocated?
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MS. MANCINI: That's what I'm wondering.
MS. BERNARD: Why?
MS. MANCINI: Yes.
MS. BERNARD: It's part of the operating model redesign.
MS. MANCINI: Was it a regional distribution?
MS. BERNARD: Yes, they came from field offices all through the province. When they're reporting under one, it really increases consistency tremendously.
MS. MANCINI: Service Delivery, Page 6.4, is another new section in the DCS budget. In 2015-16, most of these line items were housed in various different sections. What I'd like to do is just go through them all to understand the changes and shifts in this year's budget. You're on the section?
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MS. MANCINI: This section deals mostly with field staff, so I would like to follow up on the December 2015 budget forecast update. The December forecast update states that the department is forecasting to be $2.8 million over budget in administration due to "lower than expected staff vacancy savings." Can you outline where the additional $2.8 million is in the current budget?
MS. BERNARD: In the year that we're looking at, we had a vacancy factor target that we did not meet as a department. Staff turnover didn't happen as it was forecasted. That would explain the overage. But we were successful in meeting those budget commitments in other areas, for instance, travel, and other ways that we can mitigate expenses throughout the department.
MS. MANCINI: These staff vacancies mentioned in the forecast update, where are they? Where are the staff vacancies that were mentioned?
MS. BERNARD: They're actually throughout the whole department, in every corner of the province and every area. I don't have a list of what positions were in what office, but they were scattered throughout the province.
MS. MANCINI: In the 2016-17 budget, I cannot find these increased administration costs that are reflected.
MS. BERNARD: You won't find them because we mitigated the overage.
MS. MANCINI: What does that mean?
MS. BERNARD: It means we found savings elsewhere.
MS. MANCINI: Where did you find those savings?
MS. BERNARD: In travel. It would have been in various program areas. We were overspent in supports for persons with disabilities and underspent in other areas such as IA payments, so it would have been mitigated throughout different program areas. There were no cuts to any programs. It was just under-utilization in some areas.
MS. MANCINI: The current vacancies in DCS, do you have a breakdown of all vacant positions? Where are the current vacancies?
MS. BERNARD: They are throughout the organization, whether it be administrative - I will tell you that the priority is always front-line child welfare positions. They are the ones that are filled the fastest and filled first. The deputy monitors vacancy very closely in the department so that if there is turnover in child welfare specifically or the Disability Support Program - in any given time in the Department of Community Services, there are roughly around 70 vacancies. That's through people retiring or people moving away or just transferring out of the department, but we are very diligent in filling those positions as at all possible. We have the same struggle as every other department. We have very specialized needs in some program areas, particularly in child welfare.
MS. MANCINI: Are most of the vacancies in the child welfare area?
MS. BERNARD: No, they're not.
MS. MANCINI: They're spread out?
MS. BERNARD: They're spread out. In fact, I'm comfortable in saying that child welfare would have the lowest vacancy rate because they are filled first.
MS. MANCINI: The Disability Support Program?
MS. BERNARD: It would be coordinators, care coordinators, administrative help. We have the same issue as every other business and government department in terms of people moving for other opportunities either in or out of government. But as I said, the deputy has very strong oversight of the vacancy factor within the department, particularly in the child welfare field.
MS. MANCINI: Are they spread across the province?
MS. BERNARD: They are, yes.
MS. MANCINI: Is there one area where there may be more vacancies than another?
MS. BERNARD: Well we have more people in HRM, so I would say probably HRM. There is more internal movement. They would leave one department for another department, sometimes within our own department and other times moving to other departments.
MS. MANCINI: Service Delivery Administration, the second line, again, is a new line item. It's not in the 2015-16 budget. Does there seem to be a correlating number that is represented in this line, which is a total of $5.05 million? Could you detail for me where in the 2015-16 budget I could find that $5.05 million?
MS. BERNARD: Yes, it would be under the Field Offices section.
MS. MANCINI: That accounts for all of that?
MS. BERNARD: It's a bunch of positions. The actual figure has moved from the Field Offices section and been renamed from Regional Administration to Service Delivery Administration. It includes Human Resources, which we talked about earlier, which was moved from the Corporate Services Unit. Emergency Services moved from Housing Authority and Property Operations.
MS. MANCINI: Are you satisfied that all of that $5 million that you referred to has been transferred into other DCS areas?
MS. BERNARD: Yes. I'm also confident to sit here and say that, with the exception of one position in the Status of Women, there have been no lay-offs in any of these areas.
MS. MANCINI: There was a total of $2.395 million not spent in this new line item in the last year. I'm just wondering where that $2.4 million has gone and why it wasn't spent.
MS. BERNARD: The under-expenditure reflects the implementation of the operating model. The explanation for that is that several new positions were created in the set-up of the new service delivery model, yet there was a net transfer out of 28 staff to other budget lines. The forecast for 2015-16 also reflects some staff vacancy savings in addition to that.
MS. MANCINI: When the staff were transferred, would any of them have gone to positions that would have paid less than they had been receiving previously?
MS. BERNARD: No.
MS. MANCINI: Field Office Administration is the next item there, budget line, and it's showing $10 million, $9 million, $7 million. Where has the $4.4 million for Regional Administration gone from the 2015-16 budget? It's not accounted for in the Field Office Administration line.
MS. BERNARD: That $4.4 million was moved to the Service Delivery section and renamed Service Delivery Administration.
MS. MANCINI: It looks like there was a cut of $3 million from Field Office Administration.
MS. BERNARD: No cuts, there actually haven't been any cuts in my department in the last year. It just reflects . . .
MS. MANCINI: Redistributed.
MS. BERNARD: Right, it just reflects the full-year impact of the transfer of the specialist and financial service staff to other areas of the department to reflect the operating model.
MS. MANCINI: They would be positions distributed over many field offices, I guess? Or is there a regional breakdown for that?
MS. BERNARD: None of the positions that have been reallocated to other areas here actually physically moved. They are just reporting to a different area within the department, aligning best with what the new operating model would reflect.
No staff have had to move from any field office or any region. It's just a reflection of where they are reporting to now. It's who they may report to, but certainly no one has had to leave their location, where they do their physical job.
MS. MANCINI: In the 2015-16 budget, Field Offices had a total of 154.6 FTEs. Now because the budget line for 2016-17 is so different, I'm just wondering how many of those FTEs fall under Field Office Administration in the current year.
MS. BERNARD: Can you repeat that?
MS. MANCINI: In the 2015-16 budget, Field Offices had a total of 154.6 FTEs. The 2016-17 budget is so different, so I'm just asking, how many FTEs fall under Field Office Administration in 2016-17?
MS. BERNARD: 79.5.
MS. MANCINI: Okay, 79.5, but then we were looking at 154, so those other positions are?
MS. BERNARD: Reallocated.
MS. MANCINI: Have there been any vacancies that weren't filled?
MS. BERNARD: No.
MS. MANCINI: In the 2015-16 budget, Disability Support Program - Field Staff saw an increase to their budget, but that's not a trend that continued. I'm wondering why the Disability Support Program - Field Staff budget seems to consistently be underspent by the department.
MS. BERNARD: Primarily due to vacancies due to staff turnover.
MS. MANCINI: Okay, staff turnover, but we don't have vacancies. Is that the short periods of time until you fill the position?
MS. BERNARD: Hopefully until we fill the position. The average filling time is now between six and eight weeks.
MS. MANCINI: Then that provides a saving to the department?
MS. BERNARD: To the department, yes.
MS. MANCINI: Of the 99 FTEs from last year's budget, how many of those fall under the Disability Support Program - Field Staff?
MS. BERNARD: 79.5.
MS. MANCINI: Where are the FTEs who fall under the Disability Support Program located? A regional breakdown, if you have that.
MS. BERNARD: They are in the field offices throughout Nova Scotia.
MS. MANCINI: Obviously, I guess, a higher concentration in metro.
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MS. MANCINI: Would the second highest be Cape Breton, typically?
MS. BERNARD: It's usually based on population, so I'm going to warrant a guess. (Interruption)
I'll give you a rough regional breakdown: 40 per cent in central; 23 per cent in the eastern area of the province, which would be Cape Breton; 16 per cent in the northern area, which would be Amherst; and then 21 per cent in the western area, which would be the South Shore-Yarmouth area.
MS. MANCINI: If I understand it, there were 99.5 last year, and 79.5 of those fall under the Disability Support Program - Field Staff?
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MS. MANCINI: You've indicated that there's been no elimination of staff, so all right. Were those positions all filled by new staff, or are staff being switched around?
MS. BERNARD: Just being switched. People apply.
MS. MANCINI: I'm just wondering why there was a decision made to have less field staff, given the investments made in the year's budget.
MS. BERNARD: The actual field staff who do the work on the ground have not been decreased. It has been financial clerks and program specialists who have been reallocated in different areas. The actual boots on the ground have not been reallocated, and they have not decreased.
MS. MANCINI: Children's Services - Field Staff is next. We're looking at estimated costs from the last budget. They were $2.1 million short of the actual cost in 2015-16. Why was the decision made to make a further cut to this budget?
MS. BERNARD: There is no cut to the budget. It's just reallocated.
MS. MANCINI: Okay, where to?
MS. BERNARD: The 2015-16 forecasted over-expenditure reflects increases in staff costs primarily due to access transportation casual relief - so that would be case aids - and as well, under-achievement in planned savings from staff turnover and related vacancy savings.
MS. MANCINI: There is an overspend in 2015-16 of $2.1 million. Can you be sure there will not be a significant overspend in this area again? It has been overspent in the last two years, I think.
MS. BERNARD: I'll be quite frank about why we're overspent. We're overspent because of case aides. We had a $2 million program that went to a $12 million program when the previous government unionized all the case aides for the Department of Community Services. So a flexible, effective program went from $2 million to $12 million, and I've been grappling with that ever since.
MS. MANCINI: In total we have $1.4 million that has been cut from the Children's Services - Field Staff.
MS. BERNARD: It hasn't been cut. It has been reallocated.
MS. MANCINI: But why would you reallocate those?
MS. BERNARD: To better reflect the operating model that we are into right now. There have been no decreases in budget for child welfare. There have been no decreases in front-line staff for child welfare. Any decreases you may see in front of you have been a reallocation of staff. I can't be any clearer than that.
MS. MANCINI: There could be implications here. Are the caseworkers able to claim overtime and mileage?
MS. BERNARD: Yes, absolutely. The maintenance of children is the one area where if there's an overspend, it's met. We also have additional investment this year of $5.4 million into that area.
MS. MANCINI: On the topic of mileage, the department offers far less to income assistance recipients for mileage than standard Public Service rates. Is that correct?
MS. BERNARD: To the staff you mean? I don't think so, no. They get the same Public Service standard that every public servant in the government would get.
MS. MANCINI: That really wasn't my question. It was just that income assistance recipients would get far less.
MS. BERNARD: Okay, that's two different things.
MS. MANCINI: We had a case in our caucus office of a man who had his $150-a-month transportation allowance eliminated completely. He has schizophrenia, and his doctor mandated that he could not take public transportation, so we didn't appeal with him, and the original decision was upheld. All the department would offer this man was 25 cents a kilometre. Does that accurately reflect what you would think would have happened in that situation?
MS. BERNARD: We can look at that. To be frank with you, I wasn't aware that the department offered mileage. I wasn't aware of that. I don't know what the mileage rate is for clients. I know it's very similar to what it would be in the non-profit sector.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, time has expired for the NDP. I would ask the minister if she would like to take a brief recess for two minutes? We will recess for two minutes.
[5:35 p.m. The subcommittee recessed.]
[5:40 p.m. The subcommittee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I call the meeting back to order.
The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. LARRY HARRISON: In dealing with seniors - I'm assuming this would come under Community Services - sometimes they will call and say, do you know of anyone who can do some shovelling, who can do some moving, who can fix my doorstep, anything like that? Is there any way we can put something together in each area where those folks could be available? Or maybe communities could do it. I don't know.
MS. BERNARD: I think that a lot of communities do it. I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that the Department of Health and Wellness has a program for seniors that provides small amounts of money for them to be able to use for snow clearing and things like that. Within the Department of Community Services, there is nothing that would provide that. We are a basic necessities type of service provider. In rural areas, I know of one caseworker who has a list of community groups, whether it be the Lions or the local Kinsmen or a youth group, that would be available to do things such as that.
MR. HARRISON: Maybe that's something we can work on to try to get communities to organize.
MS. BERNARD: Absolutely.
MR. HARRISON: I was pleased to hear about the lady from Indian Brook doing stuff with the Native population.
MS. BERNARD: Natalie, yes.
MR. HARRISON: I want to talk a little bit about the rehabilitation centres. I guess Kings Regional Rehabilitation is one of the larger ones. I understand that's going to be closed shortly.
MS. BERNARD: Shortly, no - phased over time.
MR. HARRISON: What kind of time frame are you looking at, minister?
MS. BERNARD: The way the transformation, the road map, is laid out, over time, these larger residential facilities will be moving folks out into the community. But we have to make sure that capacity in the community is there. We have committed $3.3 million over the next year to move 25 people. We will assess who they are and where they are because each one has complex needs.
When we do that, we will not be filling the bed that's left empty unless it's a short-term emergency crisis because eventually those larger facilities may morph, for lack of a better word, into a centre of excellence for aging or some other health-related condition. But they will not be used to house persons with disabilities because on the road map that's where we're going.
MR. HARRISON: But the moratorium on long-term, is July 1st the time for that?
MS. BERNARD: We haven't set a firm date. We're still working around that. We're working actually with many of the groups that you mentioned earlier on what that's going to look like. I totally detest that word, "moratorium." But for lack of a better word, we're still working on that.
MR. HARRISON: Has it been costed yet? What is the plan for these smaller facilities? What will they look like?
MS. BERNARD: They'll look different. They won't have a large capacity. Working the ARC staff and the community groups now, we're looking at smaller group homes and small options homes of no more than four. The goal is not to move from one large residential to a mini-residential in terms of eight to 10 beds.
It all goes back to that definition of "community," what it will look like. When we talk to the people who this affects the most, there are three things they tell us. They tell us they want a friend, they want a job, and they want a place to live. So it is our responsibility to make sure those three things happen when they leave these larger residential facilities. It's very simple when you think about it, isn't it? Those are three basic, lovely things to aspire to: a job, a friend, and a place to live.
MR. HARRISON: Are these facilities going to be built brand new, or are you going to be looking at other kinds of facilities to do this?
MS. BERNARD: It will be a mix of new builds, repurposing buildings that are already there, and private market. It will be a mix of everything. Like I said, it all comes back to defining what a community looks like and really giving choice to people so that when they move from these larger residential areas, they actually have a choice.
We will have some wonderful examples throughout the province of what these look like in the very near future. Departments have been working with a couple of families in Amherst. Two years ago, they were starting this, and now they actually have what their little community for their loved ones looks like. They've asked me to come up and see it.
It's different for everyone. I think that's probably what the most exciting thing about it is, that it's going from something that is one-size-fits-all to something that's very individual.
MR. HARRISON: Will there be a standard for mobility?
MS. BERNARD: I know from other provinces that we have to make sure that we do this responsibly and safely. Each person that we move is going to be assessed for the whole range of needs and services that they need. If it's done quickly like it was in Ontario, to be blunt, people die. We're not going to have that here in Nova Scotia. So we make sure that whenever we move someone, we have every aspect, every need, and every challenge that they have covered. That's why it takes an investment, and it takes time. People say, 25 is nothing. Moving 25 people who have multiple different abilities is very complicated.
MR. HARRISON: I hope you keep that because it's the individual that we're really trying to service in this province, and that's an art.
Do you have any idea when this is going to begin and how long it will take to do this?
MS. BERNARD: The assessments started this year. We've assessed half of the people in the high-level ARCs. As soon as we get that capacity in the community, and now we have the money to do it - this year we have that goal of 25, and we will meet it.
MR. HARRISON: Those in the large facilities, are they being prepared for this transition? I mean the patients, the staff, or whatever the case may be?
MS. BERNARD: Yes. All of this is done in discussion with families, stakeholders, staff members, and most importantly, the people themselves.
MR. HARRISON: I'm getting through my stuff here very quickly now.
MS. BERNARD: Get back on that highway, Larry.
MR. HARRISON: You don't want me on that dirt road? Oh, my goodness. I said that rural is just like the dirt roads, and a lot of the decisions are made on the highway, that kind of thing. Folks on the dirt road are kind of left out of it. So that's what that was . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: You were preaching.
MR. HARRISON: No, I wasn't preaching, I wouldn't do that to these guys.
I am finished. Thank you very much. My colleague here is going to take over for a while.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Argyle-Barrington.
HON. CHRISTOPHER D'ENTREMONT: It's my pleasure to join in on the discussion of the Department of Community Services. Welcome, of course, to the staff. I didn't have that opportunity to do that earlier. It's always good to see some familiar faces, and maybe some new faces as well, from the department.
The first thing I want to dig in a little bit on - I don't have the Budget Book in front of me; maybe I'll steal Larry's - is the issue of disabled care workshops. I know you and I have talked about this a little bit in the past. In southwest Nova Scotia, in Yarmouth County, there are two options for individuals with disabilities. There is the Kaye Nickerson centre, and there's also Yarmouth Life Skills. In the case of those two operations, depending on your level of capability, you go to one or the other.
I still have a constituent who graduated from the school system two years ago who is basically still waiting for placement in one of those programs. I would suggest it's the Yarmouth Life Skills Program that she would like to be in, but still she has challenges. The organization says that they need more money to be able to hire more people. I think the department is saying, you have enough people, you should be able to take in some more clients, that kind of debate.
Maybe we can start in on Yarmouth Life Skills for a little bit to see what kind of options are available to people with disabilities.
MS. BERNARD: Probably one of the saddest things that we know of with persons with different abilities is that when they graduate high school - and they can go until they are 21 - their quality of life and stimulation after that point in time, if they cannot get into a structured workshop, mainly consists of sitting in front of the TV. So any gains they made by being socialized in a classroom setting are lost, and oftentimes they have to start over.
This year's budget allows for an $800,000 increase into structured workshops, which is going to increase the capacity. We're working with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development to strengthen those transitions between high school and going into structured workshops. My hope is that this investment this year is the first in a long line to increase the capacity in organizations throughout Nova Scotia, and I've been to many of them.
I feel for parents who are eligible for respite care, and that happens. But their loved one, their 21-year-old adult is not being stimulated in any way, shape, or form or socialized outside of the home many times.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: I mentioned this to you before - well, we'll start with a joke. Behind every successful politician is a smarter woman. In my particular case, my wife is a resource teacher. She runs the learning centre at Par-en-Bas. By the way, she is graduating on Sunday morning from St. F.X. with her Master's, so like I said, very much smarter than I am. Her continued challenge, as her students hit that age of 21, is, what does she counsel them to do?
In Brianne's case - Brianne is the one I have talked about before - her mom Sandra works for the province. She works for the Department of Justice. She is a Justice of the Peace in Yarmouth, who is a few years older than I am but not too much. She is considering early retirement because right now Brianne is staying home with her mom. They are getting some help in, a little bit. But quite honestly, she is going to have to make a decision soon on what she does. We really can't lose another Justice of the Peace and worker. She has been a wonderful worker for the Province of Nova Scotia, yet she is challenged with this issue. It's even to the point where, every once in a while, my wife organizes a party at the school, trying to invite some of the previous students to come in.
It's not only Brianne. Brianne is the one I am allowed to talk about. There are a couple of other families that are in the same situation where they can't seem to get into a program. In Brianne's case she would be able to function pretty well. She has high needs. In a couple of the other cases, they are highly autistic and have a whole bunch of other special challenges that, I would say, any workshop would have trouble dealing with.
If the project or whatever we are going to be embarking upon involves the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, I think that's a good thing. Honestly, I've sat in meetings where you've got schoolteachers sitting there almost crying on behalf of their students, crying with these organizations and with the department saying, okay, what do we do with them next? They are on the road to something, something better than sitting at home watching TV. I don't know what we're going to be investing that money in.
MS. BERNARD: Well I'm hoping that there would be very creative ways for the $800,000 investment to really build capacity in the wonderful social enterprises that are often attached to these workshops.
The Premier has really set the tone for hiring people with different abilities. He has a very close relationship with the Easter Seals program in HRM. He has hired a person with different abilities in his own office. I see that coming down the pipe as a challenge to government. We can really set the tone for employers throughout the province in hiring persons with different abilities.
Employment is not for everyone. But I think the more that folks who are in these social enterprises who have wonderful job skills and can work in the community, the more that we engage community, engage government in hiring folks with different abilities, the more that opens up that bottleneck so that people who have higher needs and can't necessarily work in the community but certainly can work in a structured workshop actually have a place to go. We're really hoping to build that capacity.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: There has been success. The Yarmouth pub, the Yarmouth restaurant, has been a very successful endeavour by the Yarmouth association, whatever the organization is called in Yarmouth. There is one student in Anne's class this year who is graduating out. She is hitting 21, and she is going to be gainfully employed. They worked really hard with her to make sure that she has something to do. I think she is one of the lucky ones right now. There are other students who really need that extra, so if there's anything that I can lend to this discussion later on, I would be very happy to do that.
MS. BERNARD: The structured workshops in Cape Breton have an extraordinary track record of partnering with local employers and finding employment for some of the folks who use their programs. They've had tremendous success for long-term employment with liveable wages. It's been extraordinary.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Like I said, there's two there. There's a really good one in Barrington. I rarely hear of any problems or challenges with that one. People seem to be able to get in and out of it as they travel along. One of the programs is through the South Shore association, and they're doing quite well on that site.
Changing gears a little bit to one of my clients - I'll qualify it's one of the clients we share. It's someone who comes to my office quite often. I'm not going to use her name, but we'll talk about her particular case. It's a continual challenge. This client was a victim of domestic violence. Her partner was killed. She was disabled because of that incident. Every year, we end up having to deal with the department, trying to get her the appropriate shoes, trying to get work on her house, trying to find a deep freeze, trying to get new windows. It just continually goes on and on. In my mind, she deserves it because what she has suffered is beyond what you or I would ever even imagine. I'm just wondering, how structured are the policies in trying to deal with people who have been victims of violence? They are a special group of people whose needs, I think, are far different than others'.
MS. BERNARD: You're preaching to the choir. I'm going to be frank. It's been a struggle for me. I have had many direct conversations with both my deputy and executive directors about the lack of understanding of what happens when there is a victim of domestic violence. People do their best, but sometimes their best isn't good enough. I think that that comes back, particularly in the child welfare realm, to more training, more compassion, and more ability to think outside of the box.
In HRM, not everybody would know a victim's circumstances. But in your area, the caseworker would probably know very intimately what path this woman had travelled, so there should be no struggle. There should be a respectful, efficient, compassionate relationship between our office and this woman. I don't know what to tell you if there isn't. But you will pass the name on to me, and we will work on it.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: We have a meeting coming up with her and one of the higher-ups within the office in Yarmouth. I think I'm getting somewhere there, and I'm pretty happy with it. It's been continual, in my 12 years here. Even when I had the good luck to be the Minister of Community Services, it was still a challenge then. It still hasn't changed. So I'll give you full marks if you can figure this one out.
MS. BERNARD: We'll figure it out.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Okay. Let's move to housing for a minute. That's probably the third-biggest issue that hits my desk, and I thank my constituency assistants, Theresa and JoEllen. I have two constituency assistants, one in Barrington and one in Tusket. I will also complain a little bit about splitting my constituency in two because I have to deal with South Shore on one side, and I deal with somebody else on the other side. If anyone can try to find lines drawn by constituency, it would be appreciated because they're not, and I have to deal with two groups.
How is the housing budget this year? Seniors are continually coming in looking for improvements to be able to keep them in their houses. I'm just wondering, how is that budget this year? How do you see it working?
MS. BERNARD: The budget is consistent with past years, but I will say that there will be an infusion of federal monies. We haven't worked out what that looks like or where that goes, but the federal government has made it a priority that seniors' housing, affordable housing, and housing for persons leaving domestic violence shelters are their priority areas. Their budget is not passed yet. Our budget is not passed yet. When we can hit the ground running on that, we'll hit the ground running on that.
The budget is about $20 million for affordable housing. It's part of the affordable housing agreements that we have with the federal government. As you know, very quickly when we came in, we invested $42 million from the deferred federal contribution - 353 rent supplements throughout the province. They've been very successful. We've managed to move almost 600 people off the wait-list in the last 18 months, which is something that hasn't been done before. It's still not great to say you have 4,000 on the wait-list, but at least we're going in the right direction.
So housing from one end of this province to the other, even in spite of the fact that we have close to 12,000 public housing units from one end to the other, is still a struggle for folks.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Right now, there is the continual challenge of having two counties. I got a question about this yesterday. Do I have to live in Yarmouth to get into Yarmouth housing? I have somebody who lives in Barrington, for example, who would like to maybe move to Yarmouth to try to access one of those sites. There might not be any availability in Nova Homes, and I figure there are two or three units within the Village of Barrington. How hard has it been for clients to move from one area to the other, at least to access the sites? Clare has the same problem.
MS. BERNARD: We have about a 12 per cent to 15 per cent turnover rate. We do have people who move, and that's not a big stretch going from where you're at to Yarmouth.
Actually, what is it like 35 per cent of the Town of Yarmouth is owned by the Province of Nova Scotia? In terms of public housing, it's one of the highest per capita places in Nova Scotia where there is publicly owned social housing. We've also had success in that area partnering with the private sector just outside of Yarmouth in Hebron. Housing authority staff work really closely with people. It's usually not a big deal to move, especially that distance, in terms of getting into a unit.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: This dated back to a problem that I had to fix. Even when Yarmouth was separated from Argyle, you actually had to move to Yarmouth and live in Yarmouth for at least six months before you were allowed to access housing at that time. God knows what they would get stuck living in before they would be able to transfer to housing. I'm seeing some of that same problem of accessing Yarmouth County from Shelburne County now because I'm now covering that larger area.
MS. BERNARD: My understanding is those were requirements under municipalities, and they've been relaxed because that's just stupid.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: It was. I appreciate the frankness on that one.
Also under Housing Services, of course, are grants. How do you see that going this year? I see in your budget on Page 6.6 that Administration and Operations going down, but your grant is staying pretty much the same. What is changing where Administration and Operations is going down by half and the grant is staying the same?
MS. BERNARD: I notice there has been a lot of attention to that budget line over the last couple of days, and I'm so happy to be able to explain it. It is actually not a cut. It is a transfer of the housing leases out of Housing Nova Scotia. It's not a cut to any operating budget. Anything that has been unspent from the year before just gets rolled over into the programs for this year.
There are a number of reasons why different repair programs are underspent. It's usually just a couple of months to process the application, but we have found that it is very difficult for some people in rural areas to get contractors. I know that because I've seen it. That really has held up the work that can be done, but people don't lose their place. They don't lose the approved application. We will just roll it over.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: I'm glad you brought that up because that was my next question. As much as I have a lot of applications for roofs, windows, doors, furnaces, electrical systems, et cetera, I think the system is working really well. You do the application - I make sure my office does the application because I don't want it to come back. I find when people are trying to fill it out themselves and trying to make some phone calls, it goes up the first time, and it gets sent back. They're confused, and they come see us. We do it, and we've actually had some really good success in making sure it's done correctly.
My CA Theresa is awesome. That's why we have really good CAs. She's awesome. Of course, the department in Middleton is awesome.
Then the inspector comes down and identifies other things that need to be done. The inspectors are doing a phenomenal job as well. That's where things start to get a little wonky. Now we have to find a contractor to do it. The challenge for a lot of these individuals might be getting a little better now with people moving back east from the west, but there is still a challenge. Do you guys keep a list of approved contractors? Or is it still go find three, and let's hope for the best?
MS. BERNARD: I came up against lists in probably my second week of being minister. I understand why government doesn't have an approved list of vendors, because it puts the responsibility back, especially if something happens, like they burn the house down or something like that.
I also know that there are some contractors out there who, if they're dealing with elderly people, sometimes cut corners and do shoddy work. That's where the inspections come into play. But trying to get them back to repair can always be difficult for folks.
What we've tried to do to help mitigate some of that is, we've reduced the amount of quotes people need. I know it's difficult just to find three guys who will come out and do the work and give you a quote. Actually, one or two guys can do it, and you get it done. Bob's your uncle, and you've got it done. You get it inspected, and they get paid.
I know from some of the personal conversations I've had that some contractors will not do Nova Scotia Government repair work because they've had problems being paid in the past. That's a long-standing issue that we're working through. Sometimes they haven't been paid because the work has been shoddy, so it's like a revolving door, but it's something that we're aware of. Reducing the amount of quotes is certainly going to streamline some of that process.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: A good example I'll use is a couple who lived in a modular home, and they had to have some work done on it. There is a ramp on the front of the house because one of them is mobility impaired. They replaced a window which was an out-window that outed on to the ramp. So if they wanted to have the window open, you couldn't actually use the ramp. There were a few other issues in that house that we had to address. It was one particular contractor that we had trouble with.
Time goes on. After we had fixed all that problem, there was another community group that was helping an intellectually disabled person in a community. They were redoing his house. We worked really well with the department. Everything was going well. Then they get the quote, and the winner of the quote was the same guy that did that job on that other house. My head just went, ugh. Well, it's the only one. All right, it's the only one. Let's see what happens. It was, I'm going to start this week. Then, I'm going to start next week. Then, I'm going to start next week. It happened exactly the same way. Trying to find good contractors, I'm sure, is a continual challenge for them. That's that program.
Some of the successes that I've seen also have been the duplex or triplex sort of constructions that have happened. We have the larger apartment buildings in rural Nova Scotia. There's one in Pubnico, and there's one in Tusket, so they're sort of spaced out pretty well. But there's still a lot of seniors today who are moving out of our communities to find these houses or these apartments. There's a huge construction in Yarmouth right now, so I'm losing a lot of people to Yarmouth because there's nice neat apartments where they can go. Some people have been lucky in accessing our smaller duplexes. Is there a plan to try to expand on some of those constructions in rural areas or across the province? I think those are really successful in keeping people in their communities.
MS. BERNARD: We've had more luck in rural areas partnering with private developers on projects such as those. That's something that we'll continue to do. When we look particularly at the senior housing money that will come federally, we will look at creative ways of utilizing that in areas that don't necessarily involve 30-unit buildings. But we're not even close to those conversations yet, until we know what we're dealing with.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: I think the success of it is that you're not building these big buildings. You're able to put something that looks like a house in a very rural area with nice neighbours and quiet settings, rather than trying to amalgamate everybody into one space and make them live how they're not actually used to living. A lot of these individuals have run their own homes for a long time and have had that independence. They're not used to parking in a parking garage or parking lot and going through a locked door and all the stuff that goes along with being in an apartment. If there's anything that you can do or think of to expand on that process - it's been very successful, the ones that I have seen in our area.
MS. BERNARD: Yes. When I went to Acadia, I lived in a quadplex. They are extraordinary because they can meet different needs for different demographics at that time, whether it be a student, a senior, or a single mom, in my case. They're pretty cost-effective.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: This is where I think the connection with the Department of Health and Wellness has to happen, this particular stuff. I was talking to someone the other day, and they were looking at placing either their mom or their dad in long-term care. This is kind of the next progression because there's very little Level 1 or residential care for seniors in many areas. The other option was to try to get that loved one into a Level 2 nursing home. A Level 2 nursing home is costing the province somewhere close to $7,000 or $8,000, if not more, per month. If we had an opportunity for them in a - what do they call it?
MS. BERNARD: Quadplex? Duplex?
MR. D'ENTREMONT: One step up from that. It's almost like a residential care facility.
MS. BERNARD: Enriched housing?
MR. D'ENTREMONT: It's more like enriched housing. You have someone there taking note of what's going on, maybe even getting some meals to you, helping out with your laundry, that kind of thing. Like I said, it's more of an issue for health, but that's where our full slate of housing options can come in. You have one side of that housing option, and then I think the Department of Health and Wellness could take over a little later in the system.
MS. BERNARD: We have that model in Bridgetown. One side is ours, and the other side is the Department of Health and Wellness.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Assisted living, that's the word.
MS. BERNARD: It's a nursing home. But the side that's ours is more independent, and they can purchase different things that they need.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Go across the hall and grab what they need.
MS. BERNARD: We make sure that it's done in such a way that their rent is affordable, so they have enough money to buy whatever they need to buy . . .
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Yes, because if you look at enriched housing or assisted living, it's expensive. You are probably talking $2,000 a month or somewhere in that range, but it's a far cry from $7,000 a month, when it's the only option. So it's a sort of middle ground that I don't think we have a lot of in the province. Maybe that's an area where we can actually entice private companies and landlords to fit in that group as well.
MS. BERNARD: In that facility in Bridgetown, we had actually worked out a formula within our own responsibility where we worked with everyone, mostly older couples, and did the budget with them. The ones who could pay more paid more, but the ones who couldn't, we were actually able to lower their rent so they had enough money to purchase the services from the other side of the building, whether it be meals or special care purchases or whatever. So it was affordable across the board. There was a limit of what people would pay in terms of rent, and it has worked out quite well.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Changing gears just one more time before I let the member for Pictou Centre take over, it sort of revolves around the whole redesign. I know we've talked about redesigned going back a long time now. Where are we at with it? What kind of timelines are you looking at right now, taking the issue of disability and the issue of income assistance and trying to separate them in some way and treat those groups the way they should be dealt with?
MS. BERNARD: I think I can comfortably say that we are halfway through phase two of a three-phase transformation. The first phase of course was really dealing with internal restructuring. The Community Services you were minister of is not the Community Services I am minister of. It is completely different internally. Right now, we are in the design phase. We are working with professionals who are looking at detailing policy, looking at design of program and service delivery, and looking at really trying to simplify a very burdensome, difficult system.
We talked about the segmenting of people in income assistance. The fact that we treat almost everyone the same way is inefficient. You know that, and I know that, and the people who live with our services certainly know that. We are about halfway through phase two. It's a very phased approach. Right now, we're working with (Interruption)
As you know, we did the RFPs earlier this year, and they were awarded. We actually have a consortium that is working on this design policy phase. It is led by Davis Pier Consulting. It's in partnership with Gardner Pinfold - which I've worked with locally in the non-profit sector - the Social Research and Demonstration Corporation of Canada, and the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, which is internationally known for the social policy work they do in different jurisdictions. We have the best of the expertise gathered. It really is a commitment of government. We made it very clear very early on that this was not something that we were going to do on the corner of someone's desk. We knew that we had the subject matter expertise, but we didn't have the ability to redesign this huge, massive system. So I confidently say we're halfway through, on time, and on budget, which is more important. I've always said that by 2018, it will be a different system.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: What kind of money are we spending on this right now?
MS. BERNARD: Overall, we've been approved to spend $8.85 million on transformation. It's a phased approach, so when we need money, we go to Treasury, and it comes back to us. As we spend it, it's approved. We're about halfway through.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: It's being held centrally so that you are not impacting any programming?
MS. BERNARD: No, it does not come out - absolutely not.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: When are the clients going to see the change? Or is there a challenge now, trying to deal with two systems? If transformation is going on, that means something is changing, but something is staying the same in the meantime. How is that working?
MS. BERNARD: We did extensive consultations within the last two months. We spoke to hundreds of people across the province, not just in HRM, and not just the poverty advocates but also the people who use the system every day. They've seen some changes. They're experiencing some. We will be having some announcements in the coming weeks. We can incrementally make some changes now, but the big overall changes will come at the end of the transformation. We can start moving some changes now, and we'll see those in the next couple of weeks, around policy and regulations, based on what we've heard over the last couple of months that we can do now.
MR. D'ENTREMONT: Thank you very much for your answers. I'm going to share my time with the member for Pictou Centre. If he's being bad, let me know and I'll fix him.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The honourable member for Pictou Centre.
HON. PAT DUNN: Good evening, minister. I'll start off by saying that in my office in New Glasgow and my constituency of Pictou Centre, we are often on the phone with Community Services personnel, and I must compliment them. They've been wonderful, very helpful, great to work with. They try to do everything they can to solve the problems that come into our office and so on. If you get the opportunity sometime, if you are in the area, you can certainly pass that on to them. We enjoy working with them.
I'm going to go to one item here and then switch over. This one here I feel I have to because I hear about it quite often in my constituency. This group is meeting in about 29 minutes. I'm referring to Roots for Youth. The board and the director are meeting at 7:00 p.m. because they feel they will be forced to close down, possibly in May.
Again, when I'm thinking of youth homelessness, I'm thinking of Digby, Shelburne, and Yarmouth, SHYFT and so on. Back in February 2014 I believe, if my memory is correct, the government made a commitment of $350,000 to SHYFT, which gave them the opportunity to open up somewhere around early April of that particular year. At that time Roots for Youth had requests in for funding. When I talked to some of the volunteer board members - some are councillors from various towns and so on - they have said on occasion, if we had received $50,000 we would have been over the moon.
Again, I haven't been down to SHYFT. I'm sure it's a wonderful operation, and I applaud the work they're doing. In both cases, there are a lot of similarities: transitional housing, 24-hour staff support, great volunteers, access to a safe and friendly environment, support for youth to develop goals and plans. Talking with the members on the board, they go out of their way to try to get these youth at risk back on the straight and narrow, try to get them back in school, try to get them back in the parental setting or, if not, into some safe and secure setting where they can flourish, and so on.
Again, the need is there in northern Nova Scotia as in other parts of the province. My question is, going forward, is there any opportunity where Pictou County Roots for Youth might be able to receive some funding from the government?
MS. BERNARD: As you know, I visited Roots for Youth very early on in my mandate and talked to board members and the executive director at that time. I shared with them some of my concerns around their program model, in full recognition that they weren't funded by anyone. I had severe concerns around safety and talked to them about that and tried to give them some information on how they could maybe improve what they were trying to do.
At this point in time, money that is allocated is allocated. We're not accepting, in this year, any new applications for longer-term, sustainable, operating non-profits. We're just not in that position. I had written and had correspondence with the executive director. As someone who has started non-profits before, my advice was to try to get some local funding and to have an operating model that would be safe and effective for the kids who were coming there.
I don't know if they looked at different revenue sources or not. I'm not sure. But at this point in time, applications are not open for any new groups that are out there. We're looking at incremental increases for the hundreds of organizations that we already fund, just maintaining what we can do. I don't want to say never, but at this point in time, we're not accepting any new non-profits coming forth with ideas to start an organization.
Do you know if they had done any local fundraising or been part of the United Way or anything like that? Those were some of my suggestions, just so they could get some practical experience under their belt and maybe track some outcomes so that they would be building a case for support.
MR. DUNN: Yes, they have been pounding on doors. They've been out in the community, and they have had a number of meetings with other groups trying to be innovative as far as fundraising. I think that is what has kept them open to this point, but it looks like they're maybe getting near the end of their tenure unless something happens soon. They have been in the community for sure, talking to the various councils, talking to various groups.
MS. BERNARD: Could you have them send me some of their outcomes and financials for the last year because I haven't been there in a couple of years?
MR. DUNN: Okay. Thank you, minister. I'm going to switch over now to a few questions dealing with larger residential care facilities in small community-based options. I certainly know where you stand with regard to that, but I just want to ask some questions, especially in the transitional phase and so on.
You are moving forward with the transformation process which includes the Disability Support Program. My question is: What costing has been done of the proposed move away from the large into the small option?
MS. BERNARD: As you know, this year we have a $3.3 million investment into moving 25 persons with various levels of needs and challenges. I think this first cohort of folks who are moving out of a larger residential facility into the community will really inform us in terms of what the costing is.
It's really hard to transfer the costs of where they are in a larger facility now to a smaller one, because every single person has to be assessed for the complexity of needs they have and they would require different levels of services. I think the benchmark of $3.3 million for 25 is probably going to inform a lot of the work going forward.
The department itself has started a costing model for the Disability Support Program. We can only move as quickly as the investment is made. I have said it over and over again that we will do this safely and we will do it responsibly - we are not going to rush.
We do know that we are working very closely with staff from ARCs and RCs and family members and community groups; they are part of the moving forward. It will be interesting what the next year holds in terms of this investment, in how that will look for these 25 people as they move into the community.
We have to make sure the capacity in the community is there, so that will take the form of many different ways. It will be private market, it could be a new build, it could be anything that is defined of the community that the folks have defined, but we'll do in ways such as that.
I know there's a bit of a concern among administrators with the larger facilities that this is happening tomorrow. I've always said it's a decade-long process. They are involved in the conversations every step of the way. As we move people out of these larger residential facilities, we will not be referring long-term placements to fill those beds, because the point of moving people in the community is eventually that there will not be - what?
MR. CHAIRMAN: You have just one minute.
MS. BERNARD: Oh, sorry.
That's keeping in line with the spirit of the road map. We certainly will be taking short-term emergency referrals to fill those beds, but nothing long term. That's in the spirit of the road map.
MR. DUNN: Thank you. I have a few more questions; I'm sure I'll have to come back.
MS. BERNARD: I'll be here tomorrow.
MR. DUNN: Again, on that same theme, some dialogue between the larger ones. Of course, there's always concerns regardless of what happens or what changes are occurring and so on. What I'll do, Mr. Chairman, is I'll stop now and give the reins back to you, and I'll be back tomorrow.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Your timing is impeccable. I will now rotate to the NDP, and there is 27 minutes left.
The honourable member for Dartmouth South.
MS. MARIAN MANCINI: I just wanted to pick up from where we left off. We were looking at Programs and Services. We had been on the budget line of Children's Services - Field Staff. I wanted to ask this question. In the 2015-16 budget, there was a total of 798.4 FTEs under the Child, Youth, and Family Support program. How many of those FTEs fell under Children's Services - Field Staff?
MS. BERNARD: It was 573.
MS. MANCINI: How many fall under Children's Services - Field Staff in this budget?
MS. BERNARD: It's 573.
MS. MANCINI: Would you be able to give me a regional breakdown of that staff?
MS. BERNARD: We can but not right now.
MS. MANCINI: You could just provide it to me?
MS. BERNARD: Yes, sure.
MS. MANCINI: Thank you; I appreciate that. While we're on that, one of the big components to Bill No. 112, the Children and Family Services Act, was the cultural competency training for child protection workers. By way of background, our office submitted a FOIPOP to determine how many child welfare workers were actually trained in cultural competency in the department. There was a lot of back and forth on this, and then it was determined that the DCS does not actually provide this training. The information we received was that it comes from the Public Service, that the training is provided there.
I have that letter. Essentially, we asked for the total amount spent from January 1, 2014, to March 1, 2016, on cultural competency training for child welfare social workers, supervisors, and managers across Nova Scotia, including the total number of child welfare staff who are trained in cultural competency in Nova Scotia to clarify how many social workers out of the total number of workers are trained. This includes a financial comparison between the 2014-15 and 2015-16 fiscal years. That was our request.
The response that came back was that this was done through the Public Service. Is that accurate, that the training in cultural competency is being done in the Public Service?
MS. BERNARD: No, it isn't. What's happening with Bill No. 112 right now is that we are in the process of developing the policy and the regulations. I had a conversation today with Chief Prosper, and we'll be moving forward with having some capacity there to inform more of the regulations and the policy. Staff training will occur in July and August, and the proclamation will be in the Fall at some point in time. That's where we are.
That staff training will involve cultural connections. It will involve working very closely with Natalie Doucette, who will inform much of the work. She's the first Mi'kmaq child welfare specialist hired in the Province of Nova Scotia. She's working very closely right now with the policy development working group and the tripartite working group developing the regulations and the policy around the Act.
MS. MANCINI: It's fair to say, then, that we got the wrong information?
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MS. MANCINI: It did come from your department, though, but anyway. It's going to be in-house training, taking place in July and August. Is all the staff involved? Would it be the 573 you mentioned?
MS. BERNARD: It will be the bulk of the staff, yes.
MS. MANCINI: All right. Does the training take place within the department, or is it off-site?
MS. BERNARD: We haven't made that determination yet. We do our own training with experts that we bring in.
MS. MANCINI: I see. So you are just developing the whole training module now?
MS. BERNARD: Complementary to the regulations and the policy. I spoke today with the director who is working on that, and that's the timeline that is set up. We know we can meet that timeline with the training.
MS. MANCINI: At this point then are you able to say how long the training would be for each individual, what they are looking at?
MS. BERNARD: Not at this point in time, no.
MS. MANCINI: Of this current staff, is anybody currently trained? Obviously, you folks don't have the program set up yet, but does anybody, maybe coming in from another area, have that training or background?
MS. BERNARD: We have a number of social workers who work within child welfare who would have cultural competency training. This is a little different. This is focused on Mi'kmaq tradition and culture. The director of child and family services within the department is an Aboriginal woman. We know there's expertise in the community right now. We know that we can certainly access the wonderful expertise of Natalie Doucette. We work very closely with different training opportunities for whatever it is, going back and forth with the Mi'kmaq Family and Children's Services within the province.
MS. MANCINI: Do you know what you can spend, what your budget is for the training?
MS. BERNARD: We're investing $5.4 million, and it would come out of that.
MS. MANCINI: So would that be spent for this summer, for July and August?
MS. BERNARD: Not $5.4 million, but the money would come out of that. Yes, it would come so that by the time the bill or the Act is proclaimed, we are ready to hit the ground running.
MS. MANCINI: So the training would be complete before the Act is proclaimed. Is that what you're saying, that the training will be completed for all staff?
MS. BERNARD: Yes, we already have a training budget within child welfare. If that budget needs to be augmented, it will be with the investments in child welfare. But we will have trained personnel on the ground in child welfare offices by the time this bill is proclaimed.
MS. MANCINI: Could you point me to that line item, the training?
MS. BERNARD: It's actually included in the CYFS Administration line. I can get you an amount out of that, but I just don't have it right now.
MS. MANCINI: Okay, thank you, I would appreciate that.
I was going to move on to the Employment and Training - Field Staff line. In 2015-16, this was under Employment Support and Income Assistance, and there was a total of 394.4 FTEs. I'm wondering how many of those fell under the Employment and Training section there.
MS. BERNARD: That's 104.5.
MS. MANCINI: Okay, so that was last year, what about for this year?
MS. BERNARD: Sorry, small correction: 102 last year, 104 this year.
MS. MANCINI: Under the new employment support system, how many workers will come from DCS, and how many will come from Labour and Advanced Education in the new employment centres?
MS. BERNARD: These are just our ESS workers; this doesn't include anybody from Labour and Advanced Education. These are all our staff within our department.
MS. MANCINI: Income Assistance - Field Staff, in the 2015-16 budget, under Employment Support and Income Assistance, there were a total of 394.4 FTEs. I'm wondering how many of those fell under income assistance.
MS. BERNARD: Last year it was 265, and this year it is 282.
MS. MANCINI: So there's an increase.
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MS. MANCINI: Maybe I'm off track here, but you indicated a caseload reduction?
MS. BERNARD: No. But caseloads are monitored very closely. (Interruption) Oh, yes. Yes, there was a caseload reduction.
MS. MANCINI: All right. That's not impacting the number of staff?
MS. BERNARD: Not at this point in time, no.
MS. MANCINI: There's probably potential for that, though, if the numbers keep going down.
MS. BERNARD: I can't say that at this point in time. The numbers were low last year because of the vacancy factor. Because income assistance is an eligibility program, it could go up just as easily as it goes down.
MS. MANCINI: Before, Mr. Harrison was talking about the challenges some of the front-line workers in income assistance face - in all departments. I think you may have mentioned that it was the type of work that can be very draining on people, and I understand that. But they would also be impacted by a heavy caseload too. They work pretty hard in their field. That might be more of a factor for burnout because I think most of them are trained to deal with the difficult challenges that are faced.
MS. BERNARD: Yes, I would think it would be a mitigating factor, sure.
MS. MANCINI: It would be good to be able to see a lightened workload. I would support that for them.
Over the past two years, Income Assistance - Field Staff estimates have been consistently lower than the total amount spent. So the estimate for 2016-17 is lower than the forecast for 2015-16. My question is, what checks and balances are in place to ensure that we're not going over budget in these areas?
MS. BERNARD: Income assistance workers, bar none, are the largest component of the staff that we have. So we don't always realize the vacancy factor in that area of the work that we do. We generally are able to mitigate it in other areas, but not in this area.
MS. MANCINI: I'll move on to Property and Facilities. This is a new line item under Service Delivery that has been moved from Housing Authority and Property Operations. Is that correct?
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MS. MANCINI: Okay. My question is, why are the forecast numbers for Property and Facilities in the 2016-17 budget $1.8 million less than the 2015-16 estimate? Can you explain where that $6.8 million is coming from?
MS. BERNARD: The difference is, we have transferred the lease costs for DCS out of Housing Services. It's now absorbed within the Department of Community Services and no longer resides with Housing Nova Scotia. That would be the reflection of that.
MS. MANCINI: In 2015-16, there were 13 FTEs in Property and Facilities. Is that still the same?
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MS. MANCINI: Are the FTEs regionally based?
MS. BERNARD: They're here. Housing Nova Scotia has moved out of the Department of Community Services. They now have their own space on Kempt Road. All staff for Housing Nova Scotia resides there.
MS. MANCINI: The budget appears to have decreased this year.
MS. BERNARD: That's because we've transferred the leasing part of DCS out of Housing Nova Scotia. There is no decrease in the budget to Housing Nova Scotia.
MS. MANCINI: During Budget Estimates, I think a DCS representative told our caucus that this $6.4 million was for operational costs. Is that still the case?
MS. BERNARD: DCS office lease cost, yes. That would be province-wide.
MS. MANCINI: Is it possible to get a regional breakdown for that? Where the money will be allocated, what specific housing . . .
MS. BERNARD: We can get it to you, but we don't have it right now. There are lease costs in dozens of parts of Nova Scotia. I don't readily have that right now.
MS. MANCINI: Okay. What I'm asking for is a regional breakdown of how the money will be allocated and for what specific housing units.
MS. BERNARD: They're not housing units. They are office leases.
MS. MANCINI: Just office leases, okay. Sorry about that. Disability Support Program is on Page 6.5. The December forecast update stated that the Department of Community Services is forecasting pressures of $8.9 million in the Disability Support Program due to higher client costs. Can you show me where the $8.9 million pressure is shown in the 2016-17 budget? Was it in community-based programs or long-term care?
MS. BERNARD: It's in both, and it's reflected in the $9.9 million investment.
MS. MANCINI: How does it break down between community-based and long-term?
MS. BERNARD: A rough estimate of the breakdown is $1 million in long-term care. Then the rest would be in community-based options.
MS. MANCINI: So a smaller portion of that is going to long-term care. How much of an increase is that in the long-term care budget? Is it a marginal increase?
MS. BERNARD: It's marginal.
MS. MANCINI: Where would these clients be located?
MS. BERNARD: They are all over the province, mostly in larger residential facilities: in Kentville, in Pugwash, in the Pictou area, at Cape Breton Ability. They are mostly in the larger facilities.
MS. MANCINI: Are there any staff vacancies currently in the Disability Support Program?
MS. BERNARD: There may be a few, but they are generally filled as of today - very low vacancy.
MS. MANCINI: The 23 FTEs under the Disability Support Program in the 2016-17 budget, can you provide a breakdown of where these FTEs fall under? Is it in DSP Administration, Community-Based Programs, or Long-Term Care?
MS. BERNARD: These 23 positions would consist of the executive director, managers underneath him, and support staff. They would all be located in the head office, so they really are the administrative arm of the DSP. There are specialists in each of the four corners of the province, and they would be the only ones that would be outside.
MS. MANCINI: DSP Administration, for 2016-17 there is a $2.2 million budget allotment. Are you able to provide a breakdown of what that would be spent on?
MS. BERNARD: It's primarily benefits and salaries of the staff within the program.
MS. MANCINI: The road map implementation, does it fall under this category?
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MS. MANCINI: I think you answered this, but the $2.2 million, will that fall under head office? It's not going to be distributed among field offices?
MS. BERNARD: It would be in head office.
MS. MANCINI: I think you probably dealt with this, too, but I'll just ask. The 23 FTEs are mostly all under administration, right?
MS. BERNARD: It's mostly the senior management of the program, with administrative support, and the four specialists.
MS. MANCINI: Community-Based Programs, would this be where the funding for the road map is? I can't remember the answer you gave me. Where is the road map? Is it under the Community-Based Programs?
MS. BERNARD: Let me see if I can complicate this a little more. The money for the care, of course, is in the Community-Based Programs. The money for transformation is under transformation. Then the money for senior managers is in the admin budget that we went over.
MS. MANCINI: All right. That's not too bad. I did want to ask you about the road map, though. I had an opportunity to review it at some point. I saw this map and calendar and everything that was listed. I'm of the understanding that that road map was revised somewhat from the original. I think originally it was five years, and then it moved to 10 years. I'm going back a couple of years, I think, on that.
MS. BERNARD: Yes. I've said before that I think the road map was a victim of timing in between two governments. I think both governments absolutely support the spirit of it, but in terms of the costing and the way forward, it took us time to get to where we are today.
MS. MANCINI: I would expect, then, that you could tell me that some of the list has been completed, the road map tasks.
MS. BERNARD: Yes. I don't have it in front of me, but yes.
MS. MANCINI: Could we get that, then? A specific list of the road map tasks.
MS. BERNARD: I think we've been quite open. The reports have been on our website and gone to the community showing where we're at and what we've accomplished. It's easy to get.
MS. MANCINI: All right. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order. The time allotted for consideration of Supply today has elapsed. We stand adjourned.
[The subcommittee adjourned at 7:07 p.m.]