MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. We will commence this afternoon's proceedings at this time. Before we do so, there are several requests for introductions of guests.
The honourable member for Cape Breton South.
MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, through you and members of the House, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce in the gallery today, a distinguished member of the legal profession, from Sydney, Mr. Dan MacRury, who is visiting Halifax today. I would like Dan to rise and receive the warm greetings of the House. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: We will commence the daily routine.
PRESENTING AND READING PETITIONS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to table a petition by 400-plus people primarily from Cape Breton who object to the establishment of casinos in Nova Scotia and any legislation which would permit casinos to operate. I have signed the petition.
MR. SPEAKER: The petition is tabled.
PRESENTING REPORTS OF COMMITTEES
TABLING REPORTS, REGULATIONS AND OTHER PAPERS
STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS
GOVERNMENT NOTICES OF MOTION
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Human Resources.
HON. ELEANOR NORRIE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Province of Nova Scotia is fortunate to have among its staff many fine and talented employees; and
Whereas it has been the policy of this province since December 31, 1965, to recognize the contributions made by its employees after 25 years of dedicated service; and
Whereas 188 civil servants and Order in Council appointees are eligible to receive a citation and long service award at a ceremony to take place this afternoon at the World Trade and Convention Centre;
Therefore be it resolved that this House recognize the contribution made by the long service award recipients and congratulate and thank them for their 25 years of faithful service to their province.
Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: Is it agreed we will put the question now?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried. (Applause)
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
NOTICES OF MOTION
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the first major initiative undertaken by the Savage Government was the imposition of $78 million in additional taxes on Nova Scotians; and
Whereas a federal advisory panel in a report released yesterday recommended to the federal government small business reporting less than $400,000 a year in income should be taxed at 12 per cent instead of at the current rate of 28 per cent; and
Whereas Nova Scotia's Minister of Finance has yet to take appropriate action to assist Nova Scotia's small business community with a reduction in taxes;
Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Finance, in putting his 1995-96 budget together, look at ways to reduce the tax burden on Nova Scotia's small business community, so that more jobs can be created as our economy continues to gain momentum.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas most children know the schoolyard rhyme that an apple a day keeps the doctor away; and
Whereas observers of this House have found that a ruling a day means a doctor can play; and
Whereas tumult and disorder become the order of the day if members on all sides must fear they cannot have their say;
Therefore be it resolved that in the opinion of this House, freedom of speech and good order flourish when Mr. Speaker earns and enjoys the respect of all members.
MR. SPEAKER: I believe that resolution to be out of order. May I please read it.
Well, it is by way of substantive motion and I have always felt that a substantive motion of this type would be in order. It is drawn up in the form of doggerel verse, which hardly suggests a serious approach, but I will certainly state that the notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Pictou East.
MR. WAYNE FRASER: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas after many years of uncertainty at the Trenton Works plant, the proposed sale announced yesterday by Trenton Works and the Greenbrier Companies is good news for the plant workers, the community and the Province of Nova Scotia; and
Whereas the pending sale of Trenton Works was made possible through the hard work of many people, including management and staff, who will witness an increase in the work force from less than 100 to employment of over 500 Pictou County residents; and
Whereas the private sector investors controlled by Greenbrier Companies will expand the sales force of the Trenton plant's potential to markets in the United States;
Therefore be it resolved that this Assembly congratulate the Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency, the management, the employees and the new owners of Trenton Works as they continue to work to ensure that this facility continues to grow and prosper, bringing a brighter future to the people of Pictou County.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver of notice which requires unanimous consent.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Is the House ready for the question? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried. (Applause)
The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Minister of Health, throughout his tenure as administrator of the department, has contended that he has a plan for health reform; and
Whereas the minister claims that his plan is the blueprint; and
Whereas the Provincial Health Council, an arm's length advisor to the government on health issues, is still not convinced either that the minister has a plan;
Therefore be it resolved that this minister produce a comprehensive implementation strategy before, as the council warns, all health reform plans are derailed.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas long service awards are being presented today to public servants who have faithfully served the people of Nova Scotia for 25 years; and
Whereas the quality of government is defined for many by the dedication, experience and commitment to Public Service of these men and women, particularly those in daily contact with their ultimate employers, the public; and
Whereas long service employees and all public servants deserve support, respect and treatment as equals from the members of this House and from Cabinet;
Therefore be it resolved that on the occasion of the annual presentation of long service awards, this House affirms its respect for the men and women in Public Service and congratulates those receiving an award today.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask for waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver of notice which requires unanimous consent.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Nova Scotia Department of Supply and Services, together with industry professionals, have endorsed the new quality-based selection process as the best method for government to contract professional services; and
Whereas a draft of the new selection process has been circulating since April; and
Whereas the Minister of Supply and Services did not know about this new selection process and gave the architectural work for the Truro-Bible Hill school without advertisement and without an expression of interest;
Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Supply and Services explain to all Nova Scotians and to those in the industry who helped develop the new quality-based selection process, why he didn't follow those guidelines in selecting the architect for the Truro-Bible Hill school.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Bedford-Fall River.
MRS. FRANCENE COSMAN: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas over 200 students from Eaglewood Drive Elementary School registered for the jump rope for the heart fund raising event; and
Whereas in the past two years, they have raised $22,500 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation; and
Whereas fund raising by the Jump Rope Club will be under the direction of physical education teacher, Mr. Ed Cooper;
Therefore be it resolved that this House of Assembly extend congratulations to the diligent staffs, students and parents who generously fund raise, each year, for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver of notice.
MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver of notice which requires unanimous consent.
Is it agreed?
It is agreed.
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The honourable member for Cape Breton West.
MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas, on May 18, 1966, Paul Peinsznski of Dutch Brook, Cape Breton County, conveyed lands to the Municipality of the County of Cape Breton for the express purpose of a school to be known as the Dutch Brook School; and
Whereas in this deed conveyance, there is a restrictive covenant requiring the Municipality of the County of Cape Breton to return title of the Dutch Brook School lands to the Peinsznski family upon its closure; and
Whereas since the Dutch Brook School closed more than three years ago and the Municipality of the County of Cape Breton is refusing to respond to Mrs. June Peinsznski's repeated requests for the return of title of the Dutch Brook School lot;
Therefore be it resolved that in the opinion of this House the Minister of Municipal Affairs order the Municipality of the County of Cape Breton to fulfil its legal obligation to the Peinsznski family on this matter.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Halifax Fairview.
MS. ALEXA MCDONOUGH: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Minister of Human Resources is today attending the long service awards ceremony to recognize the contribution of those who have faithfully served this province for 25 years; and
Whereas long service award recipients see the minister's true priorities in the highly irregular hiring of her deputy minister's former colleague without competition to the position of Human Resources Development Co-ordinator after internal applicants had been rejected; and
Whereas this same minister and her government ended the last vestiges of independence in Civil Service hiring and promotion before insulting all civil servants and all Nova Scotians with this latest violation of fair hiring;
Therefore be it resolved that in the opinion of this House the Co-ordinator of Human Resources Development must yet be hired through a fair, open competition and merit selection process, so that the public and this province's public servants can have confidence that the co-ordinator is the most qualified and experienced person available to ensure the development and utilization of the skills and abilities of all employees.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas correctional officers have been forced to endure overcrowded, unsafe and inadequate conditions in the province's major correctional centres; and
Whereas despite years of plans, reports, studies and consultations, basic recommendations to protect the lives and safety of guards and inmates have been neglected with the excuse that more study is needed; and
Whereas correctional officers deserve to know why better screening of inmates for drug use, closed circuit TV and other recommendations are not being implemented;
Therefore be it resolved that instead of intimidation and threatening jobs or pay losses, correctional officers deserve adequate back up from this government.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
The honourable member for Halifax Fairview.
MS. ALEXA MCDONOUGH: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:
Whereas the Justice Minister responded to the tragic, needless murder of Donald Findlay in the Halifax Correctional Centre by releasing a status report on implementation of the external review recommendations; and
Whereas correctional officers have reported that many of those recommendations are not being implemented despite the impression of implementation created by the status report; and
Whereas the government seems more intent upon punishing correctional officers who do one of the most difficult and dangerous jobs in Public Service than improving the situation in corrections;
Therefore be it resolved that this House urges the Justice Minister to explain to Nova Scotians the delays in vital recommendations of the external review of Donald Findlay's death.
MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.
That concludes the daily routine.
The Clerk has conducted a draw for the Adjournment debate at 6:00 p.m. The successful entry this afternoon is submitted by the honourable Leader of the Opposition. He has submitted a resolution that reads:
Therefore be it resolved that the Ministers for the Economic Renewal Agency and Transportation and Communications and the Premier should ask the federal government to step in and stop the proposed sale of CN to CP.
So we will hear on that matter at 6:00 p.m. The time is now 12:19 p.m. and the Oral Question Period will therefore run for one hour until 1:19 p.m., perhaps we can make that 1:20 p.m. to allow a little additional time.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
ORAL QUESTIONS PUT BY MEMBERS
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health. I say to him, through you, that the Provincial Health Council in its report issued yesterday says that a weakness of the health system reform efforts to date is that government and the minister has not formally responded to the Blueprint for Health System Reform nor has he released his or the government's overall strategy for reforming the health system. People in health care simply don't know what is going on or what is going to happen next. There is no plan, there is no vision and there is no outline. There is no consultation and there is no direction articulated by this minister.
My question to the Minister of Health is, when will the Minister of Health publish a comprehensive document outlining precisely his and his government's health reform plan?
HON. RONALD STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable member opposite for that question. It gives me the opportunity to recommit to a continued process of reform, a continued process of information, a better process of information. We have set in place foundation stones over the six months since the blueprint was put in place and our staff is working very diligently to inform more fully the public and others, now that we have those foundation stones in place, about our plans for the upcoming years.
MR. DONAHOE: Well, that is all very well but the fact of the matter is that those who are knowledgeable of health care reform and concerned about it, don't believe that the Minister of Health has articulated at all where he and his government are today in relation to the Blueprint Committee document.
My first supplementary to the minister is to say to him through you, Mr. Speaker, that the Provincial Health Council, and I say, thousands and tens of thousands of Nova Scotians, are demanding that the Minister of Health now, produce now, a comprehensive strategy for the implementation of health system reform and to indicate how his strategy compares to the Blueprint Committee.
Will the minister commit today to produce a comparative report, showing how his health care reform initiatives do, in fact, if indeed they do, relate to the Blueprint Committee which, frankly, many Nova Scotians don't believe the minister is following at all?
DR. STEWART: Yes, Mr. Speaker, the member opposite knows full well, as many thousands of Nova Scotians know full well, that we have acted rather than spoken only about this. We have acted to put in place the very fundamentals of the Blueprint Committee. We have moved on regional health boards; we have directed in terms of community health boards. Only several months ago, we appointed a Commissioner for Health Care Reform who is doing exactly what the honourable gentleman opposite advises we will do.
But we will not knee-jerk this. We have a planned approach to this; the foundation stones, the commissioner in place, working with staff now on that particular document or documents to which he refers. I will assure the honourable member opposite that this will unfold properly, after our activities of the past several months.
We have had six months to do this. We have put in place emergency health services legislation. We have put in place the legislation required for regional health board construction and so on. This will unfold, and it is, indeed.
MR. DONAHOE: Well, I think the minister has just used the very words that have caused so much frustration for people concerned about health care reform in this province. It will unfold. But they don't know what and when and how and where and in what way it will unfold.
My final supplementary to the Minister of Health, through you, Mr. Speaker, is to remind the Minister of Health that the Provincial Health Council also commented that, and I quote them, most hospital cuts are taking place before alternative services are developed, contrary to what was promised. Even the minister's own, untendered, Health Reform Commissioner, to whom he just made reference, whose salary and job description, by the way I might say, the minister refuses to disclose, that Health Reform Commissioner has said the same thing.
The question is, why is it that this commitment is not being honoured? The commitment that as the institutional side is being hacked apart and cut down and closed down, why is it not being matched by the introduction and implementation of the alternative services which were promised, recommended in the blueprint document and promised by the Minister of Health, why is that not happening?
DR. STEWART: Yes, Mr. Speaker, the honourable gentleman opposite knows full well, and I am sure he is informed, about the plans being made in communities in which hospitals were changed. There has been a great deal of work done on this. My staff has been engaged in this for several months now and we do that with the communities, working with the communities.
The honourable gentleman's questions infer that the Department of Health is going to impose things on communities. That is not what the blueprint has advised. The community health boards and communities themselves will participate in those decisions and that takes several months to do. We have demonstrated that and we are working with those communities at the moment.
I might say that the context in which the honourable gentleman, or out of which the honourable gentleman takes those comments by the Provincial Health Council, the Provincial Health Council also complimented us on moving forward with reform. In fact, if the honourable gentleman wishes me to check, I will introduce some comments about previous Health Council reports that were extremely critical of no progress whatsoever in 10 years in this province on health reform. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Fairview.
MS. ALEXA MCDONOUGH: Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct my question to the Minister of Human Resources. She will know, I am sure, that in her absence yesterday I blew the whistle on the announced appointment of a new co-ordinator of human resource development to take effect on November 28th, in total violation of this government's fair hiring policy, without the benefit of an open competition and a merit selection process. My question to the minister is, will she give an unambiguous, unequivocal, undertaking to this House today that this appointment will be cancelled and that there will be an open competition held and the position filled by the most meritorious candidate through that fair hiring process?
HON. ELEANOR NORRIE: Mr. Speaker, I certainly am aware of the question that was asked in the House yesterday. I have a document here that I would like to read from in response to that, if I may, and I will table it.
"To clarify the circumstances surrounding the appointment of the Human Resource Development Co-ordinator.
This position which is a mid-management position, reporting to the Director of Corporate Services, was advertised internally within government and competed for. It was advertised as a two-year secondment. A number of internal candidates did apply for this position.
They were interviewed by a search committee and it was the committee's hope that the job could be filled internally. The committee determined that one candidate from within government was suitable for the position. But the employee was not able to take this job because of the obligations within their own department.
The remaining internal candidates did not meet the needs of the department. The committee had worked long and hard to fill this position . . .", over a period of six months to get it filled, time was moving forward because it was only a two year job. If you look at the employment bulletin, June 30th was the closing date.
"The committee determined there was a suitable candidate who had applied for a more senior position in the Department of Human Resources and had expressed interest in the secondment position. She had already been assessed through an independent consultant for another more senior Human Resource position.
The Committee interviewed her and, in their view, she was more than qualified for the position. And was willing to take a position of uncertain duration. She was offered and she accepted that appointment.
At no time during this process, was the Deputy Minister or the Minister involved in any way. As the Minister, as a matter of course, I have removed myself from the hiring process to remain true to the merit process and the fair hiring practices. I do not get involved personally in individual cases. I stay out of the hiring practices. There is a policy in place. It appears the policy has not been followed in this case. I'm looking into the matter and will be taken appropriate action.
As well, the Deputy Minister, at no time, spoke with the candidate about this position, participated in any way in the interview process for this position, or passed any opinion on any individuals involved in this position.
Furthermore, the successful candidate was never an Assistant to the Deputy Minister, in her previous role as a municipal director. She did not hire her, nor did she directly supervise her.". I am tabling this in answer to the question. Thank you.(Applause)
MS. MCDONOUGH: Mr. Speaker, we now know what the Deputy Minister of Human Resources has to say on this matter but my question was to the Minister of Human Resources. The minister has confirmed that the fair hiring policy of this government was not observed, that this position was not filled through an open competition, once this government knew that it was not going to be able to fill it internally. My question to the minister remains, will she cancel this irregular, unacceptable appointment and post, as an open competition, the job of Human Resource Development Co-ordinator, consistent with this government's fair hiring policy?
MRS. NORRIE: Mr. Speaker, I think if the member opposite would look at the statement that I had made, it was rather lengthy, I have said that I will look into this matter and I will take appropriate action.
MS. MCDONOUGH: I am sure the minister can understand that it was difficult for me to have studied the statement which I would have thought as a matter of order would have been a ministerial statement rather than to do it in this manner. But, let me ask my supplementary question at this point and that is that while the minister equivocates and stalls and buys time on dealing with this properly, would the minister indicate what the policy is of her department with respect to secondments that do not succeed in an appointment and is it the minister's policy that there are not open competitions in such situations?
MRS. NORRIE: I am not quite sure what the question was. It was advertised as a two year secondment position and it was advertised internally within my own department and with other departments of government. One person was successful in that competition. The department from which she came (Interruption) that is the policy. The department from which that individual came she felt that she had responsibilities back in that department. At that point we should have gone internally with advertising. That did not happen and I am looking into that, to find out why and I will take appropriate action.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health. On November 10th, in this House in reply to a question that I asked the Minister of Health he indicated the anticipated phase in of approximately 18 to 24 months for standard training guidelines for ambulance attendants. I believe that is what he said, I know that is what he said. The new Emergency Services Director said yesterday that within two years there will be some new government run services in place.
Nova Scotians were originally led to believe last spring, when we passed legislation Bill No. 96, the minister indicated at that time that he would have the system up and running within two years. I would ask the minister when he expects the new ambulance system as he outlined to us in Bill No. 96 and it was rushed through the Legislature last session, when will that new system be up and running?
HON. RONALD STEWART: I want to if I could in response to the honourable gentleman's question set the record straight in terms of our timeframes. I have always stated here that there would be a time of 18 to 24 months before the system was seen to be in place and operating as Bill No. 96 indicates it would operate. I have also clarified what steps would be taken in the interim to bring that about. The quote which is a very small quote from I think a report in the press does not contain the full context or the full text of what the new director of EHS for the department was saying. She is coming on only as of Monday and she had a brief interview with the press, it hasn't been completely reported and to say that we will have it up and running within two years is exactly what I stated in the House. It will take that long to implement everything as per Bill No. 96.
MR. MOODY: I thank the minister for clarifying that because the director didn't know that but the minister is telling us that the system will be in place across the province within two years. The minister appointed that individual without any advertising. I wonder when he says he is going to appoint a commissioner, will that position be advertised or hand-picked like he has done the rest or will it be advertised according to government policy, the position of commissioner?
DR. STEWART: Just to clarify further it seems this honourable gentleman needs considerable clarification and considerable reminding that this position which must be in place we have no one, absolutely no one in the Ministry of Health in this province who had expertise and the authority to make policy and carry out policy ever in this province. In 1994, lo and behold we have it. Through a secondment agreement with one of the most qualified people in the province and it was done perfectly within regulation and perfectly within the confines of government. In respect to timeframes, I would come back to the fact that there is absolutely no contradiction between what the director has said and what I have said in this House and that is, we will have up and running, completely in place in 18 to 24 months, a completely new emergency health services system and I rest that on that.
MR. MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I will ask the Minister of Health a very simple question so he is not confused. Will there be an open competition for the new commissioner that he is going to appoint or hire to run the ambulance service system, will that position be an open competition, yes or no?
DR. STEWART: Yes, sir, it will be so, yes.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West on a new question.
MR. GEORGE MOODY: That will be the first position in his department that has been that way. I would ask the minister through you, Mr. Speaker, when he talks about the new board members that are going to be appointed, I would ask the minister whether or not they will be appointed like the regional health boards, in other words, you have to be a supporter of the Liberal Party to become a member of that board?
HON. RONALD STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I might confess to some distress at the tenor of the question of the honourable member opposite, who knows full well that I was never ever pledged to appoint any specific political Party, one way or the other, to any boards or commissions in terms of health and he knows that very well. It will be the same in terms of the emergency health board. This board, as outlined in Bill No. 96, will be charged with the responsibility of governance of the new agency.
MR. MOODY: Mr. Speaker, he better listen to his Premier because his Premier said that is how they would be appointed. I will ask the minister, will he table in this House, soon, not like all the other things he promises that never appear, this week, the terms of reference for this board?
DR. STEWART: Perhaps the honourable gentleman opposite, Mr. Speaker, has been very selective in his reading of even the press reports, although they, of course, are somewhat inadequate in expressing some of the comments of the new director and myself. That is very simply that she will be charged with drawing up those terms of reference and they will be made public at that time.
MR. MOODY: Mr. Speaker, from what fields will the minister be selecting the candidates for this board. In other words, what are the qualifications for members who apply to be appointed to this board?
DR. STEWART: Mr. Speaker, in my answer to this I will merely reiterate that the Director of Emergency Health Services for the ministry, myself and my staff will be drawing up those. We will be vetting them with interest groups in the emergency health services field. We will gladly make them public and carry on with that.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Pictou West.
MR. DONALD MCINNES: Mr. Speaker, my question is also for the Minister of Health. The new Emergency Health Services Director said that she hopes within months to have a plan on paper. The minister introduced a bill in the House during our last session, Bill No. 96. Was there not any plan in place at that time?
HON. RONALD STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I believe she was discussing or at least alluding to plans for her own particular assignments. There is a plan in place. It was the basis of Bill No. 96. It is called the Murphy Report.
MR. MCINNES: The Murphy Report, is that the report, Mr. Speaker, from the gentleman from California?
AN HON. MEMBER: No, Dr. Murphy.
MR. MCINNES: Dr. Murphy, I thank you. Mr. Speaker, has the minister had any talks or communication with the ambulance operators of Nova Scotia lately?
DR. STEWART: I certainly have communications with that organization. I do not know what the timeframe in terms of lately. I would say within the last several months I have been in communication. Our staff is in communication quite frequently.
MR. MCINNES: Mr. Speaker, in all fairness, the minister introduced Bill No. 96 during the last session. We had a lot of ambulance operators come into the Law Amendments Committee to discuss that bill. Those people have provided service in this province for many years. I am told that they do not know what is happening.
When is the minister going to tell them what is going to happen to the ambulance service in Nova Scotia?
DR. STEWART: Mr. Speaker, we have been in relatively constant contact. In fact, I would advise the honourable gentleman opposite, as do some of the ambulance operators realize that we have been very closely in contact with them, providing them with advice and, indeed, with financial support when some of them needed it. We have been very diligent in continuing to work with them and we will do so as we change the system.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, my first question is through you, sir, to the Minister of Municipal Affairs. On November 4th, when the minister met with the metro mayors to tell them that they and their municipal colleagues who had just been elected would soon be out of work, she said at that time that there were going to be elections held in the fall, in fact in November 1995. My question to the minister is quite simply, was that a government decision?
HON. SANDRA JOLLY: No, Mr. Speaker.
MR. HOLM: I want to direct my next question, then, to the Premier. Yesterday the Premier said that the minister had exceeded her authority. He also said that he had no knowledge of the timing of the so-called election and that she had made the decision unilaterally. That now seems to be what the minister is confirming.
My question to the Premier is quite simply this. Is the Premier and his government saying here today that the dates and the decisions to hold the election for the new metro council have been put on hold?
HON. JOHN SAVAGE (The Premier): I can tell you that obviously this is one of those areas where I have said that mistakes were made. (Interruptions) Well, Mr. Speaker, we all make mistakes except maybe the members opposite. We certainly admit to being human. However, the issue of the elections is one of those issues that is now being studied.
MR. HOLM: Well, Mr. Speaker, the fiascos, the mistakes keep mounting. My question to the Premier is quite simply this. Will the Premier agree to put the brakes on his runaway train, to agree to hold and not make any kinds of decisions as to what will or won't be done with regard to elections until all the analysis, all the facts, all the information has been brought in and made available to the public? Will the Premier finally put an end to all the fiascos and mistakes and restore some sense of credibility to the system that this government has so badly bungled?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I give the people of Nova Scotia my word (Interruption) that we will continue to make the changes that are necessary, the changes that are very important for the future of this province. Whether or not there are mistakes of commission that occur as a result of the efforts we have made, it is a lot better than the sins of omission that we saw for 15 years. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, my question through you is to the Minister of Health. In Kentville at the Valley Regional Hospital, we have seen an increase of about 26 per cent in patient use since the closure of the Eastern Kings Memorial Hospital in Wolfville. At the same time that we have seen the increase in patient use, we have also seen a reduction, a cut in their budget if you will, of over $1 million. The hospital staff is currently overworked, the patient waiting list to get into the hospital is getting longer.
My question directly to the minister is, when, as the Minister of Health, will you get involved to allay the concerns we have at the Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville? Those concerns are growing by the day.
HON. RONALD STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I must request to the honourable member that if he has evidence to show these statistics to which he refers, that he table them so that I might examine them, take them back and, indeed, get very much involved in this issue.
MR. ARCHIBALD: I think it is remarkable that a humble backbencher has more statistics and better information on the hospital than he does.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!
MR. ARCHIBALD: If you are so interested in our hospital, will you indeed get involved and solve some of the difficulties that you indicate you are concerned about? Those are the facts, whether you like them or not. (Interruptions) Will you get involved in the difficulties? (Interruptions) My goodness. Will you, perhaps you could get the Minister of Education involved to help you, he seems to be interested. Will you please get involved with the serious difficulties that we are experiencing at the Valley Regional Hospital?
DR. STEWART: Mr. Speaker, this humble Minister of Health is at a loss to explain, first of all, why exactly one and one-half hours ago the administrator of the Valley Regional Hospital did not mention these statistics when I met and spoke with him.
SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!
DR. STEWART: Now I believe that that particular gentleman is well versed in what is happening at his hospital. He is one of the finest administrators in this province in health care, I might add, and I am sure the honourable gentleman opposite would agree.
If we have, in fact, the statistics to which this honourable gentleman refers, I would like to examine them, to carry them back to my staff and indeed call the administrator from this place. But I have to see them first and verify they are correct.
AN HON. MEMBER: I am sure he will table them. He will.
MR. ARCHIBALD: I am pleased that you had a meeting with the administrator of the hospital because I am glad that I am not the only person who meets and discusses the serious situation at the hospital with him.
Mr. Speaker, through you to the minister, when will you please get involved to solve the difficulties? You indicate that you are accessible and you are meeting, when are you going to get involved in a meaningful way? (Interruption) Oh, look, you have refused to meet with the Board of Directors at the Eastern Kings Memorial Hospital, he refused to meet with most of the boards. When will you get involved in the Valley Regional Hospital and solve the difficulty? If you are concerned, ask the administrator the question. He is an able administrator and I agree with you wholeheartedly.
MR. SPEAKER: I am sure that he is but I think the question has been asked.
MR. ARCHIBALD: He is working with difficultly under the extremely tense situation of . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Question.
MR. ARCHIBALD: . . . an increase in staff, a decrease in funding. Will you please get involved and solve the problem and don't hide?
DR. STEWART: Mr. Speaker, in this serious issue to which the honourable gentleman refers, that is a decrease in the services provided by this very fine hospital. I will not debate it into one-upmanship in Question Period. This is far too serious an issue here.
There is something else coming across here by this honourable gentleman and this has been typical of the way health care has been carried out in this province in terms of this Ministry of Health in the past. It is this, Mr. Speaker. It is that the Minister of Health is going to impose everything that a hospital has to deal with on a daily basis and will be dictated to and the minister, if you get to the minister, you have everything to expect in terms of what will happen.
That is not the way health care is practised or should be practised. It should be practised on a community basis where communities have the decision-making power. These statistics, I challenge the honourable member opposite to table these statistics, to give me his references and I will call from this place today, the administrator of that hospital to inquire. Otherwise, this is the height of irresponsibility. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Pictou Centre.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, to the Minister of Health. The minister, yesterday, seemed unwilling to accept the idea that interest in applicants to the regional health boards is germane to the issue of proper distribution of appointees in health regions. Yesterday the minister indicated that interest in this subject is frivolous. Interest in the subject of the selection process and representation in an area as important as the development of health care should not be passed off by the minister as being merely frivolous.
My question to the minister, if the minister disregarded geography and population in appointing, then what were the exact criteria that the minister used to make his appointments to health boards?
HON. RONALD STEWART: Mr. Speaker, the direction was laid out in the blueprint in terms of regional health boards. The appointments were by invitation. The numbers that applied for appointment to the regional health board, obviously, had bearing and how many were appointed. I have indicated that to the honourable gentleman opposite. The criteria were also, that we had agreed to, by way of the Blueprint Report, that non-professionals in the health care system be represented in the majority. They also gave direction in terms of community health boards in terms of representation by non-professionals and professionals on those boards. These were criteria that were laid out. They also suggested the number of regions. They did, in no way, suggest that a given community be represented by a given number of people.
But I have to come back to what I had stated yesterday, and I will say that if there is a significant problem with the numbers on a particular board, that was also allowed for by the regulations, in which the regional health board could add to its membership. I agreed with the honourable gentleman opposite, as I have with the other representatives from Pictou County, for example, that we are examining - and I have spoken to the regional health board - and are in the process of appointing extra people on that board, particularly because of the resignation of one of them.
DR. HAMM: I have considerable difficulty, I think, in obviously communicating across the floor with the minister, because my question in terms of what the criteria were, still in my mind, has not been answered.
By way of first supplementary, the minister certainly undertakes a great responsibility as he goes about reforming health care in the province. He must take ministerial responsibility for each and every decision that he makes; and in terms of appointing health boards as being one of his decisions. My question to the minister, how will the minister personally monitor the situation, ensuring that areas under-represented will in no way be disadvantaged by their lack of equal and proportional representation?
DR. STEWART: Again, Mr. Speaker, I will reiterate to the honourable gentleman opposite, that I reject out-of-hand, the idea of proportional representation on regional health boards. I have made this case in this place before, I will restate it. However, I will say to him that the important issue here is not the number of people on regional health boards, which are interim for only 18 months or 24 months anyway. But rather, the community health board that will be established in a given community to make representation and decide on their needs and decide on all of their health care needs, that is the key issue. This is the focus that we must have in this debate, the focusing on communities and community development. Pictou County, Meat Cove, Yarmouth, they will be well represented because they will be community boards. That is the important thing, it is not the number on the interim health boards that we are speaking about today.
DR. HAMM: Well then, I think, by way of final supplementary to the minister, if he is prepared to say that no important decisions are going to be made by the interim health boards that are going to affect certain areas, then what particular task - that the minister now said is not going to be important to the regions - has he assigned to his interim health boards?
DR. STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I, of course, did not in any way suggest that the regional health boards would not be important in their decisions in these next months in which they will do one main project. One particularly important project will be the establishment of community health boards and their boundaries in consultation with the community so affected. That is important.
But let me set the record straight. The honourable gentleman opposite, I would ask him when he has the opportunity to affirm to me and to this House that, in fact, I have asked him to propose membership on the board which would be acceptable to his colleagues from that region. I believe it is only fair that the honourable gentleman opposite, who is honourable, would exactly say that I have been in every way cooperative, and in every way indulgent in respect to ensuring that his demands and the demands and the suggestions of the honourable gentlemen from Pictou East and Pictou West, would indeed be part and parcel of our decision making on that regional board. I believe it is only fair that I ask that gentleman to do so.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Pictou Centre.
DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, this will be short. I have provided, as the minister has suggested, such a list which I will now have hand-delivered to him today. Having done as the minister has requested, I would ask now will this minister, in view of the fact that I have done as he has requested, will he now undertake to take that list and to provide suitable and proportional representation of Pictonians, on the Northern Regional Health Board?
HON. RONALD STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I believe I have answered this question. Again to the honourable gentleman opposite I say I will in no way commit to proportional representation on any board, regional or otherwise. What I have said, however, is that I have requested specifically the opinion and the opinion of people who might serve on the Northern Regional Health Board, keeping in mind that that regional health board certainly has a say in its membership, particularly the chair and those members of the board.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct my question through you to the Minister of Natural Resources. The minister will know that the Nova Scotia Moratorium on Uranium Exploration and Mining is about to expire in January of 1995. When the Uranium Inquiry was initially set up, it only went through one of the three phases that it was supposed to before the moratorium was put in place. It was agreed then at that point that the further two phases would be completed before there was a decision on renewing uranium mining in the province.
I would like to ask the minister if he would indicate here in this House and to concerned Nova Scotians what the intention is of his government, in terms of renewing the moratorium on uranium exploration and mining?
HON. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, as the member opposite realizes, one of the phases, as I understand, was to put a committee together of inter-departmental representation to review it. That process was completed and their report is now before me.
MR. CHISHOLM: Again, I would like to ask the minister if he would, in fact, confirm for us today that before a decision is made on renewing uranium exploration and mining in the Province of Nova Scotia, that phases two and three will be started, as was agreed to when the Uranium Inquiry was operating in the early 1980s?
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, I can assure members that we will comply with the obligations and responsibilities that the department and the former government has made with regard to compliance to that and we will deal with that accordingly.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I am just asking the minister, on behalf of numerous Nova Scotians, including the Premier who, when he was on the Medical Society, was a member of the inquiry or made presentations to that inquiry, a person concerned about this issue. I am just trying to find out and get confirmation from the minister that, in fact, the information that I have that the decision to reinstate or to again begin uranium exploration and mining in this province will not be made until phases two and three of the Uranium Inquiry are completed. Will he please confirm that for me and the concerned Nova Scotians here today?
MR. DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, as I already indicated, we have agreed to comply with the obligations and responsibilities that the government has made in regard to compliance to the issue of uranium mining. I don't understand, if the member opposite has heard the answer before, I assume he listened to what I had said, we will comply to the obligations that have been made.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the honourable Minister of Health. On October 27th, I tried to get the minister to understand that there is inadequate and under-representation from rural parts of the region on the Central Regional Health Board. He told me at that time it was ridiculous to do appointments according to geography.
It appears that the minister doesn't understand that Nova Scotia is not Hollywood and he doesn't understand the difference between rural and urban health requirements and the fact that there must be representation from both rural and urban centres, Mr. Speaker. If the central health region is to have any credibility at all, it has to have rural and urban representation on the boards.
This is a very significant problem and the Health Minister says if you have significant problems, bring those problems to his attention. Will the minister commit to fair and equal representation on the Central Regional Health Board, by filling the two remaining vacancies by individuals who understand the rural perspective?
HON. RONALD STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I want to assure the honourable gentleman opposite that the rural, as he calls it, perspective in health care and the urban and, in fact, provincial interests and needs in health care, are well represented on the regional health board in the central region.
MR. TAYLOR: Well, Mr. Speaker, the more you know, the more you know you don't know. (Interruptions) The nature of employment in rural areas is different. We have people working in the woods and working at sawmills and at farms and wherever. Sometimes they work under extremely dangerous situations. We don't have taxis to jump into and run to appointments here and there, so there is a distinct difference between rural and urban health care.
So, Mr. Speaker, currently with 11 of 13 appointees on the Central Regional Health Board, I am asking the minister, does he expect these individuals to understand the perspective of rural citizens? Of the 13 appointees 11 come from an urban area.
DR. STEWART: I would expect so, Mr. Speaker, yes.
MR. TAYLOR: This minister is again demonstrating that he believes he is acting out a drama or something on a movie set. This is not Hollywood, Nova Scotians have concerns. (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: That is not a question. Order.
MR. TAYLOR: Well, Mr. Speaker, I may be only a truck driver in the eyes of the Minister of Health and in the eyes of the Government House Leader, but everyday Nova Scotians are telling me that they want rural and urban representation on the health boards and there is no rural representation on that health board.
Will the minister assure communities like Pictou, Digby, Kings County and, of course, eastern Halifax County, that any available positions on those regional health boards will be filled by people who have a rural perspective?
DR. STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I realize this is a free-wheeling Question Period but I have sat for some days listening to this honourable gentleman opposite trivialize my contribution to medicine for the last 20 years. (Interruptions)
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please, on both sides so the minister can be heard.
DR. STEWART: I have stated in my place that the function of the regional health boards are well served by the current membership. I have also given an undertaking to ensure that all Nova Scotians are well served by the structure which will be in place, which will again be primarily directed to representation at the community level, at the level of rural and urban Nova Scotians, and that is the important point.
I urge the honourable gentleman opposite to recognize the Blueprint Report for what it is when it recommends that the important thing to do here is to develop community health boards and in that, the community will be truly represented. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health. Under the Health Services and Insurance Act, prior to November 8th, the minister had approval to expend $100,000 without any recourse to Cabinet. November 8th by Order in Council the minister had that amount increased to $1 million, that is a 1,000 per cent increase. This is discretionary spending that the minister can make, it is like petty cash, it is like $5,000 as the member for Kings West said is available, $10,000 and now it is up to $1 million.
Yesterday, in response to a question by the member for Kings West, the minister said that he had made that request simply because his staff thought it would be helpful. I would think that the minister knows full well that a 1,000 per cent increase in petty cash has got to be for some better reason than simply being helpful. I wonder if the minister would enlighten the House as to why he required this increase to $1 million in discretionary spending?
HON. RONALD STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I must admit to some alarm at the inadequacy of preparation of questions and understanding of what is going on here after yesterday. I explained yesterday that this program is capital construction funds. The capital construction funds, it was read to me by the honourable gentleman opposite who read exactly what it was and I had stated that this $100,000 limit was set in the 1970's and required everything to go before Cabinet. In fact, I said that it was a ceiling, it has nothing to do with petty cash and the honourable gentleman if he read Hansard would know that I answered, this was a ceiling on grant construction monies and that is what we had to do. This is 1994. In fact, in doing so, we have considerably streamlined a process and we have saved the taxpayer money in that regard. To characterize it as petty cash indicates truly a misunderstanding of the worst kind.
MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, the only misunderstanding, I think is in the Minister of Health's mind because yesterday he didn't know what he required it for and I could quote the minister from Hansard. He said, it merely raises the limit that I was advised by my staff would be helpful, that was his response as to why he needed that amount of discretionary spending.
Mr. Speaker, $1 million in discretionary spending within the Department of Health is pretty extreme. The minister has now admitted that he needs the money for capital construction. Could he tell us what capital construction?
DR. STEWART: Mr. Speaker, to reiterate, the honourable gentleman opposite, the member for Kings West read the specifics of the requirement and indeed it is here he read that I had come before, it is on Page 5063 of Hansard and he read exactly what was in the requirements of Cabinet. I said, yes we have raised that ceiling and I reiterated in fact that we did so to streamline the process because it was costing money to have staff process paper work in this day and age of construction, $100,000 would scarcely buy some light bulbs for hospitals in this province and I said very much indeed that the capital needs needed to be streamlined.
In respect, it is not discretionary spending in that regard, indeed it isn't and therefore we raised the limit and that is what this issue is about. I ask the honourable gentleman to understand that.
MR. RUSSELL: This honourable minister, as every Minister of the Crown on the opposite side I am sure realizes, that they come out with an operating budget and a capital budget, this is discretionary spending and I am not going to read you column by column as to what the minister can do with that particular money, it is all in the Act unless he has a specific project I would say that the honourable minister had no more right than any other Minister of the Crown in coming forward asking for that kind of what is essentially discretionary spending, petty cash. Now, what is the project?
DR. STEWART: Again, Mr. Speaker, this was an administrative ceiling which we raised. It has no project in mind. There is no specific project and it is not discretionary in that regard. The honourable gentleman knows this, I hope, by now.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: My question is to the Premier. The Premier was kind enough to take 15 minutes out of his very busy schedule so that he could meet with the metro mayors the night before it was to be announced that there was going to be an amalgamation take place. He gave them 15 minutes at that time.
My question to the Premier is quite simply this, have you taken 15 minutes of your time again now to tell them that the November date for an election has been postponed?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I have not met with the metro mayors since that time and neither has the decision been made. I told him it was under review. That was my previous answer and it remains the same.
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I guess that they are supposed to read that it is under review now by reviewing Hansard because the Premier does not see it necessary to sit down and talk to them.
My question to the Premier is quite simply this. How does he expect any Nova Scotian, particularly those living in the metropolitan area, to have any confidence, to feel that there can be any credibility whatsoever in the process that you have embarked on, given the numerous mistakes, not only about how a commissioner was appointed, but now even, in fact, on the comments that you have made about the minister's decision in unilaterally announcing this, where you yourself said you were taken aback, how do you expect anybody to have any confidence in the process that you have put in place?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, let me say, I guess, what I have said before, that there were mistakes made. But let me also repeat that this Minister of Municipal Affairs has been around this province, the first year in particular, in a way that no previous Minister of Municipal Affairs has done. She has got the feel, she has got the understanding and she has worked with the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities. Those are the credentials on which I base my trust in the process that she will be following. It will work, despite the people on the other side.
MR. HOLM: My final question to the Premier. It would appear that the biggest mistake of the Minister of Municipal Affairs has been that she has been taking directions from, maybe, the Premier and the members of the Priorities and Planning Committee.
My question to the Premier is quite simply this, if this government is intent on moving forward in a respectful manner, putting in place a proper program, will the Premier agree to step back, to cancel your government plans as decided by sole-sourcing through yourselves, sit back, participate with the municipal people, with the citizens in the community, ask what they want and then move forward together instead of trying to impose your unilateral decision upon the people who live in the metropolitan area?
THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the process will continue and will be enhanced by the selection of the commissioner. That commissioner will move forward in the way that we have indicated and if the gentleman opposite really knows municipal politics, he will know that these decisions have to be made. He will know that this is an economic as well as an administrative decision and that it is absolutely vital for the well-being of this province that we have one voice for the metropolitan area, not the four or five we have had for 10 years.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, my question, through you, is to the Minister of Agriculture. Hog production in Nova Scotia is very important to the economic well-being of our province. It is about a $35 million a year industry. I have been talking with some hog producers in the recent days and they are telling me that, at the present time, they are losing anywhere from $15 to $25 on every hog that they ship to market.
I am wondering if the Minister of Agriculture could indicate what he plans to do to assist the hog producers in Nova Scotia?
HON. WAYNE GAUDET: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the honourable member for his question. Approximately two weeks ago I had the chance to sit down with the Nova Scotia Pork Council where we certainly have been looking at the low prices in the industry. Presently, I have personally been in contact with the federal minister in order to support the Nova Scotian industry, asking the federal minister to come to the help of the industry.
I wish to inform the minister as well of the upcoming federal-provincial meeting in Toronto in the next couple of weeks. One of the items on the agenda will certainly be to look at the pork industry. We anticipate and we are hoping that the federal government will be coming with a benefit package to support and help the hog industry in this province. Following this meeting I will be personally meeting again with the pork council here in the province, to look at the outcome of this meeting that will be held roughly around December 15th. Thank you.
MR. ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that the Minister of Agriculture has been meeting and discussing the problem with the producers because the hog industry is so vital.
Larsen Packers Ltd. in Berwick have, on their own initiative, supplemented the paying price for hogs by $5. They recognize the emergency situation that we find ourselves in. I am wondering, will the Minister of Agriculture, prior to going to his meeting in Ottawa, will he have a meeting with the Maritime Ministers of Agriculture and go to Ottawa with a united voice so that you can come back with a comprehensive program to assist the hog producers in our province?
MR. GAUDET: Mr. Speaker, in the last couple of weeks my staff and my department has been in contact with other departments in the Maritime Provinces. We certainly will be going together as a unit to our upcoming meeting with a proposal that will be representing the interests of the hog farmers of the Maritime Provinces.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the honourable Minister of Health. In response to criticisms yesterday aimed at the Minister of Health by the Provincial Health Council for failing to produce a plan or an outline on his health reforms, the minister said this morning on CBC Radio, that he had things well in hand and that he had moved forward with ambulance services and a provincial Home Care Program. Mr. Speaker, I can't tell you or emphasize enough, how important a Home Care Program will be to all Nova Scotians but particularly to rural Nova Scotia. I am wondering, will the minister table today in the House, a copy of his home care plan?
HON. RONALD STEWART: Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank the honourable gentleman opposite for his reasoned question in this regard. The Home Care Program, the various facets of it, have been developed over the last six to eight months in the department. The Home Care Program specifically has been designed first of all to support the current Home Care Program in place and our main goal in doing this initially was to reduce waiting lists and to attack waiting lists in areas in which they were quite significant and substantial.
We now have succeeded in putting together a program in which we would build upon the current program and reconstruct it as we go forward in producing the new program. That technical document has been submitted to the people who are doing home care in the province at the moment, the nurses and home workers, for vetting this document. As of this week it has been received back from most of these division in the province and we are hopeful that within the next week or two we will have a presentation, which will be less technical, but able to be circulated throughout the province for the public consumption. We are very hopeful that the public will greet this as a major part of our reform and indeed a reform that will be of great value to all the citizens of the province. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: Order please. The time allotted for the Oral Question Period has expired.
The honourable Minister of Finance on an introduction.
HON. BERNARD BOUDREAU: Mr. Speaker, I beg the indulgence of the House to introduce to you and to all distinguished members two outstanding Nova Scotians in the east gallery. I am referring, of course, to Mr. Steven Sutherland, Internal Vice-President of the Kings Student Council, and his trusty sidekick, Brian Boudreau, a close relative of mine. I would ask them to stand and receive the welcome of the House. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, would you please call the order of business, Public Bills for Second Reading.
PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 122.
Bill No. 122 - Workers' Compensation Act.
MR. SPEAKER: The debate on this bill was adjourned by the honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party who had used, I think, approximately 35 minutes of his time, so we will say 25 minutes remaining.
The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I am quite happy to accept your offer of 25 more minutes. Thank you.
When I was speaking on the bill previously, I was touching on a number of flaws that existed in the current legislation. I want to say, although one has to be somewhat skeptical, given the lateness of the time in which the minister put out his discussion paper and the speed with which he was able to bring forward the legislation after that discussion paper itself was put out, one has to wonder and be a little bit skeptical that maybe the bill was written before the discussion paper, or maybe at the same time.
Certainly the one thing that has not been done is there has not been sufficient time to have the kind of thorough analysis and evaluation of the proposals that are in the legislation and, in fact, that were in the discussion paper. I believe Nova Scotia workers have a right to expect that the legislation that is going to be introduced and passed in this House is legislation that will treat the workers. Whether they live in the community of Yarmouth or in Yarmouth County, whether they work in a hospital in Yarmouth or work for a pit and quarry operator in that community or should they live in your own community of Sydney, and I am sure that you are also very familiar with the hazards and the difficulties faced by many of those who work, for example, in the steel mill or in the mining industry. I would suggest that they have a right to believe that the workers' legislation that is going to pass and eventually go into place in Nova Scotia is second to none.
I also believe that the employers in this province have a right to know that they are going to be treated on a level playing field and that those whom they care about, those upon whom they depend, their workers, Mr. Speaker, are going to be well treated by this system.
Unfortunately, the legislation we have before us is seriously flawed. Certainly I know, so I am not going to be repetitious and go over all of the things, or some of the things anyway, that were said by the representatives of the United Mine Workers, which Cape Breton representatives will know all about. Certainly they felt that this legislation, if it is approved by the Liberals, and here we are not just talking about the Minister of Labour or the Premier, we are talking about the 40 members who are sitting on the government benches, because you all assume equal responsibility for what you do, whether you live in Sackville-Beaverbank, whether you live in Halifax Fairview or whether you live in Sackville-Cobequid or Dartmouth North. Whatever area, Mr. Speaker, all members of this House have a responsibility to ensure that workers are going to be well treated.
The United Mine Workers, after a thorough evaluation and analysis of the legislation have said that what this would do, and I am using their word rape, that it will rape the injured workers of Nova Scotia if the legislation, as put forward, is in fact adopted. They have expressed such concerns that they are prepared to have a public meeting. A meeting, Mr. Speaker, on this very issue this coming Sunday evening.
It might do the members for Cape Breton some good to go and the hear the concerns and to find out why this legislation is flawed and then be prepared to stand up at that meeting. Not just to hear the concerns, but if you are prepared to support the legislation in its current form, to stand up and tell those workers, tell those people why you are going to do that. We need to hear what people have to say and that is going to take some time so that there will be an opportunity to come back and bring about some meaningful and positive changes.
I would suggest that if this legislation passes through this House today, goes to the Law Amendments Committee and follows a practice that has been followed with all other pieces of legislation, in other words a railroad train rolling on full steam, at a rapid pace, Mr. Speaker, without putting on any brakes to slow it down, to allow meaningful consultation. There will not be an opportunity for workers, workers' representatives or employers to have their very serious and legitimate concerns heard. That will not take tons of time.
I would suggest that it would be extremely difficult for people who have busy work schedules, whose families depend upon the pay cheque that they bring home to put bread and butter on the table, to keep a roof over their head, to be able to cancel their plans, tell their employer, make arrangements and say, look, we are out of here. We have to go to Halifax and go down and speak at the Law Amendments Committee so that they will hear our concerns. They cannot do that on a day's notice, Mr. Speaker, and I think that this government if they are truly committed to consultation and an open forum, would allow more time. Maybe as much time as the Minister of Labour spent running around the province trying to protect the Premier this summer.
Now, Mr. Speaker, what are some of the things in the legislation that I have serious problems with? One of the things that the government is proposing in the legislation and proposing to do, is to put in some money. The province is going to put in some taxpayers' dollars and, of course, they are saying, look, we are doing our part. Aren't we wonderful? We are asking taxpayers of Nova Scotia to put in some dollars to help to stabilize a rate so that the rates paid by the employers will not go up.
But then you scratch a little bit deeper, Mr. Speaker. It is like when you get one of those scratch cards. I won't mention the name of the store, but one store, for example, every time they have a sale you can scratch off a number and you will find out what percentage of reduction you are getting here or there, depending on the product. Here it is like those scratch cards. You scratch off the first line and it says the government is prepared to put in between $4.5 million to $5 million. Then you go to the next one and you scratch it again and you say, now who is going to pay for that cost?
Mr. Speaker, this legislation and the system that the minister has set up and all 40 colleagues, will have the workers pay that cost. Let me just give you but one example of where and how they are going to do that. I will just talk about one item, the top-up. Under many contracts, including, I would suggest, the contracts for employees who are working for the Province of Nova Scotia. My colleague, the member for Halifax Atlantic would know more of the details, I am sure because of his greater knowledge and involvement with the labour movement and would be more familiar with all of the details of the different collective agreements. There is a top-up provision so that if a worker is off and to be receiving therefore workers' compensation that compensation of course does not bring them up to the full rate of pay that they would have been receiving as employees.
What this government is proposing to do is to eliminate that top-up provision once the current contract expires. Now, what does that mean? What it means to the workers is again that the collective bargaining rights have been trampled, that is one. Another thing that it means, it means that the provincial government by again trampling upon the rights of workers in the collective bargaining process is going to be reducing the benefits again of government employees in other words, hurting those again and at this time when they become injured and thirdly, what it means is that the province, maybe the Minister of Finance helped the Minister of Labour devise this scheme, but what it also means is that the province is going to save millions of dollars.
So, when the province is saying, look aren't we generous, aren't we thoughtful, we are concerned and we are going to do our part, we are going to put some provincial tax dollars in to help to stabilize the fund. What they are really saying is that we are again going to tamper with collective agreements to take more money away from workers and we are going to recycle their money or part of it into this fund. In other words, another way this government has decided to get injured workers, force injured workers to pay the cost of the unfunded liability something which I remind all members of this House the workers were not responsible for in the first place. It was responsibility of successive governments, Liberal and Tory, they mismanaged, not the workers, they have no control of the funds. The governments, both stripes, the red wing and the blue wing of the same Party, they were the ones who artificially kept the rates low for political reasons. Somebody across the way said the same Party and quite frankly yes, from where I sit I can't really see any difference between the two Parties except when they cross the floor each one tries to act progressive when they are on this side and on that side they try to act conservative. You might say that whichever is in Opposition acts liberal whether that is a Conservative or Tory but when they get in the government benches they try to act like right wing arch-conservatives.
That is one of the things that this Act has done to hurt workers. I would suggest it would be reasonable to give some time so that the workers or representatives of these workers would have an opportunity to sit down and to talk to the workers who they represent to explain what it is the government is doing. Do you know it is like a fire department, most people don't appreciate a fire department until they have a fire. They don't think about the fire department generally because you don't need it unless you have a fire. But, let me tell you the first smell of smoke, the first whiff you get in your home or wherever you happen to be the fire department becomes very important.
I would suggest many people may not have concerns as workers or may not have thought about what the implications of this legislation will be as they go to work each and every day because they haven't been told what it does but should they become injured let me tell you it then becomes a matter of survival. I can tell the members opposite and I can tell the Minister of Labour, that the phone call I had the night before last from a gentleman in my constituency, talking about the problems he was having because of his inability to obtain workers' compensation. Despite medical records and doctors saying that this man is unable to work, I can tell you that not only has that gentleman, who had worked for approximately 30 years, I think he said - without having taken any time off - I can tell you, that this is bringing devastation to him and his family. The strains that are being placed upon him, make it even more difficult for him to try to get his life back into order and to restore himself to a healthy situation, where he might be able to return to work.
What is another thing that the government is proposing to do? Of course, it is changing from 75 per cent gross to 75 per cent net and that, one might say, is rather gross. Because it is, in effect, going to mean that the workers who are sick or injured, through no fault of their own, that they are going to take approximately a 25 per cent reduction. Not all workers have top-up clauses, so that when they receive workers' compensation, they will not necessarily have their incomes brought up, as they were under the old Act. Some workers had the top-up provision, many did not, so they were not getting the full amount anyway.
Now, Mr. Speaker, the government is talking about reducing what the sick and the injured - and remember, it is not just a matter of dollars and cents but if you are sick or injured, (Interruption) The Minister of Transportation and Communications is holding up a cheque-book and maybe he is indicating that he would like to write a cheque to help out in these situations. Maybe that is what he is saying.
But these people who are sick or injured; the Premier should know this, he is a doctor, and I am sure as a medical practitioner, he has had many people appear before him who were sick or injured at their job, at their work place, over his time practicing medicine. As I am sure the Minister of Community Services, as I am sure the Minister of Health has. They will know, that costs for a family and for an individual so injured, can actually increase, so that the amounts of money that they need are higher, than when they were working. If you have to buy, whether it is special foods - as are the cases for those who are suffering from environmental illnesses or if you need special devices, or if you are unable to drive and you have to take taxis and so on. The costs of medicines now, a lot of these things are going up, and some of these require increased costs.
But no, the province has said, the rates of benefits are to drop, that the workers are to assume the full costs, or almost the full costs, of attacking the unfunded liability, something they were not responsible for creating in the first place.
Benefits are going to be cut off at the age of 65. Of course, I don't know, Mr. Speaker, that the people who are injured, are going to automatically and miraculously be cured at age 65. Maybe somehow, there is going to be a laying-on-of-hands and those who have been injured and hurt are going to stand and walk again at age 65. Because, the government has said so, because the benefits shall not be needed beyond that point, not at the levels that they are received at the present time. Surviving Children Benefits . . .
HON. JAY ABBASS: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. Could the honourable member opposite, if he has read the bill, please clarify to those to whom he is speaking, that the so-called benefits he says are going to be cut off at age 65, will in fact, be replaced by an annuity at that date?
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for rising on a question instead of a point of order and I would suggest the minister, if he heard what I had to say, I said that they will be reduced and yes, indeed, an annuity will be there but the level of the annuity will not be equal to the amount that they had been receiving. (Interruptions) Yes, I invite you to check Hansard on that, that I said they would be reduced.
Another crucial and important principle that the government has decided that is no longer a principle to them now that they have adopted the benches of power, the red team is behind the red curtain on the government benches. In a democracy, at least as I understand democracy, obviously wrong, and I am not saying that I have all the wisdom and certainly not dealing with political systems and so on but my understanding is that a basic principle of democracy and in the judicial system and so on, is that a person has a right to appeal. Even in this House, whether we are successful or not, we have in theory a right to appeal. Certainly in the courts, we have a right to appeal. So, if an individual is charged with an offence, they can, if they are found guilty in a lower court, they can appeal that decision based on new information, new evidence, to another level of the judicial system.
Here, this legislation is aimed at - one of the things it is doing - removing that appeal process. We all have seen, no more so that I am sure yourself over the years for those that you have tried to work and help and you have a reputation of doing that, Mr. Speaker, of trying to help injured workers. Certainly, if there was not a proper appeal process, those avenues would be cut off.
There are countless more things that I could go on about but I am going to be running out of time, just as those who want to make improvements to this legislation are running out of time because of the narrow window of opportunity being provided by this government. So, therefore, in an attempt to be responsible and reasonable so that the kinds of discussions that are needed and the review that is needed can take place, I would suggest a short delay would be necessary. Therefore I move that the words after that be deleted and the following be substituted. Bill No. 122 not now be read for a second time but that it be read a second time three months hence. That, Mr. Speaker, I so move.
MR. SPEAKER: I would recognize the bill for a six months' hoist. Based on the British precedent a three months' hoist is not applicable at this time of the year but the six months' hoist is. Would you agree to a six months' hoist, to move?
MR. HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I will agree to it as six months but my preference would be three simply because and we have precedents in this House where both three and six have, in fact, been moved in this House. Recognizing, I believe the now Minister for the Economic Renewal Agency has in the past, I would have to go check the records to pull out the exact date of that but three months' hoist has been applicable and accepted in this House in the past. So, my preference is for three months to give time for proper consultation.
MR. SPEAKER: Based on the British practice, it should be a six months' hoist at this time of the year, the cycle being that from the opening of Parliament in the fall until the Feast of Pentecost it would be a six months' hoist and a three months' hoist from Whitsuntide through to the summer recess of Parliament. But I will not enforce that rule here, I will simply accept the motion as read, rule it in order.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, I thought I had seen it all, until I just witnessed this spectacle. The honourable member stood in his place and suggested that we delay this. Beauchesne is quite clear on the hoist. The hoist is used to kill a bill, it is not used to delay a bill, it is used to kill a bill. I believe those are the very words that are used.
I think what the honourable member wants to do here is to use these rules. That is fine, I respect that. But let's not pretend that what he is doing would not have an impact on the injured worker in this province or that what he is attempting to do would not have an impact on the public purse. It has been stated in this House several times that the workers' compensation unfunded liability is growing at a rate of about $90,000 per day. Using a 30 day month, that is $2.7 million a month, or $8.1 million for a three months' hoist.
Mr. Speaker, let's look at this realistically. This is not for consultation, this is to kill a bill. So when do we get the bill passed, in three months? No. It means that this session of the Legislature is probably ended, a new one started; the bill may get back by then if the three month period has passed, but it may not. In fact, it may not get back for another year, in which case the delay would probably cost the public purse, the unfunded liability, in excess of $30 million.
Now if he is going to stand in his place and suggest that this amendment he has made, would not impact on the injured worker when the unfunded liability may grow in excess of $32 million, who does he think he is kidding with such nonsense? What he wants is for the status quo to remain, for the system that is in place to remain in place so that individuals, members like him, can stand in their place and criticize and criticize and do nothing by way of positive contribution or suggestion to make a better system, simply stand and criticize.
We have procrastinated in this province with this problem for years and years. Finally we have a minister who has gone out and attempted to find a balanced solution. Reading editorials in papers - I am sure he has read them although he has not referenced them in this place - there have been editorials written which talk about no easy solution to this problem, no solution that everyone is going to get off the hook, which our honourable friends in the NDP want all things for all people and they want everyone to win. That doesn't happen and it is not going to happen with this type of problem that we have.
We have a minister who has spent a great deal of time trying to find a reasonable solution. Our friends in the NDP procrastinate some more, procrastinate again, and let's have this unfunded liability grow by another $8 million or $16 million or $32 million and that is okay, that is no problem with that. Mr. Speaker, who knows, with the compounding of that debt, it may be far in excess of $30 million.
This House, this Legislature, this province have a process to deal with legislation. He says it is no good, it won't work, people don't have enough time to come before the Law Amendments Committee. Well, it is the process that has been in place for how long, and it has worked. It has worked in passing laws in this province; it has worked in having representations made in front of the Law Amendments Committee and it has resulted in changes to legislation. It resulted in a former minister withdrawing a bill on workers' compensation. It does work but it is not good enough for the NDP. They want to pick their process and let it go forward and to heck with what that does to the unfunded liability, the public purse and the injured worker. That is what they are proposing today, to put this off for another year and let the problem grow and grow.
He mentioned in his remarks that something is gaining speed. I will tell you what is gaining speed, the unfunded liability is gaining speed. If you delay and procrastinate for another year, I wonder, Mr. Speaker, when the cheques for injured workers will start to bounce because of the NDP shenanigans. That is what is going to happen. There is only one word which truly describes what the New Democratic Party in Nova Scotia are attempting to do today and that is irresponsible.
MR. ROBERT CARRUTHERS: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With regard to the proposed amendment that has been ruled on, once again, and I raised this matter on a previous item when the Deputy Speaker was in the Chair. Perhaps, I am sure, the Speaker did not realize, but we, the members of the House, still do not have a copy of this proposed amendment. I don't have a copy of it. I don't know how I could intervene in opposing it before the ruling is made. I don't have a copy. I can't read it and I find that very difficult.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I am not trying to blame the member. I am not trying to blame the Chair. I am just making sure that the process is in order. That all members of the House have a chance to read a proposed amendment and intervene either for or against it before the ruling is made.
MR. JOHN HOLM: I would apologize to the member if he did not get a copy. We had enough copies photocopied and we gave those to the Clerk and asked that they be distributed by the Pages to all members. I don't know if you were in your seat when I moved it or not, but they normally do take them around and give them to those who are present at that time.
MR. SPEAKER: The Clerks will have copies of the amendment made and circulated. I have ruled it in order. It is a three months' hoist. There are four lines of copy, but that is what it amounts to.
The honourable member for Hants West.
MR. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I find it rather difficult to get to my feet after listening to the Minister of Transportation castigate the Leader of the New Democratic Party for bringing forward a 90 day hoist to Bill No. 122. Because, unfortunately, I have to take the same view as the Minister of Transportation is taking.
Mr. Speaker, I do not know how long you have to be in this House to learn what it is all about and what we actually do in second reading on a bill. But second reading of a bill means that you are examining the principle of the bill and you are talking about what it is that the minister, or any other person within the House, for that matter, is trying achieve by introducing a piece of legislation.
You are not arguing, Mr. Speaker, the nuts and bolts of what is in that particular piece of legislation. The time to do that is when it leaves this place and goes into the Law Amendments Committee, examined by the public and by the Law Amendments Committee to determine if changes are indeed warranted to that particular piece of legislation. We bring it back into this House for clause by clause in Committee of the Whole House. That is when we, as members of this House, have the opportunity to change what, perhaps, is the minister's intention, to bring to bear with whatever force we can and with whatever eloquence we can, to try to achieve a particular piece of legislation that perhaps suits us better than it does the government.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I don't think anybody can argue that the Workers' Compensation Act has to be replaced. A piece of legislation as has been said in this House for the last three or four days is completely outdated. There is no need to talk about trying to amend the bill which I think, perhaps, the NDP is trying to do. You cannot amend a piece of legislation that is so far out of date as our present Workers' Compensation Act. It is incomprehensible, it is open to interpretation and it is unreadable by the bulk of the people who have to use that legislation on a day by day basis.
So, Mr. Speaker, the minister has come forward with a new bill and I think that we all agree that that was necessary. Even the NDP, I think, agrees that that was necessary. I cannot understand for the life of me why the New Democratic Party should be insisting that we stall the bill at this particular stage. I don't know what that achieves because we cannot change the bill in second reading. We cannot make substantive motions to change. We cannot make amendments to clauses within the bill in second reading. All that we can do is bring forward, as they have been doing, dilatory motions which simply delay the process. The process, if it is delayed, helps nobody, because there are people out there suffering because we have an outmoded piece of legislation.
We have injured workers out there who are suffering, because we have outdated legislation. We have a very large population of injured workers since the Hayden Decision in 1990, that deserved to be helped, but can't be helped until this legislation goes through. Mr. Speaker, that is not to say that the bill in its present form will achieve everything that we on this side would like to see achieved in a new piece of legislation. We have the opportunity to do that, as do the groups that we represent, whether they be workers or employers. Because they can have their say in the Law Amendments Committee and bring forth what changes they want to make, in their view, the legislation better.
We have our opportunity, when we come into this House in Committee of the Whole, to make our suggestions as to amendments, to make the bill better. A dilatory amendment at this time, I would suggest to you, serves nobody any good, except perhaps the New Democratic Party, who just want to make a noise and get themselves a headline in the newspaper. Mr. Speaker, I am being very nice, because I think that there is no reason whatsoever, that this bill should be delayed. I am not going to stay on my feet and delay the bill any further, I just would advise the House that I will be voting against the amendment.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Atlantic.
MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: I must say I am almost overwhelmed with emotion; the concern that the two speakers previous have shown for injured workers in this province. As representatives of organized workers in the Province of Nova Scotia, it is the representatives of the tens of thousands of injured workers in this province that have said to us very clearly, that if this bill goes through as it stands, unamended, it is going to mean thousands of dollars out of our pockets.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. I don't know who the honourable member is trying to kid, but Section 669 of Beauchesne states, and I quote, "An established form of amendment such as the `six months' formula, used to obtain the rejection of a bill, is not capable of amendment.". So, he is not fooling anyone standing saying that this hoist is going to be used for amendments.
MR. CHISHOLM: If I may, without the Minister of Transportation getting too exorcised, my point is that the people that are going to be most affected by the provisions of this bill have said to us, we were surprised by the introduction of the kind of clawbacks, the kind of benefit reductions that this bill imposes on compensation in the Province of Nova Scotia. We need the opportunity, we need some time to carefully analyze what it is that this minister has brought forward. Because he has fundamentally changed some very basic principles of the Workers' Compensation Act in this province, some very fundamental principles that require some careful examination.
Working people in the Province of Nova Scotia, regardless of the theatrics of the Minister of Transportation, or the appeals and exhortations of the honourable member for Hants West, know very clearly what the track record is of the former administration, in terms of defending, protecting and enhancing workers' rights in the Province of Nova Scotia. They also know the track record of this administration in terms of ramming through legislation without regard to concerns that are raised by the people that are most affected.
During this debate at second reading, there has been a motion on this floor that the matter be referred to the Human Resources Committee. Did you hear the Minister of Transportation rise to his feet and say, now that doesn't sound like a bad idea, if people have concerns they can bring it to this committee and that committee can make recommendations on possible amendments that could be made.
MR. ROBERT CARRUTHERS: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. Clearly the member is now debating the previous motion, that a motion had come before this honourable House, it was defeated. He is debating it all over again, at least that is outside the scope of this matter.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, at that point he tried to provide an opportunity where people would be able to have a proper forum to bring their concerns and have time to analyze the legislation that is before us and that is before them and to make representations to the minister and his colleagues about the concerns that they had and why it was so important to make some adjustments to some of the changes that have been introduced in this legislation. The Minister of Transportation was silent, the member for Hants West again suggested that we move this on to the Law Amendments Committee.
I tell you what, this caucus fought long and hard before we brought in this motion to hoist this bill. You may have noticed that it was our third amendment at second reading because we also thought that there should be an opportunity provided for the groups that are directly affected by this legislation to make representation to the Law Amendments Committee. What we heard from those representatives, from injured workers, from workers in organized labour across this province, is please try to give us some time so that we can properly analyze this legislation because the more we look at it, the more we begin to get some appreciation of how significantly this minister has cut away at some of the basic principles that have established the integrity of the workers' compensation system in the Province of Nova Scotia.
The organizations said that they need some more time, hours, days perhaps, so that they can make sure that the limited time and undoubtedly it will be limited time because many of these representatives have been before the Law Amendments Committee. They have been through the process of standing up, taking their swings and then walking away and seeing nothing else happen. They have been through that experience, we are not talking about people that are new to the system.
So, we are responding with this particular motion to the urgings of tens of thousands of working people in the Province of Nova Scotia, of injured workers, people that are directly affected by this legislation. When we say to all members of this House that there are some real serious problems with Bill No. 122 and we feel and we urge this government and all members to provide some sort of opportunity whereby those concerns can be taken into consideration.
Because, again, those people have been through, have seen an example of this minister's consultation process, even though he told us in the spring session that he had legislation drafted and all ready to go and that he was going to spend the time, even though he could not bring it in, decided not to at the last minute, given the rough sailing the government was facing at that particular time, the minister decided that he would not introduce that legislation in the spring sitting, but that he would take that legislation and some of the issues dealt with and he would consult throughout the summer and throughout the fall with those people affected.
Mr. Speaker, it was October 6th before this minister tabled a discussion paper before Nova Scotians, and then said, now come and see me, tell me what you think and I will listen to that. Well, I went through that format, as did a number of other representatives of different groups across this province. The minister sat in his boardroom totally unprepared. Not apparently understanding many of the provisions provided or discussed or dealt with in the discussion paper. People went through a lot of effort, put in a lot of time to try to bring those concerns there. He did not have resource people to help him or to help them explain it and people walked away feeling that their concerns, that the issues that they wanted to raise fell on deaf ears.
Then, I think it was approximately six weeks later, the minister introduced in this House Bill No. 122 that is before us today, which replicates in many ways almost exactly the provisions provided for in his discussion paper of October 6th. In other words, regardless of the fact that injured workers told the minister that by setting a ceiling of 75 per cent or 85 per cent of net earnings, that it did not matter whether it was called a dual award system or not. For people that hit the maximum, they would not be entitled to the permanent injury benefit. Regardless of the fact that group after group told the minister that the move from 75 per cent of gross to 75 per cent of net represented a loss of income for people at the maximum of $36,000, represented a reduction of income of close to $9,000 a year. Even though some of that is recovered through tax returns, as has been stated in this House on this debate before, you cannot feed your children with a tax return that is coming in a year.
So all of these concerns have been brought to the attention of this minister over a six week period and he has ignored them, or has decided that he does not accept them or whatever. So Nova Scotia workers and injured workers in this province are supposed to believe the Minister of Transportation when he says, we will just go through the process here. People can bring their amendments to the Law Amendments Committee and we will deal with them then, no sweat.
Well, you know, he might have some confidence that that may work, but there are an awful lot of people who have had dealings with this government and the former government who are very concerned that this bill, in fact, will be rammed through, not unlike the casino gambling bill and many other bills, the wage roll-back bill, the Public Sector Compensation Restraint Act, and many others that have frozen collective agreements, that have rolled back workers' wages in this province.
So what people want the opportunity to do, and I will say this, Mr. Speaker, through you to the Minister of the Environment, is to have the opportunity to say to members of this government that the idea that this is a balanced approach to dealing with the unfunded liability is nothing but a joke. It is injured workers who are paying for the unfunded liability, it is injured workers who are going to carry these changes on their backs.
Why, I would suggest it is fair to say, representatives on the Workers' Compensation Board representing the organized labour movement in the Province of Nova Scotia, injured workers groups, other unions across this province have been prepared to sit down and discuss the problem of the unfunded liability and to try to come up with strategies to deal with the unfunded liability. As much as other people would like to suggest otherwise, these are not stupid people. These are not people who want to see the economy go down the toilet. These are people who know if there is any chance that anything will increase unemployment that it is not good for them nor is it good for this province.
These are also the same people who, since 1975, have appeared in the Red Room and have lobbied government ministers again and again about the need to make revisions in the way in which the Workers' Compensation Board is administered. But did anybody listen to that? No. Did they increase premiums at all during the 1970's and 1980's, Mr. Speaker? No. As representatives discussed many times, did they deal with questions? Did this government, did the former government deal with questions of how you could possibly resolve the problems with the increasing unfunded liability?
Here we are in 1994, and this administration has decided it is going to tackle the unfunded liability and I say good stuff. We have to tackle it, no question about it. But I don't agree that we have to tackle it on the backs of injured workers. That is not fair, it is not just. (Interruption) No, let's do it now, I say to the Minister of Education and to the member for Hants East whose contribution to this debate, as in any other debate, is hackling and cackling from the back benches. But if this government was prepared to come forward with just, reasonable, fair, sound proposals to deal with the unfunded liability, that truly tried to balance who was going to pay and how much, then I tell you, we would be front and centre. As we have been in this House, to see that this issue was resolved.
But let's deal with urgency for a second, the issue of urgency that the Minister of Transportation and Communications stands up and rails on with such theatrics, to use a description that the honourable Finance Minister used so well the other day.
You may recall, Mr. Speaker, and some members may choose to recall, that back in September 1993, the government said that, we are going to deal with the backlog, the excessive backlog at the Appeal Board. At that point it was 1,500 cases. I believe it was this Minister of Labour who said on September 13th, oh, I am sorry, this is from the government's Speech from the Throne. So maybe it came from the Minister of Labour, maybe it came from the Premier, who knows. But from the Throne Speech, Mr. Speaker, it says, "My Government has also instructed the Workers Compensation Appeal Board to address, without delay, a significant appeal case backlog.". What is the appeal case backlog now? It is up over 2,000 I believe. In fact, things have bogged down so bad that the internal appeal process is now backed up to over 1,200 cases.
Does this legislation deal with that problem at all? No. Mr. Speaker. If we put through Bill No. 122 today, it would do nothing to resolve the problem of over 2,000 injured workers whose cases are before the Appeal Board and have not been heard yet. It does not do one thing, not one, except proposes to outlaw, to get rid of the external appeal process. It is like if you cannot fix it, let's get rid of it, even though it serves a purpose. It could serve even a good purpose, Heaven forbid, if we put our mind to trying to resolve the problem. But no, let's not fix it, let's get rid of it. Let's make sure that injured workers do not have too many avenues to deal with the question of how the board is interpreting their legislation or the policies and whether, in fact, injured workers in this province continue to be dealt with unjustly, as they have for so many years.
So have you heard the Minister of Transportation get on his feet and talk about let's do something about the backlog in the Appeal Board? Not a word. All he is concerned about, I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, as he stands on his feet here and tries to suggest that, well, we have to follow the process here, give people an opportunity to bring in amendments. All that minister is trying to do is set up the situation where another bill, regardless of consequences, regardless of the people that are affected, gets rammed through and shoved down the throats of Nova Scotians.
Let me deal for a few moments about why it is so important that we have three months. Let's reach agreement that the Law Amendments Committee will be, I don't know what the process would be, but that we give the Law Amendments Committee the responsibility to hold hearings across the province on Bill No. 122 and to bring back amendments for January, maybe. The end of January, when we return from our brief Christmas recess. Maybe the Law Amendments Committee could be given that responsibility if, in fact, this government is serious or this minister, anyway, is serious about his exhortations that the matter be dealt with.
You know if he cared about injured workers, he would care about what is, in fact, in this bill. He would care about the backlog at the Appeal Board and he would care about the fact that injured workers are going to lose big time as a result of Bill No. 122. If he was that concerned, as he suggests when he stands on his feet and condemns us for trying to represent the interests of tens of thousands of people and injured workers and workers in this province, who have asked us to try to slow this out-of-control train down a bit, then, Mr. Speaker, maybe we would have the opportunity to feel somewhat confident in what it is that the minister has to say.
Mr. Speaker, this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a time when you can deal with it clause by clause. I think it is important where the member for Sackville-Cobequid, the Leader of the New Democratic Party, has introduced a motion to hoist this bill for three months, I think it is important for us to underline why it is that we are doing that. What is there in this bill that concerns so many people in the Province of Nova Scotia that they would ask us, that they would plead with us to introduce this amendment and try to give them, at least, some more time so they can prepare their presentations and their analysis for Law Amendments Committee.
Mr. Speaker, we have talked a bit about the fact that the external Appeal Board is going to be eliminated after a two year period where they are supposedly given time to clean up the backlog. Who knows how, because the bill is silent on how it is that they will clean up a backlog that has not gone below 1,800 or 1,900 cases over the past three or four years. But if you look at Clauses 197 to 199 and Clause 206, it refers to the fact that the matter will be referred to a hearing officer, it will be referred to the board of directors, it will be reviewed if it raises any issues of law and general policy. In other words, the board, understand this for a second if you will, cast your mind back to what happens when each and every one of the members here who has had injured workers come to their office and call them on the phone and tell them the horror stories about the problems they have had in dealing with the Workers' Compensation Board. Think for a second about how badly administered and interpreted the policies and the legislation on workers' compensation and the way it has been handled over the past number of years.
Now the minister, before these people would be able to go to the Appeal Board, an external, independent, arm's length board, who would have the opportunity under very strict guidelines, as provided in the bill, to decide whether, in fact, the board was wrong in the way they interpreted policies or to review medical evidence and decide whether, in fact, the board disregarded that. Now the worker who has been refused, has had his claim rejected or cut off at some point, by the board, refers the matter to a review officer employed by the board, with the responsibility to carry out the policies and directives of the board. Then, if it is a question of law of it is a question of general policy if that is what the appeal is based on then it goes back to the board of directors. How can any worker have any confidence that they are going to receive any justice in that situation? Workers now, if they feel that the legislation has been improperly determined by the Appeal Board, even they have right to appeal to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeals on a couple of issues. Not just a question of law and jurisdiction but also a question of, in fact, the interpretation, I believe. In other words, there are more grounds upon which an appeal can be directed to the court of appeal.
Now you have got in Clause 206 provisions that limit an appeal to the Nova Scotia court of appeal, no other question, it says on any question ad to the jurisdiction of the board but on no other question of law or fact and then that particular clause goes on to further isolate the board from any judicial review. So, what is being set up here very clearly is a process whereby you do what the board says and you do what the staff of the board says or you are out of luck. That is it. I don't think that is right because we have seen how badly the legislation and the policy of the board can be administered.
There are a lot of members new to this House, just elected in 1993, but I bet there is not one that hasn't heard from an injured worker. Hasn't heard personally, very directly about some of the horror stories in terms of why they were cut off from policies. (Interruption) Well, that is easy for the member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage to say we want to get on and deal with the job because he is not an injured worker. Let me tell you if he were to be in a work place covered by workers' compensation in the future, maybe after the next election, and he were injured then I bet you that that member would think back to the fall of 1994 when Bill No. 122 was before us. And think maybe we should have looked at this a little more closely because either I've got to jump these hoops and I am excluded for these reasons or my benefits are at a level nowhere near what it would be if I were able to work.
The provisions of the bill again under the appeal sectionn, Clauses 196, 197, 199 . . .
HON. JAY ABBASS: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, I would be pleased to talk to the principle of this bill if the member opposite would like to talk to the principle of the bill.
MR. SPEAKER: On the point of order, I would like to attempt to clarify for the House why I have allowed the honourable member to proceed in the manner in which he has. Indeed, the second reading of the bill is on the principle of the bill. The bill does espouse a general principle but with some specific policies related to the principle and the policies are formulated in the clauses. I will not entertain detailed examination of the clauses or debate on verbiage or sectors of the individual clauses but when a clause enunciates a policy, as related to the general principle it has to be included, I think, in the general debate.
MR. ALLAN MITCHELL: Mr. Speaker, I am getting a little confused here. Are we not speaking on the amendment?
MR. SPEAKER: Yes.
MR. MITCHELL: And that amendment is that it should be hoisted for a three month period?
MR. SPEAKER: Yes.
MR. MITCHELL: Should not the debate be limited to the reasons why it should be extended and what will be done, why this is important, rather than the original principle of the bill?
MR. SPEAKER: No, not necessarily, and if it had been, I would of ruled in that fashion, but I had not.
MR. CHISHOLM: For those members that have some concerns that I am straying from something, let me just say, that the people that have asked me and have asked this caucus, to try to delay passage of this bill at this stage - these are some of the reasons why, and that is why I am trying to underline - why it is we are proceeding in this manner and I thank you for your ruling.
MR. SPEAKER: I want to make it very clear to the honourable member, that while Beauchesne is somewhat silent on this, I might, and I have before, read for the House from Sir Erskine May, Page 336, Section 3, Objects of an Amendment and Effect on Debate. There are two types of amendment: one having an adverse affect to the general principle espoused and one having an addition or a dilatory component to the proposed bill. And I will read it for the honourable member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, as well as the rest of the House, and for the purposes of the member speaking:
"The latter purpose may be effected by moving to omit all or most of the words of the question after the first word `That' and to substitute an alternative proposition which must, however, be relevant to the subject of the question. The debate that follows is not restricted to the amendment, but includes also the content of the motion, both matters being under the consideration of the House as alternative propositions.".
So, on that basis, the matter before the House is the principle of the bill. The alternate proposition is to defer acceptance of the principle of the bill, which is, in effect, a deferral or a dilatory motion. But I still remind the member, that he has the scope of the principle of the bill to be discussed, only as an alternative.
MR. CHISHOLM: Clauses 96, 97, and 99, establish something that has never existed in the workers' compensation system in the Province of Nova Scotia. That is, it allows the employer, or for that matter, anybody else, that wants to go in and question the process at any stage. In other words, the principle of establishing an adversarial system, has been completed in Bill No. 122.
Let's remember what worker's compensation is all about. It is about an historic compromise, where workers gave up the right to sue an employer for injuries or disease, that they incurred at work. In exchange, employers were able to escape the ruinous costs of liability insurance. On that basis, employers, workers and the government, came together and organized the workers' compensation system. Whereby, claims, injuries, disease at work, would be compensated through a series of rules and regulations that were developed and agreed to, by employers, workers and the government, and that they would be dealt with not in an adversarial system. Because of the fact that once it is determined, that an accident or a disease resulted at work then there was no question as to whether or not there was a claim. It was the job of the people administering that system to ensure that the compensation was appropriate, timely, valid and that the injured worker was placed in a position where they could return to work, that is the system, it is not perfect. But imagine now, you are going to allow at every stage . . .
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.
MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the member would allow me to make an introduction?
MR. CHISHOLM: Yes.
MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Through you and to all members of the House I would like to introduce members of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, the Correctional Officers. I wonder if they would rise and receive a warm applause. (Applause)
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, at the earliest stage now in this supposed appeal process that this legislation establishes, Clause 196, if I may briefly refer to this, "The Board shall reconsider a decision made pursuant to Section 185 where" . . .
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I have just indicated to the honourable member that he may refer to the principles enunciated within clauses but not to the specifics of clauses, nor, and I suggest read the clauses. He has ample opportunity to do that in following motions of the bill through the House. If there is a principle of the clause he wishes to debate or related to a clause, indeed he has the right to do so but not to be specific to the clauses.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, all I am trying to do and I certainly will respect your direction, is to give an example of where at the earliest stage, employers and any other interested party such as the government, I guess, is allowed to intervene in an appeal process to either try to refute the fact that the claim exists, that the person is injured or that the injury is that serious, in other words, I would suggest to further delay it to try to make sure that workers don't get any compensation or to reduce the compensation that they do get to as minimum of a level as possible.
Part of the reason why the adversarial system was not part of the system, is because it would be expensive. It would not only be time-consuming but it would be expensive and the idea of workers' compensation was to compensate workers for their injuries and for the illness that they incurred at work. Now this minister and his government that are so concerned about the costs, so concerned about the unfunded liability, are going to bring forward a system that will, I would suggest, escalate the cost of administering workers' compensation, at the very least, will increase it very significantly. That is a matter of significant concern to me and to many others.
Another area is being changed that has always been part of workers' compensation in this province and that is the whole issue of the benefit of doubt. The change that has been made is that it used to be and it is under the current Act that, in fact, the benefit of the doubt was given to the applicant for compensation. It was a very basic and integral principle to workers' compensation. Now, as the result of Clause 187, that benefit of the doubt is turned on its head. Now the intent of Clause 187 is that the benefit of the doubt should not be given to the applicant for compensation. In other words, it is just another step in a process of trying to further restrict the opportunities for injured workers to receive compensation for injuries or for illness that incurs at the job.
What we have is not only a bill that seriously and significantly reduces the level of benefits that workers are going to be entitled to as a result of the enactment of the three day waiting period which is expected to save millions and millions of dollars. Last year I think the estimate from the board was that short-term claims under the 30 days accounted for something in the area of $6 million, so that is going to be saved because any worker who is injured or sick as a result of their work place for less than 30 days will lose that three days pay, regardless, by the way let's make this point clear, regardless of whether or not through the process of free collective bargaining they have been able to negotiate a top-up. In other words, if they had been able to ensure through negotiation with their employer that they are not out of pocket as a result of an injury or illness sustained at the job.
I would suggest to you that the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union that members who work for the Province of Nova Scotia who have that provision in their collective agreement are going to pay big time to this government for the failings of the previous administration in allowing this unfunded liability to get out of hand. Here is another example of this government stepping in to the collective bargaining process and unilaterally deciding what it is that workers and their employers are going to be able to negotiate.
Workers in the Province of Nova Scotia have made some very important gains in the area of workers' compensation over many years of battle. They have obtained the right to appeal to an independent Appeal Board something that I would suggest tens of thousands of workers have benefitted from very directly. They have seen the near full indexing of permanent disability benefits so that workers who are injured, who are on disability benefits do not see their benefits whittled away as a result of inflation. Automatic assumption for lung impairment in coal miners, significant gain after a long hard battle by working people in this province, in particular coal miners in Cape Breton.
Improved death benefits for spouses and their dependants, something that those unfortunate people affected by the tragedy at Westray benefitted from. But were that same thing to happen after Bill No. 122 comes into force, as I said in this House the other day, as another example, those women will receive between $4,000 and $11,000 less a year, because of the fact that there is no dependant benefit for surviving children, Mr. Speaker.
The payment of compensation for the first three days of disability. It wasn't that many years ago when the former administration made that change, something that was fought for for many years. Of course, improved benefits for workers suffering permanent, total disability, Mr. Speaker.
Yes, we have a system that needs to be updated. We have a piece of legislation that was put together decades ago, Mr. Speaker, not unlike many pieces of legislation that exist in the Province of Nova Scotia or in any other province in this country. Legislation needs to be updated from time to time; legislation needs to be amended to respond to issues raised by courts of appeal. That is a function that is a natural process, I would suggest, of this parliamentary form of government, where legislation goes through changes. I would suggest to you that it is long overdue that we have had this kind of overhaul.
Mr. Speaker, modernizing legislation is one thing but going at the very fundamentals of that very legislation and gouging out the benefits that injured workers should be entitled to is not housekeeping, it is a very significant policy move that is made in terms of the whole principle of this particular system in this province.
The basis on which the workers' compensation system was built so many years ago, I would suggest is being devastated by some of the provisions that I discussed in this legislation. So, I would suggest to you that at a time when this minister stands up and tells us that this legislation does not work, that this legislation is from the old days, that this legislation refers to oxen and it needs to be modernized, I would say that the effect of this bill is being misrepresented because there are such major changes proposed in this bill to the workers' compensation system in this province that it is much more significant than simple housekeeping and modernization.
If this bill goes through the way it is, injured workers in the Province of Nova Scotia will pay. I will bet you that it will be a number of years before there will be any changes, if past experience is our guide, Mr. Speaker. So, that is why it is so important that we make sure we do it right.
The minister dropped some of these provisions on Nova Scotians on October 6th. It was only about two weeks ago, maybe three, you lose sense of time in here, Mr. Speaker, that we actually saw what that meant by seeing the tabling of that particular bill. I suggest to you that it is not reasonable, it is not fair, it is not just to expect us, to expect working people, to expect injured workers to stand up and say, you are right. There are problems with the system and, therefore, we are going to let you run through a piece of legislation without giving serious consideration to the fact that it is going to fundamentally change workers' compensation in the Province of Nova Scotia. That does not make sense.
I tell you, as a member of this House, as a member who is concerned and has worked in his time in his Legislature and outside, involved in the labour movement on behalf of working people and injured workers to try to deal with the problems of workers' compensation, I am not going to sit quietly by and see a piece of legislation of this magnitude go through without a fight. I have seen too many bills in my short stay in this Chamber go flying through here, Mr. Speaker, and get lost in the mechanisms of our process.
That is why people have urged me and members of my caucus and I know that they have also urged members of the Progressive Conservative caucus and government members to give them some time to deal with this issue because of the consequences, because the consequences are so serious. Everybody can make their own mind up what it is they are going to do. (Interruptions)
The Minister of Education seems to suggest in his cackling across the floor that he has not received any calls. I would suggest to you . . .
HON. JOHN MACEACHERN: That is not what I said.
MR. CHISHOLM: . . . that if he keeps up that kind of attitude, he is going to get more than calls from injured workers in Cape Breton in his constituency.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Direct your debate toward the Chair.
AN HON. MEMBER: Alice in Wonderland has fallen right into the rabbit tracks.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, through you to the Minister of Education, he says to me, just once tell the truth. Imagine if you will a member of the Liberal Party who campaigned on the basis of immediately dealing with the backlog of the Appeal Board, immediately bringing in a dual award system, immediately bringing in provisions to deal with unfunded liability problems, not on the backs of injured workers, the Minister of Education and others when they were campaigning throughout the province in the spring of 1993. They looked at injured workers and working people in the eye in this province throughout that campaign and said, you can trust us to do the right thing for you, the working people in this province.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I think the honourable member is now carried away. He is not dealing with the principles of the bill, as enunciated by the clauses or by the title or any other part of the bill. He is straying too far from the general principle of the bill and I would ask him to contain himself to that very area.
MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, my apologies for getting somewhat carried away. I feel very strongly about this issue. I get upset when I feel that people are trying to trivialize it because I have seen the poverty, I have seen the despair, I have seen lives being destroyed as a result of people being injured at work and as a result of a system that has not been able to respond, a system that is designed to compensate them for that injury.
This minister and his government are bringing in a piece of legislation which they say deals with those problems and I say to you, Mr. Speaker, and to all members of this House, that it doesn't. They are going at the system to make sure that injured workers receive less, plain and simple. That fewer injured workers receive fewer benefits, it is that simple.
So, as I conclude my comments, I say to you that I have had the opportunity to speak with many injured workers' groups, many injured workers, representatives of workers in the Province of Nova Scotia about these problems. I don't know what is going to happen, I don't know what is going to be done. I know that there are some preparations being made for people to appear before the Law Amendments Committee. I welcome that and I look forward to that opportunity, for those people to come forward and speak to this government. I hope that whether it is the minister or whether it is government members on the front or back benches, I hope they will listen to those presentations and they will listen to the injured workers and the working people in their constituencies who are going to pay the price here, who are going to pay the bill, who are going to carry the burden, unlike the promises made during the election campaign of 1993.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants East.
MR. ROBERT CARRUTHERS: Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a couple of minutes to address the amendment that is before the House. It concerns me when I hear the previous speaker, a member of the New Democratic Party, advise the House of how his concern for injured workers who are suffering is most upsetting to him. He criticizes the ministers of this government in that they aren't moving fast enough to have the obviously defective previous legislation concerning workers' compensation corrected. I hear these grandiose comments, speeches, but the motion that is before us is a motion to effectively hoist this bill.
What it really means has been pointed out by previous speakers, a motion on second reading to hoist the bill is a motion to kill the bill. That is exactly what is being done here and it is a complete speaking out of two sides of the same lips when one says, I am concerned that you are not moving fast enough to correct defective legislation which every member of this House knows that the archaic legislation covering the workers' compensation of this province had to be corrected, had to be corrected quickly. Criticism coming from the New Democratic Party towards our minister throughout the months, the short term that he has been in office, to move and move quickly. He brings forward a comprehensive, intelligent, articulate bill, a bill that has listened to both sides of the story and what do we hear? We hear the member of the New Democratic Party coming forward and let not the rhetoric run us astray, this is a debate on an amendment to kill the legislation to correct the workers' injustices in this province.
I think the member should hang his head before he stands in this House and asks for a further delay instead of helping the injured workers out there. I am going to tell that member if he is on a campaign he is not doing too well because the injured workers of this province are not going to be pleased to hear that he speaks on behalf of his Party, to have this matter effectively hoisted and not for three months because let's look at the realism of the world here. Once this session is over and we expect it will be over within the next couple of months, then we are going to come back again in the spring. Now that means, that at best, if we were to put through legislation that would be confirmed in June or July, it is at least until July at very best and it might not even fit that category if this motion were to go through.
The injured workers are going to be so, I will tell you, they are calling me, I have workers in my district that are calling me wondering about the delays, wondering what the process is all about, asking us please, can you speed this process up. Here is a minister who has taken the bull by the horns and tried to correct it and here is a Party that is trying to slow us down, a Party that has maintained they speak for the workers of Nova Scotia. It is absolutely incredible that one could go outside this House and say I am looking forward to helping injured workers in this province and still come in this House and ask to kill it, to effectively kill this bill.
These are some subamendments they want to make, as the member for Hants West has said, he said, where is the place for amendment? It is in the Law Amendments Committee. Well, if you want to make amendments to the clauses, as the Speaker of the House has said, they are to be done in the Committee of the Whole House. The debate on second reading is debate on the principle and only amendments that are contrary to its principle are involved in this reading. This certainly is contrary to the principle. This amendment is contrary to the principle of correcting injustices in the Workers' Compensation Act.
What happens if we delay this thing until July? When do the cheques start to bounce and the injured workers not have any money for their children? When does that start to happen, Mr. Speaker? (Applause)
I would just like to point out that when we think of effective government, we think of government that sees a road to take, a path, and gets on that path and stays on it. It is not going to be diverted by anyone else's political agenda or personal ideas, instead of that, we are going to stay on the agenda. This is a government of reform. That is why the members are sitting in their places here. This is a government of reform and reform we shall, and we will not be put aside by foolishness like amendments to kill bills and hoist bills just so they can put their rhetoric on the record of this House.
I will tell you, I hope those same people are prepared to answer to the people out there when they say they are effectively trying to kill a piece of legislation that is warranted and very badly needed in this province, and should be a shining rung in the ladder that workers have to climb before they see justice in this province.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Fairview.
MS. ALEXA MCDONOUGH: Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to the amendment before us on the Workers' Compensation Act, an amendment introduced by the Leader of the New Democratic Party and member for Sackville-Cobequid. I want to say at the outset - I guess it is stating the obvious - that I have no difficulty, nor does my caucus have any difficulty accounting to the people of Nova Scotia and to our constituencies for where we stand on this bill, for where we stand in terms of workers' compensation reform and, with reference to this particular amendment, for why we would introduce an amendment that is one of the few legislative measures available to us to strongly and clearly and unequivocally register our opposition to this piece of legislation and, frankly, our lack of confidence in any possibility that the law amendments process would result in enough changes in significant enough amendments to make this a piece of legislation which we, in good conscience, could support.
Now, Mr. Speaker, that is why we have a responsibility to introduce a hoist amendment. I think the member for Hants East knows perfectly well that is so. He may, in fact, hope that people following the debate, people listening to the discussion back and forth, will think that this somehow is an irresponsible action on our part, but let me say that there is no basis for the confidence that has been expressed by some government members and, to our surprise, by members of the Official Opposition, that the Law Amendments Committee process will be sufficient to make this a supportable bill.
Mr. Speaker, why do we lack confidence and are we, therefore, proposing a hoist at this time? It is my responsibility in the few minutes available to me to try to explain why that is so and speak to the hoist amendment. First of all, it is no secret to anybody that just prior -I think the day before or perhaps two days before - this House went into session, the Premier pronounced, as only the Premier can, that he wanted to see this session wrapped up by December 10th. Now, of course, he can't make that happen, although I have no doubt that he and his colleagues will try. I think it gives a clear signal that that is the timetable that this government is trying to operate within to drive its legislative agenda forward. We just heard from the member on the back bench, I have nothing but high regard for backbenchers, the member for Hants East that this is a cornerstone, I am not sure if that was the word he used but he made it clear that this is a central part of the government's reform agenda. Certainly the minister has made that clear and certainly the Premier has made that clear.
We have here a situation where there are now several very significant bills already in the legislative process. We have the massive, comprehensive detailed municipal reform bill which has yet to go through the Committee of the Whole House process, which is a clause by clause process. How many pages is that municipal reform bill? It is a massive document with absolutely mind-boggling implications. Mr. Speaker, that is going to take up significant time or let's say we go right up to the very last day before one could conceive of this House adjourning just before Christmas in the three weeks or so that remain. We have that detailed process of dealing with the Municipal Affairs reform bill.
We have right now the gaming bill before the Law Amendments Committee which is also massive in its detail and massive in its implications and a great many people who want to speak to it. We already have several other bills at the second reading stage that have to be dealt with and that have yet to go through that whole process. We already have a whole bunch of bills waiting for the Committee of the Whole House stage to deal, clause by clause, with several pieces of legislation. Mr. Speaker, just for that reason alone we are talking sort of logistics and practicalities, it seems very ill-advised, to say the least, for us to try to deal with a major piece of reform legislation, the first major reform of workers' compensation in this province in, I am told, eight decades, in almost 80 years.
Those are not the only reasons why we are saying that we cannot support a vote for this bill to go to second reading at this time and that is why we moved a hoist bill which is the only remedy left to us to try to clearly establish where we stand and why we oppose, in its very fundamental principle, what this bill is going to do.
We also have a problem because on behalf of the workers of this province we have received many representations pleading for some time that will allow workers in this province and representatives on behalf of workers in this province to fully analyze and research and discuss among themselves what the implications are of this bill and put forward the kind of detailed response that it deserves given how profound its implications will be for injured workers, for workers who regrettably will suffer work place injury disease in some cases work place fatalities and most importantly for the families, the survivors of workers who ultimately will die prematurely or be killed in the work place.
I have heard the taunts from several corners of the House to the effect well, people haven't received a lot of phone calls. I know what clearly is intended when members engage in that kind of taunting. They are trying to appeal to the notion that this is only a few organized workers, after all, who have a problem with the bill. We all know that the labour movement, in the eyes of this government, is in some kind of disrepute, that the labour movement really does not cut it out there in terms of popular opinion these days. They probably would be prepared to suggest that their standing in popular opinion may be even lower than that of the Liberal Party, which would be hard to imagine.
But let me say very clearly, Mr. Speaker, that we are not talking about a few voices that have been raised in opposition to the process of this workers' compensation reform legislation going through this session of the House. We are talking about spokespersons on behalf of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, the Nova Scotia Council of Labour, the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, the Metropolitan Association of Police Personnel, the Police Association of Nova Scotia, the United Mine Workers of America, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Canadian Auto Workers, which recently subsumed as well the very large number of members making up the Canadian Brotherhood of Railway and Transportation and General Workers.
So, Mr. Speaker, we are talking about a large segment of the work force in this province whose representatives have come together and said, we do not agree with this legislation in some of its fundamental principles and, certainly, not in terms of its details. We are asking, at the very least, that this Minister of Labour and this government will recognize the reasons for wanting to have some further consultation and some truly meaningful input that can only come about with some time to do the kind of detailed research and analysis and come back to the table to have some clear deliberations around where we go from here.
Again, Mr. Speaker, I have no doubt that there are some members of this House, and probably a good many members of the public would say, oh, well, that is only on behalf of the organized workers. Maybe some think it is on behalf of only some of the organized workers. But I think it is significant that the two major organizations that represent the entire range of organized workers in this province have come together to say that we share these concerns and we ask that this bill not be proceeding at this time to the Law Amendments Committee process.
If they had any confidence that this government would deliver on the kind of amendments that are desperately needed, then they would be the first ones to say, let's get on with the reforms because they are the ones that are going to be penalized most if we don't reform this legislation in the way that it needs to be altered.
So, Mr. Speaker, it is not true that it is just some workers or a small number of voices. It is true that the organized expression of concern has properly and understandably and naturally come from representatives on behalf of organized workers, over 70,000 of them in this province, not exactly a tiny number.
But, Mr. Speaker, I want to make a plea to members of this Legislature to remember that if this workers' compensation bill is important to the organized workers of this province and if the organized workers of this province have spoken with one voice to say, do not put this through to the Law Amendments Committee process and bring it back and finalize it in this session, then it is incumbent upon all of us to recognize that those are concerns even more urgently felt and more serious for those workers in the province that do not have the benefit of collective agreements and being organized in such a way that there is a clear voice, the research capacity and the collective strength behind them to represent their concerns when they face a work place accident or suffer from an industrial disease or God forbid, are victimized by a work place fatality.
Mr. Speaker, in case anybody needs to be reminded of why it is even more of a concern to the workers who do not have the benefit of a union, let's keep in mind that there are close to 400,000 such workers in this province. If they face a work place accident or suffer from an industrial disease, they don't have a union representative, they don't have a business agent, they don't have someone who can help pilot them through the workers' compensation maze when that is necessary, who can help them deal with the implications and the intricacies of internal appeal processes, who can help them find their way through to gain the rehabilitation, kind of counselling and support that they may need. They don't have someone who can help fully familiarize them with what their rights are and then help them to press to have their rights respected and enforced.
Surely, there is no member of this House who cannot see why it just doesn't cut it. It isn't good enough to say, well those are just some organized workers that are concerned. If there is reason for organized workers to be concerned and they have spoken out very clearly to say that they are indeed concerned, it is even more a cause for concern for unorganized workers to face the kind of massive erosion of their rights and benefits that is reflected in this Workers' Compensation Act as it is presently worded.
This is a very strong statement on behalf of workers in this province but I want to read briefly from a submission that has been made in advance to the Minister of Labour, from the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour. Not that it is being held back for the Law Amendments Committee at a future date. Not that it is being held back for some kind of strategic reasons, but that it is right up-front being placed before the Minister of Labour and in front of all members of this House. Because as the minister knows, the concern has been expressed to all members of this House on behalf of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour and its 60,000-some organized workers, as well as the Council of Labour. I am sorry I don't have the exact number but I would think approximately 10,000 workers in this province. The Minister of Labour would know better than I perhaps or being more youthful than I, have an easier time recalling the exact figure.
Let me say, I think it is very difficult to ignore the following plea and I know my caucus found it impossible to ignore the plea for this bill not to go on to the Law Amendments Committee at this time but rather be the subject of further consultation and analysis and deliberations and scrutiny. This is a very strong statement coming from a very large number of working people in this province. Here is what the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour has said, on behalf of their members making it clear that there isn't a voice to speak on behalf of the unorganized workers who will be similarly, adversely impacted by the profound changes in this workers' compensation legislation.
That letter to the minister states that, ". . . it would be a grave error to proceed with this Bill. Bill 122 proposes the reduction of every single benefit now provided in the Workers' Compensation Act.". Think about that, think about what massive implications there are, for the Federation of Labour president, to be able to say that. "If enacted,", according to the unified voice of workers in this province "the Bill would reverse virtually every gain made by workers in the Workers' Compensation system in the past 25 years.".
I have to say, as someone who has fought hard and conscientiously for workers' compensation reform for over a decade in this House, that I was not aware of many of the implications in this bill when I sat down, combed through it and tried to understand it. I would strongly suggest, without wanting to take anything away from any other individual members' sincerity, or their conscientiousness, that it would be very surprising if there were more than one or two members of this House, if any, that have the kind of grasp, of what the adverse implications of this bill are for the workers of this province.
Rick Clarke goes on, "In our view, the passage of Bill 122 would produce the worst package of benefits in any Workers' Compensation Act in this country. Surely, the negative effect of the changes proposed in Bill 122 requires greater consideration than is available in this session of the legislature.". I am sure that most members, if not all members, in fact I am going to say I hope that all members, have reviewed that submission on behalf of the workers of this province. I would hope that there wouldn't be any doubt by the time each and every member of this House, has read that submission, has read the urgings of the Federation of Labour to delay this bill going through the full legislative cycle over the next couple of weeks.
I would hope that there would be no member who could actually feel that it was a responsible thing to do to plough ahead with this legislation. Frankly, I don't know how any member could actually believe that the workers in their respective constituencies that they represent would be well-served by this legislation in its current form. Because they can't plead ignorance about the profound, adverse consequences, as a result of the measures of this bill.
I have many more things that I wish I had time to say, but I want to go back to just two points in wrapping up my comments. One is the argument that by the New Democratic Party caucus fighting to respect the urgings of the workers of this province, to not proceed with this bill in its current form at this time that we are somehow ignoring the problem of the backlog of the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board. It is utter nonsense for anyone to suggest that. Nobody has fought harder and plead more often, and used as many means as we could come up with, to try to impress upon this minister and this government, how irresponsible it is, not to have gotten on with dealing with that backlog, long before now. We have kept on the minister's case, the minister will admit that, if asked to do so, I am sure, because he is an honest man and he can't pretend otherwise. We have hounded him through every available committee, through every available opportunity inside of this House, and outside of this House, to get on with dealing with the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board backlog. He knows and anybody who knows what they are talking about knows that can be done without this legislation being shoved through here in the next while, against the urgings of the workers.
Secondly, Mr. Speaker, the suggestion that somehow we are oblivious to the implications of the unfunded liability. I am prepared to say in this instance, although we have acknowledged that is a serious problem and that is a problem that has to be dealt with and that it is long overdue and that it is close to financially criminal and certainly politically irresponsible for the previous government, and maybe on this the Liberal Government members will agree, to have driven up that unfunded liability, driven up the bill that now has to be paid by the the employers and the employees and the taxpayers because there is no way that all three are not going to be sharing in the cost of paying that unfunded liability, because of the government's irresponsible actions.
They were politically irresponsible, they were financially irresponsible and they were also completely ill-advised if they think that was a meaningful, economic development tool on behalf of Nova Scotians, to say let's keep those premiums, let's keep those rates artificially low while we increase benefits over here; let's not be worried about any actuarial considerations and we will let some government at some future date figure out how to pay it off or we will let employers or employees fight it out as to who is going to pay the bill for that extremely irresponsible course that was pursued, and it wasn't pursued blindly, it was pursued knowingly, willingly, with the benefit of repeated advice from the Auditor General and from actuarial studies that it was an irresponsible thing to do.
So, Mr. Speaker, that is what we are stuck with, that is what we are faced with and there is no member of this House who can run and hide and say well, it is not our problem, let someone else look after it.
But, Mr. Speaker, I make no apology for myself, on behalf of my constituents in Halifax Fairview, or for my caucus on behalf of the New Democratic Party and those interests that we are proud to represent, for saying that we will not vote for a bill, not at this stage or any future stage, that heaps the bulk of the burden, that puts the biggest portion of the burden for the gross irresponsibility, and I personally think of the previous government in active collaboration with some of the most powerful corporate interests in this province, to keep premiums low. We will not participate, cooperate or be involved in any kind of collusion, as members of this Legislature, that will pass the buck primarily to the workers in this province, and especially, Mr. Speaker, the workers who can least afford to pay the bill, which is those who are suffering from work place injuries and diseases and those survivors of workers who die in work place fatalities. We are not going to do it. That is why we are pleased that there is such a provision in the Rules and Forms of Procedure and conventions of the Legislature that will allow us to express, in the clearest, most unequivocal possible terms, a revulsion for the principle that we feel is being violated in this bill, in its current form, and frankly, that we feel will still be violated if this government is allowed to proceed at this stage with the bill and bring it to a conclusion before we break for the Christmas recess.
So having made that very clear, and I don't want the member for Hants East left puzzled about why we would use this legislative tactic because that is what it is. There is no point in pretending otherwise, that is what it is. It is to try to express as clearly as we can in the only way that is still available to us, Mr. Speaker, as you well know from the rules, how unacceptable it is for this bill to pass through second reading and go to the Law Amendments Committee.
So having cleared up any confusion on that point and also saying again that I make no apology for that on my own behalf or that of my caucus, I would simply plead with every member of this Legislature to do at least one thing before they become active collaborators in stripping away important workers' compensation benefits from the working people of this province for years to come and that would be to take the time to sit down and at least read the detailed analysis of what the impact of this legislation would be if it goes ahead on the 435,000 workers in today's labour force and future workers, as outlined by the Federation of Labour on behalf of all of the working people of this province.
Mr. Speaker, that is why I have no hesitation or reservations whatsoever and make no apologies for speaking in support of the amendment that is before us for a three months' hoist and for urging that every member of this Legislature take the responsibility to be concerned about protecting the injured workers and their families of today and tomorrow. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Queens.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, second reading gives us the opportunity to debate the principle of legislation which is brought before the House. We, indeed, are in second reading, however, the amendment which is before the House has nothing to do with the principle of the bill and has everything to do with whether or not the bill will die on the order paper and, therefore, prevent the principle from being moved forward.
I think it is very important that we understand that that is what the amendment will, in effect, do. It will not have the effect of amending the bill, for indeed it cannot do that. It has only the effect of killing the bill. I have not heard anybody, who has thus far spoken in second reading, and I anticipate that I will not hear anybody who will speak in second reading, who will say that the principle of the bill is wrong. Therefore, it strikes me very clearly that the amendment which is before the House this afternoon and which we are currently debating is not an amendment which should receive the support of the House.
We have a very clear process available to us. From time to time we may find the process frustrating. Those who are proposing legislation find it frustrating because it slows them down from achieving their goal. Those who are disposing of the legislation or perhaps opposing it in the House find it frustrating because it sometimes seems not to slow it down enough, but nonetheless there is a process available to us and a process which much be recognized each and every time we deal with a piece of legislation or with a motion that comes before the Legislature.
One of the aspects of that process is to ensure not one but, indeed, two opportunities through committee stage to deal with amendments to a bill. If we vote for the hoist amendment, which is currently before the House, it will prevent each and every member in this House from having the opportunity to propose amendments to the legislation at the Law Amendments Committee, through their representatives on that committee and additionally it will prevent each and every member in this House from having the opportunity to propose amendments during consideration of clause by clause when we are in Committee of the Whole House on Bills.
I have not heard anybody say that we should not amend the bill. In fact, I have heard the minister say that there are aspects of the bill that he does intend to amend. I very much want to find out what amendments the minister does want to bring forward and I want to find out what amendments brought forward by other members of the House the minister is prepared to countenance before the bill is put in its final form in third reading.
If we pass the amendment this afternoon, we will also prevent those among the general public who have an interest in this legislation from having the opportunity to appear before the Law Amendments Committee and propose their amendments to the legislation. It may well be that the minister and the government will find some of those amendments to be novel, interesting and, indeed, perhaps acceptable. I think it will be a great tragedy if the public were not given that opportunity to bring amendments forward for consideration by the Law Amendments Committee and, certainly, by the government, particularly bearing in mind that the government may well choose to adopt or adapt some of those amendments to strengthen the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I think it would be very wrong for us to kill this bill at this juncture. It would have the effect of prolonging a very difficult situation which has been extant in Nova Scotia for probably a quarter of a century now. It would prevent us from resolving a problem which my colleague, the member for Hants West, tried to resolve, I think in 1990, by introducing legislation in the House and because the House was not prepared to deal with it at that time and wanted more time to review the situation, we now find ourselves, almost five years later, not with the same problem, but with a bigger problem.
The time has come to act. Action will be prevented if we hoist the bill. I believe that the responsible position for all members to take is to move the bill through second reading, adopt it in principle, get it to the Law Amendments Committee, where the public and the Law Amendments Committee will have the opportunity to give consideration to further amendments, and then move it from there into Committee of the Whole House on Bills so that we, again, can consider further amendment.
The bill does need strengthening. We cannot strengthen it if we kill it through adopting the hoist motion which is before the House this afternoon. I urge all members to observe the due process, which we have available to us through the rules, and to vote against the amendment which is on the floor and get on with the business of dealing with the principle of the bill in second reading. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: If there are no further speakers, is the House ready for the question? I hear one request for a recorded vote. I need two.
A recorded vote is being called for.
Ring the bells. Call in the members.
A reasonable time will be six minutes, but we will be at the discretion of the satisfaction of the Whips.
[The Division bells were rung.]
MR. SPEAKER: Could I for a moment, bring the remainder of the House to order. I would like, with the permission of the House, to make an introduction and I would have hoped that the whole of the House would have been present, but, unfortunately, the member has to leave.
I would like to introduce to the House a great friend of mine, a colleague of mine in Halifax City Council, former Deputy Mayor of the City of Halifax, a great friend to all members of this Legislature, a person who has given some 35 years to the City Council of Halifax and is respected in all political circles, municipal and provincial, throughout this province, the former alderman, Nick Meagher. I would ask the House to give greetings. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: Are the Whips satisfied?
[The Clerk calls the roll.]
Mr. Holm Mr. Barkhouse
Mr. Chisholm Mr. Downe
Ms. McDonough Mr. Boudreau
Mr. M. MacDonald
Mr. W. MacDonald
THE CLERK: For, 3. Against, 37.
MR. SPEAKER: I would declare the motion carried in the negative.
The House will now return to debate on the main motion of Bill No. 122.
The honourable member for Queens.
MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that we now have returned to the principle of Bill No. 122, an Act to Reform the Law Respecting Compensation for Workers. I would anticipate that most people in Nova Scotia would not have any idea that that had any reference whatsoever to the Workers' Compensation Board. I think it is important that with respect to consideration in this House that we use the terminology which is most likely to be recognized by those outside the Chamber as we are discussing the merits and the demerits of this bill.
There is a saying that we hear from time to time in here, if it ain't broke don't fix it. I think that there is a general consensus in this Legislature and, indeed, through Nova Scotia that with respect to the Workers' Compensation Board, it is broke and it is past time when it should be fixed.
As all members are probably aware and certainly those who are not new members to the House will be aware, an effort was made in 1990 by the previous government under the able direction of the then Minister of Labour, the member for Hants West, to revise the Workers' Compensation Board activities such that the difficulties associated with the board could be resolved and we could get on with life and get on with a board which was reorganized to meet the needs of the present and, insofar as we can determine them, of the future as well. Unfortunately and for a host of reasons, some of which may have been valid, many of which I suspect were not, at least with respect to the public interest, that bill was left to die on the order paper.
The result of having that bill die on the order paper was that the problem did not just stay the same, it got worse and it got worse. Most obviously, the difficulties associated with it, were with respect to the increasing unfunded liability of the Workers' Compensation Fund. That is not a problem which is peculiar to Nova Scotia. It is a problem which, in fact, has affected every province in Canada to a greater or lesser extent.
I think that that problem in significant measure grew out of that period during maybe the very late 1960's, but certainly the 1970's and the first half to three-quarters of the 1980's, where everybody thought the world was fine and it was a place to live on the basis of borrowed money. Every mainstream political Party subscribes to that, the people of the provinces and across the country and, indeed, around the industrialized world subscribed to that and, as a result, out debt problem became worse and worse.
I think that it can readily be argued that that was a problem which did not accrue to any particular political Party but which accrued to society in general. It certainly is a problem which accrued to the Workers' Compensation Board and the unfunded liability that is associated with it. We knew it wouldn't go away, as Nova Scotians, but oh, what the heck, people were getting their cheques from the Workers' Compensation Board and they were able to access it and the system was kind of working okay.
Finally, as we got into the recession of the late 1980's, we all began to realize that the time had come to resolve a situation which had been ongoing for almost two decades or more, a situation which had been allowed to continue by governments of different political stripes. We failed to resolved that problem, failed to take significant steps at least towards resolving it in 1990. It is absolutely essential and in the best interests of the province, in the best interests of the public generally, in the best interests of the workers, in the best interests of the employers, in the best interests of the credibility of this place, that we resolve this matter as best we are able, now.
It is for that reason that my colleagues and I and our caucus have spoken in favour of the principle espoused in this bill and it is also why we have chosen, each in our own way, to vote against and many of us to speak against amendments which would have the effect of killing the bill. Not only is it time to do something, it is absolutely essential that we do as much as we possibly can now to remedy the situation.
With a piece of legislation such as this in which a very wide segment of the population has an interest, either because they currently are clients of the Workers' Compensation Board or because they may, at some future time, become clients, or because they are employers and therefore pay into the fund from which the Workers' Compensation Board is supposed to draw its payment to injured workers, or simply as taxpayers, there is hardly a Nova Scotian who is not touched by this bill or does not have the potential to be touched by this bill.
For that reason, there will always be people in Nova Scotia who will be opposed to some of the aspects of the bill. There will be those who see only one side of the issue. Either they see it only from the worker's perspective or they see it only from the employer's perspective. Those people find it difficult to achieve accommodation, an accommodation which will result in a piece of legislation being passed which will, at least, result in accommodating the broadest interest of people across this province.
I would have to say that that is one of the great difficulties I have with my friends in the socialist Party who sit to my immediate left. It strikes me from listening to them in 1990, and again in 1994 with respect to amendments to the way in which the Workers' Compensation Board is organized that they consistently come at resolving the problem with only one segment of the population in mind with their political constituency or what they deem to be their political constituency in mind. I think we have a responsibility, as legislators, to try to accommodate the broadest constituency that we can with respect to amendments to this Act. In effect, the amendments to this Act are so broad and so comprehensive that they create a new Act.
I honestly do not think, at least with respect to this bill, that any legislation which did not in some way completely undercut the employers would be acceptable to my friends to the left. I hope that many of us will be able to take a broader perspective than that with respect to supporting this bill and getting it along to the Law Amendments Committee where the general public, as well as the committee itself, will have opportunity to amend the bill and then bring back in here for Committee of the Whole House on Bills where further amendments can be debated and made.
The minister has certainly endeavoured to have some wide public discussion with respect to the bill in advance of it being introduced for first reading. We certainly all commend him for that. It is a process that I was very much in favour of as a Minister of the Crown and one which I endeavour to practice wherever practicable. I think in most instances it is practicable to do that.
With that being said, we all know, especially those of us who have been around this provincial Parliament of ours for some time, that no matter how well drafted, no matter how well thought out a piece of legislation maybe, there are always improvements that can be made to it as a result of listening to what the members have to say, speaking on behalf of their constituents and listening to what the public has to say with respect to public focus through the media and, most specifically and certainly equally importantly to any of the other ways, with respect to what is said to governments and to the legislators through the Law Amendments Committee by those who make presentations to it from the public. Both the general public and those who have a special interest in legislation and who represent special interest groups when they come before the Law Amendments Committee.
It strikes me that the principles of this bill, which I support, are clear, and I am convinced are consistent with the principles of my constituents who have sent me here to represent them would want me to support. This new Act, purports to provide a reasonable protection for workers in return for those workers foregoing civil action against employers in the event of a work related injury, a reasonable level of protection. By that I don't mean based on narrow contexts but reasonable in the broadest reasonable sense.
It also, in principle, maintains, I think, employee costs at reasonable levels. I think again that it is so important that we caused those costs which accrue to employers to be based not on a simple, across the board, everybody pays the same thing amount, but that employers whose work places have good, solid safety records, quite reasonably should have to pay less and be required to pay less than those employers whose safety records leave much to be desired.
When any Nova Scotian buys their car insurance, if they have demonstrated that they have good driving skills and they do not pose an out of the ordinary risk, then their insurance premium is lower than those who do pose a greater risk with respect to the possibility, if not probability, of the insurance company having to pay out as the result of an accident.
So the same opportunity should accrue to employers who are safety conscious, who have good, strong safety programs in their work places, who work with their employees in an open, fair and conscientious way to reduce the potential of worker injury and who, as a result, have significantly lower occasions of injury in their work places than those who do not do that and who, therefore, may, as a result, and probably will as a result, have a higher degree of worker injury in the work place. So I think the bill addresses that and that is an important principle.
Also, Mr. Speaker, bringing this resolution in resolves another problem which vexes Nova Scotia, as it does all the other provinces, that is dealing with the matter of the unfunded liability. That is very much tied in to this whole bill. I think the principle is very clear there, that we must resolve the problem of the unfunded liability and move the fund from which benefits are drawn into an actuarially sound regime.
Mr. Speaker, I think this bill also brings forward another important principle, that is that it leaves the men and women in Nova Scotia who pay taxes in this province to the point where they will not bear the burden of the unfunded liability, where that burden will be borne by those who advantage from this fund, in this instance the employers who advantage from the Workers' Compensation Board process, by knowing that by contributing to the fund and by its existence, do not have to face long and protracted civil suits.
Finally, I think the last principle that speaks to me from this bill is that it proposes, for the most part, a sound and reasonable, a timely and a just process for all of those in Nova Scotia who are affected by or have the potential to be affected by this legislation.
When the bill leaves this House at the end of third reading and becomes law, it must be seen by the vast majority of Nova Scotians, and we would, indeed, hope by all Nova Scotians, as being fair. In the final analysis, it must reflect that those who have the ability and the responsibility to pay, do meet that responsibility. But, at the same time, those who are responsible are not crippled by inordinately high payments which may well have the effect, particularly with small business although it happens in large business too, the effect of creating difficulties with respect to earning a profit. If you don't earn a profit you don't stay in business, if you don't stay in business you don't employ people.
With small business particularly having the impact of perhaps preventing small businesses from employing as many people as they otherwise would like. All small businesses, we need only go to convenience stores for example, have to look at their bottom line very carefully. The costs associated with employees, employee benefits, unemployment insurance and so on and so forth, are important factors to determining just to what extent employment opportunities would be made available in those small work places.
Premiums that are paid by employers can be a very important factor with respect to employment opportunities in Nova Scotia and we know that they can be a factor with respect to interesting new investments in Nova Scotia. The taxpayers as a result of these amendments are going to be required over four decades and a bit to deal with the unfunded liability of the Workers' Compensation Board. I believe that as much as one would not want that to be the case, nonetheless the public interest is served and served well by achieving that.
Not only the interests of the workers achieved by doing that, not only the interests of the employers achieved by doing that but the general public, I think, realizes a significant and real benefit as a result of resolving that problem and resolving it over a longer period of time. I think the bill goes a very long way to providing reasonable levels of protection for workers. It certainly endeavours to deal with the matter of work-related injury and endeavours to provide reasonable and fair protection in that respect. It endeavours to deal with the matter of lost income and with the matter of protection in having to go to court. That may not be such a big deal for a worker who has chosen to belong to an organized bargaining unit which has lots of dues money available to it and can afford to have its own lawyer and go to work and fight for its injured worker. But, it is very important for the worker who has chosen not to belong to a bargaining unit and who nonetheless has every legitimate right to expect to have fair compensation in the event of work place injury.
There are some shortcomings to the bill. One of the areas that I hope we will discuss at greater length with respect to benefits is the whole matter of reduced benefits for the children of workers who pay the ultimate cost of injury in the work place. One of the groups that I think all of us must be very cognizant of ensuring are protected appropriately is the volunteer firefighters across Nova Scotia. The vast majority of firefighters, while they have professional attitudes and professional training, are nonetheless volunteers. We want to make sure that even though they are volunteers and unpaid they have the level of protection available to them through access to the Workers' Compensation Board that will cause them to have a level of protection where we, as citizens in good conscience, can continue to ask them to risk limb and, not too infrequently, life in protecting our homes and our property.
This bill, I think, talks to what I will call due process, that is, to ensuring that a process is available to all persons who are claimants to the Workers' Compensation Board so that they can enter the system and their claim will be dealt with in a timely, expedient, judicious, fair, honest, open and transparent manner. I think that that has been one of the problems with the Workers' Compensation Board, albeit some of those problems have been resolved over the past few years as a result of very significant and, indeed, one might say dramatic changes in the way in which the Workers' Compensation Board is organized, changes which again, to the credit of my colleague and seatmate, the member for Hants West, were introduced by him when he was Minister of Labour.
I do not recall having heard any of the now government members suggest that those changes were not welcome and, in fact, I do not recall since May 25th hearing any of them say that any of those changes should be reversed. So, clearly, they support that process which the member for Hants West put in place, those reforms which he and that other government of which I was part initiated.
We want to make sure that claimants do not have to wait an inordinate amount of time before having their claims dealt with and having a response from the Workers' Compensation Board. There is not a person who is a member of this Legislature who has not heard from one or more constituents of difficulties of access and difficulties with process with respect to the Workers' Compensation Board. Some will say that there are horror stories out there and indeed there are.
I think, though, that if one looks at the number of clients that the Workers' Compensation Board deals with, that the number of horror stories form a relatively small proportion of the claims that come before it, which is not to say that the board cannot do better. It should always strive to do better and for those who have had those kinds of difficulties, the process should be retuned to ensure that they are very much, indeed, always an exceptional exception rather than coming close to, from time to time, appearing to be the rule.
When claimants have to wait too long, not only does it adversely affect the claimant himself or herself, but it has a very adverse impact on the claimant's family. Indeed, I know of instances where the mental anguish suffered by families as a result of having to wait what seemed to me, as their member in the Legislature, as an inordinately long time, has been so consuming that these people really, if they were able to recover from that mental anguish, it took them a very long time to do so.
I want to talk about workers' counsellors and it is always fun to bash lawyers. I guess it is one of the oldest games in the . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: It is not quite the oldest profession, but it is getting there.
MR. LEEFE: As my colleague reminds me, it is not quite the oldest profession, but it might be number two.
AN HON. MEMBER: Shakespeare said kill them all.
MR. LEEFE: Shakespeare said, save us from all the lawyers. Kill all the lawyers, he said. It is exactly what he said. I think that a lot of lawyers, I can't speak for all of them, but I can speak for the ones that have interfaced with me as a member of the Legislature over 16 years, that by and large lawyers have endeavoured to give good service for money with respect to serving as workers' counsellors.
I, for a long time, have felt that workers should have a fairly wide range of choice made available to them with respect to who the injured worker chooses to serve as their workers' counsellor. I think generally speaking, most barristers in this province can provide that service and if the injured worker chooses to go to a barrister in his or her community or one in the community down the road, it strikes me that that should be the workers' choice. Those barristers who do a good job will get more business than those who don't.
I think, too, there is an opportunity here to create a new industry, that is people who are properly trained to serve as workers' counsellors, not people who simply hang a shingle out and declare themselves to be workers' counsellors but people who are properly trained. It is important that the minister establish standards, to ensure that the injured worker is not put in the position where unknowingly, he or she is buying a pig in a poke.
I think I am correct in saying, and I would appreciate any correction if I am wrong, that the barristers in this province who serve as workers' counsellors get paid, I think $40 an hour. That covers all their costs; secretarial costs, rental costs and all the costs associated with running a law office. It doesn't strike me as a tremendous amount of money. One of the costs we don't hear about very often but it is a cost that can be very important, especially if a great deal of medical evidence is required, is the cost of acquiring medical reports. I suspect that physicians are probably, on an hour per hour basis, paid significantly more than the barristers who serve as workers' counsellors, with respect to any income they derive from the workers' counsellor process.
At any rate, I think this bill helps to begin to resolve that matter and I applaud the bill for accomplishing that.
I think it is very important that we not close the door on allowing workers, if they so choose, to go to their lawyer of choice and not force them to go to somebody who is classed as a workers' counsellor because the likelihood is that people who would want to train to be workers' counsellors probably will choose to live and practice in the urban areas in the province, whereas virtually every rural area in Nova Scotia has one or more lawyers available and who are immediately available to provide that service to them. Again, the choice should be to the injured worker and we should keep that choice as broad as possible, always remembering that we have to ensure a standard of service available for any person who holds themselves out as being capable of providing that service.
I think the aspect of the bill and the process which the minister has brought to us which disturbs me the most is the whole matter of appeals. No matter how good the Workers' Compensation Board is, no matter how professional the staff is, no matter how objective they try to be, there is always the possibility of a wrong decision being taken. While there is every reason to ensure that the first appeal process should be an internal appeal within the Workers' Compensation Board, I think there is every reason, if you are going to have a system which is not only just but which would seem to be just, we must have available an external appeal mechanism which is simple, straightforward, accessible, which in its fairness is transparent and which can deal with those workers who feel they have been wrongfully denied the ability to access assistance from the Workers' Compensation Board process.
There has been a history of backlog, both in the Workers' Compensation Board and the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, a backlog which does not reflect well on the capacity of those who govern, does not reflect well on the capacity of those who serve on the Workers' Compensation Board and the Workers' Compensation Appeal Board and it is a problem which absolutely must be resolved, and must be resolved as expeditiously as possible. If that means the government finding more dollars to put into the process to get that resolved now and get it resolved quickly, then I think every member of this House would be prepared to support that kind of initiative.
It is absolutely despicable that so many people have had to wait so long to have their claim dealt with. I think, for example, of a phone call I had just this week from a person whose appeal has been before the Appeal Board since January 1994. I called on behalf of that constituent to try to determine when that appeal would be dealt with and I was told that the board currently is writing up decisions with respect to August and September of 1993. I think that is intolerable and I think it is entirely unacceptable, and the only way to deal with that is to get enough people into the system to deal with those appeals so that they can be heard, they can be dealt with and people can get on with their lives. The bill does not deal with that and that, in my view, is probably the greatest single shortcoming of the bill which is currently before the House.
It was Lord Byng who said - the former Governor General of Canada, in fact, a predecessor of our new Governor General, Romeo LeBlanc - that a man who does nothing in a crisis is always wrong. Well, there is not a single person in this House that does not believe that with respect to the Workers' Compensation Board, we are in a state of crisis. So, for us to do nothing, for example for us to kill the bill, in my view, would be absolutely wrong.
We have a responsibility as legislators in this crisis to deal with the issue which is before us as best we can. We all know that it is going to require some degree of accommodation. Nobody will walk away with everything that they want. But what all of us should endeavour to do is to walk away from this Chamber, when the bill is finished going through third reading, with a sense that working together, by listening to each other, by affecting changes as we go through the legislative process and as a result of having listened to all of those groups which have a very specific, and those that have a general interest in resolving the problems with the Workers' Compensation Board feel that the best possible solution is arrived at.
One of the things we want to be very cognizant of is if we cannot ensure that nobody who is currently in the system is not adversely affected by this bill, that those who are adversely affected are impacted as little as possible and that as few people as possible are impacted by it. But for all of those who will access the fund in the future, the best thing that we can ensure them is a fund which is viable, a fund that is real, a fund that is self-sustaining, a fund to which a reasonable level of contributions are made, and a fund which will fuel a process which will effectively and efficiently and fairly deal with all of those who enter the system.
This is not the end of a journey, but it is a very significant step away from the very beginning of a journey towards the end. There are many more steps to take along the way, even in this legislative process. We must make sure, and this is the real challenge to the minister and the government, that as legislators, we listen carefully to all of the criticisms that are made and all of the plaudits that are provided with respect to this legislation. That we understand which plaudits are real and which ones are not genuine and that we understand which criticisms are justified and which criticisms are not. So that we can make the appropriate amendments to the bill and provide a system which will provide the workers of Nova Scotia, as they face the future, with the same kind of security that those workers who were in Nova Scotia when the very first bill creating workers' compensation in this province felt they were facing, long before anybody in this Chamber was even a twinkle in their parents eyes.
Mr. Speaker, I would urge all members to support this bill in second reading. Get it into the Law Amendments Committee where we can begin to fine-tune it and resolve what has been a long and outstanding problem for the people of Nova Scotia. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I want to make a few remarks relative to Bill No. 122 and I find, as is often the case when I follow him, that my friend, colleague and articulate seatmate, the honourable member for Queens, has said much of what I wanted to say.
He said much of what I wanted to say or felt should be said and I applaud the sentiment that he expressed. I, too, will be supporting the bill. But I am supporting the bill to get it to second reading and I am reserving, as is the case with a number of caucus colleagues, my enthusiasm, my thoughts as well, as to how I and other members of my caucus might react, upon the return of the document from the Law Amendments Committee. There are a number of things and I will make allusion to, a few of them that I think really are of fundamental concern as we address Bill No. 122. We'll want to see the way in which they are dealt with and the extent to which, as he has said here in this place and publicly, the Minister of Labour is prepared to respond to a number of representations which have already been made to him. Indeed, to analyze and assess the impact on this bill, on the workers of Nova Scotia, on the injured workers of Nova Scotia, and on the employers of Nova Scotia of those provisions which the Minister of Labour has indicated as well that he will be bringing forward on his own.
I couldn't help but be struck when I read, as I know all members did, the particular part of the discussion paper relative to workers' compensation which was made available in October of this year, unfortunately, only a month and a half ago, in early October. If I may quote from that, it is the government document not mine, but I think it is important in the context of where we are all coming from relative to this legislation to have some of the reality of the situation we face before us.
The document says, among other things, the following: "Nova Scotia is the most poorly funded workers' compensation in the country. At present it has only 28 cents of every dollar it needs to pay the long-term cost of claims. As of year-end 1993, the Nova Scotia's Workers' Compensation Board's unfunded liability was $460 million. The unfunded liability has increased by $100 million since December 31, 1990. This, on average, is equal to $91,000 a day or $3800 an hour. If the unfunded liability isn't controlled, the ability of the system to pay claims in the long-term is put in serious jeopardy. If the WCB were to close its doors tomorrow, funds to pay current claims would run out in approximately two years.
The Auditor General's most recent report stated that the Board was limited in what it could do internally to reduce the unfunded liability. Namely, it has only two options - to control costs and maximize the return on its investment portfolio. However, the Auditor General also warned that a more comprehensive solution was required.". The document then goes on to talk about proposed reform. This, of course, I repeat is the minister's document, the government document.
If the Speaker will bear with me and permit me just to refer briefly further to it. This document goes on to say, "It is not feasible for the WCB to deal with the unfunded liability alone. Neither can employers, injured workers or the government carry the burden on their own. For example, if employers were to pay down the unfunded liability, it would make Nova Scotia's rates the highest in Canada and would seriously restrict the competitiveness of businesses and threaten jobs.". There is simply no question that not only would it seriously restrict, it would, frankly, devastate business in the Province of Nova Scotia and it would result in exceedingly higher unemployment rates than we suffer from today.
"The government's funding strategy for the unfunded liability is a team approach. It incorporates a stabilized, affordable employer assessment rate with a formula for government assistance, benefit adjustments and a fiscally responsible Worker's Compensation Board.". Well, I believe as an Opposition politician that the government, in this context, on this issue, has it right. I really do believe that and that is why I have been hesitant, frankly resistant, to support those suggestions made by in the main, I guess, the Third Party who have a particular focus on this issue that we should find ways to delay and go study it more and analyze, again, and do God knows what with this.
I honestly believe, as my colleague for Queens has said, as the language that I have just read from this government document indicates that if we do not get on with it we are, frankly, doing a disservice to the workers of Nova Scotia. We are doing a disservice to the employers of Nova Scotia and we are absolutely playing politics if we attempt to articulate an argument that further delay and further reference to places other than this Legislature and our Law Amendments Committee and our capacity in the Committee of the Whole House and third reading processes will not enable those of us who are sent here to make the province's laws to make them, frankly, I just simply do not agree with the principle, the philosophy or the attitude that suggests we send it out again for analysis.
The fact of the matter is that, as again, the government document indicates and I had an opportunity to sit for some time on the government benches, as members will know. Since 1990, there have been two, four, six, eight, nine significant reviews and analyses of the Workers' Compensation Board. I acknowledge and my colleague for Hants West who was Minister of Labour has already acknowledged when he was the Minister of Labour and I, a Cabinet colleague of his, he came forward with proposed amendments and unfortunately, they did not find favour with the House and they did not result in a redesigned Workers' Compensation Act.
I really do not believe, as I said the other day in reference to one of the proposals that we hoist this or defer it, that it is humanly possible for this Legislature, for any one individual in this Legislature or for any caucus in this Legislature, and I include the government, and I certainly include my own, it is impossible to produce a piece of legislation which addresses issues which are as complex as those with which we are faced here in regard to workers' compensation, pass that legislation and then have all of us walk away and say, we now have achieved perfection. Because we simply cannot, will not, no previous legislation has managed that, and I guarantee that no subsequent Legislature will achieve that either.
If we are in the crisis we are, relative to workers' compensation, what do we do? My view is, we attempt, in as mutually supportive, as collegial, as open, as frank a fashion as we possibly can as legislators to leave this place in the next while, whenever that is, with a new Workers' Compensation Act that moves as far as all of us can possibly get it, to responding to the legitimate needs and rights of the workers of Nova Scotia, the legitimate needs, rights and realities of the employers of Nova Scotia and the needs of the board itself. By the board, itself, I mean the need that the obscenely large unfunded liability which we have all allowed to grow is in fact addressed in a clear and a reasonable fashion.
Unfunded liability is a difficult concept and it is not a one-way street. It is not the case that the unfunded liability is what it is because previous governments were incompetent and there were no other factors. It is not what it is because employers have not paid sufficient rates (Interruption) yes, exactly, this unfunded liability goes back into some Liberal Government days too. Well, if (Interruption) we want to get into that debate, we can. The reality is that the unfunded liability is not the fault, solely, of decisions of previous governments. It is not the fault, solely, of the fact that a certain benefits regime was made available to the injured workers. It is not the fault, solely, of the fact that the rate structures and the rates paid by the employers of Nova Scotia were wrong, solely. It is a combination, in my opinion, Mr. Speaker, of all of the above.
The hard cold reality that we have to deal with, as legislators here in November 1994, is that we dang well better do our best in the shortest time possible to produce, to come out of this Legislature with a piece of legislation which, as I said a moment ago to the extent that it is reasonably possible, addresses in as fair a way as possible all of the constituent elements of the problems with which we are faced.
If we do not address, in the shortest time possible, the unfunded liability issue, as is suggested, recommended and proposed in the legislation that is before us, then it has already been said, that fund is going to be bankrupt in two years. What have we all done, as legislators, for the work force of the Province of Nova Scotia? What have we done? We have created even more chaos and more crisis which becomes even more difficult to extricate ourselves from on a future day.
Therefore, on that account and believing as I do that it is time to act and it has been time to act for some time now, that I believe that the bill should be supported. It should be supported for the purposes of getting it to the Law Amendments Committee. I have no doubt that a great many representations will be made at the Law Amendments Committee and a great many proposals for change, more to the point, for improvement of the legislation will be made at that time. There are a few, and I promise, Mr. Speaker, you and all colleagues, only a few, that for the purposes of this evening's remarks to which I propose to make reference.
The legislation provides in Clause 3(3), and I am not going to do a clause by clause but attempt to make reference to it, to come to the principle, the legislation provides that where it is describing the scope of the bill itself, indicates that, "A class of employer prescribed pursuant to subsection (2) . . ." , which I should have perhaps started with, Clause 3(2), "The Governor in Council may, by regulation, exclude any employer, class of employer, or class of worker engaged in, about or in connection with any industry prescribed pursuant to subsection (1).", and then, Clause 3(3), "A class of employer prescribed pursuant to subsection (2) may include a class of employer employing fewer than the prescribed number of workers.".
I wish the bill, my suggestion and my proposal when we talk about it at the Law Amendments Committee, quite frankly, is that the legislation should be more precise than that and that there should at least be some establishment of what criteria must be employed if we are going to be getting into a process whereby employers or a class of employers may include a class of employers employing fewer than the prescribed number of workers, I think we need more definition than that. Frankly, I don't think we should leave that to regulation-making authority.
When we get into the whole matter of eligibility, we get into such concepts, if I can find them again, we get into provisions in this legislation that make it possible, in Clause 17, that "The Board or an employer, with the approval of the Board, may, from time to time, in writing, require any worker employed by the employer to undergo a medical examination for the purpose of determining whether or to what extent the worker is affected by an occupational disease.".
Well, I think it is a legitimate question and we ask it here now and will ask it again. What are the conditions that the board can or will impose? What about such requests not to be unreasonably withheld, as an example? That is a concept known to the legal profession and one which I think should and can be considered when we look at this in-depth, at the Law Amendments Committee and in clause by clause. But the concept is what I address, of the board or employer, with the employer having the approval of the board, can from time to time in writing require a worker to undergo a medical examination, that is quite a power to confer to an employer and may, in many circumstances, be quite an imposition upon the employee and one which, I think, has to be considered very carefully.
If you look at the concept again, as it is set out and espoused in this legislation, in Clause 29(1), "Any party to an action may appeal to the Chief Appeal Commissioner . . .", who is established in this legislation, ". . . for determination of whether the right of action is barred by this Part.", and go down to Clause 29(4), "The decision of the appeal committee pursuant to this Section is final and conclusive and not open to appeal, challenge or review in any court, and if the appeal committee determines that the right of action is barred by this Part, the action is forever stayed.".
Frankly, I take serious exception to the provision and I believe it is not fair, I don't believe it is consistent with the principles of natural justice. I think it is a very real possibility that it could fall to a Charter challenge and, frankly, is not fair to an employee not to have the opportunity to take a decision of the kind as is described in Clause 29 on appeal. Again, while I have said earlier and I repeat the bill should move forward, provisions such as that to which I just now refer are very threatening and should be amended and amended perhaps extensively in the Law Amendments Committee and before this bill becomes law.
The bill has provisions in it which address the issue of permanent impairment benefit and in fact establish that the board or indicate or set out that the board can, Clause 34(3)(a), ". . . establish a permanent-impairment rating schedule to be applied in calculating the award for a permanent impairment resulting from an injury; and (b) may enact the rating schedule referred to in clause (a) as a regulation.". I wonder if there's provision there or will there be provision there whereby progressive deterioration of an injury on the basis of which there is the original award made is contemplated or able to be taken into account when such a rating schedule is in fact established. Again, issues such as that are fundamental as far as I am concerned and must be addressed by either the minister in the amendments which he comes forward with or certainly at the Law Amendments Committee.
If we look - I know much has been said about it and I propose not to go on at great length at all relative to it - much has been said about the new provisions in this legislation regarding loss of earnings Clauses 38, 39 and 40 address those issues. To try to make the point that I want to get down to in the legislation relative to loss of earnings and you find that there is language that says, Clause 39(4), "In establishing a schedule and procedure pursuant to subsection (3) . . ." that is where the board in January of each year will, Clause 39(2), ". . . establish a schedule or procedure for determining the probable deductions required by subsection (1).", and this is again a repeat in the loss of earning section and in establishing that schedule and the procedure pursuant thereto ". . . and in calculating probable deductions pursuant to subsection (1)", we see these words, ". . . it is not necessary that the Board consider a worker's actual circumstances or deductions.".
I am not sure I know what the net result of all of that is. It occurs to me and I may be wrong and if I am I know the minister will, when he closes debate here and through the course of the other processes available yet to us in relation to this legislation, disabuse me of it. But if I am understanding this correctly what the principle that is being set out in that portion of the legislation says is that in each year in January the board will, Clause 39(3), "establish a schedule or a procedure . . .", which will enable the determination to be made of the probable deductions again relative to loss of earnings. But, then it goes on to say that the board when it does that and again I repeat the words, when the board does ". . . it is not necessary that the Board consider a worker's actual circumstances or deduction.".
Now, if I misunderstand then I 'll be corrected but my sense of what that says is that we don't have to live in the real world. We don't have to live in the real world, we don't have to address or the board doesn't have to address reality. My question and it is a question, is simply whether or not that language as we see it there, my question is doesn't that add back into the system the start of a whole new era of unreality? Which, if in fact I am right, if I am not off-track on this issue, that leads God knows where. And probably, if that is the kind of principle which underpins this legislation - and I don't believe it to be the case in the main -but, if that is the attitude at play here, then I am very concerned that we are, in this very legislation, sowing the seeds which will lead the board to the point, where they will be leading down a path which will be, in very short order, getting out of whack again, the revenues available to the board by way of the rates paid by employers and the benefits paid to injured workers. If I am misunderstanding, and I hope I am misunderstanding - and if I am, I am sure the minister will make sure I understand that before he closes.
The bill addresses an issue and a concept, Mr. Speaker, well known to you with your vast experience over the years dealing with people, in regard to workers' compensation matters, which deals with the matter of average earnings. It sets out language which says that, a worker's gross average earnings are the worker's regular salary or wages, and any other types or amounts of income, as the board may prescribe by regulation.
Well, again, I am concerned about the fact that we will have the board establishing regulations that set out what other types or amount of income, that do have an impact on the workers earnings. I believe, and I know it would be difficult, because it means that if it were in this legislation, it would have to come back to this place to be changed. But that is not always necessarily a bad thing. I wonder if it is not possible for us to devise language that will set out the other types and amounts of income that the board may establish, to make the gross average earnings calculations, as described in this clause. I really think we should have a look at the design of language that might effect that result.
The language goes on, still staying with average earnings, to talk about choosing a period for the purpose of Clause 42(1) - well, I should go back and this is what concerns me -that subject to this clause, a worker's gross average earnings are the regular salary, anything that might be considered to be other income, as prescribed by regulation, for the period of up to three years, immediately preceding the commencement of the loss of earnings expressed as a weekly amount. Then it goes on and gets into another principle, that when in choosing the period for the purposes of subsection (1) - which talks about the three year timeframe - the board may, says this bill, may choose any period that in the opinion of the board, allows it to best represent the actual loss of earnings suffered by the worker as a result of the injury and vary the period from time to time.
Well, that is pretty carte blanche and it is pretty imprecise, and there is little or no clarity. There is certainly no criteria and I believe that and would ask the minister when he closes, just what is the criteria? What will happen in regard to those issues and what does that really mean? Because we are looking at a bill that establishes a principle of three years, immediately preceding the commencement of the loss of earnings, expressed as a weekly amount. And that is immediately followed by a provision that overturns - I think, or impacts, certainly, tremendously on that principle - that suggests that in choosing some period up to three years immediately preceding, the board can choose any old period it likes. Then it goes even further and says, it can vary that period from time to time. I think that is pretty imprecise, to say the least. I certainly do hope that the minister can help us in that regard.
The legislation, Mr. Speaker, as I think I have indicated and, as I am attempting to suggest to you now, while I believe should go forward, has a whole range and I won't go through them item by item, that is more appropriate in the Law Amendments Committee and Committee of the Whole House on Bills clause by clause processes, but there is a considerable range of issues which simply must be addressed.
Fundamentally, I believe that the legislation does lead us to the point where we have a chance at least of having a jump-off point from which there is a reasonable demand made on the employers to contribute, a reasonable return to the injured worker by way of claim award and a reasonable chance to deal with the very significant, serious and threatening, unfunded liability question that we simply have to address immediately.
I would echo and certainly share the comments made by other members and the most recent of them being the member for Queens. I have real concerns that this legislation does not provide a process or processes relative to appeals that enable some degree of external examination or review or appeal. I am not so sure that I am comfortable with and support the concept of an appeal process which is absolutely internal, as is set out in this legislation.
I really do think there should be clauses, and we will make such representations as the bill moves on, that there be an external appeal process. I believe it should be and the word is important, an external appeal process. I am not for a minute suggesting, as the lawyers might say, that we get into a trial de novo, a brand new, let's hear it all over again from day one kind of situation. Quite candidly, if I may be so bold, I think that in large measure over the last many years, that has been the Achilles Heel of the appeal process which we have had now and which exists now.
We have had situations where people are virtually withholding evidence and hoping that they will get through this hearing, not have to produce all the documentary evidence, in some cases medical reports and the like, on the theory that they might bump up an award, but if that doesn't work out so well then, aha, we have got you because we can start all over again because I just happen to have in my hip pocket a medical report; yes, I did have it a few weeks ago but I didn't think I would throw it into the hopper because of whatever, but I still have it and let's go at it all over again.
Some people are terribly offended when they hear me say that and are suggesting that when I say things like that, that I am therefore somehow anti-worker or think that every claimant has done that and obviously I am not saying that at all. The frustration I have with some, indeed, some in this place, is that when some of us make comments of that kind, I know the assumption is made that we are in some way speaking against the injured worker of Nova Scotia and nothing could be farther from the truth.
What we are speaking for is a redesigned process that makes it possible for the worker to, in a more expeditious fashion than is possible now, to have his or her claim heard by people who are better able, better prepared, better trained to hear those appeals than perhaps is the case now, and hear them in an expeditious fashion. But, however, hear them also in a situation where if, within the hallowed halls and the confines of the board itself, if the result is not to the satisfaction of the claimant, that there be an opportunity - not a long, convoluted, let's start it all over from the beginning opportunity - but an opportunity for a reasonable and legitimate and expeditious appeal to be heard external to the board. I believe that the legislation falls down considerably by reason of the fact that that is not the case and not provided for.
I have said, Mr. Speaker, that the bill is certainly not perfect and we are told that the minister will propose changes. We know from meetings that we have had with representatives of labour, of employers in the province, injured workers, others who are concerned about and interested in this legislation, that there will be considerable said at the Law Amendments Committee and much of it will recommend change in some of the areas I have addressed and those which have been addressed by other colleagues. But we must move the legislation on to the point where we have that chance and we get those changes before us all in the Law Amendments Committee environment and we come back here, in a timeframe where we have the opportunity in Committee of the Whole House to really see what can be done.
I said the other day, and I say it again to the Minister of Labour, I really believe that in very large measure his reputation is on the line. I say to him - and intend it as a compliment - that in very difficult circumstances he has produced, by way of this bill, a piece of legislation which has the bulk of the essential elements of a redesigned workers' compensation system which, while it inflicts pain in various places, and may I say perhaps inflicts pain on all of the constituent elements of the system, I believe it is a reasonable and fair effort at redesigning a system which is so badly in need of repair.
If we don't do that, as I have said, Mr. Speaker, we have chaos on our hands. But there are a number of elements which the minister has said he has recognized himself, even since introducing the bill or, indeed, almost contemporaneous with introducing it, that require a change and improvement. We await the detail and his commitment on that score, but, as well, we await his willingness, as demonstrated by the way in which this bill comes back from the Law Amendments Committee and the way in which the representations which will be made to the government, through him, on this bill at the Law Amendments Committee. We await and reserve judgment, I guess is what I really want to say. Just how willing and accommodating he is prepared to be, having said that he is prepared to be accommodating, when we see the extent to which he will respond in a positive way to changes which will be made and recommended by other people, by other organizations, by other individuals, indeed, by other caucuses. I trust that the minister will be true to his word.
There is so much that can be said about the legislation and I am not going to say more because it will be said in other places, at the Law Amendments Committee and back here, on clause by clause and so on. I simply close by indicating that I think the minister has come forward with a pretty legitimate effort to right the situation which needs to be righted and that we look forward to participating in the remaining stages of the legislative review and enactment process, to come as close as we all can to a bill which we can all, when finalized, legitimately and honestly say, (a) it is light-years better than the one we have now; and (b) it is as close as our human frailty and our political biases will allow us to get to the point where, for the first time in a long time, we deal fairly, more fairly with the workers of Nova Scotia, with the employers of Nova Scotia, with the taxpayers of Nova Scotia who ultimately will wear the unfunded liability of this board if something is not seriously done and we look forward to vigorous discussion at the Law Amendments Committee and vigorous and, I am sure, protracted discussion and debate when the bill is back from the Law Amendments Committee. Thank you. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: If I recognize the minister it will be to close the debate.
The honourable Minister of Labour.
HON. JAY ABBASS: Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased now to rise and close debate on second reading of this very important bill, Bill No. 122 which will provide Nova Scotia, finally, with a much revised and improved Workers' Compensation Act.
There are several main points or points relating to the principle of the bill that I would like to touch on. Of course, the main principle that we have adhered to, the one we have striven for is that the injured worker who is physically injured the most, who has suffered the greatest loss of earnings, wages, should be and will be, under this bill, compensated the most.
We are doing so via something called the earnings-replacement benefit combined with a permanent-impairment benefit in something that is called a dual system. That is a system which our Premier promised during the election campaign of 1993 and it gives me great honour and pleasure in seeing to its honouring.
We are moving away from a system that can best be described as rough justice in which something called the meat chart, technically known as the clinical rating scale was used to give just that, rough justice, a very crude approach to assessing an injured worker's true losses. We had extremes under the old Act, under the old system. We had a situation in which an individual who had been injured, but had managed to return to work could be earning in excess of what he or she had earned, pre-injury. On the other extreme, we had individuals who had been legitimately injured, had not managed to return to work, but were in receipt of a pittance.
Our system will ensure that the greatest number of legitimately injured workers, who have truly suffered a true loss physically and economically, will be compensated the most. We are striving and, I think, we have achieved, through this bill, a system which will ensure fairness to the injured worker, affordability to those who support the system, and of course, that is predominantly the employers of this province, and sustainability of the whole system right into the next century.
Contrary to what Opposition members would like people to believe, there has been broad consultation on this. I have been very proud to have been able to bring forward a discussion paper fully six weeks-plus ago which gave rise, simultaneously, to my offices phoning the key stakeholders in this whole process and initiating meetings. We did not wait for people to come to us, we went to them. We invited them to my department. I met with them, personally. I personally wrote notes. I personally had them transcribed. I listened and those who were in the room with me listened. By all accounts, those who took part in that process, and that includes members from both Opposition Parties, they appreciated the opportunity to meet with me and to express their concerns, and in some cases, pay their compliments.
We did not just meet with those we invited; groups, associations which came to us and asked that they be given some time, were also given time. So it was not simply a matter of our building an invitation list and meeting only with those invitees. All were welcome.
Since I released the discussion paper entitled, Proposals for Reform, early last month, I have met with many concerned Nova Scotians. I have met with representatives of injured worker groups from metro, Halifax County, the Pictou Area, Cape Breton, and the South Shore and Valley regions. I met with labour representatives from the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, the Cape Breton Building and Construction Trades Council, the United Mine Workers and others. I met with business organizations, the two Opposition Parties, however briefly, and many other concerned groups.
These people carried the concerns of many injured workers and employers to the table and numerous people responded to our discussion paper. Right now, in this House, I would again like to thank everyone who took the time to meet with me and to offer their suggestions.
All the points which are contained in the discussion paper are contained in the bill. Likewise, all the measures contained in the bill are referred to in the discussion paper. They are two companion documents and I am happy to say that I think the discussion paper was a good companion document in this case and did give fair indication, to all who cared to do a careful reading, of what was to come.
The best possible discussion group or focus group which we could have used on the way to arriving at this bill was the board itself. In a way, that is exactly what the board was in this case, a focus group. The board which is a bipartite board, comprised of six members in total, three labour, three management, throughout many months, ever since I became minster at least, were actively considering all the various questions or the various measures which go into comprising a bill of this sort. They did an excellent job, that is all I can say and all I can do is thank the members of that board of directors, who so diligently did their jobs, and I know the number of hours which went into their work.
I would thank them in this House at this time. The decisions which they made do form the basis and large measure of this bill. The only reason, I guess, for which I had to intervene in this case was that the board reached a point at which it had unanswered questions for which it did need the help of government. Government did have to show leadership in the final days, hours or months of this whole exercise. When they came and asked government to please, take it from here and run with it, we did run with it. This bill is the result of that.
This whole process has a very long history. There is not one single person who reads the paper who does not agree that we have to get on with this. This is a process that has gone through Royal Commissions, select committees, discussion papers, studies galore. If anyone cares to, they can look at Page 9 of the Discussion Document. You will see the history of this whole exercise. We do not need any more select committees, studies, Royal Commissions or documents.
I want to reiterate that I am open to constructive suggestions as to how better to ensure that natural justice is ensured for injured workers who go before the board in whatever version of an appeal structure we eventually end up with. During consultation, many people voiced concerns regarding the restructuring of the appeals process. After listening to and reviewing these concerns, I have decided that additional input is needed and I will consider options put forward at the Law Amendments Committee and bring those to my colleagues. This is an area of great importance to injured workers and I want to be absolutely sure that the procedure works properly and that injured workers never face a backlog, like the one we have today. Again, I am open to suggestions as to the best form of appeal process that we should use in this bill. Natural justice does have to be assured.
A couple of guiding principles that I would point out to all concerned is that some form of internal appeal will be inevitable. There is not one group that came before me which was not prepared to at least consider the idea that an internal review was necessary to intercept cases in which the board, having set the policy through its employees, misinterpreted that policy or misapplied that policy. A lot of people have a false sense of security in a 93 per cent overturn rate. In fact, that 93 per cent overturn rate is saying, in a large part, you did not get it right back at the internal level.
Mr. Speaker, is there a question? The board does make policy. The board did make policy under the old Act and it does continue to set policy under the new. It is when the adjudicator or other employee of the board misinterpret, misapply, do not implement that policy properly that we have to ensure that there is an internal structure to support or to intercept cases which would, otherwise, have gone to appeal. I understand that we are approaching the moment of pause, so I will take my seat.
MR. SPEAKER: We have reached the moment of interruption, we will now comment the debate on the Adjournment motion which was supplied by the honourable the Leader of the Opposition concerning:
Therefore be it resolved that the Ministers for the Economic Renewal Agency and Transportation and Communications and the Premier should ask the federal government to step in and stop the proposed sale of CN to CP.
MOTION UNDER RULE 5(5)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: Mr. Speaker, I wonder if you might permit me to defer to my colleague for Kings North who proposes to address these issues on behalf of our caucus.
MR. SPEAKER: Very well. The honourable member for Kings North.
MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: I want to thank my honourable colleague, the Leader of the Opposition, for putting this motion forward tonight for debate in the late show. I think this motion is probably one of the most important decisions that the federal government will be making that will affect each and every Nova Scotian for years to come if the wrong decision is made regarding this situation.
This late show isn't in any way an opportunity for me to bash the government, either provincial or federal. This late show is an opportunity for all political Parties, I think, to join and speak with one voice because we have an opportunity to speak on behalf of and in support of the Port of Halifax. The Port of Halifax I think, Mr. Speaker, we all agree is the greatest asset we have as a province. It employs directly 6,000 people. The annual revenue created is over $300 million and the port can do even more for Nova Scotia if we allow it to grow. It can become the gateway to North America. It can be the gateway to Central America from Europe. The key to the growth of the Port of Halifax is freight rates, the rail rates. The rate that the railway charges to move a container from Halifax inland is the key that will decide the future of the people that work in the port and, indeed, I feel the future of the development of Nova Scotia as one of Canada's truly great provinces.
We already have the deep water that is the reason Halifax was founded in the first place. We have two modern container terminals. We have the expert labour force. We have the rail connection and this rail connection we have in Halifax is really quite unique among ports because the rail goes right down to the waterfront. In New York, for instance, containers must be loaded onto trucks, transported several miles and then loaded onto rail cars for distribution. Most of the container traffic in New York actually is for local consumption; only a small percentage of the traffic in New York is for trans-shipment but the trans-shipment part is larger than what we are doing in Nova Scotia.
We have the opportunities due to our natural location and due to the presence of the rail. We need continued growth and the key is the rate that the railway charges. The Sarnia Tunnel, which has been under construction by CN for some years now, is finally almost ready to open. That is taking 12 hours off the distance, the time it takes to go from Halifax to Chicago. That 12 hours means that a container unloaded in Halifax could be in Chicago before the boat even arrived in New York. That is an advantage but it is only an advantage to us if the rail rate is cheap enough to get it there and that is the whole key to the strength and the development of Halifax.
If we are going to increase employment, the rail rate must be reduced. We will need new equipment to handle additional containers and to handle the new super container ships that are on the drawing boards but that is not a problem. If the containers are here, you can rest assured that the equipment will be there to unload them.
The suggestion by CP that they want to get a hold of the rail line in Eastern Canada is not one that should rest well with any of us. Last July I put out a press release indicating that the sale of Canadian National's eastern business to Canadian Pacific would weaken the position of the Port of Halifax. Recent history shows Canadian Pacific shareholders are more interested in the Delaware and the Hudson Railway than they are in eastern Canada. The link that Canadian Pacific would favour would be the Delaware and the Hudson. That rail line that they are using goes and will link New York, Philadelphia and on into Toronto and Montreal. Can we as Nova Scotians put our future growth and our future trust in a rail line that would be operating totally at cross purposes to the benefit of Nova Scotia. I don't think we can because the risk is much too great for us to take a chance.
Canadian Pacific has shown time and again that they prefer the U.S. north-south route to the Canadian route. The sale of CN to CP, if it were to take place, it would weaken the positive steps that we as Nova Scotians have made in the last few years to strengthen the Port of Halifax. As Nova Scotians we saw the need for containers that could be double-stacked, so the taxpayers, the government, all of us, we shared with the people of Pictou County and we built those double-stack rail cars so that we could have containers travelling one on top of the other out of Nova Scotia.
This was a big step for us but it made the difference, Mr. Speaker, because traffic increased and it was helpful. We cannot let positive steps like that be side-tracked by a sale to a rail line that would prefer to use another port and another rail line than the one that we are using presently.
Over the years we have had two very extensive studies on the growth and development of the Port of Halifax. When you boil all the recommendations down, when you boil all the suggestions, when you get right down to the crux of the matter, the Port of Halifax depends on one thing and that is the rail link inland. It does not depend on anything else. You can have everything else, but if you do not have the rail line with a cheap rate, you do not have anything.
It is time for all of our federal MPs and government MLAs and our Opposition MLAs, we have to stand up and we have to tell CP Rail Service that the CN rail line to Nova Scotia is not for sale. CN can be a strong catalyst for economic growth in Atlantic Canada. Their new president, or fairly new, a couple of years, Mr. Tellier, has indicated a real commitment to Nova Scotia. They have cost-shared with the double-stacked rail cars and CN has also recently opened, pretty near a year now, the intermodal terminal on the Halifax waterfront. That is not so much for rail rates, but it does take traffic off our highway system. But it shows a commitment of $15 million. It shows that CN is, indeed, interested in Atlantic Canada and it shows that CN is interested in Halifax.
At the present time, we do not have that commitment from Canadian Pacific and I don't think we ever would get that commitment from Canadian Pacific. All of the organizations and all of the employees that work for the Port of Halifax are showing great concern over the interest in the sale to CP. The future, if I could read a press release, not from me, but from John Gratwick and he is with the Port Development Commission. He is very concerned about the sale, as well.
If we look further, Mr. Speaker, there are other press releases and alarm bells have been ringing. Mr. Bellefontaine from the Port of Halifax Corporation, he is ringing the alarm bells that we must be vigilant and we must all work together to make sure that Canadian National remains as the rail line connecting Halifax to the rest of North America. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Transportation.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite had a very interesting start to his remarks when he said that he was not going to use this as an opportunity to bash the federal or the provincial government. As I sat there and listened, I could not for the life of me understand what he would have to bash the federal or the provincial government with on this issue.
This proposed purchase of CN's operations east of Winnipeg is a totally unsolicited offer. This is not something that the federal government sought, it is an offer that was made by CP to purchase the assets. I think what is important, and what we have to recognize is important in this province, is that we have a viable rail service from Halifax to central Canada and, in fact, across the country. Our job, I believe, as representatives and as legislators is to intervene in whatever manner possible to ensure that we have that service. We watched the fights in this province - and I suppose for a while we were a part of them - on the loss of the CN rail line from Truro to Sydney. I think anyone would be hard-pressed today to say that we probably have improved rail service from Sydney to Truro as a result of a short-line operator coming in to take over what CN was getting rid of.
One of the interesting points to be made in this whole debate is that much of the information necessary to make reasoned decisions is not available. In fact, it is still confidential information between the two companies or between CP and the federal government, whatever the case may be. I think that as we prepare to make reasoned interventions, it will be necessary to have much of the information that is not yet available. CP has imposed a deadline on this. It is not the Government of Canada that has imposed a deadline that says a decision has to be made by a certain date; CP has imposed a date and the Honourable Douglas Young, the federal Minister of Transport says he will respond to this offer in his time, not on CP's schedule or anyone else's schedule.
The federal government has hired Wood Gundy to go out and do a financial analysis of the financial value of this deal. I believe that it is very important that we find out what those details are and what finances are going to change hands, and how they are going to change hands with respect to this proposal before we are in a position to make too much of an intervention. I think it is important that we look at the recent record that this province has with respect to the relationship with CN, the intermodal terminal, the double-stacking issue, the access roads to the yards, and that has been an excellent relationship.
Over the past number of years, CN has demonstrated a serious and significant commitment to the Province of Nova Scotia. The focus of their eastern operation is their Montreal to Halifax run and the Port of Halifax has been the area where they have focused their infrastructure spending and, clearly, their commitment to this area has been sincere and significant.
The Port of Halifax, as the member opposite has suggested, is dependent on container traffic, on the movement of container units to and from our area. Halifax is the first stop from Europe and it is the last stop leaving to Europe. One of the reasons for that is that many of the ports of the eastern United States are much shallower than our port and as a result they have to lighten their load as they come in and they top up as they leave, because the depth of the harbour where they are going is no longer as issue as it is when they were coming this way. Surely, with the opening of the Sarnia-Huron Tunnel, which I guess is slated now to open around mid-March to late March, it will indeed cut 12 hours off a trip from Halifax to Chicago to access the American Midwest markets, which are the largest markets that the container lines target.
If conditions are favourable, if the unit rates can be made attractive enough, there is an opportunity for the Port of Halifax to grow, to become sort of a load centre for many of the shipping lines or at least some of the shipping lines. There would be a significant boost in employment and that is very important and something which we should all work toward achieving for this area.
We do have concerns, the Government of Nova Scotia has concerns with the proposed takeover of CN. For example, on the financial side, how would this sale break down in terms of where the money would end up? We hear about a $1.4 billion offer. Well I doubt very much if $1.4 billion will change hands. There would be receivables, there would be all sorts of factors built into this, where I would suggest the money changing hands would be significantly less. And what would that money be used for? Would that money be used to pay down the CN debt? If so, then the immediate advantage to the Government of Canada I don't think would be very significant, in terms of applying money toward their debt or whatever else they might choose to use that for. But if the money is left with the Government of Canada or they take money out of the sale, then the debt load of CN remains.
I believe 47 per cent of the asset will now be gone. So the debt load is now spread over a much smaller operation, the western operation, which I believe accounts for 53 per cent, so that gives us serious concern as to whether CN can continue to operate their western line. If, in fact, they can't continue to operate their western line then the competitiveness in the rail industry in this country is gone. I don't think that is of benefit to many people.
Mr. Speaker, the retention of that coast to coast service in the rail industry is of fundamental importance. Local competitiveness: CP has proposed a haulage agreement with CN, where CN would pay to use the CP track if they, in fact, took it over. I think we don't have to use much imagination to realize that CP would, in fact, decide how competitive anyone else could be, using that line, if, in fact, CN had to pay CP to use that line, then CP could arbitrarily determine the level and quality of service that would be offered to customers. I believe they could, again, without a lot of imagination, I suspect they could undercut the CN operation and have most of the customers use the CP operation. Or, the other factor in there, of course, and the service across the country where there would have to be a change if one was to convert from CP to CN operations.
The internal competition in eastern Canada, if such a takeover was to occur, is also of grave concern. CP does operate the Delaware and Hudson Line from Montreal to the eastern United States. I don't think it is a big secret to many to discover that CP has an agreement with the federal Government of the United States which would see them forced to repay a significant amount of money if that D&H Line ceased operation.
So given CP operating two lines in eastern Canada to Montreal; one to the eastern United States and one to Halifax, given the significant amount of finances they would have to repay for shutting down the D&H Line, I don't think it is hard to imagine where the focus would be. So that is certainly a cause for concern.
Mr. Speaker, I don't have much time on this but I think it is important that we look at what the Government of Nova Scotia is attempting to do with this and I guess that is what the debate is about tonight, since it is taking place in our Legislature. I have had an opportunity to meet, I guess as recently as about 10 days ago, with Paul Tellier, the President of CN, to discuss this. We have had Mr. Scott, the President of CP, in to meet with my staff last week. I was not able to attend the meeting. We have met with and raised concerns and put the flags up with the Honourable Doug Young, the federal minister, and we continue to communicate with his office. My senior staff was in Montreal, I believe it was this very week or late last week, to meet with senior staff in the federal Department of Transport to once again represent this issue and to have a discussion on it.
I am scheduled to appear before the federal committee, the Transport Committee, when they appear in Dartmouth on December 16th and I will be making a representation to that committee on behalf of the Province of Nova Scotia. I am also going into New York to meet with all the customers of the Port of Halifax and senior officials of CN and representatives of the federal government, to speak at a meeting in New York to again sell the Port of Halifax to these customers and to look for new customers and to raise the concerns we have of the value and importance of retaining the service and having the Port of Halifax grow.
So I think we are doing as much as we can, Mr. Speaker. We do not have the authority to step in and stop the deal, but we are certainly doing everything we can to make the representations and the concerns known to our federal counterparts and to customers of CN and CN and CP and will continue to do that and will represent this issue as thoroughly as we possibly can. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the New Democratic Party.
MR. JOHN HOLM: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and I welcome the opportunity in the short time that I have available to me to rise to make a few comments and observations on the topic which is before us this evening for debate, dealing with the sale of the CN lines possibly to CP.
I am not, I guess, standing in my place tonight to be jumping on the Minister of Transportation or, in fact, the government at all on this particular issue. I think, however, that this is such a crucially important concern, not only for the Port of Halifax but, I would suggest, for all Nova Scotia, that what we need to be doing is trying to put our thinking caps on together and collectively trying to address what could be extremely serious concerns and consequences for the Province of Nova Scotian and, certainly, most particularly for the metropolitan area.
Mr. Speaker, our capital area grew and owes so much of its growth to the Port of Halifax and I would suggest that our future is going to depend, to a very great extent again, upon that port and how well we are able to take advantage of the opportunities that present itself from that port.
Where my concern comes in, and I am trying not just to be dogmatic here, but if the CN rail line were to be sold to CP, if that service is taken over by CP which, of course, is a private company, then the principal concern for CP is going to be, as it with companies and I do not fault them for this, but it is to make money. CN is a public corporation and, yes indeed, as a public corporation it should be looking at ensuring that they are able to deliver their service in the most economic way and, ideally, to make money as well. But a public company has a broader responsibility and, that is, the broader responsibility to ensure that service provided to those areas that need it.
What concerns me so much with the possible sale is that CP owns rail lines that run through the United States. So much of the business that comes through the Port of Halifax, and it is not just the fact that the containers land here and the materials are then trucked on, so to speak, down the rail lines. There are important jobs that are created that are good paying jobs at the Port of Halifax. Plus, there are all the supplies and all the jobs that are related to servicing those ships that come in and out of the city and there are businesses that will locate here because of both the excellent rail and water connections.
If CP takes over the ownership of the CN rail service, since they own rail lines down through the United States to other ports, such as in Baltimore, New York and the Philadelphia areas, the very real concern is that much of the business that currently is on our routes could be redirected down through those rail lines. Somebody might say, well, why would they do that. Well, one reason could be that those rail lines tend to be a little bit shorter than coming down through the Maritime route and if they are a little bit shorter, that could mean that the cost could be slightly lower.
These are concerns that we have to take a look at. If, for example, and I am not here and I say this to the members who are present, I am not trying to beat up on the government on this one because I would sincerely hope that members of the Liberal Government are as concerned as all others are who are raising this issue and speaking to it.
The concern is, too, though what would happen to the port? Will we go through on the CN line, currently the CN line, with the upgrading that is necessary so that it could be a double-stacked rail line service. Because if, in fact, that goes ahead, as is hoped that it will, then that will make this port all that much more competitive and that will mean, not only more business in the port, but, hopefully, it will mean more jobs here in Nova Scotia and good high paying jobs, as well.
If this rail service goes through will CP be willing to invest in the upgrading of the rail line and the rail service so that it can handle those heavier rail cars, Mr. Speaker, is a very real question to be asked when they have alternative routes that can be followed. I have no hesitation in saying that I certainly am concerned for the well being of the entire country, and I would not back away from that one iota. I do, and I am proud to be a representative of this House here in Nova Scotia, and my primary concern is to the well being of Nova Scotians and for the concerns of Nova Scotians.
Canadian Pacific may be having some difficulty in the west, as may CN, but, certainly, we should not be prepared talking about compromising the best interest of Nova Scotia to help CP in the western area of the country at our expense.
Our rail link here is our lifeline. We know, and we have heard over and over again, the importance of rail. We have seen, of course, more and more traffic switching to the roads to the trucks, but in many areas that trend is actually starting to reverse. More and more of the traffic is, because of the cost of the developing roads and delivering materials by roads are actually starting to increase. More and more of the traffic in certain areas are starting to be redirected back to the rail service.
If we are going to, in any way at all, Mr. Speaker, be compromised by this sale, I would hope that the Minister of Transportation and Communications who on this, and the parts of the speech that I heard, I have to say that I thought he was trying to be very thoughtful. He tried to outline a number of the initiatives and a number of the steps that he was involved in, in terms of the meetings and so on trying to sell our port. I would, however, urge that the minister would involve members of all political Parties so that we can speak as a united voice. In so saying that, I am not suggesting that the Minister of Transportation and Communications should be having members of all political Parties trucking around the country or to New York and these other places where he is going to try to sell the port.
I believe the minister is sincere in his concern for the port and for the rail service. My plea, through you to the Minister of Transportation and Communications, is to try to work with and to share with all political Parties the information that he has and receives on this possible sale and to work with us so that we could try to, at least, have a united front, a united voice speaking on behalf of the best interest of Nova Scotians on this matter. As I say, I congratulate the minister on the thrust of what he was saying, and I am not trying to be partisan or take any shots.
What I would look forward to, on something that is so crucially important for the continued health of our port and the development of the port and the businesses and industries along that rail line, Mr. Speaker, that the minister and the government will try to involve us all so that collectively, hopefully, we can have a positive impact for the good of the entire area. Thank you.
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The time allotted for the Adjournment debate has expired. We will now return to Public Bill for Second Reading, the Workers' Compensation Act.
[PUBLIC BILLS FOR SECOND READING]
Bill No. 122 - Workers' Compensation Act. [Debate resumed.]
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable minister of Labour to conclude the debate on second reading.
HON. JAY ABBASS: Mr. Speaker, I think before we adjourned, briefly, I was touching on two principles which should be adhered to, regardless of which appeal structure we eventually settle upon. There should be an internal appeal process of some sort and that the board has and does, under the new bill, make policy and that is exactly the way it should be. However, if the adjudicators or other employees at the board, for whatever reason, manage to make an error in law or in fact, I suppose, and an injured worker feels that he or she deserves a second hearing, there should be that internal appeal process available for that injured worker so that he or she does not have to resort to the ultimate court, so to speak.
It should be noted that there have been requests in the past from the Appeal Board Chair for help in dealing with the caseload she and those working with her have faced for so long. I would point out that back, during the spring session, with the knowledge of the Appeal Board Chair, I did approach both Opposition Parties requesting that we arrive at an accommodation whereby those injured workers whose cases have not gone through an internal appeal process could be sent back to the board without losing one's spot in the Appeal Board que or line-up.
I should point out that Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, the Conservative Party, did agree with that accommodation, the NDP did not. You will see that in the new bill there is, as part of the transition process, a measure which would send back to the internal appeal structure those files that have not gone through an internal review of any sort or those files in which there is new medical evidence available in the file. So what could not be agreed upon by mutual accommodation back in the spring, has been accomplished through this bill, once it is passed.
I would point out, and let's make no mistake about it, that we will not have the highest maximum benefits in Canada under this new bill. Let's make no bones about it. If you compare the highest maximum benefits available to an injured worker in Nova Scotia under this bill, to the highest maximum benefits available to an injured worker in certain other jurisdictions in this country, we will not be the highest. Neither will we be the lowest. We will fit, in fact, somewhere close to the middle.
So this whole debate over the level of benefits is a bit of a red herring. While confirming that we will not be the highest or the jurisdiction in which the highest maximum award is given, I will point out that we will not be the lowest. We will be, in fact, awarding compensation levels which are much akin to what is being handed out elsewhere in this country.
I would try to allay some of the fears which certain Opposition members might have planted in certain widows, other survivors in this province. That their awards, having already been granted to them, are not going to be tinkered with and please, I will make sure that Hansard is sent to the Westray widows. No, the Westray widows will not be touched in any way by this.
What we have done really, is brought in a system which is more expensive than the old one. A lot of people don't realize this, but a wage loss system of any sort is more expensive than the old meat chart system. Any measure that we have proposed or brought forward in this bill is a measure which is designed to ensure that a wage loss system such as we have proposed can, in fact, work. A lot of people do not fully appreciate that, Mr. Speaker.
What we have striven for is a balanced package and what I think we have arrived at is a balanced package. If one cares to keep score, pull out a score card and compare, one might go through a process, well I like that measure, I don't like that one, I like this one, don't like that one, and then tally it all up and decide whether he or she is onside.
Well everyone could do that and maybe certain Opposition members are doing that. But, frankly, what we have tried for and what, I think, we have achieved, is a balanced package here. It does go up the middle just about as much as could be achieved under the circumstances. We think we have it right. Even if we do not have this bill exactly right. If it is not perfect as some bills from time to time are, that is they are imperfect in some minor way, there is a provision which mandates, which requires that the board submit itself to an automatic review in three years.
After having amassed three years' worth of economic data and three years' worth of experiential data observing how the board works and how injured workers are treated we will be able to review the board and put it under the microscope and ensure that injured workers are being treated fairly, that the system is affordable to employers and that the system will survive into the next century, that's what this is all about. So, that review is an automatic review, it happens after three years of collection of good solid data and it is something that the board cannot escape. It will happen.
I don't have much more to say except that I would to go to pains here to say to the workers' counsellors of the province that their efforts to date, regardless of how they were appointed, under a previous government or under this government are much appreciated. They have toiled diligently, working within the framework of what I would call a flawed Act, they have done, as lawyers are duty bound to do, their jobs in representing their clients, the injured workers of this province. I was a bit concerned that as part of launching the discussion paper, a certain exchange occurred right in the midst of my speech, which upon being reported in the press led some workers' counsellors to feel that they weren't fully appreciated, that their work was being, in fact, criticized.
Those who were present at that conference would not have taken nearly as dim a view of the exchange that did happen at that time. Again, I would only say to the workers' counsellors of this province, your efforts are appreciated; in fact the Act confirms that they should be on the scene or hopefully will be on the scene for at least another two years. We hope that they will continue to do the good work that they have done throughout the years. We are dealing here with workers' counsellors who have had to deal with a flawed system. All that we are doing here is trying to save that system. They like all the other people either at the board or in government have had to work with a flawed system for too many years. We are ensuring the survival of a workers' compensation system in this province. (Applause)
I would wrap up, Mr. Speaker, by thanking the Opposition members who did take the time to read the discussion paper, some of them did read the Act. I am happy that they all took the trouble to at least express the concerns that they have had come to their doorsteps either from injured workers or employers. I will as I have said take into account especially those concerns which relate to the appeal structure at the Appeal Board or whatever version of an Appeal Board we end up with.
I would also thank staff at the board who have had to struggle for several years working within a flawed system. Those employees are making improvements in the way awards are granted to injured workers, the way in which injured workers are treated. Things have come a ways at the board. Things have a long way to go before this board is fully rehabilitated and injured workers actually have the degree of trust which they should have in any workers' compensation system.
I would like to thank the employees of the board, here in this House, for the good efforts that they have made to date and I would acknowledge the good efforts of again the Board of Directors, the Board's Chair, Dr. Bob Elgie and the Chief Executive Officer of the Board, David Stuewe. I would also thank the various members of the interdepartmental committee on Workers' Compensation Reform and all those various support staff members who did everything from draft the bill to fine-tune the discussion paper, the people who did communications, the people who painstakingly worked throughout the night in drafting what is a very big document. I believe it is the largest bill which has been brought forward in this House yet, during this government's tenure at least. So I would take pains to thank them.
Hopefully I have not forgotten anyone, there is a long way to go. This obviously has to go through what could be a protracted Law Amendments Committee process. I do welcome comments, I hope they will all be constructive and I look forward to having this bill back before Committee of the Whole House on Bills and to answer specific questions. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: For the record, has the honourable minister moved second reading of the bill?
MR. ABBASS: Mr. Speaker, I have not and I would do so now. I move second reading of Bill No. 122.
MR. SPEAKER: So, the motion has been for the second reading of Bill No. 122. There are two requests for a recorded vote. Just before I ring the bells, for the edification of some of the members who have questioned me from time to time regarding our own rule on reasoned time limits and the limit of an hour, I would like to quote you just one small passage from Beauchesne, Page 93, Paragraph 301, "While ultimately responsible for the orderly conduct of House business, the Chair is reluctant to intervene independently to order the strict adherence to the time limits on the division bells when it appears that the conventional role of the Whips continues to serve the House well.".
So, while I put forth a reasonable time limit, it will always be subject to the ratification of the Whips, the satisfaction of the Whips. So, we will ring the bells and bring in the members and a reasonable time will be 10 minutes.
Ring the bells. Call in the members.
[The Division bells were rung.]
MR. SPEAKER: Are the Whips satisfied?
[The Clerk calls the roll.]
Mr. Barkhouse Mr. Holm
Mrs. Norrie Mr. Chisholm
Dr. Smith Ms. McDonough
Mr. Manning MacDonald
Mr. William MacDonald
THE CLERK: For, 37. Against, 3. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I declare the question to be resolved in the affirmative.
Ordered that this bill be referred to the Committee on Law Amendments.
The Honourable Minister of Labour.
HON. JAY ABBASS: Mr. Speaker, I would like to introduce, in the east gallery, the 26th Halifax Cub Pack from St. Agnes Church, smack in the middle of my riding. They are 8 to 10 years old; there might be some younger or older. We have accompanying them Ron Tetro, I believe the Cub Master - you could all stand at one time, sure, go ahead - Gale Abraham, Andrew Abraham, Lois Beaton and, I believe, John Murphy is even in tow, so I want to acknowledge their presence. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 124.
Bill No. 124 - Maintenance Enforcement Act
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Justice. (Applause)
HON. WILLIAM GILLIS: Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House this evening to move second reading of Bill No. 124. An Act to provide for the enforcement of payments under maintenance orders.
As most of you are aware, during the 1993 provincial election campaign, a commitment was made to reform maintenance enforcement in Nova Scotia. In this regard, one might ask the question, why does the procedure to enforce maintenance orders need reform?
The system of maintenance enforcement in Nova Scotia was introduced in 1971. The program has not changed substantively since that time. What has changed is the number of maintenance orders with which the program is dealing. There has been about a 167 per cent increase in the volume over the past 23 years.
The recipients of maintenance payments have told us that the current system of enforcement is too costly for them, too costly financially, emotionally and in relation to the time needed to try to enforce payments, when a person ordered to pay maintenance, the payor, is defaulting. Frequently, recipients are unable to afford legal representation or do not qualify for representation by Legal Aid, and, therefore, are left to represent themselves. All too often the court dockets are full and weeks and months can pass before the matter is heard. The results of the delay of this hearing, of course, is recipients doing without money which is otherwise due and payable.
Despite everyone's best efforts, Mr. Speaker, the court is still a mystifying and intimidating experience. Many recipients feel that the system supports the payor and that it is to easy for the payor to have the maintenance order varied and/or the payments adjusted.
When a payor is defaulting on payment, you can ask the question, who is suffering? It is the dependant children who are suffering. It is the dependant children who may have to go without the necessities of life. Admittedly, income assistance is available to mothers and children in need. We can hope, moreover, that children in Nova Scotia are receiving adequate nutrition and medical care. The question should be asked, why the taxpayers of Nova Scotia should shoulder the burden of the maintenance payor who is defying an order of the court to pay maintenance. Why should it be, apparently, so easy to avoid paying maintenance? The obvious answer is, it should not.
The Law Reform Commission of Nova Scotia in November of 1992 stated, in part, that, and I quote, "Under the present legal system, the responsibility and costs of enforcement are generally placed on the person entitled to receive the payment.".
In this Report on the Enforcement of Maintenance Obligations, the Law Reform Commission previewed what the recipients have told us; namely that the present system of maintenance enforcement is time-consuming, and both financially and emotionally draining for the recipient. Is this problem of enforcing maintenance orders unique to Nova Scotia? The answer to this is a resounding no.
In August of this year, members of our Joint Committee on Maintenance Enforcement spent an afternoon with Directors and Administrators of Maintenance Enforcement Programs from across Canada. By happy circumstances, these officials were meeting in Halifax. We discussed the various programs available in Canada and listened to their advice on how to set up an effective maintenance program.
The Department of Community Services, which until July 31st of this year had responsibility for the Maintenance Enforcement Program, had widely distributed a Discussion Draft Maintenance Enforcement Act in December of last year. Although a number of responses were received, there was not a consensus on the major issues. This supports what the other jurisdictions have told us. There is no one program or one remedy that can ensure 100 per cent compliance of maintenance orders. This is emphasized further by the fact that in August of this year, over 2,000 delegates attended an International Support Enforcement Conference in Boston and many of the same issues were raised for discussion.
Over the past six months, our Committee on Maintenance Enforcement has had ongoing consultation with a number of groups. Moreover, our committee will continue to consult throughout the implementation process. We believe that the maintenance enforcement bill will provide - the one that is before us - Nova Scotia with one of the best programs available in our country.
The purpose of the program is as stated: "to provide for the enforcement of payments under maintenance orders.". We want to emphasize that the purpose of the program is to achieve compliance with maintenance orders. It is not to punish, it is not to suspend drivers' privileges and it is not to interfere unnecessarily in people's lives. We acknowledge there are many payors who do honour their maintenance payments and will continue to do so. We know that there will be maintenance orders and separation agreements made in the future that will be honoured. With these, we do not need to interfere. However, this legislation confirms that maintenance obligations will be given a high priority in Nova Scotia. The new program will have the technology, the resources and the mandate to detect defaults sooner and to take action on these defaults.
It is important to remember that a requirement to pay maintenance is either court imposed or agreed to privately between the parties. A maintenance payment is an obligation that arises when a family unit ceases living together. Obviously, it is not something that every citizen is obligated to pay.
The Maintenance Enforcement Act establishes an Office of the Director of Maintenance Enforcement. At present, maintenance enforcement is a service provided by the Family Court of Nova Scotia. When a maintenance payment is missed, the recipient must initiate the default process in consultation with a maintenance enforcement officer. This officer has little independent authority to enforce the maintenance order. In fact, enforcement remedies are sought in the court. This, as we have indicated previously, is not nearly as efficient and effective as it could be.
The Office of the Director of Maintenance Enforcement will be separate from the Family Court. The director will have sole responsibility for enforcing a maintenance order during the time it is filed with the director and that is covered in Clause 7(1) and payments will be made to the director, in Clause 18. This responsibility necessitates a number of powers being legislated so that the director can, in fact, enforce a maintenance order.
Some of the powers are: (1) the authority to require a payor to advise the director of how the payor intends to make payment; (2) the authority to approve a payment plan submitted by the payor, including payments held on account; (3) the authority to issue a garnishment to income sources; (4) the authority to seize monies held in a deposit account, including monies in joint accounts; (5) the authority to file a lien on real property owned by the payor; (6) the authority to cause privileges associated with the operation of a motor vehicle to be suspended or revoked; (7) the authority to order the payor, the recipient, any person or business to provide information about wages, sources of income, assets, liabilities, income tax returns, addresses of employers and residentce address; (8) the authority to conduct an examination of a payor who has defaulted on a payment; (9) the authority to order a payor to post monies to be held by the director as security for payment, obtain an execution order, a judgment, or obtain the appointment of a receiver; and (10) the authority to apply to the court for redress of a default or failure to comply with an order of the director.
Mr. Speaker, these are significant improvements over the current system. The new legislation provides that every maintenance order - and this is important - made by the Family Court, or the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, shall be filed with the director's office within five working days after it has been issued. This follows the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission. In addition, the automatic filing of orders will provide the program with statistics on the number of maintenance orders and the amounts of these orders; the current program cannot keep track of the foregoing because all orders are not automatically filed with the program.
One of the most difficult issues which we had to decide upon was whether or not to allow parties to opt out of the enforcement program. As all honourable members know, Nova Scotia's new program will allow parties to opt out of the enforcement program. We were guided, in part, in this decision by the Law Reform Commission, which at Pages 24 and 25 of its report stated, and I quote: "The majority of Commissioners decided that government should not intervene in the enforcement process if maintenance is being paid regularly. Aside from concerns about providing state intervention where it is not necessary, it may require a significant allocation of government resources to regulate the payment of maintenance in circumstances where there are no collection problems. As a result, the Commission proposes that individuals be allowed to `opt out' of the maintenance enforcement program, but only if both parties to the order consent in writing.".
This concern about state interference in private matters and allocation of scarce resources was shared by the government. One could ask the following questions, why spend taxpayers money to enforce something that does not need to be enforced? Why interfere in the lives of people who do not need, or want, the state involved in their private dealings when problems do not exist? To legislate that these people would have to be in the system means that we would take a one size fits all approach. It follows that resources would be spent in situations where they would be better spent on the real problem, the payors who default. We were further guided by the fact that 8 out of the 11 jurisdictions in Canada have an opt out provision. Of the remaining three jurisdictions, Ontario does not provide an opt out and British Columbia and Quebec are under an opt in or voluntary system.
To allay the possible criticism we might receive about allowing parties to opt out of the enforcement program, we have provided that either party may opt back in to the enforcement program. This again follows a recommendation of the Law Reform Commission which on Page 26 states, and I quote:
"The Commission received a number of written submissions in response to its Discussion Paper which suggests that filing of maintenance orders should be mandatory and there should be no opting out provisions. It was suggested that opting out places a great deal of stress on maintenance recipients since many maintenance debtors may not want to be involved in the enforcement program. In situations where a maintenance recipient has been in an abusive situation, the consent itself could be tainted because of coercion. The commission is aware of these potential problems and the majority recommend that a judge may forbid opting out at the time the order is made if, in her or his opinion, the consent is not given voluntarily. Although the commission was concerned about the difficulty of accurately assessing genuine consent for opting out, the majority favoured less state intervention. The majority of the commission believes that this approach will protect the interests of recipients who may be subject to coercion without limiting the rights of other recipients who may not wish to be involved in a government operated enforcement program.".
Our new legislation echoes this position and includes the authority of the court to prevent opting out and that is under Clause 10(4). The Law Reform Commission recommended an automatic garnishment of income sources following a single missed payment. Critics of the Law Reform Commission proposed an automatic garnishment of income sources at the time of the making of the maintenance order. We have not adopted either of these positions but have given the director of enforcement the authority to issue a garnishment at any time. We believe that other provisions, such as a payment plan and the posting of securities, makes automatic garnishment unnecessary.
Furthermore, we do not want a cookie cutter approach to enforcement but rather want the flexibility of the enforcement remedies to suit the situation. To legislate otherwise would be to restrict the power of the director when the intent of the bill is to give wide-ranging enforcement remedies to the director. It should also be noted that, at present, the court has the authority and will continue to have the authority to issue a garnishment at the time of the initial making of the maintenance order.
Throughout the process of preparing this legislation, we have consulted with interested Nova Scotians as well as officials in other jurisdictions. As all honourable members know, we have adopted a number of the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission. As a result of these and other suggestions, we believe that the new maintenance enforcement program will assist those who, through no fault of their own, need the enforcement remedies contained in the legislation.
The effective date of this new program is January 1, 1996, or such earlier date as possible. In other words, if we can do all of the many things that need to be done to put the program in effect sooner, we will, be it October 1, 1995, November 1, 1995, December 1, 1995, or certainly no later than January 1, 1996. I reiterate that this new program is a complete overhaul of the present one. We are changing direction significantly. Time is needed to put in place the system and this is why it is going to take some time. We want to do it right and we want to have an effective program. Time is needed to put in place the system, the staff, the policies, and the equipment needed to operate the program.
In fact, the consultations with other jurisdictions were unanimous in recommending that we take the time needed to prepare properly and this was told to us over and over again, I would say, virtually unanimously by the other provinces when I sat in on that particular day in Halifax in August. They told us, before you start your program make sure everything is in shape, don't oversell it or presell it, have it ready and do it right.
Thirteen months may seem like a long implementation process but this time is needed to accomplish the following and I will just list five items: (1) the recruitment and selection of staff particularly the director; (2) the development of policies and procedures, (3) the design and installation of an automated program; (4) the training of staff, including sensitivity training, and (5) the development and distribution of public information", which, of course, is very important.
Before I close, respectfully, I ask all honourable members to support the bill at this stage. I would like to refer this legislation to the Law Amendments Committee. Moreover, Mr. Speaker, speaking as Chair of that committee, I know that the members of the committee would welcome representations by individuals and groups.
As a government, Mr. Speaker, we are committed to an effective and efficient maintenance enforcement program for Nova Scotia. We are committed to developing policies and procedures to reflect this program. We are committed to training the program staff to handle enforcement situations, with the sensitivity they deserve.
I want to pay tribute, before I close, to Premier Savage, my Cabinet colleagues and the caucus, for supporting this program. This is one of the few programs that is getting some extra dollars in a time of financial restraint, when our global budgets are going down by 10 per cent over four years. I am very thankful on behalf of the children of Nova Scotia, especially, and the spouses who are not receiving maintenance. That we will be able to put into effect a proper program that will help, especially the spouses, particularly the children.
I thank Premier Savage, members of the caucus and the Cabinet, for their consideration of this important program. These commitments that I have talked about tonight, Mr. Speaker, they will be met. We are determined that the service envisioned in this legislation will be delivered, and we will deliver it right. Thank you, very much. (Applause)
MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.
MR. TERENCE DONAHOE: I am pleased to offer a few comments in relation to Bill No. 124. It is a matter in which I have considerable interest, having some fairly extensive background in the practice of family law, so many years ago.
I want to start by expressing a very sincere compliment to the Minister of Justice for coming forward with this bill, because I think it does go a very long way in implementing much needed reform in the field of family and child maintenance.
It is just simply not acceptable, it never was - but certainly is not in 1994 at all - in my opinion, and his legislation recognizes that. That any person, man or woman, owing a financial obligation to a spouse and/or children, can in any way, shape or form or should, in any way, shape or form be able to avoid that responsibility.
We have seen in this province, unfortunately, far too many occasions when those who were obligated under such a maintenance order, simply thumbing their nose at the order and at the judiciary which rendered it, and at the spouse and children who were to be the beneficiaries of it. It simply cannot be allowed to happen any longer. I think, in very large measure and, frankly, with very few reservations, I honestly believe that the legislation which the Minister of Justice has before us tonight effects that result.
I do not want to take serious issue with the minister, but when he opened, he indicated that there was pretty much nothing done - I think were his words or words to this effect - in the area of maintenance enforcement and collection efforts since 1971. I don't want to be argumentative with him, in fact, I want to be complimentary of him and his efforts, but he knows and his officials know, and indeed his colleagues know, that in the last number of years some very significant efforts were made. The very significant efforts that were made by the previous government, and in the early stages by this government, produced some of, I think much of, the groundwork upon which the rationale for Bill No. 124 is based.
I refer, of course, to certain pilot projects which were undertaken here in the Province of Nova Scotia, relative to the search for a more effective maintenance enforcement and maintenance collection regime than was described on the law books. The City of Sydney as one example, as the Minister of Finance likely knows, was the site of a very extensive - through the Family Court system there - and a very successful series of pilot projects which provided officials in the Department of the Minister of Justice with a great deal of important and useful background material, some of which I see reflected in Bill No. 124.
So, as I say, I don't want to be argumentative with the minister at all; on the contrary, I do applaud his effort but I do not want the impression left, as it might have been if his words were not at least even commented upon, that we have had maintenance enforcement legislation here in this province since 1971 and nothing has happened relative to that until he, this minister and this government, came along. Having said that, there is no question that the introduction, the design, the analysis leading to the design and the introduction of Bill No. 124, which we have before us, does represent a quantum leap and one which is so important and so positive, a quantum leap in the area and field of maintenance enforcement that, as I say, the minister and the government are to be applauded.
There are very real powers now going to rest or vest in that person who is named director of maintenance enforcement and appointed pursuant to Clause 5 of this bill. I hope the Minister of Justice doesn't get mad at me when I say this . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: Cross, cross.
MR. DONAHOE: Well, yes, the Government House Leader uses the word cross. Maybe that is better. I will ask the Minister of Justice not to get cross with me.
For good or for bad, we have had in this House in the last number of weeks, considerable discussion, some acrimony and, certainly, some raised voices about the whole matter of tendering for positions and the employment of people in positions of significance with this government. I am not going to attempt, through remarks on Bill No. 124, to get into that but I am going to, in the context of that or with that as my backdrop, I am going to make a plea to the Minister of Justice.
When the Minister of Justice reads Clause 5 of the bill which we deal with tonight, Bill No. 124, as he well knows, he is going to read a line that, taken by itself, is pretty innocuous and it reads, that "There shall be a Director of Maintenance Enforcement who shall be appointed in accordance with the Civil Service Act.". Well, I want to make the plea to the Minister of Justice; the person who occupies the job described in those few simple words in Clause 5 of this bill will be one of the most powerful and important men or women in all of the Province of Nova Scotia. On the shoulders of that man or woman will rest the responsibility for the very people whom the Minister of Justice said, as he closed his introductory remarks, he hopes to serve. I certainly hope that his legislation will indeed serve them.
The often abused - let alone neglected in financial terms - physically and sexually abused spouses and children of deadbeats who are not paying and providing financial support for their spouses and their children.
The role and the function of the man or a woman who fills the job of Director of Maintenance Enforcement it is probably one of the most important jobs that we will talk about in this session of this Legislature.
I therefore urge, upon the minister, that he be, as I am sure he will be anyway, but I urge him to be extra careful. That he be scrupulous in his attention to the detail and the approach by which and through which the process is followed that that job is advertised and that the interview process is conducted and that the very best and ablest man or woman is found for that position.
Once that is done, and I trust that will be done, I would hope that the minister, as part of the 13 month lead-in time - I think it is 13 month or there about lead-in time, yes, January 1, 1996.
HON. WILLIAM GILLIS: Sooner if it is possible.
MR. DONAHOE: Sooner if it is possible. I would hope that the selection process scrupulously clean, open, transparent and proper is undertaken as quickly as possible so that the man or woman who is selected for this position has as many of those 13 months, or whatever number of months are necessary, to be subjected to as vigorous and rigorous and as, what is the word I want?
MR. SPEAKER: Comprehensive.
MR. DONAHOE: Expansive, I guess, a training session, a sensitivity session, a series of sessions, likely.
That person should probably, using some of the additional money which the minister says that his colleagues were kind enough to make available to him - and not only kind enough, but sensible enough - to make this work right. That some of that money be employed for the person who is to be the director to perhaps have the opportunity not only to do his or own independent study, but to do some travel and engage in seminar and conference work, as appropriate, to be ready when the gong goes and when the minister says, you, Mr. or Ms. Director are now in business. That that person is in total control, to the extent that it is humanly possible, of the responsibilities which are afforded him or her by this legislation. Because, as the minister has said in his remarks tonight, these are some of the most powerful sweeping authorities and legal responsibilities that will rest with anybody in this province. The object of the exercise of having such a sweeping set of powers rest with one person is that the bottom line is reached.
The bottom line is, and I repeat, and perhaps I overstate it by using again the word deadbeat because that is doing a disservice to some people who, frankly, are not in that category, and who, by reason of difficulties over which sometimes they have little or no control, they get themselves in difficulty with the making of maintenance payments to spouses and children and they are decent people and they are not deadbeats, but they do get into difficulty as many of us do when we get in difficulty of one kind or another. We find it very easy often to try to make excuses for why we are in that difficulty and spend more of our energy making excuses for the difficulty than perhaps we should on finding ways to get ourselves out of the difficulty.
I think I should make it clear that I do not, for the minute, suggest that all of those men and women - fewer women, obviously, than men - who are obligated to make maintenance payments are inherently and viscerally going out of their way to avoid their obligations. But as the minister knows, there are hundreds and hundreds, indeed, unfortunately, thousands in this province who over any given year or two are indeed in that category. They just simply thumb their nose at the deserving and needy spouse or children. They find excuses not to respond to that need.
So the point I am trying to make when I went into my little tirade about the process, that I would urge the Minister of Justice to ensure is employed in the appointment of the person selected; is that that person is the kind of person who has the intelligence, common sense and intellectual and psychological wherewithal, to make the kinds of very important judgment calls that are going to be required and are afforded or allowed to be made by that individual in this legislation. Because, as far as whoever the director will be, if it is all, you are the subject of the order requiring you to pay, so that the man who drives the truck for Eatons and delivers for the store is subject to a garnishee order, his wages can be garnisheed. But the man who drives the truck for the Province of Nova Scotia, any given department, or is in a clerical or secretarial position or, indeed, is in any position across government, the wages of that person could not be garnisheed. Simply because the old historical tradition of the Crown being exempt from the impact of a garnishee order was allowed as our laws evolved, to carry over to those men and women who worked for the Crown.
In today's contemporary society that just simply does not make any sense. I think it is a very important provision set out in this legislation, that the bill does bind Her Majesty in the Right of the Province and in the Right of Canada.
The legislation provides as well, Mr. Speaker, that every maintenance order made by the Family Court or the Supreme Court of this province, other than a provisional order, shall be filed with the director, pursuant to the Act and it requires the prothonotaries and the officers of the courts to ensure that that filing is made within five working days after it is issued.
I am not sure if I see, and I may have missed it, perhaps the minister when he closes or perhaps at the Law Amendments Committee, we might have an opportunity to ensure that it is covered, but I would be concerned that if there is not a provision, that there is a remedy available in the event that for some reason that five working days filing requirement imposed upon a prothonotary or an officer of the court is, for some reason, missed and I could conjure up a situation where it might have some impact in relation to an absconding debtor that the timeframe might well be highly relevant if we have somebody who is subject to a maintenance order. There are bank accounts, there is real estate, there are other assets that are available to be attached. But for some reason, and I cannot think of a good one, the requirement that the order be filed with the director within the five days as required by this legislation happens to be missed, I would hate to think that the payee, in the normal course of event, the woman, with or without children, entitled to payment under a maintenance order is simply told well, we are sorry, Ms. Payee, yes, you were supposed to get some money, indeed perhaps a lump sum amount of money up front and then a continuing periodic maintenance payment, but, gee, clerk x in court y kind of had a headache for six days and it just didn't get filed, so you are out of luck.
I think if the minister would have a look at that and I don't have language dreamed up at this point that might be appropriate by way of supplement or further amendment or amendment to the language in the bill, but I think the minister gets the point I am trying to make and over the next not so many days, he and his officials can give that some thought.
My concern may not have merit at all and, indeed, in my haste to go through this legislation, I may have missed other language which provides a remedy that I have missed. If that is the case, so much the better. I would hope that that would be the case.
I believe that the powers and the authorities which do rest and vest with the director, while by today's standards are perhaps considered by some to be extreme, I say to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the minister through you, having had some of the concerns I have had over the years in dealing with Family Court matters and Children's Aid Society matters and other related matters, I do not think these are extreme at all.
I know that there are those that are of a view that not only are they not extreme, perhaps they do not even go far enough and there are those, and there may even be some in this place, who believe that perhaps we should have a system whereby each and every order for maintenance issued by the Supreme or Family Court of the Province of Nova Scotia should be filed with the Minister of Finance or some appropriate minister and the Minister of Finance then just simply starts writing cheque after cheque to ensure that the maintenance order is honoured and then it is the Minister of Finance's problem to effect the collection on the other end. It, in fact, then is a state run operation.
At this point anyway and my thinking on these issues and I don't presume to be expert at all, but I do have some background, I do not believe that that approach is necessarily desirable at all. I don't think it is desirable at least until we see what happens with this particular piece of legislation. I mean this sincerely and I mean it is a complimentary fashion, this is pretty revolutionary stuff relative to where we are today in this jurisdiction and as the minister has rightly said, relative to where many other jurisdictions are in terms of maintenance enforcement.
With the very rarest of exceptions in terms of the total number of maintenance orders, there are, if I understand correctly, something like 13,000 maintenance orders issued by our Family Courts. And I think it is in that range and I may be off but my understanding is that it is something in that order. The courts in our province processed nearly $23 million in maintenance payments in 1992-93 and there were nearly 6,500 defaults brought before the courts by unpaid spouses. Well, if you look at those numbers then somebody might then be tempted to say, see, if you had a system where the Minister of Finance wrote the cheques then you wouldn't have all these defaults and you wouldn't have 6,500 default cases coming through the courts and everything would be hunky-dory and perfect. I am not so sure that that is necessarily the right way to go.
I believe that there is the potential, handled properly and with an appropriate communications package, once passed, I think there is a tremendously important education process that can be effected as a consequence by all of us in this House, as a consequence of the passage of this particular piece of legislation. I think once this legislation is in place and once the director and the process has employed frequently enough many of the remedies which are available here to secure and enforce the payment of the maintenance, the message is going to hit the street pretty clearly, quickly and forcefully I believe, that hey, there is now a law in the Province of Nova Scotia that bears on the question of obligation that all of us have if we are the subject of payor under a maintenance order and baby, we better make good on the order or a whole string of very powerful remedies against us are available.
There will be those, I know, who will suggest that perhaps the authority of the director to place a lien at the Registry of Deeds against a piece of real estate, registered in the name of the payor is pretty extreme and maybe in the opinion of some goes too far. Well, frankly, I don't think it does. I think the fundamental principle here is, and on another day we will get into that debate, I wish we had designed and devised the language, which put as much teeth into some of our existing legislation, relative to the obligation of all of us to make some certain other payments.
I might say that it is a little bit frustrating and I would invite just as an aside, the Minister of Justice to revisit if he might, representations which I think are being made to him by municipal units around the province, relating to the non-payment of parking meter violations. I think, Mr. Speaker, you will have some knowledge of that from your municipal days. The point I make is here and I don't mean for a minute to put the payment of parking meter violations in the same breath with the obligation to pay maintenance to spouses and children, but what I am talking about is the power available to enforce those payments, in my opinion for what that is worth, is just as legitimately used in other ways, in other areas, because it is an obligation owed by an offender against an existing law and it is a payment to the state, required to be made to the state.
Here we are talking about payments of a very different character to spouses and children but again, by my standards, the same kind of principle applies because unless and until we convey the message that we are, all of us, obligated to observe the law, obligated to make good on those legal edicts which are directed at us, we are just going to simply continue to perpetuate too much, or to too great an extent in our community, that whole element of our society which believes, as they like to say, that the law is an ass and, more to the point, you don't really have to pay attention to the law, they won't come after you.
Well, a lot of people would come after, would start paying tickets - and I am going to get off that, Mr. Speaker, I promise - but a lot of people would start paying tickets if the car that they drive around was seized, as this legislation suggests, not suggests, it is going to empower this director to do. If I owe a maintenance order requiring me to pay my spouse x number of dollars and I don't pay, one of the powers available to the director here is to seize my car, to go to the motor vehicle branch, I forget the title, I can't get a driver's license, I can't get plates. I can have a lien put on at the Registry of Deeds if I happen to own a piece of property by this director which is a charge, as is a mortgage, and I am not sure but it makes reference to mortgage and I don't know whether it says shall have the same force in effect or it might even say ranks ahead, I forget. But that is another matter.
Those are tremendously powerful authorities available to the director under this legislation. I think, frankly, we just simply cannot allow if the 1992-93 experience is any example and it is probably as bad if not worse, if there were 6,500 defaults on maintenance payments orders in this province in 1992-93, then I will make this guarantee, that once this legislation passes there will be far fewer defaults. There will be some litigation and there will be some problems with some, but there will be far fewer defaults.
There is another provision though in the bill, I understand the principle and it is consistent with what I have been railing on here about the last little while, about the director having the authority to file liens and to ensure that if I am obligated under such an order, I can't get a driver's license and I can't get plates and so on and so on. My notes are so disjointed at the moment I am not sure if I am going to be able to find it. If I recall the notes that I am thinking of correctly, there is a power available to this director under this legislation which does concern me a little bit. It has to do with the power - and the minister might help me even with the odd nod along the way here to keep me on the straight and narrow - I have this problem, I believe that the director has an authority under this legislation to appear at a bank some day and say, I am the director, I have an order against Joe Doaks; Joe Doaks has a bank account here; it is a joint account, but notwithstanding the fact that it is a joint account I am seizing the balance of that bank account. I am not getting any nods. (Interruption)
I believe that I am not far off the mark and (Interruption) I am closer than usual. My difficulty with the provision with that authority is this, to have the director walk into the employer with a garnishee order doesn't give me a real problem at all because the monies to be garnisheed are monies which are not the property of the employer, they are monies which are owed to the employee, the defaulter on the maintenance order. So I don't have any real problem with that. It is an administrative inconvenience to the employer but it is not the employer's money, it is money already owed to the employee, so garnisheeing is fine.
However, what I have not, since seeing this legislation, gotten yet through my head and got straight in my head is this problem, what if, going back to the example where the director has the right to walk into the bank with the order and say, I am seizing account number 1, 2, so and so and so and so because the account is in the name of Joe Doaks. But it also happens, for instance, in the example I want to try to raise with the minister and at least ask him to think about it overnight and over the next day or two and think about it perhaps as he has representations on this legislation at Law Amendments Committee, which he chairs, I think the legislation gives the director the authority to seize the full balance of the account. There will undoubtedly be circumstances arise where the defaulter under the maintenance order, has a joint account with somebody perhaps in a business circumstance and that the money is in a joint account and the business partner should not, in my view, the business partner and the right and entitlement of the business partner to the assets, that asset, that joint account, should not suffer a financial loss as a consequence of a default of his or her business partner on a maintenance order.
Now I know that it can be said that well, there is perhaps some form of caveat emptor or some other legal principle - I see the learned Minister of Finance nodding here (Interruptions) The Minister of Justice even knows that one, but . . .
AN HON. MEMBER: They are nodding off.
MR. DONAHOE: They are nodding off, are they? While I attempt to make a serious point and I think the Minister of Justice is hearing me. We may want to think about the language there, relative to the capacity of the director to seize joint accounts. I have no trouble at all with the idea that the director goes in and seizes the total value of a joint account which happens to be in the name of the defaulter and the payor and the payee under the maintenance order. I have no trouble with that at all because if it is the spouse who is not getting paid under the maintenance order who happens to be on the joint account, with the defaulting payor, then I don't have any trouble all with the director going in, scooping up the balance of that bank account and saying, you owe under the maintenance order x number of dollars to the person with whom you jointly hold this money.
Having said all of that, of course, one would perhaps wonder, well, if it was a joint account and the woman was owed the money, why doesn't she just go to the bank and take it out, it is a joint account and she could do that. Well, sometimes, believe me, I can tell you, from personal experience going to court with some of these matters in Family Court, sometimes in my example the woman's capacity to think straight enough, to have gumption enough, to have enough physical resources and, on occasion, perhaps not even have knowledge of the fact that there is such a joint account, there may well be circumstances where the woman in the example that I employ would not just saunter up to the bank and clean out the joint bank account. If there is such an account, I have no difficulty at all with the director moving in and scooping up the entire balance. I would, again - not to beat it to death - ask the Minister of Justice to give some thought and discuss with his officials whether we are running ourselves into potential difficulties. When the director has authority to seize joint accounts and they are business accounts, and they relate to people who are at arm's length from the maintenance order and are at arm's length from the person who is the payee under the maintenance order.
I have a few other observations which I might like to make in relation to the bill, but I wonder, Mr. Speaker, in light of the hour, if the honourable members would not think I was taking too many liberties, I might move adjournment of the debate for the moment, on Bill No. 124, and we will return to that at the call of the Government House Leader. I would move adjournment of debate on Bill No. 124.
MR. SPEAKER: The motion has been for the adjournment of debate on Bill No. 124. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The honourable Government House Leader.
HON. RICHARD MANN: Mr. Speaker, tomorrow we will be sitting from the hours of 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The order of business following the daily routine will be Public Bills for Second Reading.
I move we adjourn until 8:00 a.m. tomorrow.
MR. SPEAKER: The motion for adjournment has been made and carried.
The House will now rise to sit again tomorrow at 8:00 a.m.
[The House rose at 7:57 p.m.]
By: Mr. Terence Donahoe (Halifax Citadel)
I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move that an order of this House do issue for a return showing, with respect to the Department of Human Resources between June 11, 1993 and the date of this return:
(1) Identification of all positions filled;
(2) Identification of positions filled with competition;
(3) The names of successful candidates who have filled the above-mentioned positions; and
(4) For each appointment, the process used to decide the successful candidate.
QUESTION NO. 2
By: Dr. John Hamm (Pictou Centre)
To: Hon. James Smith (Minister of Community Services)
(1) I, as does R. Farrier of Ingonish Beach, R. Gascoigne of Dartmouth, C. Matthews of North Sydney and K. Horne of Dartmouth, want to know how can your government, in good conscience, single out mentally and physically disadvantaged human beings as a group to cut their funding by eliminating the shelter allowance?
QUESTION NO. 3
By: Mr. Terence Donahoe (Halifax Citadel)
To: Hon. John Savage (Premier)
(1) I want to know, as does E. Ritcey of Middleton, if you are sincere in cutting and freezing salaries, why did you not first start by cutting your own salary and those of all your members and deputy ministers to set an example for the public?
QUESTION NO. 4
By: Mr. Ronald Russell (Hants West)
To: Hon. Bernard Boudreau (Minister of Finance)
(1) I want to know, as does B. St. Peter of Amherst, when will the government stop the heavy burden of roll-backs on the wages of low and middle income families?
QUESTION NO. 5
By: Mr. Ronald Russell (Hants West)
To: Hon. Bernard Boudreau (Minister of Finance)
(1) I want to know, as does G. Edoy of Dartmouth, why were only civil servants hit with a pay reduction and not all Nova Scotians and did the Premier get a raise?
QUESTION NO. 6
By: Mr. Ronald Russell (Hants West)
To: Hon. Bernard Boudreau (Minister of Finance)
(1) I want to know, as does J. Gillespie of Dartmouth, are you going to bring in amendments to the Member of the Legislative Assembly Pension Plan to bring it in line with the provincial government employees' plan?
QUESTION NO. 7
By: Mr. Ronald Russell (Hants West)
To: Hon. Bernard Boudreau (Minister of Finance)
(1) I want to know, as does B. Henderson of Truro, why, when 3 per cent of public servants' wages are being withheld, they are not being given time, eg. five days, in lieu of? It seems extremely unfair that they are not being compensated in some way. Is this being fair to your public servants?
QUESTION NO. 8
By: Mr. Ronald Russell (Hants West)
To: Hon. Bernard Boudreau (Minister of Finance)
(1) I want to know, as does Ms. M. Milbery of Yarmouth, why have civil servants' wages been frozen again and how can a wage freeze help the province's deficit when this cuts down on taxes being paid?
QUESTION NO. 9
By: Mr. George Archibald (Kings North)
To: Hon. Wayne Gaudet (Minister of Agriculture and Marketing)
(1) I want to know, as does A. Sponagle of Avonport, why can't U-Pick farms and farm markets advertise seasonally with signs on the 100-Series Highways, and is this government considering right to farm legislation to protect farmers?
QUESTION NO. 10
By: Mr. George Archibald (Kings North)
To: Hon. Wayne Gaudet (Minister of Agriculture and Marketing)
(1) I want to know, as does P. Horvath of Wolfville, what is the provincial government doing about the ethical treatment of animals like chickens, hogs, et cetera, in the livestock industry, and is the government considering bringing in free range approaches to farming, as used in some Scandinavian countries?
QUESTION NO. 11
By: Mr. George Archibald (Kings North)
To: Hon. Wayne Gaudet (Minister responsible for Acadian Affairs)
On March 15, 1990, the Supreme Court of Canada granted minority language educational rights to minority language parents throughout Canada. On June 30, 1992, the constitutional rights of Acadian and francophone parents of Nova Scotia regarding governance were recognized by provincial legislation.
(1) I want to know, as does A. Boudreau of Yarmouth, why the Liberal Government has not corrected the unconstitutional way in which Acadian and francophone parents of the province are being denied what the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 23, granted them, and why hasn't the Liberal Government provided a province-wide solution to the French language governance so as to ensure that the constitutional rights of all Acadian and francophone parents are respected?