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March 25, 1999
Hansard -- Thur., Mar. 25, 1999

First Session


Devco: Employees - Fairness, The Premier 5024
Transport. & Pub. Wks. - Inverness Co.: Roads - Address,
Mr. Charles MacDonald 5024
Transport. & Pub. Wks. - Tantallon: Hwy. No. 213 (Intersection) -
Traffic Lights Install, Mr. W. Estabrooks 5025
Transport. & Pub. Wks. - Aspotogan Peninsula: Hwy. No. 329 -
Paving Project Continue, Dr. H. Bitter-Suermann 5025
Law Amendments Committee, Hon. R. Harrison 5025
Devco: Efforts (Government [Nova Scotia]) - Update, The Premier 5026
Res. 2339, Health - Pharmacare Prog.: Private Insurers -
Coverage Provide, Hon. J. Smith 5031
Res. 2340, Sports - Basketball CIAU Champs. (Men):
Saint Mary's Huskies - Congrats., Mr. R. Chisholm 5032
Vote - Affirmative 5033
Res. 2341, Sports: W.J. (Ace) Foley (Editor/Columnist-Chronicle-Herald),
Death of - Condolences Extend/Contributions Applaud, Dr. J. Hamm 5033
Vote - Affirmative 5034
Res. 2342, Bill No. 90 (Workers' Comp. Act) - CWH Procedure:
Unanimous Consent - Grant, Mr. P. MacEwan 5034
Res. 2343, Devco: Transition Package - Reject, Mr. R. Chisholm 5034
Vote - Affirmative 5035
Res. 2344, Devco: Transition Package - Address (Premier), Dr. J. Hamm 5035
Res. 2345, Sysco: Privatization - Endorse, Ms. Helen MacDonald 5036
Res. 2346, Sports - Basketball CIAU Champs. (Men):
Saint Mary's Huskies - Congrats., Mr. E. Fage 5037
Vote - Affirmative 5037
Res. 2347, Gov't. (N.S.-Lib.)/PC Party (N.S.) - Minority Gov't.:
Concerns (N.S.) - Reflect, Mr. J. Holm 5038
Res. 2348, Housing & Mun. Affs. - HRM: Parking Fines Outstanding -
Solution Seek, Mr. B. Taylor 5038
Res. 2349, Health - Pharmacare Prog.: Confusion - Apologize (Min.),
Ms. Maureen MacDonald 5039
Res. 2350, Health - Paramedics: Contract Agreement - Ensure,
Mr. G. Moody 5040
Res. 2351, Econ. Dev. & Tourism - Pictou Shipyards: Re-opening -
Action, Mr. C. Parker 5041
Res. 2352, Environ. - Plutonium Surplus (Russian/U.S.): Safety (Canada) -
Ensure, Mr. J. DeWolfe 5041
Res. 2353, Agric. - Farmers: Relief (Gov't. [Can.]) - Demand,
Mr. G. Archibald 5042
Res. 2354, Exco - Regs.: Review Comm. - Establish, Mr. G. Balser 5043
Res. 2355, Justice - Bedford Jail: Cost - Provide, Mr. M. Scott 5044
Res. 2356, Human Rights: Physically Disabled - Progs. Create,
Mr. J. Muir 5044
Res. 2357, Econ. Dev. & Tourism - Maps: Acadian Flags - Place,
Mr. N. LeBlanc 5045
Vote - Affirmative 5046
Res. 2358, Educ. - South Queens JHS: Peace Commitment - Congrats.,
Mr. J. Leefe 5046
Vote - Affirmative 5047
Res. 2359, Educ. - Nat. Co-op Educ. Week: Significance - Note,
Mr. E. Fage 5047
Vote - Affirmative 5047
Res. 2360, Environ.: Agreements (N.S.-Muns.) - Honour, Mr. J. DeWolfe 5048
Res. 2361, Transport. & Pub. Wks. - Roads (Secondary/Rural):
Neglect - Recognize, Mr. B. Taylor 5048
Res. 2362, Nat. Res. - Nat. Gas: Pipelines - Jurisdiction Assume,
Mr. G. Archibald 5049
Res. 2363, Educ.: Ken Matheson (Riverport School), Death of -
Condolences Extend/Commun. Contribution Recognize,
Mr. M. Baker 5050
Vote - Affirmative 5050
Res. 2364, Educ. - Springhill Elem. Schools: Peace Commitment -
Congrats., Mr. M. Scott 5050
Vote - Affirmative 5051
Res. 2365, Housing & Mun. Affs. - Amalgamations (HRM & CBRM):
Fiscal Security/Commun. Ownership - Reinstate, Mr. J. Leefe 5051
Res. 2366, Metro Food Bank Soc. - Dedication: Efforts - Applaud,
Mr. J. Muir 5052
Vote - Affirmative 5052
Res. 2367, Royal Canadian Mint - Coin (Forestry-25 cents): Lun. Co. -
Launch Congrats., Mr. M. Baker 5053
Vote - Affirmative 5053
Res. 2368, Murray Scott MLA: N.S. Wildlife Federation Fairn-Hickman
Award (1998) - Congrats., Mr. G. Balser 5053
Vote - Affirmative 5054
Health - Pharmacare Program: Coverage - Adequacy,
Ms. Maureen MacDonald 5054
No. 719, Devco: Transition Package - Improve, Mr. R. Chisholm 5055
No. 720, Devco: Plan (Gov't. [N.S.]) - Response (Gov't. [Can.]),
Dr. J. Hamm 5056
No. 721, Health - Care: Services - Expansion Ensure, Mr. R. Chisholm 5057
No. 722, Sysco - Hoogovens: Mgt. Contract - Cost, Dr. J. Hamm 5059
No. 723, Fin.: Budget (1998-99) - Surplus/Deficit, Mr. R. Chisholm 5060
No. 724, Sysco: Closure - Excuses (Future), Dr. J. Hamm 5061
No. 725, Health: Cancer Care Nova Scotia: Specialists - Recruitment,
Ms. Maureen MacDonald 5063
No. 726, Health: Cancer Care Nova Scotia - Promise,
Dr. H. Bitter-Suermann 5064
No. 727, Agric. - Sprinkler Systems: Regulation - Status, Mr. B. Taylor 5065
No. 728, Devco: Phalen Mine - Coal Production, Mr. F. Corbett 5066
No. 729, Health - Long-Term Care: Strikes - Contingency Plans,
Mr. M. Baker 5067
No. 730, Health - Pharmacare: Reform - Recommendations,
Ms. Maureen MacDonald 5068
No. 731, Health: Dep. Min. Former (Mildred Royer) - Salary,
Mr. G. Moody 5069
No. 732, Health: Pharmacare - Rebates, Mr. J. Pye 5070
No. 733, Nat. Res. - Nat. Gas: Distribution (N.S.) - Prioritize,
Mr. G. Archibald 5071
No. 734, Econ. Dev. & Tourism - MacTimber: Monies - Methodology,
Mr. D. Dexter 5072
No. 735, Econ. Dev. & Tourism - MacTimber: Monies - Investigation,
Mr. C. Parker 5073
No. 736, Transport. & Pub. Wks.: Hwy. No. 236 (Lower Truro) -
Pothole Repair, Mr. J. Muir 5075
Res. 1808, Fin. - Economy (N.S.): Growth Positive - Recognize,
Mr. H. Fraser 5078
Mr. H. Fraser 5078
Mr. D. Dexter 5084
Hon. R. White 5091
Mr. H. Epstein 5095
ADJOURMENT, House rose to meet again on Fri., Mar. 26th at 10:00 a.m. 5104
Health - Pharmacare Program: Coverage - Adequacy:
Ms. Maureen MacDonald 5104
Hon. J. Smith 5107
Mr. G. Moody 5109
Mr. J. Pye 5114
Hon. R. Harrison 5116
Mr. E. Fage 5120
Dr. H. Bitter-Suermann 5123
Mr. Charles MacDonald 5125
Mr. M. Scott 5127
Mr. D. Chard 5128
Mr. G. Archibald 5130
Mr. J. Holm 5132
No. 20, Econ. Dev. & Tourism - Richmond Co.: Signage Legislation -
Consultation Process, Dr. J. Hamm 5135

[Page 5021]


Fifty-seventh General Assembly

First Session

2:00 P.M.


Hon. Ronald Russell


Mr. Donald Chard

[The Legislature rose on Thursday, December 3, 1998 to meet again within two weeks following the completion of the hearings by the Law Amendments Committee dealing with the Workers' Compensation Act.]

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. We will commence with the daily routine. We have a number of visitors in the gallery and possibly a number of introductions. I would like to, first of all, recognize the Premier for an introduction.

The honourable Premier.

HON. RUSSELL MACLELLAN, Q.C. (The Premier): Mr. Speaker, it is my honour, today, to introduce to the House an extraordinary group of athletes. Seated in our gallery are members of the 1999 Mens' Basketball Champions, the Saint Mary's Huskies. (Standing Ovation)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to introduce them each by name because they played in one of the most exciting sports events that has ever taken place in our great province. I would like to introduce: Ryan McClintock; Corey Janes; Lloyd Thomas; Jonah Taussig; Paul Bromby; Patrick Toulouse; Les Berry, Assistant Coach; and John Landry, the Manager. John has been Manager for 26 years and this is his fourth CIAU Championship team. Of course, last, but not least, the Athletic Director, Larry Uteck. (Applause)


[Page 5022]

Mr. Speaker, these Huskies thrilled all of Canada by defying the odds-makers and winning the national championship in overtime against Alberta last Sunday at the Metro Centre. (Applause) I especially want to comment on the outstanding efforts of Jonah Taussig from Halifax who was named to the tournament all-star team and the amazing display by young Corey Janes from Middleton, Nova Scotia, who was named the MVP for both the tournament and the championship game.

Mr. Speaker, there are some other champions I want to congratulate as well, but before I do I want to also acknowledge the gentleman who scored the three-pointer at the end of the game to tie it. Would he please stand up. That was a heck of a shot. (Applause)

I also want to thank a group of volunteers in the community led by Peter Halpin who worked so hard to keep this tournament where it belongs, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Applause)

Their unpaid efforts brought several million dollars of commercial activity to the province, but most of all, I want to thank these young men. Not only because they won, Mr. Speaker, but the way they won and the way they conducted themselves. They have made their province very proud. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I want to rise and also offer the congratulations of the Official Opposition. I have a resolution congratulating the Saint Mary's men's basketball team for their outstanding victory, which I will read at the appropriate time. I just wanted to take the opportunity to get up and echo the words and the congratulations of the Premier and to say how proud we are that the Huskies persevered and toppled teams that were seeded above them. I would like to also throw in a little pitch that I played university athletics at Saint Mary's University back in 1975 (Interruption) It's a great school and good for you guys. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.

DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, I too would like to add my congratulations to the members of the Saint Mary's team. I did see the game on Friday night and I can tell you it is much more exciting than politics. (Laughter) The crowd were on the edge of their seats all evening and I certainly came away with a feeling that something big was in the air, because I saw that team play with such great spirit and, obviously, feeling good about themselves. They came through in a very dramatic fashion and we will be talking about this victory, I am sure, many decades from now. Thank you. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Premier.

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I don't know if I introduced Lloyd Thomas.

[Page 5023]

AN HON. MEMBER: Yes, you did.

THE PREMIER: That is the gentleman. Would he stand up, please. That's the guy that got the three-pointer. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Pictou West.

MR. CHARLES PARKER: Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure this afternoon to introduce to you, in our west gallery, a number of members of the Pictou County Injured Workers Association. Unlike our last speaker, I am not going to name them all individually, but they are all down from Pictou County. They are all here because of the workers' compensation legislation. I will introduce Mary Lloyd, their President, and ask everybody to stand up and be welcomed. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I would like to call attention to a group of people in the east gallery who have come to join us today. From Dartmouth, Mary Swinimer and some of her friends who are active in senior citizens organizations around the area. They are here to join us today on our deliberations. Would they stand, please. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton Nova.

MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Mr. Speaker, we have present, I believe behind me, some members of the United Mine Workers of America led by Stephen Drake, District President of District 26 of the UMWofA; Bob Burchell, International Teller; Ron Cote, district board member; Hugh MacArthur, international representative; and a number of other members including Henry and Gail Digero of 66 Browns Road, New Victoria, who are in my constituency. I don't have the full list of names, but I would like to welcome this delegation here this afternoon. (Applause)

[2:15 p.m.]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton The Lakes.

MS. HELEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I would also like to introduce some people who are with us today from the Northside Future Group. They are a group who are working on behalf of mining families on the Northside. I would ask them to stand as I introduce them. Kathy Baker, Faith Carter, Angus MacLean, Helen Cantwell, Mabel Hall, Marie Boutilier, and Richard Carroll. I would like the House to extend a warm welcome to them. (Applause)

[Page 5024]

MR. SPEAKER: Before we commence with the daily routine, I would like to advise members that a draw took place for the late debate this evening, and the winner was the member for Chester-St. Margaret's. It reads as follows:

Therefore be it resolved that the province should release a comprehensive plan for paving rural roads before the end of the pothole season. (Applause)

We will commence with the daily routine.


MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Premier.

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to table a petition on behalf of the miners of Devco, their families and thousands of residents in and around industrial Cape Breton who have joined in fighting for fairness for Devco employees. There are thousands of signatories to this document. I have affixed my own name to the petition and I urge all members of this House to add their support.

MR. SPEAKER: The petition is tabled.

The honourable member for Inverness.

MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to table a petition regarding roads in northern Inverness County. It is the need to address our roads because we need the modern road system to cater to tourism and to move our (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Order please. I don't want to interrupt you, but evidently we have a microphone problem and volume problems with the system. Perhaps the honourable member would reread his petition so that it is in the record.

MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: On behalf of the people of northern Inverness County, I wish to present a petition regarding the condition of roads and the need to pay more attention to them, because we do cater to tourism and to the fishery and the forestry business in that end of the county, and we need a good and improved road system. There are approximately 1,600 names connected with the petition, and I have affixed my name.

MR. SPEAKER: The petition is tabled.

The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.

[Page 5025]

MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to table a petition of 488 names on behalf of the parents and residents of the Tantallon area who are concerned about a dangerous intersection of Highway No. 213 across from these three schools, Tantallon Junior High, Tantallon Elementary and Cross Roads Academy. The petition reads as follows: "We, the undersigned, request the Department of Transportation and Public Works to install a four-way traffic lighting system . . . to slow down and better control the traffic flow at this intersection, as stated above.". I have affixed my signature to this document.

MR. SPEAKER: The petition is tabled.

The honourable member for Chester-St. Margaret's.

DR. HINRICH BITTER-SUERMANN: Mr. Speaker, I beg leave to table a petition of 391 names from residents of the Aspotogan Peninsula who have expressed concerns that the paving project on Highway No. 329 be extended. The petition reads as follows: "We, the undersigned residents of the Aspotogan Peninsula wish to have the paving project on Highway No. 329 extended through to Hubbards.". I have affixed my signature to the document.

MR. SPEAKER: The petition is tabled.


MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Justice.

HON. ROBERT HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Committee on Law Amendments, I am directed to report that the committee has met and considered the following bill:

Bill No. 90 - Workers' Compensation Act.

and the committee recommends this bill to the favourable considerable of the House, with certain amendments.

MR. SPEAKER: Ordered that this bill be referred to the Committee of the Whole House on Bills. (Applause)



MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Premier.

[Page 5026]

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, a little earlier I received and tabled a petition from Steve Drake of the United Mine Workers of America. On it are 22,000 signatures calling for fairer treatment for the miners affected by the planned federal government withdrawal from coal mining on Cape Breton Island. The last several weeks have been very difficult ones for the miners, their families and the people of Cape Breton. Many livelihoods are threatened by the closure of Devco, and the miners, their representatives and supporters, have been very vocal in expressing their dissatisfaction over the settlement package offered to the long-time Devco employees. This petition presented today represents the voices of those supporters.

Several weeks ago, on the day following the announcement of Devco's pending closure, I met with the miners and many of their families in the firemen's hall in Sydney Mines. I think everyone remembers, Mr. Speaker, the televised images of angry, frustrated and frightened people calling me to action on their behalf. I pledged my support and the support of our government resources to fight with the miners for a fairer settlement for Devco. We have kept our promise and we will continue to provide our support.

Today I want to describe briefly our efforts since that day. First, we have gotten past much of the early divisive talk that pitted miners against the broader community. The miners and the community have come together to form a community-based stakeholder group to help assess the impacts of the federal government announcement on the broader community and to begin developing strategies to offset those impacts.

I would like to thank the members of the UMW for agreeing to join this process over the past few weeks and for their endorsement of the stakeholders' document on the future of the Cape Breton economy. The stakeholders recognized, early on, the need to have the miners at the table and they have welcomed them eagerly to the process and agreed to support their concerns about pensions and severances.

Along with our efforts to unite the community stakeholders and chart the future of the economy, we have provided practical assistance to the miners. Several government experts from several separate departments have helped the miners analyze the present settlement from Devco and assess it in the light of the other settlements offered workers affected by other government closures. Throughout this time, we have assembled a team to focus discussions with the federal government on constructive solutions to a variety of issues that arise from the federal withdrawal of coal mining. These issues include such things as lease transfers and environmental remediation.

The province has taken the lead in gathering the facts, doing the background research and bringing the needed expertise to the table, as required, to address each and every one of these issues. Through these efforts we have shown our support for the miners and the people of Cape Breton and I believe we have created conditions for a productive, rational discussion with the federal government about fairer treatment of Devco employees and the future of the Island economy.

[Page 5027]

Over the coming weeks I will continue to ask the federal government to consider new approaches to the issues of Cape Breton coal and the future of the Cape Breton economy. We have already begun work, with the help of the stakeholders group and the federal government to map out a go-forward plan to revitalize the future economy of the Island and offset the impact of the loss of Devco's economic stimulus. As this gains momentum we will require the involvement of everyone - youth, unions, business and community groups - to ensure a successful outcome. We will be working to set up a joint committee with Ottawa to begin discussions and planning around the closure of the Phalen Mine, the environmental remediation sites and the potential use of those activities to keep workers working long enough to qualify for early retirement pensions.

On another front, we will seek to form a group, again with the federal government, to discuss options for the future of Devco coal fields. If this future is to include private-sector ownership, then we must make the assets as attractive a package as possible for sale to a potential mine operator. And as I have promised in the past, any such process cannot proceed without the support and participation of the work force.

As we address these working relationships with the federal government, we will continue to push them for an open dialogue with the unions on improving the package for miners. This remains - and I stress - this remains the foremost issue that must be addressed.

The problem as I see it, stems from a decision by Ottawa to set out the terms of this closure without sitting down and working out the details with the union members. This does not follow the normal pattern of such closures. I need only look at the recent closures of the CN Rail Yards in Moncton and the downsizing of VIA Rail operations across the country to see examples of Crown Corporations and their unionized employees sitting at the table to work out a reasonable settlement for company employees.

The reasons for the federal government's approach in the Devco situation, quite frankly, are not clear to me, but I do know from my experience over the past few months on this issue, that it takes sitting down, working together and a willingness to focus on solutions to start getting the answers. Unfortunately, I cannot control exactly how or when the problem of the settlements will be addressed. Ultimately, this is a decision that the federal government must grapple with. I can only push those levers within my own control.

Obviously, we would like to see Ottawa and Devco at the table with the unions to discuss the employee settlement, which would lead to an open discussion with our government on all of the outstanding issues. We helped the miners and the other community stakeholders to come together and we will continue to take on that role with all parties involved in the Devco situation and the future of Cape Breton Island.

[Page 5028]

The Leaders opposite in this House have demanded a certain role in the process. I would urge them to use their offices - reasonably and thoughtfully - to bring their own pressure to bear on the federal government by supporting the efforts already in place.

My job is to continue to build the right conditions for cooperation and understanding and to see that that understanding grows. It is not a flashy process, Mr. Speaker. At times it is an unpleasant process but it is one that I intend to see through to the finish. It is the way I do politics. I do my best and I will continue to do my best as will this government and we will not give up.

I believe that with the goodwill of all Parties, a solution is available and is achievable. I believe that we are much closer to that situation today than we would have been two months ago without this initiative. Mr. Speaker, I ask the cooperation of not only all of the people in this House but all of the people in this great province. Thank you very much. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.

MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I will take a few minutes to respond to what the Premier has had to say this afternoon. I think back to the number of emergency debates we have had in this House on the whole issue of coal mining and of Devco in the past eight years since I have been here. And I just have to think back to last fall when we initiated an emergency debate about Devco. Why we initiated that emergency debate, Mr. Speaker? We initiated it because the miners and their families, members of the community, wanted some discussion about what the future was going to be for coal mining in the Province of Nova Scotia. They understood that there was something going on, that there was a need for an examination of the future and the role that coal and coal mining was going to play in their community and the economy of this province, so we had a debate here in this House.

[2:30 p.m.]

The Premier, who just made that lovely statement a moment ago, stood in his place and said, don't worry about it. He said, we are going to handle it, we are going to look after it, everything will be okay. I am from Ottawa, he said, I know how these things work. I am going to see my buddy Jean and I am going to get it all straightened out. (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. CHISHOLM: Do you know why people were so angry, why the miners and their families, members of that community, were so angry when this decision was made? They found out, Mr. Speaker, that they had been lied to, that this government knew last fall (Interruptions)

[Page 5029]

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Order, please! I am going to ask the honourable member to withdraw the use of the word, lie.

MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I would be happy to, but that is what a lot of miners told me.

MR. SPEAKER: I would ask for you to withdraw that remark, please.

MR. CHISHOLM: I would be happy to. The point is that this government knew early last fall about this announcement that was made about the closure of Devco. So, after 10 years of the miners and people in their communities and their families calling on their governments at both the provincial and federal levels to talk with them, to develop a strategy, to examine what the future of the coal industry was going to be in this province, looking at exports, looking at the viability of the different mines - we have talked in this House about a three-mine plan - and nobody listened, Mr. Speaker, and that is why you saw the kind of emotion that you saw six weeks ago.

There was no planning for a transition, none whatsoever, and the Premier has the nerve to stand here today and pat himself on the back because he is getting a committee together to work with the federal government. People are asking themselves, the miners here in this room and the families across the province are asking themselves, where have you been? Why didn't you prepare for this eventuality? Mr. Speaker, that is the problem.

I said, on behalf of my caucus and Party in response to this announcement, that we believe that all Parties should come together - the Leader of the Third Party agreed to this, Mr. Speaker, that all Parties come together - and the three Leaders work on the transition plan. Bring members of the community together as a signal to Nova Scotians, to the miners and their families, members of the community in Cape Breton and across the province, that we are prepared to put partisan considerations aside (Interruptions) (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.

MR. CHISHOLM: We are prepared to show all Nova Scotians how seriously we take this issue and how prepared we are to deal with the solution together. I want to say to you that when the Premier says, I can handle it, he has not done a very good job up until now, so why should Nova Scotians accept that? (Applause)

I have pledged my support and the support of my caucus and Party to those miners and members of the community, their families, trying to find a solution, but we are not just going to sit back and take whatever this government tries to come up with. We are going to continue to fight and push to try to find solutions, to get a better deal not only for the miners, but for their families and for those communities, Mr. Speaker, because this whole province is going to be rocked if we lose an industry that contributes $300 million to this economy

[Page 5030]

annually. That is my position, that is our position on this. We want to see some solutions. We haven't seen any from this government and I encourage them not to stand aside and act like the Lone Ranger and, in fact, they are the lone danger. What we have to do is we have to come up with solutions together. That is what it is time we started talking about. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.

DR. JOHN HAMM: I would like to take a few moments to reply to the announcement by the Premier. I would say through you, Mr. Speaker, that the announcement that the Premier made was powerful but it would have been very helpful on this side of the House to have had a copy of his remarks while he was delivering them because he did cover a broad spectrum of activities that have been going on.

Before I make a negative comment, I must say that I am somewhat reassured by what the Premier has said, that there has been more activity beneath the surface than there has been certainly visible to a great number of people that I have talked to in Cape Breton concerned about the lack of activity in coming to a resolution of the federal approach to the coal mining industry in Cape Breton.

I lived in a community that went through the agonies of a closing coal industry back in the 1960's and 1970's in Pictou County. While I am not a member of a coal mining family, I knew many of these families. It gives me some insight into what is going on in the minds and the hearts and the kitchens of the coal mining families in Cape Breton.

The whole issue of whether we should be in the situation that we are now is one that deserves a little examination. I believe that it should have been apparent to the provincial government that the five-year Devco plan was destined to failure. It was unfortunate that the provincial government did not take a firm stand early on when perhaps another more viable plan could have been in place for the Cape Breton coal industry. We had made a presentation that was made, actually, by the former member for Cape Breton West on our behalf to the Senate Committee indicating our displeasure and our lack of confidence in the five-year Devco plan.

Well, all that was predicted, unfortunately, has come to pass, that the two-mine plan was not a viable plan. It should have been apparent to the government of the day here in Halifax as early as last fall that we were going down a road that would inevitably lead to where we are today. There was no doubt in the minds, I believe, of the miners, of the people of Cape Breton and there was no doubt in the minds of many Nova Scotians that we were going down a road that would, in fact, lead to where we are today.

All of the elaborate plans - and I wish I had the details in front of me by way of a written script - that the Premier has put before us today would have been far more effective had they been put in place months ago so we would have been prepared. I look back and I

[Page 5031]

think, could we have avoided this, Mr. Speaker, by suggesting to Ottawa in strong terms early on, before Minister Ralph Goodale came to town with his solution? If we had suggested to him what our solution would be, it well could be that the agonies that many in the coal mining communities are going through now could, in fact, have been avoided. I have said - and here I join with the Leader of the Official Opposition in pledging the cooperation of my office and our caucus to any reasonable solution to the calamity that has befallen the Cape Breton coal miners and the people of Cape Breton.

I would hope that the Premier would look at all hands of help that are being offered and to accept those hands of help. There is saying that those who are unwilling to share success with others often bear the burden of defeat alone.

There is no one in this House who underestimates how serious this problem is for miners' families, for Cape Bretoners and for all Nova Scotians. We must work to have a suitable solution found. I believe that the statement that you read, and I repeat myself, is a powerful statement, but the government must be able to deliver. A powerful statement is one thing, but the ability to deliver what that statement contains is another. If, in fact, what was said here today was said more perhaps to placate the House, then it will soon be forgotten by all who have heard it.

Again, I pledge my support and my cooperation, in any way possible, to assist this government in influencing the federal government to come forward with a solution quickly and audibly, so we can put the anxiety to rest and we can get on with building a privatized coal industry and a real sustainable economy for the people of Cape Breton. Thank you. (Applause)


MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Health.


HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas some private insurers are being unfair to Nova Scotian seniors by refusing to cover their drug costs after April 1, 1999; and

Whereas designating the Nova Scotia Pharmacare Program as the insurer of last resort was in response to both demands from seniors and to a resolution passed in this Legislature; and

[Page 5032]

Whereas a daily newspaper reported today one senior as saying, "We are being discriminated against here because we live in Nova Scotia.";

Therefore be it resolved that this House urge private insurers, who are refusing to provide drug coverage to their plan members, to live up to their responsibilities and immediately contact their senior members to assure them that their drug insurance needs will be met.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver of notice and passage without debate.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver of notice.

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.



MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.


MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the CIAU Men's Basketball Championship was held last Saturday at the Halifax Metro Centre; and

Whereas this championship represents the highest level of sporting achievement in Canadian university basketball; and

Whereas the Saint Mary's Huskies persevered and beat the odds by defeating three teams seeded higher than themselves;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House offer a hearty congratulations to the Saint Mary's men's basketball team for their outstanding victory and for bringing home the title for the first time since 1979.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver of notice.

[Page 5033]

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver of notice.

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 Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.


DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas last week, Mr. W.J. Foley, affectionately known as Ace, whose career as a successful sports editor and columnist with the Halifax Chronical-Herald and The Mail-Star spanned 72 years, passed away at age 93; and

Whereas among Mr. Foley's numerous impressive and noteworthy accomplishments include interviews with such legendary icons as Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey, as well as becoming the first member of the media to be inducted into the Nova Scotia Sports Hall of Fame; and

[2:45 p.m.]

Whereas Ace Foley was also a member of Canada's Boxing Hall of Fame, an honour that recognized years of devoted coverage to his favourite sport;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of the House of Assembly extend sincere condolences to Mr. Foley's family on his recent passing and applaud the many contributions that he has made to Nova Scotia and, indeed, to the world of sports.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

[Page 5034]

Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Cape Breton Nova.


MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas since this House adjourned on December 3rd, the Law Amendments Committee held meetings to hear public presentations on Bill No. 90; and

Whereas upon the completion of these hearings Opposition members of the Law Amendments Committee voted to call the House into session in order to refer Bill No. 90 to the Committee of the Whole House on Bills; and

Whereas today this government is presenting a very limited package of business so that this House can follow the wishes of the Opposition and debate Bill No. 90;

Therefore be it resolved that following Question Period when Government Business is called, the members of this House should grant unanimous consent to placing Bill No. 90 on the order paper so that the bill may be debated today in the Committee of the Whole House on Bills without delay.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable Leader of the Opposition.


MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

[Page 5035]

Whereas the transition package offered to Devco miners and Cape Breton by the federal government falls far short of the expectations of miners, their families and their communities; and

Whereas miners and their families have given their lives and limbs to the coal mining industry for generations; and

Whereas Cape Bretoners deserve at the very least a package worthy of their enormous effort, commitment and sacrifice;

Therefore be it resolved that this House reject the federal government's Devco package and urge Ottawa to come up with a transition package that is fairer for the miners, their families and the communities in which they live.

Mr. Speaker, I seek waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried. (Interruption)

Visitors in the gallery may observe what is going on on the floor but must not partake in what is going on on the floor. (Interruption)

Order, please.

The honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.


DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Minister Ralph Goodale's package, designed in Ottawa, does not pass muster; and

Whereas the failure to address a reasonable and fair pension package continues to cause stress and anxiety among many long serving Devco workers and their families; and

[Page 5036]

Whereas there has been no leadership shown by the Liberal Government in dealing with the federal government;

Therefore be it resolved that the Premier take the matter in hand and aggressively address the issue on behalf of the miners and their families.

AN HON. MEMBER: Request for waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: Is there a request for waiver?

DR. HAMM: Yes, please.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cape Breton The Lakes.


MS. HELEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas provincial governments in the 1970's and 1980's established a record of mismanagement at Sydney Steel, the cost of which can never be recovered; and

Whereas July 23, 1998, was the first time in 32 years that politicians turned management of Sysco over to a capable, respected steelmaker with the financial and management resources to turn a steel plant around; and

Whereas Hoogovens, with the support of the workers and community, is working towards a successful privatization as early as possible;

Therefore be it resolved that this House endorse the goal of privatizing Sydney Steel at the earliest possible time, so that its survival depends only on its ability to sustain itself in the steel market.

Mr. Speaker, I would request waiver of notice.

[Page 5037]

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver of notice.

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

That resolution was quite a bit too long.

The honourable member for Cumberland North.


MR. ERNEST FAGE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas on Sunday, March 21st, the Saint Mary's Huskies basketball squad were triumphant at the Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union men's championship held at the Metro Centre; and

Whereas Saint Mary's came away with a 73-69 win over the top-ranked Alberta Golden Bears to capture this school's first men's university basketball crown since 1979; and

Whereas the championship final drew more than 8,385 fans, putting the weekend attendance at 36,000, surpassing the previous record high of just over 31,000 set in 1993;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House congratulate the Saint Mary's men's basketball team and their coach, Ross Quackenbush, on their well-earned achievement and applaud the hard work of the tournament organizers.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver of notice.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

[Page 5038]

The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.


MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas one year ago yesterday, the majority of Nova Scotians voted for better health care, fair treatment of rural communities, quality education, better job opportunities and higher standards in government; and

Whereas this Liberal Government has not delivered the positive changes Nova Scotians voted for; and

Whereas the Progressive Conservatives appear more interested in supporting the Liberals than in honouring their election promises;

Therefore be it resolved that the Liberal Government and the Progressive Conservatives start listening to the people of this province and resolve to make this minority government reflect their concerns.

Mr. Speaker, I have been asked to request a waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver of notice.

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.


MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Halifax Regional Municipality expects to lose somewhere in the vicinity of between $600,000 to $1.2 million as a result of this Liberal Government's political decision not to force delinquent parking ticket offenders to pay up before they renew their license or motor vehicle permits; and

[Page 5039]

Whereas this Liberal Government has said that for parking tickets to be included on the Registry of Motor Vehicle system, it would have to spend an additional $500,000 on computer equipment; and

Whereas the Liberal Government should not have encouraged HRM to proceed and spend over $300,000 if this Liberal Government had no intention of assisting the municipality;

Therefore be it resolved that the Premier and the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Municipal Affairs sit down and work out an amicable solution to the hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs the Liberal Government forced on HRM.

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

That notice of motion was too long.

The honourable Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

HON. KEITH COLWELL: Mr. Speaker, I would like to do an introduction, if I could possibly. Seated in the Speaker's Gallery, there is Mr. and Mrs. Randall, and I would ask them to rise and take the appreciation of the House. Just before they do that, Mr. Randall was a very experienced and very excellent representative on the Halifax County Council for many years and did an excellent job, and it is great to see him here today. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.


MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas with adequate common sense preparation (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. I am having difficulty hearing. Please continue.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Could I start again, Mr. Speaker?

MR. SPEAKER: You certainly may.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas without adequate common sense preparation the MacLellan Government has notified seniors of impending changes to the Pharmacare Program; and

[Page 5040]

Whereas many seniors now fear these changes could leave them without adequate Pharmacare coverage;

Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Health stand in this House today and apologize for the confusion and stress which this has caused seniors, and commit to undoing immediately, the uncertainty his actions have caused those seniors who have private health insurance plans.

Mr. Speaker, I would seek waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

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 despite seeing an improvement in their living conditions, paramedics across Nova Scotia are still faced in some cases with 100 hour work weeks, paying less than $7.00 an hour; and

Whereas ambulance service at the present time in many regions of Nova Scotia has plenty of questions that need answering; and

Whereas unless over 800 paramedics are able to reach an agreement with their employer on a new working contract in the coming weeks, Nova Scotians will see more than 800 paramedics on strike and ambulance service in a state of chaos;

Therefore be it resolved that the Minister of Health, knowing that job action by paramedics is not too far off, move to ensure an adequate contract agreement is reached between the two sides, and in the process ensure Nova Scotians that in the event of an emergency, an ambulance is hopefully only a phone call away.

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

[Page 5041]

The honourable member for Pictou West.

MR. CHARLES PARKER: I would like to introduce, at the back of the west gallery, the former mayor of the Town of Pictou, and now councillor in that fine town, Dan Currie. I would ask the House to give him a warm welcome, please.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable for Pictou West.


MR. CHARLES PARKER: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the reopening of the Pictou Shipyards is vital to the economy of Pictou and Pictou County; and

Whereas the repair of the government-owned marine railway is the last hurdle to reopening to yard; and

Whereas the Premier has received letters from representatives of all three political Parties requesting a meeting with management, union and community leaders;

Therefore be it resolved that the Premier proceed with arranging this meeting as soon as possible so as to facilitate the reopening of the Pictou Shipyards.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Pictou East.


MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

[Page 5042]

Whereas a March 3rd letter from Prime Minister Chretien to President Bill Clinton assured the U.S. President that Canada will consider disposing of warhead plutonium from surplus material from Russian and U.S. warheads; and

Whereas the Port of Halifax is being described as a potential entry point for this nuclear waste to enter Canada; and

Whereas Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs believes Canada must do its part to keep the world safe from nuclear weapons by attempting to burn plutonium here in Canada;

Therefore be it resolved that the Premier and his Minister of the Environment immediately inform the Prime Minister that his government's first responsibility for ensuring safety is to the people of Canada and, in particular, the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Mr. Speaker, I have a report from the Foreign Affairs Committee on the . . .

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.

MR. DEWOLFE: You cannot table a report?

MR. SPEAKER: You can attach it, however, you cannot read from it.

MR. DEWOLFE: No, I am not reading from it, I was just going to table it.

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

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 Nova Scotia's agricultural industry creates over 15,000 jobs and directly generates more than $300 million into our provincial economy on an annual basis; and

Whereas Nova Scotia's agricultural industry has suffered through a weather and price crisis for the past three seasons; and

Whereas Nova Scotia remains the only province without a relief agreement from the federal Department of Agriculture;

[Page 5043]

Therefore be it resolved that this Liberal Government continue to work with the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture and demand that Ottawa bring in a relief program suitable for Nova Scotia farmers.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver of notice.

[3:00 p.m.]

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Digby-Annapolis.


MR. GORDON BALSER: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the 1998 Fraser Institute report, the Cost of Regulations in Canada, has stated the total cost of regulatory compliance to the Canadian economy is $83.4 billion; and

Whereas this figure represents a hidden tax cost of $11,272 to every Canadian household; and

Whereas the Fraser Institute has named Nova Scotia as one of the most highly regulated provincial economies;

Therefore be it resolved that the Premier of Nova Scotia commit to follow Ontario's model of regulatory reduction through the establishment of a Red Tape Review Committee.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

[Page 5044]

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Cumberland South.


MR. MURRAY SCOTT: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Department of Justice, earlier this week, confirmed that the cost for the new Bedford jail has risen from $37.5 million to $57 million; and

Whereas this drastic increase of almost 50 per cent demonstrates why Nova Scotians are so frustrated with this government's obvious lack of good business sense and judgement; and

Whereas expecting Nova Scotians to accept a miscalculation of $20 million is another example of the flawed thinking that has become synonymous with this Liberal Government;

Therefore be it resolved that the Justice Minister provide the members of this House with a full, factual and responsible accounting of taxpayers' money.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Truro-Bible Hill.


MR. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Canadian Human Rights Commission's annual report, released Tuesday, provides a disturbing view of life for individuals who are physically disabled; and

[Page 5045]

Whereas the commission painted a bleak picture of the economic and social conditions for persons who are physically disabled, pointing out that less than 50 per cent of those between the ages of 15 and 64 have full- or part-time jobs, and over half of those employed have annual incomes of $15,000 or less; and

Whereas among the numerous disturbing findings is that inaccessible buildings, transportation and communication are the rule rather than the exception;

Therefore be it resolved that the Premier act immediately to change this bleak outlook for Nova Scotians who are physically disabled and strike a committee with the Ministers of Justice, Health, Labour, Transportation and Public Works, and Community Services, to create programs that will reverse this disturbing trend.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

I hear a No.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Argyle.


MR. NEIL LEBLANC: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Municipality of Clare recently released its new five year plan to develop tourism along the French Shore, called Vision Clare 2004; and

Whereas plans this year are to increase the presence of the Acadian flag and other symbols of Acadian identity throughout the municipality, as well as working toward the development of an interpretive centre; and

Whereas celebrating the rich history and culture of Nova Scotia Acadians, while at the same time promoting area tourism, is a significant and worthwhile endeavour that deserves the support of the province;

[Page 5046]

Therefore be it resolved that the Province of Nova Scotia follow the example of the Province of P.E.I. by placing Acadian flags on tourism maps to show the locations of Acadian communities across this province.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

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 Queens.


MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas South Queens Junior High School is working hard to create a peaceful climate within the school, a climate where students and teachers feel safe from violence and conflict; and

Whereas Peaceful Schools Coordinator Hetty Adams visited the school for a special flag-raising ceremony symbolizing the school's commitment to peace; and

Whereas South Queens Junior High School is only the third junior high school in Nova Scotia to achieve membership in the League of Peaceful Schools;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of the House of Assembly congratulate the students, teachers and parents of South Queens Junior High for their commitment to the pursuit of peace by example.

Mr. Speaker, I seek waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

[Page 5047]

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 Cumberland North.


MR. ERNEST FAGE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas March 22nd to March 26th has been designated as National Cooperative Education Week; and

Whereas this year more than 62,000 students are enrolled in co-op education programs at colleges and universities; and

Whereas research by the World Association of Cooperative Education focused on how employers in Canada, the United States, Australia, the Netherlands, South Africa and the United Kingdom value co-op work;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House note the significance of National Cooperative Education Week and wish those students who have enrolled in co-op education programs best wishes.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver of notice.

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 Pictou East.

[Page 5048]


MR. JAMES DEWOLFE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas thanks to the new Minister of the Environment, Nova Scotia's municipal units are about to be on the receiving end of yet another downloading move by this Liberal Government; and

Whereas the new Minister of the Environment has attempted to remove departmental responsibilities associated with weekly water sampling by placing them on the shoulders of the province's municipalities; and

Whereas this flawed action flies in the face of the spirit and intent of the Municipal Government Act;

Therefore be it resolved that the new Minister of the Environment honour the agreements between the province and the municipal units and immediately rescind this directive until proper consultation has taken place.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.


MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas fiscal mismanagement by this Liberal Government has resulted in the budget of the Department of Transportation and Public Works being cut and slashed year after year after year after year; and

Whereas fiscal mismanagement by this Liberal Government has resulted in secondary and rural roads across Nova Scotia being severely neglected and in absolutely deplorable state; and

[Page 5049]

Whereas one example of this deplorable state of road condition exists in Inverness County where a municipal councillor told me yesterday, "that holes are so big in some roads that ducks can actually swim in the holes";

Therefore be it resolved that this Liberal Government recognize its neglect of Nova Scotia's secondary and rural roads are causing them to quack up. (Laughter)

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

Once again, I must caution the member that the notice was a little long.

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 Maritimes & Northeast has filed notice with the National Energy Board to delay the in-service date for the Halifax lateral from November 1, 1999 to October 1, 2000; and

Whereas Nova Scotia has permitted a provincial lateral to be under the National Energy Board jurisdiction, the only province to do this; and

Whereas because the province gave up jurisdiction over the pipeline, the minister took the only action available to him yesterday and wrote to express displeasure to the National Energy Board;

Therefore be it resolved that the Government of Nova Scotia assume jurisdiction of the Nova Scotia pipelines and ensure a speedy time-frame to get gas to Nova Scotians.

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

The honourable Minister of the Environment, for an introduction.

HON. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Speaker, I would ask the honourable members of the Chamber to direct their attention to the Speaker's Gallery where today we are joined by a former member of this House who served the Government of Nova Scotia in a number of portfolios and served the good people of Richmond County for 10 years with distinction. I would ask the members to give a warm welcome to Mr. Richie Mann. (Applause)

[Page 5050]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Lunenburg.


MR. MICHAEL BAKER: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Ken Matheson of Indian Path, Lunenburg County, died on March 21, 1999; and

Whereas Ken Matheson had a distinguished career as an educator and was, at the time of his death, the Principal of Riverport and District Elementary School; and

Whereas Ken Matheson had a long and distinguished career as a volunteer and leader in his community including many years as Chairman of the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival and leader of the Riverport and Area Community Choir;

Therefore be it resolved that the House of Assembly extends its condolences to the family of Ken Matheson and recognize his contribution to his community.

Mr. Speaker, I seek waiver of notice and passage without debate.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

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 Cumberland South.


MR. MURRAY SCOTT: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas a week long peace festival was held at the Springhill Elementary Schools in early February to promote conflict resolution and respect; and

[Page 5051]

Whereas the festival had different themes each day with activities planned to highlight such themes as communication, conflict resolution without violence, and the significance of different cultures; and

Whereas the idea for the festival came from teachers and staff and was supported by community members as well as parents;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate the teachers, staff and principal of Springhill Elementary Schools as well as the school advisory committee and all parents, students and community members for their commitment to ensuring peace in their communities.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

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 Queens.


MR. JOHN LEEFE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas communities in industrial Cape Breton and metropolitan Halifax continue to feel alienated and disenfranchised as a consequence of the Liberals forced amalgamation; and

Whereas Cape Breton Regional Council is currently contemplating a reduction in membership, thereby leading to further alienation in communities like Louisbourg, to name but one; and

Whereas forced amalgamation clearly is not working, neither with respect to cost savings to taxpayers nor with respect to strengthening communities;

[Page 5052]

Therefore be it resolved that the Liberals admit its forced amalgamation plans are irreparably flawed and immediately take steps to reinstitute fiscal security and community ownership in HRM and CBRM.

MR. SPEAKER: The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Truro-Bible Hill.


MR. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas March 22nd to March 28th was declared Hunger Awarenes Week in the HRM marking its sixth annual designation; and

Whereas activities promoted by the Metro Food Bank Society have included events in schools and churches as well as a poster contest for students in junior high schools; and

Whereas fewer than 1,000 people in what is now HRM required the services of the Metro Food Bank Society in 1984 but this society provided service to 15,000 people every month in 1998;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House applaud the efforts of the Metro Food Bank Society who have dedicated their time and energy in highlighting the very serious problem of hunger within our communities.

Mr. Speaker, I ask for waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

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 Lunenburg.

[Page 5053]


MR. MICHAEL BAKER: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas the Royal Canadian Mint launched into circulation its newest twenty-five cent coin, the Log Drive, on March 1, 1999, at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic in Lunenburg; and

Whereas the coin commemorates the importance of logging to Canadians; and

Whereas the Lunenburg Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic was chosen because Lunenburg County was the site of North America's first sawmill in 1632;

Therefore be it resolved that the House of Assembly congratulate the Royal Canadian Mint for commemorating the importance of logging and the forestry industry to Canadians and for choosing Lunenburg County for the location of launching the new twenty-five cent coin.

Mr. Speaker, I seek waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

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 Digby-Annapolis.


MR. GORDON BALSER: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Mr. Murray Scott, the MLA for Cumberland South, has been selected to receive the Nova Scotia Wildlife Federation's Fairn-Hickman Award for 1998; and

Whereas this award is presented annually to the municipal, provincial or federal politician who has done the most for wildlife and the environment in this province; and

[Page 5054]

Whereas this award is given in recognition of Mr. Scott's efforts in bringing the national firearms debate to the floor of the Nova Scotia Legislature as well as for his ongoing support for legitimate, responsible firearm use by hunters;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House extend their congratulations and best wishes to Mr. Scott.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver.

MR. SPEAKER: There has been a request for waiver.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The notice is carried unanimously.

I understand we are at the end of Notices of Motion.

The honourable member for Halifax-Needham.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, as you know from the notice I sent to you this morning, I wish to make a motion under Rule 43 that the business of the House be set aside for the purpose of discussing a matter of urgent importance - the changes to the Seniors' Pharmacare Program.

Changes introduced to the Seniors' Pharmacare Program announced on February 8, 1999, are about to affect thousands of Nova Scotian seniors. Almost 110,000 seniors rely on Pharmacare for prescription drug coverage, a number which is expected to grow as much as 30 per cent in the next few years as our population ages. These changes were introduced by the government without public consultation or debate and with inadequate consideration of the consequences for the long-term health and well-being of Nova Scotians.

[3:15 p.m.]

The changes mean that Pharmacare will no longer cover the cost of prescription drugs for seniors with private insurance. However, private insurance companies were not consulted before these changes were made. Many insurers have told seniors that their private insurance will not cover their additional prescription drug costs. Thousands of seniors are uncertain as to who will provide them with prescription drug coverage on and after April 1st of this year. Furthermore, the cost to private insurers will be increased. These firms offer no assurance that

[Page 5055]

their premiums will not also increase significantly, a move which would affect not only the health and well-being of seniors but also every Nova Scotian citizen and employer with private insurance.

Seniors have been told they have until April 1st, a week from today, to decide whether to opt out of the Pharmacare Program or not. Their ability to make an informed decision about their health care has been seriously undermined by the lack of public debate and inadequate explanation of these changes. This is an urgent matter, Mr. Speaker, deserving the immediate attention of this House. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The notice for the emergency debate was delivered in time - at least it was sent in time - and that was in order. I have carefully reviewed the request for the emergency debate and I find that it meets all of the qualifications within our rules and procedures. Therefore I am indicating to the member that she may make her motion at 6:00 p.m. and debate will continue for two hours.

The time is now 3:18 p.m. We will terminate the Oral Question Period at 4:18 p.m.



MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.


MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I want to direct my question through you to the Premier. It is on the issue of Devco. The Premier has pledged to fight for a better deal for miners, for their families and Cape Breton. Six weeks have passed and he has nothing to show for it, no fair severance, no more money for economic development, many would suggest nothing.

I want to ask the Premier, Mr. Speaker, if he would advise members of this House what he and his team of 40 has, in fact, accomplished over that period?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, what I would advise the House, what I would advise the Leader of the Opposition, is to grow up and stop playing politics. (Interruptions) Stop playing politics with the lives of the people in Cape Breton who are affected by possible Devco closures. If he really wants to be involved as a part of the solution, then he has to show that he doesn't want to play politics with a very critical situation in this province. It is one thing to say, I want to be part of the solution but he has to give some indication, even a smidgen, in his activities and his conduct that he is ready to take this kind of responsibility.

[Page 5056]

MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, you know when I proposed . . .

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. (Interruptions) Order!

MR. CHISHOLM: When I proposed an all-Party approach to find a solution to this problem, the Premier responded by saying, no, no, it is my neck on the line, I will handle it. But do you know what, Mr. Speaker, it is not the Premier's neck, it is the neck of the miners and their families in those very communities that is at stake about the way this is handled.

MR. SPEAKER: Question, please.

MR. CHISHOLM: My question to the Premier. Clearly his way is not working. Will you reconsider the proposal to have an all-Party approach to come up with a solution?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, this is far too serious an issue to take a chance that the Leader of the Opposition has finally found virtue on the road to Damascus. I would like to do it as all-Party, but I cannot take that chance. I am prepared, certainly as Leader of this government, to take any responsibility for what the public may think is a shortcoming of the action of this government. This is a federal government responsibility. We are doing everything we possibly can, and will continue to do, in the interests of the miners in Cape Breton.

MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I remind members of this House that an all-Party approach was good enough for the Port of Halifax. It was good enough for the Port of Halifax, but doesn't seem to be good enough for Cape Breton.

Mr. Speaker, my final supplementary. What does the Premier hope to accomplish, in concrete terms, by going it alone when, by his very own admission, he doesn't have any power. Ralph Goodale won't even return his phone calls. What are you going to accomplish? (Applause)

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I don't think there is any alternative but to go it alone. We can't do it with two Parties, and I don't really believe the NDP plans to be constructive, so we are quite prepared to do it alone, and we will do what the people of Cape Breton expect us to do.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.


DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, my question, too, is to the Premier. The Premier, earlier today in the House, indicated by way of statement that his government had begun to work with the help of the stakeholders' group and the federal government to map out a go-

[Page 5057]

forward plan. My question to the Premier. Do you have any idea that the federal government is considering a favourable response to the requests that are being made to them relative to their initial proposal?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, a new response is being considered by the federal government; only time will tell whether they are more favourable or not. We believe they are; we hope they are. I want to say to this House and to the people of Nova Scotia that there has been a new event thrown into this mix and that is the roof-fall at Lingan-Phalen. It is very serious and I do believe that we have to take into consideration that the federal government is weighing whether Lingan-Phalen will even reopen. That is causing, I would say, the federal government to reconsider this whole question.

DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, to continue with the Premier. The Premier has indicated that he wants to go it alone on this; he has refused the direct help of either of the Opposition Parties. My question to the Premier. Since you are going alone, can you report on any conversations you have had with the Prime Minister of Canada or with Minister Ralph Goodale, since your initial foray into Cape Breton, that would give hope to any Cape Bretoners that a better solution is on the way?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, for one thing, I cannot comment on conversations that I have had with members of the federal Cabinet, as the honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party would understand, but I don't believe and I would hope we are not going it alone. I would hope that both Parties support what the government is doing. I would also ask both Opposition Parties why their federal cousins in Ottawa are not doing more to bring up the question of the plight of the Devco workers.

DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, by way of final supplementary to the Premier. There is a great deal of frustration, despite the ministerial statement today, that no one in Cape Breton seems to really know what is happening. Will the Premier indicate who one can contact, if one is to be supportive of what government is doing, to find out exactly what it is that government is doing?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the concern of the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party is very helpful, but, quite frankly, if the honourable Leader wants a briefing, then he should ask for a briefing and we can accommodate him.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.


MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I want to direct my question again to the Premier. Last month the federal government released its so-called health care budget. Nova Scotia now has $107 million more in this fiscal year for health care. The Premier has made

[Page 5058]

a commitment that this will be passed on in the form of increased health care services not deficit reduction or payment of old debts. My question to the Premier is, can he ensure that the $107 million will, in fact, go to expanding services and not for paying debts?

THE PREMIER: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I can.

MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, the Premier made that commitment on January 22nd that this money would go to health care services, and he made that commitment at the same time that he has been running the health care system in a deficit situation. I want to ask the Premier if he will clarify for Nova Scotians once and for all where that $107 million is going to be going?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, health care in this province is being extremely well run and I would like to pass that question on to the Minister of Health.

HON. JAMES SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Premier. Mr. Speaker, the number that the honourable member is using I am not clear is correct; he is saying this year, I assume he is saying the current year and that's not to be determined. Anyway, there are some monies. We are pleased that the federal government is back at the table. It has cost Nova Scotians quite dramatically in funding the health care system.

The answer to the question, Mr. Speaker, is simply that we are looking at funding the core services, particularly within the hospital setting, within the regional boards and also looking at mental health programs and those programs for adolescents and children.

MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, it does matter what fiscal year we are talking about and we are talking about this year. On the one hand we have $107 million in new money that is supposed to go into health services. On the other hand, we have $80-plus million in health care debts and deficits. What is going to happen with the $107 million? I will ask the Premier and he will probably deflect it, but let's get an answer from this government, Nova Scotians deserve it.

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, this is a budget question and if the honourable Leader of the Opposition wants more information, it will be in the budget. This $107 million is going to health care as has been assured to him before and it will be in next year's program. But I would like to refer that question to the Minister of Finance.

HON. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, I think the Premier answered the question quite clearly. The $107 million is designated for health, it will be going to health and there is no question about it, we are designating that $107 million to the Department of Health and it will be in the budget.

[Page 5059]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.


DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, a question to the Premier. Would the Premier confirm that Hoogovens stands to make millions from its management contract with Sysco regardless if the plant is sold and regardless if it ever makes any money?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, that question relates to Hoogovens who are managing the plant. Hoogovens will get a management fee from the Sydney Steel Corporation. They are running the plant, the first time since 1967 that the government hasn't run the plant; they are running the plant, they are the top steel company in the world and they are getting a fee for managing the plant. Other than that, they are receiving no income whatsoever.

DR. HAMM: I take it from the Premier's answer then that the answer to the question is yes. (Laughter) To continue with the Premier, yesterday the Premier said that he was only interested in selling Sysco lock, stock and barrel, in other words, the whole operation. It has been sale for seven years, more suitors than Zsa Zsa Gabor but no takers.

MR. SPEAKER: Question, please.

DR. HAMM: What makes this Premier believe that there will be a buyer within 12 months when it hasn't sold in seven years, particularly now that we are entering an era of depressed steel prices?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, selling Sysco is not going to be made any easier by irresponsible statements by the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Order, please.

THE PREMIER: He said that the business plan is flawed. He hasn't said if he knows anything about it, he hasn't said who his consultant has been. It is the only comment against the business plan that we have heard and we are trying to sell the plant at the best price we can get and he is working against the people of Nova Scotia.

[3:30 p.m.]

DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, the Premier talks about nobody speaking against the plan and yet release after release from the government says the plan isn't ready yet and we are going to introduce it in a few weeks. I can't understand what the Premier is saying. Could this Premier explain why $44 million of taxpayers' money is committed when there has been no public scrutiny of that business plan?

[Page 5060]

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party says that there is no business plan, it hasn't been released. He was briefed on the business plan before the announcement was made. He was offered any briefing, any information he wanted. I absolutely find abhorrent the inaccuracies that are coming out of the mouth of the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition.


MR. ROBERT CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, I want to return to the Premier with my question. It will come as no surprise to you and other members of this House that Nova Scotians believe this government hasn't told the truth about its deficit situation, that they continue to hide what is really going on. The Premier and his colleagues have avoided comment on the additional money that was announced from the federal government.

My question to the Premier. Will the Premier tell Nova Scotians today what the budget deficit or surplus really is now that they have received this extra bag of money from the federal government?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, it has always been the principle that information on the budget is released when the budget is brought forward but I will ask the Minister of Finance to comment further.

HON. DONALD DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, to the members of the House and the member opposite, on the issue of the health boards, we have indicated that we take this issue extremely serious. This is not a matter of political posturing. We have accepted the fact, back in June of last year I indicated very clearly that there is an issue of the health care board funding that we need to address. We have never hid from it. We have been upfront about it. We have indicated very clearly to this House many times that this is a serious issue that we are prepared to deal with.

Currently, as I indicated earlier, back a few minutes ago, a task force is studying the problem and coming back with recommendations and shortly . . .

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Shorten up your . . .

MR. DOWNE: Shortly, Mr. Speaker, we will be able to present to the House a plan on how we are dealing with the whole issue of the health boards and I indicated that to the board before and we will be doing it again.

[Page 5061]

MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, the question for Nova Scotians who are looking to have their roads repaired, who are wondering what hospital beds will be kept open, what schools will be closed, is what decisions are being made here. What is this government going to do with this extra bag of money that it has from the federal government? I want to ask the Premier, when will he come clean with Nova Scotians and tell them where that federal money is going, just like his colleagues have in other provinces?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I have already told the Leader of the Opposition that the money is going to health care. He asked the question, he received an answer. He is asking the same question again. Maybe the Minister of Finance can make it clearer.

MR. DOWNE: Mr. Speaker, the answer to the question, then, if he wants to read my lips, it is going to the Department of Health. (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please! Order, please. Order, please.

MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, that is one reason why Nova Scotians have a right.

MR. SPEAKER: Every time I say order, please, you are losing time in Question Period. The honourable Leader of the Opposition has the floor.

MR. CHISHOLM: Mr. Speaker, that answer from the Minister of Finance is why Nova Scotians are so nervous about how he is handling the finances of this province. His staff have confirmed that there is an extra $62 million coming in equalization payments.

MR. SPEAKER: Question, please. Question.

MR. CHISHOLM: I want to know, Nova Scotians want to know, from this Premier, Mr. Speaker, where is that extra money going this year to pay off the bills?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, we will be giving our budget in a few weeks' time. The expenditures, the expenses for next year will be very obvious to the Leader of the Opposition. We will be accounting for where every dollar has gone this year and the Leader of the Opposition has to wait as any member of this Legislature has had to wait since this province was formed.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party.


DR. JOHN HAMM: Mr. Speaker, again with the Premier. The Premier had indicated, as has his minister, that Sysco is simply too expensive to close. The basis of that conclusion,

[Page 5062]

$44 million of taxpayers' money is going forward to Sysco, based on a premise that sales will double this year, double in the face of a very weak steel market.

My question to the Premier is, if the plant continues to do poorly and the plant doesn't sell, is that the excuse you are going to use, in another year, to keep the plant open, that it is too expensive to close it?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party was so supportive of Sysco until some people in the Conservative Party told him he did not have any support in Cape Breton anyway, that the Tory Party should oppose more money to Sysco. (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. That is very close to imputing motives. I will ask the honourable Premier to change his remarks just a little.

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the decision on Sysco is a business decision. This government is not following the lead of former Conservative Governments; we are making a business decision. We feel that that $40 million, in addition to the guarantee, will make Sysco more marketable and that it is . . .

DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, I would remind the Premier that it was his government's deadline that Sysco would be sold or closed come the end of 1998. (Applause)

My question to the Premier is, does the Premier feel that it makes sense to spend millions of dollars training a workforce when greater than 90 per cent of that workforce will be retired, with full pension, in just over four years?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, that is not the case now and it certainly was not the case in the mid-1980's when the former Tory Government spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Sysco and never bothered to train the workers so that they could use the equipment.

DR. HAMM: Mr. Speaker, again to the Premier. Will the Premier indicate who selected ABN Amro of Amsterdam, the bank that is apparently going to try to sell Sysco? Who selected that organization and will the Premier tell us the terms, the conditions and the costs of the arrangement?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, my understanding is - and subject to the Minister of Economic Development, the Minister responsible for the Sydney Steel Corporation Act - that the figure is $4.4 million. They get $500,000 now, $50,000 a month and the rest if they sell Sysco; they don't get it if they don't sell Sysco. They are fully confident they can sell Sysco; that is why they entered into this arrangement.

[Page 5063]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.



MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health. One of the jobs of Cancer Care Nova Scotia is to recruit cancer specialists. We know they have been interviewing candidates and they now have the ability to offer alternative funding packages, but still no oncologists have decided to come to Nova Scotia.

My question is, apart from the alternate funding packages, will the minister please tell us what, in the past three months, his government has done to help recruit cancer specialists to Nova Scotia?

HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I thank the honourable member for that question. I am pleased to answer that there have been 13 interviews with oncologists and we have some positive responses, and I am expecting to make an announcement within a short period of time. That is only one of the initiatives. I know it is Question Period and I don't want to take the time of the House, but there are many other things that I could talk about in cancer care in Nova Scotia.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, there is no better time to get the details than during Question Period. The minister has told us, time and again, that we have to wait, that they are going to do better. I think it is time now to find out how the minister explains why provinces like Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have up to three times as many full-time oncologists as our province.

DR. SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I came across some sort of a press release with a whole bunch of propoganda and in accurate statistics attached to it about some great things being done in Saskatchewan, the province that closed 52 hospitals; that certainly must have helped health care in a province like Saskatchewan. The statistics that she quotes are not correct. Saskatchewan does not have 12, or whatever number she is speaking.

We are quite competitive here in Nova Scotia. I will be making an announcement, but I would point out, Mr. Speaker, it is not just oncologists, there are surgery oncologists, there are radiation oncologists and . . .

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The question related to oncologists.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: I don't need to remind the minister that we have the highest rates of cancer in the country. Will the minister do what has been done elsewhere, in other jurisdictions, and commit the necessary funds to Cancer Care Nova Scotia so our programs can be brought up to par with the rest of the country? (Applause)

[Page 5064]

DR. SMITH: Mr. Speaker, they are some of the core programs that we were just speaking of. There will be increased monies going into the QE II cancer program and also into Cancer Care Nova Scotia, under the new commissioner, Dr. Padmos. Those are monies that are committed and that will be revealed in the budget. There is a commitment and we are keeping up with the rest of Canada.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Chester-St. Margarets.


DR. HINRICH BITTER-SUERMANN: Mr. Speaker, to the Minister of Health. In 1996, the Liberal Government committed to fighting high cancer rates by creating Cancer Care Nova Scotia, but it took over two years to get Cancer Care Nova Scotia started. Why has this government dragged its feet on carrying out its promise to fight cancer when we have

the highest cancer rates in this land?

HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have been minister during this time, although much of the groundwork and infrastructure was done prior to me becoming minister. We have opened a cancer care centre in Cape Breton where, on any one day, 40 to 50 patients are being treated there who would have had to travel to Halifax. We have mobile units. We have them in western Nova Scotia for breast screening, and we have Pap test awareness programs that are working across this province. There has been much really.

I would ask that honourable member, as a physcian, that he really try to focus. Somebody from university last night mentioned to me that the only time that they call is when they find something negative. They never want to hear anything positive.

DR. BITTER-SUERMANN: Mr. Speaker, Cancer Care Nova Scotia, one of the accomplishments the minister just bragged about, has no promise whatever that the government will fund any of its excellent ideas. Will the minister make a commitment today to more than token support for cancer prevention and treatment?

DR. SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I am very aware of the challenges that cancer presents to people of Nova Scotia and I am very concerned about that. That is a commitment that this government is making. We consider it to be part of our core services and, certainly, a large part of our budget will be addressing that service.

DR. BITTER-SUERMANN: Mr. Speaker, 2,500 Nova Scotians will die this year of cancer, and to ignore their plight constitutes malpractice. Will the minister tell those Nova Scotians what he plans to mitigate their plight?

[Page 5065]

DR. SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I am not quite sure of the question. I think he spoke in terms of over 2,000 people dying. I cannot speak about those people but if he wants me to address Nova Scotians who are at risk and I think we know, Mr. Speaker, for instance, that a lot of those deaths are related to lifestyle, like smoking. We have active programs in the school. This is a very serious question and I thank the member for it. It is very important that this be addressed. It is a large part of our core services within our department and certainly it is being addressed. We have an advisory group now, over 30 members across this province, in cancer and we are listening and we are responding to those requests.

[3:45 p.m.]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.


MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I would like to direct my question to the honourable Minister of Agriculture and Marketing. The minister would know that the Nova Scotia building code requires that automatic sprinkler systems be installed in agricultural buildings over 15,000 square feet where the main occupants could be cattle or in refrigerated warehouses where the only occupants could be frozen carrots or blueberries. On behalf of the agriculture community, what is the Minister of Agriculture doing and what steps is he taking to employ some fairness in that regulation?

HON. EDWARD LORRAINE: Mr. Speaker, the member would well know that he and I dealt with a case in his own constituency a little more than a year ago. In fact, he had me down there. It is true. There was only one municipality that I am aware of that tried to enforce that regulation. Now there may be others but the only one that has come to my attention and that was resolved by our department staff meeting with the Halifax Regional Municipality to exempt that particular dairy barn that was being built because we did not feel it was reasonable. I have not heard of any cases since that.

MR. TAYLOR: I thank the minister for that response, Mr. Speaker. The Nova Scotia building code applies to the whole province and, in fact, in Cumberland County, Oxford Frozen Foods had to put a sprinkler system in their freezer and it cost $1 million. My supplementary if I may, I would like to go to the Minister of Housing and Municipal Affairs. On New Year's Eve a devastating fire ripped through the provincially-owned 10 storey Sunrise Manor on Gottingen Street. The residents, mostly seniors, are asking that a sprinkler system be installed in that building. Will you commit today, Mr. Minister, to adding a sprinkler system throughout the Sunrise Manor?

HON. RAYMOND WHITE: Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for the question. As members are aware, safety in buildings is of prime concern to this department in government. Immediately following the fire we commissioned a review of all of our seniors

[Page 5066]

units throughout the province, over 465 buildings, and we have asked them to look at issues not only related to sprinklers but the safety overall of our buildings. Our buildings are safe. We are compiling that information. It will make recommendations and if those recommendations relate to sprinkler systems, we will act on those and we are waiting for that report to come forward.

MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, again to the Minister of Housing and Municipal Affairs, the primary concern at the Sunrise Manor is sprinkler systems. The Minister of Agriculture and Marketing is protecting animals, frozen vegetables and blueberries. When will you do something to protect the people up at Sunrise Manor?

MR. WHITE: Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to bring to the attention of the member that there are systems in place in that complex that deal with safety. There are alarm systems. There are fire-rated doors and there are many things that make that facility safe but, as I indicated to the member, we are doing a review and we will look at the recommendations. If those recommendations point out that sprinkler system is something that should be covered as part of the overall safety package, then we will act. So we will wait for the report. We will look at the safety and if safety issues demand action, we will do that. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton Centre.


MR. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Premier. The federal Liberal Government cut Cape Breton adrift by announcing the privatization of the Prince Mine, the closure of the closure of Phalen Mine by the year 2001, but Ottawa says it will shut down Phalen immediately if geological troubles are not corrected. Legislation requires that the Devco plans be given to the province at the same time they are given to Ottawa. My question to the Premier is, do you believe, based on the plans you have seen, that the federal government is actually planning to produce coal at Phalen Mine until the year 2001?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, that is a good question. I honestly can't say because with the roof-fall at Lingan-Phalen, I am not sure that they will reopen Lingan-Phalen. I have not heard any word one way or the other but frankly, my own feeling is that it is still up in the air.

MR. CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, the unwarranted shutdown of the 8 East wall at Phalen to repair a cable had the effect of weakening the structure and thereby causing a rockfall because of weighting problems, a condition that Devco management was aware of. My question is, does the Premier know that Phalen is being mismanaged this way and what has he done to ensure the safety of miners and the continued operation of that mine?

[Page 5067]

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I want to assure the honourable member that the safety of miners is of utmost concern to me as is proper compensation for the miners, and this is what this government will work towards. (Applause)

MR. CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, there is another answer here. The unions have put forward a five-year plan for that mine, and Mr. Speaker what I wish to ask the Premier is why haven't you supported the union's five-year plan which offers a safe extension to the life of the Phalen Mine beyond any closure plans hatched by your Liberal friends in Ottawa?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the provincial government has supported the five-year plan, but as I mentioned to the UMW and to others, we are not going to go up and actively support the five-year plan. We will offer our support and say we support it, but we can't do that and go for a better package for the miners at the same time. It does not allow us to have a creditable presence in Ottawa. We are supporting a better package for Ottawa, that is what we are pushing.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Lunenburg.


MR. MICHAEL BAKER: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Health. The Minister of Health, in this House, last fall, expressed his considerable concerns for the plight of the residents of the nursing homes that were facing strikes. In this province, we are facing strikes in 41 nursing homes where the residents are very concerned about the state of their care. Those nursing homes are all over this province, they are in Shoreham Village in Lunenburg County, they are in Queens County, they are in all the counties in the province. My question to the minister is, what is his plan to ensure that the residents of those nursing homes are cared for by properly trained professional workers?

HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, this is an important issue that is facing Nova Scotians. There have been many successful resolutions as the honourable member would know over the last few months in nursing homes across Nova Scotia. I am very pleased with that. We still have some outstanding matters as we move towards parity across this industry throughout Nova Scotia. We are working with the employers to effect a solution. Mediation is available, there will be some mediation starting again on April 5th. I think the process of negotiation is underway and I am hopeful.

MR. BAKER: Mr. Speaker, I am very hopeful that those strikes will be settled as well, but the question I had asked the minister is what is the plan in place to ensure that in the event there is not success in the collective bargaining process, that those people are properly taken care of so that their care is not neglected as the minister was concerned about last fall in this House?

[Page 5068]

DR. SMITH: Mr. Speaker, that is a very important matter and one we take very seriously. The Department of Health has reviewed all contingency plans with all homes that may be affected and they have been approved and will be upgraded and changed as necessary. This is a most important matter and we want to assure the residents and their families that there is a plan in place and they will receive adequate care.

MR. BAKER: Mr. Speaker, I don't think the minister answered my question. My final supplementary to the minister, and we will try a slightly different tack. The main issue in the negotiating process is the question of parity between long-term care and acute care. Can the minister indicate whether he is committed to ensuring that workers in long-term care in this province are treated the same as workers in acute care?

DR. SMITH: Mr. Speaker, our commitment, through this round of negotiations in support of employers and the owners of the homes, has been that we want to see parity across the long-term-care sector, and this is no small matter. That means increases of upwards of 80 per cent to 100 per cent, in some cases, of salaries. I am very pleased that we are moving toward that. That is the commitment during this round of negotiations. The long-term commitment, and I don't want to put a time on it, but I would look at three to five years, that we will look for parity within the long-term-care sector with the acute care.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.


MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Health. In 1994, the Pharmacare reform working group recommended that government consult with the insurance industry and the public about changes to Pharmacare. It said all changes should be thoroughly explained before they were made. Will the minister please explain why this was just another set of health care recommendations this government has chosen to ignore?

MR. SPEAKER: I am not too sure that that question is in order but I will permit it. We have a motion before us for the emergency debate this evening dealing with the same subject. However, I will permit the question to stay for the moment.

HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I wasn't quite clear on the question. I think it said something about speaking to the private sector of insurers. I will assure the honourable member that I can speak that, at least within the last two years, we have had ongoing discussions with the private sector. I have met with the insurers and groups that are together representing large industry and companies and there have been ongoing negotiations or discussions and communications with those particular groups, if that was her question.

[Page 5069]

MR. SPEAKER: Perhaps the member for Halifax Needham could come to another health care function that she would like to get into, rather than Pharmacare.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, my question is about the ongoing consultations and communications with private insurers and information to the public. I am wondering if the Minister of Health can tell us, why is there so much confusion in this process and why haven't they anticipated a need for some clarity in the way that this process has unfolded?

DR. SMITH: Mr. Speaker, this government and this Department of Health has been particularly clear that we have a Pharmacare Program in this province that acknowledges universality. This is very unique. This is not happening in other provinces. As a result of that, some private insurers decided not to insure certain members, those ones, particularly, that are not in receipt of supplemental pension benefits.

Mr. Speaker, what is not clear is the fact that some private insurers will not communicate with their seniors. They have chosen to remain silent. We have communicated with those seniors. We have a very simple form they can fill out. There will be no increase in fees and no seniors will lose their Pharmacare benefits.

MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I would like to know if the minister is prepared to drop or postpone this untested and unsound plan until seniors and private insurers determine the precise impact these changes will have?

DR. SMITH: Mr. Speaker, the response that we have made through consultation and through 72 per cent of the complaints or the queries that we received were those seniors that were, in their mind, paying two premiums. We have responded to that. We have acted on that. We have responded to a resolution of this Legislature and we are moving forward. No seniors will lose their Pharmacare benefits if the private insurers do not pick it up. Universality will remain in the Pharmacare Program in Nova Scotia and that is elite in this Atlantic Region.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.


MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, my question, through you, is to the Premier. I would ask the Premier if he would confirm that when Nuala Kenny was appointed Deputy Minister of Health at over $120,000 a year, that this was a permanent appointment and that the former Deputy Minister, Mildred Royer, requested a leave with full salary, and was granted that full salary? I ask the Premier to confirm that, please.

[Page 5070]

[4:00 p.m.]

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the former Deputy Minister of Health is on leave. I don't think it is pertinent to give the details of that leave. It is the same leave that would be extended to anyone under the same circumstances.

MR. MOODY: Well, Mr. Speaker, the NSGEU and others are not aware of any such entitlement that has been given to others. I would ask the Premier - this has been going on for over a month - if this leave, with full salary of $100,000, is going to go on indefinitely and why?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned, these are circumstances which required the leave. The leave has been granted under the same conditions as leave has been granted to others.

MR. MOODY: My final supplementary is to the Minister of Human Resources, the Minister of Community Services. This minister who has been clawing back overpayments from those poor people in Community Services and hounding them to death, I would ask that minister to table the policy for the Legislature so we can all see that there is a fully-paid leave for civil servants in this province that can go on indefinitely. I would ask the minister to table that policy so that every civil servant in this province can apply.

MR. SPEAKER: The question was to the minister - which minister were you referring to?

MR. MOODY: The Minister of Human Resources that has the policies, that sets the policies.

HON. FRANCENE COSMAN: Thank you for the question, honourable member. I would be happy to endeavour to give the honourable member opposite whatever information it takes to give him good advice and good information so he is well informed.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth North.


MR. JERRY PYE: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Health. The minister recently ended the Pharmacare rebate to low income seniors because he didn't think they used the $85 payment to cover prescription drugs. My question, since the seniors probably manage their health care budgets better than the government, will the minister explain what evidence he has of low income seniors not using Pharmacare rebates to cover rising prescription drug costs?

[Page 5071]

HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, the changes we have made, and after review by a committee looking at Pharmacare - this included seniors and other people who are knowledgeable on Pharmacare issues - the recommendations we had were multiple. Out of this the action we took was that the rebate program was more of a social assistance nature than that of a Pharmacare nature. We received many calls from Nova Scotians who did not mind paying their Pharmacare premium even though they were not using medications, in some cases, but they did not want to pay for someone receiving a social assistance benefit. That was their perception.

So in all fairness, it is a Pharmacare Program, it is not a social assistance program. We have changed that - some would get $1.00, some would get $85. We have changed that and the Minister of Community Services has programs that they would qualify for.

MR. PYE: Mr. Speaker, that did not directly answer the question. This government has the responsibility to ensure that seniors don't have to take money from their housing or their food budgets in order to afford health care. How does the minister plan to protect the health and well-being of low income seniors who now have to pay more for health care?

DR. SMITH: Mr. Speaker, we have Pharmacare. We have, I would say, about the second best, maybe I would have to concede that Ontario has maybe a better program, but we have the second best Pharmacare Program in Canada. You talk about families, you look at the Atlantic Region and other programs that are there, so I am in no way apologizing for our Pharmacare Program. In fact, we are making it better. There are more seniors - and this would interest the member - there are more low income seniors exempt from the Pharmacare premium this year than there were last year.

MR. PYE: Mr. Speaker, I am going to rephrase the question. Once again, since no consultations were done prior to making the changes to Pharmacare, what proof does the minister have that removing this rebate will not make it even harder to access health for seniors?

DR. SMITH: Mr. Speaker, I agree that there are many challenges facing low income seniors and low income families. There are programs available. There are special assistance programs and they are held under the Ministry of Community Services. No one will be denied medications in Nova Scotia. Our Pharmacare Program is up and is working and it is getting better.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings North.


MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, my question through you is to the Premier. The Government of Nova Scotia is very disappointed that the pipeline deadline for

[Page 5072]

putting gas into the metro region, specifically over to Dartmouth to the power generator, has been moved back from 1999 to the year 2000. The Nova Scotia Government for a long time was saying Nova Scotia first, we get the gas first. It appears now that Bangor is going to have gas before the residents of Halifax-Dartmouth and the metro region.

Mr. Speaker, could I ask the Premier, what do you intend to do about this very serious situation?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, there is maybe a short delay in getting the lateral to Halifax, but that is merely a short delay. It will be done and finished very shortly after the main line and that does not change the seven year requirement of 62 per cent accessibility in 18 counties of Nova Scotia.

MR. ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, only Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have given up control of pipelines constructed entirely within the boundaries of the province to the federal government. Could the Premier indicate why the Province of Nova Scotia has given up this jurisdiction to the federal government?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I honestly can't answer the question because we certainly and I certainly or this government certainly, did not give up any jurisdiction. The National Energy Board reference, when it first scheduled the hearings, was for the main line and laterals to Saint John and to Halifax. That was in their mandate to begin with and I can assure you we did not give that up.

MR. ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, again, to the Premier. The minister in charge of energy and offshore had to write a letter to the federal government because he was disappointed over this delay. Would the Premier indicate whether he would be interested in pursuing the control of the pipelines within the boundaries of Nova Scotia to be taken over by the province for control, rather than maintain the control with the federal government, so that the province would indeed be in control of our destiny and not the federal government?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I can assure the honourable member and all members of this House that this government is in control of the destiny of Nova Scotia in oil and gas.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.


MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Premier. MacTimber received $540,000 of taxpayers' money. The Minister of Agriculture publicly admitted that he pushed an official in Economic Development to approve this loan. What has the Premier done to ensure that the Minister of Agriculture is severely reprimanded for politicizing Economic Development officials?

[Page 5073]

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I can assure the honourable member that this government has done an excellent job in creating employment opportunities in this province. But I want to refer the question to the Acting Minister of Economic Development and Tourism.

HON. ROBERT HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, in all my time at Economic Development, not once did I get a call from the members of the New Democratic Party supporting any business initiative. So I can understand why they might question a member from any caucus that supports growing jobs in this province. I would invite, on behalf of the minister who is absent today, any member opposite that believe they have some way to influence job creation in Nova Scotia, to call that minister.

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Agriculture's action, combined with the renowned incompetence of the Minister of Economic Development caused good local businesses millions of dollars. Will the Premier tell this House that his Cabinet members will never again involve themselves in inappropriate meddling with the officials in the Department of Economic Development?

MR. HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, in May 1993, when there was a change in government, the unemployment rate in Nova Scotia was 14.6 per cent; today it is 10.7 per cent. The jobs are unprecedented, faster growth than New Brunswick. So, once again, I would invite the members opposite, if they have any leads at all, to make sure the minister gets them so we can grow even more jobs in this province.

MR. DEXTER: The people hurt by the actions of the Minister of Agriculture are looking for answers. Will the Premier do what his Minister of Economic Development refuses to do and order a forensic audit into the MacTimber fiasco? (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.

THE PREMIER: I don't think that we will order a forensic audit on this any more than we would order a forensic audit into the washrooms in Bras d'Or that the NDP thoroughly opposed. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Pictou West.



MR. CHARLES PARKER: Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Premier on MacTimber. You showcased that company as a great one to invest in here in Nova Scotia, and a lot of local businesses did just that; they put their faith in MacTimber. As we know, three months later they went belly up and a lot of our money was lost. Prime Lumber, Truro Welding and

[Page 5074]

Steel, among others, are owed tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars; some of those companies might not survive.

My question to the Premier. Your government created this problem and now it seems like you are walking away from it, why aren't you going to investigate what went wrong at MacTimber?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, we have looked into the question and I will refer the matter to the Acting Minister of Economic Development.

HON. ROBERT HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, in the absence of the minister, this is a serious question. There is tremendous investment. BDC has a $0.5 billion portfolio, most of it spent in rural Nova Scotia. There are times when things don't go as we all would have hoped they would have gone. I can assure you that ACOA and the Department of Economic Development are thoroughly analyzing this situation, this file and, undoubtedly, the minister will have answers when he returns.

MR. PARKER: Mr. Speaker, I want to table here today a list of 152 companies that lost $2.3 million with MacTimber, because the fly-by-night company was not properly investigated by this government. We know the government gave money with the full knowledge that it was a bad investment.

MR. SPEAKER: Your question, please.

MR. PARKER: My question. Why doesn't your government feel any responsibility to help these local business people in what you have done to them?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I think it very unfair for the honourable member to attribute motives such as the ones he suggests, but I will refer this question to the Acting Minister of Economic Development and Tourism.

MR. HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, that member opposite and members of his caucus have supported investments of taxpayers' dollars in businesses where other investments are not available. There is no question, no one in this House and no one in this province wants to see loans that do not produce the kinds of results that people hope for. When all of that occurs, whenever that occurs (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.

MR. HARRISON: I am listening to members from the caucus here. I don't know that their track record on investing in business is all that solid, but I can assure the member opposite that we do take our responsibilities seriously and that this minister will give a full account.

[Page 5075]

MR. PARKER: I cannot understand, Mr. Premier, why your government gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to a company it knew was a fly-by-night company and, yet, the backbone of rural Nova Scotia, our small local businesses, you refuse to help in this case. Mr. Premier, when are you going to stand up for rural Nova Scotia?

MR. SPEAKER: I am not sure, was the question directed to the Acting Minister of Economic Development or to the Premier?

MR. PARKER: It was directed to the Premier.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Premier is referring it to the Acting Minister of Economic Development.

MR. HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, I will repeat for the member opposite that 80 per cent of the Business Development Corporation portfolio, which supports rural industries, hundreds and thousands of jobs throughout rural Nova Scotia in this province, is working as well as any comparable industry support structure anywhere in Canada. I would put this government's track record up against that government's track record at any time on maintaining and supporting rural jobs in Nova Scotia.

[4:15 p.m.]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Truro-Bible Hill. You have about two minutes plus.



MR. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, this question is for the Minister of Transportation and Public Works. As he is well aware, there was a small crater developed in Highway No. 236, just outside of Truro in Lower Truro. It has separated parts of my good friend, the honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley's constituency from my constituency. The minister, like the rest of us, has said that four weeks is too long to get that thing fixed. Do you have a completion date?

HON. CLIFFORD HUSKILSON: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the honourable member for the question. First of all, I would like to say that I have had a lot of input on this problem. I have had calls from Minister Lorraine. I have had calls from the gentleman that just asked the question and also from the honourable member for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.

[Page 5076]

We are presently working on the situation. There are crews there that are working as we speak. There are two contracts that were let on March 22nd. One contract was to build the culverts. There are two large culverts that have to be built. They are made out of concrete. The size is 6 foot by 8 foot culverts. The delivery date of those two culverts is April 2nd. They will be on-site and the contractor is on-site as we speak ready to do the job.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Truro-Bible Hill, you have a real quick question.

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, has the minister instructed the contractors to work 24 hours a day to ensure that this repair will be effected in the shortest possible time?

MR. HUSKILSON: Mr. Speaker, to the honourable member, the contract went out, this contract or bid on this contract, and they will be working on this. I cannot give the honourable member the amount of hours per day that he will be working on this but the job will be completed as soon as possible. I will tell you I am very concerned about the businesses that are in behind this area. I know they are affected and we want to see this job completed just as soon as possible for the citizens of your area. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The time allotted for the Oral Question Period has expired.

Before we move on to Government Business, I would just like to remind members that where there is a subject before the House and being debated under a resolution, or in a bill, that it is inappropriate to ask questions directly related to those matters. They can be at a tangent and you can probably get around it but you cannot ask questions directly to the object of a notice of motion or a bill. Thank you very much.

The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.

MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Mr. Speaker, it would be the wish and desire of the government to move forward now with Bill No. 90. Bill No. 90 is not on the order paper and it would require the unanimous consent of the House for it to be placed on the order paper. I might indicate that if we can obtain that unanimous consent, it would then be my intent to move that you leave the Chair and the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole on Bills. (Interruption) I am merely giving notice of intent here.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.

MR. MACEWAN: I think without explanation of the situation, it is evident that I have to make that request of the House which I think that I ought now to do and ask you, sir, if . . .

[Page 5077]

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The question has been made. I hear several Noes. The honourable Government House Leader will . . .

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Recorded vote.

MR. SPEAKER: A recorded vote is being called for.

Ring the bells. Call in the members.

Order, please.

The Clerk has just brought to my attention a particular point of that question that I had not considered and that is that the request was for unanimous consent. We have not got unanimous consent orally, therefore, there is no requirement and there is no need and it would be insane to have a recorded vote on that matter.

The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.

MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Mr. Speaker, I don't know what to say. This is why we came here, to deal with Bill No. 90. That is why we are here.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The honourable member will report what the government's business is going to be for the day.

HON. RUSSELL MACKINNON: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I understand, very clearly, from our deliberations prior to recessing during the Christmas holidays, the purpose of coming back to the House of Assembly, as we have, was specifically with the assurance that within two weeks of our deliberations from the Law Amendments Committee, we would come back specifically to deal with this bill. That is what we expect.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. There is no point of order and that was certainly not the understanding.

Will the honourable Deputy Government House Leader please indicate to the House what the order of business is going to be for the remainder of the day?


MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.

MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Mr. Speaker, would you please call the order of business, Government Motions.

[Page 5078]


MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.

MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Mr. Speaker, in that event, I would say, with very great reluctance, I would ask you to call for debate, Resolution No. 1808.

Res. No. 1808, re Fin. - Economy (N.S.): Growth Positive - Recognize - notice given Nov. 13/98 - (Mr. H. Fraser)

MR. SPEAKER: I will have to look it up.

"Whereas the recent boom in Nova Scotia's economy has been credited to developments in the offshore; and

Whereas benefits of this prosperity include an increase in employment, growth in housing construction, falling vacancy rates for office space and glowing forecasts by financial analysts; and

Whereas recent interest in oil and gas developments on land in Pictou County, Truro and other areas, indicate that Nova Scotia stands to enjoy continued prosperity now and in the future;

Therefore be it resolved that this House recognize the positive growth in our economy is a direct result of the policies of Premier Russell MacLellan and his government and will mean many long-term benefits for rural Nova Scotian communities.".

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Antigonish.

MR. HYLAND FRASER: Mr. Speaker, in debate on the resolution that was just brought forward in the House by our House Leader, too often the hype surrounding the offshore has obscured its real impact on the economy of Atlantic Canada. Back in the 1980's, the excitement of what we saw as the second coming, economically speaking, allowed excitement to outpace planning and realism. Today it is a different story.

I want to talk to you about how we got here and where our society can go with the help of the petroleum resources. At the end of the year, Sable Island natural gas will begin flowing ashore. We cannot understate just how significant an event that will be. It is going to help to change the course of economic development in the Maritimes and it will change its course forever.

[Page 5079]

For decades, economic development in this region was stunted by two factors: first, our distance from the markets and, secondly, the cost of energy. But the development of the petroleum resources will mean these impediments will be smaller obstacles than they have been for many generations. The extraction of petroleum will be, in itself, a major pillar of the new Atlantic economy.

APEC, the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, just released a report that should be required reading in every house in the region. This independent economic think tank took a hard detached look at the impact of energy development on the regional economy and its way of life.

Here is what they concluded; Nova Scotia will see $6.6 billion poured into its economy for such things as tier two of the Sable Project, additional offshore exploration, natural gas distribution on land, and petrochemical production. Secondly, the construction phase alone will pour $1.5 billion into the Atlantic Region's economy every year for the next decade. The pot gets even bigger during the production phase, averaging $1.9 billion a year over the period from the year 2008 to 2015. What does all that money mean? In the world of economists, it translates as sustained growth rates in excess of 3 per cent for Nova Scotia. That is an astronomical growth rate. We have never in our history experienced anything like it.

Let us put numbers aside for a moment and translate them into a language that we can all understand. These numbers mean jobs, a more prosperous community, a community where people can stay, raise their families, buy more consumer goods, build more homes, and yes, pay more taxes. It will also mean that we will have a chance now to put an end to one of the most despised traditions of Atlantic Canadian life. We will see less mothers and fathers bidding a sad farewell to their children as they leave the region to start their adult lives. That is what petroleum development can do. That is what we can look forward to in the years ahead.

I will take out the crystal ball again in a moment, but let us take a minute to discuss what is happening today. So far the development of the offshore has been a hard thing for a lot of people to grasp. It is primarily happening over the horizon near Sable Island and on the shores of Guysborough County. The development of the offshore will happen in waves. Today we are at the height of the first wave. There are approximately 1,750 people now employed on the project here in Nova Scotia, and the majority of these workers are Nova Scotians. These are real people taking home real paycheques. There is no economic multiplier involved in coming up with those numbers.

This spring the offshore will become more tangible for Maritimers. That is when the second wave, the activity on land, starts to pick up. Natural gas will come ashore in November. This spring over 1,800 people will converge on this area of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to install the main transmission line from Goldboro to Boston; 78 per cent of these

[Page 5080]

workers will be Nova Scotians. It will be one of the most intense construction projects in the history of our region. Some have compared its importance to the building of the Intercolonial Railway nearly 150 years ago.

Besides serving the New England market, the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline will become an economic backbone for the region. From this line, other laterals will branch out, first across the Strait of Canso to Cape Breton and then into Halifax. The lateral to Cape Breton will be built this year, and in fact, the company building this line has recently set up an office in Antigonish. Hearings on the Halifax lateral will be held in May of this year. The government is disappointed that the federal National Energy Board has put off hearings until this spring, however, the impact of the delay will be minor. Both of the major natural gas distribution applicants always planned on introducing natural gas to the Halifax market for the year 2001 heating season. That target date can still be reached.

The delay in construction of the Halifax lateral may in the end benefit Nova Scotia. If all three pipelines were built this year, it is possible the contractor would have imported labour from other jurisdictions to meet a tight deadline. Now it appears more of the work will go to those who deserve it most, Nova Scotians. The construction boom from the pipeline construction will now stretch over two years rather than one.

[4:30 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, the third wave of offshore activity will bring natural gas to the homes and businesses of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Natural gas is as much a Nova Scotia resource as are the trees in our forests and the crops we grow in the Valley and elsewhere in Nova Scotia.

Mr. Speaker, the government, as the steward of that resource, decided early on that we wanted to ensure natural gas provided the widest possible range of economic, social and environmental benefits. That is why the provincial natural gas distribution policy is based on five principles.

Firstly, Nova Scotia must have a safe, reliable distribution system. Natural gas is new to most Nova Scotians. If we are going to heat our homes and run our factories with this new source of energy, we must ensure that distributors are competent and experienced. Last year the government passed regulations to ensure the highest possible safety standards are part of any natural gas pipeline system.

Secondly, Mr. Speaker, gas must be distributed as widely as possible throughout Nova Scotia. This is a provincial resource so we want to ensure that the benefits are shared across Nova Scotia. As I have said in the past, we want rural Nova Scotia to benefit, as well as those who live in urban areas. This means the coverage area for natural gas has to be as widespread as economically feasible. This government believes that at a minimum, 62 per cent of the

[Page 5081]

population can be offered access to natural gas, while ensuring economic success to the venture.

Thirdly, Mr. Speaker, Nova Scotians must be assured of a long-term supply at a fair price. The cost advantages of natural gas will play an important role in our competitive situation and our standard of living. Nova Scotians must be assured they will benefit from their own resources. While no one can guarantee prices at this point, the very introduction of gas into the market will ensure additional competitive pressure is applied to all energy sources.

Fourthly, Mr. Speaker, we want the maximum economic benefit of natural gas distribution. This means local people doing the work and providing as much of the infrastructure as possible. It means Nova Scotians serving their neighbours for many years to come. It means maximizing the purchasing of local supplies and services to help build this new energy highway.

Fifthly, Mr. Speaker, gas distribution costs must be fair to all Nova Scotians. The cost of gas must be equitable. For any applicant to be successful they must ensure equitable prices across the province. We will not accept a system that places one area at a competitive disadvantage to another. We want to see level rates across Nova Scotia. If it can be done with telephone bills and with power bills, there is no reason why it can't be done with gas distribution. These principles are based on sound economic and sound policy foundations and strong social policy foundations.

Where are we today, Mr. Speaker? The Utility and Review Board has taken the government's policy objectives and set up a hearing process for applicants. There are two major companies looking for the main distribution franchise. There are several communities and co-ops seeking specific geographic franchises, including the Annapolis Valley and northern Nova Scotia, including Antigonish.

All applicants have filed detailed plans with the board. These plans must include details on how they will reach a minimum of 62 per cent of the population of the province within the next seven years. They must also outline how they will construct the system, pay for it and what local benefits they will offer. These benefits include the numbers of Nova Scotians who will be needed to build and maintain the system, as well as how much of the cost will be spent here in the province. Once the system is up and running, several hundred full-time positions could be created. These jobs would be required to maintain the system and to assist consumers.

Hearings begin next month and the government hopes to hear from the URB on its recommendations in the first half of 1999. The cost of the system is estimated to be between $600 million and $1 billion, depending on the speed and breadth of rollout construction of the system which required hundreds of people. Then, when it is operational, several hundred

[Page 5082]

permanent jobs will be added to the provincial economy. Many of these jobs will be in rural areas. That, Mr. Speaker, is where we are today.

Some people believe that the development of Sable Island natural gas ends with the century. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sable Island is only the first step on a journey of economic renewal. When gas starts flowing ashore this fall, we will have only tapped into half of the planned six gas fields around the island. Tier two will see another boost in economic activity. We have every reason to think that the impact on the local economy will be even more profound than tier one. That, Mr. Speaker, is because companies in the area have learned a lot. They now have workers well versed in the needs of the industry so more of the work can be done here.

Let's return to looking at the future. Until now oil and gas have been primarily considered a western Canadian activity. That is beginning to change and quite quickly, I might add, Mr. Speaker. Uncertain oil prices have meant layoffs in the office towers of Calgary but companies are beginning to beef up their corporate presence in Halifax. Mobil, for example, plans on spending just over $4 billion alone over the next 10 years on the offshore. The interest in exploring the Atlantic has led to an unprecedented auction of land rights. This spring, bidding closes on 2.2 million hectares of lands off the coast of Nova Scotia. Companies are aggressively bidding for those rights. Usually governments in Atlantic Canada are the ones trying to entice companies to locate here. It is a nice change to see oil companies fighting with one another for the right to move East.

So what happens next? Well, Mr. Speaker, a lot according to APEC, the nation's banks and other economic think tanks. Let me quote from their latest report. "The approaching decade holds great promise for Atlantic Canada. A renewed spirit of business optimism has spread across the region as the development of large scale energy projects slowly becomes a reality. These investments represent more than a temporary mega project boost. This could be a key factor in improving regional competitiveness and the long term prospects."

This is the real difference, Mr. Speaker. Oil and natural gas are not one-shot deals. Industry is moving in and plans to stay. They are setting up without subsidies or other traditional economic development enticements. They are here because the resource is here. They are here because the future is here, but I can almost read your minds. Will it last? Last fall APEC and Infometrica asked the same question. They created a macro economic model to study the impact of petroleum on the region. The idea was to translate the big numbers into their impact locally, on local suppliers, the employment picture, people's incomes and Gross Domestic Product.

During the 1998 to 2008 investment phase, energy related projects will have a pronounced positive impact on our regional economy. Mr. Speaker, it translates into $1.5 billion annually to the Atlantic Canadian GDP. Nova Scotia's share will be $445 annually, giving us the growth rate of just under 3 per cent every year for 10 years. The news gets even

[Page 5083]

better during the operations phase which the model predicts will kick in during the year 2008 and continue to the year 2015. Petroleum will contribute an additional $571 million annually, resulting in a yearly annual growth rate of 3.1 per cent. According to the report, the affect on Nova Scotia will be similar to the Alberta experience during the tar sands boom of the late 1970's and early 1980's.

So, what does that mean in terms of real jobs for people? The cautious forecast is that the energy development will create 11,500 new permanent jobs in the Atlantic economy over the next 15 years. Personal income in the region will receive a boost of $17.6 billion. Locally, in my area and in the eastern area of the province and throughout our province, I just did a list of some of the people who are working on the project today, and I look at labourers, I look at carpenters, truckers, surveyors, woodcutters, pipe fitters, plumbers, steel tires, steel fabricators, welders, engineers, accountants, architects, real estate salespeople, store owners, business owners, automobile dealers, electricians and many, many more.

Mr. Speaker, we cannot forget government. APEC believes provincial governments and municipalities will see a real increase in revenues of $78.5 billion. Now that is after the federal government reduces its transfers as a result of increased economic activity in this region.

What are we going to do with all this activity? Atlantic Canada has been handed an opportunity to regain its position as a true equal partner in Confederation. Government has the responsibility to the people to ensure we maximize the positive impacts, not just for a few years, but for generations. This is not a time for government to allow the invisible hand of the market to make all the decisions for us. Just as we want economic equity with the rest of the country, the provincial government here in Nova Scotia wants economic equality within its borders.

Petroleum can help create that. It is why we have insisted the natural gas price be the same in Cape Breton as it will be in Truro or in Halifax or in Yarmouth; it is also why we are taking such a strong stand on the petrochemical issue. For far too long, Atlantic Canada was a place where resources were extracted and shipped elsewhere. We exported jobs along with the fish and the food and the trees. Well, no more. Government cannot and will not allow our resources to benefit others more than they benefit us.

Mr. Speaker, petroleum can and will play a major role in the emergence of a stronger Atlantic Canada. However, we must not be fooled into believing in a one economic Messiah. No economy heavily dependent on one sector is safe; that is why we want petroleum to be a catalyst for renewal of communities. Education must be a lifelong commitment. We must ensure that the traditional industries that have sustained us for centuries are respected and nurtured.

[Page 5084]

As Premier MacLellan said in a speech last year, "Nova Scotians have waited a long time for our ship to come in. Well, it's here and we intend to make sure it sticks around our offshore waters for a long time". Thank you. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.

MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I get to respond, on behalf of our caucus, to this resolution. It is just one in a series of resolutions that have come forward from the government caucus with respect to the economic prospects of this province. I recall that in one of the previous resolutions, the honourable member referred to, among other economic indexes, Standard and Poor's and he talked about how it rated so favourably this province's prospects in the coming year. I remember at that time, and it bears repeating, that if you are talking about the performance of this government it is not Standard and Poor's that you should use, it is sub-Standard and Poor's.

The real question is how do you go about measuring the economic health of the province? How do you do that? Do you use these self-serving economic indexes? Is that what you do, or do you look around the province and do you ask yourself some fundamental questions about how your economy is performing? How are those in the rural areas of the province doing? How are things going in Lockeport and Sheet Harbour and Digby? How is Cape Breton doing, particularly industrial Cape Breton - how are they doing? What about average families?

[4:45 p.m.]

It is not measured by contrived economic indices, the health of our economy should be measured by the general benefits that are conferred on its citizens. We look at the standard of living of those in our province. What is happening to average family incomes? How are the poorest and the most disadvantaged in our societies making out? What expectation do young people have for advancement and for education? What quality of life are we providing for our seniors? These are the ways you determine the real health of the economy of our province.

I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that you don't use contrived economic indices when you know that the average family income of the people of this province continues to decline. It is not that more people are not working because the reality is that more people are working and they are working harder for less. The take-home pay of the average family in this province continues to decline. Things are not getting better, they are getting worse.

What we look to is what the real policies of this government have been. Early in the morning the families around this province, in order for them to put food on the table, it is very unlikely that they are going to be unzipping their stock portfolios and banging down the doors of this government and asking for greater capital tax exemptions. They are not looking for that; what they are looking for is real economic health, real economic growth, money in their

[Page 5085]

pockets, money in the pay packets of the average Nova Scotians that they can take home so they can feed their families. That is what they are looking for.

Resolutions like this are a hoax, a sham, but it is a good opportunity to be able to expose the hoaxes and the shams. This government has engineered over the last six years one of the largest tax increases in the history of this province. The HST - and this is a fact - hits the seniors hardest, it hits those on fixed incomes hardest and, just as an example, the tax on home heating fuel is one of the cruelest hoaxes and cruelest tax measures that this government has perpetrated. I have said this before and I will say it again - you can't roll up the Globe and Mail Report on Business and stick it in the oil tank. That is what the government opposite would like to think you can do. You don't measure the economy in that way. The people of this province know it and we should know it.

I want to turn to the actions of this government and their policies for just a second. When the closure of Devco was announced we, in good faith in this caucus, asked for an all-Party commitment to the examination of the impact of that decision. It was good enough for the port and we took part in that process and we agreed. We said the port is part of the cornerstone of the economy of this region, it is part of the cornerstone of the Halifax economy and we can now become and can continue to be the gateway to the rest of this country. We know that if the port is healthy, there will be a corridor of benefits that will flow from Halifax right through central Canada. We said we are prepared to participate in a cooperative manner, in a constructive manner. We will participate in an all-Party Committee. We did that and we are pleased with our participation in that process. We said, no less for Devco but, instead, they refused to take us up on our offer.

What is worse is when the Committee on Economic Development, a committee of this House, decided that it would look at the results or impacts of that closure. The government members refused to even allow that committee to go to Cape Breton. They said, study Devco from afar. In fact, one of the government members of that committee - I can't believe this, Mr. Speaker, - called us vampires for wanting to go to Cape Breton to look into the impacts of Devco. That is terrible. It is shameful. We do know and we are not going to stop until we expose completely what the impact of this callous federal government decision has been and what the result of the inactivity of this government is.

Mr. Speaker, in those hearings before the Economic Development Committee, we heard just recently from Dr. Keith Brown. You may know that Dr. Brown is (Interruption) Apparently, he is a constituent of the honourable member for Cape Breton Nova and, therefore, perhaps the member will pay a little bit of attention to what Dr. Brown has to say. I would like to table the extract from Hansard for the Economic Development Committee on Friday, March 5th. I just want to read into the record some of what Dr. Brown had to say with respect to this.

[Page 5086]

"Phalen is approximately half of that.", referring to the GDP, "Removing Phalen from the corporation, from the economy, directly takes 5 per cent out of the GDP. Then you can argue a multiplier - and I can put 10 economists in a room and they can all argue 10 different multipliers - but from one to one, to three to one, of a multiplier anywhere in between there.

In relative terms, if you think when a country talks about going into recession, it has to have, for two-quarters, six months, negative or flat growth which can be one-half of 1 per cent reduction in its GDP. That is classified as a recession and a severe one. Japan has had a 1 per cent reduction and it is treated as a major global impact because it does affect everyone in the world. We are talking here a reduction in GDP, conservatively, between 5 per cent and 10 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product of a regional economy. By any definition, that is a dramatic reduction.".

Then Dr. Brown goes on to say, ". . . the Dirty Thirties - at least, as recorded 60 years ago - the Canadian economy did not contract as much as we are talking about the contraction here. We all know that that was almost a decade of decline in Canada.

To come back from a 5 per cent to 10 per cent reduction in GDP, it is possible to do it but it is not possible to do it in a short period of time. The transition on the Island, over a dramatic period of time, 5 years to 10 years, you are really talking - at least, in my opinion - 5 years to 10 years of recovery and that is only if there is a very real focus to try to help it recover.".

That is what Dr. Brown had to say about the results of the closure of Devco. A 10 per cent reduction in the Gross Domestic Product of the Island of Cape Breton. It can only be reversed over a 5 year to 10 year period if there is a focus on trying to help that economy recover. So if you ask yourself about the health of the province and you say how are we doing and you look at Cape Breton and you have a 5 per cent to 10 per cent reduction in GDP, the answer, Mr. Speaker, is you are not doing very well. That is a direct result of the policies of this government and their friends in Ottawa. That is who it is a direct result of.

I suppose, Mr. Speaker, we are left to rely on the goodwill that the Premier's friends in Ottawa have toward him and I think it is apparent that if they did not notice him while he was on the back benches in Ottawa, I guess they do not remember his name when he goes there these days. There are those people in Cape Breton though who are suggesting constructive economic change. They are suggesting constructive policies that can help with the re-establishment of that economy in a constructive and reasonable manner.

You know, Mr. Speaker, we were pleased at the Committee on Economic Development to hear some weeks ago now from Mayor David Muise and from Mr. John Whalley, the Economic Development Officer with the Regional Municipality of Cape Breton, and what they did was they came to this committee and they put forward their analysis of what was happening to the economy in Cape Breton. They suggested for that committee, and I

[Page 5087]

understand have delivered to this government, a seven point plan, a seven point plan to help re-establish the economy in Cape Breton and the re-establishing the health and economic health of industrial Cape Breton. They asked for a strong innovation structure. They asked for access to the most efficient form of energy on terms and conditions that are competitive. Right now they know that if the present schedule is adhered to, it is possible that industrial Cape Breton will not receive natural gas for some seven years and that is too late, Mr. Speaker. That is too late.

They asked for efficient transportation infrastructure. They asked for a strong education structure. They asked for access to financial capital on competitive terms and conditions. They asked for general government services which ensure that a region's interests are strongly integrated into the broader provincial and federal policy development. They asked for an efficient and equitable system of taxation. An efficient and equitable system of taxation.

Mr. Speaker, these are the kinds of reasonable suggestions that are coming forward and I can hear, you know, I would like to thank the member for his helpful intervention because the reality is it is that government over there that has been the biggest tax raising, service smashing bunch of administrators this province has ever had. It has not the members on this side who put in place the HST. It is the members on that side. They are the ones.

So, Mr. Speaker, we, on this side, we in this Party, we are prepared to be constructive and to say when these suggestions come forward and when the elected representatives of the Regional Municipality of Cape Breton come forward with what is a clear and concise plan, then the government has an obligation to consider it and to tell us what their plan is to reinvigorate the health of the Island of Cape Breton because I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, if we are left with the hijinks of this government and their auxiliary that regularly huddles in this corner over here, that I can tell you that things will not get better. Things will not get better.

So what about the other regions? What about rural Nova Scotia? You know this Party has taken the opportunity to enter into a dialogue with the rest of Nova Scotia, with the rest of the province or across the province with Nova Scotians and to say how do we strike the balance? We asked some important questions about community economic development and we asked the opinions of Nova Scotians about what would work best in their communities because the way that the creative spark for community economic development comes about is it comes about from the people who are actually in those communities. They know their own resources best. So we are asking the questions and we, unlike the government over there, are prepared to act.

Mr. Speaker, do we use self-serving economic indices? No. We ask the real questions. We ask the real questions that are relevant to the people of this province. (Interruption) He says doom and gloom. He says doom and gloom. Did you hear that, Mr. Speaker? There couldn't be more doom and gloom (Interruptions) than is spread by that group over there and their friends in Ottawa. The Premier, on the day that the Devco shut down was announced

[Page 5088]

wouldn't even go to the announcement. You want to see doom and gloom, you see the desperation on the faces of the people in industrial Cape Breton and what do they do, they run away. That is what they do.

[5:00 p.m.]

What about the other parts of this province? What did they do when Volvo shut down? Were they out there to help the Volvo workers? I was out there. Members of this caucus were out there, and we sure as heck didn't see them. No. The Volvo workers were left to fend for themselves. Another embarrassment for this government. Another embarrassment. They consider themselves to be the in crowd over there. They are the in crowd. And I say that is true, they are the in crowd. Incoherent, incompetent, intertwined. They are the in crowd. So they get to make the decisions, (Interruptions) they get to make the rules for now, but we will see.

The people in Nova Scotia know because they feel the jagged edge of this economy every day. I know I have asked this member before, I don't know if he has a foodbank in his constituency, but maybe he drives by Hope Cottage every day and maybe he sees the line up of people going into Hope Cottage, or maybe he walks down the streets of Halifax and he sees the number of homeless people that have become an all too common appearance in this city, or maybe he sees the panhandlers and the beggars on the streets because the system is failing them.

That is how you measure whether or not your economy is working, whether or not the benefits you are conferring on the weakest and on the most vulnerable, whether or not those people's needs are being responded to. That is the result of the policies of the Russell MacLellan Government. That is the result. (Applause)

We know that this government is without an economic development plan. I have brought this up several times before, but the Minister of Economic Development, despite the fact that he is mandated by legislation to bring forward an annual report to this Legislature has not done it for more than six years. The last one to be tabled was tabled by Rollie Thornhill. Do you remember Rollie Thornhill? Do you remember him? That was the last person to table a report from the Department of Economic Development in this Legislature. It should be an embarrassment to this government that they don't do their job.

I understand, I read in the press, that they say one is forthcoming. Maybe this session, maybe next session. Apparently, they don't have a plan either. Not only do they not have a plan, they won't even put out a report on what it is they do, do. How are we supposed to get answers on economic questions if the Department of Economic Development doesn't have the fortitude to put forward a report on its own activities? What happened? We know the fiascos. We can name them, MacTimber, Dynatek. You have seen them, they come back here time and time again. Do they have the fortitude to report on them? No. (Interruptions)

[Page 5089]

AN HON. MEMBER: That is the in crowd.

MR. DEXTER: That is the in crowd over there. I can tell you with no uncertainty at all that the business community in this province, the people who make the engine of this province go, what they want to know is that they are going to get a fair shake, that the playing field is going to be level and that it is not going to be friends of the in crowd, that there is not a back door into the various departments. They are prepared to compete.

I have to tell you, Mr. Speaker, I was pleased to hear the honourable member talk about this not being the time for the invisible hand of the free market. Did you hear that? This was just a few minutes ago - not the time for the invisible hand of the free market. So I am glad to see that he recognizes that there are limits that the free market has.

Mr. Speaker, I introduced into this House a Grants and Loans Moratorium (1998) Bill that was designed to bring a little bit of accountability into the policies of the Russell MacLellan Government. We simply asked that there be an audit done of those grants and loans so that reasonable people could assess whether or not the policies of this government with respect to loans and grants to large corporations were working. This is like a cost-benefit analysis but really more tightly focused than that. This would allow any reasonable group of people to do some analysis of whether or not their proposals and plans and the things they were undertaking were actually working.

I have to tell you, Mr. Speaker, during the Supply debate I asked the minister directly why it was that there was a substantial reduction in his budget for this year. He said, oh, well, it is because we are not going to give any more money to big corporations. That is what he told us - no more money for big corporations so our budget can go down.

It was my intention and the intention of this caucus to introduce the bill - Grants and Loans Moratorium (1998) Act - that was going to assist him. We were just trying to help him in the good and reasonable plans he had. We wanted to give him some advice about how you go about analyzing the things you do. I have to say I was not concerned a bit, Mr. Speaker, about the idea that the result of this would be good government. In fact, that was the purpose. It did not bother me that if this plan worked that the Minister of Economic Development would be able to take it out and trot it around the province. More power to him - if he will take good advice and make good decisions and then he is able to take it out around the province and wave it around like a flag, I say more power to him. I know we have done our job and, after all, our job is to see to it that this province is governed in a responsible manner and we are not concerned about who gets credit for it, we just want what is best for average Nova Scotians. That is our purpose for being here, that is why we are here.

Mr. Speaker, I have to say that it hurts me when I see these kinds of resolutions come forward and I know they are a hoax and a sham. I want to congratulate the member for bringing it forward because, after all, that is what gives us the ability to talk about how

[Page 5090]

problematic the things are that they are doing. I am sure he will pass that congratulations along to the Premier, along with all of the suggestions I have made.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I do have a solution. I think what would be appropriate - I intend to table this now - is an amendment to this resolution. I am going to move the following; that the words following "Therefore be it resolved that . . ." be deleted and the following substituted therefor: The House regrets the recent decline in Nova Scotia investment intentions as measured by Statistics Canada and other evidence that this government has failed to turn the short-term boom of Sable gas investment into a source of longer-term growth and investment.

There is the amendment, Mr. Speaker. I will just speak for a second on the amendment because I think it is important for us to note that the decline in investment intentions, specifically with respect to things like (Interruption) Mr. Speaker, very usefully, the minister is asking whether or not the amendment is being accepted. I am assuming it is in order, unless you tell me otherwise. I think this is important because the reality is that the investment intentions of this province and the investment intentions of the business community are important in terms of looking at what it is the business community is going to do over the coming number of months. What we know is that they have continued to decline. They have declined because of events like the Devco closure. We know that people are not . . .

MR. SPEAKER: If I could interrupt the speaker, briefly. Since you have moved an amendment and then proceeded to speak to it, I would have to rule that this amendment does, rather drastically, change the intentions of the motion and is, therefore, not in order.

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, that is certainly disappointing because, of course, the intention of the amendment was to inject a little bit of reality into the resolution and to properly reflect the situation in this province. That was the purpose of my attempt. Like all the things I do, I do it only for the benefit of the government and so the people of this province know that all the people of this province have a true picture of what is going on in this province. Because it certainly is a fact that this government has failed in its attempt to turn the short-term boom of Sable gas investment into a longer term growth and investment.

Mr. Speaker, I mentioned earlier about declining family incomes and about the loss of the Volvo jobs. I have talked about the impacts of Devco and the reduction in GDP. What is becoming clear for this province and what I am afraid is the dismal result of the policies of this province is that the actual economic well-being of the families of the people of this province is continuing to decline. We are losing the higher paying jobs and what we are receiving in return are low level, barely self-sufficient levels of income for the working people of this province. It is a sad reality.

[Page 5091]

I know my colleague for Queens was quite pleased to see that there was an opening of a new plant and 100 jobs in that part of the province. I noticed in The Liverpool Advance that they did acknowledge that these were going to be much lower paying jobs than those people who were displaced as a result of mechanisation in the forestry, that they were much lower paying jobs than the jobs that were previously in the fishery before the downsizing. So although the jobs are certainly welcomed by the people of that rural community, I know that this is just another example of the way that we are losing higher paying jobs and they are being replaced so that the actual economic health and well-being of the community declines.

One thing about Nova Scotians, Mr. Speaker, is that they are a people of great resolve. They are people who are hardy and who are optimists and who believe that there is a future for them and their children in this province. I have to say one of the things that I learned when I was out canvassing door to door in that very cold February and people were saying, gee, we can't wait for the summer, there was one fellow who said to me, you know, the best time of the year is actually March. Standing out in the sub-zero temperatures in March and knocking on doors, I had to ask, why do you say that? He said, you know, the reason why I say that is because in March, that is when I get to see my children. That is when they come home from Alberta. That is when they come home from B.C. That is the sad reality of the people of this province, that they get to see their kids when they come home because they do not live here anymore because the real result of the policies of the Russell MacLellan Government and the John Savage Government before it was to drive young people out of this province in unprecedented numbers and it is a shame, Mr. Speaker.

[5:15 p.m.]

I think I have had the opportunity to shed a little light on this resolution, to indicate to the people of the province some of the truisms about the results of this kind of destructive economic policy which has, in fact, taken a resource and managed to minimize it. They have taken a natural resource, they have taken what should be the vehicle for economic health and well-being and they have managed to shrink it to a minimum. That is the result of the policies of this government. Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Housing and Municipal Affairs.

HON. RAYMOND WHITE: Mr. Speaker, in a recent publication called Business Voice, which is done by the Metropolitan Halifax Chamber of Commerce, the title they use is Fueling our Economy and how metro would feel the impact of Sable gas. They also talk about the impact that Sable gas has alluded to in this resolution for the rest of the province and what they say in this article is that metro Halifax and Nova Scotia is already feeling the impact of Sable gas. Try to go around this city and rent office accommodations. Look what is happening to the real estate market which is alluded to in this article as the strongest that it has been in a number of years. These are some of the aspects of this project as alluded to in the article, its impacts on Nova Scotia.

[Page 5092]

I think it is important when we consider this, that many people feel the efforts of Sable gas will be a major economic stimulus. Now ask yourselves what are some of the things that instill confidence in people who want to come invest in Nova Scotia, people who want to come here and create jobs. Then I listened to the members, the NDP, and I say to myself, well, why would a business outside of Nova Scotia - and I listened to the gloom and doom, the negative connotations of what is happening in this province, then I would probably go somewhere else.

However, industry is discovering that because of the impact of Sable gas that Nova Scotia indeed is a place of potential growth, indeed a place to invest, and as I go through my comments I want to make a few examples. One of the things we are forgetting is the Sable Offshore Energy Project, the offshore project is now one of the largest construction projects in all of Canada and it is bound to have impacts of a positive nature, not only for the metro area and not only for all of Nova Scotia but for all of Canada.

It is important to note that this project is just not going to happen this year. The extended lifespan of the project that is known is over 25 years which means 25 years of natural gas coming ashore, 25 years of potential. When the Sable Offshore Energy Project was first proposed people did not even know where Guysborough County was. When people originally went in the industry, they did not know where Guysborough County was, and I agree with the member, some of the first delegations going from the Strait area and going from Guysborough County to some of the major offshore trade shows, had to show them on a map where this area was located. That has changed. Now when delegations from the Strait area and from Guysborough County go to these major trade shows, people are coming to inquire about the opportunities that present themselves from this new energy source. People are discovering what the bypass option of Goldboro means, the preferential rates for Nova Scotia, and they are beginning to look seriously at development.

As it has been said by some of the speakers, local economic development has an expression, that the local people know where the thin ice is. So you ask yourself what are the communities in the Strait area doing? What is Guysborough County doing to try to take advantage of the opportunities that may present themselves from the Sable gas development?

Both regional development authorities, the Guysborough Regional Development Authority, the Strait-Highlands Regional Development Authority, have convened meetings, have had seminars for local businesses to inform them of some of the opportunities related to Sable gas. The Guysborough Regional Development Authority has set up an independent office to deal with petroleum development.

Approximately a week ago we saw some of the results that happen through cooperative partnerships taking advantage of Sable gas opportunities, and I am referring to the recent opening of a training centre in New Harbour. Now New Harbour is a rural part of

[Page 5093]

Guysborough County. There is a Primary to Grade 9 school that presently has only Primary to Grade 6, which means that there is a large part of this facility not being occupied.

People looked to the community, and asked what can we do to take advantage of the facility, to take advantage of the fact that down the road approximately 10 kilometres is the Sable gas project, and bring some development which looks at the spin-offs related to Sable gas, and that is in the area of Sable training. So Survival Systems Limited, the Guysborough County Regional Development Authority, HRD and the Strait area school boards formed a partnership, and the end result is that now out of that facility there will be training opportunities provided in a rural setting. It will stabilize and maximize the multiple use of that facility and it will present potential growth. This is an example of what happens when a community looks at an opportunity and over a year of negotiations brings that opportunity forward and produces jobs.

The important thing about this is that in a small area we are talking maybe 5 or 10 jobs, but for small, rural economic development, that is significant; probably has the impact of 100 jobs in the metro area. The company is to be congratulated for hiring the majority of its trainers for providing them skills, from the local area. Maintaining or creating employment in the local area, I think, is one of the key tools of economic development.

Several agencies such as the Petroleum Directorate have also been looking at opportunities by which Nova Scotia firms and others can taken advantage of the Sable gas project. I think I would be remiss if I didn't say that the impact of Sable gas on Guysborough County is not evenly spread throughout the county because of its great geographical area, but there are certain of our areas that are taking advantage of this. The Strait area is also benefiting from the development of a fractionization plant on the Cape Breton side.

Again, if you look at the numbers, the majority of people working at these sites are Nova Scotians. The previous speaker talked about putting bread and butter on the table. At the Goldboro site there are approximately 450 people working, and the majority of them are Nova Scotians, but what is encouraging is that 130 of those 400 people are from Guysborough County, an area which previous to this has not had major industrial development. The spin-off of this is not only for the metro area, not only for Nova Scotia, but for Guysborough County. We are now providing people with skills, which will enable them to take advantage of further economic growth related to Sable gas.

I want to point out that Mulgrave Machine Company has taken advantage of the Sable gas project. They have been involved in providing pressure release valves, but this most recent development, the safety training modules for this project, were built within the constituency, using local skills and are now going to be translated to the Sable gas project.

[Page 5094]

I want to point out some interesting scenarios. The recent announcement by the Minister responsible for the Petroleum Directorate, that we are going to be looking at ways of ensuring that the ethane is available when Nova Scotia needs it for development then brings into play some of the key areas that we have for potential development throughout the constituency. The Guysborough Municipal Council, in conjunction with the government, has developed an industrial park adjacent to the Sable gas project in Goldboro, and that is receiving a great deal of attention.

At Melford, on the Strait, there is a 14,000-acre area of reserved land set aside for further development; that is now beginning to receive worldwide attention. Bear Head, on the Cape Breton side of the Strait, is also positioning itself to take advantage of the Sable opportunities. So the local communities are promoting their areas, are meeting with the proponents and those involved with the petrochemical industry because they realize that bringing the gas ashore is only the tip of the iceberg and the greatest maximum benefits will come from opportunities that present themselves beyond the initial development of the Sable gas project.

I have listened carefully over the last few hours or minutes and also over the last number of years to the position the NDP seem to take when it comes to industrial development. I find it hard to find out where they are coming from. It is almost like they stick their finger in the air, decide which way the wind is blowing, and that will be their position for that particular day.

Let me talk about Stora Forest Industries. I can remember when we were involved in providing some interim financing for Stora, then we heard, why are you helping multinational companies? Why are you doing this? But all of a sudden we find out that at certain banquets they are there to celebrate an accomplishment that stabilizes long-term growth in industry in the forestry in Nova Scotia. You can't one day criticize an industry and the next day say it is the best thing since sliced bread.

Then we have members of the NDP who talk about the role Michelin plays in creating employment in this province. You can't at one time say don't do anything to encourage employment, and then on the other say this is a great company, they are putting billions of dollars into the economy.

We have to take a look at the big picture of economic development. We have to realize that in a constituency as broad as Guysborough County, there are challenges. We still have areas that have been impacted by the downturn of the fishery, and we have to work with those. But we also have to realize that within the constituency, within the Strait area, within Guysborough County, there is a renewed enthusiasm because finally people realize there are opportunities, but the only way anyone can take advantage of Sable gas as alluded to in this project or any of these things, is for the communities, number one, to become knowledgeable

[Page 5095]

about the industry and, number two, to look at the spin-offs that can happen by working cooperatively together.

Mr. Speaker, it is important to point out that there are benefits happening. Either you look at the projections for Nova Scotia, what is being projected by us and others, some of the strongest economic growth in Canada. That doesn't happen by accident. Renewed consumer confidence in what is happening in this province, that doesn't happen by accident.

Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to point out that economic growth is the result of government policies. The numbers are there to show that there is a renewed optimism in Nova Scotia. I can only encourage the members of the Official Opposition to try to get out and promote Nova Scotia, to say we do have something to offer. We are on the verge of economic growth. Sable gas is only one piece of the economic puzzle and we have to find every opportunity we can to look at growth in our communities. We have to realize that in our constituencies there are areas that still face challenge, and we have to work with those areas to maximize the benefits.

Mr. Speaker, this government has been involved in the development of Sable gas. We are looking for opportunities for Nova Scotia, not only in Sable gas, but in the complete venue of economic development, and we will continue to work with those communities, look at opportunities and move forward. I want to close by saying, Nova Scotia is discovering where the constituency of Guysborough-Port Hawkesbury is. Industry is discovering where the constituency of Guysborough-Port Hawkesbury is. And we have people within the constituency, within development agencies, within municipal governments who are working hard to maximize the benefits. We have some of the deepest water facilities in Nova Scotia, let alone North America, in the Strait area. We have excellent harbour facilities in Mulgrave, and they wish to take advantage of these opportunities as well as everyone else.

I think it is important for members, from wherever they are, to continue to save these proponents. We want the maximum benefits for our people, and we want to look at the maximum opportunities that this or any other economic opportunity presents. But it is important, if we are to sell Nova Scotia to the rest of the world, we have to go out and talk about the strength of our people, the strength of economic development, and not always be negative. Thank you. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Chebucto.

MR. HOWARD EPSTEIN: Mr. Speaker, there is a fascinating small phenomenon in politics which I have observed but for which I have never been able to generate an adequate explanation. It is the presence of so many school teachers in elected office. I notice this at municipal councils and I notice it here on the floor of this House. Why is it that there are so many school teachers? I have never really understood this, but if there is one occupational group that is highly represented among elected officials, it is school teachers.

[Page 5096]

[5:30 p.m.]

I mention this because I hope that the presence of so many school teachers will allow them to readily understand the observation I wish to make next, which is that the basic tool of teaching is repetition. That is why school teachers had us all sitting in rows when we were in Grade 3, belting out the five times table until we finally got it right. Repetition is the basic tool of education. I find myself in mind of that because I am about to repeat, for the umpteenth time, something I have said out in this House, in its committees, in public and elsewhere a number of times, but for whatever reason, the members opposite just don't seem to get it. However, I hope that, sooner or later, they will understand.

What I want to set out, Mr. Speaker, is the serious flaws with the Sable deal negotiated by this government. It is no wonder that this sycophantic resolution that has been put forward in front of us talks about the Sable deal as being the sole element for which this government might even remotely hope to claim credit for economic development in this province, because there is nothing else. There is, clearly, nothing else that this government has ever been involved with that it can claim credit for or try to claim credit for. If, however, looking at the terms of the motion and the speech that we heard from the honourable member for Antigonish attempts to set out the benefits of the Sable deal for Nova Scotia. We have to look hard at the reality of the questions associated with that. Are there really benefits or are there not?

Believe me, Mr. Speaker, I have spent the last number of years looking very closely at these alleged benefits. I spent the better part of the year attending the hearings that the National Energy Board, the joint panel to review the proposal, held in order to decide whether this proposal should go ahead. During all of that time, we heard, time and again, from representatives of the industry that this was going to be an occasion for a new energy economy in Nova Scotia. Those were their words, a new energy economy in Nova Scotia and this is exactly what it is that this government seems to think it has acquired with their proposals for the Sable deal. But I have to tell you that that is not the case. Whenever anyone looks in a detailed fashion at any one of the elements of the alleged bundle of benefits, they turn out to be either ephemeral, non-existent, that is to say, or trivial. I am going to go through each and every one of the alleged benefits and look at them with you together so we can try to understand what it is that is being said, but what the actual reality is.

Let's start with jobs, an easy to understand item, one would have thought. There are two phases in this project. The first phase is the construction phase and the second is the operation phase. Mr. Speaker, entirely too many people have stars in their eyes about this project. They think that unemployment is going to be over in Nova Scotia, that our deficit will disappear, that we will have a Heritage Fund like Alberta. Well, let me tell you, that is not even remotely the case. It won't be the case. Take that first element. Everyone will have a job. That is not the case. There are 50,000 unemployed people in this province, plus we have a low participation rate, which means there are a lot of people who have given up looking for jobs.

[Page 5097]

In the interim phase of construction, there is a big boost in terms of jobs, but that is over within a year or so. That is it. It is a short-term phenomenon. That does not lead to any kind of lasting benefit for Nova Scotia. If we are looking for jobs and that is one of the elements of the benefits of the Sable package that we are looking at, and it is reasonable to look for jobs, you have to look at the length of the Sable project and say, well what are the full-time permanent jobs when we are in the production phase? The answer to that is, maximum 240 jobs. That is the maximum that the SOEP proponents put in their documents as to their claims of the most number of jobs that are going to be generated; 240 jobs each year for the lifetime of that project. That doesn't mean 240 additional each year, it means that is what they are going to start off with and they are not going to grow beyond it. That is logical, because most of this is physical infrastructure; once it is built, it doesn't take very many jobs to keep operating it. It takes relatively few people to be on the platforms, relatively few people to service them and very few people to look after those pipelines once they are down in the ground. That's it, 240 jobs. I have to say that 240 jobs is not going to solve the serious unemployment problem in Nova Scotia. (Interruptions)

I hear some members over there saying I am wrong. Let me see some details. There is absolutely nothing inaccurate about what I have said. That is the story about jobs. If you want to take the element of the alleged benefits of jobs, that is the story; no one in the oil and gas business has ever claimed more than 240 jobs. That's it, end of story on that. (Interruptions)

Let's look at another alleged benefit. The next alleged benefit is that there is going to be access to the gas here in Nova Scotia. Is there really going to be sufficient access to gas here in Nova Scotia? (Interruptions)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Order!

MR. EPSTEIN: What is obvious to any independent observer is that from day one, this project was designed by Mobil and Shell for export. That is what they were interested in. They were interested in getting our gas ashore, getting it across Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and getting it down to Maine, New Hampshire and down to the Massachusetts market so they could sell it there. They had no interest in servicing the domestic market in Nova Scotia or elsewhere in the Maritimes because they didn't see that there was an adequate market here or that it should be sold here. What they wanted was to export it to the United States. That is what this project was all about and that is the result, that is what we have. We have a project that is primarily aimed for export.

Let me tell you why it is that once that project was approved with the connection through the United States, it is in the economic interest of the owners of that pipeline to sell as much of their gas in the United States and as little of their gas in the Maritimes as possible. It is because of the differential in the tariff paid in the Maritimes compared with the United States. Once they have spent $1 billion to build a pipeline from Goldboro in Nova Scotia to Draycot in Massachusetts, they get more per unit for the gas once it crosses the border into

[Page 5098]

the United States, significantly more per unit for the gas. Once they have spent that $1 billion, they want to sell the gas at the highest possible return, which means the combined price for gas, plus transportation, and where they get their highest dollar return on that combined basis is for all the gas they sell in the United States. They are just plain not interested in the market here.

It was obvious during the hearings that it was a big surprise to the SOEP partners that there was interest and a market in the Maritimes. They found in the course of the hearings that that market was developing, that there was a real market there. Nova Scotia Power came forward; New Brunswick Power came forward; the Irving interests, through their pulp and paper plant in New Brunswick, came forward. They indicated that all of a sudden, with those three, they wanted to buy about 20 per cent of the daily production. That is just three economic entities here. The SOEP partners were very surprised but, in the end, they kept with their basic plan of export and they introduced the fewest possible laterals to other places in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick that they could possibly get away with, nor did our governments force them to treat this as a Maritimes-first project. They have committed very small amounts of their daily production to the consumers in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick; that fact has simply not changed since day one.

In terms of access to the gas, if we see that as a real benefit here - and I have no doubts that it has some potential for real benefits here - there are no adequate methods in place to show us that that kind of real benefit for us here. It is very limited.

I want to turn now to the third aspect of that and that is, how long will the gas be around? If it is a benefit for us and if we are going to be able to develop industries based on that, how long will we have access to that gas because the deal that was finally struck to provide beneficial rates in the transportation of gas in Nova Scotia is for the first 10 years of the project and then it is gone. The beneficial transportation rate is gone after that period of time. What it means is that the sooner we get access under that scheme by businesses in Nova Scotia, the more benefit we will be able to take out of that beneficial scheme but we are not. Look at the gas distribution scheme that we have got. What it says is over a seven year period, that is to say seven-tenths of that 10 year period, that is the time for the roll-out of gas throughout our province. What it means is that we are going to miss out during that 10 year period of a reduced transportation fee.

Most of our industries are not going to be able to get access to the gas during that time which is when it might be of some benefit. Furthermore, let's look at where the most urgent need for that gas is and that is in industrial Cape Breton, which is under tremendous strain and is in the midst of an economic crisis due to the high unemployment levels, due to the federal closure of Devco, due to the problems with Sysco. All of those amount to a crisis in Cape Breton and what is happening.

[Page 5099]

In order to try to help Sysco along, one of the things that might be of immediate benefit to them would be if they were able to have access to a less expensive energy source than their electricity right now and if they were able to get access to gas now, not seven years from now, not six years or five years or four years from now, but now while it is being built and rolled out at the beginning with that break on transportation in the first year or two, while Hoogovens is still trying to sell it, that would be the time, before it gets rolled up and closed, that is the time to make the gas available. That is exactly what those people who are responsible, economic planners for the Regional Cape Breton Municipality are saying.

I met with Mayor Muise. I met with John Whalley, his advisor. That is what they said. It was at the top of their list. Get the gas here as soon as possible but that is not what we are seeing. That is not at all. It is an urgent need and this so-called benefit for Nova Scotia by access to the gas is simply not happening or not happening at a timetable that is appropriate. (Interruption) Yes, it will go the States on time, no doubt about that.

Let's look at another category of alleged benefit. The next alleged benefit is that our electricity prices will go down. The allegation is that our electricity prices will go down as consumers of electricity in Nova Scotia because Nova Scotia Power will buy gas and will use that to fuel some of its power stations. Let's think carefully about this. During the hearings before the National Energy Board Gaz Metropolitan filed the one and only detailed consultant study that was done of this allegation that there might be lower electricity prices to consumers in Nova Scotia. I read that study.

It was absolutely the only piece of research that was done about the impact on electricity prices as a result of bringing gas to Nova Scotia and here is what it said: it said that you have to recognize that for Nova Scotia Power, its fuel costs are only one-third of its total operating expenses. It has other operating expenses. It has got the payments to make on its capital debt. It has got its money to pay to its employees. It has got other operating expenses. Fuel is only 30 per cent of its costs which means that even if there were a significant reduction in their fuel costs for some of their plants, this is not going to translate into an enormous saving and do you know what that saving was? Ultimately they calculated that the most there might be in terms of overall savings to Nova Scotia Power might be something like 3 per cent. Would that translate into money that would go to consumers of the electricity? I think not.

[5:45 p.m.]

You know where the competition is going to be for that money? Inside Nova Scotia Power there will be competition for that money in terms of greater salaries and benefits for those who work there; greater benefits for those who manage the company; dividends for those who own the shares in the company; increased payments for the debt; payments for better equipment; and upgrades to meet new environmental standards.

[Page 5100]

Those are going to be the competitors for that money, if there is any saving inside Nova Scotia Power and, don't forget, the starting point is that it is going to be very small. I very much doubt that consumers of electricity, people who pay their electricity bills in Nova Scotia, can look at this and say we are going to save money on our electricity bills as a result of gas coming to Nova Scotia. It will be like the amalgamation of the telephone companies: fine for the companies; but not so good for the consumes. That benefit just won't be there.

Now let's look at another alleged benefit. The other alleged benefit was this is just the start; these six fields are only the beginning. There is going to be a big expansion of our oil and gas industry on the offshore. The representatives of SOEP came and they waved their hands about in the air and they talked about this new energy economy that we can all look forward to in Nova Scotia. It would be wonderful. If it were actually the case, it would be a very big help for us here, but do you know what? It isn't. We have to take that very skeptically. However much we might all want that to be the case, hope that it is the case, desire that it is the case, we cannot assume that it is going to be the case. You have to have a hard look at what we actually know about what is recoverable from the offshore so far.

Here is what we know. We know that on our offshore around Sable there are 22 significant discovery licenses, which is an area on the floor of the ocean for which the oil and gas companies believe, as a result of their exploratory drilling, that there might be recoverable resources, but we are not faced with that. Of those 22 SDLs, 16 of them are owned by the SOEP partners. Did they bring 16 of their SDLs forward for evaluation? They didn't. All they brought forward were 6. Why did they only bring 6 of their significant discovery license areas forward for evaluation and a specific proposal at the Natural Energy Board?

I listened for days while their chief geologist, Dr. Goobie, testified about why they only brought forward those six significant discovery licenses. I wasn't the one cross-examining Dr. Goobie. I will tell you who was cross-examining Dr. Goobie. It was Ian Blue representing the Irving interests. It was a whole variety of other lawyers from Toronto and Calgary who represented all the other oil and gas companies and big heavy industrial interests that were at those hearings. Do you know why they were asking her questions? They were interested to know - and they found it essential to know if they were thinking of investing money in converting their plants or being involved in the pipeline business - they wanted to know if there was a security of supply.

Here is what Dr. Goobie said. "Gas molecules bind together with sand and the problem is to get it apart from the sand in an economic way.". She said that between the geological information that they had and the financial information they had, those six SDLs were the only ones that the SOEP partners felt as a result of all their testing, their lab analysis and their financial projections, with all of the resources available to companies like Mobil and Shell, those were the only six fields that they felt that they could reliably come forward and say were economically developable. That means that of the 22 SDLs out there, there are only the 6 that have now received permission to go ahead. We might hope that, at some point in the future,

[Page 5101]

the rest might go, but we cannot build public policy or our hopes or our financial assumptions based on crossing our fingers, waving our hands in the air and saying, maybe it will happen.

You know the consequences of that? Those six fields will be gone in 22 years at the proposed daily rate of extraction. Furthermore, the lines have the capability of being pressurized. If those lines are pressurized, the daily extraction rate goes up to virtually double and all that gas will be gone in 14 years. That is the basis on which we have to make our assumptions and do our planning for public policy. We cannot assume that there is going to be a huge number of more gas fields out there. This is a non-renewable resource.

Let me be clear about what that means. This is not the same as fish, as blueberries or like apples. This is different. If in one year, you don't get a good price for your blueberries, well you can grow them again next year and hope that you get a good price for your blueberries next year, but that is not what it is about when we are talking about a non-renewable resource like gas. Gas molecules do not get together at night and reproduce. It won't do you any good to pollinate them. Once they are gone, they are gone. They are not going to increase.

What that means is that this is a once in a 300 million year opportunity, and if we don't get the right bundle of benefits for our gas, then we have missed the crucial one only opportunity to get the right bundle of benefits. Let me tell you, in everything that I have looked at in this, we haven't got it.

Let me turn to the next category. This is a missed opportunity, you will like this one, this is the back in. Do you remember the back in? Do you remember the provision in the federal-provincial legislation that was agreed to that said that Nova Scotia was the owner, could become the owner of 50 per cent of the pipeline offshore? This was a great business opportunity and what happened? What happened? Well this time I was cross examining. This time I got the opportunity to ask questions of the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources.

Why, I asked, did Nova Scotia choose to waive its right to take 50 per cent ownership of the offshore pipeline? Well, he said, a policy decision was made that Nova Scotia did not want to be in the oil and gas business any more. Well, that is fine, I said to him, but you know, there are many ways not to be in the oil and gas business. One way is to take something you own and sell it for money to somebody else. Did it occur to anybody in your department that they might sell this right for money? That they might go to SOEP and say, we are not interested, but we are prepared to take cash or some other benefit? Well the answer was, no, it didn't.

Could the deputy minister offer me any explanation I asked as to why it was that the Liberal Government made this decision to forgo, for no money and no consideration of any kind, the 50 per cent interest, the back in right that it was guaranteed in a Statute? No, he said, he didn't know. He was left scratching his head. Well, let me tell you, I am left

[Page 5102]

scratching my head and Nova Scotians are left scratching their heads because this is a basic indicator of mismanagement of an opportunity, this is incompetence in a new area to us here, oil and gas. The Liberal Government has simply mismanaged this from day one. (Applause)

Mr. Speaker, I am only halfway through my list. Let me tell you about another one. (Interruptions) We will get to the royalties. That is at the bottom of the list. Let us think about Nova Scotia Resources Limited. Why is it that the Liberal Government thought it didn't want to be in the oil and gas business. There is no wonder why it didn't want to be in the oil and gas business, because of Nova Scotia Resources Limited's bad history, carrying $400 million worth of debt with no hope of ever paying that off.

When we start waving our hands about like the member for Antigonish and saying that this is just great for us, we have to remember that we are starting in the hole. We are starting $400 million in the hole because of what happened with Nova Scotia Resources Limited. Don't leave that out of the equation. That is something that never do you hear them talking about anymore. They seem to forget about it, but there is no way that the revenue generated by gas is going to even remotely take care of that debt. It is not going to happen.

Now, what about a petrochemical industry? We hear about a petrochemical industry and the possibility that that might be developed here. I would like to think that something along those lines might be developed here, very interesting. I would like to have a good hard look at it. Where is it? All we have seen are headlines in which there is an announcement in vague terms that maybe there might be a petrochemical industry, but immediately after we hear this vague blue sky suggestion that there might be some kind of petrochemical industry developed here that the experts begin to talk to us. As soon as we hear from the experts, what do they say? It is too small, the resources here will not generate enough of the liquids necessary in order to support a petrochemical industry here. This is an unknown. It would be nice if that were not the case but, so far, it is a complete unknown and we do not have any solid indicators that there are going to be specific oil and gas business spin-offs based on that product coming from the offshore. It is just not there.

What about the royalties? Well, let's start first with the problem about what might happen if it turns out that we actually do get royalty revenue that is of any size, here in Nova Scotia. The first thing that happens, 70 per cent of it comes right off the top because it is a trade-off under the equalization formula. What that means is, that when we hear formulas that talk about the billions of dollars that are going to flow to Nova Scotia as a result of this development on the offshore, immediately you have to discount all those figures by 70 per cent when you are focusing on the royalties. That is what it says in the equalization formula - 70 per cent comes right off the top, so we are getting 30 cent dollars. This is not something that that government has been able to change by talking with their cousins in Ottawa - nothing, no change.

[Page 5103]

We recently heard in the federal budget changes in the equalization formula and how it is calculated. Was there anything there about changing this aspect of the equalization formula that says let's make the 70 per cent 50 per cent, or zero? It was not there, not by any means. Nothing has happened. There has been nothing that has come from this government's management of this portfolio that has made any impact on that.

Let's focus a little bit more on the royalties as well. We know that the system is set up in tiers. It is set up in tiers so that the amount that comes to the government will increase as we move through different tiers of production and profitability. Over against those profits, the companies are able to write-off, virtually all their expenses associated with that. The basic way this is calculated is going to mean that we are taking a serious risk and I, in the end, do not believe those dollar figures. Where are they? They haven't given us ever a substantiated, detailed analysis that would show how the dollar figures that are claimed for royalties are arrived at. Furthermore, the percentages that are claimed are simply not adequate.

If you go back, Mr. Speaker, and you look at all these different categories of alleged benefits, from jobs to access to the gas, to the hope that electricity prices might be down, to the thought that maybe there are going to be more gas fields here, to the back-in rights and what happened about that, to equalization, to starting in the hole about Nova Scotia Resources, to the royalties, this is a serious problem. Virtually every aspect of this alleged triumph of the government become ephemeral or non-existent.

I find it appalling that we are presented with the kind of resolution that we were offered here today. When you look at it in detail, the one big claim that government tries to make for its management of the economy, is nowhere. It is nowhere. I would be happy to turn to all other aspects of our economy to point out their mismanagement.

MR. SPEAKER: We have a point of order.

The honourable Deputy Government House Leader.

MR. PAUL MACEWAN: The hours of sitting today are just about to expire and I would like to try to indicate the order of business for tomorrow and to move that the House rise to meet again. Perhaps the honourable member could adjourn the debate at this time, so that could be done?

MR. SPEAKER: We are at the hour of interruption. We had a request earlier for an emergency debate. (Interruption) Yes, if you wish to give the business first.

[Page 5104]

[6:00 p.m.]

MR. PAUL MACEWAN: Mr. Speaker, it is our intention tomorrow to sit at the hour of 10:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. The order of business after the daily routine will be Committee of the Whole House on Bills, Bill No. 90, the Workers' Compensation Act. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.

MR. MACEWAN: Mr. Speaker, I would move that the House do now rise to meet again tomorrow morning at the hour of 10:00 a.m.

MR. SPEAKER: Technically we are rising but we have an emergency debate to which we will now proceed.



MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Needham.


MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, this evening we will be dealing with a matter that is of great concern to senior citizens throughout Nova Scotia who feel that they are in jeopardy of losing adequate drug coverage under the Pharmacare Programs in this province. We have a Pharmacare Program, the Seniors' Pharmacare Program in Nova Scotia which is offered to all Nova Scotians aged 65 or older who are registered under MSI. Last year the number of people who were registered users of the Pharmacare Program approximated 108,000 senior citizens. This is a group that continues to grow as the demographics of our society change and we have an aging population.

It will be well known among members here why Pharmacare is such an important feature of the Canadian health care system. As new drug technologies develop we have available to us for the treatment of illness and for the prevention of illness many more drugs than ever before. Our health care system is changing significantly in the way in which we treat disease and illness and the way we engage in prevention of disease and illness so that increasingly drug therapies are a part of health care regimes. Certainly this is why it is very important, particularly for senior citizens, people in their senior years, to have access to drug technologies and the Pharmacare Program, therefore, was a way to socialize the costs and to ensure that in retirement years people would have adequate drug therapy when required.

[Page 5105]

The program currently works in a way that people pay an annual premium and a co-pay on drug use. Last year, in the spring, members in this House debated a resolution in June and adopted a resolution with the intention of improving the Pharmacare Program in Nova Scotia. At that time during the debate on this resolution members of this House indicated their intention to establish a working committee to look into the workings of the Pharmacare Program with a view to potentially reducing or eliminating premiums and also with a view to looking at a more efficient Pharmacare Program, one that could potentially eliminate the duplication of premiums. The situation is that there are many senior citizens who have private health care plans and these plans varied considerably. In some cases, seniors pay monthly premiums to a private insurer that will cover things that aren't covered under the public Pharmacare plan - things like ambulatory care, things like a private or a semi-private hospital room in case of hospitalization. Some private drug plans will pay for drugs that are not covered under the provincial Pharmacare Program and some drug plans will top-up the percentage of drug costs that aren't covered by the provincial Pharmacare plan.

So it is a very complicated, diverse set of plans that senior citizens in Nova Scotia have, in addition to the provincial Pharmacare Program. I think what members in this House envisioned last year was that this working group, with the assistance of the minister and officials in his department, would be able to get access to information about all of the various plans, the potential for eliminating the duplication, the ways in which to improve on the plan and we would be standing here today with some substantial improvements or recommendations for improvements. However, that has not occurred and quite the opposite, in fact, has occurred since we made the decision one year ago to try and improve the Pharmacare plan.

What, in fact, has occurred is that a rather premature announcement has been made by the Department of Health that they are changing the existing regulations of the Pharmacare Program so that now private insurers will be the first payees and they have also decided to eliminate the drug subsidy for senior citizens who have the lowest incomes of seniors that are enrolled in this plan. Now why is this a premature announcement? The announcement is premature because the negotiations that would be required with both the private insurance industry and the federal government have neither been conducted nor concluded. This has left literally thousands of Nova Scotians unsure of what it is they should do in terms of making a choice between their participation in the provincial Pharmacare Program or continuing on with their private insurers. In particular, I think, the persons who are federal retirees, be it from the Department of National Defence, or persons who have been employees of the federal government and, certainly, in this province, we have a substantial number of senior citizens who are in that situation.

Mr. Speaker, I know that my phone certainly has been ringing a lot by seniors who want to know what are the implications of choosing to go one route or the other. The tragedy, I think, of the situation is that this entire process could have been avoided if we had had the adequate consultation that we were promised and that we are now being promised after the

[Page 5106]

fact. I have to say that the advertisements in the newspaper advertising a 1-800 line for seniors to call to get information is not consultation. It is an exercise in damage control, it is inadequate and it is unacceptable in terms of responding to this very serious matter and the pressure that many seniors feel with that April 1st deadline looming in front of them, at which time they have to make a decision.

I think there are many questions the Minister of Health needs to address while we are here tonight in this debate. I think we need more information about the implications of this shift onto private plans. What are the implications for the premium costs for Nova Scotians in the labour force, who quite often are participating in these plans?

The way many group drug plans work, as I understand, is premiums are based on the use of drugs in the prior year. As we make this shift now from the provincial Pharmacare Program into private plans, the impact of this is going to be greater use of private plans, therefore premiums will go up not only for the senior citizens who are participating in private plans, but in fact the premiums will go up for all participants in those plans and perhaps in a rather substantial way.

I know when the minister made the announcement, back in February, with respect to these changes, he was questioned by the press as to what would happen to private plans, and he indicated that this was something that would be monitored. I think that is a problem, we need to know in advance the implications. I think what has really occurred here is the cart has been put before the horse and it has created an extraordinary amount of stress and confusion for people who can least deal with stress and confusion quite often, so we need to look at some solutions.

I would ask the minister to put his plan on hold: to complete the negotiations with the private insurers before these regulations take effect; that he commit to seniors that they will not suffer a loss in drug coverage; that they will not have to bear an increase in the financial costs; that he release at once the consultation paper and complete a public discussion before these changes take effect; that the action plan he has promised with respect to Pharmacare, based on the recommendations contained in a 1994 report from a working group on Pharmacare, be developed and put before the public for discussion and debate; that he reconsider the implications of the loss of the rebate for low-income seniors, in particular seniors who are in receipt of the guaranteed annual supplement, who are the most poor in our society, and that he engage in a process where we can realistically look at developing a plan to reduce or eliminate premiums as soon as possible. Thank you.

[Page 5107]

[6:15 p.m.]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Health.

HON. JAMES SMITH: Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to join this debate on recent changes in the Pharmacare. The honourable member in introducing the debate today did mention quite correctly, and I would like to say as well, that all seniors are covered in Nova Scotia, and I think that is unique, particularly in Atlantic Canada, but in many other provinces, and certainly with a modest premium and co-pay. There is universality, so I would like to start by just saying we are not debating fee increases, we are not debating any change in universality. All seniors in Nova Scotia will continue to be covered.

Mr. Speaker, tonight we are seeing something unique. We are seeing the NDP calling an emergency debate to protect big business at the expense of the taxpayers of Nova Scotia and at the expense of the seniors of Nova Scotia, defending private plans and big businesses in Canada. So, I would like to note that that is perhaps a first.

Madam Speaker, I do welcome the opportunity to address the current concerns surrounding Nova Scotia's Pharmacare Program. First and foremost, this government inherited a Pharmacare Program that was near bankruptcy. We took action and as a result, we have one of the most generous programs in the country today. As I said earlier today in Question Period, I believe it to be number two behind Ontario. We intend to keep it that way and with the initiatives that we have introduced in 1999 and 2000, we will keep it that way. We want to ensure that the seniors of this province will have the drug insurance that they need and that they deserve.

Let me remind the honourable member for Halifax Needham of a statement that she made in this House on June 17, 1998, and I will quote from Hansard, "The concerns that have been expressed are concerns that there are many seniors who feel that the program as it currently exists, doesn't make sense. There are seniors who are paying into private programs and, yet, they have to pay the premium and it is the Pharmacare Program that pays first for their drug needs. So this has been a question that many senior citizens have raised, about whether or not the system, as it currently exists, is efficient.". The honourable member then goes on to ask, "What is it that we can do to make this system work better in the interests of senior citizens?". That is a good question.

The Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party submitted a resolution that asked to put an end to the multimillion dollar subsidy that Nova Scotian taxpayers are providing to the federal pension plan. In addition, the honourable member for Queens also submitted a resolution which in part bears repeating, and I quote, "Whereas it would be better to have private plans serve as first payers rather than the taxpayer funded Liberal Pharmacare plan;".

[Page 5108]

Madam Speaker, we have done exactly what the honourable members wanted us to do and we have done exactly what the seniors were requesting us to do. The majority of the letters and calls that we have received from the seniors of this province were in response to the fact that they were being put in the position to have to pay two premium payments: one to private insurers and one to the Pharmacare premium. Seniors told us this was not fair; they told us that they were not being treated fairly or equitably. We agreed. Judging by the resolutions that I just read to you, it sounds to me that the honourable members opposite, agree as well.

Seniors in this province are not getting the same benefits from some private major plans as seniors in other provinces with the same plans. In some instances, seniors were required to join Pharmacare to get that same level of coverage. Seniors in this province are paying the same premium but getting different benefits. Seniors in this province are being discriminated against and it is not just me saying it. Today a local newspaper actually quoted a senior saying that seniors, ". . . are being discriminated against here because we live in Nova Scotia.".

What did this government do and what does it mean to seniors? As of April 1, 1999, seniors in this province with private drug insurance will finally be able to access that insurance to the same extent as other seniors. They will finally be able to get their money's worth. We have heard from seniors who are thrilled that we have taken this step on their behalf. They are thrilled that they will no longer have to pay that second premium.

We are hearing from seniors who have concerns, no question. Why? Because their private insurer has not told them what they will do after April 1st. It is the private insurers who are causing these seniors great concern and anxiety. It is the private insurers who are not giving the seniors the answers that they are looking for. Some are deliberately not communicating with the seniors for whom they bear responsibility.

Need I remind the honourable member for Halifax Needham of a resolution that I read in the House just this afternoon where I urged private insurers to live up to their responsibilities and immediately contact their senior members. She was the only No in this room today, I believe, on that motion. Unfortunately the New Democratic Party continue to choose scaremongering tactics. They seem to want to continue the approach even when it is at the expense of our most vulnerable citizens, our seniors.

I would like to note that there are some private insurers who have contacted their seniors and I would like to pay them credit. Some insurers have acted responsibly and immediately responded to their senior members and have assured them that their drug insurance needs will be met. It was not a question of time, they were able to do that. Others have not.

[Page 5109]

What have we done in response? We do not and will not let any senior go without the drug coverage that they need. We do not and we will not let Nova Scotian seniors suffer at the hands of some private insurers. Seniors with private drug insurance can join the Nova Scotia Seniors' Pharmacare Program while they wait to hear back from their private insurer. We have introduced this temporary measure to alleviate their concerns. Many seniors are finding comfort with this option.

There seems to be some question around the consultation process to moving Pharmacare to insurer of last resort. Let me address that concern right here and now. We did consult on this issue about two years ago. No agreement was reached. They continued to let their interests protect their plans supersede their responsibility to the senior members. We were very disappointed in this response but remain committed to finding a solution for our seniors.

Let me remind you about the seniors' working group that we established in the fall. This was a group comprised mainly of seniors. They also recommended that we move Pharmacare to insurer of last resort. This last resort would allow us to give the seniors with private plans what they wanted. The working group also recommended that we do a broad consultation to look at the provisions of drugs for Nova Scotians including children and low income families. We have accepted this recommendation and we will be issuing a discussion paper this spring, shortly.

Obviously there was enough time for some insurers to make a decision, I mentioned this earlier. Some good corporate companies in this province have responded immediately. We didn't run into the issue that we are seeing with others. Unfortunately there are still a few who have chosen to keep their seniors in the dark. We remain firm in our position that private insurers should be the primary insurer for their senior members. This is what the seniors asked for, and this is what we continue to advocate.

Mr. Speaker, in closing, I just want to say again, we are not debating fee increases, we are having a sustainable Pharmacare Program for seniors, we have universality. All seniors are covered. As we like to mention in some of the other provinces that we look at, that these just are not available to those seniors. I am sure the measures that we are bringing in are fair and just and we ask that those private insurers that are not complying think of the seniors to whom they have responsibility. Thank you. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.

MR. GEORGE MOODY: Mr. Speaker, I rise in the emergency debate on seniors' Pharmacare. There is no question how important this program is. Seniors are growing in numbers in this province and when this Pharmacare Program started out in 1974, there were 80,000 seniors. Now we probably have over 120,000 seniors in the Pharmacare Program and still growing. So this is a very important program.

[Page 5110]

I agreed with much of what the Minister of Health said. The only problem I had was when he said they changed the program in 1975 because it was bankrupt. They changed the program, Mr. Speaker, because they were not committed to seniors to put the money in to keep the program going as such. In 1995, I said to the Minister of Health of the day - it is not this minister's fault - the then minister, Ron Stewart, I said, the day you take away from the private payer is the day Nova Scotians lose. We were the only province in Canada that decided to change it so that we became the first payer and let all the private sector plans off the hook and plus the federal plan as well. I said we would regret that day and we do regret that day. Now we are trying to put it back. I commend the minister of the day for trying to fix the problems that the then minister caused for the seniors of this province. That is when the problem started, in 1995. Now we see a minister who is willing to look at trying to put together a program that is fair and is universal and, also, trying to make sure that we are getting our fair share from the private sector, as well as the federal government, which all other provinces are getting.

I am amazed that in this province, the federal government program for retired civil servants is having difficulty being the payer when they are the first payer in every other province. I commend the minister on this change. I know we agreed to a working group and, unfortunately, every group works in a constrained time-frame. That is usually part of the problem. I know they worked to look at all kinds of ways to make the plan better for seniors. I know many of those people who are on that working group. They are very sincere and want to do the right job.

We started out trying to eliminate premiums for seniors because that is still what seniors want in this province. How are we going to do that? The government, obviously, said, we can't put any more money in, so we have to work with the money we have and I am sure that is why we couldn't come up with taking the premium off at the present time. But there has to be a consultation process. What we have now, it is not so much as what is happening is bad, it is the confusion for the seniors because lack of information and communication. Many seniors were sent a number of forms. It said on the form, if you have a private plan, we are no longer going to cover you. That became a problem and we had a short time-frame to try to get the information. The people working over in the Pharmacare office were working night and day. I know they were trying to help every individual, returning phone calls. They were working, Mr. Speaker, but there were so many seniors who didn't understand the information that they were given. That became a problem. That is the reason many of us got calls. Once you explained it to them and once they understood what was trying to be done, that was fine, but we created a lot of anxiety for a lot of those people because it was uncertainty.

Mr. Speaker, one of the things that affects most people, everybody, whether you are a senior or anybody else, is uncertainty. For many of those seniors who became uncertain if they were covered or not, that became a real crisis for many of them. Unfortunately, they didn't have to go through that because, as the minister said, nobody will be taken off the list.

[Page 5111]

Everybody will be looked after. The problem is trying to get the information from the insurance companies.

[6:30 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, many people contacted their own insurers. They never got a straight answer. They got an answer, no, we are not going to cover you or maybe we will cover you, which was very unfortunate but, you know, those companies are quick to make a profit off our seniors and I think it is time that seniors stop paying two premiums because in this province they were forced to pay the Pharmacare premium and if they wanted to carry the other program, they ended up paying the second premium. Now, I know the NDP have difficulty in going after those private insurers and I know they have difficulty in that aspect but I still think that we have to go back. We are going to save money that can be put in the seniors' program by allowing and forcing the private companies and the federal government to pay their fair share as they are in other provinces.

I know that there has to be a process, Mr. Speaker. The problem again, as in 1975, the problem in 1975 was (Interruption) I am sorry, 1995, was that seniors were not adequately consulted and here we have some changes that are going to occur. There has to be a consultation process so that the seniors' groups around the province are visited by those who are administering the program so that seniors have a say in what the options are for them down the road. In other words, they actually have meaningful input in the kind of program that will end up being the program for many years to come.

I am kind of concerned that if that consultation does not start soon, we are going to be in another full year's crisis where maybe the government will have to tinker again with the Pharmacare Program and the seniors will not be informed and, again, they will go through that anxiety period, Mr. Speaker, where many of them will be upset unnecessarily, not knowing whether the drugs are covered or not.

You know, Mr. Speaker, we have to find ways and by bringing in the private insurer and the federal government, I am hoping will free up enough money because there are many medications out there. When you talk about universality, yes, we have universality but there are many drugs that are not covered by the Seniors' Pharmacare Program that the senior ends up having to buy themselves. Now, that does not even count towards the $200 co-pay because they end up having to buy certain prescriptions that are not covered by the Pharmacare Program.

Mr. Speaker, as new drugs become available, you know that the new drugs that are coming on the market, so many of them not only can save lives, they also can enhance the quality of life for many of the seniors of this province. So we have to work so that we have the funds available so that nobody in this province will be deprived of having the new medication that is available and now we have a two-tiered system because if I can afford it,

[Page 5112]

obviously I go out and buy it but if I cannot afford it, I am in the income bracket that I cannot afford it, then I do not get it and I do not get the same quality of life that somebody else has. That is a two-tiered system. We have a universal system to a degree and, yes, everybody is covered but they are not covered in the way that we would like to see.

There is absolutely no question that the program has grown in costs, $80 million to $100 million in the whole program. Why did it grow? Well, we know that there are new medications on the market. We also know the number of seniors are growing. We are living longer and also more of us are reaching that age. Mr. Speaker, we have to make sure in this province whatever program we talk about for seniors - and Pharmacare is one of the most important programs that seniors have in this province - they feel very strongly that they have contributed a great deal to this province. They feel very strongly that it is time that they got something back for what they have given, many years of their life to this province. One of the things they see as a benefit, in recognition of their great sacrifices and the things they have given, is through this Pharmacare Program. God help any government who decides to try to take it away.

We saw in the last election, one of the biggest issues I faced when I went to a senior's door was the premium on the Pharmacare Program, and what they felt was the unfairness of the present Pharmacare Program. That led us to a working group to try to address the unfairness that was in that system. We heard that from many seniors.

This is only the beginning, to make those private insurers pay, it is only the beginning. There is a lot of work. I know the minister has a report from the working group, and I am sure he has information. I don't know if he is going to table that, or if we are going to get to see that, but I am sure in that working group's report that there were many suggestions and alternatives as to how to improve the system. But there then has to be that consultation process that goes on so that seniors have meaningful input and then when changes are made, somebody goes around and meets with the seniors' groups of this province.

Mr. Speaker, seniors are very active in this province. We have seniors' groups all over this province. They do a lot of good work in the community. They are volunteers. They contribute a great deal. They would, I know, love to have somebody come down and meet with them and say this is where the program is, here are some suggestions, alternatives. What do you think? If you had to make choices, what would you do? Everybody has to make choices, this government has to make choices. We all make choices in life. But the best choices we make are when the people that they affect have some input into the choices that are made and somebody doesn't make the choice totally for them, but allows them to have a say.

What we need is for this group to go around the province, meet with the seniors, get some suggestions, and then when the implementation takes place, again people go around so that seniors can then fully understand what changes are occurring and why they are occurring

[Page 5113]

and how they benefit from it. If you could do that, if that could be done, you will get the support of the seniors.

Seniors are about the fairest people you will ever meet. They understand the financial situation. They understand that everything we want in life we don't get. They understand that if you go to them and you are reasonable with them, they will be reasonable with you. Here is an opportunity for the government to do that, to recognize that they don't set up what they think best for seniors but that seniors have the opportunity to know and have input in really what is best for them.

Mr. Speaker, this plan was set up in 1974. This plan in 1974 cost $7 million, can you believe? Now we have grown and grown and it will continue to grow. Any government that thinks no matter what changes you make that this plan isn't going to grow has their head in the sand, because it is going to grow. Are you prepared, as a government, to make the commitment to the seniors, to help them have a plan that is most effective and yet meets their needs, yet is universal, but allows those who can contribute in some way to contribute to the plan either through co-pay or some means? They understand that.

We have to make a commitment that first we believe that seniors in this province deserve a Pharmacare Program and that we believe the Pharmacare Program should be universal and fair, and make sure that the medications that are needed by the seniors of this province can be gotten through the program and not only those who have the money can go out and buy the program to help them with their quality of life. We have to make sure that seniors are treated fairly.

I will work with this government and support them with regard to the private insurers and the federal government - obviously I support what they are doing in that area - but I want them to go one step further. That one step further is to take that working group on the road so that this time next year - and surely a year is long enough if we start now - if further changes are needed, because I believe down the road, if we can find a way to eliminate the premium - and I know my time is running out - and have the seniors pay some in a varied manner, that that is the way we should go. We should allow seniors to be part of that process and not tell them this is the way it is going to be.

Mr. Speaker, this emergency debate is covering a topic that touches over 100,000 people in this province, one that is very important. I hope we can all work together to make it an even better program.

[Page 5114]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth North.

MR. JERRY PYE: Mr. Speaker, first I want to thank the honourable member for Halifax Needham for bringing this emergency debate to the floor. I think it is a very important debate, quite timely, and also, hopefully, after this debate is over we will at least have some sense of direction where, in fact, seniors' Pharmacare is going to go in Nova Scotia.

Mr. Speaker, I want to make some clarity. First of all, I want to respond to a comment made by the Minister of Health and also the member for Kings West, with respect to the New Democratic Party allowing the private insurers off the hook. Our caucus certainly supports the idea of seniors not being asked to pay for two sets of premiums. I want to make that perfectly clear - once again, we do not support the fact that seniors ought to pay for two sets of premiums. If seniors can have good quality, comprehensive care with a private plan, reducing the cost on that public plan, then we support this. Our problem is the approach to the House, the horse before the cart. Confusion, no negotiations and no consultations with the seniors. There must be this, this must be the approach in order to make effective change. Each and every year for the last three years there have been issues and items in the news with respect to seniors' Pharmacare, each and every year causing confusion to seniors as to what is going to happen to their Pharmacare Program. That kind of confusion has caused stress and anxiety to those very seniors who can least afford to have this stress and anxiety.

Mr. Speaker, that is not the issue I am going to speak about because I think it has been well covered by the previous two speakers. The issue I want to speak about is the Guaranteed Income Supplement with respect to the senior pensioners, single, widowed pensioners. I want to state some statistical information here for the Hansard record. I want to say that single, widowed or divorced pensioners, $11,600; married couples, both pensioners' combined income, $15,000; married pensioners whose husbands or wives are not pensioners, $28,000; married pensioners whose husbands or wives are between 60 to 64 years of age could be eligible for spouses' allowance if the combined income is $21,000. The GIS recipients are eligible for a trust fund which, in effect, is going to be removed. A credit was applied to a trust fund of $300, $215 for the premium. Those seniors then would receive a rebate of $85. Those seniors who received the credit were not required to submit the premium payment.

Remember that back in 1974 the honourable member for Kings West indicated that, in fact, Pharmacare came to Nova Scotia in 1974. Well, I do believe it was full coverage and there actually were no co-pays in 1974.

Allow me to tell you the number of people who have received rebates last year, Mr. Speaker. Last year there were 108,000 seniors who qualified for the Pharmacare Program in Nova Scotia. Of the 108,000, 41,000 seniors received rebates from the trust fund, that rebate of $85, that is 40 per cent of those who were eligible for the Pharmacare Program.

[Page 5115]

What has changed? Last spring the Minister of Health struck a working group on seniors' Pharmacare, to explore the funding on alternatives to make recommendations. The minister announced that based on the recommendations from the working group that changes would be made to the Pharmacare. That change included money that was used to go into the rebate program, the trust fund, will now go directly into the Pharmacare Program to help cover the costs for all seniors under the program. That means that as of April 1st, and many seniors in Nova Scotia are unaware of this, they will not qualify for the $85 rebate.

[6:45 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, the trust fund ceases to exist and so does the rebate to low income seniors. The money from the premium co-payments and the province's contribution will not go for rebates but to subsidize the growing cost of prescription drugs. So in the past the low income seniors could receive a trust fund credit of up to $300. The government would deduct the $215 annual premium leaving a remaining $85. A cheque for this amount would be sent to the seniors with the intent that it would be used to help the seniors pay their 20 per cent share of the prescription drug and here is the gist of the whole picture that I have here. During Question Period today, Mr. Speaker, I asked the minister the question, how does the minister plan to protect the health care and the well-being of low income seniors who now have to pay more for health care? This was with respect because they were not going to receive their $85 rebate.

I was embarrassed because the Minister of Health made a statement that, in fact, he considered this a social benefit and it should come from the Department of Health. So now the seniors are not only receiving a Pharmacare Program but they are embarrassed by having to go to the Department of Health to get this $85 if there needs to be a supplement on that co-pay or in order to get that co-pay payment. So, Mr. Speaker, herein lies the problem. Seniors are quite a proud group of individuals and as a quite proud group of individuals find it extremely difficult to go to Community Services through an income supplement to have their Pharmacare drugs covered.

I just want to say that the rationale for cancelling this rebate is objectionable. What proof does the province have that these seniors were not using these rebates for drug costs? The condescending tone towards these low income seniors is reminiscent of Mike Harris; welfare cuts, as he said, now it is seniors' cuts and it is seniors' cuts to the health care program by taking away that $85 rebate. (Interruptions)

Mr. Speaker, I have received numerous calls from seniors and the calls from seniors are quite concerned. Now, what do they do as a result of not getting that $85 rebate with respect to this Pharmacare? Many seniors are, in fact, insulted by the fact that they have felt that this was an abuse of that Pharmacare Program, that rebate.

[Page 5116]

Mr. Speaker, what many seniors told me is that what they would do is prorate this cost over. Every time they received a Pharmacare drug they would spend those dollars and calculate it over the period of time in which they needed those Pharmacare drugs. Those were very important dollars to those seniors. You will have to forgive me if I become a little bit emotional about the Seniors' Pharmacare Program because the area that I represent has a significantly high number of seniors, many seniors whom in fact are the recipients of that rebate, many of the seniors who were the low income seniors whom, in fact, are a part of the 41,000, are many of those seniors who, in fact, live in Dartmouth North. It is important that I bring this to the attention of the Minister of Health with respect to this very issue. Mr. Speaker, I truly appreciate the opportunity to speak on this issue and thank you very much.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Justice.

HON. ROBERT HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, it is interesting, I have listened to this debate and we have come at it from a number of points of view but I was particularly interested in the former Health Minister's comments that we were not committed to seniors and that the fund was bankrupt.

When we, as a government, faced what were spiralling and escalating health costs, we were not alone in this country. Health costs were, for a variety of reasons, getting to the point where there was some question as to whether the finest health care delivery system in the world was going to be sustainable for Canadians. Compounding the problem is the fact that a demographic cohort of affectionately called baby boomers is about eight or nine years from the acute care system which, in fact, post-65 years of age expends well over 80 per cent in this province of the roughly $1.5 billion spent on health care. So not only did we have an incredible Canadian escalation of costs, including Pharmacare, but we have limited time, as a country and as a province, to come to terms with the sorts of reforms that are necessary to sustain this system we consider essential to our identity as Canadians. Often people talk about the wonders of the American system without realizing that everyone east of the Ontario border, were we to emulate the American system, would be without medical benefits in this country. That is the significant difference between the Americans and the Canadians at this point in time.

Bankrupt was a strong term. In fact, what he was referring to was the trend line on escalating costs within Pharmacare. So, as a government responsible for both managing the social agenda in one of the most generous programs in the country, that still is, in fact, if not the most generous in the country, we had to manage the formulary, we had to manage the trend lines in terms of costs, we had to try to find a balance for an escalating number of seniors entering that group - 120,000-plus now - and attempt to manage all that along with all the other elements of health care reform that needed management, from emergency health services to ambulatory surgical procedures. We were lagging behind other provinces. So there was a tremendous amount of change that needed to take place.

[Page 5117]

In the last federal budget we all know now that $11.5 billion was committed to health care in this country, at a time when Canadians from one end of the land to the other, and governments and Health Ministers and Premiers, were all saying every other priority has importance but no other priority has the importance of health care. So Mr. Martin's budget over the next number of years made a commitment of $11.5 billion.

One of the commitments that the Health Minister in Ottawa also made was to spend $0.5 billion on measuring the results of the investment, much more effectively than we ever have before. The members opposite who have had the privilege of serving in the Health portfolio would know full well that on emergency health services, we didn't know where ambulances were going, who they were picking up, for what distances, at what costs and, because we didn't have that information, there was an absence of the kind of management that has been brought to bear on emergency health services today.

There was an absence of information on procedures, on waiting lists, on the results of those procedures and there still continues to be in this country, with the finest health system in the world, an absence of accurate information. Part of the response we could argue here, in terms of a partisan argument about whether it is enough, whether it is putting it back, whether it should have been taken in the first place and all those arguments, the reality is that $0.5 billion is committed to research and information that will lead, I think, to better decision making on what is an essential Canadian task for every political Party, for every citizen, for every senior. I could not agree more, seniors want to be involved in these discussions. I, too, on the doorstep ran into people who said, why am I paying two premiums?

Those same people did not parade around this Legislature, they didn't call me many more times. I made a commitment to ask the then Ministers of Health, just why are they paying twice? (Interruption) The member opposite who works in the health care system is now saying to me that the reason they didn't call me back was because they didn't trust me. In fact, we continued to have conversations about double premiums. They were part of the 18,000 to 20,000 citizens of this province who had private plans, that understood that something was amiss here if they are paying one premium and paying a second and getting albeit wonderful formularies and wonderful Pharmacare services compared to other provinces, the essential question was why are we paying double?

The commitment that we made, that I made as an individual MLA was we are going to find that out. I did. We gave them back the answer. Then as members opposite, both this Legislature, the working groups, seniors across the province said it is time to do something about it, and so we took steps to do something about it. It was interesting, the minister stood up and said it is fascinating to hear the New Democrats, particularly the newest member of the New Democratic caucus who was shouting across the floor about not being trusted, to be here in emergency debate supporting a private company that is denying benefits to its premium payers is absurd. It is absolutely absurd to be basing this debate on private sector . . .

[Page 5118]

MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. Just because a minister stands up and makes a statement, that does not make it correct. I am sure that the minister when he is making his statement that we were standing up defending the private insurance companies, I am sure that that is because the minister is ill-informed or can't have been listening very carefully at the time because, if he had been, he would know that what was being argued was for the protection of the seniors and the seniors' health care program, and I am giving the minister the opportunity . . .

MR. SPEAKER: There is no point of order.

MR. HARRISON: Mr. Speaker, I kind of knew it wouldn't be a point of order. The member opposite suggests that I wasn't listening. I am listening totally. The purpose for this debate is because there is an emergency in the eyes of the Health Critic for the New Democratic Party. The fact is that the emergency is that we have a private sector company that is not honouring its obligation to those paying the premium to that company and providing benefits in this province that they are providing throughout the country. That is the emergency.

I didn't hear any of that in the discussion. What I am hearing is that the government has somehow created a problem. The problem here is with a private-sector company. The government has already offered the solution to the Premiers caught in this vice. For the New Democratic Party to be standing on their feet in emergency debate without lambasting the company that has known for quite some time, because of consultation that we were heading this way, that is responding to premium payers who happen to be seniors in the province and should be responding the way they are in every other province - I am going to repeat it - it is absurd.

However, I do know that the New Democratic Party is interested in seniors not just politics, but tonight and this afternoon when this bill was introduced . . .

MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: I'm not so sure about that.

MR. HARRISON: Well, perhaps the member for Kings North who isn't sure about the intention of the New Democratic Party would like to rise on a point of order then.

Back to the issue. First of all the province has taken a mechanism to ensure that while we contact Mr. Massey while we have confidence that this will be sorted out, in the interim period those seniors do not have to worry. As the member for Kings North said, that is the first step. The first step is to correct this problem.

AN HON. MEMBER: Kings West.

[Page 5119]

MR. HARRISON: Kings West, that is right. The member for Kings North clapped, but the member for Kings West said it. That is right, and that we do have an obligation with our seniors to ensure that seniors get good information on the level of prescription drugs being administered to seniors in this province. There has been a suggestion that it will always continue to grow based on the costs of drugs, based on the size of the senior population.

Those are all sensible arguments, but it all has to grow in the context of an envelope that has to be sustainable for Canadians. There has to be much more of a team effort by seniors themselves who have more say than ever before in their own Pharmacare Program, by physicians, by pharmacists, by to a certain extent the drug companies themselves, by primary health care deliverers who ensure that wellness defeats the need for medication, and the whole issue of the way seniors access the health care system and the Pharmacare Program as part of that is an obligation that can't be sort of passed off only to the Department of Health, only to a seniors' working group, only to seniors by themselves.

[7:00 p.m.]

We all have to be committed to looking at health care reform, and by that I mean the best practices that will lead to a sustainable system, an affordable and sustainable and universally accessible system within this country is everyone's job. It is not just a job for seniors. It is important for all of us to understand not only how accessible is this program, but when the members opposite talk about other provinces, it is my understanding that in Saskatchewan, the premium is $1,700. There is no cap on the co-pay. So compared to Nova Scotia, that is a far more difficult program on many seniors in the Province of Saskatchewan than is ours. Ours has been built on a much more generous foundation and footing. Not only do seniors need to know that, but Nova Scotians need to know that.

As the member opposite said, perhaps the working group will decide that premiums are no longer the way we want to do this, that the province isn't injecting new funds. In fact, the province continues to inject new dollars into Pharmacare. But decisions about the Seniors' Pharmacare Program and the sustainability of that, I fully agree, need to be part of, in a sense, the shareholders' annual report that goes out to seniors and Nova Scotians, so they see that connected to all other aspects of the health care system.

I, in my opinion, believe that the department was open and transparent in its intent to ensure that private-sector companies would be insurers of first resort. They have known that for quite some time. There is no excuse for the private-sector companies to be doing what they are now doing to the seniors of Nova Scotia. Consultation, advance notice, all of those things took place. Full intent was conveyed and we have a dilemma on our hands now because one of those private insurers is not living up to their responsibilities with regard to the seniors of this province. This Department of Health, this province, intends to ensure that they do. It intends to ensure that those private companies live up to their obligations to those who pay the premiums and that they become the insurers of first resort.

[Page 5120]

How many minutes do I have, Mr. Speaker?

MR. SPEAKER: You have about three minutes left.

MR. HARRISON: Let me just sum up once again by talking about the intent to have the working group travel. I think whether the working group travels or not, the intent of this government is to ensure that we build a Pharmacare Program second to none with the seniors of this province and with those who will eventually be seniors in this province, but we do so within the context of a health care system that needs to spend our share of that $0.5 billion on getting quality research, quality information, so that Canadians of all ages can help to reform, renew the health care system of Canada so that it is available to generations to come, that post-baby boom generations will continue to enjoy the system that we, virtually, have taken for granted for a long time. (Interruption)

I can't hear the heckle. I would love to respond to it, but maybe the member for Chester-St. Margaret's would like to repeat the heckle, but, at any rate, perhaps not. Maybe he will rise to his feet in a moment and we will get to hear the benefit of it. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cumberland North.

MR. ERNEST FAGE: Mr. Speaker, I rise to make a few comments, convey some words and thoughts and concerns regarding the Seniors' Pharmacare Program during this emergency debate. What we are talking about, in essence, here tonight is the health, safety and well-being of the people who have contributed so much to our society, our way of living here in Nova Scotia. We are talking about the very people who built the society that we cherish, who built the good things that we enjoy. We are talking about how we treat them, how we treat those seniors and how we treat their health care concerns and how we are going to fund it; how we are going to treat their perception of how they should be treated.

I want you to know, Mr. Speaker, and each and every member here, I have received a lot of phone calls from seniors who are very concerned about their health care needs, the cost of the premium, whether they should be paying the $215, whether the private plan is going to take over, are they going to be covered, or will they fall through the cracks? These are very serious questions and these people are very concerned. These people are the very people who require our guidance, our care, and for us to listen to those concerns.

This whole situation has arisen, as far as I can tell, because of a lack of communication and consultation with the senior groups but as well a government and a department determined to rush a policy change and a policy change I think, in my view, that is correct and right but they rushed that change. They started too late to implement it. All private caregiver groups, other government agencies that would provide coverage under the Pharmacare Program as the first payers, were not thoroughly consulted. The negotiations as to how, when, where and who would pay under what circumstances were not thoroughly and fully

[Page 5121]

completed and the government was in a hurry to meet their April 1st deadline so they issued a very confusing directive to the seniors of this province.

Rightly, seniors were very concerned and reacted by calling MLAs, by contacting the media, by contacting the private caregivers or private care provider companies that they were associated with or the pension plan from other governments in this country but that common thread of confusion and uncertainty over whether they were going to have full coverage was a huge concern to them. I made inquiries with the Department of Health. They would endeavour at first to make sure hopefully nobody fell through the cracks. In this very Chamber, in Public Accounts, when Dr. Nuala Kenny was in to provide testimony, her senior department people when I quizzed them on that very question early in this process said all I can assure you, and I am paraphrasing, is that we will endeavour, if somebody goes through the cracks, to hear their case and possibly reinstate them.

Mr. Speaker, it has moved a long ways from that point because at that point I was very concerned about the attitude and what was happening with this fundamental change back to where it should be and how it was being implemented. As of the last week, as recently as two days ago, some of the seniors I deal with, with the superannuation, for instance, with the federal government department, are assuring me that they are getting close to finishing that negotiation and it is one that is proper that we should be the payer of last resort so that we save every one of those precious health care dollars for use for the seniors or other requirements they would have in their health needs in the future but this is the only province, as a result of a former Minister of Health in this province, where the federal government is the payer of last resort with their pension plan employees, the only province. Every other province in this country, the federal government is the first payer in conjunction with those provincial Pharmacare plans.

That is what happens when you decide you have to reform everything when you come to government. We see it not only in this department but we see it in many departments where reform has gone mad. You put things together, where you adjust things, where you take things out and then we have a look at it after it is all done and they said maybe it is working and maybe it is not but we have adjusted.

When you look at the health care budget as a whole, remember there has never been less money in health care. You hear proponents of government defending decisions that there is less money in health care. There was never less money spent in this province. The deputy minister testified in this House that there was never less money spent. It is how you spend it and the seniors' program is one of the finest programs in Nova Scotia and one of the finest programs in the country. It is swinging, and I am glad to see it is swinging under this minister's guidance back to where it should be, where this province is conserving its dollars, providing quality care, and ensuring that other governments and private health care insurers are the first payers. That is what those people had those plans paid for in the first place. It was

[Page 5122]

for that coverage, not for Nova Scotia and Nova Scotians to provide their scarce health care dollars and become the payer of first choice.

A complaint and a concern raised to me many times with the seniors that phone me and when I meet with seniors' groups is the point of being included in discussions.

Now I know there is a group out there that is reworking the system and studying it. That is the proper way to do it. But you have to slow down and include the people who use the system, who are the users of Pharmacare, who are the seniors in that decision. They are not and have not been included in any major way in the past discussions. Their safety and well-being is totally tied into their confidence in this policy, they are at risk to government policy and they have to be included. That frustration they convey to me about not being included in these changes over the last four or five years. Not being included in any measurable way in the swing back to where we have to go. That is something that has to be addressed by this government, by this minister and by this House. We have to include those seniors. They are the users of the system, they are the people who know best and can put the best suggestions forward to what suits their needs and how they can most easily afford and pay for it.

We have a very caring society in this province who looks after their seniors. It is imperative, Mr. Speaker, that as we go down this road, and our Party obviously stands for the removal, and has put forward suggestions for the removal of the premium. Possibly working with the other Parties, this can be achieved in the near term instead of the long term. Seniors need to be consulted, and when I talk to seniors that is one of the objectives many seniors would want to ensure.

The issue with seniors in Pharmacare as well, is the one of what drugs, what procedures, what things are included with those funds that are dispersed for their health care and maintenance. That ongoing process requires constant consultation and reworking because as new drugs come on the market that can possibly be more effective, obviously the cost has to be weighed against the system. If it can markedly improve and ensure somebody's lifestyle is improved, and their quality of life is maintained in a better fashion and provides a better opportunity for them to interact with their families, then there has to be a process so those drugs, those procedures, those techniques, are there to help those seniors, to give them that quality of life which they justly deserve.

Mr. Speaker, in summing up, I think it is imperative that we all support this process and drive it forward where the seniors become part of the consultation in the system and develop the system that best suits them. For the benefit of the seniors and the taxpayers of Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia becoming the payer of last resort is only prudent fiscal management of the health care and Pharmacare system. It is only prudent use of scarce health care tax dollars to provide service. It is the only way that prudently, within escalating or increasing numbers

[Page 5123]

of people who will enjoy senior years and who will live longer in the future, that we can afford to provide those services. That is prudent fiscal management of those funds.

Also, as we move forward, looking at other ways to support the seniors and bring affordable drugs within their grasp and financing has to be included in those talks and discussions, to help find the way that insures they receive quality care that is affordable and fundable, Mr. Speaker.

I believe we are on the right road with Pharmacare. The important thing is that we as politicians, as representatives of the people of Nova Scotia, ensure that this process doesn't stop, that seniors are included in this process and that Pharmacare, which is one of the most generous and best in the country here in Nova Scotia, continues to be that way and as long as we can ensure the financial viability of it, of such measures which ensure that Nova Scotia is the payer of last resort, we are going to get there, but I think we need cooperation to do that. Thank you.

[7:15 p.m.]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Chester-St. Margaret's.

DR. HINRICH BITTER-SUERMANN: Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak a few minutes in the emergency debate on Pharmacare for seniors. It is a bewildering and puzzling experience to hear various Ministers of the Crown today try to put the burden of an existing emergency on an Opposition that has the courage to put a finger on the emergency situation. I personally feel that although in these Chambers that may fly because, after all, we are entre nous, it will not fly with the people of Nova Scotia. This has nothing to do with politicking, it has very much something to do with, as we all agree here, the plight of seniors in the changing world of health care.

Health care, as it is today, is not what the honourable Minister of Justice, just a few minutes ago, had said, that he would hope to enjoy when he and other baby boomers would be old. That is looking ahead. I am not looking ahead today, Mr. Speaker. I simply look at what we have. We have 110,000 seniors in this province who cannot wait to have something that is out of control fixed. It has to be fixed now. It should have been fixed a long time ago and that brings me to the problem that this Liberal Government has been struggling with for the last five years.

There was a health care system in this province that worked. It was expensive, albeit, it worked. Five years later, the same government spends about $300 million more per year on health care. Has it really gotten better? Have we gotten money? Have we gotten value for the money? The answer is, and most of us know that, but, in particular, the seniors of this province know that the answer is no.

[Page 5124]

After five years of mismanagement of health care, to come back and pick on those people that can ill afford to be picked upon is immoral. Then to say that the Opposition, my Party, is against having private insurers carry the burden of living up to an insurance company's duty. That is ridiculous. What we are complaining about is that the 110,000 seniors in this province have been given a deadline that they have not asked for, that they have a few days to arrange with their private insurers, if they know who they are, to get coverage.

I did hear that the Minister of Health said that they are not falling into a black hole. I hear that there will be coverage, even after the April 1st deadline, but there was no consultation, as usual, in the usual hurried, ill-conceived, mismanagement attitude that this government has been in. Neither the insurers nor the seniors have been sufficiently consulted, so nobody, at this moment, really does know what is going on.

Mr. Speaker, that may be acceptable to the Minister of Justice because he is truly capable of finding in the phone book, finding on his fax machine, finding on his monitor in his office, the appropriate phone numbers to call. But when you are sick, when you are at home, when you are in a nursing home, when you have been prematurely discharged from the hospital, when you are just about to break down, then you are not in a state, physically, emotionally and overall, to try to find out who will pay for the drugs that you think you should get. That is what is appalling. It is not that the Minister of Health will let these seniors down, it is that he has threatened them with a deadline that is unacceptable.

I heard with great satisfaction today that across the floor in all three Parties, there is a good understanding for what the seniors have done in this province and for this province. It is not like the honourable member for Kings West mentioned, that the seniors are quite useful. I know he didn't mean it that way, but it came across that way that they have many organizations and still participate in our communities.

Mr. Speaker, it is not what these seniors still do, it is what they have done. They built the hospitals that three consecutive Ministers of Health have run down. They built the old people's homes, they built the long-term care facilities in which personal care workers are underpaid and in which there is maybe a strike situation. The Pharmacare disaster that at this moment is perceptible to the seniors is something that is just a reflection of what this government for the last five years has been doing. Go ahead, don't consult, and blame the Opposition if something goes wrong. That is totally unacceptable.

I would like to draw the attention of the honourable Minister of Health to what a normal senior's life is like when the senior gets sick. I have had enough of his belittling comments that I am fearmongering. That is not fearmongering, that is the reflection of a doctor who still works. I do work. I am proud of it.

[Page 5125]

A senior in this province has two choices. There is a two-tiered health system unfolding and sort of coming along. If that senior has an MLA that has connections, or has money, or has friends, there may be faster treatment, excellent treatment, of course. We have still most of the same good doctors in this province that we had five years ago, but the treatment modalities have changed. A senior getting sick will go and dial 911 and will come to an emergency department that is overworked and may be sent home or may be sent to another hospital only to find out that he or she will not be admitted. That would be two ambulance fares that have to be paid for, because you get a rebate only if you are admitted. Anyway, after a short stay in a hospital that has lost 40 per cent or 50 per cent of acute care beds, that senior will go home on medication.

Mr. Speaker, when you are old, when you have worked, you have built this province with your back, you deserve more than the insecurity of not knowing how to pay for those drugs. Will it be your Blue Cross, will it be this company, will it be that company? The onus is not on seniors to find out, the onus is on the Minister of Health to get his act together, consult with the private industry and then inform seniors in a simple, clear way, this is how we will do it. There is insecurity, there is worry, and this is what the honourable Minister of Health has failed to see; that the honourable Minister of Justice didn't see it is understandable.

Mr. Speaker, we are now at a crossroads in this province, financially and morally, we have a government that is propped up by a Party that promised one thing and one thing only, that is to get health care back to where it belonged. We are now, in the New Democratic Party, fighting the good fight to at least persuade the government on serious issues like Pharmacare for seniors, to consult, not any longer to dictate but to take pity on those 110,000 people, our seniors, whom we owe so much. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Inverness.

MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, I guess in listening to all the debates tonight, maybe I live in a different world, I am really not sure anymore. When I come in here and listen to some of what I have to listen to from across the floor, it seems that we do live in different worlds. (Interruption) No, I don't have to. I think there is more clarity of ideas and thought out there than you give credence to and parts of your Party do. (Interruptions)

I do not live in Dartmouth North, but I do have many seniors who live by themselves. They live on their pension; many of them live as single people. They live in rural Nova Scotia and they support themselves. They are very independent and, by all means, they do not want any helping hand from family or otherwise. I know that personally, because I have two that I am very related to: one is my mother-in-law and the second one is my mother. They both live by themselves, support their own house and all they have is minimum pension. They have their house, they pay their phone bills, they pay their taxes and they supply themselves with the necessities of life. If I know the two of them, they still have a bit left over at the end of the day that they put to one side. Maybe it is different from the rest of the province, but when

[Page 5126]

we start talking about seniors who are poor - and I would imagine that there may be some who are poor - I do not (Interruptions) They must be on a different income than the seniors that we have in my district. (Interruptions) You told us that before.

We go on to consultation with the seniors. There was a process that I took part in last spring, a session in Inverness; it was a seniors day. They had the Senior Citizens Secretariat in on that occasion. They discussed all of the issues that were pertinent to them. One of these issues was Pharmacare. Recommendations were made that day to the representative for the Senior Citizens Secretariat and she was to take them back here to Halifax and forward them on to the government to be implemented in the policy session that we are talking about at the present time. So, I think there is consultation out there as well.

I just want to surmise (Interruption) The Senior Citizens Secretariat, yes, they are a fine group. They are a very fine group; the finest people that you are going find across Nova Scotia belong to that group. The very finest people in Nova Scotia belong to that group.

Seniors living in Nova Scotia are now receiving the same benefits as seniors with the same private insurance living in other provinces; we know that. Nova Scotia seniors are paying the same premium but getting different benefits. The Pharmacare regulation change should allow our seniors who already have private drug insurance to access that insurance, and that is what is being put in place at the present time. We should not be fearmongering, we should allow the information to flow to our seniors and it should flow smoothly. We should not enter into the process and try to introduce doubt in a system that is working for our senior citizens.

The group across - they call themselves the Opposition at the present time - they always like to introduce doubt, fear, dissension. That is what they do in Nova Scotia. To do that to seniors in this province, I think is a great injustice to the seniors of this province. That is what I see coming from that side of the House, Mr. Speaker.

[7:30 p.m.]

We don't want seniors getting caught in the middle, we want to protect our seniors. A temporary measure has been introduced to help these seniors who have yet to hear back from their private insurance companies. Allow the information to go out, don't sow doubt, fear. Seniors will not be taken off their Pharmacare Program until we are sure that they have heard back from their private insurance companies. We remain firm that private insurance companies should be the primary insurer for the senior members.

Mr. Speaker, those are all my comments for tonight. I just hope we go forward with proper information for our senior citizens, that we work with them and not against them, that we don't sow dissension and that we allow them to truly understand what their benefits are and help them to attain these benefits. Thank you.

[Page 5127]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cumberland South.

MR. MURRAY SCOTT: Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the House for the opportunity to speak here this evening on a very important issue, and I know it is important to all the seniors right across this province. I do have a concern of what benefit it will be to the seniors in this province after we have a two hour debate tonight - and there has been a lot of discussion about the issues pertaining to seniors - what good will come out of it. If there is one group in this province that supports the Legislature and the hard decisions it has to make, it is the seniors of this province.

I live in an area where there is a high percentage of seniors that I represent. Many of them come to me, they feel they are being targetted by this provincial government that is in place today. Many issues which affected them over this past year which this government has failed to address, whether it be the property tax rebate, the fishing licence issue that I brought to this Legislature, whether it be assessment of properties in this province, gun registration, many issues that affect seniors, yet this government fails to address those issues on behalf of the seniors.

Now we find ourselves in a situation where the Pharmacare Program, in the eyes of many seniors, is in jeopardy. I heard it tonight mentioned whether or not we are in a crisis situation with regard to the Pharmacare Program in this province. Well, each one of us sitting here in this room this evening who doesn't take advantage of the Seniors' Pharmacare Program may not feel that it is in crisis. I can assure you that the seniors throughout the province, many of them who do not have family members - I give you an example, a lady 80 years old has no family and receives in the mail document after document from this government in regard to the Pharmacare Program, has no idea where she should turn, how to dissect this information to have any idea what it means. Where does she turn?

She is given a 1-800 number to dial. This is a lady who is intimidated by the new technology, whether it be bank machines or whatever. She has a 1-800 number to call and what does she get? She gets an answering machine where she has to punch number after number and, out of frustration, she hangs up. What does she do? She sits at home alone - and there are probably many more like her this evening in Nova Scotia - scared to death in their own homes that the one thing they rely on to live, medication, is not going to be provided by this government through the Pharmacare Program.

Mr. Speaker, we of the PC Party, advocated the elimination of the premium in regard to Pharmacare. But, along with that, Mr. Speaker, something we asked for and demanded was consultation with seniors' groups throughout this province. It is obvious from the confusion in the program in this province that seniors' groups today, many of which I have spoken to, there has been no consultation. That is another issue that this government is being identified with and that is its failure to consult with the people in this province, no matter

[Page 5128]

what the issue, whether it pertains to our youth, or, indeed, our seniors who we are here to speak about tonight. It is indicative of this government of failing to consult with those people.

Mr. Speaker, there are inaccuracies within the program, many examples that we have heard and talked about. One example is a spouse, a gentleman 58 or 59 and his wife is 67. The total income is used to determine if the credit will be provided, but the only benefit from the program goes to the senior. Now what kind of a program do we have in place that only provides benefit to one, yet includes the income or salary from both in that program?

Mr. Speaker, another case is of a lady whose husband was in the Armed Forces and has a federal program. He passed away, and she hasn't even determined yet whether the program is going to continue to cover her. The letter she got said that if she is enrolled in a private plan, by April 1st, she will not receive Pharmacare. What kind of a situation is this government leading seniors into in this province? What kind of support are we providing to those people?

Another issue, Mr. Speaker, that these people have raised with me is if they are excluded from the seniors' Pharmacare Program in this province and shortly they find out their plans will not cover them, there are two concerns: how long before they can get back into the seniors' Pharmacare Program, and what will it cost them? Again, different people call and get different answers. The facts to these people are unclear.

Mr. Speaker, seniors in this province are vulnerable. They've worked all their lives; they raised their families. Many of the pleasures that we enjoy in this province - many of us here tonight - are a result of the hard-working lives that have been spent in this province by seniors. These people feel that the Province of Nova Scotia, and this government, is turning its back on them. The concerns of these seniors are serious.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, if there is one message I would like to give to this government here tonight, it would be this, as we progress through these changes in the Seniors' Pharmacare Program in this province, one thing we have to be sure to do is to somehow relay that message to the seniors in this province that they will be cared for, that their concerns will be addressed and the issues that affect them and the Seniors' Pharmacare Program will be heard, and not cause further stress in their life.

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to speak this evening on this very important issue and I look forward to more discussion on the Seniors' Pharmacare Program.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth South.

MR. DONALD CHARD: Mr. Speaker, I will just speak briefly on this question. I have a very substantial number of senior citizens in my riding of Dartmouth South. In both absolute and relative terms, they are a very high percentage of the voters in my riding. My constituency

[Page 5129]

office has had numerous phone calls from seniors who are concerned about these changes. The problem is largely one of uncertainty; it is not clear to them what is going to happen, what coverage they will have.

I think that the uncertainty is a very serious problem for seniors. They are a very vulnerable group and the uncertainty causes a very large amount of stress. I don't think we should underestimate that at all. A number of speakers this evening have made reference to uncertainty and the kind of stress it can create, and I have had some experience in other areas in dealing with this. I had the experience, when I was working for the federal government, of being on a labour management committee dealing with downsizing. I had the experience of working with employees who had to deal with the uncertainty in that environment. We weren't talking there about seniors, but I saw some very devastating consequences, even with that population, of the uncertainty that that situation created.

I can remember going to a talk given by a professional from the Halifax area on the subject of stress and uncertainty, and he used the example of the Vietnam War. He said there were three categories of people involved in and affected by the war who suffered a great deal from uncertainty. One category, in fact the least-stressed group of people, were people who lost spouses in the war, whose spouses were killed. It certainly was a very difficult experience for them, but there was no uncertainty.

The next category was people whose spouses were prisoners of war. They did not know if their spouse would survive. They did not know if their spouse would return. They did not know what condition their spouse would be in if he or she did return and the uncertainty took its toll on these people.

The worst category was the highest area of uncertainty. It was people whose spouses were missing in action in Vietnam, total uncertainty, no information as to whether their spouses were still alive; if they were alive, would they survive the experience, would they return? I think it is very important for us to address the problem of uncertainty for such a vulnerable population as our seniors and it bothers me to no end when I get calls in my constituency office from people who, for whatever reason, do not have the information that they should have and are trying very hard to come to grips with this problem.

I think we must also recognize that there is an underlying problem here that has not really been brought out in this debate and that is why the province feels that it must make this change in the program. The reason is rather obvious. It is the increasingly high cost of drugs, particularly of new drugs and of drugs that are reformulated because drug companies can charge so much for medications for which they receive patent protection. I think we have to recognize why those drug costs are increasing and what the consequences are of that. The drug costs have increased in large part because of patent protection given to the pharmaceutical industry by the Mulroney Government.

[Page 5130]

I wrote the federal Minister of Health last week because of concerns brought to me by my constituents, a number of whom have conditions like MS and who are not eligible for Betaseron. I look at the costs of these drugs and Betaseron is, I believe, one of the drugs which was only approved in 1995 and probably falls under the patent protection granted the pharmaceutical industry by the Mulroney Government, and it costs anywhere from $15,000 to $17,000 a year per patient who is eligible for it. There are many MS sufferers who are not eligible for it.

We have a very serious problem on our hands in terms of the increasing cost of medication. When the federal Liberal Government took over, when the Chrétien Liberals took over in Ottawa, what did they do to deal with this? Did they take any steps to deal with the problem they inherited from the Mulroney Government? No. They have not addressed the problem and now provincial governments and individual Nova Scotians are dealing with the consequences. I am not going to suggest that it is inappropriate for this province to ask that individual seniors who have other coverage to go to that coverage for first resort, but I think we have to recognize that those plans are also dealing with the high cost of drugs.

The cost of drugs is the primary reason why premiums have already increased for the federal government's health plan for its employees and its retired employees. Seniors who are paying premiums for coverage that they took with them when they retired from the federal government are already paying around $600 a year for that coverage and we are probably going to see that cost increased to them. What limit will there be on this? Let's see some action to address the fundamental reasons why drug costs are increasing and then we can get a handle on this rather than saying, well, let's just shift the burden somewhere else. We cannot keep shifting that burden.

Mr. Speaker, I would submit to you that we heard a lot of useful comments on this subject tonight. We have heard a great deal of wisdom in terms of the impact of the uncertainty and the stress it creates. We have heard other useful information and I would submit that it is incumbent on the government to respond to the concerns that have been addressed here this evening, that have been addressed by many seniors in this province, and to ensure that there is adequate consultation with seniors and adequate information so that these stresses on them can be alleviated. Thank you. (Applause)

[7:45 p.m.]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings North.

MR. GEORGE ARCHIBALD: Mr. Speaker, I just want to say that there is nothing more important in Nova Scotia than the debate that is going on tonight with regard to our senior citizens. It was kind of interesting today, I was walking from our parking lot at Province House to our office, and a senior citizen stopped me on the street and he said, what are they doing to health care and our medical care cards? He said, I am confused, I don't

[Page 5131]

know what I am supposed to do. I have a plan from the federal government, I have a plan from the provincial government. He said, you know, I am going to have to pay them both because I really can't find out from anybody what I am supposed to be doing and who is going to cover which drugs and which drugs aren't covered.

Well, I explained to him that if he called the number, and unfortunately I didn't have the phone number to give him at the time, but if you call the number, you can get up-to-date accurate information that will tell you exactly what is involved and what you are going to get covered and what isn't going to get covered. What it says so clearly to all of us is that the government knew that it had to make some changes and I agree it had to make some changes to bring the costs in line with something that is affordable and equitable and fair, but the government didn't consult with the seniors and sort of work together as a team so that everybody knew what the new rules were.

The program was announced and there was some confusion among the people that were receiving the service as well as the Department of Health making the announcement. Everybody was confused, both the government and the recipients were confused. It hasn't gotten much better in the last several months. We have been wrestling with this now for quite a while, but it still is a worry to our seniors.

Our seniors have been paying taxes, our seniors have been contributing to society. You have to be 65 to be a senior citizen under the drug card plan, and probably they started work when they were 20, so they have probably had a good 45 years of contributing to society. They feel, look, I have paid my dues. I don't want to have to wrestle with the government. I don't want the confusion.

In many cases, when you call to try to find out what the situation is, you get one of these modern telephones that we all love so much where it says if you want service in English push 1, if French push 2. So you push that number and then if you want to talk to the claims directors push 1, if you have a problem with your claim push 2, if you are not sure push 3, if you forget who you were calling in the first place push 5. You just go on like that for some indefinite period of time. If you push the wrong number, you wind up back where you started.

For somebody like myself, that gets confusing. The third button they have to push is about the time you put the phone down and say, what am I going to do now. Sometimes you call your MLA and let him make the calls for you. It is confusing, it is awkward and it doesn't need to be. I know the Minister of Health is a very hardworking minister. He comes from rural Nova Scotia, he grew up in a fish town, he worked on fishing boats, he worked in fish plants. He understands what it is to work, he understands what it is to put in an hour's work of manual labour and there is nothing more gratifying, better than that. So he knows the frustration that we have when we do run into this system and there is confusion and it doesn't seem to be easily explained to us.

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So, Mr. Speaker, I do hope, and I think, that is the biggest problem we are into now, the confusion with regard to who is going to pay and how much do the seniors have to pay and where is the co-pay, who pays first? Most of us really couldn't get too exercised about who is paying, as long as there is somebody who is going to pick up the fare for the drugs when we need them at the drug store.

So, Mr. Speaker, I do hope the minister will put every effort possible into straightening out the confusion that exists with the drug plan today, as it is now, so that it will work out and our seniors get the programs and the plan they so richly deserve. They are the people who have built Nova Scotia, they are the people who deserve to be taken care of by us, the politicians. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.

MR. JOHN HOLM: Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to stand this evening just to say a few words. I know we have had speakers from all sides of the House this evening talk about the important contributions seniors have made to our society and our way of life. I think it is also extremely important to recognize and acknowledge and give thanks to all those seniors not only for what they have done but also for what they continue to do within our respective communities. Just because seniors have reached the age of 65, in this day and age I don't think it is any different than in any other time, many seniors at the age of 65 are certainly still very active and very much involved and still very giving within their communities. Many of them, now that they are retired, have more time to volunteer and give within their communities.

Mr. Speaker, I think it is extremely important, in fact I not only think but I know it is extremely important that those who have and continue to do so much for us and for those generations coming after us that are also benefiting from what they have built, that we treat them in a respectful manner. Surely to Heavens, we talk an awful lot as politicians, we talk an awful lot in this House and outside this House about the importance of consultation. We talk about going out and getting the opinions and communicating and ensuring that the programs we have and that we deliver are going to be the best they can be for the dollars we have available.

There has been much said tonight about the number of seniors in this province, numbers of 110,000 and 120,000 have been used. I don't know which it is or where in between it actually falls but it doesn't really matter. We know that it is a very significant portion of our population and we also know, Mr. Speaker, that those numbers are growing. We also know that as we age we often do require increased medical service. Often that means we have to rely upon Pharmacare and the drugs and the programs offered under that.

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What concerns me and those residents who called me about the program was that they were genuinely distressed because they did not know what was going to happen on April 1st. They were receiving in the mail a form and on that form it asked them if they had a private insurer and, if so, to check it off and to say if you therefore no longer want Pharmacare as of April 1st.

A number of those who called me were not aware that there was a possibility that if they said they didn't want the Pharmacare because they supposedly have a private plan, that, in fact, their private plan may not cover them. They were not aware of that.

Surely to heavens, if the government is actually going to be changing, by regulation, without the prior consultations, if they were doing that, they had a responsibility themselves before they announced those changes to have sought out and to have consulted well in advance with those private insurer companies to make sure that the seniors were not going to be left in this vulnerable situation, to make sure that they would not be stuck paying two premiums, being forced to pay two premiums because they are afraid to drop Pharmacare because they don't know if they are going to have any coverage with that, Mr. Speaker, or if they do drop the Pharmacare Program, what programs and what drugs will be covered by the private insurer.

If the government is going to unilaterally change it, and I would be in favour of having the private companies paying first, no question, I would rather have less of our taxpayers dollars going to pay for those if we can have those costs borne by somebody else and if, in so doing, we aren't hurting those very same people. Here I am referring to the seniors and the users of those programs, hurting them by having their private premiums jacked up to rates that would be higher.

Mr. Speaker, we have thousands of people living in this province. We are a coastal province. We have many people who made their living serving our country, working in the Armed Forces and then retired in our province. So those former employees of the Armed Forces, federal employees, members of the RCMP, these people who, through their working lives, often put their lives on the front lines for us, so that we could have what we have today, these people are being told, well, wait and see. We are working it out. We hope to have it worked out.

Today is March 25th. April 1st, Mr. Speaker, that is not an April Fool's joke. It sure isn't to the seniors and to those who are left hanging and waiting for an answer. That is no joke. Surely, what those people, our fellow citizens, deserve from the government is something a little bit better than to say, we are working on it, we have started to consult.

I know that when I called one of the insurance companies, when I became aware of this as a result of some constituents calling me, and I called the headquarters, what I was told - after I went through the phone pushing button system that the previous speaker had talked

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about, when I got to a real person - that they have nothing to tell these people who are calling because their insurance company only heard about the province's plan two weeks earlier. They had only been consulted, I was told, two weeks earlier. It has to go to their boards and they have to try to find out if, in fact, they will cover as a first coverage these seniors, because it could have ramifications for all of those who are on the programs across the country and that it would be several weeks before they would have answers.

Here we have a situation where the government had made an announcement. They tell the seniors who are going to be affected to call your private insurance companies. Those private insurance companies are saying, we just found out about it. We have to see if we can cover it.

Mr. Speaker, I know you are telling me to draw the debate to a conclusion because the time has run out. All I have to say in closing is that this government owes those seniors a clear, quick answer to allay their concerns and to ensure that their level of service will remain as high or higher than it has been up to this point in time. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The time allocated for the emergency debate has expired. We will now rise until tomorrow morning. I think we come back in at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.

[The House rose at 8:00 p.m.]

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Given on December 3, 1998

(Pursuant to Rule 30)

By: Dr. John Hamm (Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party)

To: Hon. Manning MacDonald (Minister of Economic Development and Tourism)

Small business operators in Richmond County are very concerned about the consultation process being used by this Liberal Government concerning the proposed highway and off-premise signage legislation. Some of these business owners are worried the proposed new legislation will result in a financial loss to them and believe they will be forced to remove a number of attractive signs which they have already purchased.

(1) Will the minister ensure meaningful consultations take place with business owners in Richmond County and do absolutely nothing that would harm them while also reviewing legislation presently in place that could still address the problems faced by excess and poorly maintained signage across Nova Scotia?