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April 22, 2004

HANSARD 03/04-30


Speaker: Honourable Murray Scott

Published by Order of the Legislature by Hansard Reporting Services and printed by the Queen's Printer.

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Annual subscriptions available from the Office of the Speaker.

First Session


Res. 941, Estimates: CWH on Supply - Referred, Hon. P. Christie 2455
Hon. P. Christie 2455
Mr. G. Steele 2470
Adjourned debate 2472
Res. 1022, Earth Day: N.S. - Participation, Ms. J. Massey 2473
Vote - Affirmative 2474
Res. 1023, Prem. - Commitments: Breach - Effects,
Mr. Manning MacDonald 2475
Res. 1024, Campbell, Sheila - ATV Assoc.: Safety Co-Ordinator -
Appt., Mr. G. Hines 2476
Vote - Affirmative 2476
Res. 1025, Gerrior, Bill: Acadian Study - Recognize, Ms. M. Raymond 2477
Vote - Affirmative 2478
Res. 1026, Hfx. Int'l. Airport: AETRA Survey - Ranking,
Mr. R. MacKinnon 2478
Vote - Affirmative 2479
Res. 1027, Hfx. Int'l. Airport: ACIA Award - Congrats., Mr. B. Taylor 2479
Vote - Affirmative 2480
Res. 1028, Nat'l. Vol. Wk. (04/18-24/04): N.S. Vols. - Thank,
Ms. M. More 2480
Vote - Affirmative 2480
Res. 1029, Park West Sch.: Multiculturalism - Commitment,
Ms. D. Whalen 2480
Vote - Affirmative 2481
Res. 1030, Carey, Jon: Pub. Serv. - Commend, Mr. M. Parent 2481
Res. 1031, Slaunwhite, Leo (Turk) & Gladys - Anniv. (50th),
Mr. W. Estabrooks 2482
Vote - Affirmative 2482
Res. 1032, Carleton - Gunning Cove FD Ladies Aux.: Contributions -
Acknowledge, Mr. C. O'Donnell 2483
Vote - Affirmative 2483
Res. 1033, C.B. Jr. Chamber of Commerce - Sydney Cleanup:
Initiative - Congrats., Hon. C. Clarke 2483
Vote - Affirmative 2484
Res. 1034, Demers, Gloria - Truro Sport Heritage Vol. of Yr.,
Hon. J. Muir 2484
Vote - Affirmative 2485
Res. 1035, Eisnor, Jillian - CIBC Student Entrepreneur of Yr.,
(by Hon. J. Muir) Hon. M. Baker 2485
Vote - Affirmative 2485
Res. 1036, West, Jessica - Duke of Edinburgh Award (Gold),
Mr. L. Glavine 2486
Vote - Affirmative 2486
Res. 1037, Sports: St. F.X. X-Men - Basketball Championship,
Hon. A. MacIsaac 2487
Vote - Affirmative 2487
Res. 1038, MacKenzie, Rindress & Gavina - Anniv. (65th),
Mr. Gerald Sampson 2487
Vote - Affirmative 2488
Res. 1039, Earth Day: Participants - Recognize, (by Mr. S. McNeil)
Mr. D. Graham 2489
Vote - Affirmative 2490
Res. 1040, Carvery, Cst. Shaun: Commun. Serv. - Congrats.,
Mr. K. Colwell 2490
Vote - Affirmative 2490
Res. 1041, Nat'l. Med. Lab. Wk. (04/19-23/04) - Recognize,
Hon. A. MacIsaac 2490
Vote - Affirmative 2491
Res. 1042, Health: Organ Donation - Consider, Hon. A. MacIsaac 2491
Vote - Affirmative 2492
Res. 1043, Laffin, Michael: Birthday - Congrats., Mr. B. Taylor 2492
Vote - Affirmative 2493
No. 306, Econ. Dev. - Stream: Closure - Crisis, Mr. D. Dexter 2493
No. 307, Econ. Dev. - Stream: Employees - Status,
Mr. David Wilson (Glace Bay) 2495
No. 308, Health - Seniors: Long-Term Care - Affordability Ensure,
Mr. D. Dexter 2496
No. 309, Fin. - Budget Balancing: Confidence - Engender,
Ms. D. Whalen 2497
No. 310, Econ. Dev. - Stream: Funding - Breakdown, Mr. F. Corbett 2498
No. 311, Fin. - Tax Cut: Planning - Explain, Ms. D. Whalen 2500
No. 312, Fin. - Budget Balancing: Students - Effect,
Mr. W. Estabrooks 2501
No. 313, NSBI - Budget: C.B. - Amount Explain,
Mr. Manning MacDonald 2502
No. 314, Commun. Serv.: Affordable Housing Prog. - Details,
Mr. David Wilson (Sackville-Cobequid) 2504
No. 315, Commun. Serv.: Foster Families - Numbers, Ms. M. More 2505
No. 316, Transport. & Pub. Wks. - Petit & Grand Passage:
Traffic Control - Students Hire, Mr. H. Theriault 2506
No. 317, Environ. & Lbr. - N.S. Power: Tufts Cove Plant -
Generators, Ms. J. Massey 2507
No. 318, Energy - Gas Facility: Strait Area - Plans, Mr. Michel Samson 2508
No. 319, EMO - Disaster Relief: Compensation - Details,
Mr. J. MacDonell 2510
No. 320, TPW - Roads: 10-Yr. Plan - Table, Mr. R. MacKinnon 2512
No. 57, Cemetery and Funeral Services Act 2513
Hon. B. Barnet 2513
Mr. F. Corbett 2513
Mr. R. MacKinnon 2513
Hon. B. Barnet 2514
Vote - Affirmative 2514
No. 48, Education Act 2515
Mr. R. MacKinnon 2515
Mr. David Wilson (Sackville-Cobequid) 2519
Mr. K. Colwell 2522
Ms. J. Massey 2527
Adjourned debate 2531
Gov't. (N.S.): Rural N.S. - Response:
Mr. Michel Samson 2532
Hon. C. Clarke 2535
Mr. C. Parker 2538
ADJOURNMENT, House rose to meet again on Fri., Apr. 23rd at 9:00 a.m. 2540
Res. 1044, Larson, John: Privateers Harley-Davidson - Opening,
Hon. B. Barnet 2541

[Page 2455]


Fifty-ninth General Assembly

First Session

2:00 P.M.


Hon. Murray Scott


Mr. James DeWolfe, Ms. Joan Massey, Mr. Russell MacKinnon

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.




[Res. No. 941, Estimates: CWH on Supply - Referred - notice given Apr. 20/04 - (Hon. P. Christie)]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Finance.

HON. PETER CHRISTIE: Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to read the message from the Lieutenant Governor, table two copies of the Estimates Book, two copies of the Government Business Plan, two copies of the Crown Corporation Business Plans and three copies of the Estimates Resolutions.

[MR. SPEAKER: The documents are tabled.]


[Page 2456]

HON. PETER CHRISTIE: Mr. Speaker, pursuant to a notice of motion given by me on April 20, 2004, and the Rules and Forms of Procedure of the House of Assembly, I have the honour, by command, to present a message from Her Honour the Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Nova Scotia, relating to the Estimates of Sums required for the service of the province for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2005 which is:

"I hereby transmit Estimates of Sums required for the Public Service of the province, for the year ending March 31, 2005, and in accordance with the Constitution Act, 1867, recommend them together with the Budget Address of my Minister of Finance and any resolutions or bills necessary or advisable to approve the Estimates and implement the budget measures to the House of Assembly.


Myra A. Freeman

Lieutenant Governor

April 22, 2004".

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to stand in this House and to present to you, my colleagues, and all Nova Scotians, my first Budget Address. If I have any advice to the listening audience, it's get comfortable.

I am going to take the time needed to put things into perspective, to fully account for the dollars we have spent over the past four-plus years, and as fully as possible, account for the new dollars we will invest through this year's budget to make life a bit better and a little easier for Nova Scotia families. And while I'm going to cover a lot of ground, I won't be able to cover it all. But rest assured, what I don't cover in my Budget Address will be covered in considerable detail in the numerous documents accompanying this budget.

With that said, let's take a quick look back, before we look to the year ahead. Mr. Speaker, almost five years ago, this government laid out its long-term fiscal plan. A plan that promised to focus on Nova Scotians' priorities, to balance the budget within three years, and to provide a 10 per cent tax cut for every working Nova Scotian in year four. And, as promised, we delivered.

We increased spending for front-line health care, education, and roads in each and every year of our mandate. We made some difficult, often agonizing, decisions to eliminate Nova Scotia's crushing $500-million deficit. We provided Nova Scotians with the first instalment on their 10 per cent tax cut. And, as I announced last week, we weathered the fury, as well as the unexpected $20 million bill Mother Nature threw our way in the form of floods, blizzards, and Hurricane Juan. Despite last year's unexpected weather events, despite the impact of SARS and the mad cow scare, we committed an additional 8 million new dollars to help our universities contain rising tuition fees, as well as an additional 5 million new

[Page 2457]

dollars to support research and innovation. All dollars over and above those committed in the 2003-04 budget. More importantly, we ended fiscal 2003-04 with a $14.5 million surplus. Every penny of which goes directly to the debt.

Today, Mr. Speaker, I am proud to present to Nova Scotians their third consecutive balanced budget, a budget with a $2.1 million surplus. A budget that also provides for $10 million in debt relief, including $6 million to be deposited in Nova Scotia's first-ever debt retirement fund. Another first for Nova Scotia, and another first for this government. All totalled, from fiscal 2002-03, through to this year, we have managed to the point where surpluses have contributed to over $58 million for debt repayment.

Mr. Speaker, I want to take a moment to remind Nova Scotians of the rewards of their sacrifices and of their hard work. Nova Scotia is stronger today, more self-reliant, than it has been in decades. The proof of this is in the sharp and steady increase in our own-source revenues. In 1999 provincial revenues accounted for 62 per cent of total revenues. Today they account for 66 per cent.

Mr. Speaker, this didn't happen as a result of magic, good luck, or wishful thinking. It happened because every day more and more Nova Scotians are going to work and generating the revenues needed to invest in better health care, better education, better roads, and a stronger, more diverse economy. What this means is that we are no longer relying so much on others, as we are on ourselves. What this means is that Nova Scotians can feel more secure, more confident in the province's ability to meet their needs in the future.

[2:15 p.m.]

Now, let's take a moment to look at our efforts as a government to help make this, and so much more, happen. Mr. Speaker, even before we take into account any new spending measures contained in this year's budget, Nova Scotians have witnessed considerable progress on many fronts. The results of our efforts are not only measurable, they are clearly paying off. The deficit is long gone. Nova Scotia's debt-to-GDP ratio has improved. Nova Scotia's credit rating has improved. Nova Scotia's foreign currency exposure is now well below 20 per cent and well beyond previous targets. Wait times for cardiac care, cancer care, MRI, and bone densitometry services are all down. There are more doctors and nurses at the bedside. More students are receiving one-on-one time with their teacher. Funding for the public school system has increased by over $1,500 per student.

Record numbers of Nova Scotians are working; thousands more are no longer on welfare. Over 5,500 seniors no longer pay the full Pharmacare premium. Two hundred and fifty more children are receiving subsidized daycare. Nova Scotians are driving on better, safer roads. We have more than doubled the new money spent on road and highway improvements. And, Mr. Speaker, we did all of this using the most stringent and transparent accounting practices in the country. This year's budget will build on that progress.

[Page 2458]

Mr. Speaker, it's clear, we delivered. It's also clear, Ottawa failed to deliver. It failed to deliver its fair share toward the rising costs of health care. It also failed to adjust and make fair its equalization formula. That has left us with little or no choice but to revise our tax reduction plan. Before we look at the details, let's consider what the adjustments will mean to Nova Scotian families.

Mr. Speaker, our new tax plan means that more than half of all taxpayers, fully 53 per cent, will continue to receive their full 10 per cent income tax reduction. It means that 96 per cent of all taxpayers will continue to pay less provincial income tax in the 2004 taxation year compared to the year before. And, as promised in last year's budget, it means that 3,500 more Nova Scotians will not pay any provincial income tax this year. None whatsoever.

Mr. Speaker, this government is protecting the full 10 per cent tax reduction for low-income families, those families with the least amount of disposable income, those families most likely to spend their tax savings at the local corner store, grocery store, or hardware store. Make no mistake, this government has done everything it can to reduce the tax burden for as many Nova Scotians as we can, by as much as we can, and as fast as we can. Make no mistake about this, this government will continue to work hard to find the means to continue to do so. Because we believe lower taxes contribute to a more competitive economy and because a more competitive economy is the only sure way of guaranteeing that the vital programs and services we all count on today will be there for our children and their children tomorrow.

Mr. Speaker, the adjustments to our personal income tax plan are as follows. Effective January 1, 2004, the rate on the first income bracket will remain at the reduced level, meaning that all taxpayers will receive the full 10 per cent tax savings on their first $29,590 in taxable earnings. The tax rate on the second and third income brackets will return to 2003 levels. And a fourth income bracket, starting at $93,000, will be introduced at a tax rate of 17.5 per cent.

Here are a few examples of what it means to working families. For the average family of four with one wage earner making $30,000, it means they will realize a tax savings of approximately $140 this year. For the average family of four with one earner making $50,000, the savings will be about $134. Those at higher income levels will see either smaller savings or modest increases compared to 2003. Additionally, we are making other notable and important changes that will benefit thousands more Nova Scotia families.

Mr. Speaker, we will match recently announced federal changes that benefit caregivers and Nova Scotians with disabilities. The medical expense deduction will be increased to allow caregivers to claim more of the medical or disability-related expenses they incur on behalf of dependant relatives. Employees taking post-secondary education will benefit from an expansion of the tax credit on eligible non-tuition expenses. As well, expenses incurred by persons with disabilities for employment or education purposes will now be treated as a deduction from income rather than a medical expense tax credit. And we will tangibly

[Page 2459]

demonstrate our gratitude to Nova Scotia's service men and women for putting their family lives on hold and their lives at risk by serving in areas of extreme conflict. We will adjust provincial taxes owing for our military personnel in keeping with recently announced federal changes.

Mr. Speaker, we are also making changes on the corporate side of the ledger. Effective April 1, 2004, the corporation capital tax, which applies to banks and trust companies, will increase from 3 per cent to 4 per cent. As well, the large corporations tax, which applies to about 1,400 of Nova Scotia's largest companies, will increase from 0.25 per cent to 0.3 per cent. Together these measures are expected to raise $17 million.

Mr. Speaker, the small business tax threshold, which we planned to increase to $300,000 by 2005-06, will now be implemented a full year earlier, enhancing the savings for small- and medium-sized businesses this year. This is just one of a number of initiatives contained in this budget to support small business growth within our province. Taken all together, the changes on both the personal and corporate side of the ledger add up to $118 million for fiscal 2004-05. Every cent, in fact $112 million more, will go to improve health care for Nova Scotians. We made the changes to our tax plan for one reason and one reason only: we are committed to meeting the growing health-care needs of Nova Scotians. Needs that Ottawa has chosen to ignore.

Mr. Speaker, let me be clear, we are not abandoning our plan to grow our economy, to create new jobs, or to generate new wealth within our province; rather, Ottawa is interfering with it. In fact, the combination of reduced equalization payments to Nova Scotia and no increase in federal health-care base funding means Nova Scotia received $143 million less than expected in fiscal 2003-04. It is important that Nova Scotians understand the full impact of reduced federal funding.

Mr. Speaker, more than 10 years ago, Ottawa began to drastically cut health and other vital program spending, leaving the provinces to absorb, not only more of the federal government's fair share, but the full share - the full share - of rapidly rising health-care costs. Costs went up - way up - while the federal government's contribution went down. Consider, from 1992-93 to 2003-04, provincial spending on key social programs grew by over $1,000 per capita. Ottawa's per capita spending, on the other hand, fell in 1992, eventually came back up a bit, then fell back down again. In the end, it cost Nova Scotians well over $900 million in lost federal dollars. Dollars that were desperately needed to support and sustain health and other vital programs.

Only now, only now, Mr. Speaker, some 12 years after Ottawa began cutting transfers to the provinces, has federal support for health and other vital services finally climbed back up to the level it was at more than a decade ago. I ask all members of this House, indeed all Nova Scotians, to consider this. Federal funding to support Nova Scotians' health-care needs

[Page 2460]

in 2004 completely dried up over a month ago. That's a far cry from when Medicare was first established and funded on a 50/50 basis.

Mr. Speaker, we welcome the Prime Minister's promise of a meeting to discuss how we can all work together to make the kind of changes we know are needed to sustain our universal, accessible, and publicly funded health-care system. In fact, we're ready to go tomorrow. But that meeting is not going to take place anytime soon. And Nova Scotians aren't very likely to see any new federal health-care dollars, anytime soon.

Mr. Speaker, what Ottawa fails to recognize, or refuses to accept, is that we're not facing a crunch, we're in it. And we're not in it alone. Look across the country. Provinces are slipping back into deficit, increasing taxes, or laying off hundreds, if not thousands, of public servants. In some cases it's a combination of all three.

Mr. Speaker, let me quote from a recent Conference Board of Canada study that proves my point. It said, "With current fiscal regimes in place, the different fiscal prospects [between the federal and provincial and territorial governments] will widen in the future, as only the federal government will have the financial capacity to pay down its debt or implement new initiatives, such as tax cuts and new discretionary spending. In contrast, without changing current fiscal policies, the provinces and territories will not have the capacity to implement new policy initiatives over the next 17 years."

[2:30 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, the Conference Board of Canada attributes this fiscal imbalance to Ottawa's failure to respond to the number-one priority of Canadians: quality health care. The bottom line is, Ottawa has made the choice not to invest more in health care; and Nova Scotians, along with Newfoundlanders, New Brunswickers, Manitobans, and virtually every other Canadian, have no choice but to live with the consequences. And those consequences pose huge challenges for all provinces, and the biggest, by far, is finding the new dollars needed to meet our growing health-care needs. This budget demonstrates that this government is meeting that challenge.

Estimate to estimate, Mr. Speaker, this year's health-care budget will increase by an additional $230 million, bringing it to over $2.3 billion. Add in the budget of the Office of Health Promotion, up $3.6 million to a total of $18.5 million, and the total dollars spent this year to treat the sick, or to keep the well healthy, amounts to $2.36 billion. That amounts to over $2,500 this year for every man, woman, and child in the province. Health-care spending now accounts for almost 40 per cent of Nova Scotia's total operating budget, up from 28 per cent in 1993-94. (Applause)

[Page 2461]

Mr. Speaker, this government, like all Nova Scotians, knows that it's not just how much you spend that counts, it's where you spend it and how you spend it. That's why we're spending it on what matters most. On more doctors, nurses, and technologists. On reduced wait times. And on new efforts to promote health and fitness, particularly when it comes to young Nova Scotians.

Mr. Speaker, let me take a moment to address, hopefully put to bed, a popular myth. Nova Scotia does not have, as many believe, a bloated health-care bureaucracy. In fact, independent studies have confirmed that Nova Scotia has the smallest health-care bureaucracy in the country. With that said, let's review where the $2.36 billion we are investing in health care and wellness is going. Our hospitals will receive an additional $78.5 million; medical payments account for $85.6 million more; long-term care increases by $24.1 million; and health promotion will see an additional $3.6 million.

Mr. Speaker, within the global numbers I just outlined, there are a number of very important and specific initiatives I want to highlight. As noted, our hospitals will receive an additional $78 million. Included in this amount is a 7 per cent increase to enhance front-line care, money we promised two years ago through our multi-year funding commitment. As well, an additional $5.8 million will help put into full effect our commitment to reduce both emergency room and orthopedic wait times. And despite the fact that 94 per cent of Nova Scotians have a family doctor, despite the fact we have the second best specialist-to-patient ratio in the country, and despite the fact that our nurse-to-patient ratio is above the national average, we are not prepared to let up as long as one community feels left out.

Recently we announced that Dr. Peter Vaughan, together with a broad range of professional organizations and community groups, will spearhead a renewed effort to secure the services of vital health-care professionals, particularly for rural Nova Scotia where shortages are the most acute. We will also continue our efforts to train, retrain, recruit, and retain more nurses through our very successful Nursing Strategy. Between 2001 and 2006 we will have invested $60 million to secure more nurses and to improve their working environment. And this year we will maintain our commitment with another $9.8 million investment. (Applause)

Mr. Speaker, our Nursing Strategy is working and working well. The number of registered nurses is up, the number of graduate nurses is up, and so too is the number of graduate nurses choosing to stay, live, and work in Nova Scotia.

Mr. Speaker, last year we invested in eight new medical seats at Dalhousie University. That number will double this year as an additional eight new medical school seats are opened up. Despite considerable investments in new medical equipment, such as renal dialysis and targeted funding to reduce cardiac, cancer, MRI, and emergency room wait times, more needs to be done. And it will.

[Page 2462]

As we committed, we will move forward with the recommendations of the Wait List Monitoring Advisory Committee. We will continue to gather the information needed to launch a wait list information database so that doctors and their patients know where specialty services can be accessed sooner rather than later.

Another highlight includes an additional $550,000 to improve public health services so that Nova Scotia is fully prepared to deal with any new or unexpected outbreaks of potentially deadly or devastating diseases such as SARS or West Nile virus, as well as any terrorist-related chemical or biological events.

Other notable highlights include new investments to: launch Nova Scotia's first Paediatric Rehabilitation Program; help seniors better afford the high cost of prescription drugs; provide new vaccines for children and adolescents; expand liver transplant and renal dialysis services; improve First Responder services; improve medical and statistical information collection and sharing; and advance the use of new medical technologies (picture archiving and communications), enabling patients to access specialty care without the added time, cost, or frustration of travelling outside of their communities.

Mr. Speaker, this government is receiving national recognition for being a leader when it comes to laying the groundwork for a comprehensive, integrated stroke strategy. Over the course of the coming year, we will continue to advance the recommendations of the Stroke Strategy Committee with a view to reducing the incidence of stroke, improving treatment for stroke survivors, and keeping more Nova Scotians from prematurely going into long-term care. Which leads me to perhaps the most talked-about and justifiable criticisms of Nova Scotia's health-care system, and that is some seniors in Nova Scotia's long-term care facilities are paying for health-care costs that are free in many other provinces. That's about to change. (Standing Ovation)

Over the past year, we made good progress in our efforts to reduce the cost of nursing home care for seniors. We picked up more of the medical costs and excluded a number of assets considered in determining a senior's ability to pay. But, more needs to be done. And it will be. And it will be done as soon as possible. Effective January 1, 2005, seniors living in nursing homes will no longer pay for their medical costs. As well, they will no longer have to sell off any of their assets, the things they have worked so long and so hard to obtain or achieve.

Mr. Speaker, this is a full two years ahead of schedule. This means that all seniors, regardless of their income or the value of their estate, will keep 15 per cent of their total monthly income and will pay for room and board costs only. This also means that every senior will keep more of their income, at least $150 per month, to spend on their own priorities. Nova Scotia is proud to be the first province in Atlantic Canada to take this important step forward. (Applause)

[Page 2463]

Last year we opened 30 new long-term care beds. This year we will invest an additional $2.2 million to open at least 60 additional beds. There is also an additional $13 million to address a number of operational pressures in this sector, including the need for upgrades and renovations and for more hours of care and training. All totalled, funding for long-term care will increase by over $24 million this year.

Mr. Speaker, I've already spent a good deal of time talking about health care. I'm going to take a bit more to talk about good health and what we are doing as a government to support healthier living. Nova Scotians rightfully ask why successive governments spend so much on caring for the sick and comparatively little on promoting good health. The truth be told, it's like turning a giant tanker around in a small lake.

The very real, costly, and pressing demands on Nova Scotia's acute care system, as a result of having one of the country's oldest and sickest populations, combined with an antiquated federal health-care funding formula, leave little room to manoeuver. Mr. Speaker, this government is determined to turn the tanker around and to point Nova Scotians toward healthier ground. As mentioned, the budget for the Office of Health Promotion will increase by $3.6 million, bringing it to a total of $18.5 million.

This increased investment will enable government, along with its many professional, non-profit, and community-based partners, to build on the many initiatives already begun or help others get well underway. Among this year's priorities for the Office of Health Promotion are: advancing chronic disease prevention; funding to support the next steps of the Physical Activity Strategy for Children and Youth program; developing a healthy food and nutrition policy for our schools; and increased funding for the KidSport program, effectively tripling the dollars available to help children from low-income families participate in organized sport. The added dollars in this program alone, Mr. Speaker, will help an additional 1,000 to 1,500 kids join their friends at the local hockey rink, on the ball field, or at the local gym. And, to ensure that Nova Scotians have better access to local recreation facilities, we are setting aside $2.1 million for recreation facility grants. (Applause)

As well, Mr. Speaker, we are providing new dollars to put in effect Community Health Board priorities, to increase smoking cessation efforts, to launch a problem-drinking initiative, and to advance Nova Scotia's injury prevention strategy. These initiatives will be enhanced by other efforts well underway in both the departments of Education and Community Services. For example, Mr. Speaker, legislation has already been introduced to allow community groups that promote physical activity free access to publicly owned schools. Now that I am on the topic of schools, I'll stay on it.

Mr. Speaker, two years ago, after extensive consultation with teachers, students, parents, school boards, and many others, this government released Learning for Life, Nova Scotia's first comprehensive, multi-year plan for students in Primary to Grade 12. The title of our plan spoke to the need to help our students appreciate that learning is a lifelong

[Page 2464]

commitment. The focus of our plan was on putting the student first and the basics first. We stayed true to our plan. We reduced class sizes in Primary. We put an additional 1 million books into the hands of our students. We increased funding to support special needs students. We also provided more resources and more support to help struggling young readers and writers, introduced new professional development opportunities in priority areas, as well as new programs to help our students conquer math. As the latest Grade 6 literacy and writing test results show, we're beginning to see the benefits of our Learning for Life plan. Eighty-nine per cent of Nova Scotia students either met or exceeded expectations in literacy. Another 81 per cent either met or exceeded expectations in writing.

Good progress, Mr. Speaker, but there's still a lot more to do. That is why, despite Nova Scotia's declining enrolment, funding for our public education system will increase by more than $20 million. Since 1999, total provincial funding for public education has increased by $89 million. Salary and cost-of-living increases account for the lion's share of this year's increase, but we are also protecting or enhancing the investments already made.

[2:45 p.m.]

Let me summarize. We will build on our plan to give more of our youngest learners more one-on-one time with their teachers by extending our smaller class size initiative into Grade 1. We will also increase funding for students with special needs by $3 million. This increase brings the total increase for special needs funding to $5.5 million since Learning for Life was first launched. In addition to this, we are providing $200,000 to fund tuition support for students with individual program plans, whose needs go beyond what the public school system can reasonably provide.

As well, for the second year in a row, we are increasing funding to libraries, and continuing to advance the recommendations of the Black Learners Advisory Committee. New dollars will also be made available to bring more Nova Scotia schools into our school accreditation program, which is specifically designed to help improve student learning and to more fully involve parents in their child's education.

Mr. Speaker, the increased funding we are making available to Nova Scotia's public schools underscores this government's commitment to improve the test scores and learning outcomes for students from Primary to Grade 12. Beyond the need to provide our students with a quality education is the need to provide them with a quality learning environment. Our multi-year capital construction plan for new schools will continue on time and as promised, with $45.9 million being spent this year. As well, $13.4 million has been set aside for alterations and additions. This government knows the challenges in our public school system are formidable, not insurmountable. We've made good progress, and with this budget we will make more. (Applause)

[Page 2465]

Mr. Speaker, Nova Scotia is proud to be home to 11 degree-granting institutions, a number of which consistently rank among our country's best. Because we have a relatively small population, and because our universities are so popular with out-of-province students, Nova Scotia is a net importer of over 5,000 post-secondary students. And that's good, but there's a catch. The federal government funds post-secondary education on the size of our population, not on the number of students attending university in our province. In other words, Ottawa sends the cheques elsewhere, and we pay the bill. To put it simply, the money the province provides our universities is paying for the education of students from Alberta, from Ontario, or from elsewhere across the country.

Mr. Speaker, the federal government continues to resist all reason, refusing to amend its funding formula. And Nova Scotia taxpayers are making up the difference. So let me address another popular myth. Nova Scotia does not, as some have wrongly suggested, provide its students with the lowest per student funding in the country. In fact, it is the exact opposite. Based on our population, we are at the top of the list when it comes to funding Nova Scotia's post-secondary students. (Applause)

That's because, as a government, we've worked hard to find the dollars needed to restore the dollars lost to our universities during the deep funding cuts from 1993 through to 1999. As I noted earlier, we recently provided our universities with an additional $8 million. Despite this, tuition fees continue to rise.

Mr. Speaker, this government is committed to working with our universities to contain the growing costs of a post-secondary education. In fact, we have already started discussions to arrive at a memorandum of understanding to do just that.

Mr. Speaker, our community college campuses are vital to our ongoing efforts to close the skills gap. Since 1999, we have invested $18.3 million to create over 1,000 additional seats, providing hundreds of young Nova Scotians with the opportunity to advance their education and their careers. And last year, we announced $123 million over seven years, to support Nova Scotia's Community College Growth Plan. This plan, which will see major upgrades at campuses in every region across the province, will move forward with $25.5 million in capital expenditures this year. We will also provide an additional $3 million in operating funding. (Applause)

Mr. Speaker, we know this amount will not fully cover the costs of expanding the number of community college seats to expected levels. The Community College Board of Governors is currently considering a tuition increase. But when you look across the country, even with an increase, Nova Scotia's students are getting a top-notch education at a very reasonable cost.

[Page 2466]

Mr. Speaker, beyond the need to help Nova Scotians access better, faster health care, and beyond the need to help our students do better, is the need to do more to support Nova Scotia families struggling to make ends meet. And the best way to do that is to help them find a job. This year marks the third anniversary of the implementation of the new Employment Support and Income Assistance Program. Since this program was launched hundreds more Nova Scotians have left welfare and have gone to work. In fact, since 1999 the welfare caseload dropped by more than 5,400.

Yet, despite the drop in the welfare rolls, we continue to increase the dollars going to support families in need. The budget for the Department of Community Services will increase by $27.7 million, bringing it to a total of $694 million. (Applause)

Let me highlight some of the measures we are taking to support Nova Scotia families in need. Through our Early Childhood Development Initiative with the federal government, we will spend $3.7 million more on a broad range of programs and services for children, including $1.3 million for enhanced childcare subsidies, 50 new daycare seats, and funding to enhance physical activities within our daycare centres. As well, beginning in October, we will increase the personal allowance for welfare recipients at a cost of $1 million. This investment will increase to $2 million in 2005-06. Additionally, and in partnership with our Family Resource Centres, we will expand parent volunteer and parent education programs. We will also enhance the Healthy Beginnings Home Visitation Program to ensure that parents of young children get the support they need to help their child get off to a healthy start.

Mr. Speaker, in partnership with the federal government and non-profit agencies, we will also continue to expand the number of affordable housing units available to low-income Nova Scotians. We will also increase the budget to support adults in care by $10 million, bringing the total budget for this program to $155 million, a 7 per cent increase over 2003-04. Included in this year's funding is an additional $1 million to help expand supports for adults in care. A discussion paper on this challenging issue is now being circulated among our stakeholders with a view to finalizing a new approach that more effectively meets the needs of adults in care, as well as their families.

Mr. Speaker, I've spent most of my time today detailing funding increases in the big three areas: Health, Education, and Community Services. Let me take a moment to summarize just some of the other spending priorities in this year's budget.

An additional $2.5 million will be made available for maintenance on rural roads, for an annual total of $12.5 million. (Applause) Government will also increase capital spending for resurfacing, rehabilitating, restoring, and reconstructing our provincial highways and bridges by $6 million. In addition, operating funding for the 4-R program will increase by $620,000.

[Page 2467]

Mr. Speaker, this provides me with an opportunity to dispel yet another myth. Contrary to popular belief, Nova Scotia is not taking in more money in gas taxes than it invests in roads. In fact, every cent we collect in gas taxes and more goes to road and highway improvement - $6 million more to be exact. In addition to increased road spending, we will establish a new small business growth division within Nova Scotia Business Inc. This important investment will be complemented by a new Supplier Development Program designed to help Nova Scotia business identify new opportunities to sell more of their goods and services here at home.

As well, Mr. Speaker, $750,000 will be provided to promote Nova Scotia's many talented singers, songwriters, and musicians through Nova Scotia's first music strategy. To enhance police capacity to more effectively identify and respond to cases of family violence, we will provide an additional $100,000 to the Domestic Violence Case Co-ordination Program. As well, Nova Scotia's Senior Citizens' Secretariat will receive an additional $150,000 to help set up Nova Scotia's first Task Force on Aging and to launch new efforts to prevent elder abuse. (Applause)

Mr. Speaker, we will also provide an additional $100,000 to the Office of the Auditor General. Nova Scotia is the only province in the country where the Auditor General reviews and signs off on the reasonableness of revenue projections. Shortly, we will be introducing legislation that will require the province to complete its audited financial year-end statement by the end of September. This increase will assist the Auditor General's office in meeting this new measure of accountability, as well as to investigate and report on other priority areas. Those are just some of the spending highlights contained in this budget.

Mr. Speaker, it goes without saying, governments can't do everything; when you are investing significant new money in priority areas, when there are only so many dollars to go around, and when you are protecting a delicately balanced budget, adjustments must be made elsewhere.

In preparing this budget, Mr. Speaker, we took a long, hard look at the numbers and thought long and hard about our choices. To the greatest extent possible, we worked hard to protect those programs and services that are most important to Nova Scotians. And, Mr. Speaker, to the greatest extent possible, we worked hard to find the dollars to support low-income families and the working poor. You see it in our tax plan. You see it in our income assistance plan. And you see it in our investment in the KidSport program.

Mr. Speaker, to help make these and other investments possible, and to help find the dollars needed to address legitimate cost pressures across and throughout government, we reduced non-essential spending. While most of the departments outside of the big three will see a small increase, some will see a modest decrease. In some cases multi-year funding commitments have either come to an end or are drawing to a close. In others, we are eliminating or reducing discretionary grants; in still others we are taking longer to implement

[Page 2468]

program improvements or taking the necessary steps to make programs and services more affordable for taxpayers.

These reductions, along with the adjustments we've made to our tax plan, increased user fees, and increased tobacco taxes, allow us to invest more in Nova Scotia's priorities, to make a multi-million dollar down payment on our debt and to post a modest $2.1 million surplus. And while our operating budget remains in the black, Nova Scotia still faces a huge infrastructure deficit. Mr. Speaker, we're tackling that too. Once again, this year we will spend $250 million on roads and schools, and the Department of Health will provide $38 million in capital grants to the district health authorities. (Applause)

Just as any responsible homeowner would borrow on their line of credit to fix a leaky roof and readjust their budget to pay for it over time, we are borrowing the capital dollars needed to fix old roads or build new ones, to replace or renovate old or sick schools, and to make badly-needed upgrades to our hospitals. A conscious decision, Mr. Speaker, made in good conscience.

[3:00 p.m.]

While we know these capital investments will add to our debt, we also know Nova Scotia's ability to manage its debt is steadily improving. We also know these important investments add to our overall net worth as a province. Improvements to our roads and highways add to our ability to attract visitors to our province and to get our products to market. Improvements to our schools add to our ability to give our students a safe, healthy, and modern place to learn. Improvements to our hospitals add to our ability to attract more doctors and nurses to our province and to better respond to the health-care needs of Nova Scotians. And all of the above, Mr. Speaker, will help us be competitive and grow our economy, something that is vitally important to our long-term prosperity. In fact, to this end, government will shortly be releasing a comprehensive strategy to encourage more people from around the world to make Nova Scotia their permanent home.

Mr. Speaker, Nova Scotia's net debt-servicing costs in 2003-04 came in $25 million less than expected. This year, despite borrowing $250 million to pay for needed capital improvements, Nova Scotia's net debt-servicing costs will remain largely unchanged from the forecast, up just $10 million over last year and mostly due to unfunded pension interest.

Mr. Speaker, changes in debt-servicing costs are influenced by a long list of complicated factors and outside influences, including the value of the dollar, interest rates, credit ratings, and foreign exchange exposure, to name a few. Ultimately, the question of how well we are managing the debt, which now amounts to $12.3 billion, comes down to whether or not we are improving our capacity to manage it over the long term. And we are. The proof of this is in our improved credit rating. The proof of this is in our reduced foreign currency

[Page 2469]

exposure. And the proof of this is Nova Scotia's net direct debt-to-GDP ratio, down for the third year in a row. (Applause)

Mr. Speaker, despite the federal government downloading its costs onto the provinces, this government is committed to protecting municipal revenues. Some municipalities have expressed concern that the province would take steps to recover the increased revenues they will receive through the HST rebate.

Mr. Speaker, this is not going to happen. In fact, total provincial assistance to municipalities will increase slightly this year. And we are pleased to provide Nova Scotia's capital city with its second $2 million instalment for the Halifax Harbour Cleanup Project. We are also pleased to continue to advance the infrastructure priorities of municipalities throughout the province through the federal-provincial Municipal Infrastructure Agreement.

Mr. Speaker, Nova Scotia's municipalities are a partner in funding public education, with the province paying 90 per cent and local governments paying the remaining 10 per cent on incremental funding for public education. Again, we are not changing the rate at which municipalities contribute to public education. It will stay exactly where it is. We are, however, going to include teacher pension amounts in the basket of goods we are asking municipalities to help cover.

Mr. Speaker, growing assessment roles and increased assessments mean revenues for municipalities are up, in some cases, way up. This measure should not have any kind of measurable impact on either their tax rate or their efforts to improve local services.

As members know, government takes a host of economic indicators into account when preparing its budget: GDP, employment, retail sales, residential construction, and personal income growth to name a few. All of them are outlined in considerable detail in the documents accompanying my address.

Mr. Speaker, despite a challenging year as a result of a sluggish U.S. economy, devastating weather events, and the economic impact of SARS and mad cow disease, Nova Scotia's economy continues to grow. Nominal GDP grew 3.3 per cent in 2003. By 2005 it is expected to increase to 4.4 per cent. Nova Scotia's economy should continue to grow at a steady pace through to the end of 2005. (Applause)

Mr. Speaker, let me wrap up by saying this. If it wasn't for good management and the fact that Nova Scotia's economy continues to move in the right direction, Nova Scotians might well be looking at a much different budget and a much different future. One where taxes were going up for everyone, as opposed to down for the vast majority. One where there were deep cuts in priority areas, as opposed to significant new investments. One where wage freezes, rollbacks, or massive layoffs were expected, as opposed to steadfastly rejected.

[Page 2470]

Perhaps, one where red ink flowed everywhere, as opposed to the black ink that for three years in a row has marked our progress. Progress that can be easily measured on many fronts. On the fiscal front. On the economic front. On the social front. (Applause)

Mr. Speaker, every member in this House, to a person, has said they support a balanced budget. And we delivered. Every member of this House knows of the need to invest in better health, better education, better roads, and stronger families. And we delivered. Every member in this House understands that lower taxes make our economy more competitive. Again, we delivered. And every member in this House should know that in order for working men and women to do more to support their families, they need to keep more of their hard-earned dollars. And 96 per cent of Nova Scotians will. (Applause)

Mr. Speaker, this budget isn't just about dollars and cents. It's about the values Nova Scotians believe in. Living within our means. Helping those in need. Doing what's right, not just easy. Faith in ourselves. Fairness.

Mr. Speaker, this budget isn't just fiscally balanced, it is balanced in every sense of the word. It is forthright and fair. Reasonable and realistic. It's the right budget for Nova Scotia. Thank you. (Prolonged Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Fairview.

MR. GRAHAM STEELE: Mr. Speaker, as Opposition Finance Critic, it falls to me to begin the debate in reply to the budget, and I have to begin by saying what a difference a year makes, what a difference an election makes. At this time last year we were in this House faced by a budget, the centrepiece of which was $155 cheques issued to Nova Scotians on the eve of an election. This year we are faced by a budget, the centrepiece of which is righting a wrong, the centrepiece of which is paying for the health costs of residents in long-term care facilities.

Mr. Speaker, the government should be congratulated for doing this. The government should be congratulated for listening to the priorities of the people. They should be congratulated for listening to those over 20,000 Nova Scotians who signed our petition calling on the government to right this wrong. I think today of people like Trudy Milburn and Kay Bates, who live at opposite ends of Melrose Avenue in Fairview, a very long street running from Dutch Village Road up to the Bicentennial Highway, near North West Arm Drive, and if anybody doubts how long that street is, I will take them there and show them, and Trudy and Kay divided up that long street, with many houses, many apartment buildings, and they knocked on every single door on that street with that petition, because they knew it was wrong to charge residents of long-term care facilities, the majority of whom are seniors, for their health care.

[Page 2471]

There were hundreds of people, like Trudy and Kay, throughout Nova Scotia, who went door to door, who went to shopping malls and church suppers, who went everywhere they thought they could find people who shared their priorities and wanted their government to share the same priority. Today, every single Nova Scotian who signed that petition or in other ways showed their support for this very important change can be proud and, with justification, they can say to themselves that they forced the government to reflect their priorities. (Applause)

Mr. Speaker, there are questions about the transition to the new way of doing things that need to be addressed. The fact that this change will not be implemented today, but instead will begin next January 1st, creates certain incentives and issues that need to be addressed directly, openly and fairly. But make no mistake, this is good news for anyone with a loved one in long-term care. It is good news for anyone with a loved one who might need a long-term care facility. In short, it is good news for all of us.

Mr. Speaker, there are some other good things in today's budget. It is good to see the government addressing wait times for health care, although I have to say that their response on this issue reminds me just a little of their initial response on the long-term care issue. The steps they're taking today on waiting times are small and tentative, filled with doubt, containing more explanations of why it can't be done rather than explanations of how it is going to be done. But, just like on the long-term care issue, this government has demonstrated that where they will not lead, they can be pushed. This is an issue that is very important to Nova Scotians.

There are disappointments in the budget. Today, Nova Scotia, but particularly Cape Breton, suffered another real blow to its economy. Today, the Minister of Finance did not even mention Cape Breton, not even once; not in the entire Budget Speech is Cape Breton even mentioned. Economic development for this government seems to consist of crossing their fingers and hoping that things will continue to go well in Ontario and in the United States, that interest rates will stay low and the dollar won't go too high, that is a disappointment.

There seems little in this budget for university and college students to hope for, especially with respect to their tuition fees. The best the government can offer is discussions. There is no appreciable increase in university operating funding, and no increase in student debt-reduction measures.

There is no relief in this budget for Nova Scotia families struggling with taxes on the necessities of living. It is a fact that most Nova Scotians heat their homes with oil; it is a fact that heating oil prices are going nowhere but up over the foreseeable future, by which I mean the next number of years. There is no relief in this budget for people struggling to get by, day by day.

[Page 2472]

Mr. Speaker, the question that I know people want to know from us, the Official Opposition, is what will we do with this budget? How are we going to vote? The fact that the long-term care issue has been resolved, finally, in this fiscal year and not in the distant future will make it easier for us to consider voting for this budget, but we do have a responsibility, first, to seek the views of Nova Scotians before we presume to declare how we intend to vote on this budget, before we presume to declare how they feel about the budget, each of our members will be going out and doing that in their constituencies and elsewhere in Nova Scotia, over the time we have available, before voting day on the budget comes upon us.

[3:15 p.m.]

We also have a responsibility, before saying how we are going to vote on this budget, to start digging into its details, to start ferreting out the consequences of what it means. This is a $6 billion budget with hundreds of individual programs and line items. There is a great deal of detail.

Mr. Speaker, it is not unknown for this government to bury bad medicine and hope that we won't find it. In our experience it is invariably the case that the consequences of the budget become clear only after detailed review by our critics, after detailed questioning of the respective ministers in the scrutiny provided to us by the estimates debate, and after speaking to individuals and groups who can zero in on the precise consequences of every dollar put into a program and every dollar taken out. So that is what we are going to be doing over the next approximately three weeks, until we have to stand in our place to say Aye to the budget or Nay to this budget.

We will be consulting with Nova Scotians; we will be doing everything we can to discover all of the consequences of every line in this budget. So our consultation with Nova Scotians continues, our examination of the budget begins. With that, Mr. Speaker, I move adjournment of this debate until tomorrow.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is to adjourn debate.

Is it agreed?

Is it agreed.

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

The motion is carried.

The honourable Government House Leader.

[Page 2473]

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order or perhaps on a point of explanation. Yesterday, in response to a question from the Leader of the Opposition on insurance, I said that Nova Scotia had the lowest auto insurance rates in Canada. That, I am told with the latest survey, is not correct, we are the second lowest, just a tad behind Newfoundland and Labrador.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. The subject for this evening's late debate was submitted by the honourable member for Richmond.

Therefore be it resolved that this Tory Government has failed to respond to the significant issues facing rural Nova Scotia.

That will be debated this evening at 6:00 p.m.








MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth East.


MS. JOAN MASSEY: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall

move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas today is Earth Day, the largest, most celebrated environmental event worldwide; and

Whereas more than 6 million Canadians join 500 million people in over 180 countries in staging events and projects to address local environmental issues; and

Whereas there are many activities taking place to celebrate this very important event, such as tree planting, gardening, community clean ups, and nature walks to name just a few;

[Page 2474]

Therefore be it resolved that this government commend all those people in Nova Scotia, Canada and indeed around the world for doing their part to bring awareness to environmental issues our earth is facing today.

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 Minister of Justice, on an introduction.

HON. MICHAEL BAKER: Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to make an introduction. We have visitors today in the gallery. A group of students from Lunenburg High School are here in the House today, accompanied by their teacher Kim Hebert. I'd ask them to stand and receive the welcome of the House from members. (Applause)

Mr. Speaker, by way of note, members would be interested to note that these Grade 9 students have taken as a project to do projects or roles based on a number of the members of the House, on both sides of the House. So a number of members, they had a chance to meet a number of government members and, hopefully, they will have an opportunity to meet all members.

MR. SPEAKER: We certainly welcome our special guests to the gallery today.

The honourable member for Cape Breton South.

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Would you permit me an introduction before I do a resolution?


MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, in the gallery today we have the Mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality; also Mr. John Whalley, the Economic Development Director; the Treasurer for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, Rick Farmer; and Bernie White, The Clerk of the municipality. They're here today and they witnessed the discussion here so far on the budget and I'm sure they're going to be very

[Page 2475]

interested in what comments are going to be made outside this Chamber as it reflects Cape Breton. So I would like to have them stand and receive the warm wishes of the House. (Applause)

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


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

Whereas on June 19, 1999, the current Premier told The Chronicle-Herald, "What I've said is the day that I can't keep my commitments to the people is the day that I'm going to start uninvolving myself in public life."; and

Whereas just this week, the Premier proved he cannot keep his commitments; and

Whereas the Premier should be engaged in some deep soul-searching now that his commitments have been broken;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of the House encourage the Premier to consider whether or not he can still keep his commitments to the people of Nova Scotia and start the appropriate course of action.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

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

Is it agreed?

I hear several Noes.

The notice is tabled.

The honourable member for Dartmouth East on an introduction.

MS. JOAN MASSEY: Mr. Speaker, I would like to welcome a councillor from my area, Brian Warshick, he's in the Speaker's Gallery. I would like to have everyone welcome him here today. (Applause)

[Page 2476]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank.


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

Whereas Sheila Campbell from Noel, Hants County, was recently appointed as safety coordinator for the All-Terrain Vehicle Association of Nova Scotia; and

Whereas Ms. Campbell served as a member of the Voluntary Planning Task Force looking into the usage of off-highway vehicles and is also a member of the Fundy Adventures All-Terrain Vehicle Club; and

Whereas Ms. Campbell, in becoming an all-terrain vehicle chief safety instructor became the only female in Canada to have earned such a distinction and is also a graduate of the Canadian Safety Council's training course;

Therefore be it resolved that the MLAs applaud Sheila Campbell for her significant achievement and wish her continued success.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

MR. SPEAKER: There is 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 Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations on an introduction.

HON. BARRY BARNET: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to introduce to you and to all members of this House, in your gallery, our friend and former colleague, David Hendsbee. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Just before we continue, are there any further introductions honourable members would like to make?

[Page 2477]

The honourable member for Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank.

MR. GARY HINES: Mr. Speaker, I would like to introduce a former HRM councillor colleague of mine, Brian Warshick.

MR. SPEAKER: We certainly welcome our guests today.

The honourable member for Sackville-Cobequid.

MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw the attention of the members to the west gallery and a student of St. Mary's University and a resident of Lower Sackville, my constituency. So, Matt Whynott, stand up; he's sitting and watching the proceedings today. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: We welcome our guest to the gallery today.

The honourable member for Preston.

MR. KEITH COLWELL: Mr. Speaker, I would like to introduce in the west gallery, Dwayne Provo. He's a prominent member of the Preston community. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: We welcome our guest to the gallery.

Any further introductions? If not, the honourable member for Halifax Atlantic on a resolution.


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

Whereas William D. "Bill" Gerrior grew up in Larry's River, Guysborough County, speaking English only and decided a mere 23 years ago to embrace his Acadian heritage and learn to speak the language of his forefathers; and

Whereas William D. "Bill" Gerrior grew up in Larry's River, Guysborough County has travelled the length and breadth of North America, has voyaged to France and the Channel Islands pursuing the history of the many branches of the Girouard, Gerrior and Giroir family since the arrival of François Girouard at Port Royal in 1642; and

Whereas Bill Gerrior has compiled and published a monumental body of research on the story of his family and by, extension, of all Acadian families since the Deportation;

[Page 2478]

Therefore be it resolved that this House unanimously recognize Bill Gerrior for his impassioned and wide-ranging study, wish him and his families a joyous reunion at the Congrès Mondial Acadien 2004 when they return to Acadie to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of the French arrival at North America.

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 motion is carried.

The honourable member for Cape Breton West.


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

Whereas Halifax International Airport ranked first in overall passenger satisfaction for airports worldwide with under five million passengers, according to the 2003 AETRA Customer Satisfaction Survey released today; and

Whereas Halifax International won the most awards of any airport, receiving recognition in four out of five eligible categories; and

Whereas Halifax came first among international passengers for courtesy and helpfulness of airport and check-in staff, waiting time at check-in and efficiency of check-in staff and the awards will be presented in October at Airports Council International Annual World Conference in Lisbon;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House congratulate Halifax International Airport and Reg Milley, the board of directors, management and staff on a job well done.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask for waiver.

[Page 2479]

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 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 International Airport, at the conference of the Airports Council International America in San Diego, on Monday, won an award for the most innovative concession advertising among North American airports; and

Whereas Halifax International Airport won their category for its work with Interspace Airport Advertising on its air terminal building expansion during 2003 by creating a smart city theme featuring such scenic tourist attractions as the Old Town Clock and the Angus L. Macdonald and the A. Murray MacKay Bridges; and

Whereas other award winning airports included San Antonio International, Indianapolis International, Chicago's O'Hare International and La Guardia in New York;

Therefore be it resolved that all legislators praise the creativity of staff at Canada's seventh busiest airport, Halifax International Airport, residing in the beautiful Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, in winning this prestigious award.

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.

[Page 2480]

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Dartmouth South-Portland Valley.


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

Whereas volunteers across Nova Scotia contribute time, energy, talents, commitment and money to make their communities a better place to live, work and play; and

Whereas the provincial government departments depend on volunteers to provide many of their own services; and

Whereas April 18-24, 2004, is National Volunteer Week in Canada;

Therefore be it resolved that the Members of the Legislative Assembly take this opportunity during volunteer week to thank Nova Scotia's volunteers and their organizations and pledge to work with them to enhance their efforts over the coming years.

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 motion is carried.

The honourable member for Halifax Clayton Park.


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

Whereas on April 20, 2004, Park West School in Clayton Park West held their annual Multicultural Day; and

[Page 2481]

Whereas the school proudly boasts a total of 33 different languages spoken and 38 distinct countries represented within its student body, reflecting the diverse and vibrant community of Clayton Park; and

Whereas the event was celebrated with dance, food and storytelling from around the world and the school was decorated with the flags of many nations;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this Legislature acknowledge the outstanding commitment that Park West School has made to multiculturalism in the community of Clayton Park West.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

[3:30 p.m.]

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 Kings North.


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

Whereas Jon Carey served in this Legislature as MLA for Kings West from 1999 to 2003; and

Whereas during that time Mr. Carey worked hard on behalf of his constituents, giving unstintingly of his time and energy; and

Whereas Jon Carey's commitment to public service continues as he resoundingly won the nomination as Conservative candidate for the riding of West Nova this past Saturday;

Therefore be it resolved that this House go on record as commending Mr. Carey for his dedication to public service and wish him all the best in his future plans.

[Page 2482]

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 Timberlea-Prospect.


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

Whereas on Saturday, April 24th, the friends and family of Gladys and Leo Slaunwhite, will gather at the Terence Bay Fire Hall; and

Whereas on this occasion we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of this legendary couple; and

Whereas Gladys and Leo serve as notable examples of commitment for all of us to follow;

Therefore be it resolved that the Nova Scotia Legislature congratulate Leo and Gladys Slaunwhite on their 50th Anniversary with best wishes for many great years together in the future.

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 Shelburne.

[Page 2483]


MR. CECIL O'DONNELL: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas fire department ladies auxiliaries play such a fundamental role in the operation of volunteer fire departments across Nova Scotia; and

Whereas the Carleton Gunning Cove Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary work diligently year-round to raise funds and support operations of the Carleton Gunning Cove Fire Department; and

Whereas support from communities, contributing to the hard work undertaken by ladies auxiliaries, alleviates part of the workload undertaken;

Therefore be it resolved that MLAs in the House of Assembly wish President Carol Mahaney, the executive and all members of the Carleton Gunning Cove Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary, a successful 2004, while acknowledging their tremendous contributions of the past.

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 Minister of Energy.


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

Whereas last Saturday, April 17th, the Cape Breton Junior Chamber of Commerce convened a meeting of MPs and MLAs from industrial Cape Breton to stress the urgency of getting on with the long-awaited cleanup of the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens; and

[Page 2484]

Whereas the Cape Breton Junior Chamber stressed the damage Sydney's reputation suffers with every additional day of delay in getting on with the cleanup; and

Whereas the Cape Breton Junior Chamber urged politicians of all Parties and all levels of government to work co-operatively and urgently to get this project moving;

Therefore be it resolved that this House congratulate the Cape Breton Junior Chamber for their initiative in pressing for joint action to resolve this long-standing problem.

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 Minister of Education.


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

Whereas Gloria Demers was honoured as the 2003 Volunteer of the Year at the 20th Annual Truro Sport Heritage Society Awards Dinner; and

Whereas Gloria Demers set up a screening process for all area coaches and volunteers and also set up a database of all athletes and volunteers registered with Nova Scotia Special Olympics; and

Whereas in 2003, Gloria Demers set up programs for curling, snowshoeing, youth bowling, a master's triathalon and also organized the Dragon Boat fundraising team;

Therefore be it resolved that all members congratulate Gloria Demers on being named the 2003 Truro Sport Heritage Volunteer of the Year and thank her, once again, for 23 years of outstanding contributions to the Cobequid Region Special Olympics programs.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

[Page 2485]

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 Minister of Education.


HON JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the honourable Minister of Justice, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Jilian Eisnor, a former resident of Martins River, Lunenburg County, has been nominated for the CIBC Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award; and

Whereas this award is given to a student who operates a business while attending university or college full time; and

Whereas Jilian has been chosen as one of the three semi-finalists out of a group of 108 who received nominations from across the Atlantic Provinces and Quebec for consideration of the award;

Therefore be it resolved that the member of the House of Assembly congratulate Jilian on being recognized for her entrepreneurial excellence and on her nomination for the CIBC Student Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

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.

[Page 2486]

The honourable member for Kings West.

MR. LEO GLAVINE: Mr. Speaker, if I could indulge you with an introduction, please, I would appreciate it. In the west gallery we have three students from Dalhousie University, who are very interested in today's proceedings. Kevin Wasko, Ray Yang, Curtis McGraw, could you rise and receive the warm welcome of the House, please. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Kings West.


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

Whereas the Duke of Edinburgh's Awards were established on a voluntary and non-competitive basis in the mid-1950s, and divided into three categories, bronze, silver and gold, to challenge young people between the ages of 14 to 25 to reach their highest potential; and

Whereas to receive the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, each participant must complete four components: physical activity, skills development, service to the community and, finally, outdoor expedition; to receive the gold award, participants must also meet the residential component, where they are required to spend four nights and five days in an environment with which they are unfamiliar; and

Whereas Jessica West of Kingston has completed the five components necessary to be awarded the Gold Duke of Edinburgh's Award by volunteering as Beaver Leader, school canteen worker, shadow lifeguard, senior concert band, participating in soccer, volleyball, swimming, cycling and hiking at Kejimkujik;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate Ms. West for this tremendous accomplishment, and wish her every success in the future.

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.

[Page 2487]

The honourable Minister of Health.


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

Whereas this year, the St. F.X. X-Men basketball team has once again proven they are indeed champions by winning their fourth Atlantic University Championship title in five years; and

Whereas the talented team was in the very capable hands of head coach, Steve Konchalski, who is in his 29th season at St. F.X., and assistant coaches, Ron MacDonald and Augy Jones; and

Whereas the championship all-stars included St. F.X. guard, Jonathan Bell and St. F.X. forward, Neal MacDonald;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House join me in congratulating the St. F.X. basketball team and its coaching staff on winning their fourth Atlantic University Championship title, and wish them continued success in their athletic endeavours.

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 Victoria-The Lakes.


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

Whereas on April 22, 2004, Rindress and Gavina MacKenzie will celebrate their 65th Wedding Anniversary, and have always been there for their children and grandchildren; and

[Page 2488]

Whereas Rindress and Gavina MacKenzie have a lifelong commitment to community involvement and have demonstrated leadership in teaching local community heritage to others; and

Whereas they are a fine example of upstanding community members who demand accountability of their elected officials and are lifelong Liberals;

Therefore be it resolved that this House congratulate Rindress and Gavina MacKenzie on their 65th Wedding Anniversary, and wish them many more contented and productive years.

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 Digby-Annapolis.

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

Whereas in the months following the Spring floods and Hurricane Juan, the Minister responsible for the Emergency Measures Organization stated very clearly on more than one occasion, that he had forwarded the appropriate claims and receipts to the federal government for state of emergency funding; and

Whereas in March the minister ungraciously accepted an advance of $8 million in disaster relief from federal Minister, Geoff Regan, by arguing that the federal government had been either ignoring his claims for full funding or refusing to pay them; and

Whereas it has been revealed that the Minister responsible for EMO has filed incomplete claims for compensation and has been unable to provide receipts for many of the expenses that were incurred by the province;

[Page 2489]

Therefore be it resolved that the Minister responsible for EMO stand in this House today and offer a heartfelt and abject apology to the people of Nova Scotia for causing them to believe that he had filed legitimate claims for compensation on their behalf, when he had not, and to the federal government for making unfair and false accusations against them.

Mr. Speaker, I request waiver of notice.

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

I would like to have a look at the resolution first before I decide.

The honourable member for Annapolis.


MR. STEPHEN MCNEIL: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the honourable member for Halifax Citadel, I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas today is Earth Day, an annual time for people in Nova Scotia and around the world to celebrate the gift of our earth and our responsibility to it; and

Whereas Earth Day broadens our understanding of the enormous challenges we face to sustain and promote a cleaner environment; and

Whereas at an international, national, provincial, local and personal level, we must do more to ensure that we leave our earth healthier than when we found it;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this Legislature recognize all those people and organizations in Nova Scotia who work to ensure that the principles of Earth Day find their way into the actions we take, the words we speak, and the laws we enact all year round.

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.

[Page 2490]

The motion is carried.

The honourable member for Preston.


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

Whereas since 1977 the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia served as an educational centre and museum for Nova Scotians, recognizing the achievements of African Nova Scotians; and

Whereas on March 20, 2004, the Black Cultural Centre for Nova Scotia honoured Halifax Regional police officers of African heritage; and

Whereas the Halifax Regional Police Wall of Recognition has been created to acknowledge their contribution to our community, Constable Shaun Carvery's name has been added to the wall;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House congratulate Constable Shaun Carvery and honour his service to his community.

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 Minister of Health.


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

[Page 2491]

Whereas this week, April 19th to April 23rd, is National Medical Laboratory Week, a week to celebrate medical laboratory staff throughout the country; and

Whereas medical laboratory professionals, including medical laboratory technologists, medical laboratory scientists, and medical laboratory assistants, make up Canada's third largest group of health care workers; and

Whereas Nova Scotia is very fortunate to have knowledgeable and dedicated staff in labs throughout the province who work as key members of care teams with doctors, nurses, and staff, to provide accurate and timely test results for Nova Scotians;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House recognize April 19th to April 23rd as National Medical Laboratory Week, and show our appreciation for the hard work done in labs across the province toward diagnosis, treatment and overall care of Nova Scotians.

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 Minister of Health.

[3:45 p.m.]


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

Whereas this week, April 19th to April 23rd is National Organ and Tissue Donation Week and for many patients, transplantation offers hope for a healthy, productive life; and

Whereas people in Nova Scotia die each year due to shortages of organ and tissue donations and the need for donation continues to grow; and

[Page 2492]

Whereas donated organs and tissues can help save or enhance the quality of life of many - and everyone can consider themselves to be a potential donor or tissue donor, regardless of age;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of the House and all Nova Scotians take the time to talk with their families and consider giving the gift of life through organ and tissue donation.

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 motion is carried.

Just so the House is aware, there was a request to revert back so the minister would be allowed to read the extra and we stayed within the business. We could have reverted back to the order of business, but I felt it was just as appropriate to move the House along.

Order, please. The motion by the honourable member for Digby-Annapolis is out of order.

The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect on an introduction.

MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, it's appropriate on a Nova Scotia rough and tumble day to have a classy veteran from the CFL in our gallery. I would like members to recognize that we have the honour and privilege of having Damon Allen in the gallery. Mr. Allen, could you stand and be recognized. (Applause)

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


MR. BROOKE TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, I submit this resolution with a lot of encouragement from the Pages and staff and of course, you, Mr. Speaker.

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

[Page 2493]

Whereas there are many individuals among us who work hard to ensure that the operations of Province House run smoothly on a daily basis; and

Whereas one such individual is Mr. Mike Laffin, Co-ordinator of the House of Assembly Operations and who, as the Sergeant-at-Arms will attest, is difficult to bring into the Chamber and listen to this resolution right now, he's an awful bashful gentleman; and

Whereas Mr. Laffin's birthday is today, Thursday, April 22nd;

Therefore be it resolved that all members of this House join me in noting Mr. Laffin's hard work and wishing him well as he celebrates his birthday today.

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 motion is carried.



MR. SPEAKER: Question Period will begin at 3:48 p.m. and end at 4:48 p.m.

The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.


MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, while we've been in the budget lock-up and listening to the speech of the Minister of Finance, the people of Glace Bay learned that a major private-sector employer in their community is closing indefinitely. I'd like to table the press release along with Stream's site fact sheet, along with information about the benefits of working in India. Ironically, that news came on the same day that a Progressive Conservative budget ignored - once again - the economic crisis in Cape Breton. Astonishingly, not even a mention of Cape Breton Island in the budget. My question for the Premier is, will the Premier tell Cape Bretoners and the people of Glace Bay in particular

[Page 2494]

whether today's news is enough to change his mind and admit that there is a major economic crisis that needs to be addressed?

HON. JOHN HAMM (The Premier): Mr. Speaker, what I can say through you to the member opposite and to the people of Glace Bay is that the government will put all its resources behind a plan to replace the employment that is being lost as a result of Stream losing its contract. This morning I spoke with a senior official of Stream who informed me that the company is already in the process of looking for a new contract to replace the contract that has been lost. I spoke this morning with Rick Beaton of ECBC indicating the willingness of our government to put all its resources behind a co-operative effort to provide a solution to the issue in Glace Bay.

As well, I spoke to the local Member of Parliament this morning, Mr. Rodger Cuziner, and as well indicated to him we are perfectly willing to work hand in glove with the federal government, the way we have been in the past, to provide opportunities for the people of Glace Bay. The government is on top of the issue. I have discussed it with my Cabinet and the appropriate Cabinet Ministers. We will be there for the people of Glace Bay.

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, the Premier spoke in glowing terms about Stream in October 2002. He said at Stream in Glace Bay they exceeded their employment targets after only four and a half months. The Economic Development Minister boasts about the Tory economic growth strategy and now the crisis is so immediate for 800 Stream employees. I want to ask the Premier if he could indicate to the people of Glace Bay, today, what is the new economic growth strategy for the people of Glace Bay?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is absolutely correct in that Stream was a good corporate citizen. They lost a contract. For 21 straight months because of the organization in Glace Bay and because of the excellent workforce that they had been able to achieve in Glace Bay, it was the leading light in their entire organization. They will be able to use that strength to attract a new contract. So I think we should congratulate Stream for putting together the great workforce that they have in Glace Bay and that workforce I think will be very, very instrumental in them getting a new contract.

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, this is one of those instances when I sincerely hope that the Premier is right, I really do; I hope he's right. The Premier has not attended a meeting with CBRM Council to discuss the economic crisis that has seen 10,000 people leave Cape Breton. His budget ignores Cape Breton. His ministers deny that there is even a problem. So I want to ask, will the Premier agree now to meet with Stream employees, with the CBRM, with its Economic Development staff, to show his commitment to putting together a plan for Glace Bay and a larger growth plan for Cape Breton?

[Page 2495]

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, yes, the government is already part of a growth plan for Cape Breton; an example is our participation in the Cape Breton Growth Fund. Yes, we will meet as a government with any group that is responsible, is prepared to talk positively, and work positively to promote economic development in Cape Breton.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Glace Bay.


MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Premier. As we know, this morning staff at the Stream call centre was called to a meeting where they received some bad news, and if Stream does not secure another contract they will begin to ramp down operations and will likely close their doors. But, unlike the NDP, I'm not going to be as negative as to say they've already closed their doors, because I want to hold out hope for the people of Glace Bay and hope for the Stream call centre. The failure to secure a contract will mean those job losses for an area in the province that we all know is already economically depressed. So my question to the Premier is, what is this government going to do to ensure that those 850 people will still be employed two months from now?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, what I can say, which should be of some comfort to the member opposite who, I know, has a genuine concern on this issue, is that in my own community, for example, we have successful call centre jobs. From time to time there have been temporary layoffs when one contract would end and those layoffs would continue until a new contract was achieved. So, you know, we've gone through this with other call centres across the province and we have been able to address it satisfactorily and we will do it in Glace Bay as well.

MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): Mr. Speaker, I know that the Premier knows that this government has an obligation to assist in these sorts of circumstances, and the government has claimed that they are the greatest thing since sliced bread in many instances. So I'm asking the Premier, what is an exact plan to help, in this instance, a specific plan, so that those employees will not have to worry over the next two months about their future?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, what I can say through you and to the member for Glace Bay, and through the member for Glace Bay to the people of Glace Bay, is that already we have gone and made it a priority. We only received the information a very short time ago and we are already putting our collective resources together to work with ECBC, with the federal representatives in the area to come up with a satisfactory resolution.

While I could not guarantee today that there will not be a work interruption, because we have a very short period of time to achieve a new contract, what I can say is that we have said to the senior officials at Stream call centre, we are going to work with them in their efforts to get a new contract and we will work as well with the federal government in concert.

[Page 2496]

MR. WILSON: Mr. Speaker, again, I want the Premier to know that I spoke with the general manager of the Stream call centre today who was extremely positive and extremely optimistic that a contract will be found. Again, not in the negative terms of the NDP, who have already closed the Stream call centre, not in their terms. This is a call centre that set world records, as the Premier knows, this is a call centre that made a profit and employed over 1,000 people in Glace Bay and area, at one time.

Mr. Speaker, it was the former candidate for the NDP who showed up at the meeting today and interrupted it and said, that he would work with the Liberal MLA and with the Liberal MP, to try to ensure a contract will stay at Stream call centre. My final question to the Premier, will he commit government resources here and now to ensure that those employees are going to be working two months from now?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, what I can commit to the member opposite is that we will put all of our resources to the task to provide the necessary support that Stream needs. The member right opposite is absolutely right, this has been a world-class effort. They've lost a contract. There is every expectation, that with proper support, they'll put another contract in place.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Official Opposition.



MR. DARRELL DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Premier. People who have been facing the difficult decision about whether they or a loved one need long-term care, now face a new question. The question is, can they wait until January when the harsh and unfair fees end. My question is this, what plans does the government have to help people who need care, but who cannot afford to enter a nursing home until January?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, what I can say is that in Nova Scotia, there is no resident that cannot afford to go into a nursing home. No resident of Nova Scotia, that passes through the single-entry access process, is going to be denied a long-term bed in Nova Scotia. We will accommodate them all.

MR. DEXTER: Well, Mr. Speaker, today's announcement brings particular relief to families who face years more confiscation of their savings. But those of modest means, who can be wiped out in months, are going to be very reluctant to enter long-term care. Home care has staff shortages and arbitrary limits on the range of services provided. So my question again to the Premier is, what assurance can he give to ensure that home care will meet the needs created by the January deadline?

[Page 2497]

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, that question could be best addressed by the Minister of Health.

HON. ANGUS MACISAAC: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for that question. We obviously want to work very carefully with families to ensure that their family members who need care, will, in fact, receive it. We understand the challenge that is before us in the transition period and we will respond appropriately to ensure that nobody is denied care. It is a challenge but it is one which we will work toward resolving realistically on an individual basis.

[4:00 p.m.]

MR. DEXTER: Mr. Speaker, my questions are not meant to diminish the fact that this announcement was a long time coming but people undergoing financial assessment right now, dozens of whom are occupying acute care hospital beds, will be looking for answers right now about what this plan means for them. Today's announcement, of course, is welcome. People will expect to hear answers very soon. When will hospitals, home care coordinators in the financial assessment unit, and all those others who help families facing these difficult choices, be in a position to give seniors and their families the advice and support that they need?

MR. MACISAAC: Mr. Speaker, I can assure the honourable member that all involved with respect to working with seniors in this circumstance will be and are available to work with them and assist them in their decision making with respect to long-term care. The transition is one that, as it proceeds, then of course the urgency that the honourable member references will diminish because of the time frame being diminished but we are prepared to work very carefully with them as we work through this transition period.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Clayton Park.


MS. DIANA WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Finance. Once again this government is predicting a razor-thin surplus. Unfortunately, district health authorities do not yet have their budgets. Again, the government is pinning their hopes on things like retail sales estimates, hoping they will take off from less than 1 per cent to over 4 per cent in a single year. Mr. Minister, how can Nova Scotians have confidence that this budget will be balanced at the end of the fiscal year?

HON. PETER CHRISTIE: Mr. Speaker, the honourable member is just incorrect in one thing. She says we are balancing our hopes on the increase of retail sales going from 1 per cent to 4 per cent. We are balancing our hopes on Nova Scotians and the way they like

[Page 2498]

to work and the way they like to produce. This government has brought in three consecutive balanced budgets. That's why Nova Scotians believe it.

MS. WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, this budget does represent the triumph of hope over experience. Let's hope we have good weather this year because there is no contingency for any disaster or even unpredictable snowstorms. Given the lack of planning demonstrated by this minister, how can Nova Scotians believe the budget will indeed be balanced?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Just a reminder to all honourable members that I will allow general questions around the budget but not specific questions about the budget itself.

The honourable Minister of Finance.

MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Speaker, what Nova Scotians do know is that we have had a track record of not only bringing in balanced forecasts but bringing in balanced budgets. So they look at the fiscal management we've brought to this province and that is why they have confidence.

AN HON. MEMBER: Ask the minister if he is planning on changing any rules in this year's budget.

MS. WHALEN: Say that again.

AN HON. MEMBER: Is he changing any rules in this year's budget.

MS. WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, again, the minister is asking Nova Scotians to trust him when their confidence has been shaken. Why won't the minister admit that the budget may not be balanced and is in fact precarious?

MR. CHRISTIE: Mr. Speaker, as we talked about earlier today, as we look back over the last three years, we look at the fact that we have had, as we forecasted, very thin surpluses but then, when the people of this province look at the financial statements, they will see that we have managed within those budgets, we have stayed on our targets and we have brought in surpluses every year.

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


MR. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Premier. Yesterday the Third Party sponsored two resolutions talking about economic development, but did not once mention the layoff at Stream. Now it could have been something that the Third Party's federal cousins didn't tell them. They did not know anything about this. Their federal cousins told

[Page 2499]

them nothing. Rodger took that little secret from them. This is a federal government that seems it's more important to spend money on Quebec ad firms than laid-off Cape Breton coal miners. There was $10 million of the growth fund invested in that operation. I want to ask the Premier, what portion of that was provincial money, and how have you secured it?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, I refer that to the Minister of Economic Development.

HON. ERNEST FAGE: Mr. Speaker, there was $10 million that was provided through the Cape Breton Growth Fund. As well, the Province of Nova Scotia, through OED, worked with the facility's owner for $1.5 million on the upgrade of the facility.

MR. CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, I would like to be optimistic about this too, but this morning, when the employer met with the employees, a large amount of time was spent on how the severance package was going to be worked out. It would be 16 weeks, downscaled to 12, then eight. I want to ask the Minister of Economic Development, what talks have you had with the feds regarding the EI and the federal tax implications on that money?

MR. FAGE: Mr. Speaker, as the Premier said, we have had discussions with ECBC's director, as well as the local MP. We are determined to work closely with Stream to find another contract so that the employees are employed at this stage.

MR. CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, the company itself, although it may be telling the outside something else, they're telling their employees to be prepared for a layoff. This is something that's imminent; it's something that has to be resolved. You can't bury your head in the sand. I want to ask the Premier, what are you doing to help those affected employees?

THE PREMIER: Mr. Speaker, the company . . .

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

THE PREMIER: The company, knowing that there is an impending layoff, is following legal process and giving appropriate notification to their workers, which is the right thing to do. Fortunately, the current contract will continue for several weeks, giving us some breathing time to put in place an alternative solution for those workers and for the company. The government will work aggressively with federal counterparts and with Stream itself to come out with a satisfactory resolution for all of this, because I'm not interested right now in talking severance. What I'm interested in is looking at a new contract.

[Page 2500]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Halifax Clayton Park.


MS. DIANA WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Finance. On Tuesday, Premier Hamm announced that the tax cuts were to be reversed. This was a grudging admission that the tax cut was wrong from the start. Now, three and a half months after announcing the tax cuts, the Tories have acknowledged they were never affordable. My question for the minister is, can the minister explain how the Cabinet and its advisers failed to face reality a year ago when they were setting the course for a tax cut that endangered our already underfunded health and social programs?

HON. PETER CHRISTIE: Mr. Speaker, I can only assume the honourable member didn't hear my announcement on the fiscal year ending 2003-04, because what we said in that year is that we put through the tax reductions, we put through the storms, we put through the accounting changes, and we still balanced. That's what we said.

MS. WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, the tax cut was the cornerstone of the government's credibility. We learned only this week that the tax clawback of approximately $20 million is the action that will actually allow a slim surplus of $14.5 million for last year. Mr. Minister, where is the transparency and openness that was promised to Nova Scotians, given that we were misled all year long on the severity of the shortfall in revenue for last year?

MR. CHRISTIE: I guess if we are going to talk about one particular item that happened in 2003-04, we should put it all in context. Yes there were some tax changes in there, yes there were some tobacco tax increases, yes there were some TCA changes, but, Mr. Speaker, there also was the major change to the post-pension benefits which put a negative effect on the budget of $43 million. Mr. Speaker, this government believes that if you go down the road for GAAP accounting, you don't just take the good, you have to take the good with the bad and that is what I call transparent accounting.

MS. WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, last year's budget was so poorly planned that we've seen everything as the Minister of Finance has mentioned, from last-minute accounting policy changes, cuts to programs during the year, another increase in cigarette prices and now, in fact, tax clawbacks to make sure the books were balanced last year. My question for the minister is, how can the minister continue to tell Nova Scotians that all is well with the finances of the province when the people across Nova Scotia can now see clearly that the debt has grown and so have their taxes?

MR. CHRISTIE: What we have done with the tax changes this year is we have taken back a portion of the tax reduction. There is still $50 million in the system. There are still tax reductions to small businesses, there are still tax reductions for people with disabilities, Mr.

[Page 2501]

Speaker, that's what's called planning and that's what's called reacting to the people of Nova Scotia.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect.


MR. WILLIAM ESTABROOKS: My question through you, Mr. Speaker, is to the Premier. University funding is at the same level it stood at in 1992-93. In real terms, taking inflation into account, that's a 25 per cent decrease in funding - I repeat, a 25 per cent decrease in funding. I am continually amazed at this government's continued indifference to the plight of post-secondary students and their families.

Mr. Premier, contrary to the Minister of Educations' statements, there is no positive effect on tuitions across this province. Nova Scotians will be pushed further into debt, and there is not one more penny made available for student reduction. Mr. Premier, why does this government insist on balancing their budgets on the backs of students?

THE PREMIER: Yes, there is much I agree with in the preamble of the honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect. The government really is proud. When we came into government back in 1999, the previous year the government had provided $181 million. We provided, in our first year, $190 million; the next year, $194 million; the next year, $200 million; the next year, $206 million; and in 2003-04, $199 million; plus another $8 million before the year was over. Every year we have increased.

The member opposite knows that as long as we are moving in the right direction, what we are doing is responding to what money we have available. We have increased every single year and will continue to increase that, and we will sign a memorandum of understanding with the universities to ensure them a long-term funding arrangement that they can plan with.

[4:15 p.m.]

MR. ESTABROOKS: Mr. Speaker, this government also fails to tell the whole story on funding for Nova Scotia community colleges. As they did with universities on Monday, this government is claiming to have made additional monies available, this is just not the case. Operational funding for NSCC was $73.3 million in 2002-03 and it's set for $73.9 million this year. But this, again, is a funding decrease in real terms, I point out.

So, Mr. Premier, why is it that instead of helping those who need education the most, those people in the community college system, your government pursues policies that discriminate against low income Nova Scotians?

THE PREMIER: I refer that to the Minister of Education.

[Page 2502]

HON. JAMES MUIR: Mr. Speaker, this government has made a tremendous commitment to community college, the board, staff members, everybody associated with the community college has stood up and applauded this government's $123 million commitment to the community college.

MR. ESTABROOKS: . . . just keep going up, Mr. Speaker. Tuition just keeps going up. The infrastructure on our campuses is in disrepair. Our universities are finding it more and more difficult to recruit and keep faculty members. Students from out of province make up a growing proportion of student populations in Nova Scotia, shutting out qualified, capable, young men and women from our communities, based on this simple thing, the ability to pay.

So my question this time is for the Minister of Education. What will it take for this government to recognize that our university and college system is an asset and not a liability, so why punish them?

MR. MUIR: Mr. Speaker, I agree with the honourable member for Timberlea-Prospect, the university system in Nova Scotia is an asset. Indeed, it's the finest university system in the country. The fact that it is the finest university system in the country is why, as my colleague the Minister of Finance said in the Budget Address today, 5,000 students from other parts of Canada come here to attend school.

Now, the other thing that he mentioned is that the funding for students or funding for universities is per capita. The province has been asking the federal government to renegotiate that formula to let funding follow the students. If that funding followed the students, we would have a whole lot more money to put into our universities.

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


MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, my question today is to the Minister responsible for the office of Economic Development. You'll note, I say office of Economic Development, because it has been reduced from a ministry down to an office, on its way out the door completely in the next budget probably.

Mr. Speaker, officials from the Cape Breton Regional Municipality are here today looking for help and, sad to say, they will be going home empty-handed, because this budget provided nothing for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality or, in fact, no mention was made in this budget at all about the problems facing Cape Breton. Today's budget not only completely ignored Cape Breton but NSBI completely ignored Cape Breton, in their small report that's in the budget today; very little in the budget regarding NSBI initiatives.

[Page 2503]

My first question to the Minister of the office of Economic Development, who is responsible for NSBI, can the minister explain to me and to members of this House and, more importantly, to Cape Bretoners why only 1.3 per cent of NSBI's budget in the last fiscal year was spent in Cape Breton?

HON. ERNEST FAGE: Mr. Speaker, I certainly think that's a question that deserves a good answer. I think that I can certainly supply that. First of all, NSBI looks for investment opportunities in every community in Nova Scotia. Our government's investment in the Cape Breton Growth Fund of $12 million offers another vehicle that we can invest in Cape Breton to assist in economic development, as well as we have through the credit union, the $150,000 loan guarantee for small businesses. We use a whole cadre of programs to lever federal dollars as well as provincial dollars to help with any opportunity, whether it be in Cape Breton or any other community in Nova Scotia.

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, the minister waxes eloquent about what's happening in Cape Breton, but the fact is it's still 1.3 per cent, no matter how he wants to sugarcoat that. As the minister knows, 12 members make up the board of NSBI, only one of which represents the Island of Cape Breton and that member was a political appointment. Despite the fact that many people had applied for the position on that board who could genuinely help out Cape Breton - no, they had to move differently in Cape Breton, they put a political hack in there as their member from the Island of Cape Breton.

Mr. Speaker, the only initiatives going on in Cape Breton at the present time are federally driven and this government has been piggybacking on federal initiatives for far too long. In regard to the Stream call centre, the only money that this government has in the Stream call centre is money to the person who owns the building down there who was a political Tory fundraiser. No money was given to the Stream call centre for initiatives on payroll like what happened in Pictou County with Convergys.

MR. SPEAKER: Question, please.

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: So there was a double standard there. My question to the minister is, why is there a double standard when it comes to dealing with Cape Breton, in regard to other parts of Nova Scotia?

MR. FAGE: I think there are two important points to make, Mr. Speaker. First of all, the $12 million in the Cape Breton Growth Fund certainly is an investment by this province and we work closely with our federal partners to support projects like Stream. Secondly, I think it was critically important that the province did a loan guarantee through the offices of Economic Development for $1.5 million. The weather is rather variable in Cape Breton, as it is in Nova Scotia, and the building was important to house this opportunity. That particular structure, that investment by the province allowed Stream to go to Glace Bay and the necessary repairs to be made and the upgrades to the building.

[Page 2504]

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, what the minister fails to mention is $12 million in provincial money is over six years and that's the sum total of their investment in the economy of Cape Breton. The only one making any money down there is Ernst & Young, who is plucking the provincial Treasury dry with the money they're taking out of Sydney Steel after the government closed it, and now they're rewarding their friends.

Mr. Speaker, I want to know from this minister, what initiatives provincially are being done to strengthen the economy of Cape Breton and help out the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and small-business people who are looking for assistance from this government?

MR. FAGE: Mr. Speaker, as the member opposite certainly well knows, there are more jobs in Cape Breton now than there were five years ago, there are more jobs in Cape Breton than there were 10 years ago, and that's because this particular government is concerned about jobs and economic growth. That's why we invest in the Cape Breton Growth Fund. That's why we invest through NSBI. That's why, if it's small business, we have the Credit Union Loan Program that allows up to $150,000 to be borrowed and guaranteed by 75 per cent by this government. We're looking at exploring every business opportunity, unlike the member opposite when he was minister. There are more people employed in Cape Breton because we're actively concerned and working there.

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


MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Speaker, the government announced it will follow the New Brunswick Government model for affordable housing initiatives. One of the key components of the new plan is to focus on rental housing initiatives. There's no question that rental housing is needed, but home ownership in urban areas in the province is becoming an unreachable goal for more and more families. So my question to the Minister of Community Services is, what will the upcoming affordable housing projects do to help families purchase their first home?

HON. DAVID MORSE: Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for his question. The affordable housing program is going to be spun out into four different programs, one of which involves encouraging home ownership in specific areas of urban revitalization. That component is what was announced back in November, the Creighton-Gerrish announcement. That is one component of it. There are four others who are also interested and encouraging landlords to upgrade their facilities and, of course, the two rental programs.

MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Speaker, that project on Creighton and Gerrish Streets are six units so we're a long way from helping the thousands of families in Nova Scotia who need affordable housing. Nova Scotians have been waiting for a meaningful movement on affordable housing for over two years. There seems to have been

[Page 2505]

no concrete planning for housing in Nova Scotia. The minister referred to a New Brunswick plan, I would like to ask the Minister of Community Services, will he commit to tabling both the New Brunswick plan model and the Nova Scotia plan in the House of Assembly?

MR. MORSE: Mr. Speaker, obviously the New Brunswick plan is what they're doing in New Brunswick but what we are doing by borrowing from the New Brunswick plan is using the monies in the provincial component as a rent supplement. This is a very effective way of delivering affordable housing to low-income Nova Scotians. The federal government has allowed New Brunswick, and therefore would allow other provinces, to take the present value of that over 10 years as the provincial contribution. Therefore, as an example, $500,000 investment in rent supplements this year would be the equivalent of almost $5 million in federal capital monies.

MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Speaker, we shouldn't be borrowing anything from the New Brunswick plan. We've had years to realize there's a crisis here in Nova Scotia and we should have had a plan a long time ago. One part of the New Brunswick plan for affordable housing is that the Department of Community Services commit to providing an annual audit and performance report on how it spends the affordable housing money in the province. I ask the Minister of Community Services, is he going to follow the New Brunswick example and provide the same level of transparency, accountability for our affordable housing program here in Nova Scotia?

MR. MORSE: Mr. Speaker, as part of this program and, indeed, all programs that we're working with the federal government on, they're looking for us to report back to Nova Scotians and they accept that as evidence of what we're doing with both the federal and the provincial monies going into the program.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth South-Portland Valley.


MS. MARILYN MORE: Mr. Speaker, my question is also for the Minister of Community Services. Recently the Nova Scotia Federation of Foster Families and Children's Aid Society of Halifax appeared before the Community Services Standing Committee. Their presentation detailed a system struggling with declining numbers of foster parents and rising numbers of children needing care, among other concerns. This month at the same committee, Community Services staff painted a far rosier picture saying the number of foster families had in fact increased. I ask the Minister of Community Services, what explanation can you offer in this contradiction in positions between your department and front-line care providers?

[Page 2506]

HON. DAVID MORSE: Mr. Speaker, while I do not have the specific numbers of foster families right here with me today, I have seen them and I am pleased to say that there are more foster families today than there were a year ago. There's been an aggressive program to try to encourage people to become foster parents and it's working.

MS. MORE: Mr. Speaker, these dedicated volunteers and front-line staff would not call the foster care situation in this province a crisis - in front of three political Parties and members of the media - if they didn't believe that statement was accurate. I'll table an ad that appeared in provincial papers Tuesday recruiting foster families. The ad doesn't talk about the many challenges foster families continue to face, including inadequate funding. My question to the minister is, how can you hope to recruit foster parents when serious problems remain unaddressed?

MR. MORSE: Mr. Speaker, the honourable member, I'm sure, will be reassured to know that just about a month ago I met with the Federation of Foster Families. I had an hour's meeting with them, but we were actually there for about two and one-half hours. It was very pleasant and I very much enjoyed conversations with them. We identified areas where things were going well and identified areas where we could work together to make them better. Really, what the member is referring to was definitely not in evidence when I met with the federation.

[4:30 p.m.]

MS. MORE: Mr. Speaker, I'm sure the following topic would have been one of those issues raised at that meeting, because in other provinces foster families are provided with significant financial support to pay legal bills if they are accused of abuse by a child in care. Nova Scotia does not provide this safeguard. Some foster families can't even get home insurance. I ask the minister, when will you make a real commitment to foster families and the children who so desperately need their care and put into place the funding to ensure foster parents are properly supported?

MR. MORSE: Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to say that we're already doing that in terms of the maintenance payments for the children. Our rates are comparable with those across the country and, in fact, with our PRIDE Program, which is the competency program, we're leading the country.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Digby-Annapolis.



MR. HAROLD THERIAULT: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Transportation and Public Works. The Petit and Grand Passage ferries are vital transportation

[Page 2507]

links in my riding of Digby-Annapolis. Every summer these ferries generate a great deal of traffic, which brings a major influx of tourist dollars into our area. So much traffic that last summer two students had to be hired at Petit Passage for traffic control. The traffic is so busy that there is a need for students at the Grand Passage as well. Unfortunately, I've been informed that the department will not be hiring any students for this coming year. Could the minister tell the House whether the province will be hiring students for traffic control at Petit and Grand Passage for this up and coming tourist season?

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I believe that we will be hiring some students this summer. Whether or not we're going to be hiring them for traffic control at the ferry, I'm not sure. I will have to check on that and take the matter under advisement. I will advise the honourable member tomorrow.

MR. THERIAULT: Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for his response. It sounds goods. I don't know whether to ask you a second time or not, but I will. There are few job opportunities for young people in my riding, and we are talking about a vital service to residents and tourists in that area. Last year there was over 125,000 tourists who visited that area in a two-month period. Without these students directing traffic for these ferries, there will be chaos there; there was before they were put there. Will the minister commit to hiring students to provide traffic control and also to provide a couple of young people with summer jobs?

MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, as I said in answer to the question, I will take the matter under advisement. I'm not too sure how many students we're hiring this year, I'm not too sure what the allocation will be at various points around the province, but I will determine that and reply to the member.

MR. THERIAULT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, that's enough.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth East.



MS. JOAN MASSEY: Mr. Speaker, Nova Scotia Power has plans to add another generator to its Tufts Cove plant, but the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board has said that it's still not sure why Nova Scotia needs a new generator. The board wants to take a closer look at the January numbers and the 2005 forecast for utilization of electricity. My question to the Minister of Environment and Labour is, given the Kyoto and health implications, have you demanded a closer look at Nova Scotia Power's numbers?

[Page 2508]

HON. KERRY MORASH: Mr. Speaker, certainly the Utility and Review Board has the ability to take a look at all numbers and all information, so that they can make an informed decision about what power needs and generation requirements are in Nova Scotia.

MS. MASSEY: Mr. Speaker, the department's own regulations specify that a generator of this size must be reviewed more thoroughly. According to the regulations, a new facility that produces more than 10 megawatts must undergo a Class 2 environmental assessment, that means a public hearing. The generator in question will produce 50 megawatts, enough to power 10,000 households. An increase of this size is not an expansion, it's a new generation.

Mr. Speaker, my question to the Minister of Environment and Labour is, why are you fast-tracking Nova Scotia Power in this project and allowing them to avoid a public hearing in front of an independent panel?

MR. MORASH: Mr. Speaker, we're doing everything that needs to be done to ensure that this project is closely looked at and monitored and that things move forward in a reasonable manner.

MS. MASSEY: Mr. Speaker, there hasn't been a Class 2 environmental assessment for anything in Nova Scotia for six years. There is also no environmental assessment board available ready to do such an assessment. A Class 2 environmental assessment is the best tool we have to protect our environment and the health of Nova Scotians. My question to the Minister of Environment and Labour is, it's your job to protect the Nova Scotia environment, will you follow through on your obligations and ensure a Class 2 environmental assessment is done?

MR. MORASH: Mr. Speaker, we will protect the environment in the Province of Nova Scotia. That's my commitment, that's the commitment of this government. We will look at generating stations, we will look at additions and we will ensure that the province is protected.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Richmond.


MR. MICHEL SAMSON: I was going to ask a question to the Minister of Transportation and Public Works but I will go instead to the Minister of Energy. (Interruption) If I can move that fast at that age, Mr. Speaker, I will be a really happy man. (Interruption) I'm looking forward to a few of the active programs you announced today.

[Page 2509]

Mr. Speaker, as the Minister of Energy is no doubt aware, natural gas prices are going through the roof. There have been a few new gas discoveries in North America and no new discoveries off Nova Scotia. The Sable project looks like it will be of shorter duration than what was initially expected and the future of gas production in Nova Scotia may very well rest with the establishment of an LNG gas facility at Bear Head, Richmond County. My question to the minister is, could the minister indicate to the House what progress has been made with respect to the establishment of such a facility in the Strait Area specifically with regard to the Access Northeast project?

HON. CECIL CLARKE: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the honourable member for that question and it is a relevant one at this time, one that the Government of Nova Scotia has been working on with the proponents at Access Northeast, with a recent meeting with them to assure them and to get an assurance from them, so they're satisfied with the response from the government. We've been working with the construction trades industry and liaising to ensure that we're on time and we're on budget for this project. We have been liaising with the industry analysts who have been analyzing Nova Scotia's business case and making sure we advance that project, now that the previous project the people made noise about in the New Democratic Party before, in Maine, no longer exists and the business case for Cape Breton continues to grow and strengthen and we look forward to that major announcement in the future.

MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Speaker, the first LNG gas facility established will mean greater access to natural gas for Nova Scotians and certainly establish the Strait Area as an energy centre. This project has had a great deal of support from the local communities and the local municipalities, who have endorsed this project and have fully supported it.

Mr. Speaker, the reality is, that although Maine may be out of the running, there is local competition. Irving is proposing a facility for Saint John and they are apparently proceeding ahead with that at the time being. So my question to the minister is, could the minister indicate what discussions he has had with Access Northeast proponents and what is the actual state of this proposal, especially as compared to the Irving proposal in New Brunswick?

MR. CLARKE: Mr. Speaker, I can assure the honourable member for Richmond that we have a satisfactory relationship. Access Northeast is pleased with the progression that they have made with the Province of Nova Scotia. We recognize, as well, that one of things that's advancing our business case is the co-operation from the quad counties and the Strait Area to work on not only this project, but many other diversified efforts around the energy sector and we would continue to work with them. We will be meeting with them as well, at the OTC in Houston, in the upcoming show, where my colleagues will be present for that and be able to join in assessing that business case and helping us to promote it and advance it. Right now, Access Northeast is looking for a supplier contract to be in place. Their business plan is

[Page 2510]

proceeding. They're satisfied with the progress to date, but the market is driving the decision for the investment around this project.

MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Speaker, the fact is that this particular proposal, one of the most attractive parts of it is that they've actually not asked for any government funding and that they intend to go ahead with the project without government funding. It's clear that Bear Head and Point Tupper, Richmond County, is the ideal location for the establishment of such a facility. Point Tupper is also the home of the fractionation plant from the Sable project and is the home to natural gas coming into the industrial park.

This morning, Richmond County Council made a presentation to the Economic Development Committee and indicated they felt that the Strait Area was now the centre of energy development in this province. Unfortunately, when asked how many staff from the Department of Energy were located in the area, the answer was none. My question to the minister today, in recognition of the role that the Strait Area is playing in the development of natural gas and of energy here in this province, will the Minister commit today to placing permanent full-time staff from the Department of Energy in the Strait Area?

MR. CLARKE: Mr. Speaker, what I can tell the honourable member to his comments about governments role in facilitating this, I was very pleased when I was Minister of Economic Development to work with Access Northeast, that the province provided them with the access to the land necessary to build on that business case and we continue to help facilitate the analysis of outside parties to assure them that there is a strong Nova Scotia business case around that. What we've also said is, indeed, things are growing and the spirit of co-operation in the Strait Area is strong and the presence of the Department of Energy is working in partnership with the community, with the Superport Corporation, with the Richmond County energy office. If we grow the opportunities that we're all trying to collectively, I think, advance, when the types of anchor industries are there, the government jobs that have to relate to that can flow with them.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Hants East.


MR. JOHN MACDONELL: Mr. Speaker, my question will be for the minister in charge of disaster relief. This government has a well-known history of attaching or trying to link any dollars that has been associated to helping farmers with federal dollars and has not been particularly willing to spend money of their own, to help Nova Scotia farming families.

I want to raise the case of Mr. Norman MacPhee of Upper Nine Mile River. Mr. MacPhee is a dairy farmer who, like many, was left without power as a consequence of Hurricane Juan. Mr. MacPhee has actually made what would appear to be a relatively small claim of $4,200 and the province came through to cover $900 for his loss of milk. Lack of

[Page 2511]

power had forced Mr. MacPhee to move his heard to a neighboring farm in Upper Rawdon. The transportation and board had a cost directly related to the hurricane for which the province has been unwilling to compensate Mr. MacPhee. So I asked the minister, why is it your government feels that the milk loss, due to a lack of power, is compensable and yet the costs of moving and boarding cattle away from the farm is not?

HON. ERNEST FAGE: Mr. Speaker, as all people in Nova Scotia know, the provincial government saw a need that was not filled by the federal DFA last Fall, after Hurricane Juan. We, as a government, were pleased to bring forward a program, an expanded DFA, that provided assistance where assurance insurance was not available to the farming sector, to the fishing sector and woodlot owners in Nova Scotia. Under those policies, with the farming sector specifically, it was 50 per cent of losses that were not covered by insurance, up to a maximum of $200,000, which is a significant policy. Underneath that lies the regulations and the rules that govern the regular DFA. We've been pleased to compensate the majority of people who have qualified for assistance. Certainly on an individual case, I'd be willing to take it to EMO and have another look at it.

[4:45 p.m.]

MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his last comment. He seemed to indicate initially some flexibility and then he talked about eligibility. So, I want the minister, if he can explain to me since there was some flexibility around wharves and so on, if he can tell me why two losses as a result of a same occurrence would not both be covered?

MR. FAGE: Mr. Speaker, I think it was very key, through Hurricane Juan, that people took advantage of the special counsellors who received and processed the applications so that we could make payments expediently and quickly. The guidelines that determine which costs can be covered are administered by EMO staff and, as I indicated earlier, if the member has a particular case that he'd like me to bring forward, please give me the case.

MR. MACDONELL: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the minister. I will give him some particulars on this case, but I want some guarantee from the minister - if he is saying it's EMO staff that are determining the guidelines, I want a guarantee from the minister that he's willing to move for flexibility to help Mr. MacPhee in his case?

MR. FAGE: Mr. Speaker, until we can review and revisit this individual's case, we cannot make a determination, but I'm certainly prepared to take it back and review it with staff. Thank you.

[Page 2512]

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


MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Mr. Speaker, with all the time that I have left, I'd ask the Minister of Transportation and Public Works, given that in your first blue book you indicated you were going to provide a 10-year comprehensive roads plan. It hasn't been tabled yet - when are you going to table it?

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, we have a 10-year plan, actually, which now has been improved upon in that we have done a considerable amount of work that was envisaged in that previous 10-year program. We have a new 10-year program that will be coming out, I would imagine, this year and it will certainly not be tabled in the Spring session, but it will probably be tabled in the . . .

MR. SPEAKER: Thank you. The time allotted for Question Period has expired.

MR. MANNING MACDONALD: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. Earlier in Question Period today, the Minister of Economic Development told this House and all Nova Scotians that the job creation program in Cape Breton was much better under his watch than it was under the previous government. I'd like to table in this House - because that was erroneous information to the House - and I'd like to table a report from the Finance Department Statistics Division which states that since July 1999, 6,000 full-time jobs were lost in Cape Breton. I want to table that document.

MR. SPEAKER: Thank you. It's not a point of order, but certainly a clarification of facts for the House.


MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, the House has expressed a desire to expedite Bill No. 57 through the House which is the Cemetery and Funeral Services Act. I understand that no members wish to speak on the bill in the Committee of the Whole House so I would ask for the agreement of the House that we move Bill No. 57 immediately to Third Reading.

Is it agreed?

It is agreed.

[Page 2513]

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Public Bills for Third Reading.


MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 57.

Bill No. 57 - Cemetery and Funeral Services Act.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations.

HON. BARRY BARNET: Mr. Speaker, I move third reading of Bill No. 57.

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

MR. FRANK CORBETT: Mr. Speaker, I'd just like to say a few words on this bill. We realize what tragic incidents have happened to cause Bill No. 57 to come before us today. Our Party is in support of this bill, but in discussions with the minister, we talked about there may be certain problems pertaining to this as it affects certain employees who were employed with Forest Haven. Through those discussions, the minister has taken upon himself to endeavour to make sure that if that can be resolved, he would do his utmost to do that, I appreciate that. With those few words, I'll take my place.

MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: Obviously, I would like to be very expeditious on this particular matter, but it is also an issue I raised with the minister a little earlier in the day with regard to this particular situation at Forest Haven Memorial Gardens. It's an issue I have been somewhat involved with behind the scenes for a considerable number of months. I'll table these documents, because it's important that the government has knowledge of this. First and foremost, on behalf of some of my constituents who have loved ones who are in storage at this particular cemetery, they want to express appreciation for having this matter dealt with expeditiously. In fact, 24 all together, between the 12 who are on-site and the 12 who are in funeral home facilities across industrial Cape Breton.

Mr. Speaker, the history, briefly, is that there has been a bit of a shuffle on the corporate veil. I'm concerned with all the people who have cemetery plots there. Also, for the interest of the minister, this particular company originated out of Toronto in 1988, under Arbor Memorial Gardens, and several years later it was sold to Atlantic Cemetery Holdings Inc. with its head office in Newfoundland and Labrador.

[Page 2514]

They were partners, and one of the partners died. After one of the partners died, Atlantic Cemetery Holdings Inc. sold or conveyed its interest somehow to the other partner in the name of another company called Ocean View Cemetery Inc. After some rather questionable activities took place, Ocean View Cemetery Inc. conveyed it back to Atlantic Cemetery Holdings Incorporated. Ergo, the situation with the widow of the deceased owner, who was one of the two partners.

I'm not going to belabour it, but I did serve notice with the minister earlier there are some rather compelling documents of interest that will affect not only those that this company or companies have been indebted to, but also with regard to the employees and also to the individuals that have some 1,600 cemetery plots, as well as another 1,000 or so that could possibly be utilized. With that, Mr. Speaker, I will table it. I think the minister is aware of it, and it is something that the government obviously, I don't think, was aware of the full details of this. I would ask certainly for the minister to take this on notice, and we give full support and, again, an appreciation for my constituents for the expeditious action on this matter.

MR. SPEAKER: If I recognize the honourable minister it will be to close the debate.

The honourable Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations.

HON. BARRY BARNET: In closing debate on Bill No. 57 I want to thank members of the House for their co-operation on this very sensitive matter and the quick passage of Bill No. 57. The co-operation and expedient passage of this bill enables us to protect the interest of Nova Scotians and the dignity of those who are left in the facilities. I want to say that in the beginning and move third reading of Bill No. 57.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is for third reading of Bill No. 57. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

Ordered that this bill do pass. Ordered that the title be as read by the Clerk. Ordered that the bill be engrossed.

The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, would you please call the order of business, Public Bills for second Reading.


MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Government House Leader.

[Page 2515]

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, would you please call Bill No. 48, the adjourned debate.

Bill No. 48 - Education Act.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Cape Breton West, you have approximately 54 minutes.

MR. RUSSELL MACKINNON: I am pleased to rise to continue my rather accelerated debate from the other day on this particular issue. It's good to know that I will have more time on this issue than I did during Question Period - I was hoping - with great anticipation of the minister's comments. Mr. Speaker, quite frankly with regard to this particular piece of legislation there is a considerable amount of smoke and mirrors here.

The minister knows full well that this bill does not achieve anything that could not be achieved through an agreement or a policy or a regulation with the individual school boards across this province. He knows that. If the intent was to deal with the concern that's been raised by some about the fact that we are still not able to access, free of charge the P3 schools, for different community organizations, like individuals for sporting events, or whatever, it does absolutely nothing. It does absolutely nothing whatsoever to address that. The Minister of Finance indicated today, during his budget, that he was going to put an extra $2 million or so into the Office of Health Promotion.

Is that money going to be used, perhaps, to help defray or address some of the inequities that they claim are there with the P3 school process? No. This bill was only designed for pure political mischief, in my view. The minister knows full well - and I can speak from experience, being a parent, from having been involved in community organizations, whether it be the Boy Scouts or the Beavers or what have you, 4-H. We have always been able to access school facilities without too much difficulty. So, why does the minister have to have a piece of legislation before the House to do something that can be done?

Mr. Speaker, you go to any community in this province, and it's very easy, and the minister himself, in his own legislation, says these folks still have to carry liability insurance. Now how many children in the communities, whether they're organized or not organized, are going to be able to go out and get liability insurance so they can go in and use the school gymnasium once a week?

AN HON. MEMBER: One million dollars liability insurance.

MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Speaker, I'm not sure of the extent of it, but I'm quite sure that if the minister is saying they have to do that themselves, well, simply, all they have to do is go to the respective school boards. I know as well, from wanting to rent school facilities

[Page 2516]

for personal use, whether it be a family anniversary or whether it be for a family wedding or any type of a community gathering, the school board has always, in our community, been very co-operative.

So this bill does nothing to address any issue that cannot be addressed through a policy or a regulation or a mutual agreement between the individual or individuals or organizations and the school board, but the province is not stepping up to the plate. This is just another game by the minister and the government to try to rekindle the flame on the P3 school process. He knows full well, Mr. Speaker, as do the NDP, they know full well that senior officials from this department, his department, came before the Public Accounts Committee and stated the value for dollar that was being achieved.

Was it a perfect process? No. Were there agreements out there that created problems for communities? Yes. But-given the circumstances at that time - even the Auditor General himself, said he wished that he had been able to send his children to those schools. He thought it was good value for dollar. The question came down to the issue of risk, at the end of the day, whether they be operating leases or capital.

[5:00 p.m.]

HON. JAMES MUIR: On a point of order, I don't think anybody in this House criticized the quality of the schools that were built under P3. What the problem has to do with is the contracts, the agreements themselves, the legalities that appeared that it wasn't very well thought out, for one reason or another, or at least from an educational point of view.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please, it's not a point of order, but certainly a clarification of the facts as the honourable Minister of Education sees it.

The honourable member for Cape Breton West has the floor.

MR. MACKINNON: Mr. Speaker, that clearly demonstrates how this minister operates in a vacuum from the senior staff within his own department. They are the ones who came before the Public Accounts Committee and said it was good value for dollar and the minister is saying no. I'm not talking about the quality of the school per se or the lack of quality, or any of those other issues. He knows that. We're talking about value for dollar and this bill does nothing to address what he says is the problem and, yes, I, too, would readily admit that there were some problems with some of those contracts, but all of them? No. Was the principle and the concept wrong? Different philosophical positions would take different positions on it, but given the situation at that time, all stakeholders, including the senior advisors in his department, right up to the deputy minister level, were saying it was good value for dollar.

[Page 2517]

Now, I heard on a previous day a tax on some of the developers. I think Mr. Armoyan was the name that was put on the floor of the Legislature here, about how terrible and callous and, you know, very gregarious, these corporate people, it's only about money, money, money. Yet, different interest groups, different volunteer organizations in the community affected in that Dartmouth and Sackville area, they came with letters with their signatures saying how pleased they were that they were able to use the facility free of charge. But, that doesn't negate the fact that there were some problems and I will readily admit that, but this bill does nothing to address any of that and every other school, P3. If an individual or a group of individuals - whether it be local Boy Scouts or Girl Guides, or some kind of a local hockey, or soccer, or basketball organization - if they want to use these facilities, they can go and have that goal achieved without having to come before the floor of the Legislature for a piece of legislation.

Really I do believe that the minister owes a detailed explanation. It's unfair and I think it reduces the bar to which this Legislature is now moving toward, which is the level some elements of government will move to try to achieve political support, but yet never really putting anything of substantive essence before this Legislature. This bill really is very superfluous.

Now, if the minister is aware of some situation or some instance in which school boards, or individual schools, let's say the administration within schools, whether it be the principal or what have you, are unwilling to deal with this issue, then all the minister has to do is provide the funds to make it available. It's a costing issue.

Maybe that's what the minister wanted was just another opportunity to get up and kick a dead horse and that's just about what this is amounting to because I don't know, maybe it's different in other school boards around the province, you know, maybe it is. If it is, I would suggest that that can be done by regulation. The minister and his department under the Education Act has the ultimate authority. They certainly made changes to the Finance Act back in 1999 that gave the Minister of Finance the authority to monitor and effectively manage the finances of every government board, agency, commission and department (Interruption) No, it was in the finance Act, tucked way in the bottom at the back of the finance Act in 1999. Only months after that bill, the Financial Measures Act was passed, then the school boards started getting directives. You move onto this particular computer system, the SAP program, because that's consistent with what the province has.

The province can tap in and monitor and micro-manage, from an invisible position, somewhere in some office tower in Halifax, the daily activities, expenditures, costings and charges to and from the school board and everything. If they don't like it, then all they have to do is pick up the phone, or just send an e-mail and say, stop.

[Page 2518]

Now they're doing it with the municipalities. They can do all these things, Mr. Speaker, without this piece of legislation, I would respectfully submit. This bill is all about catering to a perceived problem. The minister has decided to take the public forum, because he's catering to an audience, specifically, for political purposes. All he has to do is go back to his department and make changes to the regulations, or have the school boards adjust their policies and - with the minister responsible for health promotion - provide the appropriate funding.

If they can't get into the schools now, where are they going to get the money for the liability insurance? Are they going to get it from the Department of Education? The minister has said no in his press release. They have to get it themselves. (Interruptions) Yes, it's in the press release. I tabled it, on behalf of the Minister of Health, on behalf of the Minister of Education, made the announcement.(Interruptions) That is correct. They will have to get their own liability insurance.(Interruptions) Well if the school boards don't have the cash now. I really enjoyed this question and answer period, Mr. Speaker (Laughter) It was the best I could do, I couldn't get on the other hour, so I have to use this hour. (Interruptions) My new research department I suppose. He's a bit like the member for Halifax Fairview, he hasn't been getting a lot of questions lately. I don't know, I think their Leader is in a bad mood.(Interruptions)

Mr. Speaker, it's a serious issue and I would welcome interventions from other members, from other parts of the province because, for the most part, I can speak fairly knowledgeably on this Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board, but I just don't see the material value of the legislation, something that can be done by a policy document, or a change in the regulation, or indeed, guidelines. So why all the big to-do, bringing that before the House, wasting taxpayers money, that they say is so preciously needed, for such things as health care and education.

Mr. Speaker, the minister was taking such great glee today about all the money for universities. Well by golly, speak to all these students who are now being faced with a 7 per cent and 8 per cent increase in all the universities across the province. I don't think they would agree with the minister. They get 6 per cent, 8 per cent, 10 per cent voice on the boards of governors and yet they pay 40 per cent to 45 per cent of the total budget. Maybe some value-for-dollar measure could be considered and the minister and I have had discussions on that already, so I don't want to get into too much detail at this point, but he knows where I stand on the issue. I think that some value for dollar could be realized, very effectively.

We're at that point, in Nova Scotia's history, where accountability is demanded at every level by every politician, every civil servant. Yes, indeed, whether it be at the provincial level, the municipal level, the school board level, whichever institution it is, whether it be a school, whether it be a hospital, the fact of the matter is that the debt is continuing to grow. It all comes back, even this piece of legislation comes back to money. If the municipalities are

[Page 2519]

not getting a break from the province toward the cost of education, then if they're required to provide these facilities, who's going to pay for it?

Mr. Speaker, who's going to pay for it? I'm sure you would have several schools in your constituency, are you going to go back and tell your school administrators or school board officials that they now have to start taking money out of the classroom budget because they have to start providing liability insurance for community groups? There's only so much money to go around. (Interruptions) That's okay, he needs all the support he can get.

Mr. Speaker, I believe the points that I wanted to make have been made and I would ask that perhaps the minister would consider some serious legislation, rather than bypassing the regulatory or the policy or the guideline process that could easily be implemented. All it would take is for the minister, the Department of Education, to say to all the school boards across the province that we would like to sit down and negotiate on behalf of all these community groups and individuals some kind of an access process. Just passing legislation is passing the responsibility, the financial responsibility. For that, I say shame on this minister and shame on this government.

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

MR. DAVID WILSON (Sackville-Cobequid): Mr. Speaker, it's a pleasure for me to stand and address Bill No. 48. I just have a few comments and a few concerns with this bill. I want to let the people in this Legislature and the people around the province know of some of the interactions I've had growing in Sackville. The schools played an important part in a lot of the activities that I took part in while growing up, like Sunday school at Smokey Drive Elementary School in my community. A lot of the churches in Sackville use the schools and I'm sure a lot of the communities throughout the province, their churches use the schools for things such as Sunday school and for their weekly services.

This legislation is definitely going to be a positive thing for these groups, other events that take place in a lot of the schools in my community are related to sports, such as track and field during the winter when the weather is bad and they can't train and compete outdoors - other things such as baseball, volleyball, and even the Scouting movement, which I think in a lot of the communities in Nova Scotia take place in schools.

I think the intention of the bill is to hopefully help these community organizations with some of the costs they're incurring presently when they use the schools, especially in my community. Like many of the communities throughout the province, schools are important and they're a focal point of the community, where a lot of events take place in the local schools, especially in my community. The groups and associations, a lot of them, which are non-profit groups, have limited revenue. This bill will enable them to keep a little bit more because, currently, fees are charged in my community for the use of the gymnasiums and parts of the schools. So, definitely, this will benefit them, this legislation.

[Page 2520]

Mr. Speaker, I do have some concerns with it. One of the concerns I have is that what's going to happen to the school boards or the schools that were bringing in these funds? Are they going to need to put in place different funds through the back door - if you could say - to replace this? Are these organizations going to be truly covered and not be charged for use of these facilities? That's one of the concerns.

[5:15 p.m.]

The other thing, is the government - if they are going to lose funding - going to assist with alternate funding to the schools or the school boards if there is a loss of income for these schools. Just for example, the youth recreation rentals generate almost $300,000 in this province, and I think it's a total of almost $600,000 that the school boards take in through facility rentals, so that's a large amount of money, Mr. Speaker, and I hope that the schools and the school boards are prepared to swallow that kind of loss of income. One of the other concerns to me is were they addressed before this bill was called in the House, or were they completely surprised by the bill? Were they consulted and maybe advised on where they could generate other funds? So that's a little concern that I have.

My community will definitely benefit from this. The youth groups, the sporting teams, the church groups. All the associations will benefit, like I say, because my community has about nine schools that they use, but the major reason why my community is going to benefit from this is because I don't have a P3 school in my constituency, Mr. Speaker, unlike some of the communities throughout the province that have these P3 schools in place, the Third Party agreement that they made years ago is going to affect those communities. In this legislation, this bill, it doesn't talk about the P3 schools because they can't do anything about it and if it's because of an agreement in prior legislation, it's unfortunate for these communities and they're going to suffer from it.

The kids, I think most, are going to suffer from it because nowadays reports have said that obesity and inactivity were on the rise and only one-third of our children get enough activity to benefit their health, Mr. Speaker, and that's alarming. Today with the age of technology, the use of Internet, Game Boys, and electronics like that, kids have less and less time or less and less opportunity to get out and be active. I'm encouraged with the announcements today that Health Promotion will get larger funds, or increased funding, and I think that's an important step we need to take, because we need to change the way our children are raised today. With two young kids myself, I hope that I can encourage them to maybe stay away from the electronic devises that I think are a big cause of the inactivity for the health of our kids, and encourage them to get out and be active in other sports or other groups and organizations.

I think the P3 schools and the communities that house them, I think they're going to be the ones that are going to be not affected by this bill and I think that's a shame. I think the government really needs to look at maybe bringing legislation in to change that. I know the

[Page 2521]

minister stated that there's an arbitration ruling on it and there's not much they can do, but I think we really need to take a look at it and, hopefully, help these communities that are host of these P3 schools because, you know, I think that's important and I think everybody in this province should be treated the same way and not have one community benefit from legislation like this just because they have public schools and not the private schools like the P3 schools are.

Some of these costs incurred when renting these facilities, especially the P3 facilities, can range up to $75 to $95 an hour. This is outrageous. So yet the public schools, these groups that use these facilities are going to benefit from this legislation, but the schools that charge the most are going to be able to keep those fees in place. I really find that's truly unfair to some of the other communities that are home to these P3 schools. A lot of them are members of the government and the members of the Third Party who have these schools. Yes, they're beautiful schools. I drive by them and it's interesting when you're in different communities and people remark on the schools. When I was growing up it was the name of the school, there's A.J. Smeltzer, or there's Sackville High. Now its, there's the P3 School. I know they have names, but they don't even recognize them.

The thing I've recognized or noticed over the last couple of years is that there's these huge fences around these schools, they're beautiful, there're trees, there're lawns, there're these huge fields, but more often than not, I drive by them and there's nothing going on on the fields, and there are no cars in the parking lots on off hours. I'm just wondering if maybe it's because of the amount of the fees that they charge for these facilities that might have something to do with it, Mr. Speaker.

In my community, you go by any of the schools on a nightly basis and they're very active, there's a lot of people around and, yes, they are still being charged for them. With this legislation, hopefully, it will help, like I said earlier, with some of the costs. Some of these organizations are really finding it hard to maintain the services they provide for the community. If it's a children's group or a church group or a sports team, the cost of running organizations and associations now is harder and harder for them. With less funding out there from governments on all levels, not just provincial, on all levels, and finding it harder and harder to fund raise and get the funds to maintain these associations, this would help them. Like I say, there are some concerns with some of things that have happened with the dealings with the P3 schools.

The other thing I would like to make mention to in closing here - and just a few more points - is that, I hope that the interest groups will come to the Committee on Law Amendments when, hopefully, this bill goes to the Committee on Law Amendments, and make recommendations. Hopefully, some of these groups and associations that are in these communities that house P3 schools will make it known that this is unfair to them. It's unfair to benefit or put one community against the other. Here we have one community that will have a P3 school next door, which even in my area the P3 school is just a couple of

[Page 2522]

kilometres up the road from where my boundary is - I think is going to be unfair to the people who live in the area around the P3 schools. What I think might happen is that you're going to see more and more of the public schools get busier and will maybe take away from the P3 schools which it definitely will if the costs involved are still there when you try to rent from these P3 facilities. These are in their communities, so people who belong to associations are going to have to travel outside the community to enjoy what this proposed legislation is going to do, and that's to, hopefully, limit the cost to some of these groups. I think, we definitely have to emphasis the stats that I read earlier that the base of the inactivity of the children of our community is on the rise. I hope that many of these groups, like I say, will go to the Committee on Law Amendments and make suggestions and make changes and, hopefully, we'll be back here after the Committee on Law Amendments and see some amendments to it and changes that will benefit all kids in this province, not just certain ones in certain communities who are fortunate, I guess, enough to have just public schools and not the private schools.

I think it's unfair, and I think everybody here should make good recommendations about this legislation and that maybe we can make some amendments and change how we are treating different communities.

With that, I'd like to thank you for the opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to speak on this Bill No. 48, and look forward to it coming back after the Committee on Law Amendments.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Preston.

MR. KEITH COLWELL: Mr. Speaker, it's with real mixed emotion I'm going to speak about this bill. I can remember back in 1993 when I was a MLA, the fisheries crisis was on and all summer I called the school board to try to get the gymnasium to have a very important meeting with fishermen on the Eastern Shore about the fisheries crisis. Lo and behold the whole summer, nobody was in the office at the school board, nobody could give me any information. The whole summer went by and we didn't have the meeting, which was very important for the people of the community.

So, after summer was over and everybody was back from their vacations - it seemed like they took the whole summer off - I called them again and they said, yes, you can get the gymnasium but it would be this long rigamarole and you had to fill out all this information and everything. I said, that's fine, we can do that. We went through the process again and found it was just not practical to do that.

Lo and behold about two months after that, I ran into one of the senior members of the school board and I explained the situation to him. His explanation was this - I couldn't believe it at the time - it takes our custodians all summer to clean the schools. We were at that time standing in the World Trade and Convention Centre and I said, I can't remember the World Trade and Convention Centre being shut down all summer for cleaning, so there's

[Page 2523]

something wrong here. You're either not paying your people, you're not cleaning the school, or the people you have are incompetent.

I knew that the people cleaning the schools are not incompetent - they do an excellent job. For the hours that they're allowed to work at it, they do an exceptionally good job. So I think it was just a scam by the school board not to have the school rented in the summer and the inconvenience of doing that.

So, this bill has some merit. The questions I have to ask are, if the school is provided to community and youth groups and other groups that really deserve to have the facility and could indeed cut the cost of building other recreational facilities as we've seen. Many in my community had to be put in place - because the schools are simply not available - at a huge cost to the municipalities and local taxpayers and to the province and to the federal government. If facilities could be used at the schools, a lot of these costs could be alleviated.

But, if you do that, who is going to pay the cost to the school for the custodians, the cleaning and all the other things that have to happen? Will it be the Province of Nova Scotia? The money's going to have to come from somewhere. Will the province take the money out of the school board budget and say, now it's going to cost us so many thousands of dollars a year for your school board to have these facilities free of charge to the community, which they probably should be. We're going to take that money away from the school board, actually away from the classroom which we're very concerned about and turn that money so they can give the organizations free access to the schools.

That really isn't a progressive step because we don't want to see any money taken out of the school boards that is supposed to be spent in the schools. So those are things that are very, very important and serious questions I'm sure the minister has some answers for. We will wait, as this bill proceeds, to see if this is the case or how they're going to fund this. It can be a very expensive proposition.

I also wonder when the whole process goes through, whether it's a P3 school or a regular school - and when I was on council we had a great discussion about this very topic - about getting schools for community groups in areas where there aren't any facilities available for organizations such as the Boy Scouts or cadets, the list could go on and on. We found out that the costs for schools were pretty close, whether it was a P3 school or it was a regular school, for leasing the facility. A lot of emphasis has been put on the P3 school and said they're way out of sight in costs. Indeed, in my area, it's about equal if you can go there, that's if you can get the school. That is a big problem.

So, by the time you look at the insurances and all the other things that you have in place, unless the bill addresses insurance and who's going to pay for it. Unless the bill addresses who is going to pay for the school being free, or the facilities being free, or setting a structure in place in the bill that says how we can do it, I can guarantee you the school

[Page 2524]

boards will find a way around this. They'll find a way to charge people. They'll find a way to make sure the school isn't accessible and they'll make sure it's so difficult to get a school that the law won't matter.

I can tell you that from experience, dealing with the school board. It's an horrendous task and it seems as though the school wants to be a school only. If you're there from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. or whatever hours that particular school has that's fine - anything past that they don't want to even talk to you, they don't want to see you, they don't want to know about you. You don't even exist. Just because you're a taxpayer doesn't mean you have any rights in the school.

[5:30 p.m.]

This really has to be re-evaluated and the question I want to ask the minister to answer when he gives his final summation on this, if he would be kind enough to do that, is the province planning on taking over all school facilities, period? Is the Department of Education of the Province of Nova Scotia planning on taking over all the transportation system in all the schools? It would be an interesting concept. It would be a great concept actually if the schools would just be left for curriculum with the proper funding to provide curriculum and enough books in the classroom and enough other resources in the classrooms so that could happen, but I'm not convinced that would happen.

We've seen funds cut. We've seen the Halifax Regional School Board, one I'm very familiar with, having to go through supplementary funding to put basic programs in place. I can remember our discussions in council about supplementary funding and the school board coming in with the threat of cutting everybody out, all the extracurricular activities and everything. We really looked at their budgets back about four years ago and found out they were buying drapes and doing all kinds of things that they shouldn't have been doing with the supplementary funding because the main source of funding wasn't sufficient. So if you put another burden on the school board by providing facilities free to the community, you're going to gain absolutely nothing and the people in the community are going to suffer because of this.

So I would ask him to make sure you look at that part of the bill and make sure that we have it set up properly so people can actually get the facility. Nothing is free in this world, as everyone knows, and when the free hits the pavement on this bill, who is going to pay the bill? That's the question. Is it going to be the people who have the facility, in other words are the school boards going to be responsible for this? Is it going to be the schools themselves by losing revenue in their budgets and find out that they can't survive and can't do the things that they should be doing? Is it the regional municipality that's going to have to do these things? That's a really good question that I would like to have clarified in this bill to make sure it's very, very clearly laid out who is going to pay for this because nothing is free.

[Page 2525]

Now, you see these schools sitting idle all summer, through March break, Christmas break, Sundays, Saturdays, evenings, and it's not right. These are huge facilities with tremendous potential in the community and tremendous potential to do things. So the concept of the bill I think is a good idea, but you've got to clearly lay out what this is going to be. Anyone, I'm sure the Minister of Education being a former school teacher, would see that from the side of an educator and what you go through with the school boards and I'm sure he probably does not want to comment on that.

I had some serious discussion with school teachers who typically don't want to discuss a school board for fear of some reprisals, unknown reprisals, I will leave it at that. The minister doesn't have to worry about that, but he does have to worry about his colleagues in the teaching profession which I think is very important, people, by the way, who I think in this province do an exceptional job. But how do you structure this and I truly hope that the minister will address that in a little bit better form in this bill. I'm not convinced that this is going to happen the way the bill is structured and really these facilities are not going to be free.

I can remember another scenario here, this is a horrible scenario, it just happened. The present government sitting on the other side here rebuilt the school, Graham Creighton, did a beautiful job on the school. They were going to build a small gym so they went to the municipality, the people in the community, and said, look, we need more money, will you help us to pay extra money to put this new gymnasium in, a proper size gymnasium which a school should have, and there was no argument from council on that. The deal was that that gymnasium then would be available to the community through the municipality. Guess what? Go try to get the gym - $400,000 later from the municipality to make this gym the size it should be and, lo and behold, you cannot get the gym. You cannot get it. I mean it's ridiculous. Here the taxpayers of the municipality put $400,000 extra into that building and you cannot get that building. The seniors have a seniors' room in the school that has a separate access and try to get into their seniors' room after hours, almost impossible.

This is absolutely ridiculous in today's society, especially when the taxpayers of the regional municipality, as a whole, in the general tax rate, paid this extra $400,000 to make it accessible to the community. I think it's totally outrageous. It tells you the level that the school board works with, and how they do everything they possibly can to ensure that you cannot get a school when you need one. That's ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous, and that has to be changed.

I don't really see this bill changing that situation. I was very skeptical about this at the time, when the municipality was negotiating with the school boards for this extra funding with the Department of Education, and I said to the councillor at the time, Councillor Ron Cooper, who represented the area that Graham Creighton Junior High School is in, and found out, lo and behold, they had a written agreement. Well, I told Mr. Cooper, look, probably the paper it's written on is not worth even writing it on, because the school board will just ignore it,

[Page 2526]

they will do whatever they want, they will put fees in place, they'll put all kinds of obstacles in place, and do everything they can to make sure that this just simply can't transpire.

Lo and behold, I was pretty well right. Unfortunately for the community, it's been difficult. The sad part of it is the municipality could have taken that $400,000, put it into a new community centre with another $125,000 or $150,000 they had and almost built a new community centre in Cherrybrook, Lake Loon, one that's desperately needed. There's not even a place outside the church you can have any more than 10 people gather, except in someone's home, for any kind of meeting. That's thanks to the school board. They have a nice, beautiful gym, which is fantastic for the kids in the community, and I fully support that, but they also should have access to that facility after hours, so they can play basketball, and I don't mean just the kids going in there and having a ball, but go in there, under proper supervision and proper programs, so they can use that facility for better training and really help them along with all kinds of things.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please. Would the honourable member be kind enough to allow for an introduction?

MR. COLWELL: Certainly.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth North.

MR. JERRY PYE: Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the honourable member for giving me the opportunity to do the introduction. In the west gallery is a nephew of an MLA, the member for Cape Breton Nova. The nephew's name is Mr. Lorway Gosse, and he's in his first year at Dalhousie Law School, and his partner, Patricia Nichols, is in her fourth year in nursing at UCCB. They are here to watch the proceedings of this House, and they are taking it in with interest because they know that this bill is on educational facilities as well.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask the House to give them a warm welcome. (Applause)

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Preston.

MR. COLWELL: Mr. Speaker, I'm going to wrap up here momentarily. I think this bill has some merit, it has some good ideas in it, but it needs some major changes if it's going to work, if it's going to work for the communities, if it's going to work to ensure that the school boards are going to make sure that people have access to these facilities. I don't know what it's like in the rest of the province, but I can tell you that in the regional municipality, you cannot get a gym that you can afford to go into, no matter if it's a private gym, in a P3 school, or if it's school board owned and operated, or an HRM-owned facility that the school board operates.

[Page 2527]

That has to change, and it has to change in a way that's going to allow these communities to get these things. It's unfortunate that the community doesn't have the opportunity to get these facilities and ensure that they get the opportunity to use them and make sure that they don't have to build expensive infrastructure, such as in North Preston. We're paying $3 million for a new recreation centre, and there's not a new school, but a totally renovated school there. I've been to a couple of meetings in the community, and at 9:00 p.m., bewitching hour, you're kicked out, the lights are turned off and you're gone, if you're lucky enough to get the school.

There's no other place in the community to have a meeting. There's no place. It's the same thing in Cherrybrook. You're not allowed to have a meeting in the school that the municipality put the money into. It's the same thing in Porters Lake. It's the same thing everywhere. It's absolutely wicked, to use an improper term, I realize, but it's not proper. If you go to Sheet Harbour it's the same thing, Musquodoboit Harbour, anywhere the regional school board works within.

I encourage the government to make some amendments to this bill. Make sure it really has some teeth in it if we're going to have it free. I've got to be convinced that it's not just going to take money out of the school board and take it back to somewhere else and the kids in this province don't get the money and the classroom that they need, which is insufficient today. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Dartmouth East.

MS. JOAN MASSEY: Mr. Speaker, I fully support the idea put forward of free use of school facilities; however, I do have some concerns that I'd like to speak about this afternoon. School boards will incur lost revenue due to this change. Currently, school boards take in revenue by renting their facilities. For example, the Halifax Regional School Board's 2003 general fund revenue from rentals was approximately $600,000. A minimum of $350,000 in their current fee rentals would fall into this new category set up by the government.

That's $350,000, and that equates to around 10 teachers. How will the board replace that lost revenue? We all know that funding to education in Nova Scotia is not adequate as it is. The government has not been providing the necessary resources to our children. In the past, the Liberals have cut over 1,000 teachers and slashed education spending in this province. They ignored the BLAC Report, which they commissioned, and they forced classes to unprecedented size levels. The Progressive Conservatives continued the cuts down to the bare bone and they ignored their own report on special education.

What do these cuts mean to students? Well, when I was on the Halifax Regional School Board just a few short years ago, on any given day you could find hundreds of students waiting to get some kind of special resources, waiting to see a resource teacher for

[Page 2528]

the first time. In fact, there are students falling through the cracks every day here in Nova Scotia. In 2003-04 budget year, the Halifax Regional School Board received approximately $290 million in mandatory funding from the government. Of the mandatory funding, a little over $17 million was earmarked by the government to go towards special education. The Halifax Regional School Board's 2003-04 budget included about $30 million in their general funds for special education expenditures. That left them with a shortfall of over $13 million which directly impacts on our children.

In fact, today's budget speech is increasing funding for special needs students by $3 million. But, that's for the whole province. I don't know - the boards are going to continue to go without the proper funding for special needs students. These special needs students have programs offered to them for problems such as autism, attention deficit disorder, learning disabilities, speech problems and physical limitations. I know that the Halifax Regional School Board has been petitioning the government on behalf of our special needs students - I don't think their voices have been heard.

The province did away with the education funding review group since I was on the board. The last committee that met to discuss provincial funding determined that it would cost the province an extra $100 million to implement the new funding model. The findings of that committee were never implemented in this province. According to the Department of Education's provincial press release they say they worked on this policy with school boards, Health Promotion, and the school board's provider. I disagree with that. I would have to say they told the school boards that the new policy would be going into effect and they have not offered any additional replacement revenue to any of the boards. They say that the school boards received the draft policy in November and were asked to begin adapting their own policies to match it - still no funding to follow. Boards will have to track the community use of their schools and report annually to the department. Who and how will this be tracked and at what extra staffing costs?

I'd like to speak for a few moments on the P3 schools. The Liberals made some very bad decisions with regard to the building of schools in this province. They sided with the contractors and developers. They should have sided with communities and built community-friendly multi-purpose schools. Instead, they struck a deal that would bring even more money through rental agreements for the companies that won those contracts to build the P3 schools.

[5:45 p.m.]

These P3 schools have the very best of everything. They have the best gyms, the best equipment exercise rooms, cafeterias, music rooms, libraries, playgrounds, classroom equipment, stages. Yet, community groups and youth will still not be able to afford the high rental fees, sometimes up to $70 an hour. Board members in the Halifax Regional School Board continue to receive complaints on a daily basis about these high rental fees in the P3

[Page 2529]

schools. This sets up an inequity within the education system of have and have not schools and communities.

I'd like to take a few minutes to speak about the deferred maintenance problem. Due to continued funding cuts, the boards have continued to eat into their maintenance budgets in order to protect the classroom. Deferred maintenance in the Halifax Regional School Board alone is over $20 million. This continued deferral of projects that need to be done in our 137 schools in this board, alone, is ridiculous. Some of the work that continues to be put off are things like replacement of windows, upgrades to safety standards for stairways, painting, floor replacement, door replacement, roofs, safety upgrades to gymnasiums and air quality. Right now, emergency work such as replacement of furnaces is done. Regulated work such as replacement of old and aging oil tanks is completed.

Mr. Speaker, what this is doing is creating unhealthy schools in Nova Scotia. I didn't see anything in today's budget - although I haven't had a lot of time to look at it - that is putting any extra money into the school boards for deferred maintenance. Some of my concerns, when I hear that this access is going to be free, will it really be free? I wonder how we are going to pay to fix the ongoing wear and tear that this extra use is going to cause. There will be loss and damage to equipment. Who's going to offset these costs? Right now, the board is taking in some revenue when they rent these facilities. The janitors, for example, have to be paid a minimum of four hours in the Halifax Regional School Board if they come in on a weekend.

Is this new legislation a new way to get out of having to build new community centres in Nova Scotia, I wonder, Mr. Speaker? Dartmouth East has been trying, for example, to have a community centre built since 1982. We'd like a place that would house the East Dartmouth Boys & Girls Club that, right now, is serving over 250 children and youth every day. There is a waiting list for that. They are now housed in five different locations, one is an outbuilding at a church. This project is currently on the 2003-04 HRM infrastructure request list. It is number 30 on the list out of 47. The total cost would be $1 million dollars. The federal/provincial share would be $667,000.

Over five requests for such facilities are on the proposed request list. These recreational community facilities add up to over $5 million. Perhaps our new user fee legislation is a band-aid solution to the growing need for community centres. If government can now point to a free use of our schools, they perhaps won't be so likely to invest in these new community centres, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I will table this document. I would like to read from a document from the Halifax Regional School Board from December 2nd. In this document they state that "The Department is requesting that school boards adopt this policy framework. This policy has potential cost implications . . ." Yet, when I read from a document sent to the superintendent of the school board from Dennis Cochrane, our Deputy Minister of the Department of

[Page 2530]

Education, he is saying that he's not aware of any significant challenges or obstacles that have not been resolved. Apparently he doesn't know that there's going to be a loss of revenue. He says he's requesting that the policy not be modified, but rather subject to review on an "as is" basis. I think that's a bit pushy myself.

Mr. Speaker, on page, well they're not numbered, sorry. One of the items under the Goal/Purpose of Policy says that there would be, "Enhanced partnerships between communities and schools to share organization, administration and use of school facilities." I don't really understand what that's saying. Is that saying that they're asking community groups to share in the administration of the free use of these schools and, if so, how is that all going to be coordinated and who's going to cover the costs to do that?

Under fees, they actually are saying that there are direct additional costs to doing this, that there will be cleaning costs, custodial supervision service costs, supplies, et cetera. I have heard that even perhaps some of the school boards may be calculating the costs of their lights when they charge their fees. There are operating costs such as, it says, included but " . . . not limited to costs for heat, electricity, computer/copier toner, wear and tear, or organizational time." Who will set the standards across the province for all these boards? Are we just jumping into another mishmash of costs in all the different various boards?

Under Principles it says that, "The school system's primary responsibility is to deliver the public education program, and to provide a welcoming environment for community use, recognizing its funding is not intended for the purpose of organizing and supervising non-educational uses. In this context, the value of responsible involvement of other organizations in organizing, promoting and facilitating access to schools is recognized as a crucial success factor." So I'm a little concerned where this is all leading. It seems like a contradiction. Schools are there to educate - but they're there to be recreational facilities also, but no one's going to give them any extra funding to do this?

"Municipalities and school boards are encouraged to enter into agreements, to formalize existing arrangements wherever possible, to encourage and/or maximize access to school facilities without increasing costs to school boards." It's right there. (Interruption) Well there will be a cost to the school boards. In fact our school board, as I said, will be incurring the costs of over $300,000. Under "Criteria for user eligibility," there's going to be liability insurance of not less than $1 million. It says, "Will ensure facility is tidied or cleaned up after . . ." (Interruption) "Ensure the proper screening of all staff and volunteers who work with children and youth."

I want to know, who's going to do all this? I mean the principals in our schools now, the principals and vice-principals are overwhelmed with the amount of work that they have to do on a daily basis. They're supposed to be there to educate kids, now they're going to be running a community centre?

[Page 2531]

It also states, Mr. Speaker, that school boards/superintendents, some of the things they're saying, they're going to be monitoring effective use, scheduling, keeping records, taking care of the fees. The principal has to monitor the facilities use, ensure that the user groups are informed of the responsibilities and expectations. This is going to take some time and effort. This is going to mean more work for our principals and vice-principals, which will take time away from what they're supposed to be doing there, which is educating our students when school is in.

"Nova Scotia Sport and Recreation Commission - is responsible for providing advice and assistance to municipal units and other community based sport and recreational organizations . . ." This is what concerns me. I think there's a little bit of trying to bring the whole sports and recreation division into the operation of our schools. That's fine and dandy if you're going to put the money there and the staffing to do it.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that schools should be built and funded so that they can be used by our children and our youth and our community groups, but keep in mind that the number one priority is to educate our children.

MR. SPEAKER: Would the honourable member like to move adjournment of the debate, since we're close to the moment of interruption?

MS. MASSEY: I move adjournment of the debate.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is to adjourn debate. Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.

The motion is carried.

The honourable Government House Leader.

HON. RONALD RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I move adjournment of the House and advise the House that we will be meeting tomorrow at the hour of 9:00 a.m. We will continue with the remarks by the Finance Critic for the Official Opposition, and then the remarks from the Finance Critic for the Third Party. Then, following that, we will adjourn for the weekend.

MR. SPEAKER: 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 2532]

We have reached the moment of interruption. The winner of this evening's late show debate is the member for Richmond.

"Therefore be it resolved that this Tory Government has failed to respond to the significant issues facing rural Nova Scotia."



MR. SPEAKER: The honourable member for Richmond.


MR. MICHEL SAMSON: Mr. Speaker, if one could only be so lucky with Friday's Super 7 draw as one is this evening in winning the late debate, it's going to be an interesting weekend ahead. It's a pleasure for me to rise today and to speak, especially as a member from a rural constituency and understanding some of the issues that face the rural areas of this province, about some of the failures of this government to respond to the significant issues that have been facing rural Nova Scotia.

Mr. Speaker, we don't need to go very far, especially on the side of economic development. We don't need to look very far in the past and even in the present, as to what rural Nova Scotia is going through under this government's watch. We have the closure of Britex. We have the loss of employment at Avon Foods. We have the closure of the USG Wallboard plant in Point Tupper that took place in December 2002, and to date, still no new operator found for that facility.

More recently, more galling, if I can use that term, from this government, is what they've done to one of their own members with the closure of the youth facility in Shelburne. That the government would go into a Cabinet meeting, then would walk out and make a decision to close that facility, put over 35 people out of work, and then to see the government backbencher, the member for Shelburne have to say to his local newspaper, I found out about it when they came out of Cabinet. That's the first time I heard. When they asked, how much information do you have, he said, I don't have any more information than what you have.

Mr. Speaker, I must say that I felt embarrassed for that member. I've been a government backbencher, I've been a minister, I've been in the Official Opposition, I've been in the position we find ourselves today. A greater embarrassment I cannot think of, for the member for Shelburne. I often wonder, could it be because of his vote on Bill No. 68, that this was this government's way of saying here's our revenge for your not supporting us there? We're going to close this facility and we're not even going to tell you about it until it's been done.

[Page 2533]

That is the approach that this government has taken towards rural Nova Scotia. Rather than tell the community, we are looking at the closure of your facility in the upcoming months, let's sit together, let's talk, interested groups, municipalities, employees, what can we do with this facility to protect it, protect its jobs and protect its future prior to our decision to close it? That would have been the reasonable approach. That would have been the approach Nova Scotians thought they would get from this government, not for the government to say the facility is closed, not even tell the local member, and then a few weeks later, down comes the cavalry from Halifax, three or four ministers coming down to Shelburne to solve all their problems. The facility being closed at the time. That is what this government has done.

Mr. Speaker, until this government comes to the realization that they will not be able to either solve or work with community economic development groups in this province from the bunker here in Halifax, we will continue to be losing opportunities in this province.

[6:00 p.m.]

Mr. Speaker, I can tell you, as the member for Richmond, community economic development is the way to go for rural Nova Scotia. We need to empower the communities themselves to determine what is the best means of developing their economy, what is going to work for them and what will not. To ask civil servants to be able to determine that from sitting here in Halifax is unacceptable. I've spoken about the successes we've had in my own riding of Richmond numerous times; Development Isle Madame has been recognized internationally for the success that it has achieved, especially following the collapse of the groundfish fishery on Isle Madame. They have worked together under first the TAGS Program, then after the TAGS Program with the municipal government, the provincial government, the federal government.

But, Mr. Speaker, let me tell you, for all the successes they've achieved, for all the successes they wish to achieve, more recently in the last number of years, had it not been for the municipality and for the federal government, these successes would have not happened because, unfortunately, rather than the provincial government being a partner and sitting at the table, working with them, encouraging them, learning from them for other communities, they were absent. They were not only absent financially, in many cases, I hate to say, the Province of Nova Scotia became a hindrance to progress because it came to the point where they had to say to the provincial representatives, stay away because you have no money to bring to the table, you have nothing but criticism to bring to the table and nothing but trying to block projects to bring to the table.

That is the reality that we have faced and I've dealt with it directly myself, Mr. Speaker, and that's unfortunate because the success achieved in Richmond County should be the success that is copied and achieved in rural communities throughout Nova Scotia and that's where the province should be, sitting and learning from these community economic

[Page 2534]

development groups, not telling them what to do, not being critical, but saying let's work with you and let's learn so we can go to Shelburne, we can go to Yarmouth, we can go to Pictou West, we can go down in other areas of Cape Breton and let's share with the success you've had and see what's going to work for those communities, but to be able to put in the resources and even the funding to these community economic development groups. That has not taken place and that has been a lost opportunity.

Mr. Speaker, we now have more provincial employees in the Department of Tourism than we have in the Department of Economic Development. Allow me to correct myself. We no longer have a Department of Economic Development, we now have an Office of Economic Development and yet we wonder why rural Nova Scotia is struggling. Nova Scotia Business Incorporated was created to help large industries. It is not there to help development in Isle Madame. It is not there to help the ma-and-pa shop that wants to expand and add two employees. It is not there to help the small manufacturer who wishes to maybe add five new employees. It is not there for rural Nova Scotia other than for large corporations.

You just need to look at the annual reports of NSBI which clearly show they've been there for Clearwater, for Sobeys, for other large projects and that's fine, there's nothing wrong with that, but that's not who's employing rural Nova Scotians. Every year that we have small business, we learned 90 per cent of businesses in Nova Scotia are small businesses with less than, I believe it's under 15 or 20 employees; where is their voice in government today? They don't have one.

The credit union loan that was created, the $150,000, doesn't apply to refinancing. One of the major issues facing small businesses in Nova Scotia, their ability to consolidate their debts and to have one payment rather than four or five, that does not qualify under these rules. The small businesses that have come to me inquiring about this program, thinking that it may help them to be able to get control of their expenses, get control of their debt and get a better interest rate as a result, were told flatly, you do not qualify. That is extremely unfortunate because that is a lost opportunity that would have been there under that program.

Mr. Speaker, let me talk even more about some of the smaller things that we do for rural Nova Scotia, especially when I look at the situation with our young people. This government has continually cut back the Provincial Employment Program. They have cut the Youth Conservation Corps program in half. No wonder our young people don't stay in our communities anymore. They can't even find a summer job and you can't expect that in rural parts that they're going to be able to find employment with fast food restaurants, they don't exist. We don't have those in rural Nova Scotia for the most part. They rely on both the federal government and the provincial government to keep our youth there, give them an interest in rural Nova Scotia and allow that to work.

[Page 2535]

Let me give you another example, Mr. Speaker. One of the success stories of Richmond County has been small options homes through the Department of Community Services, where they now provide housing and care for people with special needs. It has been a tremendous success. We now have three in Richmond County and they provide significant employment. We had one incident that happened in Halifax a number of years ago, there has been a freeze on ever since. Another opportunity for economic development stopped by this government.

Housing grants, which allow seniors to stay in their own homes, still no investments made in the budget today. At the end of the day, Mr. Speaker, we must keep rural Nova Scotia growing, this government has a role to play. It's not rocket science, but it's time that we do it now before irreparable harm is done to rural Nova Scotia once and for all. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The honourable Minister of Energy.

HON. CECIL CLARKE: I'm very pleased to rise in the House today to speak to this debate and reflect an alternate perspective and opinion to that of my colleague, the honourable member for Richmond. Sometimes what people forget in their recounting and reflection of history is telling a little bit of their own history in the process. We can sit back and we can talk about what they deemed to be unsuccessful ventures or setbacks that have been there. The reality is, the member talked about the wallboard facility in the Strait Area. Well, that wallboard facility and the business case is continuing to advance. This government never walked away from that unfortunate situation. This government has continued to work with business and people in the region, to develop that and to bring it forth.

You know, Mr Speaker, I stood in this House when I was Minister of Economic Development and there was a lull over the Liberal caucus bench when the NDP were getting up and criticizing Orenda because I knew and felt that they made an investment at the time to help stabilize that area and do something to the point that they invested millions upon millions of dollars not to be seen again. I could chastise them for irresponsible investment or I could recognize that we were committed to try to see that process through and achieve newness.

So I can talk about failed initiatives. We can go to the member's riding in Richmond County and talk about Scotia Rainbow. He hasn't talked about that investment by the Liberal Government. He hasn't talked in this House, Mr. Speaker, about our commitment to the Strait Area and Richmond County, the commitment that this government has made most recently with Stora Enso and seeing the future success and the expansion of that area.

Small business, Mr. Speaker, benefits because of Stora Enso. The $15 million this government has committed to it is helping small businesses and the contractors that are the backbone in the economy that benefit from programs such as our credit union program, a

[Page 2536]

program the Liberals never had the insight, foresight, or ability to introduce. The point now he talks about the province trying to catch up to the federal government; well, the federal government is trying to catch up to our initative and repeat it in their own institutions.

Well, I'm glad to see that the federal government does have the wisdom to pick up on a great provincial idea and pick up on the leadership that we're offering, to see that small businesses need better supports and better efforts that were left negligent in the area, and to recognize that this government has been doing all this, to grow the economy and on Cape Breton Island alone, to have more people employed now than when the Liberals were there.

To see that 4,500 more Cape Bretoners are working today than 10 years ago, 2,100 more workers working today than five years ago, and the member for Cape Breton South is suggesting that wasn't so. Well, there's 2,100 more workers working today under this government than there were under the Liberal Government and that is the fact, and we stand behind those facts, but more importantly, we're standing behind small business. We're standing behind the people that are the backbone of our economy. That's why this government worked continuously. Whether it's the credit union system, whether it's the Nova Scotia Chamber of Commerce, whether it's the individual operators that are committed to a vision of this province, that the Liberals have lost vision and focus for. They constantly want to say that it's their federal partners who are initiating everything.

I'm very pleased recently to see Cape Breton Castings being announced for 100 quality advanced manufacturing jobs in Northside Industrial Park, and I'm very pleased the Province of Nova Scotia led that initiative and I will compliment the federal government for working with us and with industry to realize those opportunities which anchor and will help us cluster more opportunities in advanced manufacturing. We're going in with open minds and open doors to opportunities - doors that the previous Liberals shut on people of Cape Breton. The Liberal Government that was unable - unable, Mr. Speaker - to focus on what was necessary for the people rather than just the photo ops of the day.

I would ask, of all the announcements that the Liberals would have made under "economic development" in their tenure, how many of those jobs exist today? How many of those real jobs can they account for today versus the ones we've tried and have proven that this government has been able to work and to build and to grow and to see millions upon millions of dollars invested throughout this province, to see stability in regions, to recognize we do have challenges, to recognize that we do have depopulation issues in rural areas and we're committed to working with it. That's why this government is committed to multi-year funding for our regional development authorities, why we're committed to working with community development organizations and groups, that we have the framework for community economic development policy, that we've listened and understand that people want downtown development initiatives to revitalize and enhance their communities and their sense of well-being, so they can grow and provide a climate that is for growth and opportunity.

[Page 2537]

Mr. Speaker, fundamental to all this is the spirit of communities that don't want to let go, that don't want decline, that want to stabilize and build for a better future. It's Nova Scotians - individuals, communities, service organizations - they're the people with the ideas, they're the people with the drive and they're the ones we're working with and not like the Liberal Party that seems to think that only Ottawa has their solutions.

They can piggyback on Ottawa all they want. Ottawa's solutions - it's almost to the point where it's a sad day in Nova Scotia, and in Canada for that matter, because it's now to the point where the Royal Canadian Mint is going to have to take the Bluenose off of the dime and put it on the penny because the federal Liberals gave the other 9 cents away and we're trying to figure it out. But it wasn't given for community economic development, it wasn't given for a rural development strategy. It was given for things that if you're a friend of the federal Liberals, then obviously you deserve those nine extra cents but, by gosh, don't invest in small business, don't invest in the individual spirit.

Open and transparent government is leading the day. Open and transparent government is what the people of Nova Scotia know they can rely on - the type of open and transparent government that has seen three successive balanced budgets in this province with open, accountable financial structures around that to stabilize us and ensure that what we commit to we can afford to deliver on. The Liberals couldn't do that and that's why the Liberals are in third place in this House right now. They're in third place in this House because they lost focus with what the priorities of Nova Scotians are.

We have difficulties in managing the resources we have because we have to make the choices necessary to lead this province and to stabilize us in the future. Like everything else, the heart of a community is about recognizing what is necessary to overcome. Today we heard very unfortunate news with regard to Selectron in Glace Bay. Unlike the NDP, we will work with our federal colleagues and get a positive resolve to the jobs that will help stabilize that community, that small town in Nova Scotia, the small town that's shown it has the desire, the willingness and the ability to grow and expand, and we're not going to let a setback be a moment to take back what the NDP want to take from the people - and that is the heart and soul of good individuals that are committed to moving forward.

MR. DAVID WILSON (Glace Bay): John Morgan is going to sue you.

MR. CLARKE: Yes, John Morgan - the member for Glace Bay seems to have a comment here on the Mayor for the CBRM.

Well, I don't know, but according to the New Democratic Party who at least I will say should be condemned for the type of release they put out on Selectron because they don't have any ability or capacity - the release issued by the member for Cape Breton Centre was despicable. I don't think their release - and I'm happy to table it in the House here - had anything to do about the concern about Selectron as much as it had to do about the concern

[Page 2538]

of the NDP to position their polling for the Mayor of the CBRM to run for them in a federal election, because it has nothing to do with the desire to help those people. I know one thing, the Liberals weren't commissioning a poll with the mayor's name in question. I know the Progressive Conservatives, I can say, weren't doing the same, but the NDP seem to be awful cosy about this matter, and the NDP seem to be content on driving doom and gloom and a fear factor. Well, it isn't working, the ruse is over.

[6:15 p.m.]

We're going to commit to working with individuals as we have, Mr. Speaker, to stabilize and grow our rural economies, the individuals who are the backbone of Nova Scotia. They can count on this Progressive Conservative Government to continue our efforts regardless of the rhetoric from the Opposition benches, and we will work with our federal colleagues in the future and community in partnership.

MR. SPEAKER: I believe it's safe to say it was not a dull dissertation.

The honourable member for Pictou West.

MR. CHARLES PARKER: Mr. Speaker, they've often said that the late debate is the most entertaining part of the whole House, and I think there's probably some merit in that. It's interesting to hear what previous speakers have been saying. I do want to thank the member for Richmond for bringing forward this resolution. I think it's very timely, and it's important that we do speak about the problems that are occurring in rural Nova Scotia, not only in Richmond County but throughout Cape Breton Island and all of mainland rural Nova Scotia. I also come from the mainland rural part of this province, in Pictou County, and it seems appropriate that this resolution be on the order paper at this time.

Mr. Speaker, it reads: "Therefore be it resolved that this Tory Government has failed to respond to the significant issues facing rural Nova Scotia." It is interesting, just yesterday we were talking about declining populations in the province. I think 13 out of the 18 counties have seen a decline in their numbers and many of those are young people who are leaving Pictou County, Richmond County, and all the other counties throughout this province. Some of them are heading to HRM. Some of them are heading to other provinces and other territories in this country.

Mr. Speaker, I guess I want to spend a little bit of my time on the infrastructure deficit that is occurring in this province and how rural Nova Scotia perhaps is suffering more under that policy from this government than other areas of this province. It has been well known that in our Department of Transportation and Public Works there is an infrastructure deficit. In other words, there's not enough money going into the department to meet the needs that are in the highways and bridges of this province. That amount is estimated to be $3.4 billion over the next 10 years that should be spent just to bring our highways and bridges up to the

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level to maintain them at a decent or adequate level; broken over 10 years, that's about $345 million per year. Well, our budget is far, far short of that. Even though there's a very slight increase projected in this year's budget, we're still not meeting the needs of our transportation infrastructure in this province.

Really, that's about economic development. If you have good roads and you have good bridges, then people are going to invest in that area of the province. Businesses are going to be able to set up and they know they're going to be able to get trucks or vehicles to their business in a safe and timely fashion, and it's really a way that economic development could occur.

I wanted to speak a minute about some of the roads that maybe are in need of this infrastructure investment in my riding of Pictou West, and there are certainly lots of them, as I know there are around all of Nova Scotia. Earlier in the day at the Economic Development Committee we heard about the very poor road in Richmond County, it was Route 4. Route 4 has been neglected for far, far too long and it just so happens that Route 4 also runs through my riding in Pictou County. It actually runs, I think, all the way from Halifax to Sydney and Route 4 through the Salt Springs and Mount Thom area of Pictou West has been neglected, probably for 40 years or more; it was paved around 1959 or 1960. Since that time, it's really gone to pieces. It's in an atrocious condition or even deplorable, I would call it. That road is part of what the Alma-Mount Thom Strategic Planning Group has identified as a very important road, it's sort of an alternate road to the Trans-Canada Highway, if it should be closed for some reason. It's also used by a lot of local residents who live in the Mount Thom area. It's handy for them to drive out to Exit 19 at Salt Springs or Exit 18 at Kemptown, perhaps on their way to Truro. But it needs repair, it's one of the worst roads that I've seen anywhere.

Just to mention a few of the other roads out there that are also in very poor condition, the Granton Road, which runs by the Michelin plant in my riding; the road between West Branch and River John was partly paved last year, up as far as the McKay Road, but it needs a whole lot more work on the remainder, towards the West Branch end; the Scotch Hill Road, which is the home of the former member for Pictou West, Donald McInnes, it is also in very poor shape; Whitehill Road is one of the worst, probably, of the whole bunch that needs investment; Greenhill Road; Scotsburn Road; Sunrise Trail; the Montreal Road; I could go on, the Union Centre Road. There are many others, and that's only in one riding. There's 52 ridings in the province, most of which have roads and bridges that need an investment. We're a long ways under looking after the needs of these roads.

Is this government looking after or responding to the significant issues facing rural Nova Scotians? Not in transportation, for sure. Just as an example, I want to mention an article that was in our local paper, entitled, Highway conditions said to be scaring off tourists. Certainly, all areas of this province are trying to bring tourists into their areas and encourage economic development in that regard. We have, very fortunately, in our area, near Scotsburn,

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Pictou County, Stonehame Chalets, and it's been built up as a farm industry, an enterprise, and it's a number of chalets and a convention centre and restaurant, and it has worked hard to try to bring in tourists on a year-round basis.

Just lately the owner of that business, Jeff Gunn, has indicated that there are real problems that he's hearing from his customers, who are very concerned about the roads that are leading to that business. He has called the roads atrocious, he's saying that we might be better off with dirt roads, if the pavement is not going to be looked after. He's had frequent complaints from a number of his customers, and also from other tourist operators. He's trying to extend his business year-round, 12 months of the year. This is a real problem for him, and for other tourist operators throughout the province, when their customers are not able to come or don't wish to come back because of the very poor infrastructure that's out there. Mr. Speaker, I would like to table that, if I could, and have it on record as the concerns of one tourist operator in this province who is very unhappy with the condition of our roads, and rightly so, because we're just not investing like we should be.

I will take a minute to talk about today's announcement that there will be help for seniors. That's good to see, that finally the bankruptcy of our seniors is going to stop. In rural Nova Scotia, I think that's a very big issue. Over the past 12 months, actually, there was something like $82 million that was taken from our seniors in this province. They have to pay for their own medicare in a nursing home or a long-term care facility. That's going to stop as of next January, but that still leaves almost eight, nine months that seniors are going to be forced to turn over their life savings and have to pay for their own medicare that the rest of us enjoy for free.

So there's a concern, even over the next nine months, that that's still going to impact on rural Nova Scotia and continue to drain money from our rural economies. I guess my time is wrapping up Mr. Speaker, but overall I think it's important that we invest in our rural infrastructure including our bridges and roads and highways. Our government has not been doing that and it is time that they stepped up to the plate and invested in rural Nova Scotia, and also in our primary industries like forestry, farming and fishing. We must work to sustain our quality of life in our rural communities because strong rural families yield strong communities and make for a stronger Nova Scotia.

MR. SPEAKER: The time allotted for the late debate has now expired.

[The House rose at 6:26 p.m.]

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By: Hon. Barry Barnet (Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations)

I hereby give notice that on a future day I shall move the adoption of the following resolution:

Whereas Privateers Harley-Davidson launched its official opening today, Thursday, April 22, 2004; and

Whereas this brand new dealership on Susie Lake Drive in Bayers Lake Industrial Park not only features a full line of Harley-Davidsons but also features the largest full line of Harley-Davidson clothes, accessories and collectibles in Atlantic Canada; and

Whereas owner/operator John Larson will be employing 12 staff at his new operation;

Therefore be it resolved that the members of this House congratulate him and his staff members on their official opening and wish them all the best with their operation.