November 20, 1996         HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS          Vol. XLIII  No. 37

The House met at 2:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Snow): Order, please!

Before we begin the routine proceedings, the Chair would like to welcome, on behalf of all members, eleven students in Canadian Law from the Seventh-Day Adventist School on Merrymeeting Road in the District of St. John's Centre.


Statements by Ministers

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Mines and Energy.

DR. GIBBONS: Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform the House that Burin Minerals Ltd. has been granted Economic Diversification and Growth Enterprises (EDGE) status. Burin Minerals Ltd. is planning a public share offering in the near future to finance the re-opening of the fluorspar mine and mill at St. Lawrence, and EDGE designation should have a positive impact on the company's ability to raise the necessary capital.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

DR. GIBBONS: The fluorspar mine and mill at St. Lawrence has been closed since 1991. In October, 1994, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador invited proposals to explore and develop the fluorspar resources in the St. Lawrence area. In January, 1995, a proposal was accepted from Northern Resource Investments Ltd., the parent company of Burin Minerals Ltd., to conduct a feasibility study on the St. Lawrence Fluorspar project. The results of this study were positive and mining leases have now been issued; they were issued in April of this year. The remaining assets at St. Lawrence have been purchased by Burin Minerals, and environmental approval has been granted for the project.

Through the EDGE program, Burin Minerals will receive a ten-year tax holiday from provincial corporate income tax, post-secondary education and health (payroll) tax, followed by a five-year phase-in of these taxes. The Town of St. Lawrence is also an EDGE participant, meaning that Burin Minerals will be granted a ten-year holiday on municipal property and business taxes.

Mr. Speaker, I feel that the EDGE designation for Burin Minerals will assist the company in its efforts to raise the necessary dollars to re-activate the fluorspar operations at St. Lawrence.

Once full production starts, and we expect and hope that will happen in 1997, the operation will produce approximately 120,000 tons of concentrate per year, and it should employ about 100 people.

I wish Burin Minerals every success in these efforts and look forward to the reactivation of its operations.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Baie Verte.

MR. SHELLEY: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

I am glad to join today - and I thank the minister for his statement before the House opened - and I am pleased to hear this for the people of St. Lawrence.

Of course in my own district we have a similar situation, and this is one situation, on the merits of this mine and the situation in St. Lawrence, where this works, Mr. Speaker.

I am glad to commend the minister and the government on this particular EDGE status for this particular mine. I wish them luck, and I hope we get some people back to work in that area; but I would also like to add that over all - and we all know, and the minister himself, who is not in the House today, has, of course, referred to it also - that the HST and the equalization payments from Ottawa have to be reconsidered now and, of course, the EDGE status has to be reviewed.

In light of that, I think the smart thing for the Premier and the Cabinet to do is to review them and to look at those very serious effects and implications, but otherwise I am happy for the people in Burin and St. Lawrence, and I wish Burin Minerals Ltd. every success in getting people back to work.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Social Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS J.M. AYLWARD: Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me today to proclaim November 20, 1996, National Child Day in Newfoundland and Labrador. This proclamation coincides with November 20, 1959, the day the United Nations adopted the declarations on the Rights of the Child, and also with the date the Government of Canada declared as National Child Day in 1993.

Mr. Speaker, I am quite pleased that on this day, in collaboration with my colleagues, Hon. Roger Grimes and Hon. Lloyd Matthews, I can make a commitment which will benefit children throughout this Province. The Departments of Social Service, Education, and Health, have agreed to commit funding in the amount of $125,000 to establish child food programs which will provide children with one nutritious meal each and every school day.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS J.M. AYLWARD: In cooperation with the School Children's Food Foundation, which will provide $100,000 to match government funding -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS J.M. AYLWARD: - a Provincial Nutrition Fund will be established on a two-year pilot basis. This initiative is consistent with Recommendation 148 of the Royal Commission Report, Our Children, Our Future. It is a commitment which will allow the establishment of up to 100 child food programs throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, serving up to 5,000 children each school day.

The School Children's Food Foundation has established a sectoral network of labour, business, community organizations, churches, and government departments to address the problem of child hunger and its impact on a child's ability to learn. The Provincial Nutrition Fund exemplifies government's commitment to improve collaboration between government departments, and to continue the development of partnerships with communities, groups and individuals, for the benefit of all the people of this Province, including our children. This commitment is also consistent with the view of the Canadian School Boards Association, as I heard in the media this morning. It is a more integrated approach which involves greater collaboration between government departments, and more partnering with the community. We must all work together to most effectively attack child poverty.

This government recognizes the important role of the family and the community in the upbringing of children, and will continue to consult with the people of this Province in the best interest of all our children. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is demonstrating its commitment to children through several ongoing initiatives.

It has established a Select Committee on Children's Interest, and has received its report and recommendations. It has commissioned a report and received recommendations on Special Matters, dealing with the special needs of children. It has appointed a Social Policy Advisory Committee to provide input into the development of a provincial Strategic Social Plan, the first ever of its magnitude in this country and in our Province. Our government, through the Department of Social Services is currently conducting a comprehensive review of all programming for children and youth, including the Child Welfare Act and the Adoptions Act.

Mr. Speaker, we are working for all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and this is a day when we acknowledge the importance of children and the needs of children in this Province and this country. I would like to encourage the general public to recognize National Child Day today, but also to consider the needs of children on every other day of the year.

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my colleagues, Ministers Grimes and Matthews, I would like to comment our social workers, our nurses, our teachers, our health professionals, our early childhood educators, and parents, and all other people who work for and with children on a daily basis. Their dedication and caring will provide our children with the guidance they need to become contributing members of society. I would also like to commend the numerous groups, volunteers and individuals throughout this Province, who today have organized special events to celebrate National Child Day.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would also like to circulate ribbons to mark this day, royal blue ribbons to recognize National Child Day, and I offer them to the members of the Opposition as well as members of our own Party, and other parties as well.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am very pleased to rise today and to commend the minister and the government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. H. HODDER: When the minister is standing up for children and for the youth of this Province, I can assure you that she will have allies on all sides of this House.

Mr. Speaker, when the hon. the Premier sat in the House of Commons in 1989 there was a unanimous resolution passed by the House that said that the aim was to eliminate child poverty in Canada by the year 2000. Unfortunately, in 1996 we have 500,000 more children in poverty in Canada than we had in 1989. Child poverty must be the central focus of social policy and of social reform. We know that undernourished children are less physically active, they are less exploratory, they are less attentive, and they are more apathetic, irritable and tired, and that is reflected in their performance not only within their homes but in their schools and in their communities.

We know as well, from the studies that have been done, that poverty is the fundamental issue facing children in Newfoundland and Labrador today. When families are poor, children are poor, and the whole structure and the fabric of our society is negatively affected. I say to the minister, this is a wonderful initiative, but I would like to have one other commitment, that this initiative will not be subject to this great review and restructuring, and we don't see it lost next spring when the cut, cut, cut time comes. Let's not cut the program that we are introducing today. Let's keep it positive; let's make sure we stand up for children this day and every day.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Does the hon. Member for Signal Hill - Quidi Vidi have leave?


MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: (Inaudible)!

MR. HARRIS: They must have watched the news last night.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join with the minister and the Opposition House Leader in recognizing the national day for the welfare of children. I think some of the recommendations or some of the announcements made today are, in fact, similar to exhortations that I gave the government on October 17, when I released a program for the elimination of poverty. So I commend those efforts in recognition of those needs, particularly the Royal Commission on Education, recommendation 148, but I will say this: The amount of money that is being directed towards this will do some good, but when we have, in this report released the other day, 40,000 children in Newfoundland living below the poverty line, and one-half of our school population at risk of low educational achievement due to poverty, then to say that 5,000 children will be able to have one nutritional meal today certainly does not do the job. So I want to say to the minister -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. HARRIS: - this is a start, but ask that the government adopt a commitment to a universal school lunch program.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Education.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) are being released today, concurrently with the national and international release of this major study of achievement in more than fifty countries. Newfoundland and Labrador, along with four other Canadian provinces, has participated in this international study to show our commitment to achieving world class standards in education. I am pleased to see that there has been considerable improvement in mathematics and science achievement since students last participated in international testing in mathematics and science five years ago, in 1991.

The Third International Mathematics and Science Study is the largest and most ambitious study ever conducted under the auspices of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). The report being released today focuses on students who are at approximately the grade VIII level, or who are about thirteen years of age.

Mr. Speaker, in mathematics, Canadian students did as well as or better than students in thirty of the fifty countries, with a score of fifty-nine. Newfoundland students had a score of fifty-six, which meant that our results were similar to those of Canada as a whole, and our scores were better than the Provinces of Ontario and New Brunswick.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. GRIMES: Mr. Speaker, Newfoundland also placed ahead of counties such as Australia, the United States, Germany, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland, and England.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. GRIMES: In science, Mr. Speaker, Newfoundland was at the Canadian average, having 59 per cent of the items on the tests correct. Again Newfoundland scored higher than Ontario and New Brunswick, and nine of the fifty participating countries scored higher than Canada. As with mathematics, Newfoundland placed ahead of countries such as Germany, the United States, New Zealand, Ireland and Scotland.

Mr. Speaker, even though we seem to be achieving better than ever before, this is not the time to be complacent in our efforts. In order for us to be economically viable and globally competitive, we have to strive continuously to be amongst the best in the world. We still have some distance to go to be at the level of countries such as Japan, Korea, Singapore and the western Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, but there is evidence that our education system is making improvements steadily. This government remains committed to measuring performance and addressing areas of weakness in our school system.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's East.

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

While it is always a pleasure to see that there are improvements within our educational system and how that improvement directly affects certain students within our Province, we have to carefully scrutinize the type and the nature of evaluation which is being done here. I pose the following questions: Is this a selective sample, or is it all-inclusive? Does it include all thirteen-year-olds, for example? Is it just particular programs within particular schools? Does it include all schools within the Province?

Mr. Speaker, there is a line within this announcement which is worthy of comment, and that is that this is no time to be complacent. I agree with the hon. minister, this is no time to be complacent. When we see this report which was tabled in this House on Monday past, and when we see that there are over 200 recommendations with respect to education in this Province, when we see students who are suffering as a result of poverty, when we have low results in reading with respect to remedial reading, for example, when we see students suffering who require special needs -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. OTTENHEIMER: - who require special disabilities, Mr. Speaker, indeed this is no time to be complacent.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

Oral Questions

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My questions today for the Premier revolve around the perils of procrastination.

The Premier during his recent travel mission has been outlining the unfairness of the Churchill Falls deal. Yesterday in a speech to the Empire Club in Toronto the Premier made a very telling comment. He was pointing out that one reason for the bad deal was that no contract was in place during the initial development phase of Churchill Falls, only a letter of intent, and because we did not have a written agreement of some sort, we were sort of left snookered with no ability to negotiate.

Will the Premier admit that what he finds wrong with the process of documentation in this Upper Churchill Falls deal is exactly our concern for the process of documentation with the Voisey's Bay deal?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I'm very surprised to hear the Leader of the Opposition make the comment he has made, because the Leader of the Opposition I know always does his homework, and the Leader of the Opposition will know that in the case of Churchill Falls, based on a letter of intent, some $150 million was spent by BRINCO and by its partners toward the development of the Churchill Falls project. The letter of intent was signed in 1967; by 1969, $150 million had been spent.

In addition to the $150 million spent, there was another quarter of a billion dollars of commitments to contractors and sub-contractors. In today's terms, there was a commitment of some $668 million based on a letter of intent. At that stage, having spent that much money, BRINCO then went to Hydro Quebec and sought a firm power contract before completing the project. At that stage, Hydro Quebec, recognizing the tremendous advantage it had, pressed for what has now become the infamous Churchill Falls power contract.

Now, Mr. Speaker, there is no similar situation today with respect to the development of Voisey' bay. There is no capital construction project ongoing at this moment. What there is - I know the Leader of the Opposition has very carefully examined this - is an application for an environmental assessment today deposited and a development plan deposited with the national government for a joint environmental assessment on the mine and mine mill. That is going to take - you know, we cannot interfere with the process - but it is going to take a year or more to conclude. So there is no project started at the mine site yet, there is no construction of a mine mill yet. There can't be until an environmental assessment is done. Sorry Jack?

AN HON. MEMBER: They spent $4 billion (inaudible).

PREMIER TOBIN: Just on acquiring the properties, but there is no capital construction. That is Inco's risk, not the Province's.

Secondly, there is not even yet a site identified for a smelter and refinery complex, and there is no application even filed yet on the smelter-refinery complex. Once that is filed, that will take another period of time for review.

So I say to the Leader of the Opposition, if he were talking about a circumstance where several billion dollars were already spent, or $1 billion dollars was already spent, then his comparison would hold water, but for the moment his comparison is completely - well, it is completely improper, it is wrong.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition, a supplementary.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I advocate, the Premier's comparisons are all wrong.

There were a number of visions presented here in this House yesterday. In fact, the Minister of Mines and Energy was so visionary yesterday that he could announce that Inco knows it will not get a tax break to which it is entitled by law. The minister said that yesterday. The minister even said: he no longer needs even a letter of intent because he knows that Inco knows that we all can have a vision of a good royalty regime.

Now, I ask the Premier: Will he make changes to the Mining and Mineral Rights Tax Act to offer written protection for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I am appalled and I know that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are appalled to hear the Leader of the Opposition stand in this Chamber - and I have just been briefed by my colleague, the Minister of Mines and Energy because I was not here yesterday - and complain that a company as big and as powerful and as wealthy as Inco, with a property as rich as Voisey's Bay, is not going to get a ten-year tax holiday. We make no apology for not giving them a ten-year tax holiday.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER TOBIN: We say to Inco, Mr. Speaker, that there is going to be no ten-year tax holiday. We expect to maximize benefits here in Newfoundland and Labrador, we expect to maximize revenues, we expect to maximize jobs and we want a revenue flow to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador as quickly as possible. There will be no holidays from their responsibilities to the people of this Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear.

PREMIER TOBIN: I am amazed that the Leader of the Opposition would be pressed into standing, cap in hand, on behalf of Inco, begging for a tax holiday.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition, a supplementary.


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. SULLIVAN: Mr. Speaker, I am quite amused. The legislation, the laws that his government have on the books here, give them a ten-year tax holiday. The Premier, when he came here, scuttled the one that was going to take away the tax break, and now we are sitting under a tax break.

I ask the Premier: What will you tell the people of this Province, if a satisfactory agreement -


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. SULLIVAN: - cannot be reached because you waited too long to change the act? Would the Premier continue to claim ignorance and say we are unfairly treated, because Inco knew they were not entitled to a tax holiday, even though the laws of our Province said they were?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I think the people of this Province are entitled to know, clearly, and I think the Leader of the Opposition owes the House a clear statement: Is he for a tax break for poor, beleaguered, beggarly, tired, misbegotten Inco, or not?

We have come to the conclusion over here that Inco is big enough and strong enough and wealthy enough and healthy enough to afford to be able to pay its way. And I want to share something with the Leader of the Opposition: I think that Inco is a responsible corporate citizen and they expect to have to pay their own way.

I am not sure what the point of the Leader of the Opposition is but if he is asking this government to do anything less than ensure a full and fair share of the revenues and the jobs for the people of this Province we can do no less because there will be, never again, another Churchill Falls in Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition, on a supplementary.

MR. SULLIVAN: Mr. Speaker, yesterday in the House the Minister of Mines and Energy, when he was covering for the Minister of Finance, who apparently does not want to take the lead in areas of taxation, said: Inco knows that they do not get a tax holiday under the act but they are subject to the rest of the act. So I now want to ask the Premier: Does he knows if Inco will be subject to changes in other parts of that act, specifically the Mining Tax Review Board that was also changed in amendments of 1994?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I do not know what happened to the Leader of the Opposition during the break, but since he has come back he has done nothing but warn of dire consequences for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, what I would say to the Leader of the Opposition, in all seriousness, is that the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, well recognize, as does the Leader of the Opposition - and I think this is the point the Leader of the Opposition is making, and I accept this point - that the Voisey's Bay development is important to every one of us in this Province regardless of our political stripe and regardless of which side of the House we sit on. It is important to this generation, to those who have responsibility today and those who will have responsibility in the future.

Maybe the day will come, sometime in the future, when the Leader of the Opposition will sit where I am sitting now, maybe that will happen, but I will assure him of one thing, when and if it ever does happen - we shall see, only the people can say - he can rest assured that those who sit on this side of the House at this time in our history will act responsibly in our negotiations, in discharging our duties as a caucus and as a Cabinet, to make sure that the people of this Province are well served and that there is a full and fair share of the resource for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. There will be no sellouts.

The Leader of the Opposition is not being serious, Mr. Speaker, I submit, and he knows he is not being serious, when he asks the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, on the floor of the House of Assembly, to try and conduct a complex negotiation in a way that would disadvantage the position and the role of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. When the time comes all will be known, all will be transparent, and all will be public, but for goodness sake let us not put the cart before the horse. We do not have an environmental approval yet for the project let alone the completion of a technical and detailed negotiation. In due course all that will happen.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition, on a supplementary.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I do not want the same mistakes made, because we were not informed, the public, that were made by your predecessor in Churchill Falls. That is the very reason we want the protection, and not in secret behind closed doors I say to the Premier.

Now, the 1994 amendments that eliminated the Mining Tax Review Board - considering this government's desire to put at arm's length regulatory bodies, does Inco know, I ask him, that this also does not apply to them, which is in the act, and will the Premier admit that this removes the arm's length independent approach to tax appeals and leaves it open to political pressure?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, with the greatest of respect, I will have to go back later in the day or tomorrow, and look at the transcript of the questions and the sequence of questions by the Leader of the Opposition so that it is clear to me the points that are being made by the Leader of the Opposition. I do not dismiss the seriousness with which he makes his points, and I do not dismiss the importance of the points that are being made, but I quite frankly am having difficulty following the Leader of the Opposition's argument here. I do not know whether he is for a tax break for Inco, whether he is complaining that a tax break that Inco might otherwise have expected is going to be removed.

He has asked the question: Is it the intention of government to remove a tax break, a ten-year tax holiday, that was put in place and envisaged to be used by small marginal companies operating small and marginal mines in the Province? He is saying: Is it fair to have such a proposal on the books, and then after the fact take it away from the company? That is his argument. He is saying we are being unfair to Inco, but, Mr. Speaker, Inco has such a rich and viable deposit with such a massive rate of return that, in line with the philosophy on Churchill Falls, when the circumstances change the contract is changed, and in this case there will be no ten-year tax holiday for Inco. We will expect them to pay their way and pay their freight as soon as possible.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition, a supplementary.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

If the Premier does not understand the questions, I can give him a copy of the act and the amendments in Clause 16 in the Bill in 1994, and he might understand what my questions are.

Now will the Premier, or one of his Ministers of Finance over there, table in this House a document that spells out what areas of our law that Inco is not subject to, and perhaps some exemptions from the courts spelling out how they know that Inco knows.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I have to say to the hon. member that the confusion grows. I want to assure him that Inco is subject to all the laws of the Province.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Kilbride.

MR. E. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to address what I consider, and what I think most member would consider, a pretty serious matter that is taking place now at the Hibernia site. It has been raised in the public a number of times, and I asked questions in the House last spring on it, but I would like to ask the Premier today: Is he fully aware of the discrimination currently faced by construction workers in this Province who are being wrongfully denied work at the Bull Arm site, and being told they do not qualify for such work, while out-of-province and out-of-country workers, specifically in this case electricians presently - and the future implications for not only job transfer but technology transfer, who are no more qualified; is he aware that this is taking place?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Development and Rural Renewal.

MS FOOTE: Mr. Speaker, representation has been made to the government with respect to the situation, or the alleged situation, at Hibernia. I met with the company last week, Minister Aylward and I, and I also met with representatives of the IBEW and the ODC. They have raised what I consider to be some important issues, and we have taken it upon ourselves to ask the CNOPB to investigate the allegations that have been made. Of course, it is the CNOPB who has responsibility for ensuring that the Atlantic Accord is adhered to.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Kilbride, a supplementary.

MR. E. BYRNE: I understand that meetings have taken place, and I understand that representation has been made to the minister, but it is ultimately the responsibility of this government, this House of Assembly, to ensure that people who are qualified for jobs with resect to the offshore in this Province get them. That is who is ultimately responsible.

Let me ask the minister or the Premier, or whoever feels fit to respond: Why is it taking the government so long to respond to the situation? I think you should move now, move immediately. Even George Baker, former colleague of the Premier, has seen through the deception and lies being put forward by the company. And are you going to allow the oil companies to get away with such obvious discrimination that is detrimental to our capacity to compete competitively now and in the future, and by doing so giving the edge to out-of-province contractors and workers.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Development and Rural Renewal.

MS FOOTE: Mr. Speaker, we are indeed moving immediately on this. As I mentioned, we meet with them last week. I did not have a request for a meeting from either the IBEW or ODC. I instigated the meeting myself once I saw the news in the news media. We met with them. We have asked CNOPB to move immediately on this. The company has indicated that they are certainly willing to comply with our request, so we are moving immediately on it. The Premier, in fact, is having a breakfast meeting tomorrow with the ODC to address this and other issues.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Kilbride, a supplementary.

MR. E. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the minister's response. This issue was raised over six months ago by this particular member in this particular Legislature, and no action was taken. I have a document here, a presentation that was made to government on behalf of the workers, that clearly shows that one company in particular has hired nine Newfoundlanders and, at the same time, has hired forty-five people from outside the Province who are no more qualified than the people in this Province who have the same level of skill, who have the same level of training.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member is on a supplementary.

MR. E. BYRNE: My question to the minister, in light of her last answer, is: Can you be more definitive? Can you say that by this time next week you will seize control of the situation, that you will get to the bottom of it, and that by this time next week qualified Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who should be on that site will, in fact, be on that site?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Development and Rural Renewal.

MS FOOTE: Mr. Speaker, I have that the CNOPB report back to me in ten days, and as soon as we get the report back and all the allegations have been investigated the government will move on it if, in fact, there is any truth to what is being alleged.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. J. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My question is for the Minister of Finance.

Mr. Minister, will you confirm that the Province, since February, has spent over $200,000 of public funds to place advertisements in The Globe and Mail and other national publications featuring the Premier and ministers? Will you tell the House the total number of these `Think Again' ads, and the amount spent?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance.

MR. DICKS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. That is within the budget of the Department of Industry, Trade and Technology. I do not have the figures available. It is part of the general promotional thrust of the Province, for which the Province commits to considerable resources each year, both in ITT and the Department of Tourism. It is a matter undertaken by government, one that we think will yield fruitful results.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. J. BYRNE: Well maybe I should direct this question to the Minister of Industry, Trade and Technology, but I will stick with the Minister of Finance.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: That is right; I cannot refer to that. I am not permitted to refer to where he may or may not be.

Will the Minister of Finance confirm that the two-page ads in The Globe and Mail, entitled `Think Again', have cost approximately $25,000 each? Will you table in this House the evaluation process used to determine the benefits, if any, of these advertisements? Maybe the money could be better spent on a child advocate.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance.

MR. DICKS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In the absence of my colleague I am delighted to see that the hon. member is actually perusing the ad. I think the ads, frankly, have been very effective. I think it is money well invested. I have heard comments nationally by people who have noticed these ads. They have focused attention. I think what is interesting is that the fastest growing sector in the Newfoundland economy is the manufacturing base at some 8 per cent. I think that is a result largely of the efforts of this government in trying to rationalize its tax structure to attract industries here. It has been effective, and I think this is an important part of our program.

I think one thing that the people of the Province realize, whether the hon. member does or not, is that Newfoundland is basically the size of a small or medium-sized North American city. When people come to the Province they want to deal with, in our case, what is the equivalent of a mayor of a large city, and that is our Premier. We have a lot of authority, but when people come here they have to have a sense that the government is committed to making a success of businesses and ensuring their survival for the people of the Province.

All things considered, I disagree with the member across the way if he is suggesting that we should sit back and do nothing. If we don't get out there and try to do something and compete in what is a global international market, realizing that 83 per cent of what we produce in Newfoundland is sold, for instance, into the American market, we are not going to survive.

Is this a good idea? Yes. Is it money well spent? Yes. Do I have the numbers? No. My colleague in Industry, Trade and Technology is busy doing exactly what I speak of at this very moment and I am sure, as part of his report back to the House on his travels, he will be delighted to provide the hon. member with comments as well.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. J. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Maybe I should request the information under our Freedom of Information Act. Maybe I would get the answer then.

Can the government really justify placing these ads, entitled `Think Again', to tout the benefits of the EDGE program when the Industry Minister himself said a few weeks that: EDGE now has to be completely rethought in light of the harmonization sales tax agreement, an agreement that was signed in principle by the Premier several months before you even placed the ads. How much is budgeted - you should know; you are the Minister of Finance - from provincial dollars to promote the federal government's agenda on harmonization tax? With these new ads that are going in, these full-page ads, I say to the minister, how much is being budgeted under the Department of Finance for these new ads?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Well, Mr. Speaker, I am not sure if the minister is complaining about the fact that we are advertising the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, or the fact that the mug shot of the Premier of the Province is not an attractive part of the advertising package - and if that is true we will take a look at it and remove it - but surely the member -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

PREMIER TOBIN: The member could be right; maybe we should put the member's picture on the ad.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, if we did people might think again indeed! Surely the member is not seriously -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: (Inaudible)!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I am trying so hard to be heard. I don't get nearly this much attention from the ads.

Mr. Speaker, the member is not seriously suggesting in the Legislature that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and that the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, should not be out there with every other province of Canada, and every other province of Canada -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER TOBIN: - is out promoting the fundamental benefits and strengths of their respective provinces. Surely he is not suggesting that we should not be out there as well telling people - and look at the full range of the `Think Again' ads campaign - telling people, for example, in the information technology sector, that the number one province of Canada for fibre optics per capita is Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER TOBIN: Is he saying we should not be out there telling the people of Canada that the only province of Canada with every single school on the Internet is Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER TOBIN: Is he saying we should not be telling the people of Canada that the business school at Memorial University, for four of the last five years, in a national and international competition, has come number one at the business school competition?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: (Inaudible)!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the Premier to quickly conclude his answer.

The hon. the Member for St. John's South.

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I say to the Premier with great respect, the ad says `Think Again'. Maybe he was referring to EDGE.

My question is for the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation or the Minister of Works, Services and Transportation. In light of not only the Cabot 500 celebrations but also the anniversary of the Vikings, the upcoming Winter Games, and the 50th Anniversary of Confederation, as well as other tourism potential in the upcoming years, even the threat of a strike by Marine Atlantic would have serious implications on the numbers of people visiting our Province, as was seen by the threat of strike last year. I ask the minister what she intends to do to ensure that Marine Atlantic is designated an essential service, and that there is proper protection put in place for the labour force of Marine Atlantic, similar to that of other essential services, such as the fire and police departments.

MS KELLY: Mr. Speaker, we of course, as government, have been dealing with this for many months. My colleague, the Minister of Environment and Labour, has already requested of the federal government that we enter discussions about the essential service aspect of Marine Atlantic. But we all know, we have all read in the media in the past months, that Marine Atlantic has a signed labour agreement for the upcoming two years. I am meeting with Marine Atlantic, I think in about ten days, and we will be discussing that. So all is proceeding very well. We are very comfortable that we are well prepared for next year's celebrations.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for St. John's South.

MR. OSBORNE: I say to the minister, that is wonderful news; however, we cannot renew on a two-year basis, a biannual basis, every time the contract runs out. We need an essential service.

Under Term 32 of the Terms of Union with Canada, Newfoundland is guaranteed a freight and passenger service from Port aux Basques to North Sydney. This is our link, our highway to the rest of Canada. I'm asking the minister what exactly she intends to do to ensure that this is made an essential service, and more importantly what she intends to do to make sure the labour force is protected, similar to that of other essential services.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation.

MS KELLY: Mr. Speaker, I have just outlined that this government is actively working with the federal government on this issue, and that we do have a labour contract in place for the next two years, and that we have that space of time that we are actively working with the federal government. We recognize that this is a very important link. This is, across the Gulf, our Trans-Canada Highway, and we are very actively working on this issue.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for St. John's South.

MR. OSBORNE: Exactly right, I say to the minister; this route is our Trans-Canada Highway to the rest of Canada, and no other province in Canada would stand to have their highway blocked or severed. So I am asking the minister: Can she guarantee us that, by the time this two-year contract is out, Marine Atlantic will be designated an essential service, and that the federal government will be held responsible to their constitutional obligations to ensure that this service is always maintained?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation.

MS KELLY: Mr. Speaker, I feel that I have given a very adequate answer to that, and that this is a federal government issue that we are working hand in hand with our federal colleagues to solve. There is no different answer to it other than that we are doing our best and working on this issue very actively.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Signal Hill - Quidi Vidi.

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My question is for the Minister of Finance. Recently he has been quoted as speculating about the possible privatization of the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation. In Alberta when this happened prices went up, wages went down, and many hundreds of people lost their jobs. I wonder, would the minister end this speculation and ease the fears of the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation employees by assuring them that he and government does not share the views on privatization of the Leader of the Opposition, and that he will not, and his government will not, privatize the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance.

MR. DICKS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In answer to the hon. member's question, I believe he is referring to an article that I did in response to a reporter with The Evening Telegram some weeks ago. I am glad he has finally gotten to the question. What he said in that article was that the government had not decided to privatize the Liquor Corporation. Unfortunately it has been construed that we have so done. Having said that, every government program, every government agency, every government Crown corporation, is under review to see whether or not we should continue that particular service, or what is in many cases a private sector type enterprise, or whether we should modify it in some way. What I said was that it could not be ruled out. We will examine it the same way we will examine every other aspect of government during and subsequent to program review. If and when we make a decision we will advise this Legislature and the people of the Province and the employees concerned, if any, accordingly.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for Signal Hill - Quidi Vidi.

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to emphasize that last year I was made aware of a family situation where the breadwinner worked for the corporation, they lived in subsidized housing, and still the family had to go to food banks to provide proper food for the family. I would like to have the minister provide some assurance to such families and other employees that at least they can have some security, and not have to worry that their position will be undermined by a threat in privatization. Can he give them that assurance?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance.

MR. DICKS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Any person who works for government understands that things change, and a position which he or she now holds may or may not exist next month, next year, or ten years from now. But, having said that, I think that whatever the final decision of government is, I am quite sure that the people of the Province do not intend to give up drinking alcohol in some form or another, and that someone will provide that service, whether it is going to be through the agency of government or in some other form or fashion. I can no more give an absolute assurance to any person who works for government than Mr. Curtis, from whom the hon. member gets his questions, can give his employees an assurance that they will also have absolute job security.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The time for Oral Questions has elapsed.

Notices of Motion

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Kilbride.

MR. E. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to give notice that on tomorrow I will introduce the following Private Members resolution:

WHEREAS the Progressive Conservative Party's policy on construction has already recognized the significant contribution that that industry makes to the economy; and

WHEREAS all Members of the House of Assembly are committed to investing in the construction workforce such that onshore and offshore resource developments use skills and technology from this Province; and

WHEREAS we, as members of this hon. House are all committed to maximizing the development of oil-related industries in this Province to create well-educated, well-trained workers for the oil industry and bring in equitable revenues to the Province; and

WHEREAS the Progressive Conservative Party is conscious of the fact that workers on the Hibernia project have proven themselves as second to none in the world, and that we, as a Province, must build upon that experience gained from construction of the GBS structure and move towards full development of an offshore oil industry capacity; and

WHEREAS it is incumbent on the provincial government to be proud of and promote the excellence and the performance by the construction workers in Newfoundland;

THEREFORE the Progressive Conservative Party greets with dismay and alarm the discrimination against the Province's construction workers, and calls upon the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to take the following steps immediately:

Investigate what is happening now with qualified, local construction workers being denied commissioning work at the Bull Arm site; insist that development companies present a much more detailed and transparent employment and training plan for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, both presently and for pending and future developments; and enforceable regulations need to be created to protect our construction workers from the discrimination and abuse currently experienced where they are being treated as second-class workers.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Premier, in collaboration with the Minister of Mines and Energy, the Minister of Education, the Minister of Development and Rural Renewal, insist immediately that the developer, HMDC, with its contractors, together with the unions through the oil development council, address the escalating employment and future preparedness concerns at the Bull Arm site, and together form a collective will and determination to ensure qualified, local construction workers get an equitable and just number of quality construction and commissioning employment opportunities at the Bull Arm site, specifically by doing the following, Mr. Speaker:

That the Minister of Mines and Energy insist that both HMDC and their contractors detail human resource plans for both construction and production phases of their operations such that all trade, technical and supervisory occupations are outlined in full, and where shortfalls exist in this Province a corrective plan is instituted to address a shortfall by local workers. Furthermore, the Minister of Mines and Energy, through his federal counterpart, immediately convene a meeting of all governing parties signatory to the 1989 Memorandum of Understanding that was charged with the responsibility to ensure the present situation would not happen, that employment, training, and technological transfer would happen, and now address and correct the issues that have been recognized.

The Minister of Education, the Minister of Environment and Labour, along with the minister responsible for employment, ensure that enforceable regulations exist, or existing ones modified, to provide present construction workers with fairer benefits from the construction and commissioning phase of the Hibernia's development, and these workers are better prepared for other present and pending resource development opportunities, and that the minister -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED - it is a big issue, a complex one.

AN HON. MEMBER: Carry on.

MR. E. BYRNE: That the Minister of Industry, Trade and Technology address the issue of more local contractors on commissioning now at Hibernia so as to capture the required management and technical skills presently giving the edge to offshore contractors for future developments at the expense of local contractors and their employees.

Finally, that the Premier identify, and the entire Government of Newfoundland and Labrador support, refocusing of efforts with all parties, developers, companies, governments and workers to recapture the policy of Newfoundland and Labrador first, and technology transfer must be for all present and pending resource developments.

I call on all members of this hon. House of Assembly to join with me and wholeheartedly endorse this resolution when we debate it as presented, make it unanimous, and implore this government to act promptly and decisively on the issues that we have raised.

Thank you.


MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's South.

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise again today to present a petition similar to that of yesterday's, and I will again read the prayer of the petition:

We, the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador, wish to petition the House of Assembly to voice our opposition to the changes to the City of St. John's Act, Section 284, which will repeal the funding of $10,000 in funding for Bowring Park and $10,000 in funding for road repair. While this funding repeal may not seem significant, it is our understanding that the Liberal government has cut millions from the municipal budget over the past three to four years and the overall cuts are quite dramatic.

Mr. Speaker, Bowring Park is a regional park. It is within the boundaries of the City of St. John's, but it is a regional park that is utilized and enjoyed by many residents from other areas: Topsail, Seal Cove, Foxtrap, Torbay, Outer Cove and so on, and Mount Pearl, our largest neighbour. So it is unfair to the residents of the City of St. John's to bear the burden of the taxes utilized to maintain and keep up the park without any input at all from the provincial government.

Ten thousand dollars as it stands is very meagre. The provincial government should almost be ashamed to have only been providing $10,000 funding for Bowring Park; but, in the meantime, it is even more petty to take this $10,000 away. Bowring Park -

MR. GRIMES: Why don't we provide $10,000 for a park in every town? Why only St. John's? What is wrong with giving $10,000 to 600 communities, $10,000 each. (Inaudible) park.

MR. OSBORNE: It is a historical agreement, I say to the Minister of Education, as is the $10,000 given for road repair. That $10,000 is even more shameful, I say, because of the fact that the provincial government made an agreement with the City of St. John's that the provincial government would take over the task of providing motor vehicle registration and charging for that, when this was a task that was done by the City of St. John's and a revenue generator for the City of St. John's back in the 1920s. This task was taken away from the City of St. John's, as was the revenue base.

So this $20,000, while I say it is quite petty, it is an embarrassment to say that we are going to cut and repeal this funding to the City of St. John's after the millions and millions we have cut in the municipal budget to the City of St. John's. So I ask the House to accept this petition, and I ask the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs to give serious consideration to the contents and meaning of the petition, and to reconsider his decision to repeal the $20,000 under Section 284 of the City of St. John's Act.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. J. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. TULK: A point of order.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Government House Leader on a point of order.

MR. TULK: Can we get a copy of that petition so we can see what it is, just what it says?

MR. SPEAKER: (Inaudible).

The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. J. BYRNE: That is some point of order. Why didn't you wait for the Clerk to come and pick it up?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. J. BYRNE: I rise in my place today to support the petition presented by the Member for St. John's South. The government today is cutting the City of St. John's another $20,000. It doesn't sound like a large amount of money, but in due course $20,000 here and $50,000 there and $100,000 there adds up. Since 1989 the City of St. John's has been cut some $5 million to $6 million by this administration.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to take his place. It is now Wednesday, 3:00 p.m. It is Private Members' Day, and we move on to the Orders of the Day.

Orders of the Day

Private Members' Day

MR. SPEAKER: I believe today it is the hon. Opposition House Leader.

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I rise today to present a private member's motion that has been printed in the Order Paper for today. I do not intend to read it verbatim, however the intent of the resolution is to draw attention to the need for a child advocate in this Province.

Mr. Speaker, earlier this afternoon in this House we recognized that this is National Child Day and I thought it would be appropriate if this House, on this day, were to focus some of its attention on the needs of our young children in this Province.

Now, Mr. Speaker, we know that there has been many reports that have been written by various groups and various agencies relative to the needs of children. We know the studies have been done on child poverty; they are mentioned in the Royal Commission on Education entitled Our Children Our Future. We know that the Department of Social Services has done studies on the issues of children as it relates to child welfare, sexual abuse, physical abuse, poverty and many other issues. Mr. Speaker, we know that the Department of Health has been involved in examining the ways in which they can greater service the needs of children by making sure we have healthier children in our Province, because the essence of good health and good education and good living in our families is early intervention.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I was pleased in the time from December of 1994 until June of 1996, to be part of the Select Committee of the House of Assembly on Children's Interests. Part of that examination was to look at the need for a child advocate.

Mr. Speaker, I know as well that the minister is very serious about her responsibilities in this area. I know she does not take her responsibilities lightly. I would publicly say that, because I do believe that when it comes to children we should be straight forward and honest, and on the issue of children we should not be partisan nor should we play party politics.

Mr. Speaker, the children of our Province are our most vulnerable citizens. Vulnerability is part of childhood. Mr. Speaker, they are vulnerable to neglect and abuse, neglect by adults and neglect and abuse by agencies. Children have no political power. They do not vote, they do not pay taxes, they depend on us, the adults in the communities, to speak up for them, and to do so aggressively, consistently, with passion and with full understanding of their vulnerability.

Mr. Speaker, we know as well that as budgets decline children are at risk because they have to compete with all the other government services and the government agencies to make sure that services to children are maintained adequately and consistently.

Mr. Speaker, we acknowledge that the government is trying to promote a very efficient public health program. Well, let us make no mistake, that the wellness of children is assured pretty well during infancy. It is a sad commentary when there is no further mandatory or universal intervention in the health of children until they reach school age.

I quote from the Royal Commission on Education where it says: Investments in early childhood programs will result in substantial savings of latter years because prevention is always less costly then repairing the damage once it is done.

Now, Mr. Speaker, when we went across this Province and we listened to more than 200 presenters to the Select Committee on Children's Interests, and when we had people come before us, in total over 800 individuals, one of the most consistent themes that came forward was the need for an advocate for children. That is why the committee was unanimous in its recommendations when it comes to the need for a child advocate.

Mr. Speaker, we are following the lead of other provinces. I have before me the legislation as it applies to the Province of British Columbia. In fact, the legislation of British Columbia formed the basis of the resolution that I put forward to this House today. It was the province of British Columbia which was followed most closely by the Committee on Children's Interests when they were writing their report.

So, I say to the House and to all government members, and to the minister in particular, that we want to follow the lead of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. Unfortunately, no Atlantic Province has appointed a child advocate to this date. This is an opportunity and a realization of our responsibility, when we as a Province will say: We will be the first province in Atlantic Canada to appoint and to give the powers that are needed to a child advocate to do his or her work.

Mr. Speaker, we also note that in the resolution today I have said that the child youth advocate would function as an absolutely independent officer of the Legislature, with a clear and unimpeded mandate to review and comment upon the operations, the programs and mandates of all government departments. Mr. Speaker, that is a step forward from some provinces. That goes further than what is happening in the Province of Manitoba. That goes further than what is happening in the Province of Saskatchewan, further than the Province of Alberta, because in these provinces there are restrictions. In fact, in these provinces, particularly in the Province of Manitoba, the child advocate reports to the Minister of Social Services and that has been found not to be satisfactory.

It is my position that the child advocate should have the same powers, or similar to the powers that are granted to the Auditor General, the powers to really truly comment on the policies of government and its actions, without fear that they have to report to some line minister.

Mr. Speaker, I am saying today that we, as a Province, need to take this initiative. We need to take it because our children need the protection. They need the independent voice that we all recognize from time to time that children lack in our communities.

Mr. Speaker, I would also say to the minister today that as she is hopefully commenting on this particular resolution, that she will assure the House that she is receiving this resolution in the same sincerity with which I am putting it forward. I know that she herself has read the report of the Children's Interest Committee. I know she has examined it and discussed with her colleagues, and we want to say that we should not have to wait until we get the Strategic Social Plan presented. We would like to have an indication today of the direction we are going in on this particular issue.

We do not need to go across this Province again to ask people what their viewpoints are on a child advocate. That has been done. We have spoken to more people than the Strategic Social Plan Review Committee has spoken to, so therefore that has been finished. The people have deliberated on that and they have said: Yes, this is the way that we want to go.

I quote from Trudy White of the Strait of Belle Isle area child protection team, when she said, `Children do need someone to speak up for them. They are too scared to speak up sometimes. An advocate who has the responsibility and is specifically dealing with children's issues and can focus their time on something like that, I think it would be great if we had someone in that position. Mr. Speaker, that is an example of the commentary that was received in our public hearings held over a twelve-month period.

We can comment, as well, to say that a child advocate would help us become more child-centred in our approach to government. There isn't a minister, there isn't a teacher, there isn't a person I know who deals with children, who believes that they themselves are not child-centred, but what we have is the gap between theory and practice. In theory the Department of Social Services is child-centred, in theory our school system is child-centred; in practice sometimes there is an awful gap between what the theory says and what the practice really is.

Mr. Speaker, we know that in the departments of government where there is a great lot of rhetoric, a great lot of commitment to trying to get the system to work, sometimes the needs of individual children, and even specific groups of children, get lost. They get lost in the day-to-day practice, they get lost in the way things get done, and they get lost when bureaucrats adopt policies according to the book. So I'm saying to you that we have to narrow the gap between theory and practice. In theory we all agree that we, as a society, should be child-centred. In practice we know that very often systems often become more closely adhered, or adhering to the system itself, than they are to the mandate of the particular department. In other words, they become departmental-centred rather than client-centred. That is certainly a very common theme.

Mr. Speaker, as well, we need a child advocate so we can have a person who can comment on all aspects of government. I don't mean today to say that this is the sole responsibility of the Minister of Social Services. It isn't! Children are the responsibility of every government department. We know that children interact with all government departments. In fact, in the Province of Alberta they have a family grid policy, which means that every single piece of legislation has to be vetted through a committee that examines it in terms of its impact on children before it is allowed to be presented to the Legislature. That is the kind of commitment to children that we want in this Province. We want the government to say that we are going to be family-centred, we are going to be child-centred, and we aren't just going to say in theory, we are going to adopt practices that move it from the written word into the reality of children's lives.

Mr. Speaker, when we were having discussions on these matters we recognized four government departments that interact with children. We talked about the Department of Social Services, but it isn't the only department that interacts with children. We talked about the Department of Education, we talked about the Department of Health, the Department of Justice. These are the primary departments. Let me just say to you that when it comes to the Department of Justice, in 1988 the Government of Canada made a significant change to the Criminal Code in the Canada Evidence Act, known as Bill C-15. It expanded opportunities for courts to receive children's testimony and to utilize courtroom procedures that are child focused, particularly for young children. Some of these procedures included the use of videotaping children's testimony, and I have a whole list of items here that were included in that particular Bill C-15. In our Province some of these procedures have been used; however, our experience is that they have not been used frequently, or they have not been used routinely. This may be due to lack of understanding by the court of different developmental stages of children. It may also be due to other circumstances, but too often the decisions in courtrooms are based on the tradition of the legal system.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. H. HODDER: If I could just continue for a second.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. member has leave.

MR. H. HODDER: Too often decisions in our courts are based on the traditions of the legal system, the adversarial approach, and not on an understanding of the best ways to obtain evidence from children.

Mr. Speaker, we strongly recommend that the government look at the legal system and how it interacts with children. We strongly recommend as well that the Minister of Social Services, when we consider the need for a child advocate, look on the advocate as a person who can promote the interests of children, who can make sure that we have policies in place that will lead to a better understanding of children. As one of the leading researchers told us when we were conducting our hearings, we have to be very much conscious of the age of a child, the child's sense of time, and the need to understand the court system through the viewpoint of a child. When we find that court proceedings are ongoing for nine and ten months, and sometimes ongoing for several years before they reach a resolution, I can only say to hon. members: What does that say about our court system and how child focused it really is?

Mr. Speaker, I want to say to all hon. members that I put forward the resolution today with the intent that we, as a Province, will offer it some sincere consideration and that we, as a Province, will move forward to make every day a child day, not just when we have one day set aside every year. As the minister said today in her statement to the House, she would like to have every day a child day. I commend her for saying that because that is important, and that is the essence of where our commitment should be. While we think of the child on this particular day, it is the long-term strategy that makes a difference and will move us from what we believe to be theoretically correct to being an operational guide that will guide our government in making its decisions in the future.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER (Barrett): The hon. the Minister of Social Services.

MS J.M. AYLWARD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I move to amend the resolution in the following manner:

That the words `immediately establish', after the words `that government', in the resolution be deleted and the following added, `consider as part of a comprehensive response the establishment', and the words `AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED', be deleted, and that the following be added as sub-paragraph (e), `and that the Office of Child and Youth Advocate function as a independent office of the Legislature with a clear and unimpeded mandate to review and comment upon the operations, programs and mandates of all provincial government departments and agencies.'

This proposed amended resolution is seconded by the Government House Leader.

MR. SPEAKER: Can the Chair have a copy of the amendment?


MR. SPEAKER: We will recess for a few minutes to review the amendment.


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

After consultation with the Clerk's Table we find that the amendment meets the requirements of Standing Order 36 regarding the amendment of a motion, so the amendment is in order.

The hon. the Minister of Social Services.

MS J.M. AYLWARD: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to speak in favour of this amendment today because, as I have stated previously in the House, we have a number of initiatives under way. We have the Social Policy Advisory Committee, which I might add is still receiving hearings and consultations until November 23. In addition to that, we are in the process of conducting our own internal program review.

I think by the intent of the amendment it is clear that as a government we are very supportive of children's issues. We are very supportive by nature of putting in place a Select Committee on Children's Interests, and we look forward to addressing all of the recommendations and not just identifying one recommendation at this time.

My hon. colleague earlier spoke of the need for early childhood programs. As a very persistent and interested member of the Select Committee on Children's Interests he would know, of course, that there is a recommendation in the Select Committee on Children's Interests for early pre-school child health checks. So this is just one example. In addition to that there are other recommendations talking about youth advisory committees, and the role of youth advising municipalities in particular, as well as other government departments. In addition to that there are recommendations on a youth in care network which would advise government departments, as well as community groups, on how children's issues should be handled.

There are other recommendations concerning very serious issues such as fetal alcohol syndrome, and recommendations on how this very serious disease, alcohol induced during pregnancy, should be addressed. There are other recommendations pertaining to education in the schools, bringing forward speech pathologists. There is another very important model which was pilot tested in this Province, the family group decision-making model. All of these are very important recommendations, and each one has to be addressed in a very serious way.

By putting forward this amendment today we are in no way minimizing the issues raised, and I would like to commend my colleague for raising such an important resolution on National Child Day. I think it is very important to recognize the needs of children and I think, based on our ministerial statement today, that we are concerned about the issues that are before us as they relate to children's poverty, as one, in addition to other issues.

I think as part of an overall, more comprehensive approach to how we deliver services to children we have to allow that part of the process to continue. I would like to state that we are not saying that we will not very seriously look at this recommendation. We see it as one that has a lot of merit. It is one of many related to the needs of children, as I pointed out. Another one that was mentioned was a secretariat for children.

I think it is also important to note that, as a government, we are very concerned not only with addressing immediate issues as we see them but in looking at the whole issue as it relates to child care and how we deliver services to children, both from a public consultation perspective as well as from an internal perspective.

We know very clearly from listening to the media recently, as well as consulting with very well-renowned child care advocates in the Province and in the country, that there are many differing views on even how to establish such a centre as a child advocate, whether this should be specifically identified as a case policy advocate or if it would be an advocate that would deal with policy issues. There are many important parts that have to be addressed, and I think as a government we are very committed to having the necessary process in place, and the necessary mechanisms, and not just only identifying a role without knowing how it would work.

I would like to say that we are committed to children's issues and I think, based on the commitment we have given, we will look at each of the recommendations in the Select Committee on Children's Interests. We will look at the overall recommendations that come forward from the Social Policy Advisory Committee to help us put together a plan that will identify how we need to direct all social issues with respect to family as well as children in particular.

We are very committed, as I said, to children's issues, and I speak today, and ask my colleagues to support the amendment, to allow the process to be completed. We are in no way undermining the value of the particular recommendation, but it is one of forty-three recommendations, each one having very significant impact on children and on children's families, and how we deliver services. We would not identify this one in particular to implement in an immediate way without looking at how it can be set up and how we can put in place a process that will make children safe, whether they live in Nain or whether they live in St. John's. I think there is a lot of work that has yet to be done to try to identify the most effective and efficient way of bringing forward these recommendations.

In addition to some of the recommendations that have been made in the children's report we also had other suggestions; for example, a 1-800 crisis line for parents to use to consult on various issues in helping to deal with their challenging needs for children. As part of the full package, what we would like to do is combine all the information we have from our own internal program review focusing on, as we have said earlier, trying to improve our collaboration among government departments, looking at every service and every program, so that we can provide the most comprehensive care to children and to their families.

We also want to give credit and give the process, the Social Policy Advisory Committee, an opportunity to complete their mandate. While this particular issue has been discussed in detail through the Select Committee, we know that it will also be discussed as we go forward with the Social Policy Advisory Committee as one component of the total change that will be required.

I ask my colleague today to support us in this amended resolution as we move forward to put in place a very comprehensive process to deal with children's issues, and their families, in the Province.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Before I recognize the hon. Member for Kilbride I would like to welcome to the public gallery, on behalf of hon. members, the former Member for Green Bay, Mr. Alvin Hewlett.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's East.

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased to make some comments today with respect to the resolution which has been brought forward to this hon. House by my colleague, the Opposition House Leader. The resolution as put forward by my colleague shows that this is an issue which requires immediate attention, and it is an issue which, as a result of many of the studies and investigations, as the hon. minister has indicated, is a result of recommendations of these studies. It seems to me, Mr. Speaker, that this is an issue which requires immediate attention.

I am somewhat disappointed with the spirit of the amendment which has been put forward by the members opposite, because what it does is water down the importance and the integrity of this resolution. It gives the impression that we can again wait, we can again delay the response in dealing with what is in the interest of young children. That is why the spirit of this amendment is somewhat troublesome, because the resolution deals with immediate action. The resolution makes it quite clear that the government must establish immediately the Office of Child and Youth Advocate, "to ensure that rights and interests of children, youth and their families, relating to designated services, are protected and advanced, and that their voices are heard and considered in the establishment of government policies."

That description, Mr. Speaker, makes it quite clear that this is something which requires redress immediately; not after more deliberations, not after more review, not after more study and investigation.

To "ensure that children, youth and their families have access to fair, responsive and appropriate complaint and review processes at all stages in the provision of designated services". We see on a daily basis issues dealing with court cases, whether that be in youth court or whether that be in Unified Family Court, in cases dealing with the office of Child Protection Services. We can no longer wait for an independent review body such as the child advocate through the office of child advocacy to be established before these critical issues are addressed. As I have previously indicated, they require immediate attention.

The office of the youth advocate or child advocate would also "provide information and advice to the government and communities about the availability, effectiveness, responsiveness and relevance of designated services to children, youth and their families". Again, we cannot wait for that. The amendment again puts this whole issue of child advocacy, which in and of itself is a recommendation of government's own studies and government's own documentation, it places this whole issue on the back burner.

Again, the resolution calls for a promotion and coordination: in communities for the establishment of advocacy services for children, youth and their families.

We have too many examples of situations in this Province, whether it be in dealing with Department of Education, or Justice through our court services, or Social Services through Child Protection Services, where young people are crying out for attention and for help.

We see it in our school system, We have seen it in the past, for example, where we have had situations of swarming - we will remember that term - where, in the past spring, as a result of inadequate services being provided to school boards and to various schools within our Province, we have young people with severe behavioral problems and personality disorders who are not getting the attention and the help that they are entitled to, resulting in this sort of negative behaviour and negative activity.

The office of a child advocate would be able to intervene and to assist young people, whether it be through the Department of Social Services or through the Department of Justice, or through the Department of Education, to make recommendations to government, to the appropriate agencies, and offices, and departments, to have intervention when intervention is required. That is what this is all about. That is why on this particular day, which was indicated at the beginning of proceedings this afternoon as a special day for children in this Province, that is why this particular resolution has been brought forward. It is unfortunate that the amendment does nothing but put everything on the back burner. We again must wait for further investigation and review.

It is not unlike the response that has been given by the hon. Minister of Education in dealing with the report of the review of special education entitled Special Matters where, for example, it states that:

"Newfoundland and Labrador experiences the highest rate of both family poverty and adult illiteracy of all provinces in Canada. In 1992, the poverty rate for Canadian families was 13.3 per cent. In Newfoundland, over 18 per cent of families, representing" - and this is an astonishing figure - "over 38,000 children, lived below the poverty line. The poverty rate for children living in single-parent homes was estimated to be 73 per cent. Furthermore, the incomes of most low-income income Canadians are substantially below the poverty line cut-offs. This is especially true, the report states, in Newfoundland where the Canadian Council on Social Development estimated that in 1991 the average poor household in Newfoundland would need over $5,310 to bring its income up to the poverty line.

"In addition to almost 40,000 children in Newfoundland who live below the poverty line, many more children live in families whose income is just above the poverty line cut-offs."

Mr. Speaker, this particular report goes on and on in making recommendations that deal not only on issues of poverty, but as the minister well knows, dealing with deficiencies in reading, illiteracy and other disabilities with respect to young children.

The minister's response, Mr. Speaker, in dealing with the recommendations of this report are not unlike the very amendment that is being put forward today by the hon. Minister of Social Services: Let us wait and see. That is the theme, Mr. Speaker, of the minister's response. That is the theme of the amendment today: Let us further review it; let us further subject the evidence which has been long established and collected; let us see what we can do. The minister in response to the report of the review on Special Education said: Let us wait until next fall.

Mr. Speaker, I say to this House that waiting for next fall is simply not good enough. Waiting for next fall is simply not acceptable. The young people of this Province require more than waiting until next fall. The young people of this Province who would be entitled to the benefit of the establishment of a child advocate, Mr. Speaker, require more than waiting for further review and further study. This issue, Mr. Speaker, is a critical one, which is why it is being put forward today in the fashion that it has been.

We are talking about the protection of young people. We are talking, Mr. Speaker, about an independent voice; that is what an advocate is. An advocate is counsel, a lawyer. In fact, the word advocate in French is very similar, advocat; in Spanish, advocado. That is where the word advocate comes from. The person who is appointed or assigned with that responsibility, Mr. Speaker, is the person who will represent the best interests of the young people of this Province. Mr. Speaker, we must not treat this issue lightly. We need an independent voice for young people in our Province. We need to insure that young people's rights are protected and upheld at all times. All we have to do is look at how young people on a daily basis are brought into the fourth floor of Atlantic Place, in courtroom No. 5, I believe, which is Youth Court; and the docket is full.

We only have to look, Mr. Speaker, at any other provincial court throughout the communities of our Province, whether it be in Stephenville or Grand Falls or Gander or Harbour Grace or any other location where there is a provincial court. The dockets are full with not only adult matter, unfortunately, but with young offender matters as well.

Mr. Speaker, we only have to look at the Unified Family Court where it has become necessary to now have the services of a second Supreme Court judge to assist the full-time Unified Family Court judge in the growing number of cases dealing with the custody and access of young children, dealing with the issues of support of young children, dealing with the issues of wardship and adoption, dealing with what are called peace bond applications, obviously the result of which have a dramatic effect upon young children.

So clearly, within our society, we have agencies, whether it be the schools or the hospitals or youth courts or family courts, that deal, Mr. Speaker, on a regular basis with the well-being and welfare of our young children. Because of the extent to which our agencies and departments are devoted to the well being of young people, we need an independent advocate. We need a person who will be charged with the responsibility to ensure that a young person is protected at all times and is not lost, Mr. Speaker, in the bureaucracy, is not lost in that jungle of confusion which often happens.

We saw a case last week, for example, which gained some publicity. An independently assigned child advocate would be there to ensure that the rights of young people are protected. Whether it be in a dispute concerning parents or those people who wish to act as guardians, whether it be a matter in youth court or come other provincial court, if it is a judicial matter, if it is an educational matter or matter with respect to social services, the office of the child advocate is an essential one.

Mr. Speaker, I strongly support the resolution as put forward and I am disappointed with the spirit of the amendment which has been but forward by the member opposite.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Port au Port.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased to rise and participate in the debate this afternoon on the motion put forward by my colleague, the member for Waterford Valley. He and I had occasion to work for a number of months on a committee which produced for this hon. House the report Listening and Acting, A Plan For Child Youth And Community Empowerment, the report which I hope in time will provide the framework for a comprehensive approach to dealing with all of the problems confronted by children in this Province.

It is no surprise to me, knowing the commitment of my good friend from Waterford Valley to the cause, to know that he would bring this resolution forward. However, I feel that the amendment put forward by the minister is certainly in order because one of the difficulties that I have in terms of - and I as much as anyone want to see this report, all of it in its entirety, I would hope in time implemented by this government.

I think we have to be careful if we are going to be responding to crises because I think it is pretty obvious. In the last number of days we have seen here in the city and throughout the Province, a real outpouring of concern and emotion, well founded emotion, on the part of the people of this Province in response to a news item which was carried by CBC. Indeed it is the type of story that gets to us all, it hits us where it really hurts. We see children who are suffering, who are put in positions of helplessness. We see children put in situations where they need someone to intervene for them. It appeals to all of us, and indeed the human response is to reach out and try to immediately, at that point in time, deal with that concern and provide for that individual what he requires.

Certainly, I saw the particular program and my response was the same of that of everyone else in this Province. I was personally appalled that this type of situation could exist. But having had the opportunity, along with the member for Waterford Valley, to travel the Province and to hear firsthand from many quarters the types of situations which do exist, it did not come as a complete surprise. We had heard stories in other areas of the Province. We heard from teachers, we heard from social workers, we heard from parents and indeed we heard from children themselves, experiences which they have had which said to us and spoke volumes, loudly and clearly stating, that the system as it presently exists had failed them. That is why the report which the committee produced tried to address these concerns and put forward a number of resolutions which we felt, if implemented, could in time redress the problems that exist with the system as it presently exists within this Province.

Mr. Speaker, the report in question was the result of a comprehensive piece of work and review by the members of the committee. The committee travelled extensively throughout the Province, both on the Island and in Labrador. We attended a number of public meetings where people came forward and shared with us, quite openly, their concerns with regard to the situation as it existed and were quite open and candid with us in offering suggestions as to how they thought we could improve the situation for children within this Province.

The resulting report, in addition to the one recommendation which we are discussing today and which has received a significant amount of attention in recent days, dealing with the office of the advocate, was indeed just one of a number of recommendations. There were a total of sixty-four recommendations contained within the report and indeed these were, we felt, pretty well all encompassing in terms of the problems as we found them within the Province.

I was pleased today to hear the Minister of Social Services stand and read this Ministerial Statement dealing with one of the very issues that we had, in fact, encountered and tried to reflect and react to within our report. That dealt with poverty and the lack of nutrition among many of the children of the Province. This issue is one of many, as I said.

The issue that we heard, the abuse case which was carried in the media - on any given day, if you pick up the newspaper or you listen to radio or television, you will hear of any number of factors which you can go back to in this report and find that we heard about wherever we went. There are recommendations here dealing with these.

So it is encouraging to see that government is trying to respond. It is a matter of question in terms of the timing. The immediacy - I guess for all of us, as I said, the natural human response is to try to reach out and respond, right away, to rectify, to remediate and to redress the situation as it presently exists, to get in there and do it right away, but sometimes moving too quickly is not always the best way to go. Slow and steady sometimes is the course of action that is in order. It is indeed the course of action that we should subscribe to. In this instance government has decided that the Children's Interests Report and the recommendations within this report, should be considered as part of the overall review which is presently ongoing.

The Social Policy Committee which is, at this point in time, travelling throughout the Province consulting with individuals and groups, allowing them input into the process, at some point in time we will produce a report which will incorporate what is contained within the report of the Children's Interest Committee.

Mr. Speaker, it also should be noted that within the report itself, the committee did lay down a time line for the implementation of the child and youth secretariat and also the office of the advocate. With regard to the office of the advocate, while the report does suggest that work begin immediately with preparation of the legislation, the mandate of the office of advocate under the report is not scheduled to begin or was not recommended to begin until May or June of 1997. So basically government is not being remiss, at this point in time, in not establishing this office. The report itself indeed says: Let's make sure we do this properly. Let's structure it properly to make sure that when it is in place, it is something that we can all support and it is something that adequately responds to the problems that exist within the Province.

As to the office of the advocate itself, there is no doubt. Personally I feel that this is something that needs to happen in this Province. I think it is an action that this government needs to undertake, and I feel confident it is something we will be undertaking as part of this overall review in the not-too-distant future.

At the present time there are a number of these offices which exist throughout the country. There are six provinces that have the office of advocate. They exist in British Columbia, Manitoba, Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec, and also there is one municipality, that of the City of Vancouver, which has an office of the children's advocate as well.

As part of our fact-finding, part of the work of the Committee, we had occasion to visit a number of areas throughout the country and to see firsthand the workings of this particular office. I have to say the reason why this recommendation does end up in our final report is that we were impressed by what we saw and what we heard. While the system is not perfect, and while the system as it exists elsewhere in this country at the present time is not the ideal, it is a system that we felt, as a committee, does have merit. It is a system we felt that we could take and possibly improve upon, and that in time it could be a tremendous addition to the efforts within this Province to address the needs of our children.

Mr. Speaker, as I stated, as we travelled throughout the Province on the work of this Committee we heard of many, many problems. We heard of the poverty and we heard of the problems with nutrition. As referenced here today, we heard reference to the need for early intervention, that we have many children in this Province whose ability for success in later school life is being threatened by virtue of the fact that they need an early intervention, that they need to be exposed to stimulation at an early age, that by the time they begin school, in the normal time in kindergarten, at age four-and-a-half or five, for a lot of these children it is too late.

This is another issue that we could say requires immediate attention, and indeed it does. As a matter of fact, the interesting thing with that particular issue, one of the things we found was that throughout the Province this was an issue that the people of the Province recognized. Instead of waiting and saying to government, `we want you to do this,' they got out and started doing it themselves. We found instances - and I'm proud to say that in my own capacity as an elementary school principal I had occasion in my own school to institute, some eight years ago, a preschool program whereby all of the children served by that school were attending school a year earlier; all of the children. It was universal.

We really went out and made it a point to get all of these children in school. It was offered in such a way, and made so attractive in terms of transportation and in terms of support that was provided, and in terms of programs, that it was virtually impossible for parents not to have their children there. In effect, we were so committed to the program that when we did encounter situations where parents did not follow through and did not ensure that their children were enroled and were attending these programs regularly, then we made efforts to get in and get after these particular children. By not providing that service to these children we recognized that their chances for success in later school life were being seriously hampered. In a sense you could argue that any parent who would choose, with that service being available, not to opt for it and not to make sure that their children were availing of it, was being negligent, because by not doing so they were making it -

AN HON. MEMBER: No excuse.

MR. SMITH: Well, lots of excuses were given, but really the ideal was to try and make the program so attractive and so available that, really, there was no reason, no excuse not to be there.

The thing about this is that while I was aware of the efforts we had made in my own area of the Province, I was surprised and really pleased to learn that everywhere we travelled in the Province - we found it down on the southwest coast of the Province, we found it on the Burin Peninsula, we found it in the Bay of Islands, we found it all over - that this was an issue that people had recognized, saw it as a priority, and had started doing something about it.

I mention that, Mr. Speaker, by virtue of the fact that if you go through this report there are any number of issues here that any of us could pick up and say that this is something that should be a priority, this is something we should act on right now. But to me the more responsible manner in which to deal with this is to deal with the entire report, and deal with the report in its entirety, to deal with the document as it stands, and hopefully to implement all of the recommendations that are there.

If we were to do that - and certainly no question, in my opinion, the office of the child and youth advocate is an important part of that response. It is an important office that we should create because it will ensure that the children in this Province - some of the problems that we have seen, that we have witnessed over the last few days, the existence of this office at least will provide another mechanism and will provide another avenue whereby the possibilities of this sort of thing existing will become less and less. The thing is, Mr. Speaker, whether or not the creation of this office would absolutely eliminate that, that remains to be seen.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

AN HON. MEMBER: With leave to clue up.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. member, with leave.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I won't go on much longer.

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that the creation of this office is something that I think we all look forward to seeing and, as I said earlier, I hope it is in the not-to-distant future. I hope it is something that we will adopt as part of a comprehensive plan to deal with the needs of the children in this Province.

Mr. Speaker, as a parent and as a person who has spent much of his life working for and advocating on behalf of children, there is no doubt that all of us here today - certainly knowing my colleague from Waterford Valley, I know the sincerity with which he brings his resolution forward and that it is prompted by a genuine concern and desire to do what is best for the children of this Province. We are all upset, as I said, when we are confronted by cases like that which we saw with Jamie Batten in recent days.

Government is actively examining the recommendations and is seeking to determine, through the social policy review process, the most appropriate ways in which to respond. As I stated already today, I strongly urge government to make the office of advocate as part of that response.

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, quite frankly, rushing into any action as a response to a crisis is never the most appropriate thing to do. Personally, I favour a more comprehensive approach and look forward to the completion of the review which is presently ongoing and the outcome of which I feel will have our children front and centre and, for the first time in this Province, will accord them the recognition which they so truly deserve for they are indeed our greatest resource.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Kilbride.

MR. E. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise to support the motion put forward by my colleague from Waterford Valley and say that it is more than timely. I do not believe that right now, if government or the House of Assembly moved to enact a child advocate immediately, that it would be rushing in.

In 1992, for example, Mr. Speaker, the Child Welfare League of America, at the request of the Department of Social Services, conducted an evaluation of child protective services in the Province. Following this report, the division of child welfare prepared a child welfare strategic action plan called, `Breaking the Cycle of Child Abuse,' which proposed approaches to improving services to children and the greater community involvement in assessing and addressing needs. The action plan, to this date, Mr. Speaker, has not been presented. It is important to understand that, that that action plan, which was requested by the Department of Social Services, from the Child Welfare League of America, has not been presented.

Mr. Speaker, the amendments put forward completely changed the intent of my colleague's resolution because what he called for today, and what he wanted debated today, was that this government and this House institute immediately a child advocate with broad-sweeping powers that would ensure the protection of children in this Province. Now this debate would not be happening if the need, perceived and real, did not exist.

This is a brief that was submitted - and I want to just go through some of the things that we lack, I think, as a Province in dealing with child welfare - and presented to the Committee on Children's Interest, of which my colleague was a member, that highlights clearly and succinctly why we need a child advocate in Newfoundland and Labrador. For example, the Day Care and Home-makers Services Act in this Province dates back to 1975. It is loose, and it is open to interpretation. One of the recommendations made was that a new child care act has been expected, but has not yet become a reality. Training and certification of early childhood educators has progressed, but day care operations are often so financially marginal that staff are poorly paid, resulting in high turnover. That is absolutely true. This Province provides the lowest amount of any province on child care per child under twelve, i.e. $15.40 annually per child, compared to New Brunswick, the next lowest which provides annually per child and per capita about $28.17, and in the Yukon -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: This was a brief that was submitted to the Committee on Children's Interest.

Mr. Speaker, also, this is the only Province where there is no licensed day care for child under two years of age. This is the only Province also where there is no licensing of family home day care, i.e., where small numbers of children are cared for in a private home; no regulations, no legislation governing that. This is the only Province where no grants are available to child care programs. Social assistance recipients can only receive a daycare subsidy for the purpose of training for work if the eligibility criteria of income are met. So the focus in this instance is not on the child and what is best for the child; the focus is on some sort of criteria that has nothing to do with the protection or the care taking of the child. There is no licensed care available for children, for example, whose parents work late evenings, overnight, or weekends, thus reflecting the reality of working people today: twenty-four hours around the clock, shift work, find work wherever you can get it to pay your own way.

Day care subsidies to social assistance recipients are often too low to ensure equitable service since the subsidy rate of $325 per month is well below the average rate of care, which is $450 per month, and that is a very conservative estimate. As a parent who has a young child, three-and-a-half, in a day care operation three days a week, that is a very conservative estimate.

Day care subsidies are not available to marginal income families which are not in receipt of social assistance, a growing trend in our society called the working poor. Families with two parents working do not qualify for subsidies at all, even if total income is at or below the poverty level.

That is a shocking statistic; and for government to say that they are in favour of a more comprehensive approach when, since 1992, one study was done, an exhaustive approach completed last year by the Children's Interest Committee, chaired by a former minister. The Member for Port au Port sat on it, and the Member for Waterford Valley, and to say that we need to study it more, that we need a more comprehensive approach, flies in the face of what government actions have been instituted to date and completed to date, because what it says is that the recommendations concluded and recommended in the Children's Interest report were not exhaustive enough, were not extensive enough, were not to the point, not comprehensive enough. That is what amendments to my colleague's private members resolution are effectively saying.

What does not comprehensive enough mean anyway? Have we not seen the need, in a very detailed and graphic fashion, recently provided by Jamie Baker and the case surrounding that three-year-old?

AN HON. MEMBER: Jamie Batten.

MR. E. BYRNE: Jamie Batten, sorry. - surrounded by what happened, or the lack of what happened on behalf of that child? That is an example. There are more out there.

To put forward the notion that what we have to do now is to study it even more, get more in-depth analysis, is a political cop-out in my mind. I think that, more than ever, this being the International Day of the Child, it is quite appropriate that this resolution is put forward. I welcome certainly the debates that have happened, but more than ever we have more evidence, a body of evidence as large - the cases before the public have been submitted through the Children's Interest Committee; the recommendations are clear: We need a child advocate in this Province, we need it in the worst type of way, and this Province more than any other province in Canada should be moving ahead right now because of the alarming statistics that have been put forward, the alarming rates of incidents where children, whether it be through the judicial system in the family court, are falling through the cracks, and an example came last week.

The Director of Social Work said: When it comes to the child welfare department - and when asked about what she felt about it, said: Well, there is really no consistency. It depends on what I call, she says, `the flavour of the month'. This month it seems to be that child welfare is focusing on getting children back in their homes, an admirable and laudable goal, but there are many situations, each and every one of us know, where the home is not the safest place for the child, is not the safest place for the child by any stretch of the imagination.

Mr. Speaker, in terms of the power of a children's advocate or a child advocate, what we need, what would it do? Our contention is - and we certainly believe and stand by the recommendations in the Report on the Select Committee on Children's Interest - that an advocate be granted the right to request a child impact statement from any government department or agency or municipality. This is the power that is needed now for the sake of children in the Province. I think it is a timely resolution. I support it wholeheartedly.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Grand Falls - Buchans.

MS THISTLE: Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of my colleague, the Minister of Social Services, on her amendment.

When I was driving in this morning from Grand Falls - Windsor to Gander to catch a flight, I heard on the radio the proclamation saying that this is National Child Day; but, really, isn't every day child day?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS THISTLE: You ask any family: Isn't every day a child day? It certainly is.

AN HON. MEMBER: In every family.

MS THISTLE: In every family. Our lifestyles are changing today. The family unit is not as it was twenty years ago.

As I go through my district I am seeing concerns that I did not really know were out there, but there are all kinds of concerns. When you look at the reasons for wanting a child advocate, they are numerous, I guess; and is this the mechanism that we want?

Recently I attended a conference in Grand Falls - Windsor that was headed up by Penny Rowe, the Advisory Commission on Social Policy, and during that evening we went into what I call overtime. There were so many different groups there airing their concerns not only on children's concerns but all types of social concerns.

When you look at the concerns of children, I heard recently that the 1-800 line that is set up answers more calls from the Newfoundland population per capita than any other part of the country. That is a concern that we, as a government, are addressing in different ways. We have all kinds of agencies out there that we feel may or may not meet all the special needs. It depends on what community you live in, because the agencies that we can go to probably in the urban centres far outweigh the agencies that would be in rural Newfoundland. In rural Newfoundland what do you have? You have your church and your school, and probably that's it, so lots of times the concerns of a child may not be met. That is probably one of the reasons why they are using the 1-800 line.

Really, when you think about setting up an office for a consumer advocate, what are you looking at? Are you looking at an office that would be set up in St. John's? Because if that is the case it is of no benefit to rural Newfoundland, and this is what we want to avoid?

I have looked at some of the concerns in my district and I have noted a few. They are not all related to sexual abuse or child poverty, or educational needs and so on. I recently visited the Buchans stadium, and the biggest concern they had in their stadium with their young people playing hockey was the fact that they do not have a glass going around the perimeter of the ice rink. All they have is the wire that was placed there by the Buchans Miners, the hockey team years ago, and that is right now full of holes. So the children in that area, when they are playing hockey, lots of times get their helmet caught in that wire and it is a big safety hazard, so that is a need there that needs to be met.

We also have seen children in Grand Falls - Windsor being sent to Gander for physiotherapy needs, so maybe that is another need. It is not all related to the items that hit the media all the time. Of course the issue we have all been speaking about recently, the Jamie Batten case, that just tore the emotional shreds from all of us, when we saw that on TV, and are hearts were open to the needs and concerns of that little boy, but that is only one level of concern that is facing the children of this Province. There are many more.

During a recent visit to my district I was part of another committee that heard from a group about the hearing impaired children. They have a lot of problems. There is a student out there who told me that he could go to school on the Mainland or down in the United States and everything would be looked after; his student loan would not be any problem - in other words he would have a grant - but if he wanted to go to school in this Province he would not be able to get a student loan; I mean it would be a student loan and not a grant. These are the types of needs that are complex.

I think what the Minister of Social Services is saying today is that there have been several studies, particularly the one that was done on children's special interests, and the road show, as you might want to call it, that is going around the Province right now, the Social Advisory Committee, that is addressing not only children's needs but the needs of social concerns throughout the Province.

Right now there is a complex network out there that children can access, and adults, regarding their social needs, but are they adequate? We do not know that, and we are not going to rush off and appoint an advocate just to satisfy a media need right now.

Of course I know you are sincere, my colleague across the House, in putting forward this resolution today. There exists a great need out there in the Province today for our children, but we want to make sure that we are going to do it right. This is one of the most important tasks, I think, that we have taken on in recent months as a government, and we want to make sure that when we do put this office in place, if it is going to be a consumer advocate, it will address all the needs and all the concerns that children have out there today. If you are going to do it, it has to be done right.

After many months of looking at different committee work, recommendations and so on, there are a lot of problems that we want to make sure are included. In fact, I had a visit from someone today in my office just before I came into the House. He isn't a young person, nor is he an older person, but he is telling me that he is on a haemodialysis machine. That machine now is only in Corner Brook and St. John's. That means that he is now having to come to St. John's every three days for treatment. Now, he is leaving his children at home to do that, so that is affecting children, isn't it? Having their father away from them all that time. This is something that I need to look into as the MHA for that area. I heard today that we did have those machines in the Grand Falls - Windsor hospital and they were later sent to St. John's. I don't know.

AN HON. MEMBER: Two were.

MS THISTLE: Two of them. I heard that. I want to see if that is correct or if it isn't. Because these -

AN HON. MEMBER: I am very familiar with the case.

MS THISTLE: You are familiar with that case.

I recently heard another case in my area of a child who has ADD problems, and has home care right around the clock, at a considerable expense. Those hours unfortunately had to be decreased somewhat, but not to the detriment of the child.

So these are concerns. As we know, and we can look at all the reporting that is being done, it is a very complex issue. That is why I'm quite happy with the amendment that the minister has put forward today. We aren't going to jump in there and just cool the waters right now. We are going to make sure of what we are doing we are going to do it right, and I commend her and I support her in this action.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I will take a few minutes to conclude our discussions this afternoon on this particular resolution and then I will ask the Speaker if he would put the question.

I want to thank hon. members for coming today and participating in the discussions. I do believe that our hearts are -

MR. TULK: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Government House Leader, on a point of order.

MR. TULK: The hon. gentleman is now closing the debate on this issue, and after he is finished in a few minutes we will put the vote. Is that what we are doing here?

AN HON. MEMBER: Nobody else on this side wants to speak.

MR. TULK: Okay. Nobody else wants to speak. That is fine.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

That would be my intent. I was waiting for any other hon. member to rise. It was our side, and all of our colleagues who wish to speak have spoken this afternoon. Earlier, in discussions with the hon. House Leader, we agreed that if there were no members who were willing or wanted to speak further, then when I would stand I would conclude my remarks and then the question would be put.

I want to thank all hon. members for listening to this particular resolution. I also want to acknowledge that I do believe that all the members of this House wish to address this issue. We wish to develop policies that are going to address the issues that were raised by the Child Welfare League of America when they wrote the report in 1992. We want to address issues raised in the Royal Commission on Education. We want to address the issues raised in the report released a few days ago by the Minister of Education, Special Matters. We want to address the issues that were raised by the presenters to the special committee of the Legislature on children's interests.

We acknowledge that there is a multiplicity of forces that compel the minister to say that she wants to look at it in a comprehensive manner. We want to make sure on this side of the House, and I speak for myself and for my colleagues when I say that we want to assure that the government of the day does not lose its central focus on the need for an advocate. Because I do believe that in my discussions with the minister, and I do believe that she is very sincere in her responsibilities, and I say that. I don't always agree with the measures that she takes, but I do believe that she has a focus of sincerity and honesty and that she will come to this matter of dealing with the recommendations we are making today in a manner that I do believe will be child-focused and child-centred.

We want to commend to the House as well the fact that we believe that this particular child advocate, when the child advocate is appointed, if appointed by the government, that that advocate have absolute independence. There isn't any point in having a child advocate if that child advocate is going to be answerable to some particular minister or group of ministers. A child advocate has to be able to address issues without fear, without the fear that if he or she says something that is contrary to government policy that that person is going to be in danger of losing his or her job. We also believe that the child advocate should be independent of the political process, so therefore we have said in the Report on Children's Interests that we don't believe that political people, members who have served in the House, should serve for the child advocate for a certain period of time, and we said five years at a minimum.

Now, Mr. Speaker, we also note and thank my colleague from Kilbride for drawing to the House's attention the other deficiencies as it relates to children and government programs. We could go on and talk about mental health services and talk about recreational services. We could look at a whole spectrum of services that we provide to children and we could say where there are gaps and where there are inadequacies. I think all hon. members will agree that we need to look at, as my colleague from Grand Falls said a few moments ago, look at other aspects of services to children. She mentioned recreational services and certainly that is all part of the advocate's role to comment on how these services are provided in particular communities.

Mr. Speaker, we want to recommend to the Legislature the kind of powers that are given to the advocate in British Columbia. I could read them out, they are all contained in the legislation, this legislation and the documents that accompany the legislation are available to the minister and I know have been considered by her officials. We believe that British Columbia is ahead of the rest of Canada when it comes to an advocate position. However, they have started off with what we will call more of a systems advocate and then moving into what we call case advocacy on a gradual basis. I would recommend that as a way in which we could start in this Province, because we want to make sure that we can have advocacy available at the community level. There is no point in having an advocate in St. John's if there is no way in which a child in Port aux Basques can access that service. So we want to make sure that it is provincewide in scope.

In the case of British Columbia, they have set forward a sequence of enactments that will be able to address the ways in which this procedure could be implemented. We also have available to the minister all of the other provinces' legislation and that is available from her office as well.

Mr. Speaker, I express some disappointment in the fact that the government of the day, in passing its amendment, has in essence procrastinated again. They put it on the back burner you might say. However, I can assure the minister, and she knows that I will follow through and that I will keep pushing for this kind of position. When the Strategic Social Plan Report is presented I hope that it will contain a response to the resolution that is put forward today and that we will see the position of advocate a reality in this Province and then we will move from theory to practice. We will narrow the gap there and hopefully we can have some services that are available to children.

As my colleague for Grand Falls - Buchans said, we know that the calls to the 1-800 hot line for children are the highest per capita from this Province in comparison with any other province of Canada. That tells us something. I should point out, as well, that these calls can be broken down by regions of the Province, and even by communities in the Province. The stats are very interesting. You would think that the calls might be higher in certain parts of the Province, and the interesting thing is that certain communities do have higher numbers, but that the urban regions, the urban cores where more services should be available, that is where you get more calls from. Very interesting, the number of calls that are of a very serious nature, suicidal in nature. It is a very interesting report that I'm sure all hon. members might want to see a copy of because it does contain some very interesting data.

Mr. Speaker, again I want to thank all hon. members. I commend the resolution to the House. I ask the minister to accept it in the sincere manner in which it is presented, and ask her to use it as a guide for her department when she is considering matters to put before the House as response to the Strategic Social Plan.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

AN HON. MEMBER: Question.

MR. SPEAKER: Is the House ready for the question?

We are voting on the amendment.

All in favour of the amendment, `aye'.


MR. SPEAKER: Opposed, `nay'.


On motion, amendment carried.

MR. SPEAKER: We will now vote on the resolution, the motion as amended.

All in favour, `aye'.


MR. SPEAKER: Opposed, `nay'.


On motion, resolution as amended, carried.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, before I move the adjournment of the House I would like to inform hon. members and ministers accordingly that tomorrow we will start off with An Act To Amend The Fish Inspection Act. Then we will go to An Act To Amend The Registered Nurses Act. Then the hon. the Minister of Justice's An Act To Amend The Jury Act. If we get time, Mr. Speaker, I suspect that there will be a great deal of debate on those bills because the Opposition has been chafing at the bit, with the exception of the Member for Cape St. Francis who has hung up the House considerably. But I will expect there to be a great deal of debate on those bills.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I would move that the House adjourn until tomorrow, Thursday, at 2:00 p.m., November 21, 1996.

On motion, the House at its rising adjourned until tomorrow, Thursday, at 2:00 p.m.