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May 13, 2014                  HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS                        Vol. XLVII No. 26


The House met at 1:30 p.m.

 

MR. SPEAKER (Wiseman): Order, please!

 

Admit strangers.

 

Before we start today's proceedings, I want to acknowledge a large group of very special guests in our gallery.  We have with us today, fifty members of the Paradise 50 Plus Adventure group.  They are under the capable leadership of their President Maxine Earles.

 

Welcome to our galleries.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

Statements by Members

 

MR. SPEAKER: Today we will have members' statements from the Member for the District of Baie Verte – Springdale; the Member for District of Port au Port; the Member for the District of Bonavista North; the Member for District of Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair; the Member for District of Kilbride; and the Member for the District of St. John's North.

 

The hon. the Member for Baie Verte – Springdale.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. POLLARD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

A hard-working businessman of Springdale has added his name to an elite list of safety conscious professionals. 

 

I rise in this hon. House today to congratulate the CEO of Newfoundland and Labrador Vegetation Control, Terry Croucher, upon his induction into the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission's Safety Charter as its fifty-eighth member.  The honour is reserved for the Province's top business promoters of safety in the workplace. 

 

Introduced in 2007 and administered by the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission, the Safety Charter is to support the continuous improvement of healthy and safe work places throughout the Province. 

 

NLVC's commitment to safety began around fourteen years ago when Terry started to focus on safety issues by promoting it in his company.  The driving force behind Terry's commitment is evident in the following quote, “At the end of the day, I want everyone to go home okay”.

 

Croucher was inducted into the Safety Charter at a ceremony in Springdale on Wednesday, March 24, where he was joined by community members, WHSCC representatives, and a large number of his employees. 

 

I invite all hon. members to join me in applauding Terry and his company for their leadership in safety promotion.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. CORNECT: Mr. Speaker, I rise today in this hon. House to recognize the Rotary Club of Stephenville for their determination to revive the Rotary Music Festival after a one year break. 

 

Under the leadership of Rosa Dollard, Debbie Brake-Patten and Noreen Dwyer, a steering committee was formed to ensure that a very successful festival was presented to showcase the diverse cultural fabric of the area. 

 

Although opportunity for youth in the community was the main purpose of the Festival, categories for the 2014 Rotary Music Festival were broadened this year to include musical demonstrations from the Bay St. George Folk Arts Council. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the winners of this year's Rotary Music Festival were Stephen Eckert of Kippens, Rose Bowl winner and best in senior piano; Stephenville Elementary Grade 5 Choir, best Choral; Claire St. Croix, best instrumental; Stephenville Middle School, best band; St. Michael's School, best choral speech; Emma Dunphy, best junior piano; and Emma Buckner, best junior vocal. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I ask all hon. members in this hon. House to join with me in congratulating the Stephenville Rotary Club Music Festival committee, the volunteers, and all the participants for their dedication and hard work in this year's festival.

 

Thank you. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Bonavista North. 

 

MR. CROSS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

It challenges my cognitive ability today, Mr. Speaker, to stand and select words appropriate to describe an event which happened a few short days ago. 

 

On May 3, dozens of senior high students converged on the MUN Medicine's Neuroscience Department to compete for the honour of representing Newfoundland and Labrador at the Canadian Institute of Health Research's Brain Bee event at McMaster University. 

 

The competition is a showcase of young neuroscientists demonstrating their brain power about the human brain. 

 

Pearson Academy's eleventh grade student Jane Cooze of New-Wes-Valley was declared the provincial champion and she will represent our Province on May 31 at Hamilton, Ontario.  She eagerly awaits the challenge.  Paraphrasing her words – “it's fascinating to study how the brain connects and interprets electrical impulses that allow us to decode colour, movement and emotion among all of the other stimuli it receives.”

 

Memorial University's goal is to increase the number of skilled and passionate students who want to study neuroscience, and possibly make a career in research and development. 

 

All hon. members, I ask that we rack our brains together in unison to send best wishes for a successful Brain Storm Activity to Jane Cooze. 

 

Your old principal, Jane, is among your biggest fans! 

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair. 

 

MS DEMPSTER: Thank you. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I rise in this hon. House to recognize two very important organizations in my District of Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair – Labrador South Home Care serving the communities of L'Anse au Clair to Red Bay and Loving Hands Home Care, formally Northern Home Care Services, serving the communities north of Red Bay to Cartwright.

 

This year, Labrador South Home Care is celebrating thirty years of service while the Harbourview Manor, a seniors' home in Mary's Harbour, is in its tenth year of operation.

 

Recognizing the need for seniors' care, Labrador South Home Care was formed under a volunteer board of directors, employing one co-ordinator and two employees.  Today, the organization employs more than twenty people, some of whom have been with them since its inception. 

 

The home care program was once solely funded with government grants, but today in collaboration with government and client paid funds, the program continues to grow.  However, the success of this program would not be possible without the dedicated volunteers and staff who go beyond their call of duty to accommodate their clients.

 

Mr. Speaker, I ask all hon. members to join me in recognizing all home care workers across our entire Province who provide a valuable service every day for our seniors.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DINN: Mr. Speaker, on March 8, the Harness Horse Owners Association held its dinner, dance, and awards presentation at St. John's Racing and Entertainment Centre.  Approximately 100 people attended this ceremony. 

 

After a fine meal, twenty-two awards were presented, many dedicated to the memory of people who were instrumental in building and keeping alive the harness racing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

The top award winners were Shane Forward and Terry Williams with three awards each.  Shane was the driver of the year, the driver with the most money, and the top driver in the forty-plus starts category.  Terry was the top trainer, the most improved driver, and the top driver with twenty to thirty-nine starts. 

 

The most gentlemanly driver was Wayne Williams.  Sheila Ivimey won the Dave MacRoberts Memorial Award for long-standing dedication to harness racing.  Scott Forward was honoured as the trainer with the most wins and Aubrey Williams was the top driver in the ten to nineteen start category. 

 

Eight awards were presented to the horses.  The Horse of the Year Award went to Muggy's English Baby.  The horse with the fastest time was Inspired Art with a time of two minutes and one second. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I ask all hon. members to join me in congratulating all the award winners.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. KIRBY: Mr. Speaker, today I would like to recognize the hard work and dedication of all the volunteers who have committed their time to organizing the Prince of Wales Collegiate Safe Grad this year. 

 

On June 26 – the last day of school – no less than 219 Level III students in the class of 2014 will take part in this year's Safe Grad celebration.  The committee assures me that this will be a fabulous and unforgettable event for all the students and their guests; however, in keeping with PWC's tradition, the exact details of the event will remain secret until school closes next month.

 

This year, the PWC Safe Grad committee has managed to raise close to $12,000 so far.  Members will no doubt recognize that this work takes a lot of organization and volunteer commitment.  Several dozen parents and committee members have helped with the organizing this year.  Carol O'Keefe is co-ordinating the event, along with the fundraising efforts; with Sandi Miller chairing the decorating committee; Mary Pumphrey heading up the entertainment; and Georgina Downton leading the planning for food and refreshments.

 

I ask all hon. members to join me in recognizing the hard work of all of the Prince of Wales Collegiate Safe Grad committee volunteers.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Statements by Ministers.

 

Statements by Ministers

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Public Engagement.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I rise today in this hon. House to recognize a local volunteer who was honoured last month in Ottawa and presented with the Governor General's Caring Canadian Award, given to Canadians who selflessly dedicate their time and energy to others.

 

As a student at Memorial University, Sophie Harrington became a driving force with Enactus, a volunteer non-profit, international organization which mobilizes university students to develop outreach projects that improve the quality of life and standard of living for people in need.

 

Through Enactus, universities and colleges around the world compete in regional and national competitions for the chance to demonstrate the impact of their community projects at the world championship each year.  During her time at Enactus, Sophie managed a team of seventy-three volunteers and twenty-three projects, including Launch Pad, Canada's first student-run entrepreneurial incubation centre, and Think Green, an initiative to help elementary school students run their own recycling businesses.

 

Now, as an alumna of the program, she continues to mentor the Memorial University team and sits on their Business Advisory Board, and also Chairs their Alumni Advisory Board.  She continues to give back to the national organization as their volunteer photographer and designer, and was Enactus Canada's Alumna of the Year.

 

Sophie also serves on the volunteer board for Lakecrest Independent School, has volunteered with TEDxSt. Johns, and sits on the executive of Mile Zero Ultimate, St. John's Ultimate Frisbee League, where she helped to grow its membership and assist it in developing a number of initiatives to make ultimate frisbee safer and more accessible.

 

Mr. Speaker, recognizing the importance youth play in helping to shape the future of Newfoundland and Labrador, Budget 2014: Shared Prosperity, Fair Society, Balanced Outlook provides approximately $640,000 in funding to more than thirty organizations that support youth engagement activities and learning opportunities for young people, and an additional $2.5 million has been allocated for thirty-four Community Youth Networks across the Province.

 

These investments include our annual URock Volunteer Awards, which honour youth and youth-led organizations.  The 2014 awards are taking place two days from now at the Glacier in the great City of Mount Pearl – I added that part.

 

Mr. Speaker, by celebrating the achievements of Newfoundland and Labrador's young people, we are inspiring all residents to contribute to the future growth and development of their communities.

I invite all members to join me in congratulating Sophie Harrington for receiving the Governor General's Caring Canadian Award, and for her dedication to giving back to her community.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for The Straits – White Bay North.

 

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I, too, thank the minister for an advance copy of his statement.  We all have an entrepreneurial spirit.  We have that ability to inspire others to act so we can build in ourselves, in our families, and in our communities a healthier, more prosperous, and stronger world.

 

I want to, on behalf of the Official Opposition, extend big congratulations to Sophie Harrington on being a recipient of the Governor General's Caring Canadian Award.  Sophie currently works at m5 and is developing and engaging campaigns Province-wide, is very well educated with two degrees, has top individual student award for academic leadership and commitment in the Faculty of Business, highest marks in the graduating class for the Bachelor of Arts and Political Science, and ranked on the dean's list from 2002 to 2007.  She is so very well rounded that her photography has been featured in The Globe and Mail.

 

This type of passion and these types of ideas and talents illustrate what youth are capable of at home, abroad, in a team, or on their own.  The best way for our youth to succeed is to look at the real-world challenges that exist, how others can gain financial security, how we can equip the unemployed to find the skills to reach meaningful employment, help aspiring entrepreneurs, and bring economic development like Enactus does to struggling neighbourhoods.

 

We need to look at developing team work, leadership, and communication skills, and that only comes from real-life experience.  Government should consider the cuts it made to its abandoned Youth Retention and Attraction Strategy, but it should also look at leaders like Sophie if government plans to re-establish the Youth Advisory Committee to join that.

 

Thank you.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The member's time has expired.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I would also like to thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement today.  How proud we all are as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, to know that Sophie Harrington was this year's recipient of the Caring Canadians Award on the part of the Governor General.

 

We have a lot of youth in this Province, Mr. Speaker, who are out there who are shining examples, just like Sophie.  One example, just to bring up here in the House, I was down to the St. John's City Council's ceremonies last week for the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Youth and with all of the youth that were there who were eligible for this award, they could only pick one.  There were a number of shining examples from the immediate St. John's area who stood out, but there was only one winner at that particular time.

 

I would say that we have another Caring Canadian Award that is going to be coming up, a future winner – I will bring this to the attention of the government – in the form of a young gentleman by the name of Darcy Taylor who also has an extensive resume, like that of Sophie Harrington.

 

Again, congratulations, on the part of our party, to Sophie.  We wish her all the best in her future endeavours, as well as to the future winners.  Congratulations as well to government.  Keep putting that money towards youth.  We need it.

 

Thank you.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DALLEY: Mr. Speaker, I rise in this hon. House today to talk briefly about Newfoundland and Labrador's official forest fire season.  The season began May 1 on the Island, and begins May 15 in Labrador.  It extends into late September.

 

The Newfoundland and Labrador forest industry employs 5,500 people through direct and indirect employment and is valued at $250 million annually.  For economic, social and cultural reasons, this tremendous resource must be protected.

 

The fire suppression team within the Department of Natural Resources protects our natural resources, our communities, our homes, and our residents from wildfires.  In 2013, the fire suppression team responded to 101 fires throughout the Province, the majority of which could have been prevented.

 

During the forest fire season, a permit to burn is required, at no cost, for lighting outdoor fires for the purpose of clearing land and burning brush within 300 metres of a forest.

 

At this time of the year, fine fuels such as dead vegetation in fields and other open areas appear wet; however, they can dry and burn in a matter of hours when conditions are right.  Fine fuels play a role in most of the fires responded to each year because they ignite easily and can spread fire quickly.

 

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians use our forests for hiking, camping, and other activity.  With this privilege comes the responsibility to take care of our forest resource.  The official start of forest fire season is an appropriate time to remind residents to be careful when they are in the woods.

 

Permits to burn and copies of the forest fire regulations can be obtained at regional or district forest management offices throughout the Province.  The lighting of fires for cooking and camping do not require a permit, but certain forest fire regulations must be followed.

 

Mr. Speaker, our firefighters, incident management team, air services pilots and maintenance crews and other staff members are to be commended for their tremendous efforts.  I am confident in their ability to protect our forests, our property and our people.  We can help by being careful. 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl South.

 

MR. LANE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I thank the minister for an advance copy of his statement.

 

Mr. Speaker, this is certainly a timely statement.  We are getting into the time of year now where people are getting out and about in the woods, whether it is camping, whether it is hiking, fishing, hunting and so on.  It is certainly important for people to be mindful when we are out enjoying our great outdoors, that we are mindful of our environment; not only do we make sure we leave it the way we found it in terms of litter and so on, but also, Mr. Speaker, that we be mindful of any campfires and so on that we may have in the woods while we are enjoying it, so as to not destroy such a great resource that we are so lucky to have here in this Province. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I noted in the minister's statement he talked about permits that you can pick up at the District Forest Management Offices.  I am not sure if these permits are available online or not.  If they are not, I certainly would encourage the government to look at putting them online. 

 

Another point, Mr. Speaker, I noticed the minister in his statement never mentioned the toll-free number that is out there.  So I am going to throw it out there.  There is a toll-free number to report forest fires 1-866-709-Fire, 3473.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Leader of the Third Party.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS MICHAEL: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

I, too, thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement.

 

I would like to recognize the firefighters, pilots, maintenance crews and the incident management team for the work they do and the way they do it.  These are important tasks carrying great responsibility and potential danger. 

 

While I appreciate the minister saying he has confidence in the firefighting services in our Province, I think there is more that government should be doing to help prevent these fires.  I suggest that the minister look at beefing up public education regarding what to do to prevent forest fires since the minister notes that most of the fires last year could have been prevented. 

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Oral Questions.

 

Oral Questions

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Government cancelled the contract with Humber Valley Paving on March 21.  This means the window for a subcontractor to claim under the mechanics' lien was April 20.  Meanwhile, this story did not break in the media until April 28. 

 

I ask the Premier: Since the window on the mechanics' lien is closed, what process can subcontractors use now to get the money they are owed by Humber Valley Paving? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, everyone involved in the construction business, subcontractors, suppliers of labour and materials, all know that when they perform their work on a contract or on a subcontract, a lien comes into existence.  The lien continues while they are doing the work.  Then when they stop doing their work, the lien continues for another thirty days.  They do not have to do anything to get the lien, other than perform the work or provide the material.  Then they have to file a mechanics' lien and that it keeps it going for a longer period of time.  Then they have to start an action in the court, which keeps it going indefinitely until it is resolved by the court. 

 

Anyone who provides labour or materials would know that it is thirty days after they provide the materials they have to file a mechanics' lien.  They know that, and they would take the appropriate steps to protect their interest. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I am sure the Premier knows that usually in these situations when there is work ongoing – let's not forget that this company asked for an extension and was granted an extension on this contract which would have ended July of 2014.  Since the contract was cancelled, this left many of the subcontractors, many small businesses that were expected to continue doing work. 

 

I ask the Premier: Since the window is now closed on the mechanics' lien period, how are those subcontractors going to access the money that you have held back from this contract? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, as I said, anybody doing work on the project would know that they have a time limit in which to file a mechanics' lien.  If they do not file their lien, they do not have priority.  Therefore, what they would have to do, if there is money owed to them they would start an action in the Supreme Court and sue for the money that is owed to them. 

 

Every payment that the government made under the contract, the government held back 10 per cent in Canada's lien holdback, and the minister indicated the other day there is about $1.2 million in a mechanics' lien holdback fund that is available for disbursement.  

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Not only did the subcontractor not know that this contract was cancelled, but the Premier did not know that this contract was cancelled.  What I am referring to, many of those small contractors were expecting to go back to work because this contract was extended to July of this year.  By cancelling the contract, you closed that window.  On top of that, you did not get a sworn statutory declaration from the company saying that everyone was paid. 

 

I ask the Premier: What process can those small contractors use now to get access to the holdback?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, again, yes, I did not know until – I think it was April 26 when I was informed in Halifax Airport. 

 

Mr. Speaker, if I had been involved in providing labour and material to that project, I would know, as every contractor knows and everybody involved in that business knows, they have a time limit in which they want to file the lien.  They watch that very closely.  If they are not paid thirty days after they provide their last work and materials, then they file a mechanics' lien and keep it going.  They would take whatever action they have to take, that they would consider appropriate to protect their interests.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Under normal circumstances, if a government is going to cancel a contract which is midstream, keep in mind, those contractors expected until July of 2014 for this to happen.  Why did you not get a sworn statutory declaration to protect the subcontractors?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I explained that last week in the House during Question Period.  The company itself would apply to have the mechanics' lien holdback released.  Before we will release the mechanics' lien holdback, we would then ask them to supply us with a statutory declaration. 

 

We do not apply for the declaration, they do.  We would not ask for that until they asked to have the mechanics' lien holdback released.  The company has not done that, so therefore we would not ask for the statutory declaration until they do ask for that.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Given the uncertainty around the payment for those subcontractors, why wouldn't the minister ask for that sworn statutory declaration today so we can protect those subcontractors?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, again, we have the mechanics' lien in place.  We will continue to have that lien holdback until they request that we release that.  Once they request a release of the holdback, then we will demand to have the statutory declaration before we release the mechanics' lien holdback.  The $1.18 million will not be released until we get that statutory declaration.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

The minister has repeatedly referred to the legal staff of legal advisors on this issue.  He keeps talking about that.

 

I ask the minister: What legal staff did you use?  Was it at your Department of Transportation and Works, or was it the legal staff at the Department of Justice?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, in the Department of Transportation and Works we have one of the best legal advisors in the government.  We have him there; we deal with him on a day-to-day basis, as I said last week. 

 

We deal with contracts every day.  That is what the Department of Transportation and Works is all about, dealing with contracts.  We have a legal advisor on our own staff who also gets legal advice from the Department of Justice.  We have a full complement of legal advisors.

 

Mr. Speaker, I have to clarify something.  The Member for St. John's South brought up different contracts, talking about contracts, and we deal with different contracts every day.  Two contracts he brought up – and I will get up on the next question and answer that.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I am just looking for some clarification on this issue around a legal opinion.

 

I ask the minister: Was the Department of Justice involved in the legal opinion on this specific contract?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, as I said, we have our own legal advisor within the department who deals with us on a day-to-day basis and who also deals with the Department of Justice on many of our contracts.  A lot of the contracts, if our legal advisor feels he needs more legal advice, yes, he does go and get it.

 

As I was going to say, the Member for St. John's South brought up two contracts.  I do not feel the House of Assembly –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. MCGRATH: I do not feel the House of Assembly is the right place to be talking about individual contracts, but I have to clarify something that was said yesterday by the Member for St. John's South.  He brought up a contract about brush cutting.  He compared that contract to the one we have been dealing with all week.  I want to clarify to the general public –

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Leader of the Official Opposition.

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I ask the minister, just to be very simple.  It is a yes or no answer.  Was the Minister of Justice involved in this specific contract with Humber Valley Paving on the Trans-Labrador Highway?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Yes.

 

As I was saying, the Member for St. John's South brought up –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. MCGRATH: – a contract on brush cutting and he compared it to the contract we have been talking about now for over a week.  I want to clarify for the people who are here today and for the people in our listening audience that the contractor with that brush cutting contract – we did not cancel that contract.  That contractor came into us.  He terminated his contract.  Not only that, Mr. Speaker, but once he terminated his contract we also found out they had falsified documents that were necessary to get the contract, thus the penalty of twelve months.

 

The other contract that was cancelled was cancelled by the bonding agency.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Member for Virginia Waters.

 

MS C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance said at Budget time that her government has a record they are very proud of and that they had a plan for strong fiscal management.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MS C. BENNETT: You have to question these statements knowing that last year this government spent $84 million in consulting fees, $3 million more than they planned to spend on the provincial roads program this year. 

 

I ask the minister: Why are you spending so much money on external consultants? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Yes, Mr. Speaker, I did say at Budget time that we do have a sound track record when it comes to fiscal management.  We are very proud of our record.  We are very proud of the investments that we have made into education, into health care, into Child, Youth and Family Services, and certainly into roads.

 

Oftentimes, we do have expertise that we use within government, very valuable expertise, we value our public service, we do not question where lawyers come from or not come from, which department; but there are times when you do go for outside expertise, which is also very valuable as well.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Virginia Waters.

 

MS C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, $84 million is a significant amount of money.  That is more than the government spent on environment, fisheries, IBRD, tourism, Newfoundland and Labrador Housing, and on roads in this fiscal year. 

 

I ask the minister: What controls are in place to measure the return on the money you are spending on external consultants? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, we have a very dedicated public service that evaluates every single dollar that is spent in government.  We have a Treasury Board; we have Cabinet.  We make sure that every dollar is spent very wisely.

 

She seems to have an issue with the money we are spending with external consultants.  Perhaps she could identify which specific area she would not have spent that money and would not have invested in the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Virginia Waters.

 

MS C. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, this government has talked about competencies within the public service time and time again, and I would totally agree that we have many talented people working in the public sector.  Even yesterday the Minister of Transportation talked about the great work they do –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MS C. BENNETT: I ask the minister: Why are you paying so much money to external consultants instead of relying on your own internal experts? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

There are oftentimes when a need comes up for an external consultant; in fact, one I can think of most recently is where we hired a consultant to look at a review of how to spend money better in government.  That $3 million contract brought $20 million in savings to the Treasury, Mr. Speaker.  Is she suggesting that we not do that and not find ways to save money?

 

Again, I ask the member to table, to specify, which particular contract she would not have done to improve services and to improve everyday life for the people of the Province, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Bay of Islands.

 

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I say to the minister, save the $500,000 on the radiation, because the minister already announced we need two machines in Corner Brook now, as I have been saying for years.

 

Mr. Speaker, officials from Transportation and Works contacted the Official Opposition office prior to Budget 2014 requesting the top three priorities for a transportation capital works project in each Liberal district.

 

I ask the minister: Can you provide an update on the status of these requests?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, during the Budget process every year, we do suggest that MHAs give us their top priorities to roadwork that they feel is the top priorities in their districts.  We get that from all forty-eight, and then the officials within the department will sit down and they put them all together.  We look through them to prioritize them from there, and then we will send out notices to all of the MHAs as to what work will be done within this year.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Bay of Islands.

 

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, the minister has touted his efforts about getting tenders out early for capital projects, but we have yet to see any announcements for districts on this side of the House.

 

I ask the minister: When can we expect to see announcements of work in Liberal districts, or does the early tendering process only apply to PC districts in this Province?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I empathize with the member across the way.  Obviously, he only listens to the news that he wants to hear.  On March 28, I announced that a tender would be called for road improvement initiatives throughout Western Newfoundland; some include areas represented by the member opposite.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. MCGRATH: There is no basis for the Opposition's claim here whatsoever.

 

Some of the ones, just to go down through them, repairs to sections of Ring Road in Corner Brook – district across the way.  Route 430, Deer Lake to Cormack – I believe that is in a district across the way – you are welcome.  Route 440, at Hughes Brook Hill and Pond Road from Rocky Harbour to Norris Point, you are welcome.  Repairs also included for Route 420 –

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Bay of Islands.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, announcements are not tenders.  They announced the hospital in 2007; there are still no tenders for it.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. JOYCE: So I ask the minister: When are you going to treat the roads in the Liberal districts, which are unsafe, the same as you do the members opposite in the PC districts and call the tenders so we can get the work done this year?  Just because you said you are going to do it, does not mean you are.  When will they be called?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, Route 420, Jackson's Arm intersection; Route 421, upgrade to a section of Gallants Road; Route 403.  I will end by giving the Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair a good reason to be smiling across the way, a big tender coming out for eighty kilometres from Lodge Bay going towards –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. MCGRATH: – Cartwright Junction, a Liberal district.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair.

 

MS DEMPSTER: Mr. Speaker, I have to tell the member across the way something we are not smiling about today.  On the eve of one of the busiest weekends of the year, we see the ferry service across the Strait of Belle Isle once again disrupted due to lack of icebreaker assistance.

 

I ask the minister: What is your department doing to –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MS DEMPSTER: – restore this vital service across the Strait of Belle Isle?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, as we all know and I have said it several times, this has been a very harsh, long, hard winter, especially with the ferry systems throughout the whole Province.  We have had to deal with extreme ice conditions, Marine Atlantic included.  Not just the Newfoundland ferry system but Marine Atlantic, several days where the ice was too thick to get through.  We are experiencing that. 

 

I think the member across the way from Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair has to acknowledge that I have certainly done my best to get the ferry running on a regular basis between St. Barbe and Blanc-Sablon again.  Unfortunately, I have no control over the ice.  If I did, trust me, there would be palm trees growing in St. Barbe right now.  We have no control over the Coast Guard with the icebreakers.  That is federal jurisdiction, but we will continue to (inaudible).

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair.

 

MS DEMPSTER: Mr. Speaker, we just heard my colleague talk about $83 million for consultants, $4,000 or $5,000 for a tea party, and $1,200 for a Twin Otter across the Straits.  Mr. Speaker, people are missing medical appointments, commercial traffic is at a standstill, and businesses are suffering.  There are no air seats available, everybody is stranded. 

 

Why are the people dependent on this service, primarily the people of Labrador, consistently treated differently than anywhere else in the Province?  One hundred thousand people a year rely on this service.  Why is she going to Corner Brook and doing a crew change and fueling up?  Why are you not lobbying the federal government to make sure that is done down in St. Barbe so we are not continuously disrupted for days on end?  We are the only place in the Province where that continues to happen, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, again, the contract for the ferry service from Blanc-Sablon to St. Barbe deals quite often on weather conditions.  I think it was about three or four years ago that this government – we have been monitoring it for the last decade as to whether or not year-round service was available.  The weather conditions had changed quite a bit and so we did put in a year-round service, but that year-round service is put in on weather permitted.  As I said, this has been a harsh winter.

 

When you put in a service like that, you also put in the infrastructure to provide services, such as refueling services, in the best possible positions.  That is what we have done.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, May 24 weekend is upon us and many families will be heading out to the provincial parks for the first weekend of the season.  Camping is certainly a family affair for all people of all ages.

 

I ask the minister responsible: What family programming will be offered at our provincial parks for this coming season?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Environment and Conservation.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS SHEA: Mr. Speaker, our parks are opening this weekend and there are many people who take advantage of being able to spend some quiet time with their families in these beautiful parks throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.  The people who use these parks, along with the staff in the parks, can determine how they would like to spend their time and what activities they would like to participate in, but I certainly think everyone who takes the time to have their families out there for the weekend will certainly have a very enjoyable experience.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

MR. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, the park interpretation was discontinued in last year's Budget without notification, slipped under the radar, and will not be offered in our provincial parks again this season.  That means no programming for children, no movies, no crafts, no guided hikes, no educational sessions, and no interpretation.

 

I ask the minister: Why would you downgrade the parks to eliminate such vital programming?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Environment and Conservation.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS SHEA: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, many families and many individuals take the opportunity to enjoy the parks we have throughout Newfoundland and Labrador and have wonderful experiences when they go there.  While they are in the parks, they are able to use the natural areas we have there, whether it means they are going to do some canoeing or some boating, they are going to do hiking.  They are going to have times with their families and their friends, whatever they would like to participate in.  The services are there for the people to enjoy.

 

I know I have been in the parks myself.  Many people bring in lots of equipment, what they would like to use, and how they like to spend their time in the parks.  They will go there again this year, Mr. Speaker.  They will have every opportunity to use the services that are there to use, whether they bring their bicycles, their canoes, their kayaks, or whatever they like, Mr. Speaker.  They will certainly be able to have an enjoyable (inaudible).

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, there are no park organized interpretational services any more.  That government cut it out.  Both provincial and private parks across the Province have seen a resurgence in family camping. 

 

Now that you see the drastic effect of these cuts on our provincial parks and the camping experience, I ask the minister: Will you reinstate the interpretation programs at our provincial parks?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Environment and Conservation. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS SHEA: Mr. Speaker, when people visit our parks, when people take their children out or individuals go out, they are able to enjoy what is there and what is offered, whether they go on hikes.  I know in Barachois Park they can hike the mountain that is there.  There are ponds and lakes.  They can canoe, kayak, or take their bicycles.  Mr. Speaker, there are even people – I have been in campers where they have the best of technology, watching movies and TV, something that you would not – unless you go and see that these are big, expensive campers with that.  It is not just tenting any more. 

 

Mr. Speaker, whether you are in a tent, or whether you are in a modern camper and you bring your family there, they can have a very worthwhile experience.  They can use the parks for what they have to offer and they will certainly enjoy that experience, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Third Party. 

 

MS MICHAEL: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. 

 

More and more people are grappling with the challenge of ensuring their elderly loved ones are getting proper care. 

 

I ask the Minister of Health and Community Services: In the spirit of openness and accountability, will he post online regular, timely updates of wait-lists for long-term care beds under the four regional authorities? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I thank the member of the Third Party for her question today.  Long-term care is a matter and a focus.  It has been a focus for our government for many years.  In fact, in 2012 we released a ten-year strategy that was focused on Close to Home, a long-term strategy care for – long-term care and community support services. 

 

I can tell you that since her question yesterday, I went back to the department and had a closer look at the numbers, the demand for long-term care.  I can tell you part of the strategy that we are engaged in is a strategy to improve services to the aging and seniors and people before they reach the need for long-term care, so we can extend the period of time before they actually need to go into long-term care, assist them and promote a higher and better quality of life for them prior to the need to go to long-term care. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Third Party. 

 

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I really would appreciate knowing what those programs are.  It certainly is not home care. 

 

Mr. Speaker, in response to my concern regarding a vulnerable patient moved to Long Pond away from family and community support, the minister responded by noting the drive to Long Pond is only sixteen minutes. 

 

I ask the minister: Is he not aware that many seniors on fixed incomes can neither afford cars or $100 round-trip taxi rides, and there is no public transportation available?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I think it is important to clarify some of the information that the member opposite has been referring to.  I know last night, while she was on one of the radio call-in shows, she referred to it as Long Harbour; as a matter of fact, she did that two or three times.  I am sure she is talking about Long Pond as part of Conception Bay South. 

 

Conception Bay South boundaries the City of St. John's boundary; you can leave the City of St. John's and enter directly into Conception Bay South.  They are literally next door to each other.

 

I can assure the member opposite, and assure the people of the House, and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador that through long-term care we make every effort to ensure that when a person reaches a stage in life where they are required to enter into a long-term care circumstance, that it is done as close to their home as it possibly can, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Third Party.

 

MS MICHAEL: Yes, I am speaking about Long Pond, but we have to look at individual situations, which the government is not doing.

 

Last year the Minister of Health announced the opening of the protective community residence in Bonavista, which allows people with mild dementia to live independently, adding to those built or planned in Lewisporte, Corner Brook, and Clarenville.

 

I ask the minister: What is his department's plan for providing protective community residences for people with mild dementia in other parts of the Province?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DAVIS: Thank you again, Mr. Speaker.

 

This is a very important conservation and debate that we are having here in the House today.  I can tell you that there has been a tremendous amount of work done in the development of the ten-year strategy.  As I referred to, there was a very comprehensive process of consultation with seniors.  I can tell you, we strongly value the input of seniors.  We value the work that they do in their own communities.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DAVIS: We value the work that organized groups do within their own communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador as well, because they all contribute to the quality of life of the people of the Province and the seniors of the Province.

 

We will continue to invest in those types of organizations.  We will continue to invest in programs throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.  We will also continue to invest in the needs for infrastructure.

 

We look at the long-term needs for long-term care throughout the Province and I can tell you, even though the population is rising, those numbers will stay –

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

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

 

MS ROGERS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

As I predicted, the new group home in Stephenville will not be ready by government's May 19 target date.  The lives of the youth in care have been thrown into utter chaos. 

 

I ask the minister: Why did he not have a plan to ensure a smooth transition for the moving of these vulnerable young people?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. JACKMAN: Mr. Speaker, at the present time the service provider is indeed seeking to work with the town to find a suitable placement for these youth.  I would certainly encourage all involved to recognize the challenge that these young people face.  I certainly hope that the provider and the community can find the agreement that will see that service provided to these youth.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS ROGERS: Mr. Speaker, five days from now is the deadline and they do not even have a house bought, let alone furnished, let alone renovated and rezoned and staff hired and set up and ready to receive these youth.  Mr. Speaker, government's callous, ill-thought-out decision to privatize the care of the Province's most vulnerable youth is failing even before it begins.

 

I ask the minister: Why is the bottom line more important than our moral and legal obligation to provide quality rehabilitation in a safe environment for our most vulnerable youth? 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. JACKMAN: Mr. Speaker, a term that I used before, I am not going to let the NDP think that they are the only ones who have a monopoly on caring.  They are not the only ones who have a monopoly on caring. 

 

Mr. Speaker, to suggest that our bottom line is dollars and putting that ahead of the care for children, that is despicable.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. JACKMAN: That is totally, totally despicable. 

 

Mr. Speaker, these homes, they will find their way forward.  If there is a further timeline required, we will look at that.  At this particular time, there are teams that are in place, they are making the provisions, they will do the transition, and we will make that as smooth as possible.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's Centre, for a quick question without preamble.

 

MS ROGERS: Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister: How can the privatized rate of $13 an hour, a babysitter's rate, attract experienced specialized care? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services, for a quick response.

 

MR. JACKMAN: Mr. Speaker, I can only speak to the reputation of Blue sky.  If she is questioning the service that they provide, I would ask her to take that up with the service provider.  We are not questioning it.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Time for Question Period has expired.

 

Presenting Reports by Standing and Select Committees.  

 

Tabling of Documents.

 

Notices of Motion.

 

Notices of Motion

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I give notice, under Standing Order 11, I shall move that the House do not adjourn at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 15, 2014.

 

Further, I give notice, under Standing Order 11, I shall move that the House do not adjourn at 10:00 p.m. on Thursday, May 15, 2014.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Answers to Questions for which Notice has been Given.

 

Petitions.

 

 

Petitions

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Burgeo – La Poile.

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I have a petition.  To the hon. House of Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned residents humbly sheweth:

 

WHEREAS private and community ambulance operators provide ambulatory and paramedic services to the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador and are compensated for these services by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador; and

 

WHEREAS the contract for ambulance operators expired in March of 2012; and

 

WHEREAS the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador completed a review of ambulatory services in the Province, which review was completed August 2013, and released in October 2013;

 

WHEREAS ambulance operators agreed to hold off from negotiations with government until the ambulance review was complete, and showed good faith; and

 

WHEREAS government's current position in negotiations has been heavy handed, and will see cuts in ambulance services across the Province;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House to urge the government to negotiate a fair deal with ambulance operators that ensures the safety of our ambulance professionals, as well as the patients in our Province.

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Now, Mr. Speaker, this is one that I have presented on one prior occasion here in the House, but I am going to have to continue to present it because this issue will not go away.  You have a number of concerned individuals here.  Primarily, you have ambulance operators who are sitting there, and we know that government is playing a divide and conquer game with them.  We asked questions in the House of Assembly Estimates session, and of course it was all deferred to Finance, even though we know that the department has actually been having the negotiations with the operators.  So it is divide and conquer there.

 

We have the paramedics themselves who are left out in the wind because they have no say in this.  They could not really participate in the review because they were not given the opportunity.  They were told to come on in, drive on your own dime and on your own time, to contribute to this.  We did not go out and get what they had to say.

 

At the end of the day, we have the people of these communities – especially in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, and I especially have them out in my district – that are here, they are going to have less emergency coverage when it comes to ambulance services.  That is not something that any of us should have to deal with.

 

We have a government that sits here and tries to obfuscate, they try to confuse the matter and talk about routine services, but when it is not routine is what we are talking about.  We are talking about emergency services and red alerts.  A red alert is when there is absolutely no coverage in an emergency situation.  We have it.  It is too bad as it is; it is only going to get worse.

 

Unfortunately, I believe with this government we are going to see a situation where they react rather than be proactive, and it is going to result in a detrimental, serious consequence, possibly including death, to one of our residents.  It is absolutely unfortunate that this government continues to play this game with this group.  We are asking them to play fair; negotiate a contract that works for the people of this Province.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Bay of Islands.  

 

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I stand today, Mr. Speaker:

 

WHEREAS we are concerned over the deplorable conditions of the pavement of Hughes Brook hill Route 440; and

 

WHEREAS many residents of the Towns of Hughes Brooks, Irishtown-Summerside, Meadows, Gillams, McIvers, and Cox's Cove travel this road on a daily basis; and

 

WHEREAS after repeated requests for repairs in the pavement, the road has continued to deteriorate; and

 

WHEREAS the ruts in the pavement are creating a safety hazard; and

 

WHEREAS we feel that the condition of the road presents an accident waiting to happen;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to give serious consideration of making repairs to this road.

 

Mr. Speaker, today we have a petition from a lot of people from Meadows concerning the road.  I asked questions today in the House of Assembly.  The minister stood up with a flippant answer that he already made the announcement.

 

Mr. Speaker, an announcement is not a tender.  The minister can stand up and play the games, whatever game he wants because if the tender is not called soon the work will not be done.  There have been a number of accidents out in these ruts.  It is a major concern, it is a safety concern. 

 

It is a bluff.  There is no doubt it is a bluff when you look at all this here.  If I change my name to Eddie Coleman would I get it done in six days?  Mr. Speaker, that is the kind of condition we are getting. 

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Do not smear the Coleman's (inaudible).

 

MR. JOYCE: Here is the Premier now all upset.  Mr. Premier, you are talking about smearing someone's company, I am talking about the safety of the people in the North Shore.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

Direct your comments to the Chair, please.

 

MR. JOYCE: I am talk about the people of the North Shore.  I will do whatever I have to do to get that work done, Mr. Speaker.  I am worried about people's lives here. 

 

The Premier can say what he likes to me, Mr. Speaker, I am smearing some company.  If that is what it takes for me to get this work done, I will get the work done. 

 

If the Premier drove out the North Shore – drive on that road.  Go speak with the councils where last year it was supposed to be done and not done.  This year the minister said we already made the announcement.  If you do not get the tender done, it may not be done this year.  If it is not done this year, you are putting lives at danger. 

 

Do not ask me to sit down and not speak on this, I say to the Premier.  I ask this, and the Premier said I am smearing the Coleman family.  How about the people who had an accident last week over in Hughes Brook?  Why aren't you concerned about the people who went off the road because of the ruts?  Be concerned about the residents.  Be concerned about them, because I am. 

 

If it takes me to stand here every day with a petition, I say to the Premier, I will do it because I am not worried about some company.  I am worried about lives.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS ROGERS: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

To the hon. House of Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned residents of Newfoundland and Labrador humbly sheweth:

 

WHEREAS the Family Violence Intervention Court provided a comprehensive approach to domestic violence in a court setting that fully understood and dealt with the complex issues of domestic violence; and

 

WHEREAS domestic violence continues to be one of the most serious issues facing our Province today –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MS ROGERS: – and the cost of the impact of domestic violence is great both economically and in human suffering; and

 

WHEREAS the Family Violence Intervention Court was welcomed and endorsed by all aspects of the Justice system including the police, the courts, prosecutors, defence counsel, Child, Youth and Family Services, as well as victims, offenders, community agencies and women's groups; and

 

WHEREAS the recidivism rate for offenders going through the court was 10 per cent compared to 40 per cent for those who did not; and

 

WHEREAS the budget for the court was only 0.2 per cent of the entire budget of the Department of Justice;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge government to reinstate the Family Violence Intervention Court.

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Mr. Speaker, I would ask the members perhaps listen.  It is my chance to speak.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I ask members to take all of their private conversations outside the Chamber.  The Speaker has acknowledged the Member for St. John's Centre who is delivering a petition.  I would ask all other members to hold their speeches until they are recognized by the Speaker.

 

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

 

MS ROGERS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am standing speaking on behalf – every one of these signatures are people from Corner Brook, who know how important the Family Violence Intervention Court is.  They actually want it extended to make sure it is available to people all over the Province because they know.  They are experts.  They know the Family Violence Intervention Court worked.

 

Mr. Speaker, during Estimates for the Department of Justice – and the government keeps saying it was a budgetary decision – we found millions of dollars that were unspent last year and moved to other unintended expenses, millions of dollars.  We are talking about $500,000.  It is about, actually, in some cases saving the lives of women and children.

 

Why is this government not reversing this decision?  They know it is the right thing to do.  Is it because it is about saving face?  This is not my Family Violence Intervention Court.  This was a Family Violence Intervention Court that belonged to the people of the Province and was endorsed by every conceivable stakeholder who works in the area of violence against women.  What is wrong with this government that they cannot take the highroad on this?  They have a moral and a legal obligation to provide services for women and children who are victims of family violence.  What is stopping them besides their own hubris?  This is criminal, Mr. Speaker.  It is absolutely criminal. 

 

Thank you very much.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair.

 

MS DEMPSTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

To the hon. House of Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned humbly sheweth:

 

WHEREAS the Strait of Bell Isle is a very important transportation link between Labrador and the Island of Newfoundland; and

 

WHEREAS both commercial and residential traffic is continuously increasing because of the opening of the Trans Labrador Highway and increased development in Labrador; and

 

WHEREAS the existing ferry service can no longer effectively handle the traffic; and

 

WHEREAS there have been many interruptions in the ferry service, especially during the 2014 winter season;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to complete a comprehensive feasibility study for a fixed link across the Strait of Bell Isle that would include a geological assessment and a full cost analysis.

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Mr. Speaker, there were many, many issues ongoing this winter with the ice in the Labrador Straits.  Hatch Mott MacDonald back in 2004, Mr. Speaker, did a preliminary study which identified that a fixed link would be a viable option once Route 138 was completed.  Until that is done, a fixed link that joins our Province with the rest of the country and we have a permanent transportation system in place, we cannot consider ourselves equal to the rest of the country.

 

It goes far beyond that.  Right now, Mr. Speaker, businesses in the district are impacted with this.  I just talked to a business with six trucks sitting on the other side in St. Barbe stranded.  When you make reservations in advance, when the ferry moves in three days now, they will only be able to get one piece on. 

 

Mr. Speaker, this winter there have been days on end when you could not buy a carton of milk in the district.  We are talking about 30,000 people.  We are talking about 100,000 passengers who move on this ferry every year. 

 

We know back when the former Premier was there, Mr. Speaker, I have quotes from the Globe and Mail where he said what needs to happen now is Quebec needs to complete 138 and Newfoundland needs to construct a fixed link.  Yet, Mr. Speaker, we know when Quebec responded that they were interested, the Newfoundland and Labrador Administration at that time changed and there was no follow up done.  This has been a very trying year for marine traffic. 

 

Mr. Speaker, a fixed link will reduce the cost of goods.  It will impact everybody in the Province.  Right now, we know that the NL consumer association is saying that everyone in the Province is paying between 4 per cent and 25 per cent more for their product because of the delays, the costs, and the spoilage due to the present ferry system.

 

In a completed feasibility study, the key thing will identify that present subsidies being paid by this government, by the Quebec government, and the federal government over a twenty year (inaudible) –

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The member's time has expired.

 

The hon. the Member for The Straits – White Bay North.

 

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

To the hon. House of Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned residents of Newfoundland and Labrador humbly sheweth:

 

WHEREAS Route 438 is the primary highway for residents of Grandois, St. Julien's and Croque; and

 

WHEREAS the current gravel road conditions are dangerous for travel, given size of potholes and debris embedded in the road; and

 

WHEREAS it is government's obligation to provide basic infrastructure to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians; and

 

WHEREAS this is the primary link for residents to health care and essential services and the enhancement is needed for safety reasons.

 

We, the undersigned, petition the House of Assembly to urge government to allocate funds under the provincial roads maintenance program to upgrade this section of Route 438.

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Mr. Speaker, I talked about this particular road in the district; it is about thirty kilometres.  It is a former woods road, basically, where there are tree stumps, former logs, that have had gravel thrown over it and they are starting to reappear.

 

The petitioners here are not asking to have these thirty kilometres of road paved.  They are just asking for, on a continuous basis, especially in the spring, to have maintenance happen so that here are improvements because they do have to travel this road on a daily regular basis.  Many of the workers here commute to Main Brook or they commute to Conche to work in fish plant processing facilities there.  All their other services, all the business, all the commerce, all the government services take place outside of their community.

 

They would like to commend what the Department of Transportation and Works has already done. They have already put different mud and silt patch down and a little bit of rock, but there needs to be more done.  There needs to be that commitment, that we do have the stone there, that we can do regular maintenance to these gravel roads that have a small population and need to see that improvement.

 

So I am putting this petition forward based on petitioners in my district, in Croque, Grandois and St. Julien's.  I think that it is a small marginal cost when you look at maintaining a basic piece of infrastructure.  I am not talking for asphalt here this in particular case, just regular upgrades and maintenance to their road.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl South.

 

MR. LANE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

A petition to the hon. House of Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned residents humbly sheweth: 

 

WHEREAS there are extreme overcrowding issues in St. Peter's Elementary and Mount Pearl Senior High; a direct result of poor planning by the Department of Education; and

 

WHEREAS the solution imposed by the English School Board to deal with this now crisis situation will have a devastating impact on many students, families and teachers in Mount Pearl Senior High, Mount Pearl Intermediate, St. Peter's Elementary, and Newtown Elementary; and

 

WHEREAS there are other less disruptive solutions which can be introduced to alleviate this overcrowding issue, primarily capital investment as a preferred option; and

 

WHEREAS the English School Board was not provided with the financial flexibility by the Minister of Education to explore more suitable options; and

 

WHEREAS the government has intervened in board decisions in the past, such as in 2005 in Bishop's Falls during a by-election where they reversed the closure of Leo Burke Academy;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to intervene in this matter, commit appropriate resources to the English School Board, and instruct them to develop more suitable options.

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I am after presenting this petition now a number of times, and I have many more to present.  Almost on a daily basis, I am getting more petitions coming in.  As a matter of fact, I have to meet with a young student in my district this evening that has a number of them he wants to present to me as it relates to this particular issue. 

 

Mr. Speaker, as I have said in the past, this need not have happened.  Had the Department of Education and certainly the then Eastern School District acted upon the overcrowding concerns over the last number of years instead of just letting it slide, letting it slide, letting it slide to the point now where we have all the speciality space taken up at St. Peter's Elementary, all of the speciality space taken up at Mount Pearl Senior High, we have had to chop it all up into classroom space.  Now, even with that done, we have even more kids coming and nowhere to put them.  Now we are hearing, of course, that in addition to St. Peter's Elementary being all chopped up to pieces, now this solution is going to see Newtown Elementary likewise, chopped up into pieces. 

 

That is definitely not acceptable, Mr. Speaker.  The wrong decision was made here.  I am calling upon the new Minister of Education to do the right thing.  I am calling upon the new Minister of Education to actually listen to the students, to actually listen to the teachers, to actually listen to the parents and the families in Mount Pearl, do the right thing, intervene in this matter, have this decision revisited and provide the appropriate funding so that the board can make some sensible decisions. 

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

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

 

MR. KING: Mr. Speaker, as per Standing Order 32, Orders of the Day, I move, seconded by the Minister of Environment and Conservation, that the House now move to Orders of the Day.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It has been moved and seconded that we now move to Orders of the Day.

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

MR. SPEAKER: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Motion carried.

 

Orders of the Day.

 

Orders of the Day

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Pursuant to Standing Order 11, I move, seconded by the Minister of Environment and Conservation, that the House not adjourn at 5:30 p.m. today, Tuesday, May 13, 2014.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It has been moved and seconded that this House do not adjourn at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 13, 2014.

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

MR. SPEAKER: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Motion carried.

 

The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Once again, pursuant to Standing Order 11, I move, seconded by the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services, that the House not adjourn at 10:00 p.m., Tuesday, May 13, 2014.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It has been moved and seconded that this House do not adjourn at 10:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 13, 2014.

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

MR. SPEAKER: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Motion carried.

 

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Under second reading of a bill, I call from the Order Paper, Order 9, second reading of An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act, Bill 16.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills.

 

MR. O'BRIEN: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the Minister of Environment and Conservation, that Bill 16, An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act, be read a second time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 16, An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act, be now read a second time.

 

Motion, second reading of a bill, “An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act”.  (Bill 16)

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills.

 

MR. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I am happy to get up in my place in regard to this amendment.  It is a piece of housekeeping; in essence, that is exactly what it is.  We have, over the last number of years, done some substantial things for our students in Newfoundland and Labrador, all in the post-secondary side, Mr. Speaker, in regard to Memorial University, the Marine Institute, the College of the North Atlantic, and as well in the private sector.

 

Some of the areas we have invested, which one of them was highlighted in this Budget, were the reducing of student debt in that we are now going to convert all student loans to grants over the next two years.  That will be about a $14.7 million investment over those two years and approximately $50.6 million over the next five years.

 

Mr. Speaker, as I just said as well, about 7,000 students will avail of the upfront grants.  We have invested in regard to the tuition freeze.  Again this year we invested about $5.1 million to continue the tuition freeze.  That has put the total investment of the provincial government, since 2005, at the total of about $283 million to maintain that tuition freeze in Newfoundland and Labrador.  That puts us as leaders in the country in regard to how we supported our students, and how we have engaged our youth. 

 

That is not referencing what we have done in regard to the labour market training programs that we have.  It is mainly populated in regard to student population by youth in our Province, Mr. Speaker, who would avail of those particular programs in CNA and the private colleges to become skilled tradespeople in the Province, and avail of the opportunities and the economic growth that we see in our Province. 

 

In saying all that, Mr. Speaker, in regard to those investments and this one in particular, there is the $14.7 million investment over the next two years with a $50.6 million investment over the five years.  It is incumbent on us as a government to protect the money that we spend.  In this case here, this amendment will enable us to draft some regulations around the particular amendment and put some policies in place to address that issue.  That is the protection of the investment that we have made in our students. 

 

Most of the 7,000 students who will receive the upfront grants will make great use of them.  Most of them, if not all of them, when they receive it – and we are going to try to get that very soon after they attend the particular post-secondary education facility that they would choose to further their education, they will actually get that very quickly.  As a matter of fact, within the first week that they actually come to St. John's or if they are from St. John's that they register.  Then they will spend that money, Mr. Speaker. 

 

We must remember that most of the cost to a student is in the first couple of weeks after they get here in regard to Memorial University.  They have to buy textbooks.  They have to buy certain things they need in regard to pursuing their education.  They have to invest in probably a laptop or whatever it may be, Mr. Speaker.  The bottom line of what I am saying is the amount they get in regard to that grant is usually spent within the first number of days that they get here. 

In saying that, Mr. Speaker, we might have a number of those students who might for some reason or another decide university is not right for me, I do not want to be at this.  So off they go and they do not pursue a post-secondary education.  We have to have an ability to recover that grant.  It is really important for a number of reasons why we should recover that grant.

 

Number one is the student should not have it because the student is not in school.  The second thing is when we recover it, it enables us to revert that number into the pot again and service more students, other students who might avail of that grant as well.  So we recover the money, it goes back into the pot and is reverted into the system again to other students we might want to cover off.  It is very important that this is clearly understood.

 

The other piece at this time that I want to reference is – and I (inaudible) my officials.  I want to make absolutely sure that when we develop those regulations and policies, that there is a mechanism in place for appeal.  Because there might be some extenuating circumstances where a student might not be able to go forward.  They might be diagnosed with some type of a sickness and might have to suspend their intention in regard to pursuing a particular post-secondary education faculty, and then decide they might come back at a later time when they are in better health. 

 

I think that particular person should have the mechanism in place where they should not have to pay.  Because they would not have foreseen such a circumstance that they would have a challenge in regard to pursuing their dreams.  I think we should be able to help them.  So I made sure that an appeal process was in place. 

 

It is important to point out as well, Mr. Speaker, that this amendment only deals with creating legislative authority to develop that regulatory process and required policies to enable us to recover that amount of money.  I do not anticipate for a second, Mr. Speaker, there is going to be a whole lot of action in regard to recovery process.  I think Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, our students in the high school system are absolutely pursuing their careers and their dreams.  I see that all the time.  I think there are more and more of our graduates coming out of the high school programs, going into the college system, or going into Memorial University, Marine Institute.  Our numbers are up, and I see it day-in, day-out. 

 

It is great to actually go to a graduation or a prom or a cap-and-gown ceremony.  Actually, when they are announcing the person's name walking across the stage, in my case, in Gander, that is done the Christmas after.  They have already done one semester in their chosen career path and they mention where they are.  It is great to be able to sit, listen, and see these people with the expressions on their face as they go across that stage.  Not only are they proud to have achieved what they have achieved in their high school programs, but as well they have gone on to the post-secondary side and they are pursuing that particular dream they have.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am not going to talk too long on this particular amendment.  I think in my mind we have invested heavily in regard to our students.  We have engaged with our students right across this Province.  As a matter of fact, I have met with the student body on maybe three or four occasions since October alone.  I like to listen to what they say.  They give me suggestions in regard to what they see as their challenges and what I could do as the minister responsible for post-secondary education to relieve some of those challenges.

 

One of the things I heard loud and clear was that they need loans converted to grants.  That would reduce their debt tremendously and give them an opportunity at life.  Coming out of the system with less debt, they are able to pursue their other dreams in regard to owning a vehicle, to buying a house, to pursuing other interests such as vacations, or whatever it may be.

 

I think we have done well in regard to our government in enabling students to do just that.  I really believe that in my heart and my soul, especially when you hear people from elsewhere in Canada who reference Newfoundland and Labrador as being the leaders in the country.

 

I know in this case here, in regard to the conversion of loans to grants, there was a celebration day at Memorial University.  They invited all MUN students to come and celebrate a great day.  I was not there.  I was not able to be there.  I was elsewhere in the Province, but I know there were others there, people from in this House here, on this side of the House and on the other side of the House, who went.  I think it was a great day.  It was a great day for students and a great day for Newfoundland and Labrador – really a great day.

 

I think, in regard to the investments we have made as a government since 2005 in our students, it is a wise investment.  We hear and heard long, a lot of people have referenced the students as our future.  Well, the bottom line of it is that we have recognized that; they are the future.  That is the reason why, not only have we invested in programs to reduce their debt, we have also invested heavily in regard to their infrastructure.  They absolutely need quality education, and I think Memorial University is absolutely providing that.  I think the College of the North Atlantic is absolutely providing that, and Marine Institute is absolutely providing that type of standard that we all expect in Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

As a matter of fact, one of the reasons – and a lot of people think that the only reason that we have an influx of students from outside the Province pursuing their dreams at Memorial University is just because it is cheaper, but it is not that at all.  Memorial University has some quality programs.  We even have professors who are coming from away replacing professors who do not want to be there anymore. 

 

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, that is something else.  As a matter of fact, I could probably make a speech on that alone.  I will not, because it has nothing to do with this amendment.  I see that you are smiling and letting me away with a little bit of a grey area here, and I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker.  I had to reference it because –

 

MR. SPEAKER: You are shifting beyond grey; you are getting pretty black there now, so bring yourself back.  

 

MR. O'BRIEN: I will bring myself back now, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I think it is good to reference those things in regard to this amendment.  The people of the Province, I think, recognize that we have invested heavily in our post-secondary education system.  I really think that it is a wise investment, but I think as well, as this amendment speaks to, that we have to protect that investment.  Even though we invest, we cannot have it abused and we have to make sure that we have a recovery system in place just in case a person might take advantage of it for some reason or another.

 

As well, I want to reference one more time before I take my place in this House – and I welcome any other comments from across the House or by my own colleagues on this side of the House – in that I also firmly believe that you have to have an appeal system in place just in case there are students who might be challenged in some way or another, legitimately challenged, that they did not foresee when they came here to Memorial University from wherever they came from in Newfoundland and Labrador, including the Northeast Avalon and the Avalon to pursue their dreams, that they should be able to be relieved of that particular grant if that challenge is legitimate, Mr. Speaker.

 

With that, again I say that this is really an amendment that is a housekeeping amendment, that piece here in the House.  It is an important piece because it protects the investment of the dollars that we would invest in those particular students and Memorial University, Mr. Speaker.

 

Thank you.

 

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

 

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It is a pleasure for me to stand and speak to this Bill 16, An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act.  I would just like to say off the top, thank you to the officials from the Department of Advanced Education and Skills for providing us with a briefing regarding the legislation.  It was extremely helpful, not only to get information regarding this legislation, this particular investment, but also to get a better understanding of some of the other issues that the financial aid division is facing, and some of the logistical issues when it comes to the disbursement of student loans and so on.  It is very, very helpful. 

 

I would like to say that as somebody who has a history of student advocacy that really goes back I suppose to my twenties, I believe this is good legislation.  This is a good policy and it is a long time coming. 

 

I just want to go back over a little bit of the history here.  We have an interesting history of student financial aid in Newfoundland and Labrador.  If we look back to the late 1960s, we even had a policy in place where not only was there no tuition, but students received sort of a salary, a bursary, that paid them to go to school, much like what a grant would really entail today. 

 

There has been a lot of change through the 1970s, through the 1980s, and the 1990s, a lot of pressure on this Province, especially at times when the federal government has had financial difficulty.  Difficulty with filling the Treasury and periods of economic hardship in this Province, to say nothing of the period following the cod moratoriums in 1992 when student financial aid and tuition, post-secondary education in this Province came under significant strain.

 

Students have been lobbying for this particular policy for some time.  As was pointed out last night in the debate here in the Legislature on the Budget, they have shown themselves to be quite effective over the years in lobbying for progressive changes to student financial aid and other policies associated with post-secondary education in this Province.

 

I have to point out the minister was talking about students coming here from elsewhere.  The last large-scale study I oversaw at Memorial University prior to my election in 2011 culminated in a report called Matriculating Eastward and it looked at Atlantic Canadian students coming to this Province to study, and coming to Memorial University in particular, as a result of our policies on tuition.

 

In the subsequent years since I got elected, a graduate student by the name of Melanie Greene has done a very good job of putting that research out there.  In fact, she just had a second article published in an academic journal now reporting some of the results of what the tuition policies have done to attract students here, coming here physically and also studying via distance.  There has been a lot of work done and she continues to hammer that out.

 

I am just going to come back to that in a while, but during the 2011 election, in the lead-up to that, the Canadian Federation of Students, Newfoundland and Labrador produced a document around financial aid and other changes they were hoping for.  The three political parties adopted pieces of that particular platform document, the students' platform document, into their own political policies.  In the end, all three political parties advocated doing this.

 

After the election in 2011, I know the former Minister of Advanced Education and Skills along with the then Premier went down to Memorial University.  I guess it was around their day of action, which was trying to draw attention to student issues on campus.  The Premier and the former Minister of Advanced Education and Skills then signed a pledge on this particular issue, on the issue of access to post-secondary education.  Maybe the minister signed it as well.  I remember it was widely reported subsequent to that the former Premier opining about her wanting to see the elimination of tuition altogether, more or less going back to where the Province was in the 1960s.

 

Now, not much was done after that.  I worked with students across the Province to produce a petition, which I presented a number of times here in the House of Assembly, around grants, not loans.  I presented that several times.  I am certainly not taking any credit myself for this getting done because I believe the students themselves, through their own advocacy efforts, deserve all of the credit here. 

 

I note that in an article last July, the then Acting Minister of Advanced Education and Skills, I believe he declined to be interviewed by The Telegram newspaper, but there was an article in The Telegram last July.  I remember reading it when I was out on a camping trip.  I believe I was out on the beautiful Bonavista Peninsula, out in Lockston Path Provincial Park, and I remember reading in the newspaper about this particular issue.  I guess the reporter who wrote it expressed some skepticism, as did the Opposition Parties, as to whether or not this particular policy was ever going to see the light of day.  I know that the then Acting Minister of Advanced Education and Skills pointed back to their platform document and said that this policy would be subject to financial considerations.

 

I guess really it was subject to financial considerations because one of the key considerations would be whether or not the government would decide to borrow $1 billion this year to finance its election platform Budget.  So, obviously, that financial consideration was considered and government decided to borrow the money.  Now we have this policy and a number of other things that the government is now trotting out through the door and bringing to the floor, as it struggles in the face of declining opinion polls and other difficulties that the government has, as a result of it having to stand on its record. 

 

Of course, we see that across the country when it comes to the evolution of government, to sort of the wax and the wane and the ebb and the flow of the political process.

 

Basically, one of the things that is going on here is that while it appears that this policy is going to be – because I think there is some misunderstanding.  I think there is some difficultly sometimes trying to communicate things to people.  Because when things are announced in the Budget it seems like it is imminent, like the Corner Brook hospital, for example.  It seems like it is imminent.  It seems like it is going to happen this year, or very soon, and this is not going to happen this year.  This is going to happen, be fully implemented, on August 1, 2015.  In August of this year, the grant portion will be increased by $20 and the loan portion will be reduced by $20.  In the following year, it will come into full force. 

 

Obviously, that is going to be a challenge to implement because you are sort of just more or less tweaking it this year and then bringing it fully in.  So, instead of a policy where you come in and you change it and bring it in, this phase-in process will obviously add an extra step. 

 

If you know anything about Information Technology, because we did pass a bill here in the Legislature – I am wondering if it was last year, if it was not last year it was the year before with respect to the electronic disbursement of financial aid. 

 

A lot of this stuff is keyed in now and it is really efficient, I have to say that.  The public servants who co-ordinate all of this, oversee it, get down to the nitty-gritty and do the hard work here, they did an excellent job and these loans are provided to students on the first day of class as a result of that bill.  We pass in harmonization that has taken place with the federal student loan program.

 

I am sure there are people here, lots of MUN graduates, a lot of Memorial University graduates here in the Legislature, you remember lining up to get your student loan in the Thompson Student Centre.  It could be weeks into your semester before you get a few bucks to buy your books.  Sometimes you would not get a chance to get a deal on your books because you are waiting for money.  We do not have that problem anymore and it is a good credit, I think, to the previous piece of legislation that we passed.  I do not think that was really obvious at the time, but that is one of the great things that have happened. 

 

Currently, when it comes to the loan and grant combination system that we have, the students receive the loan portion upfront and then the grant portion is disbursed to them six to eight weeks following the commencement of their academic term.  Whether that is at Memorial University of Newfoundland, the Grenfell campus, the Corner Brook campus, whether at Marine Institute or the College of the North Atlantic, one of the campuses there, or one of the private training institutions that is more or less the way it works now. 

 

That is the way I assume it is going to happen in the coming year.  While there will be a change in the amounts, the $20 up and the $20 down, in the subsequent year when this comes into full force in the academic year that begins in September of 2015, the full amount of the grant will be dispersed right away.  Students will receive the full amount right away.  Well, immediately we sort of create questions about oh well, what if – and look, by and large, for the most part, there is not going to be wide-scale abuse, I do not think.  I do not think people are nefarious or ill intended in that way.  There are certainly exceptions to every rule, but we have to trust people on their merit and on their word and on their signature.

 

So, everybody will receive the funds upfront.  Now, in the event where someone does not continue into the semester, they drop out for some reason – that happens all the time; students drop out for a variety of reasons.  They might drop out because you are just are not suited, you are just are not interested in the program that you are enrolled in; that happens.  Students drop out for a variety of other reasons: illness, bereavement, issues that are family related, and a variety of different intervening circumstances can come into place.  A lot of the times we hope that students are able to persevere and be resilient and continue, but inevitably life intervenes sometimes and people do have to step back and discontinue their studies. 

 

If that happens – and that is why I think there is some confusion with respect to the wording of this bill.  What the government is doing through its policy is converting the loans into grants; but if you read the explanatory note on the bill it says that it “will allow the minister to make regulations with respect to converting grants to student loans.”  It seems like they have it wrong in the explanatory note;, but you have to understand what is going to happen is, in the event that someone receives the full amount of the grant upfront and they discontinue their studies and there is not a way to claw it back or the person does not pay it back, if the person enrolls again in January or after Christmas or what have you for another term and they get a student loan, then you can claw back the amount that was over paid.  If somebody received a sixteen-week grant, they were in school for eight weeks, they had to pay rent and they had to have food and they probably bought supplies and books and what have you, but they did not have that weekly expense cost that is accounted for in the loan and grant program or in the grant program.  They did not incur that cost for eight weeks.  That money has to be paid back somehow. 

 

You can pay it back.  You can write a cheque and pay it back.  You can have it clawed back on the disbursement of the grant that you get in the subsequent semester; or let's say you do not enrol in the next semester, maybe you do not go to post-secondary again at all for years or ever again, you have to try to find a way to recoup those funds that were paid out of the public purse through this grant.  What would happen then is the minister has the authority, through regulation, to convert that grant into a loan so it can be returned and repaid as if it was a loan.  I think that is the sort of contradiction. 

 

When we looked at the explanatory note on here, it seems to run counter to what the policy is doing.  This piece of legislation is more or less enabling the minister to make that conversion in order to ensure that those who are ineligible for the grant disbursement, pay it back through as if it was a student loan in the event there was an over award and there is not another mechanism to get it repaid, whether through an adjustment, or we would say a clawback in the subsequent semester, or through an immediate repayment.

 

That is basically it.  I think it is relatively straightforward.  I would add a cautionary note however, and I have said this here in the House of Assembly before.  I think it is worthy of mentioning again. 

 

Everyone here will have to agree that policies such as this – we all agree are good policies – should be based on evidence.  Students feel like yes, they have the evidence by virtue of their own experience in the post-secondary system, that it is an arduous process of paying for education and paying for loans and all of that.  They have personal experience that provides that evidence.  I do not dispute that.  There is a need to conduct further follow-up studies. 

 

Remember I told you the last large-scale study that I worked on at Memorial University, we looked at the tuition fee policy, and we looked at how it was attracting students from outside of the Province.  Because there was all of this evidence that there were declining enrolments or stagnant enrolments at universities in other Atlantic Provinces in the Maritimes while ours were going up. 

 

We had this population of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick students, and some PEI students, that were going up.  So we went out and we interviewed them.  We talked to them.  We asked them why.  We tried to connect the dots.  We tried to see whether or not what we thought based on the enrolment data was in fact the case.  That is what we should do here.  When we are taking taxpayers' dollars and investing it in new programs like this one, whereby we are more or less paying out into a grant for students to go to school, we should try to find out what the outcomes are, especially through surveys, interviews, focus groups, and those sorts of things.

 

Not just surveys, too; you can analyze the registrarial data.  You can look at who enrolled, who showed up, who did not show up, how they progressed, and how quickly they progressed.  We always talk about timely completion, whether students complete their college or university program within the recommended period of time for completion of that program.  In the case of a Bachelor of Arts, that would be four years.  Is that happening?  Is it making it easier?  Are they finishing?  Is it making things longer or shorter?  Do we have more graduations?  Do we have fewer completions?  There are all sorts of questions to be answered here.

 

What about the transition to the workforce?  Is it easier?  What about the impact on their household spending?  Does it make it easier for them to get a mortgage?  Does it make it easier for them to get a car loan?  Does it make it easier for them to have their own children, get an RESP, and save for their child's post-secondary education themselves?

 

Those are all sorts of important questions.  I think the unfortunate thing that has gone on in the last decade or so is that a lot of those programs we had, and study and analysis, the ambitiousness towards evidence-based policy, has really receded.  We do not do that anymore.  I do not know why.  Some people say: Oh, well, you do not want to know.  You do not want to know what the answer is because you want to think you are right.  I do not know.  I do not really believe that.

 

I think we want to know that these policies are sound, it is a good investment of taxpayers' money, and we can look at data, whether that is, like I said, through surveys, registrarial data, or interviews with post-secondary students and graduates.  We look at all of that say: Yes, see?  Maybe that will enable us to take the next step into other areas that are reasonably progressive because the data will show what sorts of tools we need and what policy instruments we need to enact and to create in order to further build the post-secondary system, create more access, attract students from elsewhere, and so on and so forth.

 

I think one of the areas we really ought to be looking at is who is really left out.  We have had a lot of universal programs, some based on needs such as this one, but what is happening with students with disabilities?  What is happening with our Aboriginal youth?  What is happening with our rural youth versus our urban youth?  There are different groups in our society of Newfoundland and Labrador youth who are differently impacted by the challenges of the post-secondary system. 

 

Then what is happening with older learners?  Are policies such as this one helping them?  Is this something that is helping them to participate at a greater rate in college or university?  Because if we look at that Outlook 2020 document, we see all these jobs are becoming available but we know the vast majority of jobs that are going to be available over the next decade require some form of post-secondary education, whether it is a certificate of qualification in a trade, or a college diploma or certificate, or some certification from a university.

 

We know those jobs are going to be open, and we know our young people and our not-so-young people need to be trained.  We know when there are major adjustments in our economy, in our workforce – and they are happening in some sectors, it is still happening – we know that we need to enable people to go one or another direction to change their career path, because we know people have many jobs throughout the course of their careers today.  Not like when many of us were going through our careers.  I am a little younger, so maybe it has been a little different for me, but I am not looking at you, minister.

 

In any case, I think I will close it off there.  I think it is really important to have evidence-based policy.  It really enables us to have even better legislation and policies.  I do support this, and I will be happy to vote in favour.

Thank you very much.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER (Verge): The hon. the Member for Port au Port.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. CORNECT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It is indeed a pleasure and honour to stand in this House this afternoon to debate Bill 16, An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act.

 

Mr. Speaker, as the explanatory note says, “This Bill would amend the Student Financial Assistance Act to allow the minister to make regulations with respect to converting grants to student loans.”

 

Mr. Speaker, if you look at this piece of legislation this afternoon and you read the analysis, under part 1, section (f), it says, “the Student Financial Assistance Act is repealed and the following substituted: (f) respecting the recovery of student loans, awards and grants given in error or in excess of an amount permissible under this Act including the circumstances under which all or part of a grant is to be converted into a student loan”.  Mr. Speaker, in our efforts to continue supporting affordable and accessible post-secondary education here in this Province, our Budget just released a couple of months ago now provides $14.7 million over two years to eliminate the provincial student loans, an approximate investment of $50.6 million over five years. 

 

Mr. Speaker, when we look at the student assistance, student aid package here in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, we are the envy of the country.  Students from outside the Province look at this Province as the most affordable and accessible place to get post-secondary education.  I would say we are probably number one on the radar.

 

This legislation will amend the Student Financial Assistance Act to allow for the recovery of student grants that had been deemed ineligible through a system of repayments similar to the student loan.  Mr. Speaker, as the minister alluded to previously in his remarks, the minister said that every year approximately 7,000 students receive upfront grants, assistance to help pay for their post-secondary education.  This legislative amendment this afternoon will allow for the recovery of any grants that are deemed to be ineligible. 

 

Mr. Speaker, these changes that we are debating this afternoon – and hopefully we will get unanimous consent from the House of Assembly and all members of the House because this will certainly aid students in our Province and outside of our Province who are coming to do schooling here in our Province.  These changes will help the provincial government retrieve ineligible portions of a grant and utilize those funds to assist students in their post-secondary education and career goals. 

 

Mr. Speaker, it is very important to note and to point out that this amendment only deals with creating the legislative authority to develop the regulatory process and required policies.  Once the amendment has been approved, regulations and policies will be finalized.

 

With the complete elimination of the provincial student loans and replacement with up-front, needs-based grants, students will see a significant reduction in the amount to be repaid as a student loan.  Let me give you a couple of examples, Mr. Speaker.  For example, a student attending the College of the North Atlantic completing a one-year program will benefit by having his or her average student loan monthly payments reduced by 42.1 per cent.  Saying that, when we convert it to dollars, means they will go from $113 per month to $67 per month.

 

Interestingly enough, a student at Memorial University of Newfoundland completing a four-year undergraduate program will benefit be having his or her average student loan monthly payments reduced by 44.4 per cent; from $300 per month to $167 per month.  This amendment will also allow for the arranging of a payment schedule that will be similar to a student loan.

 

Mr. Speaker, I want to tell you and I want to tell the people in the Province, as well, that since 2005 our government has invested more than $282 million to freeze tuition, making Newfoundland and Labrador students the envy of the country.  It is the hope of our provincial government that these types of initiatives will strongly encourage students to pursue their post-secondary education in this Province and that they will choose to stay here and play a role in the Province's continued success.  We all know, Mr. Speaker, that the job outlook in Newfoundland and Labrador is very strong and, in the coming years, we will need a well-educated workforce to meet the labour demand. 

 

When we look at the student assistance programs and the student aid programs that we have in our Province, we also have to look at the investments that have been made in the post-secondary institutions as well.  To have an educated population, to have people go on to post-secondary education, we need to have institutions that will meet those demands and meet those market demands and meet those education demands as well. 

 

So, Mr. Speaker, what we have done through Budget 2014 – I am just going to highlight or name some of the investments.  In the College of the North Atlantic, $1.5 million to support high-demand, high-priority programs.  At MUN's Fisheries and Marine Institute, $1.9 million to increase base funding, that is year three of a three-year initiative at the Fisheries and Marine Institute, to continue the expansion of educational programming, research and student services for continued growth in the ocean sector. 

 

Mr. Speaker, we look at MUN Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, $1.1 million investment to continue the expansion of the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Memorial, year three of an eight-year initiative in the priority areas of ocean, Arctic and offshore energy to support major project development and encourage private sector industry partnerships.  This investment, Mr. Speaker, will also support increasing enrolment of undergraduate and graduate students at the faculty. 

 

When we talk about students, we look at the initiatives we have for students in regard to summer employment.  Mr. Speaker, our government –

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I would ask the member to make his comments relative to the bill that we are discussing. 

 

MR. CORNECT: Mr. Speaker, when we look at our investments in students in the Province, we are very proud of our initiatives.  We are proud of our record, and we remain committed to supporting post-secondary students and institutions in the years ahead in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

Thank you for the occasion to speak on this bill this afternoon. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair. 

 

MS DEMPSTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I, too, as the provincial critic for Advanced Education and Skills, am happy to stand and speak for a few minutes to Bill 16, An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act. 

 

Any time, Mr. Speaker, that we are investing in students and helping make life easier for students, I believe that is paying dividends back.  When you look back, you see that this was a commitment made by this government back in 2011, so we have been waiting a little while.  It was a Blue Book commitment that stated we would eliminate the provincial student loan over four years and replace it with an up-front, needs-based program. 

 

Mr. Speaker, we know that the Canadian Federation of Students and many of our post-secondary groups have been calling on this for some time.  We are very happy to see now that it is coming down and that it will be phased in over a two-year period. 

 

Investing in post-secondary education of citizens, we know that it just makes good sense all the way around because there are many studies already that show that education is a primary determent of health.  So, you see the two are closely linked.  Replacing the provincial portion of the student loan with a needs-based grant; by doing that, we are going to be lowering the financial burden of our students and allowing them to get on their feet when they come out of school.  This, in turn, will help to make a stronger economy here in Newfoundland and Labrador.  This is a very positive step. 

 

By coming out and having less debt, they then have more money to purchase a home.  Things that young families need when they are starting out, a car.  It will have a positive trickle-down effect, I believe, on the effects to health care as well, given the links that we know are there that exist between education, income, and health. 

 

We know there is a direct link between low education levels and very low income.  Often people with very low income have the poorest health.  By investing I say into the post-secondary students and helping them, it is going to pay dividends back.

 

Mr. Speaker, we know a full grant system will help to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor.  That is a very positive thing for the Province.  Low-income students face increased barriers.  I saw that many times in my two decades of working with students in rural communities.  By helping them graduate school now without being saddled with debt of astronomical proportions, I believe it is socially and economically responsible.  It is responsible for government to do this.  I am very, very happy to see they are implementing a plan, carrying out a commitment they made a number of years ago.

 

Mr. Speaker, given the rural reality of our Province – more than half of the Province made up of rural – students in rural communities have to incur much more expense than those living closer to the service, closer to the post-secondary institutions.  I am going to reference to my district.  Everyone here in the House has heard me stand up many times and talk about our transportation issues and the high cost.  You can imagine a student who wants to go home for Christmas and wants to go home during Easter or something like that. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I remember back in the late 1980s when I was here at Memorial, most of the people in my class were going down south for a week on Easter break.  They were doing that at a much lower cost than what I was trying to get home to Labrador for.  I was paying $500 for a return ticket all those years ago back in the late 1980s. 

By replacing the student loans with a needs-based grant, it is certainly going to help the people in rural communities, Mr. Speaker.  Students who come from many, many situations where both of the parents are on fixed income and so there is a limitation there with the support they can provide to the students. 

 

Mr. Speaker, we know that Budget 2014 committed to this.  Also, if we look back we see that Budget 2012 and Budget 2013 alluded to this.  When you look a little deeper, you see the amount of student financial services in the last year has actually taken a little dip from prior years.

 

Mr. Speaker, just to explain for the people who might be watching and wondering how the provincial Student Aid program works, we know that depending on your assessed need you could receive up to $140 per week of study in provincial loans and grants.  The first $60 of the $140 is a repayable student loan.  Then we know that if your assessed need for the provincial portion exceeds $60 per week, the remaining amount, up to the maximum of $80 per week, will be issued in the form of a non-repayable grant.

 

We know the eligibility is determined when you apply for a student loan for full-time studies.  I think it is a very positive thing, Mr. Speaker, that this grant is then deposited upfront, right into your bank account.  My colleague referenced the lining up and having long waits to collect your eligibility certificate in the past in order to get your funds.

 

It is true that when you come in, and especially students from rural, there is a lot of money you need out of pocket in the first few weeks.  When you come in and you are securing an apartment, Mr. Speaker, the damage deposit that you pay.  Sometimes right now in the city, because it is very difficult to get an apartment and the cost is high, students from my district are actually having to start paying for an apartment perhaps as early as June or July.  They are really taxed.  The income into those homes, some homes that have two and three students entering into post-secondary the one time, the financial support is just not there.  These are the kinds of families that by replacing the student loans with the needs-based grants are going to be helped tremendously from this.

 

I want to say, Mr. Speaker, the tuition freeze was a wonderful thing in this Province.  We know that was something that was implemented by a Liberal government back in 1999.  That has certainly helped.  Now I am happy to see that we are taking this one step further.  In addition to a tuition freeze, we are going to completely work toward eliminating the loans all together.

 

Mr. Speaker, I do want to mention that the Canadian Federation of Students has estimated that for an investment of approximately $13 million per year, the remaining provincial loan could be replaced with a full provincial loan program of non-repayable grants that would help over 7,000 students per year.  There is a point of clarity and we can ask that later when we are asking questions because that number I just quoted does not quite jive with the government's commitment to the Canadian Federation of Students in 2011 of the $18.9 million over four years. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I am just going to speak for a moment on the impact of debt on students.  Debt is responsible for lower levels of university and college completion, not to mention, Mr. Speaker, the financial stress that is disproportionately borne by those from low-income backgrounds.  As I mentioned, especially in rural communities where families live on fixed income, it is unbelievable what some people are getting by with in my district; $1,000, $1,500 a month into the home.  They simply do not have the money.  So those families will benefit tremendously, Mr. Speaker, from this needs-based grant program. 

 

Mr. Speaker, if we are talking about eliminating poverty, if we are talking about growing the population, education is the key.  I think it was yesterday I quoted it here, that Nelson Mandela quote that I love.  He said: education is the weapon in which we can use to change the world. 

 

Mr. Speaker, we need to start doing more things to target low- income families, to put the supports in place so that kids who are coming from low-income families, kids who come from homes where they are on fixed income, their parents are, they need to be given an opportunity to go out and have a college degree and get a college diploma or acquire a university degree the same way that families who are more well-to-do would be able to afford.  These are the kinds of things that bridges the gap in our society between the very low-income, the working poor, to the more wealthy in our Province. 

 

I am not that old, I am not going to date myself, but I remember growing up as a teenager most of the people, especially the young men along our rural communities, dropped out of high school and they went in the fishing boat.  Even if they had a dream of going to university, the money just was not there in the home.  Big families in small communities, many with eight and ten children.  The older children always worked to help provide an income so that the basic needs of the family were met, which often came down to food and raiment, clothing and food.  Now, Mr. Speaker, students all around Newfoundland and Labrador will benefit from this act. 

 

I am very pleased to be able to speak to it today, Mr. Speaker.  We see that despite more than ten years of progressive policy regarding tuition fees, user fees have increased by over 71 per cent since 1992-1993.  User fees have increased by over 71 per cent – over four times the rate of inflation.  So again, this just hammers home for us the reality and the great, pressing need that there is for us to implement this act, Bill 16, An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act.

 

In addition to the user fees that are up by 71 per cent, we know that students are facing rising rental cost, high gas and oil bills, increasing textbook cost, and an overall increase in the cost of living.  In Labrador, we do have a campus in Labrador City, and with the road connection students have been looking to that campus as an option.  There are some programs offered at that campus in Labrador City that are not offered anywhere else around the Province, like the mining technician program.

 

Mr. Speaker, it sad, the irony in it, because the graduate success rate of students getting jobs coming out of that mining tech program for a number of years consistently have been about 95 per cent; yet, because of the boom in Labrador City, the cost of rental there has gone up astronomically.  The last two or three years that I was in my previous job as an employment councillor, there were students that we actually were able to help with a little bit of funding; but, in the end, they had to turn down the seat that they had been offered at the College of the North Atlantic because the rent in Labrador City was just too high.  They could not afford it, and they did not have supports around them that would enable them to go.  So, that was very sad.

 

I hope, Mr. Speaker, that as we move away from loans into a needs-based, that some of those students will now be able to realize their dreams and go on and be able to help themselves.  Because once you have an education, nobody can take that from you.  When you leave high school, you are not prepared for the job market.  You need to go out and you need to become skilled in a particular area, and then sometimes you need a little bit of assistance in getting into the labour market.  That is what we need.  We need more Newfoundlanders and Labradorians working in Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

I think it is wonderful that the Outlook 2020 is saying we are going to have all these job openings and we are going to need to bring some immigrants in to fill the positions, but our first responsibility has to be to the students, to the young men and women coming out of high school in Newfoundland and Labrador.  They have to have the first chance at those jobs.  By helping them obtain a solid education, that is what we are doing. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal platform back in 2011 replied that it would commit to continuing to fund the tuition freeze.  We saw the value in that.  We saw the benefit.  We saw the dividends that it would pay.  Extending the tuition freeze would keep tuition fees here for university and college students the second lowest in Canada behind domestic tuition fee levels for Quebec residents.

 

Mr. Speaker, that makes our Province a very enticing Province to study in for post-secondary students.  I know for a number of years I was involved with the med faculty over at Memorial University.  It was amazing even how many international students were coming and applying to study here because Memorial University has a sound reputation for good studies, and we have great tuition rates here. 

 

I just want to say that between 2011 and 2013 more than 400,000 students borrowed money to help pay for more schooling.  That is according to the Canadian Federation of Students.  With this amendment to the Schools Act, I am delighted with the number of students we are going to be able to help. 

 

In January 2014, the youth unemployment rate in the country was 13.9 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.  In 2013, young people in the Atlantic Provinces and Ontario had the highest unemployment rate according to a report released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. 

 

Mr. Speaker, one of the ways to eliminate or try and reduce a high youth unemployment rate is through educating our youth and giving them that opportunity to go out, find employment, and support their own self.  We know the amendment under the amendment to the Student Financial Assistance Act – AES we know is seeking an amendment to the Student Financial Assistance Act to develop regulations and policy to provide the authority for government to collect in Newfoundland and Labrador student grants that are deemed to be ineligible.

 

This is a very important amendment, Mr. Speaker, because we want the money to benefit the people who need it most.  If the funding goes out to someone who might have dropped out or might have miscalculated the amount of funding in the pre-study period, then it is very, very important.  The government has an onus and has a responsibility because it is the taxpayers' dollars.  They have a responsibility to collect on student grants that are deemed ineligible.

 

Mr. Speaker, I would love to stand up and talk about an amendment to collect the outstanding debt in the fines department.  I think it may be running up close to around $38 million.  Imagine what we could do for our students if we had some of those millions right now.  Yet, sadly, we see some of those people who owe tens of thousands of dollars in fines are still out on the road driving around in their vehicles.

 

We need the amendment, Mr. Speaker, because currently students are eligible for up to $140 a week provincial funding, $80 in a grant, and $60 in a loan.  We know the loan will be dispersed the first day of class.  That is a very positive thing because as I said earlier that is when most of the cost is incurred and the student is expected to pay out of pocket.  With the full implementation, students eligible for up to $140 a week provincial funding will now be $140 grant and zero in loans.  That is going to be a happy day when students start benefiting from that total grant that will be dispersed on the first day of class.

 

I am very pleased to speak for a few minutes to the act.  I think it is a very positive thing.  It would have been wonderful if it could have been implemented and brought in one phase.  Instead, we know possibly there will be a little bit of confusion as this is phased in over two years.  We will gauge that and see how it goes.

 

Mr. Speaker, I just want to point out for the purpose of the people listening what would be considered ineligible: an increase in or misreporting of the students pre-study and/or in-study resources.  We know that would maybe not make them ineligible for the entire grant, but they would be ineligible for a portion of that.  Of course, a student who would have a withdrawal from full-time studies or quit school, we know they would be ineligible.

 

How will the ineligible grants be recovered?  Mr. Speaker, we know there will be an adjustment to subsequent student financial assistance awards.  They will be required to repay immediately.  The repayment process would be similar to what is in place right now with the student loan. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy; I will be supporting the amendment to Bill 16, An Act To Amend The Student Financial Assistance Act.  I think those are the kind of things that we need to continue to do to support our students and do all we can to help them get the education and get started on the bright road to their future. 

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I take great pleasure in being able to speak here for a few minutes on Bill 16, the amendment to the Student Financial Assistance Act.  This is a piece of legislation that our party will be fully supporting, having looked at it and gotten a very good briefing from the departmental staff at the time.  I have to say all accolades for this piece of legislation; it is a long time coming.

 

To the Canadian Federation of Students, when it comes to activism and pressing an issue, you succeeded, you worked hard to achieve this, so this victory is for the Canadian Federation of Students.  I have to salute them in their activism on this matter.

 

It was also a cornerstone of NDP policy.  Years ago, I think I can go back to the 1990s for that when the party at that particular time picked this particular charge and started speaking out on this issue.  I think everybody has finally come onside with this, including the provincial government of today who brought in this piece of legislation we would have to say not a moment too soon.  It is certainly great to see this piece of legislation coming through the House. 

 

The amendment, of course, gives the government the authority to redefine that portion of post-secondary grants or student loans if the student drops out or has earned too much during pre- or in-study period to qualify for the amount initially granted; a couple of other things that go along with it. 

 

Again, it is a very long time in coming.  Student loans: I can speak about debt.  We know that for a long time students in this Province have been flying away for better opportunities, knowing that they have a growing debt burden caused by probably part of the student loans.  In some cases, you hear of students – and I have heard them many a time in regard to the amount of debt that they are carrying sometimes well in excess of that. 

 

For me particularly, when I went back to school I had the choice, I guess you could say, of going the student loan way, and in the end chose a very different way to do it.  I had to take into consideration how serious I was to actually go out and get a student loan at that particular time, knowing that you were going to be taking a debt load on, knowing that you still had a family, for example, to look after, knowing that you were going to be taking a choice, a different career choice, if you will.  Going back to school and considering debt was a very hard decision, and when you were trying to educate yourself or have your children educated, it is going to be –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I ask all members for their co-operation, please.

 

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker; it is a little bit distracting at times.

 

I have to say, when it comes to families having to take on the choice of carrying debt at the same time, even that is a detriment, sometimes, to even growing your economy.  When I look upon this particular notion of having students not carrying a debt load, it is also about families not carrying a debt load, too.  So this is a very important government initiative and another reason why we have been pushing this for so long, that families as well have to be able to given the freedom of movement – I will call it the freedom of movement – in making choices of what to be doing with their own families, and helping their own children be able to choose a career for the future as well.  Not only to carry that family, or their own family, but to be able to have a participatory role and being able to achieve something great for our economy and for our Province, as well as for themselves.  So this is about personal achievement as well, about being able to reach for that personal goal where a financial burden may have been a detriment to doing that.

 

That is the way that I look at that.  Like I said, in my own personal experience at the same time, raising a family and having the choice of whether to take on that burden, that debt load, was something great in my mind at that particular time.  I went back to school later on in life and did it my own way, type thing, and managed to make a better living for my family at the same time as well.  So I hope that this is going to be a positive initiative that people are going to be able to use to achieve their own goals at the same time.

 

The important point to remember when I was sitting down thinking about when I was being asked to speak to this piece of legislation, I thought about the line: Whoever owns your debt, owns you.  The same goes for a country's economy as much as it does for your own personal economy too – because if you carry debt load it prevents you from being able to, in some cases, make freedom of choice here.  So that is why I say that this is probably one of the more important initiatives here.  This is an initiative, I think, that is going to be able to keep people home in the long run at the same time.  I am very pleased to be able to get up and speak on this initiative today.

 

The other thing that I would like to be able to say about that and just to reinforce it, if you will, now that you are thinking, now that you are in a position where you probably do not have to deal with a big load of student debt, it might encourage more people to go back to school.  That is a very pretty important component of this I think that some people are going to be able to live with and some people are going to be able to think about it a little bit more that it is never too late to go back to school.  If you can say to yourself that perhaps I want to go back and do a different field of study, I am bored at the job that I am at now and I want to improve my own family's well-being, I want to achieve a better income, perhaps that goal would be there for somebody, like I said, to be able to go back and that barrier is taken out of the way.  A financial barrier sometimes is a barrier to a person's own betterment at the same time.  I wanted to reinforce that point. 

 

When I was listening to the minister earlier talking about the small amount of people who may drop out of the program, when it comes to dealing with the student loan issue and talking about the recovery of some of that debt, one of the things that I was thinking about, sometimes students have difficulties in school that may be brought around by the death of family member, it could be personal medical issues that they could be dealing with; but another thing that I also ran into while I was working in the taxi industry, sometimes you run in to students, for example, that go from one environment where they were into a smaller school system, for example, and they might run into the whole culture, what I would call the culture of Memorial University.

 

When you are talking about Memorial University, you are talking about pretty much a second city within the City of St. John's.  Just to use the university as an example, you have upwards of about 17,000 students there at any one time, teachers and faculty keeping those buildings going.  You are talking about some of our younger people simply cannot handle it and they are not used to that type of schooling, so sometimes they will drop out.  Like I said, for the students that I talked to, I say to the minister, of all the students that I talked to most of the problems that were dealt with by the students back then are students that had problems in their first year of schooling.  After that, it was much easier to go through university and everything.  I would hope there would be a mechanism there for government to be able to look and see what is happening with students, and hopefully in those particular cases where there is probably counselling services there that students are going to be able to avail of.  Hopefully in some cases some of the grants may be written off in those cases.  Because sometimes you might think you are able to do something and you simply cannot, in spite of trying.  Sometimes you have to move on and try different things.

 

Again, Mr. Speaker, just to sum up; like I said, a lot of the points have already been talked about.  Congratulations to all of those students out there who fought for this.  This is your day.

 

We will be supporting this piece of legislation.  It is good to see government progressing with this.  We wish those students of the future all the best in being able to make the choice to be able to go back to school.

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

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

 

MR. K. PARSONS: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

It is a privilege to get up here today and say a few words on the bill to amend the Student Financial Assistance Act.  Any opportunity I have to get up and talk about our education system, I feel privileged to get up and speak about it because I am very proud to be part of this government that has done so much for education in this Province.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, when I look at the young people in Newfoundland and Labrador, all I have to do is look at my own two children who have both gone through education and seeing the opportunities that they have in front of them.  Any young person in Newfoundland and Labrador today has opportunities like we have never seen before.  It is a time in our Province when we have never been more successful, opportunities have never been greater, and our students are taking advantage of it.

 

Mr. Speaker, a lot of that has to do with the investments we have been doing in education for the last number of years.  I had an opportunity a couple of times now to get up and speak on the Budget, and each time I did I just wanted to show where we are making our investments and things we are doing to make education affordable.  That is what we are doing, basically, here on this bill today.  Well, the bill today is basically about making sure there is something in place that if a student happens to be – if he has some kind of a reason why he has to stop his education and there is way to get back the grant or the loan that is out there for that student.

 

Mr. Speaker, I just look at the investment of what we are doing here today.  I know hon. members on both sides got up, and as far as I understand everybody seems like they are in favour of this bill.  It seems like it is a great piece of legislation.  I think most people realize the savings that we are doing today are savings to our students.  Savings to our students means they are going to have a brighter future.  They are going to be investing back in our Province, staying here in our Province, and doing the work.  It is a great opportunity to be a student in Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker.

 

This investment that we have done in the Budget with our post-secondary budget announcements was $14.7 million over the next two years to eliminate the provincial student loans.  Over the next five years, Mr. Speaker, that is going to be a $50.6 million investment.  That is a huge investment and investments we are doing.

 

I know the hon. Member for Port au Port stood up and gave us some figures, but I will just go back to what he said.  It kind of really amazed me when I looked at it, Mr. Speaker, because he talked about the savings to students.  He gave an example of a student from the College of the North Atlantic for a one-year program.  The reduction in his payment is 42.1 per cent of what he is going to have to pay back.  On an average, like a person who pays $113 a month will go down to $67 a month.

 

Mr. Speaker, no matter where you go in our Province and what student you talk to, they realize the investments that our government has made over the last number of years in them, in our students, in our young people, will pay off.  It is going to pay off in the future.  Our students are going to be the best educated, with the finest facilities.  The opportunities that are out there today are second to none. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. K. PARSONS: Another example he just gave, too.  A Memorial University student with a four-year undergrad program will benefit by having his or her student loan payments reduced by 44.4 per cent.  Mr. Speaker, that is someone who is paying $300 a month and it goes down to $167 a month. 

 

Mr. Speaker, never in our history have we done so much for students in Newfoundland and Labrador.  I am very proud to be a part of this government that has been doing it since 2003. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, another figure just to show you, since 2005 our government has invested $282 million in the freeze in tuition – $282 million.  That is $280 million savings to the young people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

Mr. Speaker, like I said, there are all kinds of different investments we have done over the years.  I look at some of the investments when I look over at Memorial University – and every day I look over there you can see something new going up over there or some kind of infrastructure plan.  I know there is a new residence over there now.  I am not sure how many units are in that residence, but it is a pretty huge building. 

 

I can only imagine the stress that is going to take off families.  I know when you are a young person who comes in here; a young person comes to St. John's to go to MUN.  I am sure the biggest concern to them and their parents are where are they going to say?  With a building like that and the number of people who can take advantage of that building there, the pressure and everything else that is off every family who has a student come in here. 

 

It is a great opportunity for Newfoundland and Labrador.  It is a great opportunity for our families.  It is a great opportunity for all the young people coming in to get a great education.  Again, Mr. Speaker, never in this Province's history has the opportunities been better for our young people.  We are getting great education.

 

Obviously, you have to change.  Not everybody is going to be a teacher.  Like I said last night when I was doing my thing, most of the ones I am talking to lately, it all seems like they are doing engineering or they are doing something because they are looking at what is out there.  They are looking at the big megaprojects.  They are looking at what is in the future with oil and gas.  They are looking at everything.  They are looking at all the opportunities out there.

 

We know in the next number of years there is going to be a demand for young educated people in this Province.  Mr. Speaker, again, the investments we are making – I look at our young Pages here today.  I am sure they are all pleased with the investments we are making in education so they can have a great education.  They can do what they want to do because that is the opportunity they get here today, in Newfoundland and Labrador, is to be able to decide what I am going to have as a future.  The future for our young people is the brightest it has ever been.

Mr. Speaker, I heard the hon. Member for St. John's North mention, and he was positive about it, how they used to always line up into the Thompson Student Centre, I think he said it was.  They were all trying to get their loans and it was weeks and everything else before – the way this works now is the first day in there, this grant is done.  The loan is done to you, and you are off and running again.  It is a time when the worry is over for the families.  The worry is not there anymore that their loan is not gone through yet; they do not have a place to stay.  This is what we are doing.  We are taking away a lot of pressures put on families.  That is what these investments are doing, like I said, millions and millions of dollars.

 

Mr. Speaker, I spoke to a gentleman from Nova Scotia and he told me his son was coming to MUN.  I said: Oh, yeah.  He said: Newfoundland should be really proud of what they have over there; it is one of the best facilities in all of Canada.  I am sure there are people from all over Canada coming to Memorial University, the College of the North Atlantic, and the Marine Institute.  It is because of the quality of the education, number one, because you do come for quality, but also the cost of our education. 

 

Making it affordable for people to be able to come here, too, is very important.  Who knows?  They may stay and decide: Listen here, Newfoundland is a whole lot nicer than Nova Scotia.  I am going to stay in that place.  There are a whole lot of places there I would like to visit.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. K. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, again, the other figure that really surprised me on this – well, it did not surprise me, to tell you the truth.  Do you know what?  There are 7,000 students taking advantage of this, 7,000 students that we are helping out by assisting them and paying post-secondary education with the grants.

 

Mr. Speaker, this piece of legislation today is basically to enable us to be able to recover some of the money.  If a person for some reason or another does not go on to his education and does get the grant, we need some mechanism to be able to get that money back so we can reinvest it into other people who are looking for grants and loans.  It is not to go out and just say: Listen, you are finished your education now and you owe us a slew of money.  It may change.  Something may change.

 

I know young people today, it is hard to decide when you come out of high school that decision.  What am I going to do?  You are seventeen years old and you are looking and figuring, what am I going to do?  Sometimes they change their minds.  Sometimes maybe Memorial University is not for me; maybe the Marine Institute is.  They do decide after a couple of months.  This is just putting in place a mechanism so we can say, okay, this is the regulation.  There may be some part of this that is already spent, you are not going to recover, and here is what you spent it on, but there will be a process in place.  That is all this amendment basically is doing today.

 

Mr. Speaker, like I said, I feel so strongly about education and I feel so strongly about the investments our government has made over the last number of years.  I am sure our students are proud to be Newfoundlanders and Labradorians; I am sure they are proud their government is doing what they are doing.  I know when an announcement was made from the loans to the grants I was watching a news clipping.  I think it was on NTV or CBC, one of them.  They were talking to students and they were just so delighted that here is another thing they are doing and here is something else we are doing.  I am sure other parties on the other side recognize the value of our students; I am sure they recognize what our government is after doing, too, and investments in our students. 

 

Not only have we invested in post-secondary, Mr. Speaker, but we started right from the level from where we gave free books.  Our investment in making sure young people going up through – the pressure of books does not cause the parents to worry about the first day of school.  We are doing the same thing with our post-secondary education with these investments. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I am going to sit down now and just say that I think as a member for the great district and beautiful District of Cape St. Francis I am so proud of this government and the investments we have done in education, both in post-secondary and –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. K. PARSONS: It makes me proud every time to be able to get up here in this House of Assembly and talk about our young people because they are our future.  Mr. Speaker, I know the young people of Newfoundland and Labrador appreciate the investments we have made in them because they are our future.

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER (Littlejohn): The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

At this time I move, seconded by the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services, that we adjourn debate on this bill. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved by the Government House Leader and seconded by the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services that we adjourn debate.

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

MR. SPEAKER: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

At this time I call a Concurrence Motion from the Order Paper, and we will do 2(b), the Resource Committee.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. BRAZIL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It is an honour to stand in this House again this afternoon and talk about the discussions around the Resource Committee Estimates in dealing with a number of very important departments and some very open discussion we had with our Committee members.  First of all, I am just going to note who members of this Committee are: the Member for The Straits – White Bay North; Signal Hill – Quidi Vidi; Bonavista North; Lake Melville; Carbonear – Harbour Grace; Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune; and myself, Mr. Speaker.

 

Also, the Resource Committee, the departments we dealt with and had an open debate on the Estimates were the Department of Advanced Education and Skills; Fisheries and Aquaculture; Environment and Conservation; Tourism, Culture and Recreation; Natural Resources; and Innovation, Business and Rural Development.  Mr. Speaker, we had a good collage there of very important departments who do a lot of social, a lot of business-oriented stuff, a lot of investment, a lot of our natural resource development, and a lot of our programs and services that are ecologically beneficial to the people in this Province.

 

We had a great debate over our sittings.  Some of our sittings were daytime; some were nighttime.  I had the privilege, Mr. Speaker, of chairing for the third time under the Estimates of the Resource Committee.

 

Just when I got elected a little over three years ago in a by-election, I came into my first sitting in the House and I remember the House Leader coming to me and saying: You are going to sit on the Resource Committee.  I had no idea what that meant at the time, just as one of the Committee members.  I remember sitting here trying to get an idea.  I was fairly familiar with the Budget process, but I had never been intricately connected to the Estimates and the process that went on.

 

I can remember sitting in on a couple of sittings.  I think one night we went six hours straight with Natural Resources and had a very open discussion about the start of Muskrat Falls and what it meant.  I can remember the member for the Opposition at the time was continuously, for a number of hours, throwing out and trying to get away from the Estimates and the line estimate part of the process, continuously saying about doubling light bills.  Well, we knew after all this process came and that was dispelled, that was not factual.  Then I got a better understanding of exactly what goes on in Estimates.

 

Then when I got an opportunity to Chair, I said, well, we are going to try to stick to exactly the intent of the Estimates.  When we met with the line ministers – and I give credit to the Committee, I very much give credit to the Committee, for the last three years.  While I understand they want to get into some policy, and that is relevant, I understand sometimes they want clarification.  The ministers were very co-operative to say there was some leeway.  We can go talk about policy, as long as we deal with the dollar figures that are there in the Estimates because that is what it is about, verifying that those dollars are in-line with exactly what programs are going to be offered, and explaining to the people, because this is what it is.  It is the people's House. 

 

The Opposition, the three parties, all have the ability to ask questions.  They all have a responsibility to make sure the information out there is open to the general public, so a business, an individual citizen, or a not-for-profit organization would understand what programs are being offered, what kind of monies are being offered for that line, what the time frames are, and in principle some of the parameters around how you access that. 

 

I give credit.  There were some really good open discussions.  Sometimes there was even some bantering back and forth on debate.  At the end of the day, I found in my three years as Chair all parties were very respectful of the process and at the end of the day all got signed off.  There was never having to sign off for the sake of saying we are closing debate.  It did not work that way.

 

Sometimes you had to try to ask people to stick to the points and most people did that, if not all.  I have to say, Mr. Speaker, it was one of the pleasant experiences of taking the lead when we banter back and forth between parties and we have different philosophies or different approaches to it.  That worked very well.  I found this year it worked equally well as we went through it.

 

I also want to thank some of the members here because everybody had very busy schedules getting other people to fill in as we went through the process.  I know the Member for Baie Verte – Springdale filled in on many times and actually came – I have to give credit to my colleague here – and sat in.  He was very interested in knowing what was happening.  He was very interested in knowing how that could benefit his part of the Province and his district, and a better understanding.  When there is a discussion with a minister or when the Opposition are making points, he would have a clear understanding of whether or not there are some merits to what they are saying there.

 

Also the Member for Kilbride who filled in on a number of occasions, I appreciate that, and my colleague from Port au Port.  There are a number of people who filled in.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Teamwork.

 

MR. BRAZIL: It was teamwork across the board.  When people filled in they understood the process.  It happened that members on the opposite side also filled in for each other.  It shows how we look and the all-party process works.  In this case it worked very efficiently and people got the information they needed. 

 

It was recorded.  The general public has access to it.  There is nothing hidden here.  It is explained.  Sometimes there was probably more detailed information that was needed.  Ministers agreed: ask the questions, send the request, and the information will be shared.  That process is happening now. 

 

Ministers are gone back to their line departments and asking: Can you look up what is happening in this; or can you get us a list of exactly what grants were funded, to what organizations, and what some of the impacts were?  That is information that was shared.  Regardless of who asked it, it is going to be shared with all Committee members.  I saw that as a very positive thing as we went through.

 

As I noted, you really look at the departments that we discussed here.  Advanced Education and Skills is perhaps the most broad-range department we have in this government right now when you look at the social programs, the employment programs, some of the supportive mechanisms we have there, some of the youth initiatives we have, particularly around some of the new creative initiatives we have, and some of the issues around persons with disabilities and housing.  There are a number of things there that actually made it so there was never going to be a dull moment.  As you went through one heading and passed that, there was going to be some good discussion, but you could see the flow, and the flow in this department was about how we improve the stake people have in this Province, how we improve their role in life, how we make sure that we give them supports to move forward.  There were very positive things and I am very happy to be part of that open discussion and we moved it forward.

 

Fisheries and Aquaculture, another great department there; we had some real good debate around where we are and some of the challenges that we have in the fishing industry, some of the challenges that we have because we do not get to control things that we want to control.

 

The aquaculture industry, how we see how that is moving forward.  Even when every now and then we hit a little glitch in the road, how things are very positive and we have invested in the right way so that people can diversify how our economy moves forward and how that industry itself can grow.  We have done that very positively as we went through.

 

We talked about even the impact that the CETA agreement would have.  There was some open dialogue, I give credit – the minister was not holding anything back.  He explained where this would go.  He explained what the vision was for down the road.  He explained what some of the challenges may be from a federal-provincial agreement.  There was good open discussion about how this could be seen as a positive thing.  I did not see a lot of negativity from the Opposition when they were coming back, particularly after things were explained.  So these were all positive things that went there.

 

We look at Environment and Conservation, all the things that we are doing here: the things that we are very aware of that have to be done in our environment; how things are changed in our industries; how we are making sure that people are aware of what we have to offer, the supports.  This is not just about: We give you money or you give us money in return for payments.  This is about: We support each other, how we develop partnerships.  In these cases, particularly around Environment and Conservation, how we do that.  How everybody understands their role, their responsibility and some of the privileges they have in dealing with the ecology we have in this Province, the beautiful landscape that we have.  That was a very positive discussion there.

 

Tourism, Culture and Recreation: It is perhaps the most uplifting department that you can get in because everything is in a positive mode.  There are always things moving forward.  Our industries are there as part of this whole process.

 

The tourism industry is a booming industry, something that we took as an infant and now made it into a very stellar adult and we are moving that forward.  We are leading the country in everything, not only our ads but in particular how we draw people and the type of entertainment that we have for people, the type of exposure they have to our culture and how we have spread the culture from Nain, Labrador to Carbonear to the West Coast to the Burin Peninsula to Burgeo.  All these things that we are trying to say, this is not just based on one particular geographic area.  It is not based on one particular demographic when it comes to what political party or what your representative is, the political stripe they have.  This is about: We have resources, we have something we can sell to people, and we put it out there and put it out there very eloquently and put it out there very professionally.  We are very proud of that.

 

We talked about our recreation, how we have improved our recreation facilities in this Province.  They are second to none.  In the last ten years we have given our athletes, competitive athletes or recreation or social athletes, the ability to be better engaged.  They have healthier lives.  Communities feel pride about what they have in facilities there, and being able to engage their own local teams and their own local communities, very much so.

 

Natural Resources, Mr. Speaker, as you know, we have moved things forward in the last number of years.  We are trying to diversify our economy through our mineral investments, through some of the new things we are doing in the mining industry, what we are doing in the natural gas industry, what we are doing in the oil industry, but particularly what we are trying to do in clean energy and what we are doing with Muskrat Falls.

 

We were criticized yesterday.  Somebody spoke up in one of the Opposition parties and said we are spending $7 billion in Muskrat Falls.  Yes, we are.  You are right, we are.  We are investing $7 billion so that not only do we have clean energy, but we also have future revenue.  We also take care of the next generation, the existing generation, and future generations.  It puts us on a global market.

 

What was neglected to say we have also spent, in that same period of time that we are going to spend $7 billion, $25 billion in social programs for the people of this Province, in investments in infrastructure, making sure that people have proper health care, that people have proper education, and that young people have an ability to broaden their horizons, to know more about careers, to be able to expose themselves to what is going on in the world, and in turn bring people to this Province for investment purposes, but also bring them here because of the cultural benefits we offer to people.  There are all kinds of things going on there.

 

We have heard the minister talk about how we are moving some of these positive things forward and how we are using our partnerships with other provinces and with international companies to make sure the benefits to the people of this Province are second to none and that they are long term.  We are diversifying who we are and what we do.

 

There was a great open discussion about what we invest.  A lot of the programs and services we do are partnership related.  I thought that was very innovative.  It is not just about: Here is some money, now go do your job, we will look at it, and tell you whether or not we like it.  This is about: We have a stake in this.  The more partners you can bring to the table, the more successful we know it is going to be and the more beneficial it is going to be to the people involved because more stakeholders have an input into what is happening here.  That seemed to be a very positive approach.

 

I did not see any negativity.  That is the one thing I found here.  When the people were enlightened or it was explained to them, even if they did not totally agree with the amount of money we put into it or the approach we are using, they did understand the benefit behind the approach we were going with.  People understood the best way to do things is with partnerships.  I would hope whatever Administration we are in would accept that process.  We have been very successful with that and there is no doubt we will continue to do that.

 

We looked at Innovation, Business and Rural Development, again, one of those stellar departments that give a leg up for people.  It invites people to come in and say: Look, you have some creative ways of doing things.  We want to develop some partnerships.  You want to bring something here that normally is not a standard of what we do, but it can benefit the people here, be it through a service, through an investment, through creating employment, through a different product, or through a different type of service we need.  We want to bring you in.  Come on, you are engaged.  Let us come in and talk.  We will help you get to the next stage.

 

If you come in with an idea and may not have the expertise to develop the business plan, may not have the expertise to bring in proper consultants, may not have the expertise to be able to put the time frames in place we have that, we have that expertise to work with.  If it is a viable business, we will support you wherever we can.  We will try to open markets.  We will try to open the partnerships that need to be developed.  We have been very successful in being able to do that. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I want to say that six line departments are only a small example of what we do as an Administration and what the other line departments do.  We have been very happy to have that process to go through what has been done. 

 

I might note, too, outside of all of this that we talked about, the monies that we spend – and fair enough, we have an $8 billion budget; money goes out.  We are answerable for where the money goes.  We want to guide it in the right direction.  We outline programs and services, and it should be noted, programs and services that we outline are driven by the front-line people; they are driven by our civil servants.  The civil servants' information is coming from those users, coming from the clients, coming from the customers.  They are the people who have said over the course of a year: We need a program that addresses this issue, or we need supports in this area, or we would like to partner on this particular endeavour.  This is where the things come from.

 

People think we sit as politicians in here – and I would like to be able to say we all know a little bit about everything, but that is not the way it works.  We all know a little bit about a number of things and probably we know a lot about some things, but we need the people that we have around us.  Our civil servants are second to none.  They are very able to be able to develop programs and services that will encourage us to move things forward.

 

What they have, Mr. Speaker, is the front-line connection with the people in this Province, the innovators, the creators, those people who are out in the field who may have limited education, limited experience, but do know what is needed.  When they pass on that information, when they pass it on to the civil servants who then analyse where it fits, when they put it together and they come up with a structure and then come to a line senior executive, then come to ministers, then come to Cabinet, then we get our programs that are reflected in our budget lines, and reflected on the amount of money that we should be investing in particular lines. 

 

We have to have a good balance here, we have to have a social conscience, we have to have an economic investment, but we also have to be prudent on where our money goes.  We need to be able to make enough money back to be able to not only sustain that, but improve it. 

 

There is no doubt there are going to be issues, there are going to be new programs, and there are going to be things that we develop that we want to build on.  We need to be able to have that ability to grow things.  That is where we have gone; we have gone from budgets of $3.5 billion.  I sat in this House thirty-two years ago when John Collins was the Minister of Finance and watched him put out his budget; $2.1 billion and that considered an extreme amount of money, debt ridden and everything else. 

 

What we have done now is diversified where our revenue streams come from, made it work so that we have also addressed that we are no longer behind in our infrastructure needs now and that we are catching up.  Do we still have a ways to go?  Sure, we do.  Has each line department started addressing some of those?  Sure, they have and we continue to do that, and we will continue to do that, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I want to note, too, that as we go through this process the line departments that we had discussed here generate nearly $2 billion in revenue through their partnerships and investment, particularly around natural resources and those areas.  Some of the other areas where people are acquiring land, there are permit's fees.  There are support fees and these types of things. 

 

So, not only do we spend money, and we are responsible for that, but we also generate money and we are responsible for where that money goes.  We are also responsible for how we make sure each department has the ability to generate.  Some departments generate money which gets put into programs, other departments solely spend money because they are social oriented or they are support oriented.  That is how a good economy works.  It has good fiscal management and it is how things move forward.

 

I also want to note a few things we had talked about yesterday.  Particularly, I am going to pick the Department of Advanced Education and Skills.  As I mentioned at the onset, that is a department that is vast; very vast for a number of reasons.  One is the people it serves, and the backgrounds they may have and the demographics and this type of thing, but also the fact that it is perhaps our most socially conscious one. 

 

Health is a generic.  We understand that.  Health is everybody's concern.  When we deal with AES, there are a number of things there that we have to look at: housing issues, Income Support, persons with disabilities, mobility issues, all kinds of relevant things there.  Even young men and women who are in the trades needing that first leg, needing to get from apprenticeship to journeyperson, being able to get that first job.  Being able to have confidence that they can now contribute back, because they do not have to move out of this Province and they have a skillset here they can use.

 

I want to note some of the things we were criticized for yesterday by one of the Opposition members here.  It was around Newfoundland and Labrador Housing.  Mr. Speaker, I had the privilege a number of years ago of working with Newfoundland and Labrador Housing.  I know at the time we had challenges because there were limited funds, but we took that money and made sure it represented the particular needs of our clientele group there – our particular clientele group.

 

I am just going to note a number of the things we now have that we offer when it comes to affordable housing; investments in standard housing, how we subsidize part of the housing.  Do we need to go further?  Sure we do.  We talk about it in caucus, our colleagues talk about it.  We talk about it with the cities.  We talk about it with the agencies and organizations.  We need to be able to improve on it, but here is where we have come, Mr. Speaker. 

 

This goes to prove how we are committed to the social programs here, particularly around the housing things.  Some of the rental housing programs, $9 million a year just for the Rent Supplement Program.  That is a lot we put out there for people so we can make it easier for people to be able to find affordable housing. 

 

Do we have challenges in the Northeast Avalon?  Yes.  The economy has been so robust that things have boomed, probably even beyond our expectations.  Now we have to find a happy medium.  How do we get back so people can still afford a decent apartment or house in this area on a fixed income or on a low-income?  We need to do that. 

 

Those people who have some special needs, we need to find ways of being able to do that.  We have done that.  We have found ways where people could have older homes, yet make them energy efficient by improving the aesthetics of that, by investing in some of our home modification repair ones, particularly around those people who have mobility issues.  We have done that, $8 million a year.  It is a major investment there. 

 

There is great uptake.  There is not one client who gets it who does not say it has changed their life.  I have seen a number of my constituents who have done it, speak very highly of it, very proud of what they have done.  It has made their lives a little bit more convenient and much more accessible. 

 

Residential Energy Efficiency Program, REEP, is $4 million.  Not only are we trying to get green energy but we are also trying to lead by example in green energy, get everybody else to be able to say if you can save money and help the environment, it is a win-win for everybody.  People then would have that extra disposable income to put into whatever else that drives them in their life, whatever makes them comfortable as they move forward.

 

Investment in affordable housing, $68 million we have invested in the last number of years, $28 million this year alone.  This is a year where we are going to do some extra call for not-for-profits here to look at affordable housing.  Another part of programs that we developed was that we develop partnerships with the industry out there.  The industry knows how to drive this.  We know what it is we need.  The industry knows how to put it there.  The clients have told us what it is that is going to make their lives a little bit more convenient, what it is they need to be able to get that extra supports to be able to take control of their lives.  We have been very happy to be able to do that.

 

The Provincial Homelessness Fund, Mr. Speaker, $1 million, something – because Newfoundland, I give credit.  Thank God of our family supports, that over the years people have had that extra bit.  There are couch surfers no doubt, and there is no doubt people still have to rely and live on the streets.  We are trying to change that with our partnerships with a number of agencies here; the homeless association, Choices for Youth.  A number of these organizations have managed to partner with us and in turn we have partnered with them, and in turn partnered with the private sector and the federal government.  We have managed to make, at this point, over $20 million worth of investments between the partnerships in the last four years in this Province, Mr. Speaker.

 

We have done a lot of really positive things.  That is just in one little entity, in one little part of one department.  These are major investments we have made to improve people's lives.  Is there room for improvement?  Yes, without a doubt.  Do we discuss it every day?  Do departments look at modifying?  Do ministers talk to their executive?  Do the executive talk to the front line staff?  Does the front line staff talk to the partners?  Sure they do.  The one intention, Mr. Speaker, is to improve the lives of the people of this Province.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl South.

 

MR. LANE: Yes, thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It is a pleasure to have an opportunity to speak in this House once again today on the Budget and the concurrence motion. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I just want to take a little different approach today.  The last couple of times I spoke about the school situation in Mount Pearl, which is a very important issue.  Hopefully, I get some time towards the end of my twenty minutes; I am certainly going to go back there. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I want to talk a little about the housing situation and the widening gap between those who have and those who have not.  I was prompted to do so, Mr. Speaker, by a resident of my district, a constituent.  I had a long chat with her yesterday about her particular situation, and her situation as it relates to housing, her situation as it relates to her ability to pay the rent, her ability to keep the heat, keep the lights on, pay her phone bill, and have enough food in her cupboards to sustain herself.

 

This is a person who worked for many years, but unfortunately never worked in a situation where she had a government pension.  Although it was an agency doing work for the government, but it did not qualify her for any benefits – which is what we see quite often when it comes to people who are working in home care, people looking after the elderly, disabled, and so on.  Quite often government utilizes agencies and so on.  While the funding is ultimately coming from the public purse, the people who are taking care of our most vulnerable, these people are simply not getting compensated very well in many cases, and they are not receiving benefits.

 

This particular person, and in her particular situation, ended up taking ill, came down with a serious illness.  She had so many weeks of I guess it was sick leave unemployment, whatever the case might be.  Once that ran out, she found herself in a very difficult situation trying to live with very little income coming in through the door, and actually had to revert to the Provincial Income Support system. 

 

Of course, when we look at the amount of money people are receiving in Income Support, and then you factor that in with the price of housing, the price for an apartment and so on, this particular lady has been living in this residence for a number of years and she has steadily seen her rent increase, because with the housing market, as we have heard people talk about here in the past – with that housing market, with the boom, we will call it for lack of a better term.  The boom depends on who you talk to.  Some people are experiencing the boom.  Some people in this part of the Province are experiencing it.  Certainly, people who are living in the Long Harbour area and so on, the Clarenville area who are working at Bull Arm, Long Harbour, and all those places, those people are benefitting.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) in Glovertown.

 

MR. LANE: I heard somebody say Glovertown, and good for them.  If that is happening in Glovertown, I am glad to hear it.

 

The bottom line is sometimes being in that area where the boom is felt is actually a negative thing for somebody who is on a low income, somebody who is on a fixed income, and so on.  This is the situation this particular lady finds herself in, where rent has gone through the roof because of the high rental rates as a result of this boom in St. John's, Mount Pearl, and we will say the Northeast Avalon area, and finding it extremely difficult, almost impossible, to live.

 

Mr. Speaker, we hear of these stories all the time, and this is not the first person I have been contacted by in my district who is experiencing this problem.  I have had a number of others.  Now, granted, I am fortunate, I suppose, in the sense that perhaps my district, if you were to look at it statistically and in terms of the number of concerns brought to me in my district as compared to perhaps the Member for St. John's South, the Member for St. John's Centre, and the Member for St. John's North, I would suggest the volume is much higher.  In those particular districts, there are more people who are living in the inner-city areas, a lot of people on fixed incomes, a lot of people in social housing, and so on, and they are all experiencing these challenges.  I do get some nonetheless.

 

This particular lady called me and said: Paul, I want you to speak out on my behalf as my MHA, as someone in your district who is experiencing this.  So I said to that lady, that particular constituent: Absolutely I will.  I said I have been preoccupied, no doubt, lately with the school situation in Mount Pearl, the disastrous situation in terms of the schools in Mount Pearl, but I am going to speak out on this issue for you and I will continue to be mindful of it and speak out about it more and more, which I intend to do.

 

Mr. Speaker, quite often we hear the government members talking about all the money they are spending on this, that, and everything else.  They will talk the millions of dollars in social housing and millions of dollars in education or whatever.  If the number is not high enough in any given year, then they will say, well, over the last five years we have put whatever, so then it makes a big number, an inflated number, over the last ten years or whatever.  Again, it inflates the numbers to give this impression of all of the money that is going in. 

 

I am not disputing, and nobody over on this side of the House of Assembly, certainly my colleague here from St. John's South, would ever dispute the fact that government is investing in social housing and we would never dispute the fact that there have been some good programs brought forth by the government, programs we all support.  I am sure members over there support it, members over here support it, the Official Opposition, and I am sure members of the Third Party support it as well.

 

We talk about programs like the residential energy repair program, a program that allows individuals on the lower income levels to be able to, in many cases, retrofit their homes with perhaps windows, properly sealed windows, doors, and so on.  In many cases, that is what comes from it to keep the heat in and lower their heat bills.  Everybody over here on this side of the House would applaud that.  We agree with it. 

 

We talk about the residential Home Repair Program, again, another good program.  Nobody on this side of the House would ever dispute that it is a good program.  There is no doubt it targets people, again, on the lower income scale and it allows them to get some much-needed repairs to their home.  We would certainly applaud that. 

 

We have another program whereby people with mobility challenges, disabilities and so on – I forget the exact name of the program, but again, that is another one administered through Newfoundland and Labrador Housing where people can perhaps get a ramp put in; perhaps they can get one of those bathtubs that you can just open a door and walk into, grab bars, and all that kind of stuff to retrofit their home for people who have medical issues, mobility issues, and so on – disabilities.  Nobody over on this side of the House would dispute that.  That is a good program. 

 

That being said, though, when we talk about pure numbers, we talk about budgetary numbers and the amount we have put in over the last year, the last five years, ten years, or whatever.  That all sounds wonderful, it does, and if we are giving increases that is a positive thing as well, but talking about numbers and talking about increases in budgets does nothing for the person who is left behind because there is not enough money to go around.  It does nothing.

 

It is great for the person who qualifies for the residential energy repair program this year.  It is great for the person who qualifies for the Home Repair Program.  It is great for the person who receives a unit from Newfoundland and Labrador Housing.  It is great for the person who receives a rent supplement from Newfoundland and Labrador Housing, but the problem we have is not everybody who needs it, and legitimately needs it, gets it – not everybody who legitimately needs it gets it. 

 

What happens to those people?  Many of those people are people who have disabilities.  Many of those people are senior citizens.  I think when you look at our status as a have Province, and I understand that is just a calculation they use in Ottawa to determine whether we receive transfer payments and so on, but nonetheless we are a have Province.  We are supposed to be paying our own way and looking after our people.

 

When we hear about senior citizens who in the wintertime have to go to the Avalon Mall or they have to go to the Village Mall to stay warm because they cannot afford to keep the heat on in their home, then I believe collectively we are failing people when that is happening.  When we have people going to the food banks on a regular basis, and we are seeing an increase is my understanding in use at the food banks, when that is happening in our current situation with the oil royalties and everything else, then we are failing the people.

 

Now, Mr. Speaker, I will be the first to admit, and I said it when I was on the other side of the House of Assembly and I will maintain it, all the decisions we make in this House of Assembly need to focus on the taxpayer, the ordinary person who gets up every day, gets themselves to work, they work for a living, and they work hard. 

 

In many cases, people in my district, I am sure most districts – certainly I can speak to mine – many of the homes there are two people working.  The husband and the wife, or the partner, are both working and paying taxes.  All they do is they work, they get home, they look after the kids, they go to bed, they get up the next day and they work, and so on.  They try to eke out a living and pay their bills, have a home, have a vehicle, keep their kids fed, in school, maybe in some kind of a sport, and maybe even a little vacation every now and then.  There is nothing wrong with that.

 

While they are doing all this, they are paying taxes, and it is their money that we are spending in this House of Assembly.  We can never lose focus on that, and that is why sometimes when I hear members talking about oh, you know, giving themselves a pat on the back because we invested $10 million here, and $20 million here, and $100 million there –

 

MR. FORSEY: It is more than that.

 

MR. LANE: The member across the way is saying “more than that”, and good for you – but it is the people's money that you are spending.  Let us not kid ourselves, we are not writing personal cheques.  These are not personal cheques, this is the people's money, these are taxes that hard-working Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are paying, and we are just simply spending that money, and we are choosing how that money gets spent.  So then it comes down to priorities. 

 

Mr. Speaker, when we are spending the people's money –

 

MR. FORSEY: (Inaudible) kilometres to drive to spend any of the money.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl South.

 

MR. LANE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I would say to the Member for –

 

MR. FORSEY: Exploits.

 

MR. LANE: – Exploits that he will certainly have his opportunity to speak, and I would challenge him to get up on his feet and speak, as I am doing, without speaking notes written for him, actually use his own mind, his mouth, and speak his own words.  I challenge him to do it.  He should try it sometime; he might like it.  Cut the puppet strings and give it a try.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, as I was saying –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. LANE: As I was saying, Mr. Speaker, or trying to say before I was so rudely interrupted once again, as normal practice, people have to pay for all this.  When people are paying for this stuff out of their tax dollars, I think people, when they are doing it they want us to prioritize for them how we spend that money.

 

Mr. Speaker, I really do not believe the people, in terms of prioritizing that, would have any issue whatsoever around us actually putting additional money and putting it into things like social housing.  I do not think they would have any issue with us putting that into more residential energy repair programs.  I do not think they would have an issue putting it into dental care.  I do not think they would have an issue into even raising the threshold to some degree.

 

We have a lot of people, Mr. Speaker, who are on fixed incomes.  Those particular people, because they may be $100 or a couple of hundred dollars over a very low threshold, they do not qualify for any programs.  I have a number of people in my district who have come to me with that issue as well, where they make just enough that they are just barely over that threshold.  Because they are over that threshold, guess what?  They do not qualify for anything.

 

The only thing they qualify for is for paying taxes, but they do not quality for residential energy home repair.  They do not qualify for the provincial home repair.  They do not get any of the Home Heating Rebates or any of these other programs.  They do not qualify for any of it, Mr. Speaker – none of it.

 

I think, Mr. Speaker, that is an issue for those people.  I think as a collective group here we should be working on improving their station in life.  I would challenge members on the other side to stand up and say what I am saying here in this House of Assembly is a bad thing and that what I am saying here is wrong.  They know it is not wrong because I am sure they have people in their districts, like I have people in my district, who have the same challenges on trying to get by day by day on the government programs which are currently available to them.  I think we should be working towards improving their lot in life as well so that those people do not fall between the cracks. 

As we see our economy growing, as we see more development, as we see bigger booms occurring, then what we are seeing is that gap between those who have and those who have not, we are seeing an increase.  That is what we are seeing, Mr. Speaker.  We have to be working together to try to narrow that gap for those people.  I think that is a laudable goal for all of us.  It is a laudable goal for all of us to do that. 

 

It is interesting that, again, you hear members over there making light of it, laughing at it; they think it is a joke.  Maybe they think it is funny that we would want to tell help people on low income, to help senior citizens, to help people with disabilities.  I do not think it is a joke, my colleagues do not, and we will fight for those people, despite those members across the way. 

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Bonavista North. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. CROSS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

It is indeed a great opportunity to stand up and try to bring some sense to the debate this afternoon.  We are now speaking in Concurrence debate.  I guess for the audience who is watching now, who just tuned in, who did not see the changeover when we changed to this debate about forty minutes ago, right now we are talking about the meetings that were held by various committees that met.

 

They are broken into three different categories: the resource sector, social sector and government services sector.  Each of these groups met to question officials from the various departments in government and the ministers on expenditures in budget line items in this year's Budget. 

 

As we devoted that time to drill down into how the department was spending their money, most of this time was allocated to members of the Opposition so they could gather a greater understanding, I guess, of how the money was being spent and questioned certain amounts that went here and there. 

 

Like the Member for Kilbride last night, he got up and spoke about something that is not normally talked about; he brought a different story to the House of Assembly.  I am sort of motivated today that I am going to wander slightly from this.  I am going to stick within my Resource Committee Estimates meetings, but rather than talking about the line items and some of these things and the expenditures and just throw out all statistics and dollars that are spent, what I am going to talk about are the six different portfolios that fall within the resource sector and talk about the services that are provided to this Province through these departments and put a different flesh on the bones of what we are doing.

 

I am going to share what the mandates are for each of these departments and talk about how in some of these departments we are constantly just spending money to develop further investments in the Province; but, in other cases, as was already mentioned by the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island, the Chair of this Committee, some departments are actually revenue-generating departments and they actually bring money as well into the coffers of our Province.

 

On top of just coming to sittings here in the House of Assembly on the Budget debate, this Resource Committee met six times, for three hours each, and we allowed members on the Committee to question.  There was a total of approximately eighteen hours of questioning on the expenditures and the programs.  In lots of cases, the members came in and they talked about policy and they tried to get into inside the heads of the ministers in different ways.  That was a sharing of the concept, I guess, of why and how the money is being spent, not just exactly what it is being spent for.

 

The resource sector, Mr. Speaker, includes as the Chair said, Advanced Education and Skills; Environment and Conservation; Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture; Innovation, Business and Rural Development; Natural Resources; and Tourism, Culture and Recreation.  These are the six resource sector portfolios.  These are the departments of government that are covered in this resource sector.

 

The total budget for the resource sector is approximately $1.8 billion in 2014.  That is one billion, 800 million dollars, as well as some other odd cents, but $1.8 billion.  That is 22 per cent of the provincial Budget, Mr. Speaker. 

 

What I want to do in the next few minutes I am going to take – and these are my own notes drawn from some of the Estimates booklets and some of the other things on the different Web sites of government.  I want to share, I want to educate, and I want maybe to bring some of the services of each of these six departments to the populous through our media today. 

 

I am sure most of the members in this House of Assembly all understand every single service of every single department and we do not need this for all of us in here.  Maybe there are some of us, Mr. Speaker, who might not understand all of these services and then we can offer a better service to our constituents by taking in this sort of lesson today.

 

Advanced Education and Skills is where I would like to start, Mr. Speaker.  In Advanced Education and Skills the total budget for both current and capital is $900 million.  That is 0.9 of $1 billion.  That is about half of the resource sector spending is going in Advanced Education and Skills.  What most people do not realize is that this is a very, very vast department of government.  This is a very, very huge portfolio.  It has a mandate to ensure that the Province has highly-educated post-secondary graduates and skilled workers.  That is one of its main mandates. 

 

That is a mouthful in itself, Mr. Speaker, to really try to size it all up.  This portfolio ensures that the Province has highly-educated post-secondary graduates who will become the skilled workers for all of these positions.  We have been talking for the last two or three years about the 70,000 jobs that are going to be created in the skilled sector.  Of all these jobs, if we are going to be poised to take advantage of all this great development that this Province has to offer, then we have to have employees with these skills. 

 

No one can tell me, Mr. Speaker – no one – on either side of this House that we do not have the people resources in this Province to be able to man most of these jobs.  What we are not able to handle obviously we have to import.  For the most part, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians should be able and are able and are capable of handling these skills, these jobs. 

 

We have proven it in developments and other parts of the world some of the greatest workers out there are the Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who go out there.  People are thrilled to have Newfoundlanders and Labradorians on their teams.  Mr. Speaker, what we really need is to bring back these Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to help develop our own Province and to show we can be the leaders in our own Province.

 

The host of services, as I was getting ready to talk about, in Advanced Education and Skills – and once I pay attention to the clock, I might run out before I get to the end of Advanced Education and Skills and not talk about all six, but I will have another opportunity to stand up, Mr. Speaker.  The host of services – and I tried to create a list, and I am going to expound on a couple of these, but for the expediency of time I want to refer to my list I have created.

 

The service there that we help employers in accessing and keeping the skilled employees, and I have just talked about that a little bit, but we are also through Advanced Education and Skills going to support delivery of post-secondary education through our public colleges, through Memorial University and College of the North Atlantic, but also through the private colleges.  Mr. Speaker, we can see the change of how we are now developing, redeveloping, and redefining courses.  Certain courses are in the syllabi of these educational institutions and some are being taken out.

 

We are looking at the enrollments in some of these, Mr. Speaker, and seeing when the enrollments are very low and we are spending a lot of money to furnish a course that no one seems to want, then we need to pull that out and be able to be flexible enough to retrain some of our instructors or the instructors be flexible enough to move into other course areas.  Where they are not, then they may have the option of going into the private colleges and teaching there, where some of these courses might rightfully fall to be delivered.

 

Another mandate for this department, Mr. Speaker, is the administration of student aid.  We have talked about that.  The bill that was on the floor here today was talking about the changeover from student loans to up-front grants.  We are putting legislation in place to make that happen.  Some of the expenditure in this Budget and next year's Budget is going to help do just that, help put in place something that will be the envy of every other province in this country whereby we are helping our students, helping with the training of our students, and motivating our students to want to further their post-secondary education by allowing them to have the share that comes from this Province be a grant rather than a loan.  That is something that makes us the envy of the country.

 

We are also providing support through this department, Mr. Speaker, for apprentices, trade certifications, and career development.  I can remember attending sessions last year on the Journeyperson Mentorship Program, a very, very fine program that is governed by this department that allows for companies to hire a journeyperson, such that they can train their apprentices and have someone on staff that their main purpose is to train the apprentices.  It really gives a big advantage to contracting companies, to corporations who wish to take advantage of that program.

 

Mr. Speaker, this department is not just involved in the advanced education or the skills; it is also involved in Income Support.  In the Budget this year there was an increase – and I agree with some of the speakers on the opposite side of this House, that when you do have major improvements in your employability for a lot of the sectors in your communities, there develops a gap.  Those who are not prepared for these positions, those who do not fit into the economic boom, there will be a gap.  We have to support these, the lesser and more vulnerable, and the lesser privileged in our society.  Whether they are there by no fault of their own, or they are there because of some form of physical or mental condition.

 

Again, we have a very robust Income Support system.  This year we gave a 5 per cent increase, which is more than we gave to our employees.  We will also consider in the future years trying to maintain and lessen the gap between these individuals and those who are active in our communities.

 

This department is also responsible for assisting communities and regions during disasters and catastrophes.  Mr. Speaker, we remember the fire in St. John's not so long ago, and how members from this department came to the aid of the residents in a seniors' complex when there was a fire.  We also remember how this department was activated instantly and visited the western portion of Labrador, in Wabush, when the mine was closing down and was going to shut down for a while. 

 

This department is also leading in our Poverty Reduction Strategy.  In the last six or seven years we have maintained an investment of almost $200 million a year, around $170 million a year, Mr. Speaker.  We have gone over $1 billion in six or seven years in our Poverty Reduction Strategy, which is again the envy of the country.

 

This department is also in charge of the Adult Literacy Program, Mr. Speaker.  That might be late on the list, but it is a very important aspect of this.  I spoke in a member's statement just recently about an individual who really became a success later in life.  His education started very late in life, and he became a columnist for the local newspaper.  This guy is Bobby Tulk – Bobby, we call him, in New-Wes-Valley.  He had the unfortunate problem, he had a hearing problem.  As he grew, he did not really fit into the education program but he did have an opportunity later in life.  There are many other Robert Tulks, I guess, who have that ability, and this department is the one that looks out to that.

 

It also includes the portion of this government that looks out for and pays attention to persons with disabilities.  It also takes care of immigrants and multiculturalism.  So this Advanced Education and Skills department, Mr. Speaker, is humongous, and it is something we spent a lot of time talking about in our Estimates committees.

 

The second-most costly department of the Resource Committee was Natural Resources.  Of course, the head of the Committee was the Resource Committee.  I will try to run through the other departments rather quickly.

 

Mr. Speaker, we have expenditure in Natural Resources of $650 million.  A fair bit of that is a capital investment for future development in our Province.  The diversification of our economy, the biggest single area that is going to diversify our income in the next few years is our equity investment in Muskrat Falls. 

 

The four main areas of Natural Resources would be Forest Management, Agrifoods Development, Mineral Resource Management, and Energy Resource and Industrial Benefits Management.  Now, I am saying these rather quickly, but this has become the most popular department of our government.  People know most of this one inside-out, Mr. Speaker.

 

Tourism, Culture and Recreation is another department that is under new management with our new minister taking over just recently.  The total expenditures in Tourism, Culture and Recreation is around $66 million, Mr. Speaker.  The mandate there is to support economic growth and employment in tourism, arts, heritage, recreation, sport, and active living. 

 

The establishment and operation of historic sites is a part of the Tourism, Culture and Recreation mandate.  Visitor information centres, recreational facilities around our Province, archeological sites, we regulate them.  It includes artifacts and the documents in our museums and places, Mr. Speaker, and also the arts and heritage sector of our development.

 

Our expenditure in Tourism, Culture and Recreation is about $66 million, but, Mr. Speaker, that department is a $1 billion a year industry for Newfoundland and Labrador.  It is very, very vital that we regulate the mandate to cover all of these areas so that all the operations in our Province will be successful and competitive.  Our supports through marketing and our tourism strategies have been the envy of the country.  We know that shall continue.  We are still supporting that department through this year's Budget.

 

Environment and Conservation, Mr. Speaker, has $40 million expenditures in the Budget, but no small task because it is the head of the protection and enhancement of our environment.  About biodiversity, it covers the protection of our endangered species.  It covers wildlife.  It covers inland fish and waterways, and water change climate.  It also takes care of all the efforts of our Province in pollution in air, water, and soil.  Develop our water resource management, environmental impact assessments, industrial emissions and discharges, pesticides, hazardous materials, storage, use, transportation and disposal.  All of these areas, Mr. Speaker, are very, very important.

 

Fisheries and Aquaculture, Mr. Speaker, a $20 million cost for capital and current in our Budget, but so important to our society to who we are, what we are, how long we have been here, and how long we wish to remain here.  It is pretty well a $1 billion industry yearly from the resources that we draw in by our harvesters and our processors.  This is in charge of culturing, harvesting, processing, and the marketing.  A very big arm of this department now, Mr. Speaker, with a lot of support is the aquaculture industry.  We are very, very strong in that and our expenditures are very successful.

 

I am going to run out of time before I get into Innovation, Business and Rural Development, but I am going to have more time, Mr. Speaker, on the main Budget debate, so I am hoping to probably carry on the lecture for ‘Mr. Public,' but also for all of us here who really want to understand it is not just dollars and cents; it is sense.  Most of these concepts are very important to this whole Province in its totality. 

 

I thank you very much for your indulgence. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Bay of Islands on a point of order. 

 

MR. JOYCE: Yes, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I asked questions today about Hughes Brook Hill and some contracts.  The minister mentioned to me that the contracts would be coming.  When I made up the questions and added the questions, to the best of my knowledge, the contracts were not let, but I say to the minister, I did check the Web site as you said.  The contract was sent out to be tendered. 

 

I just apologize to the minister.  It was done.  When I did up the questions, I was not aware of it.  I just went back; it just showed up on the Web site.  To the minister, for the questions today, when you said they would be coming soon, they are put out now to be awarded. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: There is no point of order. 

 

Thank you. 

 

The hon. the Member for Burgeo – La Poile. 

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I am happy to stand up here.  Again, it may not have been a point of order, but I think the point the member is trying to make got across and I am sure the Minister of Transportation heard.

 

I am very happy to stand here again and speak to this Budget, whether it is Concurrence, whether it is sub-amendment, whether it is non-confidence, or whether it is the main motion.  I am happy any chance I get to stand in this House and talk about this Budget that this government has brought, and right now it is during the Concurrence section. 

 

When you are in the Opposition, one of the things you get to do is basically have a role as a critic of a department.  I have had many different roles during my short tenure here, but right now, obviously, I am the critic for CYFS, Child, Youth and Family Services, and the critic for Health.  Both are extremely important departments.  Both are worth talking about.

 

CYFS is a department that you really hope you do not have to talk about.  You do not want to hear much about it because that means that nothing is happening and that is a good thing.  We do not like to hear about some of the things that come out because we have seen it here in this House.  We have asked a number of questions on situations. 

 

One thing I do want to say is I was privy to some information today and it did arise in Question Period.  That is about the recent decision when it comes to Blue sky in Stephenville.  I understand there has been some trouble when it comes to the zoning.  I have been contacted by people who are involved or who will be employed there.  They are very concerned about it.  Some have left jobs to take this position; some have just started here.  They are quite worried.  I am sure the minister is on top of this and his department will make sure these workers are taken care of and primarily, most importantly, that the people involved, the children and the workers, everybody who is involved, is taken care of.

 

Now, I do want to go on to a number of issues I have to bring up.  That is one of the things.  When you are doing Question Period, we have twenty-three minutes to ask questions.  It is hard to get all the important issues affecting this Province out in twenty-three minutes.  We could use hours and hours to ask questions.  One of the things I am going to put out now is a chance to talk about some of the health issues I have talked to people about, I have learned about, and I did have an opportunity to mention during the Estimates section, which is a great opportunity.

 

Many people do not understand the different, small phases to the Budget.  Certainly, I did not before I came here.  I was not aware of how it happened, but once you get in you realize how important these sessions are.  It is an opportunity, if people are listening out there, for the critics to sit on one side and spend three hours going through the budgetary allocation for that department, the Estimates, and what was actually estimated and spent last year for a particular department.  You have the minister present and you have all the different staff, deputy ministers, assistant deputy ministers, and et cetera, available.

 

It was great to sit there the other day and talk about the Health Department and some of the issues.  As I have said before, there are a lot of questions I have on health that I do not get an opportunity to ask in Question Period, not that they are not important, but it is just there are so many issues.  We have so many of us who want to ask questions, so many departments, and some of these can be very limited to the number of people affected.  In some cases they affect a lot of people.  The main reason I ask is because sometimes I wonder about the decision making involved and why these are happening.  I wonder why they are done.

 

One decision I asked about, and unfortunately in the Estimates process I never got any information or answers as to why this was done, and I want to talk about pharmaceuticals and about the NLPDP.  There is a specific drug called Olmetec, and that is a drug that is used to treat blood pressure used by a number of people in this Province.  It is a drug for which there is no other strain that has as much efficacy.  It is the superior strain.  A number of people are on it, and through the help of their doctor and the use of this medication they are controlling their condition.

 

What happened was the department actually came out, put out a bulletin, and said: We are cutting this.  They said you must try, and they listed out five different strains they must try before you can use Olmetec.  I do not have the names here because they are very detailed names and I could sit here.  There are five types.  It is on the bulletin and I listed them out in Estimates. 

 

I can understand on an ongoing basis starting now if you have people coming in presenting with this condition, try this.  My question was, for the people who are currently on it, why would we take them off that when their health situation is stabilized and good to try other drugs only to come back to this one?  The reason is the department does this because of cost savings.  That is right; the bean counters in the department are more worried about saving a dollar sometimes than they are about the health of the people they represent.  I do not mind saying that because I actually asked it.  Why are you doing this?  Their information suggests –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER (Verge): Order, please!

 

MR. A. PARSONS: I am trying my best to get this information out because it is a decision that the department made and that they are making to save dollars, and it is affecting people's lives.  I asked: What are the savings you are realizing by changing this specific drug?  Well, we do not have those numbers; we do not have this.  Then the case becomes: Why would you take somebody off a superior drug and put them on a less useful drug?  What is the logic behind that?  Well, our research suggests that it is actually better.  

 

I am willing to bet, because I have my information which I am going to provide to the department to show that when it is all said and done, when it is all broken down – and I hope somebody up there is listening – they are making a decision not based on research.  They are not making a decision that is based on what is the best thing to do for patient care.  They are making a decision based on saving a dollar at the expense of someone's health.  That is simply how it is.  I do not know whether they like it or not, but that is how it is going here.

 

We are already playing with people's lives when it comes to that, trying to save money.  The other thing they do not realize sometimes is that it costs people more money on the back end because you take somebody off this drug which has stabilized their condition and they try them on a different drug.  What happens is this person has a bad reaction.  This person's health deteriorates and worsens, and what happens?  They end up in the hospital. 

 

The rough cost to go in the hospital is about $1,500 a day.  That is just to sit there in the bed.  You have not been looked at yet and you have not been treated – $1,500 a day.  The question becomes, then, if we want to talk about fiscal management, what did you save by fooling around with the drugs and what is it costing you because you did it?  This is what I keep coming back to, fiscal mismanagement, because in the particular department one hand does not know what the other is doing.  They are not saving the money; they are spending more money, and they are affecting people's lives.  So, I had to put that out there.

 

Now, I could not get the answers I wanted that day.  I asked some very specific questions; the answers were not available.  I have since written – and I will give the minister all the credit in the world.  He said: Any question we cannot answer, we will undertake to provide you with that information.  I appreciate that.  So I have my letter sent off, and I hope I get it back in a timely fashion, because they should have those numbers there.  This should not be a case of: Well, we need to figure it out and calculate it.  This should be calculated.  If you are taking somebody off a drug, what did the drug cost?  What are you saving?  There it is.  There should not be anything more complicated than that involved.  Again, these are the decisions that are happening when it comes to health.

 

I could also talk about something I brought up here in the House the other day when we recognized the value of work done by nurses.  One of the things – and I talked to a number of nurses over the weekend.  I said: I am hearing something here; can you tell me whether it is true or not?  When you go into hospital and you are there on the ward you are provided with a meal.  You are provided with your breakfast, provided with your lunch, provided with your supper.  Your supper is usually served around 5:30 p.m.

 

Before, they would have a night snack: a hot drink, maybe a tea or coffee, maybe a glass of juice, maybe some cookies or a piece of toast – because again, you are fed at 5:30 p.m.; you do not get to eat again until 8:30 a.m.– but that has been cut.  What they get now is maybe two crackers and a glass of water – two crackers and a glass of water.  I know that to be true, because I believe the nurses to be telling me the truth, I believe the patients to be telling me the truth, and I know – and again, it is not their decision.  It is not any of the staff at these hospitals; it is the higher-ups making decisions.

 

Again, I really have to wonder when you talk about how great things are, are things really that great when you are taking food away from somebody in the hospital and giving them a cracker and a glass of water?  So do not tell me how good things are when you are making decisions like this that are beyond ridiculous.  Again, I will sit here next year and ask what are the savings you saved by giving these people who are sick crackers and a glass of water, and not letting them have a cup of tea or a piece of toast.

 

I am just putting that out there, I know it to be true, I have not got a satisfactory answer to it; but again, we are going to save dollars – this is how we are going to save them; we are going to save them by denying people a cup of tea.

Now, I am going to move on to something else in health care.  Again, this one amazes me, this one was in the news, and this comes to – we talk about mental health in this Province.  The good news is that through the work of advocates in this Province and on a national scale, you look at someone like Clara Hughes, the work that she has done when it comes to stigma.  I will give the Province credit.  I was at the unveiling.  The minister was there; he was very new on the job.  The minister got up and talked about the new advertising about reducing stigma.  I applaud it; I applaud it because it is the right thing to do.  The first thing we have to do is understand, and the best way to understand is to educate people and the best way to do that is sometimes getting the ads out there so that people can see.

 

I have seen them.  I have been watching hockey, like a lot of other people.  You see the ad on; we are reaching people and we are educating them, and that is great.  Not like some of the ads I have seen on in the past where they put the ad on and you check the Website and it was the link to nowhere, it did not work, again which shows you how big a waste it is.  These look good and I hope they get the effect that they need; but again, at the end of the day, we have to treat mental health like we treat every other part of health care, something like a broken leg, something like diabetes, we have to treat it with the importance that it deserves. 

 

We are getting the word out, but the problem I have is when we find out that the mobile crisis unit here in St. John's, if you call in on Wednesday, not a problem, they are there; call in on Friday, they are there; Saturday and Sunday, they are there; but God forbid if you call in on Monday or Tuesday because they are not there.   Because mental health is only five days a week.  Mental health is not seven days a week. 

 

So the first question I asked in Estimates was: Is this a budgetary decision?  They said: No, it is not a budgetary decision.  It is not a case of: Look, we can only afford to do five days a week.  We cannot do the seven; we just do not have the funding.  Not that I would have agreed with that or accepted that, but at least I would have seen the logic in why they made that decision.

 

That was not the reason; it was not a case of money.  If it is not a case of money, why would you treat somebody with this situation, a mental illness, treat somebody's mental health differently on Monday than you treat it on Wednesday?  Or even more importantly, I hope we do not start using this same approach to health care when it comes to other ailments.  Oh God, I have chest pains.  Well, sorry, Sir, you called in on Friday, we are not available on Friday.  You have to have your chest pains on Saturday.  That is how we are going to treat health care.  

 

Again, it shows the inherent fallacy of this department when it comes to treating something like this.  The reason is when you break it down to its most basic, they do not think mental health is as important as physical health.  Because if you can get your broken leg treated seven days a week but mental health, we only have a mobile crisis unit available – the minister talked about the help line.  That is great that is there, but my question is not the help line; that is not what I was asking about.  My question was on a mobile unit.

 

I am hearing more disturbing things about how it is going out on the West Coast, too, and we will get to those because, again, if we are not going to accept the fact or if we are not going to treat mental health as serious as we treat everything else, then the system is bound for failure from the beginning. 

 

I know there was lots of staff there, and I never heard one answer on why this was being done or why it should be done – not one.  Again, I am asking the questions but I am not getting the answers. 

 

We can continue on.  There are so many things in health, when we talk about the NLPDP and the prescription drugs.  We can talk about the fact that diabetes in this Province is going up.  We are the worst in the country.  One good thing that I have heard for some time now, probably since Easter – and again, I do not know how this came about, but the good news is that through the work of many people, including the advocates on the West Coast, the West Coast regional team – I applauded them.  I spoke at their rally that they had in Corner Brook, for which there was over 400 people.  I said I applaud the fact that you not the Corner Brook team, you are the West Coast team because they are treating people in Port aux Basques.  They are treating people in Burgeo.  They are treating people in St. Anthony.  They are treating people on the West Coast, and now they are advocating for the hospital.  The hospital that was announced in 2007 and has been re-announced and re-announced and re-announced, ad nauseam, with absolutely no – we have not seen anything yet.

 

The good news is that after the work of people like the Member for Bay of Islands, who everybody knows how many times since we came here in 2011, actually the spring of 2012, how many times has he stood up and asked a question about the Corner Brook hospital?  How many times has he stood up?  He did and it is funny, he got turned down so many times, denied.  You are wrong, you are wrong, you are wrong, you are wrong; but, for some reason, there was a leap of faith by government some time here in the early part of 2014.  We were suddenly not wrong.  We were right.  Not only are you going to get one radiation unit, you might get two.

 

So, the question I have is: What happened in the little span of time to make them come around?  Again, it was not just the Member for Humber East, the current Premier, it was not just the incoming Premier, the Member for Humber West, all saying all of a sudden, it is good; it is right; you are on the right track.

 

So again, all I can do there is two things.  I can commend government for listening to us and I will accept your apology, or the Member for Bay of Islands will accept your apology whenever you want to tell him he was right all along, because he was.  The Member for Bay of Islands stood up today and apologized when he was wrong.  He stood up and he said: I apologize.  He is waiting for that apology back when it comes to the hospital in Corner Brook and how he was right.  I want to see that.

 

There are still a lot of questions here.  The bigger thing is two-fold.  Number one, the hospital is still not started.  So it is not like we have to give up now.  Just because this fight was won does not mean that there are not more battles to be fought.

The other thing that is scary, though, is that we have heard, and I confirmed this in Question Period, we asked questions on ultrasound services.  The fear now out on the West Coast is that you are going to win one battle at the expense of something else; you will get that, but you are going to lose this.  You are getting something on one end, you are going to lose it on the other end, and that is not the way this needs to be approached.

 

We will do what we have done here.  The Leader of the Opposition, the Member for Bay of Islands, the advocates, and the community will do the work, will do the research, and find out if it should be there.  If it should be there, if it is the right move to make, both for the health outcomes of the people of this Province, especially on the West Coast, if it is the right fiscal decision, then we will put the information out there and hopefully it gets done.

 

We will continue that battle, there is absolutely no doubt.  More questions will be asked.  We are hearing lots of stuff.  To take a government phrase, stay tuned because we have more questions.  We are not going anywhere on that.

 

I want to continue.  There are so many other topics and I would like an opportunity to talk about some district issues.  I see now I do have a little bit of time left, but given the hour of the day, at this time, Mr. Speaker, I am going to adjourn debate.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It has been moved and seconded, I say to the hon. Member for Burgeo – La Poile, that the debate now adjourn.

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

MR. SPEAKER: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

With the consent of my colleagues, we will take a break for supper at this point in time and come back around 7:00 o'clock.

MR. SPEAKER: This House now stands in recess until 7:00 p.m.



May 13, 2014                  HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS                     Vol. XLVII No. 26A


The House resumed sitting at 7:00 p.m.

 

MR. SPEAKER (Wiseman): The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

At this time I call from the Order Paper, debate on the Concurrence Motion 2.(a) Social Services Committee.

 

MR. SPEAKER: We are now debating Concurrence.

 

The hon. the Member for Port de Grave.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLEJOHN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It is a privilege to stand up tonight here at Concurrence.  For the people at home, Mr. Speaker, basically what Concurrence is – we have three committees in government.  We have the Government Resource Committee, the Government Services Committee, and the Social Services Committee, and we have a thing called Estimates, where all government departments and agencies come before the various committees and present.  Basically, we go through each individual line department's budget line by line.

 

Mr. Speaker, sometimes we get into some frank discussion on policy back and forth by members and the various line departments, but most of the time we try to keep it relevant to the line items that are in the Estimates.  Ministers, I must say, and department officials, have been very, very co-operative and very – for lack of a better word – liberal in terms of answering questions of concern by various members of our committee.

 

This is my third year Chairing the Social Services Committee and I want to take this opportunity to thank the various members of our Social Services Committee: the hon. the Member for Port au Port; the hon. the Member for Bonavista South; the hon. the Member for Baie Verte – Springdale; the hon. the Member for St. John's Centre; the hon. the Member for Cartwright – L'Anse au Clair, and the hon. the Member for St. John's North.

Mr. Speaker, it is common that at times other hon. members fill in for members.  It is quite common on the Opposition side, Mr. Speaker, for those in the audience, that when we are doing a particular line department, the Opposition critic for that department normally fills in and does that in various departments.  So, we want to thank those members as well, who have filled in and subbed in from time to time and came before the committee.

 

During our deliberations we reviewed various departments.  We reviewed the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services; the Department of Education; the Department of Justice; the Department of Health and Community Services; the Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs, including the Office of Public Engagement; the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation, and also the Labour Relations Agency.

 

One of the significant things about the Social Services Committee, Mr. Speaker, is that the social sector of government takes up 58.6 per cent of the overall Budget.  So, 58.6 per cent of the overall Budget is taken up in the social sector.  Obviously, Mr. Speaker, the largest portion of that is taken up by the Department of Health.  Some 37.6 per cent of government's Budget goes to Health.  A little over $3 billion goes into our health sector and our Health budget. 

 

As well, Mr. Speaker, about 11 per cent of the remaining 56 per cent goes into Education; about $880 million is in Education.  So those two departments, Health and Education combined, take up about 48.6 per cent of the overall Social Services Committee budget, or the social sector budget.  It is very, very significant. 

 

Mr. Speaker, this year this government in its social sector spending increased its spending from $4.4 billion last year in 2013-2014 to some $4.6 billion in this year's Budget, an increase of about half a per cent.  Mr. Speaker, normally when we do this we try to highlight some of the things that have been discussed in the various departments, and there is much to discuss.  There was much conversation.

 

In Education, for example, the continued freeze on tuition.  It is very important, Mr. Speaker, the freeze on tuition.  It came out of Advanced Education and Skills, but it is very significant.  It is very significant for those young high school students; Grade 12 graduates going on to post-secondary education. 

 

Mr. Speaker, in a year or so I will be a proud parent and my son will be into the same thing, trying to decide what post-secondary education he will take.  Our continued freeze on post-secondary tuition will certainly make our institutions, the College of the North Atlantic, Memorial University, and the Marine Institute more favourable in his choosing.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: A big difference in the debt.

 

MR. LITTLEJOHN: A very big difference.

 

Mr. Speaker, as well, the elimination of the provincial student loan portion.  That will cut down the overall debt of students by about 40 per cent.  Forty per cent is significant over a four-year term, an undergraduate program.  A student and families – I recall the hon. Member for Cape St. Francis here standing up today talking about the importance of education and how important education is to him.  Well, education is important to me as well.  Mr. Speaker, a 40 per cent saving is significant savings for families who are trying to put their children through post-secondary education.

 

Mr. Speaker, maybe the most dramatic, and one that was talked about significantly in our Education Estimates, was the implementation of full-day Kindergarten.  Now, the implementation of full-day Kindergarten is going to have a dramatic impact on our young children.  There was a lot of debate, a lot of conversation, and a lot of questions that went back and forth across the floor to the Minister of Education about the implementation of full-day Kindergarten and the impacts that may have. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to say in that discussion all parties agreed that the implementation of full-day Kindergarten is a good thing.  Are there challenges, Mr. Speaker?  I think the minister outlined some of the challenges.  We are going to need portable classrooms for some schools.  We have some schools right now, particularly here on the Northeast Avalon, to use an expression, are busting at the seams.  Busting at the seams, Mr. Speaker, so we are going to need some portable classrooms to accommodate the implementation of full-day Kindergarten.

 

I want to get a plug in for my own district here.  I was very pleased in the Budget of the announcement for a new school for Coley's Point Primary. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLEJOHN: A school that is an old wooden structure, sixty years old, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I have heard members opposite talk about here on the Northeast Avalon students and staff and teachers working out of broom closets.  Well, Mr. Speaker, let me tell you, students at Coley's Point Primary, and teachers at Coley's Point Primary have been doing that for many, many years.  I want to compliment the teachers of Coley's Point Primary for the quality of education they have been giving our children in this sixty-year-old wooden structure.  Again, what I want to say is I want to thank government for the opportunity to announce a new school for Coley's Point Primary.

 

Mr. Speaker, one of the other significant things, and it was talked about fairly substantially in our debate, was the student assistant support.  This year government saw fit to put another million dollars of support into our student assistant support program.  That will add about an additional 43,000 hours of student support for our children in our schools.  Mr. Speaker, I would suggest that is significant; 43,000 hours I think is a significant amount of additional support.

 

Mr. Speaker, I know something about the special services and special needs.  My wife has been a special education teacher at the primary level for twenty-six years.  Sometimes I stand here and listen to members opposite think they are the only ones who know anything about special needs and special services of our children in this Province. 

 

Well, Mr. Speaker, being married to a special education teacher for the last twenty-three years, I think I can speak very well of the special education teachers and the student support systems that are in our schools.  Is it all perfect?  Definitely not, Mr. Speaker, there is always room for improvement, but it is not as bad as made out by the Opposition. 

 

We also had Health and Community Services.  Health and Community Services is so vast, and there are so many needs and there were so many discussion points.  This year, Mr. Speaker, it was kind of unique, because during the Estimates we ended up in a Cabinet shuffle.  We ended up with some new ministers taking on new responsibilities and basically they were only days old in their new portfolios when they came before Estimates.  I want to congratulate them. 

 

That was the case with Minister Davis.  Minister Davis came forward, and I think he was on the –

 

MR. SPEAKER: You mean the Minister of Health and Community Services.

 

MR. LITTLEJOHN: The Minister of Health, I am sorry, yes.

 

Minister Davis came forward as the Minister of Health.  It has been a long day already, Mr. Speaker.  Minister Davis came through –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

AN HON. MEMBER: You are not allowed to use names.

 

MR. LITTLEJOHN: The Minister of Health and Community Services was only six days old when he finally came to Estimates.  It was a good job.  Mr. Speaker, there is a lot of significant things that went on in the Health and Community Services budget and I would like to highlight some of those. 

 

I have heard the Opposition critic, the Member for Burgeo – La Poile talk a lot about the need for new born screening, particularly for young children with a potential for cystic fibrosis.  I know the member opposite has talked about other things in terms of cystic fibrosis, but, Mr. Speaker, in my district I have an advocate for cystic fibrosis.  She has met with me on a number of occasions.  One of the things she saw that she thought was important was also new born screening for children with cystic fibrosis, and I was glad to see that it was in this year's budget at a cost of $168,000. 

 

Mr. Speaker, also in this year's budget there was money in it for an enhanced Provincial Home Dialysis Program.  That is something that is a little bit close to my heart because many years ago as a volunteer with the Trinity Conception Placentia Health Foundation we raised funds for dialysis at the Carbonear General Hospital.  I know how difficult it is for people on dialysis to travel great distances, and enhancing the Home Dialysis Program takes away some of that travel. 

 

Mr. Speaker, some dialysis patients have to travel two and three hours, and most dialysis patients need to have dialysis two to three times a week, some for more than three hours, some all day long.  The enhanced Provincial Home Dialysis Program was a great benefit to these people.  It saves them from travelling.  I know people who have home dialysis are greatly appreciative of the expanded program.

 

Mr. Speaker, as well, we spent $1.5 million on a new hemodialysis site in Bonavista, for the Member for Bonavista South.  He is a member of our committee.  He was advocating for that for some time.  This year there is $1.5 million for that new unit in Bonavista.  It was good.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLEJOHN: Mr. Speaker, we also invested about $1.2 million to address needs that were in Stephenville on the West Coast, for our dialysis people on the West Coast.  We also had to address needs of our patients here in St. John's.  These units are working basically around the clock and over time they need to be replaced.  Some of these new additional monies will help to upgrade and replace some of this dialysis equipment.

 

Mr. Speaker, we can go on here.  I know the member opposite as well, the Opposition critic, he talked a lot about and he questioned a lot about the smoking cessation program.  I believe both Opposition members talked significantly about the smoking cessation program, what that would involve, and how many times could a person go on and off.  That conversation went on. 

 

Mr. Speaker, for most people smoking is a lifelong addiction, and trying to get people to cease smoking is a challenge.  Programs like the smoking cessation program hopefully will improve our health.  There is nothing better we can do for our people than improve their health.  By implementing a smoking cessation program, particularly for our low-income people, it is very important.

 

One of the nice things about this, Mr. Speaker, it is not a one-time deal.  People get three opportunities.  As was said in committee, sometimes they like to practice.  The first time is just like practice.  You go out and you do it the first time just to see what it feels like.  It usually takes a second or third time before you actually cease smoking.  Again, much discussion took place around smoking cessation.

 

Also, Mr. Speaker, a lot of discussion around long-term care facilities.  We all know our population is aging and now the need for long-term care facilities.  In Labrador, we have a new twenty-bed expansion in Labrador, in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.  I know the Member for Lake Melville has been advocating for that expansion for quite some time.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLEJOHN: I want to congratulate him on that. 

 

There was a lot of conversation around the long-term care needs of our citizens and our older population.  Again, Mr. Speaker, we are trying.  We have a new long-term care facility here in St. John's.  We have a new long-term care facility in the District of Carbonear – Harbour Grace, and we have a new long- term care facility in Lewisporte.  All of these facilities are trying to address the needs of our aging population. 

 

Mr. Speaker, we could go on and on here.  Another very important topic that came up in the Health and Community Services budget was autism, the need of improvements to autism.  I am very proud to announce that we have twenty-two new positions to improve our autism service in the Province.  I want to congratulate the former Minister of Health and Community Services because I know she worked long and hard for these things.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLEJOHN: I want to thank her for her work on that.

 

Again, Mr. Speaker, these are issues that came up in Estimates.  All these things came up and they were discussed, questions back and forth.  I must say to the minister and his staff of Health and Community Services, they did a wonderful job of explaining and going through that service. 

 

Then, Mr. Speaker, we come to Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs.  There are a number of issues there, but most of the time when you get to Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs it is all about the needs of communities and what we are doing in terms of municipal infrastructure.  A lot of discussion took place around municipal infrastructure. 

 

Mr. Speaker, this year in this budget we announced $200 million for new municipal infrastructure over three years.  Twenty-two of our largest communities would have $100 million of multi-capital works, as we call it, and the other $100 million would be for the other communities. 

 

Mr. Speaker, there are many needs out there.  We need clean drinking water.  We need new water and sewer services.  We have many needs.  Our communities have many needs and these dollars will go a long way in addressing that. 

 

I want to thank the minister for the announcements in my district of Port de Grave: $3 million of multi-capital works money for the Town of Bay Roberts; $600,000 for the Town of Spaniard's Bay; and $400,000 to continue a water and sewer project in the Town of Clarkes Beach.  These are just some of the infrastructure improvements that we had in my district, Mr. Speaker, and I want to thank the minister for that.

 

As well, Mr. Speaker, I want to talk about the $5 million that we put in support of our volunteer firefighters.  I come from a family of volunteer firefighters and I know their dedication and the efforts that they put in.  Our firefighters today are not just firefighters, they are first responders, they are first-aiders, and they are paramedics.  These people take time to get trained.  They dedicate themselves.  No matter the time of the day or night, 365 days, twenty-four seven, these people answer the call. 

 

I have to say in my own district we have some very, very dedicated volunteer fire departments and my hat goes off to them.  Hopefully, Mr. Speaker, some of this $5 million in support will come to the District of Port de Grave because we do have some needs.  I am sure as the minister reviews his –

 

MR. KING: You will be looked at too.

 

MR. LITTLEJOHN: I will be looked at too?  Thank you, Government House Leader.

 

The last thing, Mr. Speaker, because my time is winding down and I will get another chance, I want to talk about the money that we also put into search and rescue. 

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Coley's Point school.

 

MR. LITTLEJOHN: I talked about Coley's Point school, Sir.  I thank you for Coley's Point school.

 

The money that we put into search and rescue – $550,000 extra was put into search and rescue.  Mr. Speaker, in my district we have the Avalon North Wolverines, another dedicated group of volunteers throughout the region who, when people are lost in the woods or people are missing, are first persons there.  They dedicate themselves to training, orientation, and all the rest.  I want to take my hat off to them.  I think money going to search and rescue is a good investment.

 

Mr. Speaker, I see my time is winding down.  I will get another opportunity.  I thank you for your time.  I look forward to listening to the rest of the conversation.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for The Straits – White Bay North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to speak to the Concurrence debate. 

 

As the critic for the Office of Public Engagement, I sat with the Member for Bay of Islands in debate in the Estimates Committee and we asked a lot of questions.  One of the things about Concurrence and looking at all the questions that were put forward is around government's ability to be open, accountable, and transparent. 

 

When I sat in and questioned the minister with the Office of Public Engagement, we asked about the Open Government Initiative and why when it was launched it had outdated information and when we would go and see how we are going to get more live data up there, what the consultation process would be.  When I sat in with the Minister of IBRD in Estimates, she committed that we would have the communities that have broadband Internet in Newfoundland and Labrador.  This is the second year in a row that it has been committed; I hope that the information is going to come forward.

 

When asked about having it publicly disclosed as Open Government Initiative, to make sure that everybody is aware of what communities, what regions have broadband Internet, I thought that would be a great initiative to put up that kind of spatial map.  That is innovative thinking.  That is something that a Liberal government would look at doing: making things so that people can make good decisions.

 

On the Great Northern Peninsula, for example, we have a Web site that showcases the communities on the Great Northern Peninsula.  It talks about the services and the business offerings, it talks about the community, and everything is there.  It even says if there is cell coverage and if there is high-speed Internet.  Why can't our own government replicate that on a much broader scale?  We need to see that.

 

Another matter when we talk about public engagement, the youth engagement falls under that.  I think we are really missing the boat in Newfoundland and Labrador when it comes to how we engage our youth and how we make them part of the process.  That is so important.  We had a Youth Retention and Attraction Strategy with forty-one initiatives, many of those were cut, and they have fallen off the government's radar.  They even axed and cancelled the Youth Advisory Committee; let that go to the wayside.  Where is the accountability?  Where is the listening to our youth in this Province?

 

Those are the types of challenges that we face, when a government says they are open and accountable and transparent.  We have seen legislation put before the House of Assembly even this week, the whistleblower legislation, that did not have the public consultation, yet the former Minister of Justice said the reason why we could not put this forward before the House in 2007 is because we need to do the public consultation.  There is a lot of mismatch in information that has coming forward. 

 

I will say we need to see things that the Member for Port de Grave had talked about.  As a member of this House of Assembly, I have put forward a private member's motion on safe and clean drinking water.  That is something that needs to be made a great priority.  The former Minister of Municipal Affairs, I certainly have to thank him in his role of investing in water projects in my district previously and the work that has been done to try and look at enhancing water projects.

 

Now that we have the investment made in certain municipalities like St. Lunaire-Griquet, we see that they are still challenged.  There is a significant amount of silt.  There needs to be work done on how we can improve water quality.  Having that working relationship is certainly key and important as we move forward on advancing clean drinking water.  It is essential for everyone.  We need to make sure communities that are not public bodies also have greater enforcement when it comes to testing private wells and public bodies of water, not necessarily municipalities or local service districts.  There needs to be greater accountability there. 

 

As the Member for Port de Grave proudly mentioned in his speech as he started, he said the social services sector spent $4.4 billion last year.  We are spending even more this year, $4.6 billion.  It is not necessarily something to be proud about that you are spending more money.  More money does not necessarily mean better outcomes.  It is about having better delivery of service, find greater efficiencies, and make improvements so that we have better health outcomes for people.  That is one sector that is here is the Department of Health and Community Services.

 

I have said before in this House of Assembly, under the Grenfell health board and under Labrador-Grenfell Health, the St. Anthony area as well as Happy Valley-Goose Bay has had midwives.  These midwives have assisted the majority of births in St. Anthony and that has helped significantly. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. MITCHELMORE: In all the low-risk births they have provided great continuity of care before and after a birth, prenatal and postnatal.  This helps reduce the overall cost to the health care system. 

 

Ontario right now I believe has more midwives in their public service, in their public health care system, than they do the obstetricians.  Midwifery is something that we should move on.  We have in the past.  It has been accessible for people.  People have a right to choose.  Women have that right to choose.  It is good for families. 

 

The former Minister of Health made the announcement stating that it would be five to seven years before it would be made available in the public sector, in our RHAs, but only one year for the private sector, so we certainly know where the government currently is.  It is about privatization of services, not about making things publicly available to people, and accessible.  Especially in some of the more rural areas of the Province, you will not see privatized service like midwifery set up.

 

Another major issue when we look at health care is around physiotherapy services.  We have a critical lack of physiotherapists, especially in rural settings.  There is a significant wait-list.  I know in St. Anthony, on the whole Northern Peninsula, they have only two physiotherapists.  At one point it was only one, and now they will have two, but a significant backlog.  They are not able to accept any WHSC cases.  They deal primarily with internal patients at the hospital, and some of it is long-term patients.  It is very difficult to get an appointment there. 

 

People have to drive to Deer Lake.  They have to drive 400 kilometres each way to see a physiotherapist.  So, you can understand why people are not getting the care they need, and the risk of re-injury.  It is the same thing where we have not had occupational therapy.

 

The whole issue around recruitment and retention of health care professionals is certainly key.  We need to see more of that.  Making sure that if we have those services then we are less likely to see more emergency room visits, which would be a higher cost, as well as looking at the number of beds in hospitals that are filled up by people who really need a long-term care bed.  These people are also being discharged as well and sent home. 

 

These are significant challenges, because we do need to look at long-term care.  It is a big challenge.  I have put forward an idea of looking at some of the smaller clinics we have, that have the staff there twenty-four seven, of utilizing space within those facilities.  Like the White Bay Central Health Centre where you could have four, maybe six beds offered.  That would provide care closer to home without radically increasing costs to health care, and we would be taking care of more people, not less.

 

One of the positive things in the Estimates in the Budget there is the reduction in the kilometres for medical travel.  Because we do know so many people have to travel outside of the region for medical travel, and that has gone down.  As well, we have seen the kilometre amount will be increased based on the Budget.

 

Dental services, it is a huge issue in the district.  When the Adult Dental Program came out – we are still seeing people waiting for their dentures from that program, from the initial uptake.  In the Labrador-Grenfell Health setting, in St. Anthony particularly, you do not have fee-based dental service.  That in itself has limited access to dental care because of the way it is being offered.  It is an issue.  There needs to be something done because this is how dental services are offered throughout the Province.

 

I am very pleased to see the announcement in the Budget for Bonavista when it comes to dialysis service there.  It is a great announcement.  We understand when you have a growing need – we have seen people lobby for that service.  There were a number of people having to travel to Clarenville.  When people need dialysis in adverse weather conditions they need it close to home, so that is a great investment.

 

In my very own district, we have a similar challenge where we had a number of people who have had vehicle accidents.  They could not get dialysis, appointments were cancelled, and people have been lobbying.  They have been lobbying to see satellite dialysis added to the Strait of Belle Isle Health Centre, a new health care centre that was $9 million basically invested in the district.  This can be an opportunity because there are a significant number of people – some people would come back home if the service was also offered locally.  There needs to be a broader assessment when you look at delivery of health care, and if by adding a service we can see cost savings. 

 

I want to talk a little bit about the Department of Advanced Education and Skills.  I want to say that one of the programs that have been offered through the Department of Advanced Education and Skills is a targeted initiative for older workers.  My district of the Straits – White Bay North has a lot of older workers.  Some of them have been displaced from the cod moratorium.  Others have seen downsizes, whether it be in fish plants or the forest sector. 

 

This program provides a great complement of working with the College of the North Atlantic locally.  Providing local instructors to come in and do training, to provide advice, to give presentations for these workers to get skills, to be able to maybe look at starting their own business, start a part-time business with the products they learned to make and sell, or they could also look at attaching to the labour market. 

 

I was very fortunate to see two programs that are currently ongoing.  One in Main Brook, which is a carpentry program that is teaching people.  They are going to learn the whole process, which will complete a fifty by seventy building that is of aluminum structure that has been put there through hard work of local people.  This will be a great asset once complete because it allows some vibrancy in the community from a social setting and also to look at bringing in people to do various training, to generate revenue. 

 

This is a positive investment.  You need to have social spaces in our communities.  Every group, whether it is youth, whether it is seniors, having a social space in the community that is accessible is very positive.  We have seen some announcements where that is the case, as well as Englee. 

 

In Englee we saw where the former fish plant was removed and the site was remediated, and we are seeing right now where a lot of workers were displaced.  Now in Englee there are people who are learning how to make glass art.  This is a town that has also looked at doing rug hooking.  They have an exhibit there in the town hall. 

 

They also have somebody working as part of a JCP with the French Shore that is going to lead to an exhibit, doing a tapestry depicting the French culture for 300 years.  It is going to go on tour across the Province.  In places like Placentia, Stephenville – St. George's, the Port au Port area.  It will travel across Province and promote our French culture and heritage, just like on the Great Northern Peninsula.

 

When we look at some of the challenges, though – we have challenges when it comes to looking at the college system.  We have to look at programming and how it is changing, and how administration puts out and notifies people of when they are accepted into a program; the wait-list and how they deal with that.  These are issues.  Those are things that the minister is going to have to address.

 

I have some concerns with the increase of the $100, to $1,950, for personal care homes in the Province.  I have been informed that this is not a $100 up-front payment on July 1.  It will be rolled out, at least in Labrador-Grenfell Health, $50 at a time.  When the Budget was announced people had the indication they would get the $100 up front.

 

As well, when we look at the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services, I want to welcome the minister to this role.  I have seen the benefits of child care and how we have made affordable child care available, in my district in particular, through a non-profit setting.  I got to attend the Riddles and Rhymes daycare, and in it they celebrated twenty years, noting that they had some hard times.  They have had challenges throughout, but now they are seeing the real success and stability. 

 

Not too long ago a group of women in the community, primarily mothers, expecting mothers, and community leaders got together and formed the Straits Daycare Corporation.  That is something that is up and started and is a great investment because it will help with the recruitment and retention of workers.  We need that, and that links to the Department of Advanced Education and Skills and the array of services that are needed.

 

One of the things that I think is completely unacceptable, that the former Minister of Education has done and has approved, is looking at closing the St. Lunaire-Griquet public library.  The public library is still listed as temporarily closed, despite the former Minister of Education saying this will not close.  We will not close any public libraries.  It will be made available.  Once the school, Bayview Regional Collegiate, closes we will look for alternate space. 

 

You have another school that has space in Gunners Cove that does not have to cost a penny.  It is in the same town.  St. Lunaire-Griquet, Gunners Cove, one amalgamated town, the school is in the town; why not put the library there?  There are other spaces available. 

 

Why would you take books away from our children, from people who need it the most, take away Internet access to people, to provide that space, that opportunity when it comes to availability of a digital camera and the business services, fax services that are available at public libraries and programming that exists as well?  There is a real opportunity.  When we have some of the highest illiteracy in the Province that exists based on statistics, we should not be closing public libraries.  That is something that is not acceptable at all.

 

Since the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation is listed under these Estimates and I am trying to stick primarily to the Concurrence to make it something that – when we talk about things in Estimates, I want to make this very relevant.  The Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation is certainly faced with challenges. 

 

In the fall, just before Christmas, Habitat for Humanity came.  We have had four people take up homes through a Habitat for Humanity project in St. Anthony.  The Newfoundland and Labrador Housing saw three homes be vacated because people were eligible for these homes.  Now they are going to be homeowners. 

 

We still see vacancies in those Newfoundland and Labrador Housing units because they have not been renovated.  They have not been renovated or upgraded so we are still leaving people who need access to affordable social housing through Newfoundland and Labrador Housing.  This is happening throughout the Province. 

 

Why aren't we doing the upgrades in a timely manner so that people who are on wait-lists who need housing get access to housing right now?  It is just completely unacceptable that it is delayed and that it is taking so long.  We are months and months later.  We have seen that time and time again from this government where things are delayed and delayed and delayed. 

 

I believe the Member for Bay of Islands earlier today had talked about how government wanted to get tenders out early.  They had announced a number of tenders for PC districts.  There is a real delay.  The work is not being done.  I have seen it in my own district where work has been delayed, it has been carried over, and we have not seen that start yet.  We need to see clear planning so that when things do get delayed – and sometimes things get delayed for good reason.  If not, at tail end of the season, things that are at the end, that get carried over, are done first and people are informed of when they are going to actually be done, so that people can actually plan around other projects and other needs that they have in their community.

What we are looking at, from a social perspective and in the social sector committee, is how we provide the services to meet the needs of people, the programs that are necessary for the public good.  In doing so, we cannot make sure that we are just throwing money at initiatives, like the Member for Port de Grave talked about, that there is an increase of $200 million in the Social Services Committee, despite all the cutbacks that happened last year.  So, are we getting to spend, spend, and balloon, balloon – we are borrowing a billion dollars. 

 

I see, Mr. Speaker, that my time has expired.  I will have an opportunity to speak another time.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. CORNECT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It is a pleasure to be up on my feet tonight in this Concurrence debate to talk about the debate we had on the Estimates of the social services sector.  Mr. Speaker, our Committee reviewed the Estimates of the Departments of Child, Youth and Family Services; Education; Health and Community Services; Justice; Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs; Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation; the Office of Public Engagement; and the Labour Relations Board.

 

Mr. Speaker, if we look at the overall Budget and look at past Budgets of this Administration, the bulk or the majority of our spending goes into these programs of these departments that offer and provide social safety nets to the people of this Province who need it and request it.

 

Mr. Speaker, as we go through this important process – the budgetary process – we can get an in-depth overview of the programs and spending in each department.  As we went through each department, it was obvious that a tremendous work has been done and tremendous amounts of money have been allocated or invested in each department to ensure delivery of services to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

It is indeed great to see the solid and strong foundation that this Administration has built, the new initiatives we are embarking on.  This process is a format, as well, to give us an indication of how programs and services are to be delivered, and how it is to be implemented and rolled out.  This spells out, Mr. Speaker, government's plans to deliver effective and efficient programs and services to its people. 

 

Now, Mr. Speaker, I will go through the departments, as we went through Estimates.  First, let's look at the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services.  What I will give you now is a synopsis or snapshot of the mandate or vision of the department.  This department is responsible for the planning and development of policies, standards and programs, as well as service delivery to help ensure the safety and well-being of our children and youth in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

The legislative framework which governs the provision of services for children, youth and families in this Province include Children and Youth Care and Protection Act, the Adoption Act, Child Care Services Act, Youth Criminal Justice Act, and the Young Persons Offences Act.  Mr. Speaker, in Budget 2014 some of the investments we are making, we are investing an additional $308,000 to implement a new one-year mentoring team, as well as hire two new community service workers for the Innu zone; funding of $200,000 to provide additional funding for travel to continue the newly implemented fly-in, fly-out approach, the Community of Natuashish Service Enhancement Program. 

 

The department is also investing $280,000 to purchase housing in Hopedale for social work staff; approximately $1.5 million for an additional twenty new positions, including social work supervisors and social workers, to continue the implementation of the department's organizational model for the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services.

 

Mr. Speaker, the department is funding an additional $500,000 for the Newfoundland and Labrador Foster Families Association to strengthen the capacity and role of local associations across the Province.  The total budget expenditure for the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services for the fiscal year is $190,640,600. 

 

Now, Mr. Speaker, let's take a closer look at some of the initiatives within the Department of Education.  The Department of Education is responsible for the developing and administering a provincial system of education which encourages all students to achieve their potential development.  It administers early learning opportunities for pre-school children and the primary, elementary, and secondary school system with programs sufficiently flexible to meet the individual needs and capabilities of all children.  Specialized educational programs are provided for children with a disability who are unable to benefit from regular classroom instruction. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the department is responsible for the provision of literacy, library and information services in the Province.  Some of these achievements in education include: $35.4 million for the introduction of full-day Kindergarten beginning in September 2016; $30.6 million is provided over three years for infrastructure, as well as teaching and learning resources related to full-day Kindergarten, with ongoing costs expected to be well over $13 million annually; $4.8 million over three years to continue a focus on children from birth to age three and to build on previous investments.

 

Mr. Speaker, an investment of $128.1 million for educational infrastructure continuing a historically unprecedented systematic investment in new schools, extensions, redevelopments, renovations and repairs, and maintenance; $2.4 million on an annual basis to retain 28.5 teaching units, which were slated for removal due to an overall reduction in student population in our schools; there is funding for 43,000 additional student assistant hours at a cost of $1 million; also, the continuation of no school fees and the free textbook policy in schools in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  Mr. Speaker, when we look at the Department of Education, the total net expenditure for 2014-2015 is $871,968,500.

 

We also met to discuss the Estimates of the Department of Health and Community Services whose mandate is for the overall direction of the Province's health and community services system, which provides services and programs aimed at the prevention of disease and the promotion, restoration, and maintenance of health and well-being.  These goals are supported by the various programs of the department which include funding for the operation of hospitals, health care centres, long-term care facilities, and the provision of medical care, public health and other community services.

 

Some of the investments initiatives, Mr. Speaker, in Budget 2014 highlights $2 million to increase capacity for autism assessment, and to reduce wait times for children with autism and other developmental conditions annualizing to $3.9 million in 2015-2016; $1.8 million to continue implementing the provincial wait-time strategy for hip and knee joint replacement; $1.2 million to address the increased growth in hemodialysis in St. John's and in Stephenville; over $700,000 to expand the Medical Transportation Assistance Program; $350,000 to expand the provincial vaccination program including greater access to influenza vaccines, whooping cough vaccines for adults, and second dose chicken pox vaccine for children; over $158,000 to expand the Newborn Screening Program to include cystic fibrosis; $24 million to enhance cancer treatment, including $7.1 million for coverage of new drug therapies under the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program; and $712,000 for a smoking cessation program for eligible persons.

 

Last year, Mr. Speaker, Health and Community Services spent $2,837,545,000.  This year, the budget we adopted in Estimates will see the budget for Health and Community Services increase to an estimated expenditure of $2,953,813,500.

 

Mr. Speaker, let me go on now to the Department of Justice.  The Department of Justice provides legal services to government and is primarily responsible for the protection of citizens of the Province in respect to persons and their property.  This objective is met by providing for police protection; the prosecution of alleged offenders; the operation of the court and correctional systems for the Province; services to victims of crime; protection of human rights; and Legal Aid services.  Drafting of legislation of the House of Assembly by the Office of the Legislative Counsel is also provided.  In addition, Mr. Speaker, the department is responsible for the co-ordination of Access to Information and Protection of Privacy, the Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Division, the Support Enforcement Program, the Family Justice Services Division, Fines Administration, and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

 

Mr. Speaker, let me highlight some of the investments through Budget 2014 for the Department of Justice.  There is $9.2 million to strengthen policing services and enhanced recruitment, search and rescue, and the court system; including $4.8 million in additional funding for police services, which, among other things, will be used to fund five new RCMP officers for Labrador, to increase Memorial University of Newfoundland's Police Studies Program class size, to enable the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary to add twenty new constables over the next three years, and additional funding for the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

Also, Mr. Speaker, Budget 2014 saw an increase of $116,000 to the annual grant provided to the Newfoundland and Labrador Search and Rescue Association for each of the next five years to be used to update vehicles and equipment, and also to be used for radio licensing fees.

 

Mr. Speaker, also Budget 2014 saw $2.1 million for the Legal Aid system, and $1.7 million for the Sherriff's Office to begin implementing recommendations of the external reviews that were commissioned in 2013, as announced on March 24, 2014.

 

Another initiative in Budget 2014, part of the Department of Justice, which I was very proud to be part of on April 14, along with my colleague, the MHA for the District of St. George's – Stephenville East, we were blessed to have the presence of the Premier to come to Stephenville and announce funding and the start of a brand new courthouse for the Stephenville, Bay St. George, Port au Port region.  Mr. Speaker, that was a very proud and defining moment for myself and the MHA for St. George's – Stephenville East.  This year, Mr. Speaker, the Department of Justice will spend $236,223,300 in the Department of Justice, as we brought forward in the Estimates.

 

The Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs has a mandate to support the financial stability and viability of municipalities, and the efficient and effective delivery of municipal services.  The department, Mr. Speaker, assists municipalities in meeting their infrastructure needs, and provides financial and administrative tools to support sound municipal governance.  The Fire and Emergency Services agency is responsible for the co-ordination of the overall services in Fire and Emergency Services.  The department also leads the formulation of government's intergovernmental policies and strategies, and monitors and co-ordinates interdepartmental initiatives to ensure their consistent application.

 

Mr. Speaker, some of the highlights in the Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs through Budget 2014: a new three-year $200 million Municipal Capital Works Program as announced on March 11, 2014, will fund high priority areas such as delivery of clean drinking water, as well as upgrades to roads and wastewater systems.  As part of this program, approximately $100 million is being allocated to the Province's seven largest municipalities.  This takes into consideration prior levels of funding for municipal infrastructure and Municipal Operating Grants to ensure that their needs are being adequately addressed.

 

Mr. Speaker, another initiative of this government and highlighted in Budget 2014 will be $4.5 million that is allocated for brand new fire trucks throughout municipalities and communities in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  This will include a one-time $3 million increase in the funding over last year's total.  This investment is to support and help our valuable and dedicated firefighters in the Province. 

 

Mr. Speaker, total budget expenditure for the Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs in 2014-2015 is allocated at $177,793,800.  When we did the Estimates and we went through the departments line by line, there were some policy questions asked by members of the Opposition.  At the end of every session when we voted on it, there was unanimous support for the Estimates of the Budget.  I am looking forward to unanimous support of the overall Budget that was brought forward in March of this year.

 

Mr. Speaker, Budget 2014: Shared Prosperity, Fair Society, Balanced Outlook will benefit the people and the communities that make up our Province with targeted expenditure in areas of health, education, child care, infrastructure, and economic development.  To conclude my remarks on Budget Estimates Concurrence for this year, let me again say to the people of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador we have built a strong foundation.  We will continue to make key investments for the people and in the people of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the privilege to speak to Concurrence tonight.  I look forward to further debates on the Budget as we go through the session.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Bay of Islands.

 

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I just want to rise and have a few minutes to speak on the Budget and on the Estimates.  I just heard the Member for Port au Port and, yes, there are a lot of good things in the Budget.  I would never deny that.  There are good things in the Budget.  There are a lot of things that help a lot of people out in the Province.  That is obvious and that is a positive thing.  There is absolutely no doubt about it. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the Estimates that were here tonight and the ones that I am going to be speaking about are Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs, Health and Community Services, and Education.  I am just going to have a few words about each one and just pass on some of my concerns and highlights that I have noticed during the Estimates, during the Budget Speech, and going through the Budget in discussions here in the House.

 

Mr. Speaker, I know sometimes that as a government you get so many asks, you get so many requests.  I know they cannot all be met.  I am 100 per cent confident that if someone had all the funds to give all the requests that are made to every department, it would be an ideal world.  I know it is not an ideal world. 

 

I look at the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs.  In the Bay of Islands alone there is $18 million worth of requests from the Bay of Islands.  You just cannot fulfill that.  No government can fulfill that.  This is not being critical of the government if you do not get everything you ask.  What you do ask for is to try to have some input to get the priorities. 

 

As the member for the area you are in constant contact with the towns; you are speaking to the towns.  You would like to be able to pass on the priorities of the towns, and also to be treated fairly, as we all expect to do and we are all going to fight to do.  I understand politics.  I understand at times there is a decision that may be made, and if they are of equal weight and both health and safety are taken care of, Mr. Speaker, I understand the politics of funding in government.

 

What we need to do is we need co-operation.  You do not get that by us trying to just say everything the government is doing is bad, or any time we make a request or any time we make a suggestion that we are criticizing the government.  Mr. Speaker, that is not the way it works.

 

I know I am not allowed to bring up some of the JCPs in the area.  I am not allowed to bring them up, and do you know why?  Because the minister here is around speaking to everybody and saying okay, here is the best we can do; what do you think?  That is the way it should be.  How can you argue with that, Mr. Speaker?  How can you argue when the minister comes over to the Opposition and says okay, here is the money that is available; here is how I did it.  Everybody is going to be treated the same.  How can you argue with it? 

You may not get everything you want.  You may not get the projects you want, but you cannot argue about the process.  You cannot argue about being treated fair.  If you go back to your district with the JCPs and there are some that you cannot fulfill, you cannot go back and blame it on government.  You have to say that is all the money that is there.  That has been done before, Mr. Speaker.

 

To the minister, that is the way I have always said we should work.  You may never get everything you want - there is no way you are going to get everything you want - but as long as you are treated fair, you can go back and you can justify it in your district.  You can justify it to all the residents of the Bay of Islands if you are treated fair.

 

I said it from day one, I said it before and I know myself and the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs had a meeting with the Town of Lark Harbour and York Harbour this past Friday, we were very honest and we were very upfront. 

 

The towns made a request and I informed the minister at the meeting.  I said: Minister, I informed them that can never happen.  They tried, and I said it in front of the group: This just cannot happen; it would be against all government policy.  They said: We will try.  We work well together. 

 

Last night when I spoke, I mentioned how we dealt with the two towns.  The two towns were very, very pleased, by the way.  At least they got a proper hearing.  They sat down.  We will wait and see the outcome, but the towns were very pleased.

 

Mr. Speaker, I will just go through a few of the towns in the Bay of Islands and talk about some of the asks that they are looking for.  As I just mentioned to the minister, we had the meeting with the Towns of Lark Harbour and York Harbour concerning amalgamation.  I know Lark Harbour is looking for Phase 2 of water and sewer.  York Harbour has not reached that stage yet.  They are going to hopefully get a feasibility study – which is all part of the amalgamation – to see if it is feasible to run a water system off the Lark Harbour system or start their own system.

Mr. Speaker, also some of the concerns that they have are a new fire truck and upgrades to their fire hall and their town hall, especially if they amalgamate.  There is very great co-operation with both towns now.  There is a willingness by both towns to amalgamate.  They are hoping they can work it out with the department.  The towns are on side. 

 

Those are some of the concerns that they have there, Mr. Speaker, and they were all raised with the minister last week.  Hopefully, that is going to come.  It will be great for both towns because they share the same church, the same fire department, and now the same Firettes.  There are shared services there. 

 

Then in Lark Harbour they have what they call the Outer Bay of Islands Enhancement Committee.  Mr. Speaker, it is a group of volunteers who got together and are putting up a lot of climbing, a lot of hiking in the area.  You can go to Blow-Me-Down Brook and you can go to Cedar Cove where you need ropes to get up.  There are five or six great trails in that area. 

 

They applied for a Community Enhancement Program also.  Every year they get it and they upgrade and extend the trails, Mr. Speaker.  It is great for tourism.  When tourists come in the area they want to stay that extra night because of these hiking trails.  A lot of this is done through government involvement and government help and assistance.  They are very proud of their work.  They should be proud of their work.

 

Mr. Speaker, I go to Humber Arm South.  The major request in Humber Arm South is the water and sewer for Frenchman's Cove.  That was committed years ago.  It had to stop because of the funding.  It is a little over $1 million to finish it off.  That is their priority. 

 

They are also looking for some firefighting equipment because their town now is about twelve, fifteen kilometres long.  They have a fish plant with 200-300 workers in it, Mr. Speaker.  They have a school that the fire department is responsible for.  That town has grown by leaps and bounds.  They need fire protection equipment, and I know the application is in to the minister for that also.  I know every town that puts a request in just cannot get everything they want.  I understand that.  I understand that totally, Mr. Speaker, but, then again, it is my job to ensure that their request is being heard by the minister.

 

Mr. Speaker, they also put a grant in to the department.  I am hoping also that their grant can be looked upon favourably, because they do a lot of work in the parks area.  They do well with the Community Enhancement Program also.  They did a lot of great work with that also. 

 

I know they have an application in for the JCPs.  They received one last year, Mr. Speaker.  They received a JCP last year; they had a Come Home Year.  What a celebration for a week.  What a celebration in the Town of Humber Arm South for a week.  They had runs out to Woods Island.  They floated in a house.  They made a house and floated it in as the people who moved off Woods Island did years and years ago.  They re-enacted that.  What a great time they had in the Town of Humber Arm South.

 

Mr. Speaker, we move up to Mount Moriah.  They are looking also for an extension to the waterline and looking for a new fire hall as Mount Moriah has grown also.  As the town has grown, so have the needs.  These are all the requests that have gone in to the minister.  A lot of these requests are what the town needs.  There may be a little extra, but the majority of the requests are what the towns need to survive and to expand. 

 

I understand again and I will repeat it again, you cannot get everything.  It is my duty as the MHA to bring it up to the ministers: Here is a request for the towns; what can we do?  How can we ensure they are getting their fair share?  Mr. Speaker, if that is done, that is all we can do.  That is all any of us could do. 

 

I go over to the Town of Irishtown-Summerside, and I know the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs is listening attentively.  There was a grant put in, I say to the minister, for an emergency grant.  This is very important to the town.  It was turned down, which is understandable.  This is not a knock on the department.  They were told to reapply under Capital Works, which they did.  I think it was about $75,000, Mr. Speaker.  The $75,000 is going to increase the booster on the water because the chlorination cannot get all the way up the line to have clean, safe drinking water as the town expanded. 

 

I know the minister is looking and I know he is listening.  I just want to ensure that the minister is well aware of that one in the Town of Irishtown-Summerside because it is a water quality problem.  It was $75,000 which was the request.  It was turned down, and I can understand.  It was only another three to four months and Capital Works would be out and it would be done very quickly in the town because there are a few problems with the water.  I just bring that up to the minister's attention because it is a serious issue to a lot of towns there, Mr. Speaker.

 

There is a sewer problem in Summerside.  It is the lower end of Summerside, Mr. Speaker.  It is on top of the hill, what they call the plant hill part.  There is a major problem with the sewer.  There is another part of the sewer, Summerside before they run into Meadows, it is a major problem with the sewer. 

 

These are the types of sewer problems that over the years, Mr. Speaker, were not addressed that now we need to have addressed.  Once again we cannot do it all overnight; we cannot do it all in one Budget.  We may not do it all in two, or three, or four Budgets, but we have to set the priorities and we have to go and do it right.  If we can see bit by bit improvements in water quality, of water and sewer, we can all stand up and say we are doing our job.  We cannot do it all, but we can make a difference.

 

Mr. Speaker, I go on to Meadows.  Meadows have, over the years, done well with the water and sewer.  Meadows started earlier than most towns.  Meadows did well with the water and sewer.  Last year they got some money to pave some roads.  This year they are also looking to pave some roads in the district.  Once again it is coming up in Meadows firefighting equipment. 

 

Mr. Speaker, Meadows now has a K-12 school.  It is a big responsibility for the town.  They had a new truck about three years ago, I think.  Three or four years ago they received a new fire truck.  They need the equipment for the volunteer firefighters to ensure that they have enough if there is ever a problem at the school.  Like they say, there may never be one, but we as firefighters have to be prepared.  That is why there is firefighting equipment also.  It was on the list last year for firefighting equipment for the Town of Meadows. 

 

Another big thing – and I know the Minister of Tourism would be interested in this – they did a feasibility study on a ball field.  I know the money is going to Capital Works and they did it.  The request is in now for a softball field for the whole North Shore, regionalization for the North Shore.  Years ago the North Shore had a great program in softball.  It had a great high school program in softball, but now when they go practice softball they have to go to Corner Brook because they do not have a field.  That is something again to the minister; I think last year there was money approved.  They went out and did some soil testing and that is back.  That is in Capital Works also.  That fits right into the government's program of active living for the youth, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Mr. Speaker, Gillams also have some water and sewer issues.  They have some problems with the roads.  There is always an issue there.  The former Minister of Education, I have to speak about him for a minute.  There was an issue over on Gillams Road where they are trying to get a school bus to go up the road.  I spoke to the minister and we wrote the minister.  The minister said we cannot get involved but here is the way to go about it. 

 

What we did is we met with the school board in Corner Brook and we met with the town council.  I have to give the town council their due on the work that they did and I have to give the parents their due.  They had to widen the road in certain areas and they had to go up and make a turnaround.  The residents of Farm Road in Gillams, Mr. Speaker, went out with their power saws and cut down some blind spots.  The town went in, they got a tractor and they leveled off the blind spots. 

 

The Department of Education at the time put a few dollars in to help with the widening of one or two parts of the road and to take away the blind spot.  Now there are over forty kids that the bus can go in over two kilometres, about a kilometre and a half, Mr. Speaker, to pick up the kids. 

I just wanted to make sure the former minister – I think the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services now, I just wanted to recognize you for your assistance on that because the parents are very pleased that the kids do not have to walk out to the road.  I just wanted to recognize that.  That is a major improvement in there, and safety for the kids.  Safety was the big thing.  If you are coming out in the wintertime on those roads, a kilometre or a kilometre and a half, walking that far because the bus could not get in.

 

Also, Mr. Speaker, and the minister is well aware of this.  The school board at the time got permission to buy a smaller bus to go in the road.  They got permission from the Department of Education to buy a smaller bus so they could go in the road.  I just wanted to thank the former minister, the school board, the parents, and the town council for their assistance and co-operation in that. 

 

Mr. Speaker, we have McIver's, another town in the Bay of Islands that needs waterline extensions and an upgrade in their sanitary system.  The Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs with the CEP, they did a lot of great work with the town hall with that program.  There are a lot of improvements to the town hall. 

 

Then you go on to Cox's Cove, Mr. Speaker, where paving is a big issue.  The former Minister of Municipal Affairs – there was a fire truck that was awarded last year to Cox's Cove.  We were at the fireman's ball, the minister was invited out but he could not make it.  I passed on his regrets that he could not make it.  The tenders have been released for the new fire truck in Cox's Cove.

 

Mr. Speaker, why it is so important to have a fire truck, is Cox's Cove is on the end of Route 440.  It is on the end.  The closest place that can help them is McIver's.  McIver's is a fair distance away with a fire truck to come down.  So it is very important that Cox's Cove get a fire truck.  The fire truck they had was about thirty years old.  They had to get parts brought in from England.  The need was recognized.

 

The firefighters at the fireman's ball asked me – I did forward it and I will say it publicly now.  They want to thank the former minister for coming out and making the announcement on the fire truck in the town hall with the residents, with the town.  They wanted to say thank you for that because you took the time to come out and speak to them on that. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I said it earlier, there is $18 million worth of requests in the Bay of Islands.  I do not expect all of that to be approved this year.  It just cannot be done.  It would not be logical to go to every town and say yes, you should get everything.  It just should not happen, but as happened with the JCPs, it is a prime example of how you come over and say: Here is how I did it.  Everybody in this House of Assembly is treated equally.  If you have something to complain about you cannot go back to your district.  Figure out what you want done.  That is the best I can do because everybody is treated the same.

 

Someone like myself, or any other member on this side goes back to the district to say, there is stuff we cannot get approved but we have our fair share.  How can we argue with that?  We just cannot.  We just cannot, and that is the way it should be, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am going to bring up Health and Community Services for a few minutes in the Estimates.  I say to the minister, I do not know the short-term solution.  The long-term, of course, is the long-term care facility they are going to build. 

 

In the hospital now there are a lot of people who are in emergency rooms on stretchers.  I do not know if there is a wing in the hospital we can open to alleviate, for the short-term, people on stretchers in the hallways.  This is not being critical.  This is absolutely not being critical.  This is raising a concern that has been brought to my attention.  I was involved with one or two patients personally. 

 

I ask the Minister of Health and Community Services if he can contact the board and see if there is another wing we could open up for the short term.  See if there is some way we can alleviate this problem, because when you get calls from people who are out in the hallways for seven or eight, or nine days – and I know the CEO, she is a great lady.  She would do whatever she can for any person.  I know that, Mr. Speaker, but she can only work with the resources she has. 

 

I ask the Minister of Health and Community Services if he would ask his officials to see if there is anything we can do in the short term to help out with the patient problem in Corner Brook. 

 

Mr. Speaker, my time is up and I thank you for the time.  I thank all ministers for their attention.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER (Verge): The hon. the Member for Baie Verte – Springdale.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. POLLARD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It is certainly a privilege and an honour for me to stand in this hon. House in Concurrence.  First of all, I just want to say a great big thank you and a sincere thank you to the people from my district, the District of Baie Verte – Springdale for their ongoing support.  Without them I would not be here tonight.  I thank them for their support on a daily basis.  As all MHAs, we are certainly taking our job seriously and we appreciate the support our constituents give us on a daily basis. 

 

Before I get into the crux of what I want to talk about, Mr. Speaker, this being National Nurses Week, I would like to join the Minister of Health as well, a couple of days ago, by acknowledging and thanking all of our nurses out there, nurse practitioners, LPNs, and RNs for their outstanding, stellar, stupendous work that they do on a daily basis.  I would like to thank them for their caring, heart, and the compassion they exhibit, that they display to all patients, and for their professionalism.  We would like to thank them from the bottom of our hearts.

 

Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, this being graduation season, I just wanted to say a great big congratulations to the graduates from Indian River High School, Springdale, and the graduates from MSB Regional High School in Middle Arm.  I attended both of these graduations, and, Mr. Speaker, they did an outstanding job.  The teachers, the parents, and the whole community support education wholeheartedly. 

 

I also commend Valmont Academy.  I was invited to their graduation, but due to the clash I could not attend both, so my assistant went there, Patrick Jim, and he told me they had a tremendous graduation as well.  So hats off to all three schools, Mr. Speaker.  I look forward to attending Cape John Collegiate graduation this Friday night coming.  They always have a nice grad as well.

 

What are we doing right now, Mr. Speaker?  For the purpose of the listeners and your audience out there, those people who are listening and glued to the TV at this very moment.  When a standing committee has completed its review of the Estimates, the Chair of that committee reports to the House that the committee has approved the Estimates referred to it.  A motion to concur in each committee report is now before this House.  It is debated for up to a maximum of three hours.  In essence, we get a total of nine hours to debate the Concurrence Motion – three hours per committee.  So right now, as was pointed out earlier by previous speakers, we are debating the social services motion or Concurrence.

 

Mr. Speaker, when the Budget is delivered, there are three committees formed to discuss the Estimates.  Now, I guess that is phraseology or terminology out there that probably a lot of people are not familiar with.  What are we talking about when we refer to the word, Estimates?  Well, Estimates are the proposed expenditures for government departments and agencies, as well as the Legislature, by the way, for the upcoming fiscal year, tabled as part of the annual Budget process, Mr. Speaker. 

 

For your information, there are three Committees formulated: the Resource Committee, which is Chaired by the Member for Exploits; the Government Services Committee that was Chaired by the Member for Conception Bay East – Bell Island, and there is also a third Committee, the Social Services Committee, which was chaired by the Member for Port de Grave.  All three Chairs did an outstanding job, Mr. Speaker.  Each Committee, I do believe, consists of six members. 

 

You might ask: What is the purpose of each Committee?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. POLLARD: The purpose of each Committee is to discuss the proposed expenditures for the upcoming year and compare previous years as well.  There is basically a three-week schedule whereby the Committees will meet in the morning from 9:00 to about noon hour and also at 6:00 p.m. to about 9:00 p.m. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. POLLARD: Sometimes, Mr. Speaker, should other members request and want longer time, the ministers and the department officials oblige that request and they will have probably another session, but they do not have to. 

 

It is an opportunity for the Committee members to probe the department officials and the minister to get answers as to why the money is spent, where the money is spent, and where it goes.  Basically, it is an opportunity where we are educated of what services are offered and what programs are offered as well. 

 

It is an opportunity or a process whereby I suppose we call it – we get deep in the bowels of each department.  Sometimes officials, ministers, and the staff are all held accountable.  There is nothing wrong with that, Mr. Speaker.  Everybody asks questions and they want to know where the money goes and the expenditures.

 

It is a tedious process, Mr. Speaker, that enables the minister and department officials to answer questions as basically the minister, his officials, and staff are really on the hot seat.  I must say it is a very good exercise and it is very educational as well.  Last year, I believe I can remember I went to every session just to educate myself who the deputy ministers were, who the ADMs were, who the staff members were, and who the ministers were of each department because things change from time to time.  I must say it was very educational. 

 

I also commend each minister and the department officials for their stellar job.  They were willing to answer all kinds of questions, Mr. Speaker.  The officials also, the staff members of each department, displayed a very in-depth knowledge and professionalism as they articulated their responses.  I would also like to commend each Committee member for their diligent work as well. 

 

I was a member of the Social Services Committee.  The other members of the Social Services Committee include: Chairperson, the Member for Port de Grave; the Member for Port au Port; the Member for St. John's North; the Member for Bonavista South; and the Member for St. John's Centre.  Mr. Speaker, each Committee is comprised of members from all parties, so I suppose we can call it an all-party committee.

 

Mr. Speaker, under the social services sector here are the following departments that we had to examine and ask questions: the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services; the Department of Education; the Department of Health and Community Services; the Department of Justice; the Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs; and the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.

 

What I want to do now, Mr. Speaker, is to examine the proposed expenditure of each department.  First of all, let's examine the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services; $204,185,000 was the expenditures, representing 2.6 per cent of the expenditures.  The Department of Education saw $876,163,000; 11 per cent of the expenditures, Mr. Speaker.  The Department of Health and Community Services was $2,988,620,000.  In other words, it was almost $3 billion; 37.6 per cent of the expenditures.  The Department of Justice expenditures were $249,587,000, which represented 3.1 per cent of the expenditures.  The Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs was $266,350,000.  In other words, it was 3.3 per cent of the expenditures.  The Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation was $41,495,000; 0.5 per cent of expenditures.

 

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting that all of these departments combined yielded a grand total, under the social sector, of 58 per cent of expenditures.  Just for your curiosity, the resource sector was 22.6 per cent approximately and the government services was approximately 19.3 per cent.  These were the expenditures of the social services.

 

Mr. Speaker, for a couple of minutes I would also like to get into probably what we call a mandate, a mission, or the objective of each department.  I will read it to you briefly, just to give those people who are watching by TV out there some idea of what each department if responsible for.

 

First of all, I will go with Health and Community Services.  The Department of Health and Community Services is responsible for the overall direction of the Province's health and community services system, which provides services and programs aimed at the prevention of disease and the promotion, restoration and maintenance of health and well-being.  These goals are supported by various programs of the department, which include funding for the operation of hospitals, health care centres, long-term care facilities and the provision of medical care, public health and other community services. 

 

With respect to Child, Youth and Family Services, the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services is responsible for the planning and the development of policies, standards and programs, as well as service delivery, to help ensure the safety and well-being of children and youth in Newfoundland and Labrador.  The legislative framework which governs the provision of services for children, youth and families in this Province includes: Children and Youth Care and Protection Act, the Adoption Act, the Child Care Services Act, Youth Criminal Justice Act, and the Young Persons Offences Act. 

 

With respect to the Education department, Mr. Speaker, here is the mandate, the objective, or the mission of that department, briefly.  The Department of Education is responsible for developing and administering a provincial system of education which encourages all students to achieve their maximum potential development.  It administers early learning opportunities for preschool children and the primary, elementary, and secondary school system, with programs sufficiently flexible to meet the individual needs and capabilities of all children.  Specialized educational programs are provided for disabled children who are unable to benefit from regular classroom instruction.  The department is responsible for the provision of literacy, library, and information services in the Province.

 

With respect to Justice, Mr. Speaker, the Department of Justice provides legal services to government and is primarily responsible for the protection of residents of the Province with respect to their persons and their property.  This objective is met by providing legal advice to all departments of government; providing for police protection; the prosecution of accused persons; the administration of the courts and operation of the Province's correctional systems; services to victims of crime; protection of human rights; and Legal Aid services.  Drafting of legislation for the House of Assembly by the Office of the Legislative Counsel is also provided.  In addition, the department is responsible for the Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Division, the Support Enforcement Program, the Family Justice Services Division, Fines Administration, and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

 

With respect to Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs, the Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs supports the financial stability and viability of the municipalities and the efficient and effective delivery of municipal services right across the Province.  It assists municipalities in meeting their infrastructure needs and provides financial and administrative tools to support sound municipal governance. 

 

These goals are achieved through programs aimed at strengthening local governance, providing operational support, administering grants and subsidies for community infrastructure, and providing technical, financial, and land-use planning and support for the development of municipal infrastructure.  The department leads the formulation of government's intergovernmental policies and strategies, and monitors and co-ordinates interdepartmental initiatives to ensure their consistent application.  The Fire and Emergency Services agency is responsible for co-ordinating overall provincial efforts in areas of fire and emergency services. 

 

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation, in keeping with a social housing plan for Newfoundland and Labrador, the strategic directions for Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation include working with partners so that housing assistance is part of an integrated approach to well-being and community building, allocating resources to assist those with the greatest housing need, and providing housing assistance that is responsive to client needs.  In response, Newfoundland and Labrador Housing goals and objectives for 2014-2015 address changing housing needs among low- and moderate-income households right across the Province.

 

Mr. Speaker, that concludes the explanation of the mandate, the mission, or the objective of each department.  I would just like to zero in on for a few moments I have left talking about investments in child care under the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services. 

 

As you know, our government is certainly committed to enhancing the accessibility, affordability, and the quality of regulated child care services right across this great Province of ours.  Budget 2014 is no exception.  An additional $11.4 million was given to this department bringing the total budget to approximately $42.5 million.  That budget is served to implement our 10-Year Child Care Strategy, entitled: Caring for our Future: Provincial Strategy for Quality, Sufficient and Affordable Child Care in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

Mr. Speaker, there are seven key investments that are part of this strategy, which I would like to outline very briefly and the monetary figure on each one.  Number one, Child Care Services Subsidy; there is $15.7 million to assist eligible families with child care rates in a licensed child care centre or regulated family care home through the Child Care Services Subsidy.  Number two, the operating grant program; there is $9.7 million to implement a new voluntary operating grant program to provide funding to eligible child care centres that set child care rates at the provincial subsidy rate and meet program criteria.

 

Investment number three: Early Learning and Child Care Supplement; there is $6.1 million for qualified Level 1 early childhood educators working directly with children in a homeroom to receive a total annual supplement of $6,660, and Level 2 program operators to receive a total annual supplement of $10,000.

 

Investment number four, Mr. Speaker, Child Care Capacity Initiative, which sees $1.8 million to provide start-up grants for non-profit, community-based organizations offering regulated child care services through the Child Care Capacity Initiative.  Investment number five, Inclusion Supports Program; $1.8 million for the Inclusion Supports Program to provide additional staff or funded spaces to accommodate all children in regular child care programming.

 

Investment number six, Family Child Care Initiative; $1 million for the Family Child Care Initiative that provides regulated child care spaces with an emphasis on spaces for infants, as well as an opportunity for individuals to enter and remain in the labour force, either by becoming a regulated family care provider or by availing of the regulated family care spaces.

 

Investment number seven, Workplace Training Program; there is $500,000 set aside to commence a Workplace Training Program that will include prior learning and assessment and recognition to support early childhood educators upgrading their qualifications.

 

Now, Mr. Speaker, in the remaining time I have left, I would just like to go back and refer to the initiative number four, the Child Care Capacity Initiative.  I would like to thank the former minister, by the way, the Minister of Child, Youth and Family Services at the time, who came to Springdale about a couple of weeks ago, and during his visit to the Training Wheels Family Resource Program in Springdale he announced approximately $164,000 under this initiative to help strengthen child care services in Green Bay South, Springdale area, Baie Verte, and west of the Province in Lourdes.  The Training Wheels Family Resource Program will receive approximately $14,000 to further explore child care opportunities, with the aim of creating new regulated child care spaces in the area of Green Bay South and additional spaces in the Town of Springdale.

 

I would also like to point out, Mr. Speaker, that the Baie Verte Peninsula Family Resource Program received the bulk of that, the amount of $148,000 approximately, to support the expansion of the existing regulated child care centre in Baie Verte to create an additional twenty-four school aged spaces.  That is great, Mr. Speaker, for that area.  I am sure they appreciate that.

 

In conclusion, to date, our provincial government has invested over $294,700 to assist this particular facility, the Baie Verte Peninsula Family Resource Program, with providing child care services in that particular community. 

 

With that being said, Mr. Speaker, I will conclude my remarks at this time.

 

Thank you very much.

 

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

 

MS ROGERS: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

I am very happy to stand and to speak at Concurrence.  I want to thank all the staff from the various departments who appeared for Committee Estimates during social services.  It was a great experience.  It is always wonderful to meet staff who have worked so hard to make the departments that they work in, work the way they should work, and also to see staff who work so hard to serve the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

The wonderful thing is we have staff who have been at it for a long time and we also have younger, newer staff as well.  It is great to see that mix and it is great to be able to hear some of the successes but also while looking at Estimates and looking at budgets and line by line items, to see some of the challenges that are faced.  The challenges that are faced by the staff who are working in the departments and the challenges then that affect the daily lives of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

Our social services are all about meeting the needs of our people so that everybody can thrive.  Oftentimes, the needs are great.  Not necessarily because of any deficiency on behalf of our people, but it is about how we live as a society and it is about how we take care of one another.  It is about how we can all participate in our communities to the fullest of our ability.  Our social services should not just be about emergencies and Band-Aids.  In fact, it is about how we honour each other.  It is about how we respect each other, and it is how we make sure that we all have our basic needs met. 

 

Justice is wrapped up in social services as well, Mr. Speaker.  It is about how we agree to share our fantastic wonderful Province with one another and how we share our resources with one another.  It is about education and housing, the needs of our children present and future, the needs of our seniors, the needs of those who are physically unwell, and the needs of those who need jobs.  It is about all those wonderful things that make up a community, that make up a thriving community, and that make up a community that is living in prosperity. 

 

One thing I would like to point out, Mr. Speaker, it is also about fairness.  In Newfoundland and Labrador, for the most part we are a people who are fair.  We are fair to one another.  We are a people who come from a tradition of sharing.  Whether it was in the fishery or in forestry, people helped build each other's houses.  People made sure that everybody in the community had enough to eat, whether it is by sharing fish, sharing moose, sharing a garden. 

 

We took care of our elderly.  We took care of our sick.  It is what we do, and it is what a prosperous society does.  It may be a little more sophisticated, complicated, complex, and formalized now, but it is basically about the way that we live together, the way that we see our present, and it is a way that we look towards our future. 

 

We are a have Province.  Our current Premier, in the previous Budget to this, talked about the golden age we are in, so that we are again in a time of historic prosperity.  That prosperity is a result of our natural resources, whether it is fishery or mining, forestry or oil.  It is also based on people's hard work, on people's labour, the sweat of people's brow, and on people's expertise.  It is also based on not only the large multinational corporations that come in and work with the Province to exploit our natural resources so that the Province as well can make some profits, but that the Province also benefits from that. 

 

Are they benefiting the most?  I am not so sure.  That is something that needs to be debated as well.  It is also the small businesses because we know that small business is the backbone.  Mr. Speaker, the small businesses and economic diversity within regions of the Province are the backbone of our economy and the backbone of our prosperity.  Because of our prosperity and the fact that we are a have Province, there are many benefits of that but there are also some very difficult challenges that many people experience because of our prosperity. 

 

There are negative effects for some people.  We do not all benefit the same way and that is probably not possible, but some of us are harder hit.  Some people in the Province are harder hit by some of the negative effects of prosperity.  What we need to be able to do in order to be fair – because that is what we want to do, that comes from our cultural reality to be fair – is that we have to mitigate some of the economic challenges that people are facing because of our prosperity.

 

We are a have Province.  We are a have Province with incredible potential.  The role of government is to make sure to maximize that potential so that everybody can thrive, so that everybody can participate.  In this Budget, Mr. Speaker, I do believe there are some positive things that will help people to fully participate in our communities and be able to thrive; however, there are some big gaps as well.

 

One of the problems is we do not have in many areas – and I will get to that – overarching strategies, overarching policies, but what we see more so is a piece of this and a piece of that where people have to scramble then.  It could be different.  We are 500,000 people in a time of prosperity.  We can afford to be leaders in our social services.  I would like to talk about some of those, Mr. Speaker.

 

In the whole realm of social policy we could be leaders.  It is not about spending uncontrollably.  It is about wise investment; wise investment in our people.  Wise investment in our communities so that people can fully participate, so that they can be making money, so that their families can be taken care of.  For those who cannot participate in that way, to make sure they have security of person so that people can get on with their lives.

 

I would like to look at child care.  Child care is a great underpinning in foundation.  The government has said they have invested money in child care, but the problem is we all know, particularly the people in Labrador who live adjacent to Quebec, they see what happens with their Quebec neighbours.  They have child care, fully accessible early childhood development, and fantastic learning opportunities for children for $7 to $8 a day for everyone.  Why can we not have that, Mr. Speaker?  I believe we can have that.  Studies have shown that yes, indeed, we can have that.  That is about investment.

 

Although the government is talking about the great amounts of money they are putting into child care, it still leaves people scrambling.  It leaves people scrambling because young working families still have to pay $800 to $1,000 a month per child.  It does not have to be that way. 

 

Mr. Speaker, it is sort of like, if we decided in our roads and in our highways that everybody was going to be given a little bit of money and they are responsible for their piece of road that they got the money for, rather than putting all our money together, like we do with roads, so that we can ensure we have a viable, safe, and top of the line roadway system.  That is what we need to do with our child care.  It is in pieces.  Rather than having a full, universal, accessible child care program under our educational system, we end up with pieces here and pieces there and people still scrambling. 

 

I insist, Mr. Speaker, and I am sure everybody in this House does, that the face of a prosperous, modern society is not one where people have to scramble to try and get their needs met so that they can fully participate in the economy and the well-being of their communities.

 

Housing is a huge issue, Mr. Speaker.  In this Budget, there has been very little set aside for housing that takes us from the status quo.  As a matter of fact, we do not even have a status quo in housing.  What we have is we see we are losing; we are actually losing in our housing issues.  We are in a housing crisis almost throughout the Province.

 

The mayors of towns and cities all over the Province are using the terminology that we are in a housing crisis.  The housing crisis affects different people in different ways.  We can see people who have very complex needs, whether they have mental health problems or addictions problems and may have to live on Income Support, they cannot find adequate safe housing.  When we have seniors who are seeing their incomes, because of the increases in the cost of living, diminish.  They are having a hard time with housing.

 

We see young working families who may have child care costs of $800 to $1,000 per child per month, plus student loan costs, plus maybe a car payment, and then on top of that really expensive housing costs.  They are getting creamed, Mr. Speaker, because it is coming at them from all areas. 

 

The City of St. John's has developed a very interesting project.  They have taken some leadership in the whole area of housing.  They have started a housing program to help working families buy their own homes.  This is something that this government promised in their Blue Book; they promised it.  We have not seen hide or tail of it in the last Budget or in this Budget or in the Budget before, although they promised there would be a home ownership program to help working families buy a home. 

 

We all know how important it is to be able to buy a home.  It builds up family wealth.  It builds up equity for the family.  That is a really important thing because it stabilizes housing for working families. 

The City of St. John's has taken land that belongs to the city and they have done a special tax incentive.  They have put out a Request for Proposals for developers to work with them, to have the city work with them, developers to work with the city – so private enterprise and the municipal government to work together to make it possible for young families to buy houses.  That is leadership, Mr. Speaker.

 

One would hope that would have been in this Budget.  It is not.  What the government did is they have invested more money in the REEP, but in fact that is not even the status quo.  It brings us up to what we were the year before last, not last year, because last year they cut it in half.  This money does not even give us the status quo, because the money – everything costs more.  We are not even holding our ground, it is actually going backwards.  This government is losing ground in the area of housing.

 

There are a few more rent sups to help people who are really caught in the crunch.  A lot of single people in major towns and cities in the Province cannot afford rent, they cannot afford housing.  They have over 30 per cent of their income on shelter. 

 

The City of St. John's – and I know of other municipalities as well in the Province that are looking at similar programs where they are looking at the land they have, they are looking at tax incentives, and they are trying to work with private developers to build more affordable housing.  Why cannot this government do that?  We are in a time of prosperity, we can do it.  We are 500,000 people.  We have so many resources, and among the resources we have is land.  This government controls a lot of land that is underutilized that can be used in projects like this. 

 

I believe every member of this House wants to ensure that everybody in Newfoundland and Labrador has a safe affordable roof over their heads.  Everybody in this Chamber wants that.  Why can't this government take that leadership? 

 

I would hope this government is going to take that leadership.  I know they have hired somebody to do policy and research in housing, but we have not seen anything reflected of that work in this Budget.  I would hope the Minister Responsible for Housing will seriously look at that and take some leadership and take some risks. 

 

My goodness, we can take risks.  We are in that time of prosperity, we have 500,000 people.  We can take risks.  We can be innovative, but we are not even being forward thinking.  In fact, what is happening is we are not even holding the status quo.  We are losing ground, particularly in the area of housing. 

 

Part of housing also is energy efficiency.  Energy efficiency is not just about telling people not to use energy.  It is not about denying people.  It is about actually creating energy by not using so much.  It is actually producing energy for what we really do need to use it for. 

 

Newfoundland and Labrador was the only Province that did not participate in the energy efficiency study in the Atlantic energy project that involved the Atlantic Provinces and New England.  It was an economic study.  Newfoundland and Labrador was the only Province that did not participate in that.  I think that is a shame. 

 

I think we can be innovative.  I think we can be leaders in this area.  It is doable.  Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have always been innovative people.  We have always found ways to support ourselves.  We have always found ways to work well with the natural resources that we have. 

 

Vermont has a state energy company that is all about efficiency.  It has not produced any energy.  In fact, what it is doing with energy efficiency programs is reducing the need and the use of electricity in residential homes and also in commercial buildings.  By cutting back on the need, they are actually making more energy available.

 

Co-op housing, seniors housing, Aboriginal housing – because the federal government is pulling back from housing, they still do not have a national housing strategy, we are feeling those ill effects here in the Province.  The Province has to step up by pushing the federal government to have a full-fledged national housing strategy and we need a provincial housing strategy.  We need the Province to take that initiative and that leadership. 

 

We are starting to lose some of our social housing.  We are seeing some of our social housing units disappear because of the pull back from the federal government, and because some of the federal government housing commitments to social housing have expired.  We see that some of our existing housing units are falling into disrepair and are not being repaired. 

 

In my District of St. John's Centre alone, in Buckmaster's Circle a number of units have been torn down and there is no plan to replace them.  A number of units are boarded up.  We all see that.  All of us in this House in our own districts see houses that are boarded up that belong to Newfoundland and Labrador Housing. 

 

We are not even holding the status quo.  We are losing ground.  Mr. Speaker, that is not the face of a prosperous society.  We can do better.  With our prosperity and with a political will, we can do better.  I think an ideal step would be for this government to call an all-party standing committee on the housing crisis where we can all look at it together, where we can have experts present.  There are a lot of experts in the Province who are working on the issue of housing and who are working on the whole issue of homelessness.  We can also call in experts from all over the country.

 

Mr. Speaker, that is what we need to be doing right now; we need to be not a government and a people who are losing ground, but what we need to be is leaders.  We can take those risks.  We are at a time in our history with historic prosperity, with 500,000 people, with people who are willing to take risks.  We can do it.  We can do better.  That is what we miss in this Budget.  That is what we have uncovered in Concurrence, the line by line items. 

 

Mr. Speaker, what we see are missed opportunities, which I think is a shame in this day and age to have missed opportunities in these areas because there is so much potential.  Let us not rest on missed opportunities but actually push to maximize our potential.

 

Mr. Speaker, I see my time is up.  I look forward to standing again and speaking on more issues for Concurrence.

 

Thank you.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Bonavista South.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It is a pleasure to stand again in this House of Assembly to speak on Concurrence and the Estimates Committee.  I was informed by participating in the Estimates Committees that I have attended, Mr. Speaker.  This was also my third year participating in the Estimates Committees.  It is a great learning experience. 

 

I paid close attention, listened, communicated, and got a better understanding of how all the different departments function and the funding that goes into each and every department that I participated in at the Estimates Committee.  It is all about the social services sector.  Those are the type of Committees that I participated in as a Member of the House of Assembly, Committees such as: Education, Health and Community Services, Justice, Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs, the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation, Child, Youth and Family Services, and the Labour Relations Agency.  All of those departments and bodies of government are very important to all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, Mr. Speaker.

 

I listened attentively to the previous speaker from St. John's Centre.  I listened to some of the comments in relation to no leadership on this side of the House.  Since I have been a Member of the House of Assembly representing the District of Bonavista South I can say that I looked up to a number of strong leaders on this side of the House in different ministerial departments of this great government, Mr. Speaker.  One in particular, the Member for Gander –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLE: – was Responsible for Advanced Education and Skills, Responsible for Municipal Affairs, and Responsible for Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.  I am going to touch on some of the commitments that this government provided to people all across this Province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Budget 2014. 

 

I guess the people of the Province will decide who is telling the truth at the end of the day, Mr. Speaker.  The people on this side of the House have nothing to hide.  We are transparent, we listen to the people, and we turn what the people are saying into action.  We have proven that time over time over time.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLE: Our government supports the most vulnerable people in our society, Mr. Speaker; $170 million for the Poverty Reduction Strategy, a total investment of $1 billion since 2006. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLE: This government supports – in light of what the Member for St. John's Centre had to say – affordable housing.  We are addressing homelessness, Mr. Speaker.  I am going to identify areas to back up with facts what I am saying here tonight.  I did not intend to speak on this specific issue, but I have no other choice but to stand in this House and counteract what was said in this House tonight.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLE: If anyone wants to get up and rebut what I am saying, feel free to do so after, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLE: Newfoundland and Labrador Housing and this provincial government, Mr. Speaker, will again partner with the Government of Canada to extend the investment in the Affordable Housing Agreement for an unprecedented five years.  A $68 million agreement also extends to the Provincial Home Repair Program and assesses 2,100 households with low incomes to repair their homes.  That is an unprecedented amount of help to the people of this Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the most vulnerable in some cases.

 

These are the facts.  I am going to keep rolling out the facts as I speak here tonight, Mr. Speaker; $12 million over three years to extend the Residential Energy Efficiency Program to assist up to 1,000 low-income homeowners per year to energy retrofit their homes.  That is an unprecedented number.  There is $1 million to increase the Rent Supplement Program, bringing the current $8 million annual allocation to $9 million.  That is an increase of $1 million in that program. 

 

We do not show any leadership on this side of the House?  I sat attentively for three years in this House of Assembly listening to the negativity coming from the opposite side.  I feel tonight that I have an obligation on behalf of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador to stand in this House and put the facts out there on behalf of this government. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLE: The government of the day is doing so much with programs and listening to what the people are saying.  We will continue to listen to what the people are saying, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Can we be everything to everyone?  I am going to be honest; no, we cannot.  We make decisions.  We make decisions based on what the people are telling us, based on community groups, and based on community leaders.  We take what we are hearing and actually roll out in a fair, equitable manner, Mr. Speaker.  This is what this government is doing on this side of the House. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLE: Five hundred thousand dollars in additional funding for the Supportive Living Program, for a total annual investment of $5.3 million to address homelessness, Mr. Speaker, in this Province. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLE: To say that we are not doing anything and we are not showing leadership on this side of the House is somewhat shameful, Mr. Speaker.  It is shameful.

 

Nine million dollars over three years to extend the Home Modification Program –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: How much?

 

MR. LITTLE: Nine million dollars over three years to extend the Home Modification Program to provide financial assistance to homeowners with disabilities or seniors with low to moderate incomes who require accessibility changes to their residence. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I know for a fact in my district, the beautiful historic District of Bonavista South, there are people who actually applied for some of those programs and are delighted that programs like those are initiated by the Province, by this Government of Newfoundland and Labrador today.  We will continue to provide those programs, Mr. Speaker.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: That we will.

 

MR. LITTLE: We will.  There is $100,000 for the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Community Centre Summer Employment Program.  Mr. Speaker, there are a wide variety of programs.  That is another great program that this government continues to roll out and do on a regular basis.

 

We are looking at all areas of the Province.  This Province is a large geographical area, a Province with all kinds of infrastructure, all kinds of hospitals, nursing homes, and roadwork.  We look at each and every area of the Province and on an equitable, fair basis we roll out funding on an annual basis to the communities of Newfoundland and Labrador.  We will continue to do that.

 

Supports for health and wellness, there is $6.7 million for the continuation of the Adult Dental Program, which is very important to all of our people across this wonderful Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, services from $150 and sometimes up to $200 on an annual basis.  There is $700,000 to extend drug card coverage under the Prescription Drug Program, from six months to one year for low-income residents when entering the workforce, Mr. Speaker.

 

This government continues to support our children, our youth, and families, Mr. Speaker, right across this great Province.  There is approximately $1.5 million for an additional twenty positions –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER (Littlejohn): Order, please!

 

The hon. the Member for Bonavista South.

 

MR. LITTLE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for protecting me and allowing me to speak with my twenty minutes that I have.  I will continue on.  Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

There is approximately $1.5 million for an additional twenty new positions, including social worker supervisors and social workers, to continue the implementation of the department's organizational model for the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services. 

 

Mr. Speaker, Health and Community Services – as a Member of the House of Assembly, I looked up to the previous Minister of Health and Community Services who has done an outstanding job –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLE: – and many times I actually consulted, I got really good information and facts from the minister that I could take back to my district and inform some of my constituents.  The previous, and I am sure the new Minister of Health and Community Services is certainly going to do an outstanding job as well because he is another great leader on this side of the House. 

 

When somebody criticizes and says there is no leadership on this side of the House, I know the difference because I am sitting on this side of the House.  I know the programs.  I know how essential it is to continue to provide great programs for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

What a great government to be part of, Mr. Speaker.  What a great learning experience for a new MHA to come into this House of Assembly, to have the experience here sitting on this side of the House and making some great decisions day after day in this great House of Assembly. 

 

A $3 billion budget in health care for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians spread out right across the large, vast, geographical area of this Province, Mr. Speaker; a Province with a population of a little over 500,000 people and a large, vast geographical area, the great Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

We will continue to provide and invest to help ensure better health care, better care and better value for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in the future, Mr. Speaker.  We are listening to the people of this great Province.  We are focusing on areas we know which mean the best and mean the most to people and their families, their children, their grandparents, and so forth.

 

This is what a good government should do: listen to the people, continue to be fair, roll out programs, and roll out the dough right across the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  That is what we are doing, and we are going to continue to do that as leaders, as the elected government right now.  We are going to continue to do that, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLE: Our investment in health care is significant, and we are going to spend responsibly.  There are times I sat on this side of the House and I heard the Opposition say: spend, spend, and spend.  There are other times I am hearing the Opposition say: cut, cut, cut, or balanced Budget, balanced deficit. 

 

What do you want?  We are responsible as a government.  We are fiscally responsible and we are very fair to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.  We will continue, as leaders in this Province, to be fair to the people of this great Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I can guarantee you that when I had discussions with the previous Minister of Health and Community Services, with department officials, and with Eastern Health on dialysis – and as the dialysis committee did, from the great Town of Bonavista, came to St. John's, had an open dialogue and met with the minister on a number of occasions, and $1.5 million was announced in Budget 2014 for a new hemodialysis unit for Bonavista. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLE: Mr. Speaker, the people on the tip of the Bonavista Peninsula were delighted with such a great announcement: an announcement that will certainly improve the quality of health care, and improve the quality of life for the people who will have to use dialysis in the future. 

 

In addition to that, as we speak, in October there is going to be a new bungalow style long-term care facility open in the Town of Bonavista, in the District of Bonavista South.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. LITTLE: What an accomplishment in such a short time, Mr. Speaker.  I am delighted to be part of this great government to know that this government is rolling out the dough all over the Province, the wealth.  We are going to continue to do it.  As a government, we are going to continue to do that.  We are going to continue to be fair to the people of this Province.  We are going to do it all over the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, in each and every community. 

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Even the Opposition.

 

MR. LITTLE: Even the Opposition, Mr. Speaker, in light of some comments that were made earlier today in this House.

 

The provincial government is providing significant funding for long-term care and community support services with an investment of $61 million in new funding this year.  This year a total of $695 million will be invested for the provision of long-term care and community support services. 

Mr. Speaker, I can go on and on and on speaking on Health and Community Services, but now I am going to shift.  I am going to take it to the Minister Responsible for Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs.  A new minister, a minister who is certainly doing a wonderful job on behalf of the people of this great Province and how important it is to have a government that is actually consulting, working with municipalities all over this great Province, building bridges, roads, and water and sewer projects.  Quality water is a very important topic and will continue to be an important topic in the future.

 

Fire and Emergency Services – municipal capital works projects are being rolled out, Mr. Speaker, as we speak.  I know how important Municipal Capital Works Programs are for municipalities.  I served on a municipality for fourteen years and the cost-shared agreements certainly helps municipalities survive in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.  It is a great initiative by this government. 

 

The Community Sector Council is a big part of what is happening in pilot projects in different areas in the Province.  A large number of volunteers in my district are actually participating as volunteers.  I would like to commend the great volunteers of this Province, Mr. Speaker.

 

Thank you very much for having the time to speak tonight.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It is an honour and a privilege for me to have an opportunity to speak to the Concurrence Motion on the social sector committee.  I attended the Education Estimates in that Committee.  It is all very well run, I thought.  There were some interesting questions and I will get to some of that. 

 

I will primarily limit my remarks to the Department of Education, but I wanted to relate something that happened last night that I think it is important.  Members talk about rolling out the dough, I thought he said; there is one area at least I think a bit more dough could be rolled out in.  I got a message last night from one of my constituents whose mother was in the Health Sciences Centre.  She went to the Health Sciences to emergency on Sunday afternoon and at some point that night was wheeled up to a ward and was in the hallway of that ward without a room, without the privacy that comes with that, in a hallway in the Health Sciences from Sunday night up until sometime this afternoon.

 

I thank the Minister of Health and Community Services; I brought this to his attention at my earliest opportunity and I am not sure what happened, but I know that thank goodness she is finally in a room.  One thing I was surprised at: I was having some back and forth with people on social media, on Twitter and Facebook, about this state of affairs with health care and low and behold, so many people out there had comparable experiences.  They themselves, their mother, their father, or one of their relatives also had the experience of spending an extended period of time, a number of days, in the hallway of a hospital in this Province waiting to get proper care.

 

I think it is an ultimate indignity, Mr. Speaker, when you are in pain and out of your home, through no fault of your own, sick, to be in the hallway in a hospital with very little privacy.  I was taken aback by that.  Rather than having that be the new normal, maybe we could roll out a bit of dough in that area, I say to the Member for Bonavista South. 

 

Now, on to Education – I will not name the school, but there was a school council meeting here on the Northeast Avalon last night and it really goes right back to what I was saying the last time I spoke to the Budget about the overcrowding problem we have on the Northeast Avalon with our schools.  Whether it is Mount Pearl or Paradise, Goulds or St. John's, Portugal Cove-St. Phillips or Torbay, CBS or what have you, we have significant overcrowding problems in our schools.

 

I got a couple of e-mails from parents today – I know the Minister of Education did as well – talking about one issue with respect to portables.  This school has been waiting for portables and it taken basically a year to get portables in there.  There is going to be an additional portable added, but that portable, that modular classroom, is going to have to go where the playground currently stands.  The playground is there through the hard work of the parents in that community who raised $50,000 to have all of the landscaping done and the playground equipment added there. 

 

They are going to basically lose, or who knows, relocate – plans are not decided yet – this $50,000 playground.  Kids may not even have a playground next year because there needs to be a modular.  It already goes back to the fact that the school is too small and there has been nothing done to date and it is clearly going to take another number of years before there is another school facility built to accommodate those students.  I think that is terrible.

 

To make matters worse, the government has now brought out an election promise for full-day Kindergarten in this Budget, that it will at some point in future introduce full-day Kindergarten; but in schools where there is overcrowding we are hearing now that administrators of the schools are saying we are not going to have full-day Kindergarten in this school because we just do not have any room for it.  They just do not have any room for full-day Kindergarten in those schools. 

 

It is all well and good to promise it, you are going to do it and all of that, but where you have a situation where you have to get rid of the playground to accommodate another modular – that is not going to come onsite for another year because it took a year to get two modulars there this year – it just defies reason, really. 

 

That is going on out there while we are talking about making improvements and government is making promises about new builds, new school facilities, and full-day Kindergarten.  Meanwhile, we are getting pretty solid evidence and feedback from our communities telling us that we have insufficient facilities and full-day Kindergarten is not going to be a reality as soon as we think for some of these schools unless something drastic happens, and I am not sure what that is. 

I also wanted to talk a little bit about Mental Health Week.  Last week was Mental Health Week, and I took the opportunity to again point out that parents, students, educators, school staff, administrators, have been telling us that we have some critical mental health issues in our schools, ones that need to be addressed. 

 

In this year's pre-Budget consultations, the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils had made a couple of different recommendations around that.  The addition of youth mental health and addictions counsellors was one suggestion, and the reduction of the ratio for guidance counsellors.  That is, in part, to reflect the expanded role and responsibilities of guidance counsellors in our schools. 

 

We know from talking to teachers, from talking to guidance staff – I know there was a meeting of guidance staff in St. John's this week talking about a number of issues.  There is professional development going on, an in-service this week and next talking about the Safe and Caring Schools Policy, the Department of Education's new assessment policies and so on. 

 

Those people are certainly well aware that we have increasingly seen students suffering from mental health issues and illnesses in our schools.  That is becoming more and more prevalent for whatever reason.  Parents and students often do not know where to turn when it comes to mental health issues in our schools.  Sometimes the support is simply not available.

 

Schools are facing an increase in students who are undergoing a variety of different challenges and difficulties related to drug use and addictions, mental health illnesses.  It is often the guidance counsellor to whom they turn for support.  Though government has talked about it for a number of years of reducing the ratio for guidance staff from the current one guidance counsellor for every 500 students to something lower, nothing has really been done. 

 

We have to realize that guidance counsellors are responsible for a variety of different things: counselling, and dealing with scholarships with students.  We recognized students here in the House of Assembly this week for significant achievements when it came to scholarships.  You can mark it in your book that the guidance staff had a lot to do with those student's successes this year and in prior years.  That is the way it happens in schools. 

 

Guidance counsellors are responsible for providing career guidance advice, dealing with family living issues, overseeing student support services, a variety of different student support services, doing crisis intervention and completing comprehensive assessments for students with exceptionalities.  Some of those comprehensive assessments that need to be carried out can take up to twenty hours to complete.  We know some schools have up to thirty or forty students wait-listed for those sorts of comprehensive assessments.  If you do the math on that, that is a lot of hours. 

 

Students often have to wait several days as a result of the backlog, the bottleneck for assessment, especially when they do not indicate it is an emergency or they have not disclosed that they are having some form of crisis or emergency.  So there is something very wrong there and something needs to be done.

 

They did do something in the Province of Nova Scotia.  I know it is probably not perfect in that province either but they did move last year to hire more guidance counsellors, along with more mental health clinicians and more youth health centre coordinators in that Province.  They added about 25 per cent more guidance counsellors to their schools.

 

One of the problems we have in this Province, of course, is while we say we have a 1 to 500 ratio of guidance staff to students, in fact, really what happens is that in some areas guidance counsellors are assigned to a number of different schools, that adds up to 500 and they are run ragged.  Students do not receive the same level of support as they would in a school where there is one or so on.

 

Speaking of math; I wanted to raise an issue with respect to math because I say if you do the math – and some people cannot do the math.  Unfortunately, many of our students find themselves in that situation.  I was really interested, when I was in the Education Estimates I asked about the math curriculum because we hear a lot about it.  The former Minister of Education was asked about problems with our mathematics curriculum last fall and he said math has always been an issue.  I suppose it has always been a subject as well, but the point is mathematics, whether it is an issue or not, is something we have to address. 

 

I inquired about this Western and Northern Canadian Protocol that we have, this common curriculum framework for mathematics.  I inquired about its origins.  I said this is based on a curriculum document that dates back to 1996.  They said no, no, this is something we brought in, in 2006 or something like that.  I had to go back because I thought I was wrong.  In fact, the math curriculum we have in our schools today is based on a curriculum document that is almost twenty years old, and that is a fact. 

 

I went back to try and find it, because the former Minister of Education said: Well, they agree with us down at the university.  Well, they all do not because, of course, we know Dr. Sherry Mantyka and the Department of Mathematics and Statistics has for years decried the situation when it comes to math in our schools.  He said they agree with us.  So I went to see who exactly agrees or who does not agree. 

 

I went and picked up an article in the Educational Psychologist which is a fairly reputable educational journal.  A couple of things it said; it said that more or less based on an evaluation of all of the studies of this particular mathematics curriculum, which they call Discovery Math – rather than sort of drill math, learning timetables or those sorts of things, rather than that sort of math they call it Discovery Math.  It is based on problem solving. 

 

I will just say one thing, if you have a reading problem, a reading disability, if you have limitations when it comes to your literacy, and we know many of our students do, it is going to be a difficult time for you to solve a word problem if Discovery Math involves reading.  This is what this 2006 study said.  This came out around the same time that this Province decided to move forward with this math curriculum.  It said: It appears that there is no body of research supporting it – supporting this curriculum, that it is effective.  It says students enjoy it while they actually learn less from it.  That is our math.

 

I really think we need to have a review of our math curriculum that is being done.  It has been done in other provinces, like Manitoba.  There has been quite an outcry in Alberta about it.  Quebec is doing something very different than us, something that is worthy of looking at, because I am really coming to the same point that I came to the last time I was up talking about other issues in our schools, and I talked about other issues back then.  While we want our students to be the best, we want our students to be first, we want them to score the highest; increasingly, we are not.  In some instances we are the worst.  In some instances we are last.  In some instances we are scoring the lowest. 

 

We know our young people are more talented than that.  We know our teachers are more capable than that.  We know our education system can produce better results than that.  I know government often talks about graduation statistics.  There are all sorts of arguments that can be made about graduation statistics.  If you really wanted to look for a good indicator of how we are doing, all we have to do is look at the results of the Programme for International Assessment last year.  That is an international assessment test that students do – fifteen-year-olds across the world in sixty-five countries.  It provides a detailed breakdown of results across all the Canadian provinces and compares the performance of our fifteen-year-olds to students across the country nationally, and across the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.  Those results showed that Newfoundland and Labrador's students' results on these particular assessments continued to decline in key areas.  They consistently achieve lower than the Canadian average on mathematics, on reading, and science. 

 

I think one of the bigger problems that I did not talk about the last time in addition to all of that is that the gap between the reading ability of boys who are fifteen years old in this Province and girls who are fifteen years old in Newfoundland and Labrador is the largest in the country.  Basically boys are scoring a lot lower than girls are.  The gap between boys and girls is far larger than any of the other provinces, and also far larger than the Canadian average. 

 

It is a significant issue.  As I said, literacy and reading ability is a precursor skill that enables students to pick up other skills, I pointed out a minute ago mathematics, or a variety of other areas as well.  Let us not kid ourselves; the skills that we expect our young people to have today to get a job are far different than the previous generation. 

 

Sometimes people think, well, you are a mechanic; that is not very sophisticated when it comes to literacy and understanding of science, mathematics, and so on.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  You take your car to get it serviced these days, if you have a relatively new model, and it is full of computers.  It is like a computer.  It takes an extremely high level of skill to perform maintenance on a new model car. 

 

If you go and pick up any textbook from our auto mechanics programs that are offered at the College of the North Atlantic or private training institutions in this Province, textbooks are about that thick.  It is very, very detailed information that requires high levels of literacy and essential skills.  If you do not have those essential skills in mathematics and reading, if you do not have mathematical literacy, if you do not have a decent reading ability and literacy in other areas, computer literacy, well those young people are going to have a very difficult time getting and keeping employment. 

 

We know that stronger essential skills increase the likelihood of employment.  It obviously decreases the likelihood that somebody is going to draw Employment Insurance benefits and that they are going to need to have Income Support.  It reduces the amount of time they are unemployed.  It increases the range of occupations they are qualified and able to get. 

 

That is extremely important because we know that young people today, the young people who are in the class of 2014 who are graduating this year, will have more jobs than any of the previous generations.  Their careers will involve a number of different jobs and increasing their essential skills lifts their lifetime earnings.

 

MR. SPEAKER: I remind the hon. member his time has expired.

 

MR. KIRBY: There is a lot more to this, Mr. Speaker, but I appreciate your patience.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

This is an excited crowd here this evening.  For this hour in the night it is good to see that members still have lots of energy and interest on the matters that are being debated here this evening.  I thank you for recognizing me this evening, Mr. Speaker, and giving me an opportunity to present and to enter into this debate at this period of time. 

 

I want to use my time this evening to talk about some of the initiatives in the Department of Health and Community Services and also matters that relate to aging and seniors.  As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, and also members of the House are aware, the Department of Health and Community Services is a new department for me.  This is day thirteen, lucky number thirteen for me, being appointed on May 1. 

 

I can tell you it has been a significant piece of work over the last couple of weeks.  It has been a significant learning curve to learn this new department.  It has been a very interesting process.  There are a lot of new topics that I have been informed of, a lot of new topics that we have been discussing and things that I have not been involved with before. 

 

It is a very large department from the perspective of the level of responsibility, being responsible for working with the four regional health authorities and providing funding to the regional health authorities.  In fact, the budget for the Department of Health and Community Services is about 40 per cent of the entire Budget of the Province being nearly $3 billion.  Of course the far majority of that is disbursed to our health authorities for the delivery of services throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

Our health services and care services throughout the Province are provided through 179 health care centres, clinics, hospitals, and long-term care facilities.  When you think about it, Mr. Speaker, for the population we have in Newfoundland and Labrador 179 centres, clinics, hospitals, and facilities around the Province, it is a pretty significant number.  I think if I do my math really quick in my head that is about one facility for about 2,900 or 3,000 people in the Province. 

 

We have made significant investments.  The Province has made significant investments in the last number of years, in the last decade especially, in trying to increase the infrastructure for the Province, in trying to make increases to and improvements to health care infrastructure.  There are many facilities around the Province that have been aging and there are still facilities around the Province that need work and need improvements.  We have plans underway and work underway for a number of facilities that will see work coming up.  We also have work underway in facilities throughout the Province as well.  Those facilities just house and provide the location and the physical structures for the work to be done. 

 

Right now in Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker, we are very well staffed in much of our health care facilities and services and the requirements throughout the Province.  We have 54 per cent more registered nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador today than the average for a Canadian, so for a population with 54 per cent more nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador than the average for other jurisdictions throughout Canada, I think that speaks volumes for the importance that we have put on those services.  It is challenging as a Province.  We have such a vast geography throughout our Province.  This affects many departments and operations of government, and not only government but private business.  It also impacts individual citizens. 

 

Having such a large land mass throughout the Province, it does create challenges in many ways.  Having the need for providing more services in smaller areas quite often results in the need to have a larger ratio of staff, and so we should.  When it comes to nursing, registered nurses, LPNs, nurse practitioners, and also physicians we have more in the Province today than we have had ever in our history.  We have more dialysis units and more dialysis sites in our Province than anywhere else in Canada per population. 

 

This year we have funding in our Budget, Mr. Speaker, to set up our sixteenth dialysis site, to begin the work on the sixteenth dialysis site in Bonavista.  That has been a continuous piece of work year over year making investments in dialysis to provide those services throughout the Province.  I have talked about this in the House before as I spoke and presented in debate; I know first-hand sometimes the challenges that face members of the population, men and women of Newfoundland and Labrador who have to require dialysis services and have to undergo dialysis services. 

 

My father was a dialysis patient for several years prior to his passing in 2007.  For almost five years he did dialysis, which is about 650 or so trips to a dialysis unit.  It was a fair bit of work for him to get ready to go to the unit.  There was travel to the unit for him.  He lived in metropolitan St. John's area so he did not have the challenges that many people face throughout Newfoundland and Labrador when they have to travel long distances for dialysis services.  In some places you have to leave your home and relocate to other places so that you can avail of those services.  I tell you I know first-hand, and I mean it very sincerely, that dialysis services can be very demanding and very taxing not only on the patient, but also on the families who support patients throughout the Province. 

 

These investments in dialysis units – I do not think anyone would disagree; I know members opposite are very supportive of the work that we have done in improving dialysis services and making them more available throughout the Province.  I see acknowledgement across the way as I am making these comments.  It is about quality of life and it is about providing those services to the people the best way we can. 

 

I am learning as well as I have been in this department, and again through my own experience, it is not just a matter of taking a dialysis machine, set it up in a location, turn it on, and away you go.  Very specialized care has to be taken.  There has to be the necessary resources in locations to provide those services.  You have to have the qualified medical staff and team on site and available to oversee the operations of dialysis units.  You have to have the right infrastructure as well, as I have said.  You also have to have the right technical people and the proper background to ensure that the dialysis machines operate and function correctly, that they operate the way they are supposed to operate, and are done in a way that is safe for patients and for its operations. 

 

Mr. Speaker, as well in recent years we have made significant investments in lowering and decreasing wait times – wait times for a number of areas including radiation therapy, bypass surgery, hip and knee replacement, and also cardiac surgery.  I mention those because we are amongst the shortest wait times in Canada for those areas right now. 

 

We know that hip and knee replacements are growing.  There is continuing to be a larger demand on hip and knee replacements, bypass surgery, radiation therapy and cardiac surgeries, all very important to people.  The wait times on those, we are in a better place than we have ever been before as a Province. 

 

I want to mention Vicki Kaminski in all of this as well.  Ms Kaminski was the CEO and President of Eastern Health for the last five years.  She recently left Newfoundland and Labrador to go to Alberta in a role she accepted out there.  It is very interesting to say, and I am glad to hear it, that she has become so fond of Newfoundland and Labrador that her plan is to return here to retire in a few years' times.  In a matter of three, four or five years, her plan is to come back to Newfoundland and Labrador.  I had a chance to meet with her last Friday before she left.  I had a good discussion with her in the office about some of her experiences here.  I wished her all the very best.

 

One of the things that she has talked about, and she has talked about this a little bit in the days leading up to her departure, is about finding more efficient and effective ways to do the business of health care.  It is not necessarily about throwing more money at items or at a matter or at an issue, but finding better ways to manage those.

 

When we talk about the decreases in wait times, it is a good indication of some of the areas that we have had good success with.  Working with the health authorities and people like Ms Kaminski, doing important work in reducing wait times in emergency departments throughout the Province, there has been some good work done as pilots and phase-in approaches in some of the areas – in St. John's, there has been good work done on it as well – to look for faster ways to reduce those wait times to deal with the less serious and simpler matters in the most efficient matter possible, and also to clear up the time of emergency room doctors, nurses, support staff, and other medical services in those areas so that they can focus on the more serious and more pressing matters.  So it is a piece of work that continues to be in evolution.

 

I have used this term and I talked about it when I was in Child, Youth and Family Services; sometimes the only thing that stays the same is change.  We should never be afraid to look at how we have done things in the past, to examine it to determine if there is a better way to do it in the future.

 

In health care and with our health authorities, those types of philosophies and work have been underway.  We have seen the improvements of those and they are still underway, but we know we still have work to do and we still have a ways to go to continue to make improvements to the best of our abilities to ensure that the best services are being provided to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

As well, Mr. Speaker, there are so many areas in Health that there is no way that I can get to all of them in twenty minutes, but there are a number of them that I want to speak on.  Maybe, if I get the chance, I will talk to a couple of them that members opposite have brought up over the last couple of days.  One that is also very important and has been discussed a fair bit throughout the population is matters relating to autism.  In this year's Budget, we added $2 million to increase the capacity for autism assessments and to reduce the wait times for children with autism and other developmental conditions.

 

That $2 million being spent this year will be annualized to $3.9 million in 2015-2016.  This year we are adding twenty-two positions to the regional health authorities and, in the following years, it will be increased to thirty positions.  That includes the developmental pediatrician at the Janeway, a speech language pathologist, and a new occupational therapist. 

I know, as well as many of us do here in the House, the importance of having the resources to reduce the wait times when it comes to autism as well.  Some would say – and I understand why they say this – that is not enough.  Twenty-two positions this year and thirty next year, a new developmental pediatrician, a speech language pathologist, an occupational therapist, and $3.9 million annualized for autism is not enough.  We need to do more than that.

 

Mr. Speaker, look at it this way.  When you want to improve services, you want to add to services and you want to increase the capacities of subject areas, it is difficult to go from here to here overnight.  It has to be a curve.  It has to be an opportunity to develop growth.  That is why, with autism, you see $2 million this year and $3.9 million annualized.  We can add so much this year and then next year, we will add more, and in a couple of years' time when this thirty positions are rolled out and included for autism and for increased autism assessments and to reduce those wait times, then we will be able to evaluate the progress we have made on that and the impacts that we have had on that.

 

We did the same kind of thing with the dental program.  We know the dental program has received much interest by the public.  There has been a lot of discussion and debate.  When the dental program was introduced last year, there was a very strong uptake on the dental program.  It rolled out throughout the Province.  There was a strong uptake on that – that was two years ago –and there was a fair bit of debate here in the House when it came to dental programs.  Last year there was a maximum benefit of $150 annually set on that.  The program was rolled out; it was run.  It was well responded to by the general public.  This year we have increased that cap to $200.  That also goes a long ways. 

 

It is a $6.7 million program, Mr. Speaker.  It goes a long way to help those people who require dental services for adults.  People in the industry who I have talked to about this, I have talked to dentists and I have talked to others in the industry about dental programs.  They will talk to you about when you have a consistent service year over year, if people avail of the opportunities to visit a dentist this year to get some work done, they go next year to get some more work done and so on, then in two, three, four or five years, depending on your circumstances, your dental health will be greatly improved.  Not only for an individual, but for all of the people who avail of the Adult Dental Program. 

 

Once you increase people's dental health, then the demand for service becomes much less.  We know that will be the case.  When people improve their health overall, that applies to dental health as well, then the demand for service and the need for more care will stabilize. 

 

As I talked about, Mr. Speaker, we have done a significant amount in wait times in dialysis; smoking cessation is another one; prescription drugs is a big area this year that we are making investments in.  This year we have added $7.1 million to cover new drug therapies under the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program.  These include drugs – the far majority of this is drugs to assist in the treatment of cancers.  This is welcomed as well by the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

As evolving drug therapies become available, they go through testing processes through the federal government, they become recognized as used for new drugs for treatments or drugs that currently exist that are now being used for different treatments.  As those evolutions take place, the demand for these types of drugs continue to grow.  We have added funding this year under the NLPD, $7.1 million to expand drug therapies and available drug therapies. 

 

The other one that has been important to people who have to travel for health care quite often is what we refer to as MTAP, or the Medical Transportation Assistance Program.  I recently had a chance to meet with the Avalon Dragons.  The Avalon Dragons is an organization that operates their boats from Octagon Pond in my district, in Topsail district.  I know many of them now.  I have gotten to know many of them.  I met with the Avalon Dragons at their annual general meeting recently.  I went to their meeting about a month or so ago.  It was after the Budget.  I told them about some of the things we are doing in this year's Budget when it came to the drug therapies I talked about. 

 

I also talked about MTAP, Medical Transportation Assistance Program.  This one was particularly well received by this group of cancer survivors because they know very well sometimes the challenges that face people when having to travel for health care purposes.  When a person has to go through radiation, as an example, you may have to travel to St. John's and stay here for an extended period of time.  Sometimes it can be several weeks at a time as you undergo radiation therapy. 

 

This year we have increased our spending on the Medical Transportation Assistance Program.  We provide approximately $3 million per year for this program.  We have increased the monthly accommodation cap.  There used to be a cap on accommodations.  You could claim up to $1,500 and now we have doubled that to $3,000 this year. 

 

We have increased the rate of private vehicle usage.  If you have to travel in your own vehicle, the reimbursement rate for private vehicle usage is going from sixteen cents per kilometre to twenty cents per kilometre.  We have increased the reimbursement for a higher level of costing.  So at over $3,000, the reimbursement level is now at 75 per cent. 

 

As well, we have decreased the vehicle threshold.  There was a threshold that you had to travel at least 2,500 kilometres a year before you were eligible to make a claim under MTAP, under the Medical Transportation Assistance Program.  That has been decreased to 1,500 kilometres a year. 

 

I can tell you the response from these cancer survivors at the Avalon Dragons was surprising.  I knew they were going to like it but that one in particular was of importance to them because they understand and they know how important MTAP is to people who have to travel the Province on a regular basis for health care, especially if you are going through a health care crisis and you have to travel a lot in a short period of time.  This travel assistance program goes a long way to help those who need to do that.

 

I want to get to long-term care for a couple of minutes and we are quickly running out of time.  We also have planning money established this year for central medical dispatch service.  That is a very important one for ambulance operators and people who use the services of ambulances throughout the Province.  That is going to go a long way to improve those services as well.  We have a planning block there as well.

 

We have had some discussion about long-term care in the last couple of days here in the House.  It has come up in Question Period.  The Leader of the NDP has asked a couple of times, a couple of days now, questions about long-term care.  I just wanted to highlight – because my time is quickly running out – that we have a number of projects underway, Mr. Speaker, throughout Newfoundland and Labrador as well for long-term care. 

 

In St. John's we have a new 461 bed facility which will open later this year.  We have a new facility that is slated to be completed in 2015 in Carbonear, that will have 228 new beds.  Labrador City will have eight additional beds added there in the fall of 2014.  We are working on a long-term care project for Happy Valley-Goose Bay that will add twenty beds for that area.  In Bonavista there is a new centre built.  There is one underway, a protective care unit in Clarenville, and work is underway on that one.  There is also work underway for Corner Brook and Burin.  I mention these as well. 

 

I know the member opposite has asked about wait times.  I have done some looking at wait times over the last five years, and I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that at this time now we are in very good shape.  We will be adding over 200 new long-term care beds by 2017 as the plans progress that we have underway right now.  That is going to go a long ways to add to the quality of life for seniors and those aging and in need of long-term care throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your time and members of the House.  I look forward to the opportunity to speak again.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is that the report of the Social Services Committee be concurred in.

Is it the pleasure of this House to adopt the motion?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

MR. SPEAKER: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

On motion, Report of Social Services Estimates Committee, carried.

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

At this time I would like to call from the Order Paper, further debate on Concurrence Motion 2.(b) the Resource Committee.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Burgeo – La Poile.

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, my light is on so I am going to start now in the hopes that I can squeeze in a few extra comments prior to the time.  If anybody wants me to stop, that is fine.  They can start heckling me. 

 

I have 1:55, so I am going to use my two minutes very carefully.  I spoke about health care before and I am going to speak about it again.  The Member for Bonavista South gave a very riveting speech tonight.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. A. PARSONS: I will give him credit; he spoke very proudly about a lot of things.  One of the things he brought up was the dental plan, which I have to talk about because I had the opportunity to do the Estimates on it. 

 

The good news is they increased the cap from $150 to $200 this year, but they did not increase the budget.  There are actually fewer people in the Province who are going to access that plan this year – fewer people.  I do not know how that is a good thing to have less people availing of a service.

The second thing I want to talk about, it is something I have mentioned on a number of occasions, and that is the fact that when it comes to the dental plan, if you require dentures you can get the top half or the bottom half but not in the same year.  That was confirmed right here in Estimates.  I said, what if experts or professionals tell you that it is smarter to get both at the same time just due to the fact that over the passage of time your mouth actually changes in size?  He said that may indeed be the case, however, the cap is $750 and that is all there is to it.  You get one half this year and you get one half next year. 

 

I am talking about something that is well intentioned, but obviously is not quite logical.  Why wouldn't you let them get the full advantage this year and not have anything next year?  Why don't you let them get the full set this year and not get anything the second year?  I do not know why that could not be considered, but it was not.  I put it out there.  I had people telling me you are wrong, but it is the truth.  It was confirmed in Estimates. 

 

That is all my time.  I look forward to some rebuttal on that, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Lake Melville.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. RUSSELL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It is indeed an honour and a pleasure to get up in this House once again and speak to the Budget, and at this point in time Concurrence and the Resource Committee that we are all talking about here today. 

 

First and foremost, Mr. Speaker, as I always do when I take my place here in the House to speak, I want to say thank you to the people of the great District of Lake Melville for their continued support and their faith in me to get the job done and to get the message across to government in terms of what we need here.  I must say it is indeed an honour and a privilege to follow the member from across the way for Burgeo – La Poile. 

 

I will say to the member from across the way he is one of my favourite speakers in the House, Mr. Speaker.  I say that not because I agree with anything he says, because nine times out of ten I do not.  The fact of the matter is that he enlists such an emotional response from the people on this side of the House and I hope those people at home too. 

 

If you see me throw my head up to the ceiling up towards the sky here tonight, Mr. Speaker, it is because I am believing in the speeches of the Member for Burgeo – La Poile.  The sky is actually falling in the House of Assembly; it is coming in on top of us.  If you see anybody around me throwing their heads towards the sky, it is because of the effectiveness of the former lawyer from Burgeo – La Poile. 

 

I say that in a lighthearted fashion but, Mr. Speaker, I also want to get down to the nitty-gritty here and talk about what is happening within these Estimates.  People understand that the numbers for the Budget come out every year.  What they do is we give the people on the other side of the House ample opportunity to have full access not only to the minister but to all those senior officials, those decision makers, the ones who put the money into play, the ones who put the money into action for the people of this great Province. 

 

How it goes is we sit here and they get to ask questions about specific line items.  To all those people out there watching tonight, a line item is nothing more than a number associated with a category.  It could be salaries, it could be travel, or it could be anything like that within a department.  They have ample opportunity to question the minister directly.  If the minister does not have the answer, it goes to a senior official.  If they do not have the answer, it will go to a more junior official and up and up it goes.

 

Even when, Mr. Speaker, somebody might not have the answer to a very difficult question – and some do come up – we will give that to the members from across the way from time to time.  Once in a blue moon they do ask a question that cannot be answered, or request a bit of information that is not displayed in the Estimates volumes that are provided to them.  The minister and their staff will make sure that they get that information.

 

What does this all say to the people at home?  What this says is our government puts together a Budget, and this Budget is a very good Budget.  What it does then is it is broken down by department; it is broken down in different categories, the different departments within the department if you will, Mr. Speaker, and what they do for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

They then have all the opportunity they want to talk about a single number, a category of numbers, a group of numbers, and a function within government.  What we see is that sometimes they do not even use the time allotted.  That is fine; that is up to them.  The bottom line here is if they have exception with a number put forward by this government in this Budget, they have more than enough time to raise those questions and get answers to those questions. 

 

In some cases, unfortunately, it becomes nothing more than a fishing expedition where some members from across the way – and I will say it, Mr. Speaker - they want to hear themselves talk.  They want to go on a fishing expedition to try and find questions maybe for Question Period.  They want to look for things that are not there.  We have seen quite a lot of that in the last couple of weeks when it comes to things like pavement, contracts, and whatnot. 

 

The point is this: we are there, we are transparent, we are open, we are accountable, and we are accessible.  Whether you are elected on this side of the House or that side of the House, the people's representatives have the opportunity to come into government, take some time to go through those numbers, and to dissect them.  They even get to bring in their staff, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Their researchers, pouring their hearts into these numbers hour after hour after hour to dissect them, to find a problem with what this government is doing, in all the time I have spent in Estimates, Mr. Speaker, I have not seen it.  I have not seen something come out of Estimates that was so drastic that it was on CBC.  We might go out to a sporting event - you will see that on CBC - but you will not see something come out of Estimates. 

 

I will say one thing about the Estimates process and the Resource Committee, Mr. Speaker.  I had the very distinct honour of chairing for the very first time – I believe maybe even the first time that a Labradorian has been in the seat chairing a meeting in the Resource Committee - and that was for Innovation, Business and Rural Development.  It was a totally new perspective on the Estimates process. 

 

You are watching it go back and forth.  You are making sure that everything is being followed, the time limits, Mr. Speaker, going back, making sure that from the Liberals to the NDP everybody has their fair share of time.  It was quite interesting.  I was proud to do it and proud to see it from a different perspective.  We hear it from time to time about people throwing out the spin, throwing out the rhetoric and all that, but one thing is irrefutable and that is the quality of the officials we have in our civil service.  It certainly cannot be refuted.

 

With that, I will talk about a few more specific things from the Resource Committee if I may.  Of course the Resource Committee involves Advanced Education and Skills, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Tourism, Culture and Recreation, Natural Resources, Agrifoods, IBRD as I had said, and Environment and Conservation, Mr. Speaker.  Probably $1.8 billion I think was the total of those departments that represent those that are investigated, those that are looked at, and those that are scrutinized if you will inside the Resource Committee. 

 

I would just like to touch on a few things that really mattered to me over the last few days, starting with Advanced Education and Skills with a budget of around $900 million in expenditures this year, Mr. Speaker.  It is a very, very large department, as noted by other colleagues in this House. 

 

I was here and I had the pleasure of sitting in this House of Assembly while we had a delegation of students from Mealy Mountain Collegiate back home in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.  They were in here checking out MUN, and checking out what the city has to offer.  When you look at Advanced Education and Skills – and how do I tie that all together?  It is very simple.  You talk about $14.7 million being allocated towards more or less giving weeks of credit to our students who are in school right now – $14.7 million over the next two years, $50 million over five years to eliminate student loans, Mr. Speaker.

 

When we freeze tuition we start investing numbers such as $19 million, Mr. Speaker, into upgrades to residences and into upgrades of the science laboratories.  Then we talk about freezing tuition.  Then we talk about making sure that our kids, our young adults, will be able to focus on getting that education without the overwhelming burden that always results from four and sometimes, if you specialize, six and seven years in terms of getting an education. 

 

Mr. Speaker, that is leadership.  That is a focus on the next generation of leaders.  That is the focus on our greatest natural resource, which is our children, Mr. Speaker, as plain and simple as that.  I am proud to be a part of a government that thinks that way.  I am proud to a part of a government that is going to say we recognize who is coming up the line.  We recognize the value and the opportunities that are going to be extracted from our resources.  We recognize that when it comes to those skilled positions – and here we come back tying it all into Advanced Education and Skills.  We recognize that our children – and I have two of them myself, Mr. Speaker.  I am proud to say very bright kids.  They are going to be looking into the trades, going to be looking into medicine, going to be looking into those verticals to make their way in life. 

 

I am proud to say that we have laid the foundation for not only my children, but all of the people in here that have children and everybody watching out there.  For the next generation of leaders, we have laid the foundation to give them hope that they can begin to develop their careers and then start a good life for themselves right here at home.  Contrary to what is being said across, the way the sky is not falling.  We are at a wonderful point in our history here in Newfoundland and Labrador, and our kids are going to benefit from that. 

 

Moving on, Mr. Speaker, I just wanted to say a few other things.  Inside the Resource Committee, we have Fisheries and Aquaculture, of course, and we look at just some of the great things that we are doing.  I will throw out some numbers at you: $6 million to support aquaculture.

 

Up in Labrador, of course, we are not at the point where we would consider fish farming, mussel farming, all of that stuff right now.  I will talk about the fishery just for a little bit, Mr. Speaker.  Growing up in Labrador was very different from Newfoundland.  As you move further up into the Torngat Mountains, you start to get into places that actually land some crab, they do get some char up that way; but, for the most part, we were expanding on our diet.  We were doing it to sustain ourselves.  It was a tradition among families to get out, get the fish, put your nets out, go rod fishing – not so much for me; I am not so much an angler as a net guy.  I like to go after my salmon.  I like to go after my trout.  Mr. Speaker, I will say I do smoke a fine salmon and I do smoke a fine trout; that is for sure.

 

What you will also see during our season up in Labrador is something I am very proud of.  It does not really pertain to the Resource Committee, but I will say it anyway, Mr. Speaker.  What you see is when the boys come in, they have their fish tubs, they have their coolers, whatever they may have, you will see them taking a part of their catch and you will see them delivering it to the homes of elders who might not have anybody around.  Maybe they are off taking opportunities somewhere else, maybe they just do not have anybody to go out and get them a fresh meal, but that is the way we do it up in Labrador, Mr. Speaker.  We share and share alike.  We make sure that the most vulnerable in our community – sometimes it is an elder, sometimes it is low-income people, sometimes it is people who are physically challenged, but we make sure we take care of our own. 

 

What we do is just simply give a little bit of delight that comes from the sea to our people, that comes out of our rivers, just to put a smile on their face.  It is not much, Mr. Speaker, but up in the Big Land, the people at home who are watching at this hour will certainly understand what I am talking about here. 

Again, moving on, I would be remiss if I did not talk about the good work we do in Tourism, Culture and Recreation, Mr. Speaker.  Some specific things I wanted to talk about – I tell you what, I cannot speak enough about the past minister, very attentive, whatever I needed to talk about, whenever I needed him, whenever we could get him up to Labrador, with bells on he was ready to come up there; and not only just come up there for an official event, but come up there, get out and talk to the people. 

 

The former Parliamentary Secretary that we had over here and our new Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation who has been up to the Big Land as well, the same kind of guy; he wants to get out into the trenches, if you will, with the people, and talk about what is going on, see what they want to see and get from this government when it comes to tourism, recreation and all of that, and he is going to help implement stuff like the Labrador Travel Subsidy, Mr. Speaker, when you talk about our athletes. 

 

It is no mystery.  When you are from the Big Land, it is a little more expensive to travel and get to the Island portion of the Province.  That subsidy is there and in place to make sure those 1,500 athletes who might not have the ability otherwise, might not get an opportunity to come here and face greater, stiffer competition, get out to bigger tournaments, and get out to the amenities that are in the big city.

 

That is a wonderful initiative and I tell you what, we make great use of that in the Big Land.  Time and time again you see kids, Aboriginal kids too, who come from sometimes isolated and very rural communities.  We give them an opportunity to see what is out there.  It starts expanding their minds, Mr. Speaker.  It lets them see well, what are all these buildings?  This is MUN; this is Memorial University of Newfoundland.  These are places that we put here for you to have opportunities to change your life, to grow, to go further than you could have ever dreamed.

 

They come out here, they might have only come out to volleyball or soccer, or hockey, whatever it happened to be, but when they see that it starts the creative juices flowing.  It lets them know that there is hope, there is opportunity, and that there is more out there than their little rural, isolated community.  That, Mr. Speaker, is invaluable and the subsidy is there to foster that type of thinking and to give those kids the ability to be mobile when it comes to their sporting life. 

 

Mr. Speaker, while I am on the subject and I see my time is ticking away, twenty minutes goes way too fast, but when we talk about Tourism, Culture and Recreation, I have to talk about the $13 million by 2016 we are going to have pumped into our ads.  I will say this: If you look at the economic indicators that tell the world how we are doing and tell this country how we are doing, tell the provinces how we are doing, where Newfoundland and Labrador sits in there, we are up at the top, no sweat. 

 

When it comes to these tourism ads, we are on the top of the mountain.  There are no comparisons out there.  You look at everything the other provinces have to offer – and good luck to them, we wish them all the best.  Even some of us, we may go from province to province over time, but they just cannot hold a candle to us.  That is just as simple as that.  

 

I am very proud to say that we have done that.  I am very proud to be a part of a government that wants – and $66 million might have been the expenditures of the department for this year, but it is a billion-dollar industry and growing.  I am proud to be a part of a government that says we are going to share what we have to offer, we are going to create jobs doing that, and we are going to let people know just how proud we are of where we come from and our heritage. 

 

We are going to let them see what we do by the sea, what we do in terms of our development, and we are going to let them see just who we are as people.  That is the real value in who we are as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.  This is what we have to offer.  Our flare, our culture, our beauty, our music, Mr. Speaker, our art, and let's not forget the grub because I think we are world class when it comes to that too.  You can tell by looking at me I have enjoyed some of the Newfoundland and Labrador grub over the years.

 

Having said that, Mr. Speaker, going back to the Resource Committee – and I see some of the boys over here laughing at me.  Yes, yes, I am a portly man.  That is because of the wonderful women in my life who we all celebrated this past Mother's Day who always take care of me too.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. RUSSELL: Happy belated Mother's Day to all the moms out there watching as well. 

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

 

MR. RUSSELL: Mr. Speaker, I am hearing some sharp criticism across the way too about some Health and Community Services issues.  I will just say we have had a tough year in terms of my family and I will not go into details.  I will say this, and please believe me when you hear it; we have spent some time in our facilities due to some unforeseen circumstances in our families.  What have we seen, Mr. Speaker?  We have seen heart.  We have seen people who are going the extra mile, people believing what they do. 

 

We have seen facilities, some aging that were due to be replaced, and some that are top notch.  We have spent a lot of time in these waiting rooms.  I have seen our health staff.  They are busting their humps to push these people through to make sure they get to see the people they need to see, that the lineups are small, and the wait times are shorter. 

 

It is one thing to criticize a government because they are saying we are spending all over, Mr. Speaker.  We have heard things like we are being vindictive in our spending, which is just ‘bullpucky', and inflated numbers in our health areas, which is silly.  The real gems, aside from our announcements on equipment, expansion of facilities, new facilities – I only have a couple of minutes left, but I could seriously spend an hour just talking about our investment in long-term care and all of those things, but the real value lies in our staff.

 

I would just like to thank them on behalf of myself and my family and all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, because you see them there, you see some of them off shift still trying to help people, trying to get out of the building, Mr. Speaker.  Those are the people who are the foundation of everything that is Newfoundland and Labrador because we respect each other and we care for each other, the same as this government.  It listens to and respects the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

We make those investments – and one of the members from across the way representing the Liberals said something along the lines of we are just spending the money – we are just spending the money.  Mr. Speaker, we are investing that money.  We are investing that money in our future.  We are investing that money in our people.  We are investing that money in the next generation: our kids. 

 

You can spin it however you like – and this is all a game.  I tell you what, you can turn on the House of Assembly and whether it is our side, their side, sure, of course we are all here, we are all politicians, there is going to be a little bit of theatrics.  There is going to be a little bit of flare, but the bottom line here is we have done right by the people of Newfoundland and Labrador in this Budget.  This is a good Budget, a solid Budget. 

 

It can be criticized, picked apart.  I guess some of the flare, Mr. Speaker, from across the way – and I do like some of those speakers over there.  I enjoy them.  I am quite entertained at times.  It is in the way that they minimalize the issues that are being talked about in the Budget, in Estimates, and all of that by breaking it down and what they are going to do – and I say this to the people out there watching – they are going to pull on your heart strings.  They are going to isolate cases.  Yes, it happens everywhere; nothing is perfect.  We are not perfect over here, and they certainly are not perfect over there.

 

They are going to isolate individual cases; they are going to tug on those heart strings.  They are going to make you think that we do not care and that we are not doing right by the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.  Mr. Speaker, I tell you what we do over here, we take the money that we have – and yes, it is a good time in our history right now – and we spread it out and we do as much as we can with what we have.  We get the most bang for our buck.  We are looking at getting the maximum number of people engaged in how we do things and the maximum number of people satisfied by what we do as a government.  Whether that comes in the housing, health care, whether it is arts and recreation, whether it is investing in our kids in our schools, we are doing a great job over here.  The sky is not falling; this is the best time simply it has ever been in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It is a pleasure to rise this evening and talk on Concurrence, and carry on with the debate.  In this particular case I would like to focus on natural resources; but, before I do, the member opposite did talk about health care, the importance of natural resources when it comes to the revenues coming to the Province.  This part I think I can relate to the last couple of days.  I would like to thank the members opposite, all the members of this House, for their hopes and prayers as we are going through a bit of family ongoing crisis, I guess, if you will.

 

My father himself was a prospector and we grew up pretty much with rocks in our house, under our feet, in the family vehicles, and our lives were pretty much centred around natural resources.  Myself, I gained a little bit of interest in natural resources, particularly when it comes to the oil and gas field and through my consumer work and everything.  I feel a unique attachment to natural resources, so I wanted to focus on all the natural resources that we have in the Province here this evening. 

 

It is not only just about rocks, Mr. Speaker, but it is all about forestry, it is all about some of the farming industries that we have in this Province, and it is about growing industries as well.  That is where I am going to come from this evening, with some observations from reading the notes that our researchers took from listening in during the Estimates for Natural Resources.

 

Some of the observations that we found, first and foremost is that the Natural Resources budget – this was the one that really jumped out at us.  The Natural Resources budget for this year is about $646 million, but Nalcor was getting $552 million.  It was a big, big chunk.  Government thinks, for their own good reasons, that this is an investment in the future, and that remains to be questioned.  That is fair game.  We tend to think over here on this side that the $552 million for this year could be very well spent in some other social sectors like for municipalities, on health care.  We know that we have an aging population; for example, I would like to see the cap lifted for Lucentis coverage.  We are the only province with a cap.

 

A note to the Health Minister: I know that there is an ad hoc committee in place now to look at that and to have that cap lifted, and hopefully we will hear from him sooner rather than later on that.  We need to make sure that our seniors – and we are going to have a few.  According to the CNIB, there are about 20,000 people in Newfoundland and Labrador at risk of macular degeneration that this drug can help them for.  We need to make sure that if we are going to be making revenues from our natural resources that they can be directed in such areas, for example, like Lucentis drug coverage for all seniors.

 

It is interesting to note that during Estimates sometimes, coming back to the whole question of the monies that were going into Nalcor – the interesting part about Estimates when you listen in is the simple fact that sometimes you spend some time on line items like the $5,000 items or the $10,000 items, but we are not so quite clear, if you will, on the spending of the money for Nalcor.  Again $552 million and you want to get more clarity as regards where we are going with that and how much extra cost, for example, is being directed in the Budget to cost overruns, that sort of thing, and you cannot get the clear answers on that.

 

We need to establish that reality check if we are going to accurately discuss Concurrence for the Resource Committee.  In the future, we are going to be asking more questions when it comes to the Muskrat Falls Project.  There is no doubt that the government is going to have to come out with a lot more answers than what they have been supplying so far. 

 

Having said that, the Department of Natural Resources is a very large department, it is wide ranging, a lot of fields as I already said.  These are some more of the observations. 

When it comes to forest management, it is interesting to note that we heard in Estimates as well I think it was that another company outside this Province by the name of Rentech is looking at the resources of Holson Forest Products and some of the former Abitibi assets.  We are hopeful that something can be done here.  We are hopeful that we will see a new industry bloom in this Province, but we have heard very little from government on this issue so far. 

 

It was last Wednesday representatives from Rentech were in St. Anthony on a little fact-finding mission, doing a little bit of research.  They met with the port authority up there, Holson Forest Products, and government consultants on the resources that are up there.  Like I said this is promising – this is very promising. 

 

While this issue is a possible industry player starting operations in the Province, the truth is that the forest industry has been struggling for some time.  I can recall, for example, the former Minister of Natural Resources, in this case now the Premier, was talking about the problems with the industry.  I would like to focus a little bit I guess when it comes to the forestry aspect of it.

 

We know there has been some slight improvement in the forestry industry, just watching the price of paper for example on the open markets.  Prices have climbed a little bit.  I will get back to that end of it when I get further down here. 

 

Questions around the Abitibi mill - it sat idle for many years (inaudible) the forestry assets of the Province expropriated.  The expropriation proved very costly for the people of the Province and expenses keep mounting for that.  The latest being the admission by government that they will be taking down the mill and the Province will foot the bill for the remediation. 

 

This is part of something I have argued in this House before, when it comes to environmental legacies if you will, when it comes to these being counted as debts that the Province will have to be paying out money in the future.  I will also get into that again when it comes time.  You can very quickly relate this to environment and conservation on the whole aspect of damages left behind by companies that have previously operated in this Province or operating right now, that in some ways still are not going to be responsible maybe, possibly, in the future for the mess they leave behind.

 

I talk about a future development when it comes to natural resources, for example, of fracking.  If a moratorium in fracking is not held in this Province we are going to get very quickly into things that we have never dealt with before when it comes to the disposal, for example, of fracking fluids.  Right now the Nova Scotia government, just the disposal of water is being held in one pond.  I believe they have budgeted something in the order of $4 million for the proper disposal of it.  If there is such a thing as a proper disposal of fracking fluids. 

 

That fracking fluid is held right now in a holding pond that is susceptible to such elements, for example, as the weather or erosion or spillage.  It has a great potential to damage the greatest resource we have, next to people, and that is our water.  We need to make sure the water resources of this Province are going to have more protection than what they have right now.  That is a little bit when it comes to the connection between natural resources and environment and conservation. 

 

Environment and Conservation, to me, is the most underrated department of them all because they have a connection with every other single department in the Province.  Not only does it go to Finance but it is well connected with Municipal Affairs when it comes to the water issue that we are handling.  When it comes to boil water orders, for example, but also when it comes to the development of a natural resource, be it either natural gas or oil when it comes to the fracking process. 

 

In the meantime, if Rentech does not pan out – just to get back on topic here again – then government and the people of the Province are back to square one on the issues of sustainable management of our forests.  I guess there is a big message in that.  There are only so many things you can do with your forestry.  You can talk pulp and paper, you can talk wood products for building homes, but in some ways – some people have told me it is kind of fairly limited in its extent where you can go. 

Again, not to detract from it, but I do believe there is some sort of future.  We believe there is some sort of future here in the forestry industry.  We want to wish government all the best when it comes to the development of those other resources that would use our forestry.

 

In Estimates we learned – just to carry on with the forestry a bit – about Corner Brook Pulp and Paper.  We note that government has $118 million set aside for Corner Brook Pulp and Paper.  I guess it is probably because of the slight improvement in paper prices that they have not availed of that $118 million yet, even though the fund is there. 

 

One of these days, possibly they will draw from that.  For example, they may end up having to use that financial resource if the price of paper ends up slipping again.  Right now, I think they are doing okay from what I am seeing with the price of paper. 

 

I am just wondering if they are going to draw from that financial resource.  I guess there is some way the Finance Minister or the Premier can probably inform the House, or the Natural Resources Minister for that matter, that when the time comes to probably inform us that they have indeed drawn from that particular fund.

 

I want to move on to agrifoods development as well.  There was some good news there.  Although it is a movement across North America and although department officials have indicated an increased interest from stakeholders on establishing certified organic farms in Newfoundland and Labrador, this is an area government should be assisting interested parties. 

 

Certified organic food is becoming more and more important to the people of the Province.  Not only to the people of the Province, but if we are talking our own domestic market that is great, but we should also be talking about markets outside of Newfoundland and Labrador as well.  I have to note that the minister was asked about this.

 

When it comes to food security, we learned in Estimates that the issue of food security is being addressed.  Officials noted the Province is self-sufficient in dairy, eggs, and poultry.  It is not there in other industries, but officials did note the success of cold weather northern strains of barley, and the potential for growing these grains on the Avalon Peninsula. 

 

I want to make a special note here too when it comes to growing, I will call them non-traditional foods too at the same time.  I guess for some time the people of Newfoundland and Labrador – that only as of late has it become really, really noticeable.  For example, you are seeing fields of corn that are being grown in the Province now.  We are talking barley, we are talking some wheat.  Along with that also come industrial factors that come into play, too.  For example, pesticides. 

 

I will bring up the topic of pesticides and the importance again here of the Department of Environment and Conservation when it comes to the use of these pesticides too, when it comes to fighting the various insects and diseases that could end up ravaging crops.  We have to make sure we are going to be sticking straight to – how shall I put it – a safety culture, if you will, when it comes to the use of pesticides. 

 

I am pretty sure that if government was looking at certified organic foods as a potential growth industry, this is one area where we can actually say we have a hand up on this right now.  We are virtually untainted when it comes to these new crops, when it comes to the various forms of chemicals that are out there that can be used on these particular fields.  I would exert caution on the part of the department.

 

One of the more infamous chemicals right now being used on some farms is atrazine which is pretty much wreaking havoc to natural water supplies in the central United States and causing quite a problem when it comes to birth defects and everything.  I would point that out to government.  Stick with the certified organics, develop that.  I think we have something to sell.  There are viable markets out there for it.  I want to wish them good luck with that, but I want to make sure too, that Environment and Conservation knows as well about the danger of chemicals.  They are going to have to be strictly monitored in this Province.

 

I will not even get into the simple fact that if you want to develop other farming industries – for example, like beekeeping industries in this Province.  We do not have neonicotinoids right now in this Province.  It should be a consideration on the part of this government to ban that particular chemical, as it has been done in the European Union because it is actually a bee killer.  If we do not have these bees protected, if we do not have the pollinators protected, we do not have any crops at all.  It is a consideration on the part of government, probably Natural Resources and Environment and Conservation, to probably get together and talk about neonicotinoid chemicals in the industry. 

 

I want to move on here because we are not just about farming in the traditional sense but in natural resources, too.  One of the ventures they took up over the last couple of years is the cranberry industry, which I think everybody thought was kind of interesting.  We did not picture ourselves in this Province, I do not think ten years ago, as being cranberry producers, yet we are.

 

I know the government, for example, has been promoting this industry, and doing a fairly good job with it, I have to say.  We are about halfway to the point now where we can actually say we can get a little bit deeper into the industry, next to producing of raw product.  I guess the minister can probably correct me on this, but I think in Estimates it came out the fact that we have about 250,000 hectares developed, and you need about 500,000 in order to add more production. 

 

AN HON. MEMBER: No, more than that.

 

MR. MURPHY: What is that? 

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

 

MR. MURPHY: Five hundred thousand.  We are about halfway there anyway when it comes to the amount of hectares that we have.  We are looking forward to hearing more positives coming out of this industry. 

 

MR. MURPHY: Yes, 250,000 acres it is, sorry, the number they gave me.  Five hundred thousand acres is what you would need to cultivate to support any form of secondary processing here in the Province.  Those are the numbers that we have. 

 

It is something to shoot for, and something the government should be looking at, in helping the industry grow here.  Like I said, the government wants to invest that money.  I think that we can get behind this.  I am going to probably say we have a fighting chance at this one; we really do.  We look forward to hearing more news about it.

 

This is not going to be achieved unless government takes the recommendations of the Auditor General, however, a little bit seriously and works to clean up the act to get the proper paperwork in place and improve the oversight of the industry.  There are some inequities there.  Hopefully the minister is looking after that end of it. 

 

The opportunities are great here for the cranberry industry and, of course, for the economy of Central Newfoundland.  Who knows, with global warming maybe they will be able to do something a little bit further north.  Some of the farming initiatives that I would like to hear about; for example, up in Labrador there used to be some vast greenhouse farming up north years ago.  Of course there are some small amounts of farming that are happening up there now from what I hear.  Perhaps the minister might be able to look at some farming initiatives to be undertaken up in Labrador as well.  We do not want to forget that very important part of the Province. I see that my time is running out and I still have pages of stuff to talk about when it comes to natural resources. 

 

Another burgeoning industry is the sheep farming industry.  Right now there are about fifty-eight farmers who are currently in production.  The lambing industry is strong, and government is assisting this growing industry through the Growing Forward and the Agrifoods Assistance Programs. 

 

It is great to hear because that number, fifty-eight farmers in the sheep industry, I think that is up in the last couple of years.  More people are actually getting into farming.  We have to note as well that government in past years, of course, had the initiatives where they were trying to get the youth interested in the farming industries as well.  Maybe that is a little bit of proof here that maybe government's initiative is working.

 

We talked about animal health, I think, in Estimates as well.  The rollout of the government's new animal welfare act continues with government providing training to municipal employees and various police forces.  We would certainly like to see this program expand, of course.  That would probably be something that would be done as well hand in hand with Municipal Affairs.  We look forward to hearing about more municipalities that will be availing of that.

 

Let's get into the mineral resource management end of things and talk about Hebron.  With a lot of attention focused on the Muskrat Falls hydro project, this project continues to develop, albeit sometimes you do not hear a lot from Hebron; we hear a lot more about Muskrat, more so than some of our offshore industries in the recent weeks and months.  Nalcor has a 4.9 per cent equity stake in the Hebron oil deposit and therefore is on the hook for about 4.9 per cent of the cost of developing the project, including the construction of a GBS at the Bull Arm site. 

 

I also have to know and I will ask the question to the minister, because we are a 4.9 per cent equity into it, of course, it remains to be seen when the project is over with and when it is done are we also going to be responsible for 4.9 per cent of the cleanup cost too, or the remediation, whatever is going to happen offshore?  We will have to see what happens.  It is a long ways down the road, but it is a question well worth asking. 

 

Officials noted that Nalcor's share of the expected $14 billion plus costs of this project will be $360 million until first oil.  As the GBS is being developed, it is the time to address long-standing concerns regarding environmental safety in the offshore and in providing safety, and improving safety for workers flying offshore.  I said it the other day during my response to the Budget as well the first time that I was up talking about the importance of the twenty-nine recommendations under the Wells inquiry.  We are going further out.  We are going to deeper water.  We are going 400 kilometres outwards.  As one member across the way put it, we are going 1,100 metres down.  We are entering dangerous waters.  Not that the whole North Atlantic is not dangerous, but this is unchartered territory. 

 

We have to remember the Deepwater Horizon and, of course, Cougar Flight 491, the loss of our personnel offshore with the Ocean Ranger as well.  We have deep concerns.  We will continue pressing those matters. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I see that my time is up.  I have a lot more here I wanted to comment on: Old Harry, continue on with the fracking moratorium, source water protection is a must, cleanup of the (inaudible).

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The member's time has expired. 

 

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS PERRY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It certainly is a pleasure for me to rise and join my colleagues here in the House of Assembly tonight and speak to the Concurrence debate for the Resource Committee.  The Estimates Committees are very interesting, Mr. Speaker.  As my colleague from Baie Verte – Springdale likes to do, he actually sits on the Estimates of all the sector committees, because they are so very informative. 

 

We really get down, I guess, into the weeds of what each department is doing and where the dollars are being spent, Mr. Speaker.  In particular, for us in the Resource Committee, our focus was the Department of Advanced Education and Skills, Environment and Conservation, the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Innovation, Business and Rural Development, Natural Resources, and Tourism, Culture and Recreation

 

Mr. Speaker, for me and in my District of Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune, these particular departments are very, very relevant.  Municipal Affairs, of course, is another one and certainly all of the departments are very important to us.  In terms of the ministers who have a frequent lobby effort from me, many of them are the heads of our resource departments.

 

Mr. Speaker, when I look to the expenditures of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture I am so very proud of the investment our government, the PC Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, is making in rural Newfoundland and Labrador to grow an innovative industry –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS PERRY: –that will enable us to be leaders throughout the world, and enable us to continue to have a fishery of the future that contributes significantly to the entire economy of Newfoundland and Labrador.  As well, my colleague from Springdale – Baie Verte enjoys the benefits of shellfish aquaculture in his region.  Fin fish aquaculture as well as shellfish aquaculture, are both very important in the Coast of Bays.

 

Mr. Speaker, in terms of some of the investments that have been made by our government over the years, we have invested very heavily in the infrastructure that is required to support this sector, in particular wharves, the new fish health facility, and hatcheries in the area.  We also have three processing plants.  I am very pleased to say tonight that the facility in Hermitage, a brand new, state-of-the-art fish plant has been built and is opening its doors very soon. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS PERRY: We are going to see production renewed in the community of Hermitage.  I am so very pleased to see that.

 

As we move forward, Mr. Speaker, and continue to increase the volume of production in the region, both plants in St. Alban's and Harbour Breton are very high priorities.  We anticipate that all three facilities, as we continue to grow the industry, will be very viable and providing an excellent food source not only to Newfoundland and Labrador, but indeed to the entire world.

Innovation, Business – I am going to leave that one for next because there are some things in particular I want to talk about there.  In the Department of Natural Resources, Mr. Speaker, one sector that is very, very important to the people of Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune is that of forestry.  Throughout the centuries, Bay d'Espoir itself was actually settled because of the forestry sector.  The outlying communities were the fishing areas, but of course a lot of them being islands, there is not a large abundance of wood. 

 

That was actually how Bay d'Espoir evolved.  Throughout the 1960s, Bowater was a major employer throughout the region.  In recent years the sector has had some challenges.  We are certainly looking forward to the continued developments of the Department of Natural Resources and this government to see what can be done in the forestry sector, and there are some very promising initiatives on the horizon.  As a result of these initiatives, when they get developed, I certainly will be advocating for resurgence and a re-emphasis on the forestry sector in my region.  We have, in particular, some silviculture workers, and the minister knows I advocate very frequently on their behalf.  Certainly, as we see the forestry sector come back in Central Newfoundland, we are going to see silviculture come back in the Coast of Bays region, and that is something we are all committed to seeing happen. 

 

Now I am going to move on to the Department of Innovation, Business and Rural Development, which is very exciting for us.  It is a department that I worked with in my former life.  I worked with the community economic development, with the zonal board.  IBRD was one of the key departments that we dealt with, and it is certainly such a pleasure for me now to be working very closely with many of these people again.  Just last week, I started my new role as Parliamentary Secretary with the hon. Minister Sullivan.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS PERRY: I tell you, I am going to have a fantastic learning experience in this department, and I have already enjoyed it very, very thoroughly.  I know it is going to continue to get better and better.

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of representing Minister Sullivan at a CME workshop here in St. John's.  It was so refreshing to see the life, the energy, the innovation, the intelligence in that room.  Things are happening in Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker.  We are a global leaders because of the work that is happening right here in this Province, with the support of this government through the Department of Innovation, Business and Rural Development. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS PERRY: I have to say, Mr. Speaker, that I was actually a little shocked and appalled when I read the paper today and I heard the radio clippings today talking about Newfoundland and Labrador as being at its worst, last, and lowest.  I was shocked.  Never before have I ever heard such negativity.  It is hard to believe – and I am going to produce the facts on that, Mr. Speaker.

 

I am going back again to the CME conference just to talk about how Canada, how the international community looks at Newfoundland and Labrador today under Progressive Conservative leadership.  I received an e-mail from the keynote on Friday.  This is what he had to say: What I saw yesterday is what makes Canadians and other provinces take notice of the leadership you are nurturing by supporting, coaching, and showing people what can be done. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS PERRY: I came away feeling that you have the right grasp on innovation in focusing on the foundations of innovation by supporting process innovation, such as what we saw this Friday.

 

Mr. Speaker, that is just a small example of what Canadians and the international community are saying about Newfoundland and Labrador under the leadership of this government. 

 

I have to say, there was one thing, though, that I did like about the Leader of the Opposition's speech.  It was great to see that all of the Tories in his fold are calling the shots over there, because he clearly stated a Conservative policy, right of centre.  He wants deficit reduction, Mr. Speaker, a Conservative policy out of the four of the Liberal platform.  It was very interesting to see.

From what I read in the paper, he spewed a number of economic indicators that show us – and I cannot believe it, appalling – worst, last, lowest.  I never hear tell of it since the 1990s, Mr. Speaker.  There has not been that kind of talk about this Province since the Liberal government was in power. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS PERRY: That is not what the Conference Board of Canada is saying at all, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I would like to know where these economic indicators came from.  I am not sure if they came out of a Smarties box, but the economic indicators, as produced by the Department of Finance of this government – and I tell you, I have full confidence in the people of our Department of Finance, every which way, and I will take their numbers over what was spewed last night any day. 

 

Let's talk about the facts.  We have seen significant growth in our Province since 2003 and the change has been remarkable.  From 2003 to 2013, capital investment increased by 232.1 per cent.  Last year alone, capital investment totalled $12.3 billion, mainly associated with major projects: Hebron, Muskrat Falls, and the Vale nickel processing facility.  In practical terms, this means that companies are investing money in projects, which then result in increased employment for the people of the Province – increased employment. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MS PERRY: We will get to talking about the employment that you criticized shortly, Mr. Speaker.  I have a little stat on it here and then we will go into some more.  Employment has increased by 9.9 per cent. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS PERRY: He said last night, Mr. Speaker, mislead the people, saying the lowest employment when, in fact, the highest it has ever been, increased by 9.9 per cent in the last decade under the leadership of this government.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS PERRY: Employment reached record levels last year, and the unemployment rate declined to the lowest rate since 1973.  These are the facts, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS PERRY: More people are working in our Province than ever before, and the increase in employment is leading to higher wages. 

 

Average weekly earnings in the Province, Mr. Speaker, in 2013 were higher than most provinces in all of Canada, estimated at $951 behind only Alberta.  I have said this in the House before: Whoever would have thought that Newfoundland and Labrador would have the second-highest wages in the country second only to Alberta?  Wow, what leadership is that?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS PERRY: From 2003 to 2013 average weekly earnings, Mr. Speaker, increased by 48.6 per cent.  Combine these factors with the unprecedented reductions in income tax by our government which has put over $500 million back into the pockets of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians – $500 million of taxpayers' dollars back into the pockets of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS PERRY: I have to wonder, I am thinking, every day they stand up they ask for this, they ask for that, we are going to do this, we are going to do that.  I would like to know how they are going to do it.  That $500 million that is in the taxpayers' pockets, Mr. Speaker, they are looking for that.  They are looking to take that back.  I have every confidence that is part of their plan.

 

From 2003 to 2013, disposable income per capita increased by 75.8 per cent.  That is more money the people have to spend on goods and services, which results in an increase in retail sales and consumer spending in general.  From 2003 to 2013, retail sales grew by 48.6 per cent. 

 

Our Province was second among provinces last year in retail sales growth, again second place in the country.  What was it: worst, last, lowest?  We are second place in the country for retail sales growth last year and for the last ten years.  Retail sales were driven by new car sales which were the highest number ever recorded in the Province, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Let us talk about a few more of those factual economic indicators; real GDP growth of 0.5 per cent in 2013 in Newfoundland and Labrador.  We are strongest among provinces in all of Canada for economic growth at 5.9 per cent, the leader in the country, the top in the country.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS PERRY: Employment growth of 0.3 per cent with average employment of 233,500 people.  In 2013, average employment in the Province was 232,800 people – a record high.  So again, Mr. Speaker, the truth is - what was last year?  It was the highest employment ever seen in Newfoundland and Labrador.  These are the facts.

 

Mr. Speaker, we have a stable unemployment rate at 11.4 per cent.  In 2013 it was, as I said earlier, the lowest it has been since 1973, forty years –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) population now, talk about that.

 

MS PERRY: The population is increasing as well, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Now, household income growth of 3.4 per cent; household income growth to $22.8 billion; disposable income growth of 3.5 per cent; retail sales again of 3.6 per cent; capital investment growth of 2.4 per cent.  The value of mineral shipments is anticipated to increase about 2 per cent to $3.8 billion on the strength of higher iron ore production – and here it is: The Province's population is expected to be stable in 2014 at – listen to this – 526,700 people.

 

Find me a stat in the 1990s that said we had 526,000 people.  You will not find it; it is not there.  That was the era of the brain drain.  That was the era of the higher taxes.  That was the era of the Liberal Administration.  That was the era of the low confidence in Newfoundland and Labrador.  That was the era when investors were not interested in looking at us, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I am running out of time, but I still have a few minutes left.  Another comment that was made last night: The PC government squandered $18.9 billion.  What did we squander it on is what I would like to know: schools, roads, diabetes pumps for children? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Burgeo – La Poile, on a point of order.

 

MR. A. PARSONS: (Inaudible).

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

There is no point of order.

 

MS PERRY: Let's get back to talking again.  Are they saying that we squandered money by investing in diabetes pumps for children, Mr. Speaker, and then extending that to the age of twenty-five?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MS PERRY: Can you believe that, Mr. Speaker?  I do not call that squandering; I call that an investment in our people, the people who we care about. 

 

We also expanded drug coverage.  There are a lot more drugs now on our drug program than there was when we came into office in 2003.  Through initiatives like the Generic Drug Pricing Policy, we are putting more money back into the people's pockets and more drugs under our drug coverage program.  We are helping the people of the Province who need it most.

 

What other kinds of things are we doing?  The Residential Energy Efficiency Program, is that squandering?  What about the Medical Transportation Assistance Program?  I can certainly attest, Mr. Speaker, that makes a huge difference to the people of my district. 

 

If we have to travel to St. John's for radiation services, for any kind of specialist treatment, we have to drive 567 kilometres and that is just one way.  It takes us two days to make the trip and that is just driving in and driving out.  We have to eat on the way in and on the