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June 3, 2014                   HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS                        Vol. XLVII No. 37


The House met at 1:30 p.m.

 

MR. SPEAKER (Wiseman): Order, please!

 

Admit strangers.

 

Before we start today's proceedings, I want to welcome some special guests to the gallery.  We have the Mayor of Harbour Main-Chapel's Cove-Lakeview, Ms Elizabeth Parsley, together with her daughter, Kim.

 

Welcome to the House of Assembly.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: We are also very pleased to have joining us today Ms Connie Pike.  Ms Pike is the Executive Director of the Coalition Against Violence, Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

Welcome to the House of Assembly. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

Statements by Members

 

MR. SPEAKER: Today we will have members' statements from the District of Kilbride; the Member for the District of Torngat Mountains; the Member for the District of Port de Grave; the Member for the District of Humber West; the Member for the District of Harbour Main; and the Member for the District of Baie Verte – Springdale. 

 

The hon. the Member for the District of Kilbride. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DINN: On May14, 2014 Hazelwood Elementary celebrated Literacy Day with over twenty guests attending to help kick off the annual event. 

 

Among the guests who attended were Mr. Darrin Pike, Director of the English School District, Mayor Dennis O'Keefe, yours truly, and various other personalities from TV, radio, and other community leaders.  These guests read to each class in the morning; then the day continued with emphasis on other forms of literacy as a Stop, Drop and Read was played.  It was a wonderful day celebrating good books and stressing the importance of reading. 

 

I would also like to acknowledge some students of Hazelwood Elementary on their recent accomplishments.  Brayden Chafe and Andy Knight took part in the Can Lan Classic Hockey Tournament in Toronto in May.  Their teams represented Xtreme Hockey and were made up of children in Grades 2 and 3.  Andy's team took home the gold medal in his division, while Brayden's team placed silver in their division. 

 

Connor and Carter Belbin, students at Hazelwood, attended a bowling tournament in Winnipeg recently and both did quite well.

 

Jacob Shortall, a Grade 6 student, won three silver medals recently at an Atlantic Diving Championship in Halifax. 

 

Please join me in commending Hazelwood Elementary. 

 

Thank you. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Torngat Mountains. 

 

MR. EDMUNDS: Mr. Speaker, I rise in this hon. House today to recognize Kayla Torarak who has just received her commercial pilot's licence. 

 

Kayla was born in Hopedale on April 9, 1991.  She attended school there and graduated from high school in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in 2009.  In September of that year, she enrolled at the First Nations Technical Institute in Deseronto, Ontario where she studied Aviation Technologies and graduated in 2012 with a Multi-Engine Pilots Licence. 

 

Immediately after graduation, Kayla was hired by Air Labrador and worked as a Flight Dispatcher where she gained valuable experience in the company's operation.  Just three weeks ago, Kayla completed her first commercial flight to the Labrador Coast as a Commercial Pilot to become the first female fixed-wing pilot from Nunatsiavut to fly with Air Labrador.

 

Having grown up with her parents in Hopedale, I can understand the pride they and all her family feel for Kayla.  All the people of Nunatsiavut appreciate the confidence Philip Earle of Air Labrador has for Kayla and her ability as a pilot.

 

Mr. Speaker, I ask all hon. members to join me in wishing Kayla Torarak safe travels and Godspeed as she navigates the beautiful skies of Northern Labrador.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. LITTLEJOHN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I rise today to recognize three young athletes from my district who last week received the Premier's Athletic Award for athletic achievement.  Table tennis brothers Michael and Nick Hiscock and figure skater Jenna Efford were honoured at the ceremony.

 

The table tennis Hiscock brothers capped off a very impressive year.  They represented our Province at the Atlantic Championship, bringing home five silver medals, and both captured gold at the 2014 Newfoundland and Labrador Winter Games.  They now have their sights set on making Team Newfoundland and Labrador for the 2015 Canada Winter Games next February.

 

Jenna, who is an up and coming figure skater, trains six days a week.  She will be leaving the Province this summer to train at the Sports Study Program of Excellence in Chambly, Quebec, under renowned coach, Josée Picard.  Jenna was on the podium in multiple competitions as well, winning sectionals and provincials in 2014, and a bronze at the Newfoundland and Labrador Winter Games.  She also has her sights set on Team Newfoundland and Labrador for the upcoming 2015 Canada Winter Games.

 

I ask all members to join me in congratulating these young athletes on their success and dedication to their sport.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Humber West.

 

MR. GRANTER: Mr. Speaker, I stand in this hon. House to pay tribute to a daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, and my partner for the past twenty-six years.

 

On her journey through life, Eileen Gibbons – Miss Gibbons, to all of her students – made a huge impact on the many lives that she touched, including the thousands of young minds she helped mould during her thirty-year teaching career at Templeton Collegiate and G.C. Rowe Junior High.

 

Her belief in students and her talent to bring out the best of all of them on a daily basis earned her a teaching reputation unparalleled.  For Eileen, good was never good enough, and there was always a little bit more she could squeeze from her students.

 

As one former student described her, “She was a phenomenal teacher and mentor and admired by so many.  She took on many roles in her years as a teacher and took so many under her wing as well.  Seemed she could never do enough for her students – she was small but mighty.”

 

Her grasp of the written and spoken word was amazing.  Just about now she would be correcting my grammar, correcting my spelling, correcting my voice, enunciation, and delivery.

 

I learned much from Eileen over the past twenty-six years, but little did I know the lessons she would teach me over the past six months.  She confirmed to me she was the most selfless person I have ever known.  The medical staff told me that she cared more for their well-being than she did her own health.  She was deeply personal, with a strength, courage and fight like which I have never known.  She was steadfast in her belief of family, and if she was your friend – you had a friend for life, with a bond that was secure and unbreakable.

 

Taken much too early, she will be remembered by her unwavering sense of humour, her beautiful smile and selflessness.

 

To my butterfly, I love you – always.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Harbour Main.

 

MR. HEDDERSON: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to a remarkable individual, a true gentleman, Mr. Raymond Edward Parsley from Harbour Main who passed away on May 11, 2014.

 

Raymond had a very successful career as an inspector with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.  At fifty-five he retired and took on the role of mayor for the Town of Harbour Main-Chapel's Cove-Lakeview.  He served as mayor from 2008 up until his passing just a few short weeks ago.

 

Mr. Speaker, his loyalty and devotion to the town he served was evident to all who witnessed it.  He persevered through many, many personal challenges, never once wavering from his responsibilities to the people he served, the people of Harbour Main-Chapel's Cove-Lakeview.  Raymond was a strong spokesperson for his town and a champion for community improvements, providing leadership, dedication, and sensitivity in all that he did.  His loss was felt not only in his home community, but indeed the region, and I would say throughout the entire Province.

 

His commitment to community life was only surpassed by his commitment and love for his family.  Raymond is survived by his wife Elizabeth, daughter Kimberly, son Tommy, and grandson Brandon.

 

I ask all members to join with me in honouring a true champion, an extraordinary Newfoundlander and Labradorian, Mayor Raymond Edward Parsley.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Baie Verte – Springdale.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. POLLARD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

There is no shortage of high school graduations in the District of Baie Verte – Springdale.

 

I rise in this hon. House today to recognize all 2014 graduates from the six high schools.  They are: Indian River High School of Springdale, Copper Ridge Academy of Baie Verte, Valmont Academy of King's Point, MSB Regional Academy of Middle Arm, Cape John Collegiate of LaScie, and St. Peter's Academy of Westport.

 

There were thirty-six graduating students from Indian River, twenty-six from Copper Ridge, fifteen from Valmont Academy and MSB Regional Academy, eighteen from Cape John Collegiate, and three from St. Peter's Academy.

 

From the tasty meals, to the beautifully decorated gymnasiums, it was evident that a lot of hard work, pride, and preparation went into each ceremony.  Teachers, students, and parent volunteers are to be commended for such outstanding work to ensure that everyone would have a fantastic, enjoyable, memorable evening.

 

With the exception of Valmont Academy, my wife and I had the pleasure to attend all of the ceremonies in each school.  I was very impressed with the high caliber of valedictorian speeches and the strong leadership displayed by the graduating students.  Teachers have done an outstanding job in developing the gifting's of each graduate.

 

I invite all hon. members to join me in congratulating all the graduates in the six high schools.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Statement by Ministers.

 

Statements by Ministers

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Service NL.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. CRUMMELL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to recognize June 3 to 5 as Roadcheck 2014.  Enforcement officers will be out in full force this week participating in a road check blitz for commercial vehicles.

 

Roadcheck 2014 is an initiative of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and represents a major undertaking by vehicle safety enforcement personnel across Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

 

Mr. Speaker, for the next three days, highway enforcement officers and weigh scale inspectors from the Motor Registration Division of Service NL will be conducting commercial vehicle road safety checks and inspections to spot-check vehicles and remind owners and operators of safe operating practices.  Officers will be checking for mechanical deficiencies, driver records, cargo securement and compliance with other legislation.  These roadside inspections are conducted in accordance with nationally developed inspection criteria for commercial vehicles.

 

Road safety is a primary mandate for my department and Roadcheck 2014 provides an excellent opportunity to raise awareness among commercial vehicle operators about safe driving practices and the need for full compliance with provincial and national laws.

 

Mr. Speaker, Service NL is responsible for monitoring commercial vehicles on our Province's roads and highways to ensure they are in compliance with legislation and regulations and are being operated by qualified and safe drivers.  We also check that vehicles transporting cargo and passengers in this Province are mechanically fit and comply with federal and provincial legislation. 

 

Newfoundland and Labrador's continued participation in Roadcheck demonstrates our ongoing commitment to enhancing road safety in the Province.  While our dedicated enforcement officials continue to perform their duties every day, our annual participation in Roadcheck helps to raise awareness of the importance of safety in the commercial transportation sector, as well as to educate operators on safety requirements and precautions. 

 

I encourage all hon. members to join me in spreading the message of the importance of road safety and correct practice in commercial transport for Roadcheck 2014. 

 

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 the advance copy of his statement.  Mr. Speaker, we certainly are very supportive of Roadcheck 2014 and thank the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance for this great initiative. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I think nobody can argue, anytime you have something like this initiative taking place in our Province I think it can only be a positive thing.  We all want to ensure that our roads are kept safe, and one of the ways we can do it is to ensure the heavy vehicles and so on that are travelling our highways have been inspected, that they are not subject to mechanical failure and so on, that they are not overloaded and all the other issues that come with it. 

 

We are very dependent upon truck traffic in our Province coming across to bring goods to our Province.  We see an increase in that year over year and certainly that is why we support the need to ensure that the vehicles that are delivering those goods are in good repair and safe for the general public.

 

Mr. Speaker, I guess tied into this was an issue I raised yesterday in terms of all of the debris and the safety issues on the Outer Ring Road.  One of the causes of that, of course, is the fact that maybe vehicles are not –

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The member's time has expired.

 

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.

 

Every day, of course, we are presented with new road hazards.  I would like to thank the minister – I guess in this particular case I would like to thank the staff out there, the highway safety workers who are out there practicing their work as they carry on with highway enforcement, but I have to ask the question.  I do not know if anybody else in the House here has noticed it, Mr. Speaker, but it seems like there are an awful lot of vehicles pulled in on the side of the road with apparent front-end problems, because you are looking at pretty much tires hanging out of wheel wells half the time from some vehicles that are broken down.  It appears that we are encountering more problems when it comes to people who are looking after their own vehicles – vehicle maintenance problems. 

 

I have to ask the question on the part of government, on the part of the drivers who are out there practicing safe driving and safe vehicle maintenance: Are we headed down the road again, for example, where we are going to be asking about the need for the potential of more vehicle inspections happening every day –

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Innovation, Business and Rural Development. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in this hon. House to highlight our Youth Innovation Projects, an initiative that engages youth in creative activities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

Newfoundland and Labrador's youth are vital to the Province's future prosperity and it is incumbent upon us to provide opportunities to encourage innovation and creativity and to build essential skills for our young people. 

 

It was for this reason, Mr. Speaker, that this past March the provincial government invited proposals for projects that support and promote youth innovation and contribute to valuable learning experiences of our Province's students, not-for-profit organizations, youth organizations, municipalities, and industry associations.  These projects relate to science, technology and engineering, and identify opportunities in a number of knowledge-based industries as well as areas of interest such as robotics, digital media, and other emerging technologies.  Many of these projects investigate new technologies and how they relate to traditional industries and future opportunities. 

 

We received a significant number of Youth Innovation Project proposals, all of which reflect to the goal of creating awareness among youth of the tremendous opportunities that exist in our Province.  I am very pleased to announce that our government has invested over $400,000 in support of thirty-two projects under this initiative.

 

Mr. Speaker, this past Friday, I had the opportunity to visit Mill Crest Academy in Grand Falls-Windsor, one of the schools which will benefit from this initiative.  Students at Mill Crest will be introduced to technologies that will enhance creative learning through the introduction of a new robotics program. 

 

Since the initial call for proposals in 2009, the provincial government has invested over $2 million in 136 projects that support youth innovation. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the ability of our youth to find creative solutions, use leading-edge technologies, and produce adaptive solutions is so inspiring to our government and we are committed to supporting the youth who represent a bright future for Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

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 thank the minister for an advance copy of her statement.  Youth Innovation Projects is a great initiative by the Department of Innovation, Business and Rural Development. 

 

Technology is one of the fastest growing sectors in our Province.  The promotion of technology and engineering is wonderful.  We need to encourage and build these essential skills in our young people, especially since after a few years of in-migration, we have once again returned to a Province where young people are leaving, post-graduation.  Last year, we experienced a net loss of interprovincial migration, and the data for the first few months of this year reveals we are on target for another year of out-migration. 

 

We need to have programs that encourage innovation and investigate new technologies and how they relate to the traditional industries.  They are not only beneficial to our young people, but they benefit the Province as a whole.  They are good investments.

 

I thank the minister for that statement.  I would certainly like to see in future more investment in Western Newfoundland and Labrador as well as in Labrador, given that only two of the thirty-two proposals were from those regions of the Province.

 

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 would also like to thank the minister for the advance copy of her statement today.  Congratulations to all the recipients of the government money in the thirty-two projects under this initiative this year. 

 

Mr. Speaker, one of the things that we would like to see government do a little bit more is put a little bit more money, for example, through the funding of science fairs in high schools.  We know that education is key to innovation.  We also know that our education system is where it starts.  Just to pass it on to government, a little bit more funding, for example, through schools would probably spur more projects that government would be able to pour money into. 

 

At the same time, we would also like to see government put more funding itself into the initiatives.  We notice that government has put in $2 million over 136 projects.  This could be $20 million, for example.  We do not know where some of these young innovators are going to be going next and what they can be doing as regards the development of our economy in the future.

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Further statements by ministers?

 

The hon. the Minister of Justice.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. FRENCH: Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to recognize Environment Week, which runs until June 7.

 

Since 1972, people across the world have celebrated June 5 as Environment Day.  Here in Canada, we have designated the entire first week of June as Environment Week and use it as a time to celebrate accomplishments in protecting the environment, as well as to promote and educate people about ways they can become involved and make a difference. 

 

Globally, Environment Day was created by the United Nations to generate action on environmental issues and empower people to become more active in what is happening around them when it comes to the environment.

 

Mr. Speaker, tomorrow I will be presenting this year's Environment Awards to well-deserving recipients for their outstanding environmental and conservation achievements.  Their demonstrated commitment is evidence of the good work groups and individuals are doing to protect the environment in their own backyards, in schools, communities, and workplaces.

 

Our government is committed to working with individuals, groups, communities, and businesses that are dedicated to the protection of our natural areas and the development of our resources in an environmentally appropriate and sustainable manner.  We are making progress in reducing waste, increasing recycling, and taking action to protect and preserve our environment, and we will continue to raise awareness about sustaining our Province for generations to come.

 

Mr. Speaker, I encourage more Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to do their part and participate in activities that promote Environment Week.  A healthy and sustainable environment yields healthy people, a stronger economy, and more vibrant communities.

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I thank the minister for a copy of the statement prior to the announcement.

 

Government talks about protection of our natural resources, Mr. Speaker, but we are also seeing a government who have allowed 5,000 people to trample through a natural area within a provincial park.  We see a government who refuses to take money from the federal government to protect the marine conservation area in Burgeo.  They talk about reducing waste, but, Mr. Speaker, the last time there was major progress on reducing waste and creating curbside recycling and waste diversion programs was when I was Minister of Environment.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, they talk about conserving energy.  The 2007 Energy Plan, Mr. Speaker, promised a plethora of initiatives and incentives to reduce energy consumption, but we see no signs of progress on that, none.  None of those incentives or initiatives was put in place.

 

We see garbage along our highways and the Outer Ring Road and other areas of the Province, Mr. Speaker.  We talk about protecting the environment, Mr. Speaker, talk is cheap.  Happy Environment Week, indeed.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

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

 

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

 

In observance of Environment Week this week, on June 7 there will be a provincial day of action against Tordon 101 use in the Province, Mr. Speaker.  Three very important groups in this Province, environmental groups, the Social Justice Co-op of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Coalition for the Alternatives to Pesticides, and the Friends of Grand River are holding a petition drive to gather names to stop the government use of Tordon 101 in this Province.  Our environment does not just connect with garbage, this sort of thing that we all can connect with, but it also deals with what is happening in the future, in this case the banning of pesticides.

 

Mr. Speaker, I will leave that with government, hopefully they will notice that.  Congratulations to these three groups here, and hopefully one of these groups will be a recipient of one of these awards this week.

 

Thank you very much.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Oral Questions.

 

Oral Questions

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Well the first stage of the construction of the Hebron Project has been completed and the dry dock at Bull Arm, as we speak, is currently being flooded.  The budget for this particular project was $14 billion and the Province, through Nalcor, has a 4.9 equity stake in the project.

 

I ask the Premier: Can you provide an update on the total amount of money that the government has already spent on this project? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, obviously we would be delighted at the appropriate time to file in this House a list of all government expenditures.  This project is another massive project, a capital investment in this Province.  Capital investment, I think, last year was the highest it has ever been.  It is going off the roof and it is driving employment. 

 

We have employment numbers we have never had in our history.  The unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in forty years.  I understand we are no longer the worst in the country.  People are working and they are working with high weekly wages, and that is causing people to have more labour income, more household income, more disposable income.  Because of that, we are seeing it in retail sales and we are seeing it in car sales, we are seeing it in housing starts.

 

The Leader of the Opposition is a businessman.  He is in the retail business.  I think he is in the car business.  You are going to have a hard job going up against this government. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Well, I am in business and usually when I am in business I understand what it takes when you have to make the equity investment.

 

What I asked was: How much have we spent on this project to date?  That was a very simple question, and hopefully we will get the answer.  I am going to go back there, because during the Estimates with the Minister of Finance I asked this very same question. 

 

What I was looking for at that time was not only how much have we spent but how much have we committed to this project.  At that time, obviously I was expecting an answer.  We did not get one then but hopefully today we can get an answer.

 

How much has been spent on this project, and how much have we committed of taxpayers' money to the project? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL:  Mr. Speaker, this provides me with a great opportunity to convey to the members of the House, and through them to the people of the Province, what this government is doing as result of the Energy Plan. 

 

We are not just sitting back and taxing oil companies.  We are not just sitting back and collecting royalties.  We have made a conscious decision that the people of this Province are going to invest in some of these oil fields and we are going to get a return from those oil fields.

 

The oil companies make massive wealth.  It is time for the people of Newfoundland to make massive wealth as well.  That money will come in.  It will pay back our investment.  It will pay back any loans we have taken out to make that investment, and it will provide a stream of revenue to the people of this Province.  We can use it for health care.  We can use it for long-term care.  We can use it for education.  We can use it for initiatives to fight family violence for years and years and years and generations to come.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

With all due respect, and I understand the response, but what I do not get is this is a massive project that requires millions and millions of dollars from the taxpayers' of this Province. 

 

All I am asking: How much money have you committed to this project?  How much has already been spent on this project?  If the Premier does not want to answer the question, I ask the Minister of Finance: Will you please answer it?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DALLEY: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate standing up following the Premier, who so eloquently laid out to the people of the Province that this equity investment, we will get that return and more, Mr. Speaker, which is significant, because we are always talking about how we are going to move from non-renewable to renewable, how we are going to go beyond 2017.  That is the vision of the government and how we are going to get there. 

 

To date, Mr. Speaker, these has been $188 million gone into the Hebron Project.  There is another $360 million as the project progresses, but it is expected, Mr. Speaker, as a result of the investments and the process with Nalcor, that they will be self-sufficient come 2015 and will not need government money to do so.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

In March, the Minister of IBRD said that the mill in Grand Falls-Windsor would be demolished this year; however, the Minister of Transportation and Works would only say that it will be considered for demolition. 

 

I ask the Premier: Will the mill in Grand Falls-Windsor indeed be demolished this year?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, the commitment was made to put out an RFP this year to demolish the mill in Grand Falls-Windsor.  That RFP is out now.  As soon as the RFP closes, then we will sit down with the bidders, go through the normal process, and when we award the tender that process will start this year.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Well, based on the response, the demolition would be on the taxpayers' bill here, but we already know – and the minster has said there are a couple of companies looking at this – the former Abitibi mill sits empty, waiting to be demolished, as I said, while other mills in Eastern Canada have been sold as scrap to metal companies for millions of dollars.

 

I ask the Premier: Did you ever think about or did you try to sell the mill to a scrap metal company that would indeed create revenue for this Province?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I guess in answer to that question, yes, we have.  In the process of putting the RFP together, the Cabinet met on several occasions to discuss that very process. 

 

Within the RFP what we have done is we have put an RFP together that will actually – the demolition and then the sale of whatever assets are there could be part of saving money for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.  That is what this government is all about, Mr. Speaker, is saving money and making things better for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

There is an ongoing issue with the canal seepage in the Town of Deer Lake.  There has been assessment by engineers from the Department of Environment and recommendations that would help residents who are dealing with even mould problems in their homes right now.

 

I ask the minister: When will you be sending officials to the town to complete the assessment that has been requested?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I had heard of the issue a couple of weeks ago, but I became involved with it a little more intimately this morning when I had an e-mail from an area resident.  Being someone who has had an issue with water problems over the years – I actually had to move out of a property one time – I can certainly sympathize with these people.  It is something that I have asked staff to have a look at since I received that e-mail this morning.

 

As a matter of fact, Mr. Speaker, we have already had an environmental scientist visit the site.  I have asked officials as well to work with Kruger – with actually Deer Lake Power and have them also assess the canals that run from the lake down to the powerhouse. 

 

I think these have been in place probably – somebody told me this morning they were built probably in the 1920s.  Obviously, it is something that should be checked.  I have asked our officials to write their light and power, like I said, and have that assessment done.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Torngat Mountains.

 

MR. EDMUNDS: Mr. Speaker, despite an accommodation crisis in Lake Melville, the minister responsible says he is not at liberty to say whether or not the Paddon Home will be used for affordable housing or long-term care.  Meanwhile, Labrador-Grenfell Health is allowing the RCMP to use the building for training exercises. 

 

I ask the minister: Why is the Paddon Home being used for training and not housing in a community with affordable housing and long-term care needs?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. O'BRIEN: Mr. Speaker, it is only a week ago I addressed the same particular issue here in this House.  I told the hon. member, in response to his question, that we were looking at all options for the people who were displaced in regard to Newman's in Goose Bay.

 

We keep in mind as well in regard to the housing issues in that particular part of our Province going forward, and we want the right solution for those particular people, Mr. Speaker.  Yes, we are absolutely looking at the Paddon building, and if the RCMP can make use of it in the interim until we can make a decision, I am all for that as well.  I am all for making use of infrastructure wherever it is in the Province.  So, certainly, we will be looking at the Paddon Home as a possible solution to Newman's, but also in regard to going forward, addressing the issues in and around Goose Bay.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Torngat Mountains.

 

MR. EDMUNDS: Mr. Speaker, this is not just about Newman's; this is about hundreds of residents who are looking for homes in the boomtown.

 

Mr. Speaker, the Minister Responsible for Housing said an engineering evaluation has to be done on the Paddon Home before it can be considered suitable for housing.  Its original purpose was to house seniors.

 

If the roof and sprinklers were upgraded, as promised, and the RCMP find it – and I quote – perfect for training, I ask the minister: Why are you stalling on using the Paddon Home, when Labrador has a housing and long-term care needs crisis?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. O'BRIEN: Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for referring to Happy Valley-Goose Bay as being a boomtown, because it is absolutely a boomtown by the work that this government has done in stimulating the economy in Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

We realize that there are issues up in that area.  I have worked with the MHA from the area as well in regard to certain options.  I will tell the hon. member that we are looking at various options, and also Grenfell Health is looking at options in regard to Paddon Home.  We want the right options for the right application, and I will not tell the hon. member that I am delaying the issue.  I just want that resolved, and I want it resolved in the right way, I say to the hon. member.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, the Premier indicated in the House yesterday that there would be no reduction in ultrasound services at the new Corner Brook regional hospital.

 

I ask the Premier: Will commit to the people of the West Coast and Labrador that there will be six ultrasound machines at the new hospital in Corner Brook?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, as I said yesterday, the functional program is being completed by experts at the Department of Health and at the Western Regional Health Authority.  They are finalizing that plan.  No decisions have been made.  That plan has not been brought to government for approval.  I would imagine these experts will complete their work and then it will come forward to the minister, and then in due course the minister will bring it forward to government to make a decision.

 

What I said yesterday is that the hon. member's number was incorrect.  I do not doubt that is a number he may have hear – there is rumour; there is speculation that goes around – but until such time as that proposal, the final plan, comes to the minister and gets his approval and then comes on to the government, it is then that we will know what is going in that hospital.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, I was not wrong on the radiation units.  I say to the Premier, you are the government; you can make sure that services are not reduced.  It is not the consultants who are doing the work, Mr. Speaker; you are the Premier.

 

Mr. Speaker, the new hospital in Corner Brook is still going through the final design stages and obviously, as with the radiation unit, it is open to change. 

 

I ask the Premier: Will you commit to having public consultations with the residents of Corner Brook before any final decision is completed? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, let me be very clear on this: We have to rely on experts who know something about hospitals and know what ought to be there.  Obviously, there will be a public consultations and obviously the people of the area will get to have their input and their say and what they think should be there.  In the end, we have to listen to the experts, too.  We will listen to the citizens of the area.  We will take it, government will give it every consideration, but the ultimate decision on what is going in that hospital will have been made by this government. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, Bill 12 on the Order Paper deals with raising tobacco tax.  As a result, government will take in $165 million this year in tobacco tax alone; however, government only plans to reinvest $700,000 into a smoking cessation program. 

 

Given that smoking costs our health care system millions every year, I ask the minister: Why hasn't government committed more to decreasing smoking rates in our Province? 

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

The smoking cessation program, which was announced in this year's Budget, has been well received by stakeholder groups throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.  It is a significant step forward to provide supports and assistance to eligible individuals throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, who are eligible under the guidelines of Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program to avail of this program.  It is a significant program.  The focus of this program is on creating an avenue and an opportunity for those who wish to participate to find better health. 

 

Mr. Speaker, this is very much what this government is about, is working with Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to find opportunities for them to improve their own health.  We are assisting in doing that by this program. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. A. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, as the minister knows, we are one of only two provinces that are not providing coverage.  I am glad to hear that it is there, after years of asking for it.  We also have amongst the highest rates of smoking in Canada. 

 

The Minister of Health in 2011 said that smoking costs our health care system about $300 million to $400 million every year, yet we are still not making any meaningful change and this program is just the start. 

 

I ask: Why haven't you committed to an enhanced smoking cessation program that would see drastic reductions in smoking rates, help improve the health of our population, and decrease health care costs?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of different programs throughout the country, as the member opposite has referenced in his comments before the House this afternoon.  We are taking an approach that we want to implement this new program.  We want to make it available to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. 

 

As we have done in programs before this, as we roll this out it is very important that we monitor the program, we monitor it as it is delivered, and we evaluate the success of the program.  Then we will be in a position to be able to modify and make improvements to the program so it can be the best possible result. 

 

That is what we seek when we look at programs such as this, when we initiate programs regarding health care, better lifestyles, and healthier lifestyles for the people of the Province.  Our goal is to do that.  What we will do is we will be doing an evaluation as this goes on.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS DEMPSTER: Mr. Speaker, this season has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that any new vessel serving the Strait of Belle Isle will require significant ice breaking capacity and increased horsepower.  The new RFP issued for ferry service fails to designate ice breaking capacity or increased horsepower from the existing vessel.

 

I ask the minister: Knowing the challenges with ice facing the present ferry service – June, yesterday, she was still not crossing because of ice – why did the RFP go forward without specifying A1 ice class and increased horsepower?

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I suggest she read the RFP again.  In the RFP it states that the vessels will be icebreaker class, right in the RFP.  I am not quite sure what the member across the way is talking about.  It specifies that right in the RFP.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS DEMPSTER: It is not specific.  I am saying it needs to be at least medium, it needs to be at least A1.  We are here in June month and the ferry is not crossing. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the operation of the ferry service on the Strait of Belle Isle has proven there are glaring omissions in the fifteen-year RFP.  It could be twenty-five because there is room for two five-year renewals.  There have already been four addendums to the RFP.  Obviously it is not clear sailing on the other side either.

 

I ask the minister: Knowing that those same ice conditions will persist in the future, what assurance can you give the ferry users that the RFP will address the challenges being faced?  There is nothing specific there, it is very vague.

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member across the way is comparing the ice conditions with the ships that are sailing today.  If those ships, if we felt they were capable of the weather that is changing as it is, then we would not put out an RFP for new ships.  That is what we have done.

 

We have a ferry replacement strategy in place.  We are very aware of the conditions that are coming down through and the changing conditions.  This is something we have been watching very closely.  It is only in the past five years that we had year-round service on the Strait of Belle Isle and that was determined after the changes in the weather over the last decade.  So I am not quite sure how she can dictate what the weather is going to be like for the next decade.  It is something we watch very closely, and in the new RFP we have addressed all of that.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MS DEMPSTER: (Inaudible).

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I ask the member to wait until the Speaker acknowledges her.

 

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

 

MS DEMPSTER: Because we do not know, I would say that is all the more reason for planning and to be prepared.  We are going to end up with just a newer version of the Apollo with the way this stands, I say, Mr. Speaker, because a contractor will come forward with a minimum 8,000 horsepower and we will be locked in for a long time, still dealing with those problems.  You have time to right the ship, minister.

 

I ask you: Would you be willing to go back and look at the RFP?

 

Thank you.

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. MCGRATH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I can say very clearly that government on this side of the House has a lot more confidence in our business people than what they have on that side with the comment she just made.  I feel very assured with the RFP that is out there and with the conditions we have in that RFP, that when new vessels go on the water they will be ice class and they will serve the people on the Strait of Belle Isle.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of St. Barbe.

 

MR. J. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, last week government suffered another loss at the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal.  This time the court ruled in favour of former residential school students who filed a class action against our government, the federal government, and certain schools based on abuses they suffered as school children.  A full trial is scheduled for later this year.

 

I ask the minister: Has he been briefed by our lawyers as to the viability of this case, the likelihood we may lose, and the how much the Province may have to pay in damages and costs?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Attorney General.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. F. COLLINS: Mr. Speaker, our Crown prosecutors and lawyers keep us advised and apprised of the various cases and results going through the court.

 

With respect to obvious impacts, or financial impacts and whatnot, that is to be worked out later.  I have not had the opportunity to discuss the details as regards the hon. member's question.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. Barbe.

 

MR. J. BENNETT: Mr. Speaker, most residential school claims are successfully proven in court and governments and other defendants are usually ordered to pay large damages plus legal costs.  Sadly, the court process also re-victimizes many survivors.  Now seven years after this case began, government has lost the limitation period argument at the Court of Appeal. 

 

I ask the minister: Will he now commit to review this case to determine if it is appropriate to pursue good faith settlement discussions to avoid a long expensive and risky trial? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Attorney General. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. F. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

With respect to the gentleman's question, I have to take it under advisement and discuss it with my officials.  If there is anything I can give with regard to an appropriate answer in this House – given that the matter is in the courts – then I will certainly do that. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. MITCHELMORE: Mr. Speaker, this government had a big launch when it announced its open government initiative.  Although there is a Web site that says open government initiative, little has changed.  This government is just as closed as it ever was. 

 

I ask the minister if there is an actual open government strategy; and, if so, will it be posted on this Web portal? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: Mr. Speaker, we are into reruns with the questions again. 

 

I have made it quite clear to the member opposite that it is going to take several months of consulting with the people of Newfoundland and Labrador to build our open government action plan.  We announced that it will have four pillars.  We have launched the consultation process.  There will be extensive consultation with the public in the months ahead.  We will, by the end of this year, have an open government action plan in place that will lead the country, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. MITCHELMORE: Mr. Speaker, information should be dynamic, and the Province has an inventory of communities with broadband Internet which the minister made a commitment to make available. 

 

I ask the minister: Will this be posted on the open government initiative, and will he consult with other departments to ensure that there is proactive disclosure so that we do not deal with just static information? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Innovation, Business and Rural Development. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Mr. Speaker, during Estimates the hon. member opposite did ask me if I would table those documents.  In fact, it was just this morning that I met with officials to try to ensure that, that information was put together.  As I explained during Estimates, that information is with the providers.  The providers have given us the information and we are now in the process of getting it assembled so that it is in a reasonable document.  When I have that work completed, as said, I will certainly table that. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

After consulting with unions and employers for four years, in 2012 government changed the Labour Relations Act to allow card-based certification in creating a new bargaining unit.  Now, with Bill 22 it is repealing card-based certification and saying stakeholders requested it. 

 

I ask the Premier: Since no union was consulted, who are the stakeholders that told government to get rid of card-based certification? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Service NL. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. CRUMMELL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, we went through a lengthy consultation process back in 2009 and leading into 2012 when we made the amendments that we brought forward.  During that process, it became very clear where the union stood on card-based certification.  It has been validated again in correspondence in recent months with my predecessor.  We know exactly where the unions stand on card-based certification. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the changes we are making today, the change we are making as we speak to Bill 22 later on, is about secret ballot voting.  It is bringing democracy back into the certification process.  It is about the workers of the Province and it is about the people of the Province.  We know we are doing the right thing.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

We have constantly heard from government that it consults with the labour relations committee made up of government, unions, and employers and they make decisions together at the tripartite table.  Unions had no idea that government was backtracking on a decision made only two years ago.  The tripartite table lost a leg apparently.

 

I ask the Premier: What happened to the third leg of the tripartite table, the unions that are supposed to be at the labour relations committee?

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

The Office of Public Engagement is very much committed to working with business and labour in Newfoundland and Labrador, both on a provincial level and on a regional level as well.  As minister, I have had numerous discussions with business and labour leaders. 

 

We have met with representatives of the Business Coalition, and I have had a couple of meetings with the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour.  We are committed to developing new models of how business and labour will be engaged with government moving forward. 

 

The Strategic Partnership has served us well.  It is now time for a new model; it has been under review for some time.  I look forward to working with business and labour to move that forward.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS MICHAEL: Mr. Speaker, when amendments, including card-based certification, were introduced in 2012, government called it a modernization of labour laws reflecting a balanced approach.  There was a considerable amount of input from labour organizations and employers.

 

Given the lack of consultation of all stakeholders at this time, I asking the Premier: Will they take back Bill 22 from this House?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Service Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. CRUMMELL: Mr. Speaker, back in 2012 when we brought the amendments to the floor of the House, we thought we were coming in with fair and balanced legislation.  Since then, we have heard concerns.  We have heard concerns from employers and we have heard concerns from workers. 

 

Mr. Speaker, we decided to review that legislation.  When we did the review, we looked at the polls.  We looked at the research behind what is happening in the labour movement, what is happening with card-based certification and with union certification.  What we found is that workers overwhelmingly want that vote on the ballot, in a secret-ballot vote, and they also want to be informed throughout the process.  So, all the research out there shows exactly that.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS ROGERS: Mr. Speaker, the Premier's defence for not reinstating the Family Violence Intervention Court was that it only served St. John's, but that is the fault of his government.  I will keep this simple.  Five women were murdered by their partners last year.  Domestic violence is a major issue across the whole Province.  Addressing it is government's responsibility.  The Family Violence Intervention Court is the best way to do this – I know this, and the Premier knows this.

 

I ask the Premier: Will he do the right thing and reinstate the Family Violence Intervention Court that he started, and expand it to serve families at risk across the Province?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, violence against vulnerable people is one of the most serious issues we have in this country today.  It is a very complex issue.  When I first became the Justice Minister, I think eleven years ago, ten years ago, one of the first things I did was meet with members from the women's community, and I established a committee called the Attorney General's Committee on Violence Against Women.

 

I met with that committee and I said: Given the complexity, given that there is no one thing that you can do, let's come up with concrete measures, a concrete action plan, where we can provide tools to help deal with this issue.  The first thing we did was the Family Violence Protection Act, and the committee came out with that.  It was not a panacea, but it provided an important tool.  The next thing we did was the Family Violence –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS ROGERS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

That committee only recently advised the Minister of Justice once again that they wanted to see the Family Violence Intervention Court reinstated and expanded.  Mr. Speaker, I have letters here from individuals and women's groups all across the Province addressed to the Premier asking him to reinstate and expand the court.

 

On behalf of these groups, I plead – I ask the Premier once again: Will he listen to them?

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

If I can continue – after we did the Family Violence Protection Act, the next initiative was to bring in the Family Violence Intervention Court.  It was a pilot project and supposed to run to see how effective it would be, and then whether or not there was justification, based on the results, to bring it, to establish it right across the country.  After that, we brought in our Family Violence Initiative, and this year we are going to bring in part two of the Family Violence Initiative.

 

Mr. Speaker, the court is just based in St. John's.  That is fact.  We were looking for another tool, a new mechanism, given the fact that the numbers were going down – they were not as robust as the number of people completing the program.  We went with a new initiative this year, another tool to add to –

 

MR. SPEAKER: The time for Question Period has expired. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Presenting Reports by Standing and Select Committees.

 

Tabling of Documents.

 

Tabling of Documents

 

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

 

MR. DALLEY: Mr. Speaker, as promised and certainly our commitment to open government, I want to table the benefits agreement between the Province and the Kami Mine Limited Partnership.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Further 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, that I shall move that the House not adjourn at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 5, 2014.

 

I further give notice, under Standing Order 11, that I shall move that the House not adjourn at 10:00 p.m. on Thursday, June 5, 2014.

 

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

 

Petitions.

 

Petitions

 

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

 

MR. KIRBY: 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 autism spectrum disorder has been estimated to occur in as many as – this says one in eighty-eight, Mr. Speaker, but I believe the statistics have been updated recently; and

 

WHEREAS individualized and intensive early interventions are important for improving outcomes for children with autism; and

 

WHEREAS long wait-lists are forcing many parents to wait up to two years before their children receive needed pediatric assessments and diagnostic services; and

 

WHEREAS the Intensive Applied Behavioural Analysis Program is not available for children after Grade 3, while research supports the use of applied behavioural analysis throughout their lifespan; and

 

WHEREAS a co-ordinated, multi-agency approach among key government departments and agencies is needed to ensure that individuals with autism spectrum disorder are provided with services that will promote independent living; and

 

WHEREAS a comprehensive Province-wide strategy for autism spectrum disorder will decrease the lifetime costs of treating and providing services for persons with autism;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge government to develop a comprehensive Province-wide strategy for autism spectrum disorder in consultation with parents, advocates, educators, health care providers, and experts in the autism community.

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure that this is a whole lot to ask.  We have been presenting this petition over and over and over again.

 

I had the good fortune to attend spring convocation at Memorial University last week with the hon. Leader of the Official Opposition and there we heard a number of speeches about the work of Dr. Joyce Churchill in the autism community and building an awareness of the needs of persons with autism in this Province.  Dr. David Vardy and Ms Elaine Dobbin were also present.  These are other people who have been standing behind this call for a comprehensive strategy for Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

In order to bring together all of the levers and all the pieces that we need to ensure that young people and older people who have autism spectrum disorder have their needs met, so that we can have early interventions, so that people can lead productive lives and can contribute to their communities.  That is all people are asking, and this is a necessary first step.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The member's time has expired.

 

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

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

 

MS ROGERS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I am happy to be on my feet in this House once again to present this petition.

 

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, 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 the 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, there is no justifiable reason anymore for not reinstating this court.  It cannot be based on budget.  At Estimates I asked the Department of Justice, I asked the minister, was there an impact analysis done in terms of what is the cost to the justice system by not reinstating the Family Violence Intervention Court?  I asked if there was an analysis done on what the cost to the court was, what the Family Violence Intervention Court actually saved the court.  We know it did save the court because offenders had to plead guilty right away which meant we did not have to have a court proceeding after court proceeding after court proceeding.

 

Mr. Speaker, one would ask in this time of prosperity for the St. John's branch of the Family Violence Intervention Court it was $500,000.  What is that compared to the cost of extreme suffering and the rollout costs of victims of family violence who need services and who need housing.  In fact, this was a cost-savings measure. 

 

I have letters here that have been addressed to the Premier; they came in yesterday and today.  They are asking the Premier to do the right thing, to reinstate the court and to expand it.  That would not cost a lot, Mr. Speaker, because the infrastructure for the courts are available all over the Province.

 

It is not building buildings.  It is not hiring new people.  It takes a little bit of political will, it takes a little bit of training, it takes a little bit of co-ordination, and I believe this government can do it.

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

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

 

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I stand again today, Mr. Speaker, on the hospital in Corner Brook.

 

WHEREAS we wish to raise concerns regarding the recent delay on the construction of the new hospital in Corner Brook;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to commit to the planning and construction of a new hospital in Corner Brook as previously committed to in a timely manner as originally announced without further delay or changes.

 

Mr. Speaker, I have names here today from Mount Moriah, Kings Road, Marcelle Avenue, Elswick Road, Curling.  Once again I have a bunch of petitions here to present on behalf of the people of Western Newfoundland and Labrador concerning the hospital. 

 

I have asked questions today to the Premier about the ultrasound machines, Mr. Speaker, if they will be reduced.  The Premier did not commit they would stay at the current level as we speak.  The wait time is 147 days.  If the machines are cut down to three, which is proposed, we are looking at almost a 300-day wait time. 

 

The Premier stated today in the House there will be public consultations before final design.  That is positive.  That is very positive.  I am going to inform the people of Western Newfoundland and Labrador that the Premier committed today in the House that there will be public consultations before the design of the hospital is completed.  That is a first great step for the people of Western Newfoundland.  At least we will have a chance to ensure the services that were committed back in 2007 will be in the new hospital.

 

There are a number of other concerns for the hospital, and each concern as they come up, Mr. Speaker, I will address them on behalf of the people of Western Newfoundland and Labrador.  It is great to hear the Premier saying there will be two radiation units in the hospital.  There will be a PET scanner in the hospital, Mr. Speaker, but we have not convinced Mr. Coleman yet of the PET scanner.  So that is on our next list of things to do.

 

I just want to thank the House of Assembly for the opportunity to present a petition on behalf of these people, Mr. Speaker.  Once again, this is something we are going to build for the next sixty, seventy years, so we have to do it right.  The first step, having public consultations before design is done, I say to the Premier, that is a great first step and hopefully we will get it right so we do not have to make changes. 

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

WHEREAS Newfoundland and Labrador has the greatest percentage of the workforce earning the provincial minimum wage in Canada, with women, youth and those from rural areas making up a disproportionate number of these workers; and

 

WHEREAS there has been no increase in the minimum wage since 2010, which has had detrimental impacts on the purchasing power of the most vulnerable members of the provincial workforce; and

 

WHEREAS minimum wage earners do not earn enough money for the necessities of life, and even full-time minimum wage earners barely meet the low-income cut-off of $19,496 for a single person; and

 

WHEREAS government ignored the recommendations of its own 2012 Minimum Wage Review Committee for an immediate increase to reflect the cost of living and annual adjustments in line with the Consumer Price Index, and instead legislated a twenty-cent increase in October 2014, and a twenty-five cent increase in October 2015, with no indexing; and

 

WHEREAS other provinces and territories have been raising their minimum wages, leaving Newfoundland and Labrador on the low end;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge government to implement the recommendations of the 2012 Minimum Wage Review Committee and legislate an immediate increase in the minimum wage to reflect the loss of purchasing power since 2010, and an annual adjustment beginning in 2015 to reflect the CPI.

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

I am very pleased today to stand on behalf of the petitioners, Mr. Speaker, to raise in this House once again the issue of the low minimum wage in this Province and the difficulty that people have who are trying to live on minimum wage, taking into consideration that a lot of people who are earning minimum wage do not even work full-time; they are in part-time positions. 

 

In this Province, Mr. Speaker, 20.4 per cent of minimum wage earners are women.  So, women are heavily impacted by the low minimum wage.  Youth from ages fifteen to twenty-four make up 31.1 per cent of minimum wage earners.  So, together, these groups make up 51.5 per cent of minimum wage earners.

 

This is really tragic, Mr. Speaker; one, because youth are trying to get themselves established in life and are trying to make it on this minimum wage as they try to move forward.  In the case of women, many of these women are single parents who are trying to take care of families.  So, we have a pretty awful situation for these people.

 

There are more workers over the age of thirty-five making minimum wage in Newfoundland and Labrador than anywhere in Canada.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

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

 

MR. MITCHELMORE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

We, the citizens, serviced by Curtis Hospital located in St. Anthony, Newfoundland and Labrador, petition the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and Labrador-Grenfell Health to retain the midwives and allow them to continue to perform all of their duties at Curtis Hospital.

 

Our midwives offer services that cannot be duplicated and which cannot be replaced.  The level of care they offer and the knowledge and training they have in the area of obstetrics is immense.  It will be a great disservice to the people of the area if our midwives are no longer available to care for the people here.  Privatizing midwifery or waiting five to seven years for regulation, as stated by government, is unacceptable.  We have an operational model of midwifery here in St. Anthony that has been delivering outstanding care for over ninety years.

 

We urge the House of Assembly to implore the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and Labrador-Grenfell Health to preserve our midwifery services at Curtis Hospital.

 

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly something that government has been failing the people of the Great Northern Peninsula, Southern Labrador, and even the Lower North Shore of Quebec that has been serviced by midwifery care for quite some time. 

 

If we look at the level of care that has been offered through midwifery for families at the post and pre-natal care level, as well as delivery, if we look at the number of babies that have been delivered by midwives – I myself have been delivered by a midwife, and there has been over 3,000 people that joined a Facebook group in advocacy: A Midwife Helped Me Out.  It is important to acknowledge the cost savings that will happen in health care by having a publicly-funded model of midwifery care versus having to call in a doctor or an obstetrician that would be taking in – when we look at the number of pregnancies and deliveries they are very low risk; they do not require that level of physician care.

 

So, this is something that government has the health care act, they acknowledge midwifery, but they have not done the regulation, and it is completely shameful and unacceptable to the people of the Great Northern Peninsula, Southern Labrador, and the Lower North Shore of Quebec that we do not have and will not see midwifery in a publicly-funded setting for five to seven years, as the former Minister of Health has said, and that the focus is on privatized midwifery care.

 

I am not opposed to the privatization service that would be offered in larger urban centres, but in very rural areas it is just not practical.  We had a model that worked – Labrador-Grenfell Health, and under the Grenfell model it worked extremely well, and it should be something that government takes great pride in restoring.  I implore and ask the Minister of Health and Community Services to make this a top priority.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

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 Route 510 from L'Anse au Clair to Red Bay is in deplorable condition and requires immediate upgrading; and

 

WHEREAS the condition of the highway is causing undue damage to vehicles using the highway, and has now become a safety hazard for the travelling public; and

 

WHEREAS both residential and commercial traffic have increased dramatically with the opening of the Trans-Labrador Highway and increased development in Labrador; and

 

WHEREAS cold patching is no longer adequate as a means of repair;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to immediately allocate resources to Route 510 from L'Anse au Clair to Red Bay that allows for permanent resurfacing of the highway.

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Mr. Speaker, I have been up many times petitioning for the resurfacing of Route 510 from L'Anse au Clair to Red Bay.  Since I began the petitioning, we have once again seen the cold patch come out and many of the holes have been filled.  It did lesson the emergency situation that was there.  It was absolutely atrocious – I know, because I am driving on it every single weekend myself when I am back in the district.  I was just amazed and thankful that nobody was killed on that road this spring, although we did have four accidents in a span of about a week-and-a-half.  We were fortunate.

 

Mr. Speaker, pulling out the cold patch and every spring doing that on a stretch of highway where the pavement is thirty-five years old – activity is ramping up very, very much in all of Labrador and much of the traffic is coming that way.  There is a very heavy flow of traffic every single day on the road, heavy, heavy equipment and what was left of the pavement is just getting a tremendous beating. 

 

It is wonderful that we have had the pavement announced from Red Bay to Goose Bay.  Hopefully that is going to come in an expedient manner.  I know another tender has closed today, Mr. Speaker.  We will be anxious to have that awarded. 

 

Here is a stretch, Mr. Speaker.  We are coming into the tourism season.  People are going to be coming and towing their motor homes and things.  There are people travelling every single day on that stretch.  We have our medical facilities situated in Forteau.  People are driving from Red Bay and Pinware, and people from Southeast Labrador are driving up.  It is a very, very dangerous piece of road right now.  You are just throwing good money away after bad when you constantly have to redo and fill it in.  It is a temporary fix.

 

When we talk about the millions and the billions in this Province, I would love to know where the priorities are.  Yes, we have a lot of roadwork that is needed in the Province.  I think if you look at priorities, pavement that is heading up to four decades old in a very, very busy area right now certainly needs to be revisited, Mr. Speaker.  I will continue to be on my feet with this petition.

 

Thank you.

 

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

 

MR. MURPHY: 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 humbly sheweth:

 

WHEREAS consumers and businesses in Newfoundland and Labrador pay some of the highest automobile insurance rates in the country; and

 

WHEREAS part of the recent increases in automobile insurance is due to uninsured automobile coverage, which could increase by 329.3 per cent in 2014 for taxis and limousines insured by the Facility Association; and

 

WHEREAS consumers may see an increase in taxi fares and limousine rates as a result; and

 

WHEREAS consumers insured by the Facility Association could see their own auto insurance rates increase partly due to uninsured drivers;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge government to establish a procedure for insurance companies to co-ordinate with police, highway enforcement officers, and the Motor Registration Division to remove unlicensed and uninsured vehicles from our Province's highways.

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Mr. Speaker, it has been a number of times that I have risen and spoken in the House on this particular issue.  I want to thank particularly the taxi industry out there for asking me to present this petition on their behalf.  Today it is probably about the largest of the bunch so far, about fifteen pages of names and addresses here. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the taxi industry is on the threat of paying probably the highest insurance cost in this Province.  Let me just give you an example of the proposal that has gone through the Public Utilities Board right now.  For taxis and limousines, effective August 1, 2014, if the next round of increases come into effect, the third-party liability insurance, for example, is going to be going up by 50 per cent, an extra $1,400; accident benefits, 294.3 per cent, an extra $235 on top of their insurance bills right now; an uninsured automobile right now by 329.3 per cent.  It does not look like a big dollar amount but the huge increase of 329 per cent puts it in perspective of what we are dealing with out there in the market, and what we are dealing with out there every day on the roads.

 

Mr. Speaker, all I can say to this is that if government does not want to address this, then there is one other option and that is going to be a public insurance type system in this Province that I am pretty sure that government, and a bunch of their supporters, are not going to want to see.

 

We see accident benefits, Mr. Speaker, gone up in third-party liability.  One of the cures, the last time we dealt with these problems back in 2005 –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MR. MURPHY: – was to boost the deductible.  That is no longer acceptable because the amount of dollar claims, for example, went up as a result of that just to account for the deductibles.  The only people who benefited were the people who were handling the claims at the same time. 

 

We have the chance here of consumers now who are going to be lumped in under the Facility Association, who are going to be seeing these massive increases, too, coming down the road.  It is coming at them like a freight train because, of course, the higher the insurance rates that go on, the more the government is going to have to deal with the problem. 

 

Thank you.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Member for St. Barbe. 

 

MR. J. BENNETT: 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 humbly sheweth: 

 

WHEREAS there is no cellphone service in the Town of Trout River, which in an enclave community in Gros Morne National Park; and

 

WHEREAS visitors to Gros Morne National Park, more than 100,000 annually, expect to communicate by cellphone when they visit the park; and

 

WHEREAS cellphone service has become a very important aspect of everyday living for residents; and

 

WHEREAS cellphone service is an essential safety tool for visitors and residents; and

 

WHEREAS cellphone service is essential for business development;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House of Assembly to urge government to partner with the private sector to extend cellphone coverage throughout Gros Morne National Park and the enclave community of Trout River. 

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray. 

 

Mr. Speaker, Trout River has definitely been in the news in the last month to month-and-a-half or so on account of the massive blue whale having come there.  Trout River has now had international news, international attention, and international focus.  Mr. Speaker, the blue whale is now gone.  The blue whale in Rocky Harbour is gone.  Both are off to the ROM, and one hopefully coming back to MUN, but cellphone service is still missing.  We have gone through a whole cycle of blue whales, exploding blue whales, the whole world watching Trout River, and Trout River pleading and begging for cellphone coverage, for the government just to work with the private sector to see what sort of a proposal could come forward. 

 

Clearly, I offered to the minister some time ago that I would absolutely be keen to put together a group to make a proposal, if government would only endorse that we want to do this sort of proposal.  Mr. Speaker, this is just a simple request by people from Trout River to ask if government will work with the private sector, as they worked with the private sector in many communities for many needed and good faith ventures, to work with the people of Trout River for cellphone coverage.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

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

 

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

 

I am happy to be able to stand and enter this petition.  The petition of the undersigned residents humbly sheweth:

 

WHEREAS hundreds of residents of the South Coast of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador including residents of the communities of Burgeo, Ramea, Grey River, and François use Route 480 on a regular basis for work, medical, education, and social reasons; and

 

WHEREAS there is no cellphone coverage on Route 480; and

 

WHEREAS residents and users of Route 480 require cellphone coverage to ensure their safety and communication abilities; and

 

WHEREAS the Department of IBRD recently announced funding to improve broadband services in rural Newfoundland and Labrador; and

 

WHEREAS the residents and users of Route 480 feel that the Department of IBRD should also invest in cellphone coverage for rural Newfoundland and Labrador;

 

WHEREUPON the undersigned, your petitioners, humbly pray and call upon the House to support the users of Route 480 in their request to obtain cellphone coverage along Route 480.

 

As in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

 

Mr. Speaker, this is obviously something I have presented on numerous occasions here in this House, and I will continue to do so.  I have no choice because government refuses to live up to their promise that they made.  It is funny because sometimes we, as MHAs, get offers to speak to school kids and to people in high schools.  One of the things that I have done – and it is not just Route 480; it is also Route 470.  I have two routes in my district that have not gotten service.

 

I have actually gone to the high schools and talked to the kids about this.  That is one of the things that again I get asked every single time, they say: Why don't we have it?  Wasn't it promised?  How does that work?  They do not understand really how it works.  I explain: Well, it was a promise, but sometimes government does not live up to their promises; maybe they are just platforms. 

 

The bigger problem that I have beyond that is that I have asked for a number of years now, very simply: What areas of the Province do not have it?  I understand the private aspect to it.  I get that, but every time you ask a question you get shouted at and told: Well, you just do not understand it.  I get that part.  My question is: What is government doing to work on this with private partnerships to see if we can address this very necessary issue? 

 

I have even asked: What areas of the Province are not covered?  I still do not get anything.  Lately, government has sort of gone down to the final point of saying: What would you do?  We are going to have to work on this.  We have asked simple questions and until we get this basic information, it is hard to address it.  It is an essential service. 

 

I hope the members on the other side who have the same issue would address it as well because it affects all of us.  I look forward to continuing to enter these with the hopes of actually getting something done and making government live up to a promise.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Orders of the Day.

 

Orders of the Day

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I move Motion 7 from the Order Paper, pursuant to Standing Order 11, that the House not adjourn at 5:30 p.m. today, Tuesday, June 3, 2014.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It has been moved and seconded that this House do not adjourn at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 3, 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.

 

Again, I move Motion 8, pursuant to Standing Order 11, that the House not adjourn this evening at 10:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 3, 2014.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It has been moved and seconded that this House do not adjourn at 10:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 3, 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.

 

I call from the Order Paper, Order 1, third reading of a bill.

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Natural Resources, that An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act, 2000, Bill 13, be now read the third time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It has been moved and seconded that the bill be now read a third time.

 

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion that Bill 13 be read a third time?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act, 2000.  (Bill 13)

 

MR. SPEAKER: This bill is now read a third time and it is ordered that the bill do pass and its title be as on the Order Paper.

 

On motion, a bill, “An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act, 2000”, read a third time, ordered passed and its title be as on the Order Paper.  (Bill 13)

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

This time I call from the Order Paper, Order 2.

 

I move, seconded by the Member for Lewisporte, that An Act To Amend The Dispensing Opticians Act, 2005, Bill 19, be read the third time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the bill be now read a third time.

 

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion that Bill 19 be read a third time?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Dispensing Opticians Act, 2005.  (Bill 19)

 

MR. SPEAKER: This bill is now read a third time and it is ordered that the bill do pass and its title be as on the Order Paper.

 

On motion, a bill, “An Act To Amend The Dispensing Opticians Act, 2005”, read a third time, ordered passed and its title be as on the Order Paper.  (Bill 19)

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I now move to Order 3.  I move, seconded by the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board, that an Act to Amend The Income Tax Act, 2000 No. 2, Bill 20, be now read the third time. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the bill be now read a third time. 

 

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion that Bill 20 be read a third time? 

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried. 

 

CLERK: A bill, Act to Amend The Income Tax Act, 2000 No. 2.  (Bill 20)

 

MR. SPEAKER: This bill has been now read a third time and it is ordered that the bill do pass and its title be as on the Order Paper. 

 

On motion, a bill, “Act to Amend The Income Tax Act, 2000 No. 2”, read a third time, ordered passed and its title be as on the Order Paper.  (Bill 20)

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

At this time I call from the Order Paper, Motion 1.  I move that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government, the Budget Speech. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I am certainly delighted to have the opportunity to say a few words on this year's Budget debate. 

 

I have had the opportunity to be here for, I think, eleven Budgets and I have had the privilege now to deliver five of them.  Four of them were surpluses, I might add.  This is my first, and I guess the only opportunity I will have to speak on the Budget in the capacity as Premier. 

 

Having served as Finance Minister for so many years, I am intimately aware of the extensive work that is required to go into preparing a budget.  I think maybe a lot of people who may be watching, and maybe even some members do not recognize how much work actually goes into preparing this Budget.  Most people never get to see the work that is done behind the scenes.  It is a lengthy process.  It draws together literally dozens upon dozens of officials of the Department of Finance and in every department and agency in government.  It is not just the Department of Finance. 

 

Not only do they work with a vast array of data and dollar figures, but they also have to explore the implications of each and every choice we weigh as we try to arrive at the document that you see before you.  I can tell you there is a lot of argument that goes into that.  Some people say sometimes there is even blood on the floor in the difference of opinions as to which proposals, which initiatives we are going to fund.  Because in many cases there are a lot of initiatives, a lot of proposals that we wish we could fund but we just simply cannot because as high as our revenues are you cannot do everything. 

 

I think that is why they call economics the dismal science.  You have unlimited wants and needs but you only have a fixed amount of resources.  Therefore, we are left with that famous question; you have to make a decision as to how, what and for whom those resources we do have get allocated.

 

As I said in the House yesterday, there is a arising amount of discussion and public debate in the world about inequality and about ensuring that – given the fact that after the Second World War there was great economic growth and the economic growth seemed to get distributed equally amongst all people; but lately, since the 1980s, growth has not been that strong.  It seems the upper 1 per cent or the wealthier people are taking more and more of that economic growth and, therefore, less of it is available for the middle class – which is shrinking – and less is available for lower income people.

 

We have been very fortunate here.  We have been very fortunate in this Province that we have been blessed to have these resources, the oil, the gas, the hydro to make electricity, the wind.  We are sitting here with all of these resources, most of which have not even been developed yet.  We are sitting next to the biggest market.  The biggest market in the world is going to be demanding; the biggest energy market is going to be demanding those resources.  I think that augurs very well for the future of this place and the future of our children and grandchildren.  It is wonderful, wonderful news. 

 

As each Budget Day approaches, the parking lots out here are full and the lights are burning into the wee hours as our officials work to produce a budget that will stand up to the scrutiny of the Comptroller General, which is the government's chief accountant, the Auditor General, who is an independent officer of this House – not the government but this House of Assembly – the banks and the bond rating agencies, and, of course, the Opposition parties, the news media and organizations, and citizens throughout the whole Province.  Our public employees work tirelessly to produce their very best work and that attention to detail gives us confidence as we defend the Budget.

 

Let me start today by giving my thanks and congratulating our very competent Finance Minister and her officials.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: The officials and our colleagues throughout the entire government for everything they have done and everything they continue to do on behalf of the people of our Province to enable us to manage public spending in this Province responsibly and accountably.

 

I also want to acknowledge the work of the Opposition.  The Opposition caucuses, the Official Opposition and the NDP, because they too have an important role to play in this annual Budget process, which we do every year.  Parliamentary democracy is grounded on a principle, and is grounded on the principle that effective opposition serves the public good.  The work that we as a government do must pass through the fire and be tested, and when our choices are challenged they must bear up to the scrutiny, and if better options emerge, then we can adjust course.

 

If the choices we have made prove to be the best options, the better options, and I believe this year they have been, then we can proceed with confidence, secure in the knowledge that all of us, as the people's representatives, have done our part to serve the public good.  Let's never forget that scrutiny is very valuable, and let us never fear scrutiny – not because we are perfect, because we are not, we are human.  That means we are all prone to make mistakes from time to time.  No one likes to have their errors held up for public display, but in conducting the business of the people, scrutiny is essential. 

 

More important than protecting our dignity is the importance of getting it right.  That is why we welcome scrutiny, own up to mistakes when they happen, and take corrective action where appropriate to yield a better product.  That is good governance in action.  Scrutiny keeps us on our toes.  It probably keeps some mistakes from happening in the first place, and that is a good thing.

 

In the Estimates committee, and in this Chamber, just as in the Cabinet room, and in our respective offices, we have all been examining this year's Budget with the finest of fine-tooth combs.  That is why I have even more confidence now in this year's Budget than when it was first delivered, because it has endured the scrutiny of those most motivated to find flaws and it has stood the test.

 

Every dollar is important, and let's never lose sight of why scrutiny is so important.  Every dollar we budget is a dollar we have been entrusted to manage by the people of the Province, the people who placed us here, and we owe them our full attention.  We owe them our full attention to detail and to our very best judgement. 

 

Every dollar we spend from the public Treasury is the people's money, it is their children's money, and that fact should weigh heavily on our hearts, no matter what our respective roles may be.  We serve the people of the Province, let us never forget that.  In a democracy such as ours, the power resides with the people and our overriding obligation is to serve their best interest.  That is why we are here.

 

That is why it is so important we abide by the highest standards of fiscal management, but it is also why we need to abide by the highest standards of long-term strategic planning.  As we dig down into the numbers, we cannot lose sight of the bigger picture.  Our government remains focused to make Newfoundland and Labrador even stronger, ready to seize opportunities that are all around us, ready to lead both nationally and ready to lead internationally as well.

 

Now, over the years we have been fortunate to have seen many surpluses.  In the last ten years, I think we have had six surpluses.  I was lucky enough to be able to present four surpluses in the five Budgets I delivered; but, at the same time, we were able to intensify our investments, through the strength, through the fundamentals of our economy, and spread the wealth, distribute the wealth around to the people who need it.  Isn't that why we are in government?  Isn't that why we want to see the economy grow?  I think all of us, regardless of what political party we represent, we want to grow the pie so that we can distribute wealth to people who need it, to vulnerable people.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, that is why I entered public life, that is why I am here, and I think that is why most of you are here as well. 

 

This year, unfortunately, circumstances have changed somewhat, but we understand why they have changed and why the change is only temporary.  That is why we are confident that we have made the right choice this year to respond accordingly.  Instead of abandoning the successful course we are on, we are not going to operate year to year.  We have a plan.  We have a ten-year strategic plan in place and when times toughen a bit, we are not going to slash and burn.  I have used that expression before and I know the communications people hate it when I say that, but we are going to take a ten-year plan.  We know where we have to get to, and we can do a little bit at a time, but we have to make sure we do not hurt people in the process.

 

It is a 10-Year Sustainability Plan.  We understand this year's borrowing is the means of maintaining our momentum, retaining our strength, but we will return to surplus in 2015 and the year after.  We are going to be stronger for making the choice than we would have been if we had simply panicked. 

 

We recognize that the trajectory our Province has taking is from record debt towards fiscal sustainability.  We are going from weakness to strength, from decline to growth, from poverty to prosperity.  You have seen the graphs in the Budget and you have seen the graphs in the Economy documents, and the trends are unmistakable.  The Province's circumstances are improving steadily, and the people are better off now than when we started because of the choices that we have made. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: So let's remain focused on the prize, which is long-term sustainability. 

 

Mr. Speaker, on January 24, I was sworn in as Premier of this Province, much to my surprise; indeed, much to my shock.  There was not a heck of a lot of time for me to think about what I would do if I ever became Premier.  I was Premier before I knew it, but I made several commitments when I was sworn in.

 

I said that the important work of government would proceed unabated, and it has.  I said we would continue to govern responsibly, and we have.  I said we would continue to fulfill the mandate that we were given by the people of the Province in the 2011 general election to foster growth, to strengthen communities, and to meet the needs of Newfoundland and Labrador people and our families, and so we have. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: I said at the time that the motto of my time in office would be words in Deuteronomy that the prophet Moses used to try to set the highest standard for all those who would serve in public office.  What he said was, “Justice, justice shall you pursue….”

 

Justice is not criminal justice in this sense.  Justice means that all people of the Province, all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians should share fully and fairly in the benefits of our new-found prosperity.  They should have a voice in the way that prosperity is distributed.  Justice means intensifying our fight against poverty, against inequality, and never forgetting the needs of those who are elderly, those who have disabilities, those who are infirmed, and those who live on fixed and low incomes. 

 

Fundamental justice demands that we govern not just with our head, but with our heart and with our conscience.  We must listen.  We must plan.  We have to do the right thing.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: In the weeks following my swearing-in, my colleagues and I worked together developing a Budget plan that would reflect those principles through practical choices with tangible benefits for the people of the Province. 

 

What choices did we make and are they defensible?  We have been criticized for the choices we have made.  After all the scrutiny, I feel more strongly than ever that the choices are the right ones.  I want to recap some of those, and I know that my colleagues have raised these in the House.  I do not think people are going to say that these were bad choices.

 

We extended the freeze in tuition at Memorial and the College of the North Atlantic.  We announced the elimination of provincial student loans and the replacement with up-front grants that graduates never have to repay.  Isn't that wonderful? 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: When we talk about inequality, the first way to get people out of poverty is to make sure they are educated.  If you are educated, if you have early child care, if you have early learning, if you have things like all-day Kindergarten, and if you can go to university or to trade school and get the skills you need and get the education you need to survive and to prosper in a complex but vibrant economy, that is the way everybody – no matter what family you come from, everybody has the opportunity and everybody has the chance to do well.

 

We invested $40 million to train and advance apprentices in high demand skilled trades so they can get the many jobs that are opening up.  We put $170 million in initiatives under our Poverty Reduction Strategy.  We have invested a billion dollars in poverty reduction.  Isn't that wonderful? 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Minister Shea retired yesterday and she spearheaded that.  I remember very well when that came in and it was a strategy we said we were going to take this Province from a province having one of the highest poverty rates or the highest poverty rate of the country to a province that had one of the lowest rates.  Ten years later, we have the second lowest rate.  That is wonderful.  That is awesome.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Of all the things, Mr. Speaker, that we have done here in the last ten years, that is the one that means the most to me and, I would suggest, to most of you as well. 

 

I believe in a wise investment of public money to help our most vulnerable citizens to escape the grips of poverty, and I think everyone in this House agrees.  Although fewer people now than ever before are on Income Support, some of the Province still continued to need this assistance so we did the right thing by raising the basic rate.  We also raised the low income tax reduction threshold, taking more low-income families completely off the provincial tax rolls, completely off the burden – we are removing the burden of personal income tax. 

 

The Senior's Benefit, low-income seniors – I do not know how many times we increased this, but we made this program five times more in value than it was ten years ago, helping seniors.  We invested in a vehicle accessibility program and inclusion grants to help improve the lives of people with disabilities.  We expanded the Home Modification Program to provide greater reliance among persons with disabilities and seniors who live at home, enabling them to remain in their homes and not have to be moved to institutions. 

 

We extended the Residential Energy Efficiency Program to lower homeowners' energy costs.  We expanded the Rent Supplement Program and the Supportive Living Program.  We invested in new affordable housing and the Provincial Home Repair Program, and we invested more funding to help fight homelessness, so that we have a budget each year now that is over $5 million to help combat homelessness in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

 

We are starting to work on a new prison.  We are trying to get the feds to join with us on that.  Many Justice Ministers have tried and were not successful, but now it is time and we are going to do the job alone because, obviously, that facility is needed. 

 

Police officers: After the Lamer Inquiry, we invested very heavily in police officers this year, new police officers for the growing and booming Labrador, and expanding Memorial's Police Studies program to train more officers for the RNC. 

 

We are investing in police services aimed at preventing intimate partner violence, and I tried to get to that during Question Period and I did not have the opportunity to do so.  This is another arrow in the quiver, in the fight against family violence. 

 

It is not a panacea, it is not a cure, but it will certainly help.  It is money for additional police officers in both forces to go around the Province and train our police forces throughout the whole Province – not in one area but throughout the whole Province – to help them recognize women and families who are at high risk to having violence perpetrated against them.  It is a preventive measure.  It is not intended to replace the Family Violence Intervention Court.  It is another tool, along with the Family Violence Protection Act, and along with the court.  More tools to help deal with this very complex and very serious issue. 

 

We are launching part two of the Violence Prevention Initiative this year to build on the many initiatives that were taken out under Phase I.  We are bringing social workers into the communities that need them.  We are investing finally in providing a new courthouse in the Provincial Court in Stephenville.  Stephenville is one of the busiest courts in Newfoundland and Labrador and the courthouse that is there is long past its life.  It is totally inappropriate for a courthouse for that town.  I was very pleased that we have taken the decision to start with the planning and build that courthouse.

 

We are investing in training and support for foster families, in early childhood learning.  We are moving to full-day Kindergarten.  We are investing to retain teachers in the K-12 and maintain the best pupil-teacher ratio of any province in the country.  We are increasing student assistant support for students with identified need.  There is $128 million in K-12 infrastructure.  We are expanding access to assessment and treatment for children with autism and other development conditions.

 

In health, we are expanding the home dialysis program.  The Medical Transportation Assistance Program is being enhanced now I think for the third time.  We are extending coverage under the Prescription Drug Program.  We are increasing the allowable benefit for basic adult dental services.  There are new drug therapies for cancer, a second methadone maintenance treatment team to help people battle addictions, and invest in programs to help people quit smoking. 

 

We are growing the Home Support Program.  We are increasing personal care home and community care home subsidies.  We are expanding the Basic 911 service Province-wide.  We are investing in new and expanded health care infrastructure.  We are moving to replace Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook and offering new services in that hospital. 

 

Mr. Speaker, there has been a Cabinet shuffle.  Some Cabinet ministers have been in positions for a long period of time.  It is always a good thing to shuffle Cabinet and let the ministers take on additional responsibilities or new responsibility.

 

I want to take this moment to pay tribute to the Minister of Innovation, who was formally the Minister of Health.  She is one of the most conscientious and diligent ministers that this Province has ever known.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: She is capable of running any department in government, including the one I run.  She has spearheaded initiatives in the Department of Health that have made the health care system better for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Under her watch we have become a Canadian leader in wait times for cataract surgeries, hip and knee replacement surgeries, certain cardiac procedures, and radiation therapy.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Under her leadership we have improved ER wait times.  We have introduced a generic drugs policy, which saves Newfoundlanders and Labradorians their hard-earned money, helps seniors have lower drug costs, built long-term care facilities across the Province, introduced the Province's first long-term care strategy and, as I said, expanded the medical care transportation program – which is one that is important to me – I think three times.

 

She has been a tireless advocate around the Cabinet table for dialysis, cancer care, diabetes care, and a host of other health and wellness issues affecting the people of the Province.  She has served the people of Newfoundland extremely well and they are lucky to have her.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: As I finish up with health, I can say that after all the scrutiny, Mr. Speaker, I still believe that these are good choices, they are sound choices, and they are the right choices for Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

Shared Prosperity, I mentioned some of the initiatives.  What about the initiatives to share our prosperity and spread the wealth around so that all regions will reap the benefits of growth, diversify, and come into their own?

 

We brought forward major initiatives this year, and I am sure members have raised these: $81 million in provincial roads, highways and bridges; financing on ferries, marine terminals and wharves.  We invested in brush cutting to make our highways safer; hundreds of millions of dollars invested in our municipalities, and announcements are going to be made this summer.  The largest investment ever in our volunteer firefighters throughout Newfoundland and Labrador will be made this year.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, these people are not paid.  These people are volunteers who every day are on call to serve their community, and protect their homes and protect their families.  I am delighted we can make this investment in order to show our appreciation for what they do every day. 

 

We have talked about just about $5 million has gone into high-speed Internet; $4.9 million.  We have already invested $29 million, that has leveraged $115 million, and 95 per cent of houses in the Province now have access to broadband. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: We have streamlined programs that provide direct investment in business and regional development, and proving their productivity, giving them a competitive edge because these are the keys to their success and continuing prosperity. 

 

We are teaming up with the Atlantic Provinces to invest in a Build Ventures fund.  We are establishing our own seed capital fund, Venture Newfoundland and Labrador Fund, because we are going to provide the start-up funds that new companies, new businesses who have done their research and development in the information industry so that they can take their ideas, develop new products and new services that can create new business and provide opportunity and wealth and jobs for the people of the Province. 

 

We growing industries in the ocean technology, Arctic technology and, as I mentioned, the knowledge based sector.  In the Arctic, that is going to be the great frontier.  I was at the Houston offshore oil show, and we announced there that St. John's, Newfoundland has been awarded the Arctic Technology Conference for 2016, beating out Moscow.  That is great news. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: We reduced our small business corporate income tax rate to 3 per cent, the lowest in Atlantic Canada.  About 6,000 small businesses are expected to benefit.  We all know about CETA that is going to breathe new life and new opportunities into our fishing industry. 

 

I am going to go up in a few minutes and talk to the Italian Consulate-General and we are going to talk about CETA.  We are going to talk about fish entering that market and what that is going to do for the fishing industry here. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: We have helped negotiate that.  We have been criticized for this by some but the fisheries union representing fisheries workers and the fish processors agree with us, that this is a good news story and a wide open door of opportunity. 

 

We are investing in fishery science.  We are investing in fisheries research and development, in marketing, in capacity building, so we will be ready for the opportunities once they emerge; $5 million is going into the aquaculture capital equity investment program; $25 million in public investment; and aquaculture has leveraged $400 million from the private sector and has rejuvenated entire regions of the Province; $12 million is going to grow and diversify our agriculture and agrifoods industry.  I cannot say enough how exciting the agriculture and agrifoods industry – and I want to encourage youth in this Province to take a look.  I want them to look at it very seriously because there are some very exciting opportunities in that sector that young people should take a look at, and I think they will be very interested if they do.

 

In forestry, we know the problems the forestry industry is facing.  We know there is 5,500 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians involved in that industry and we know they are all interconnected.  So, we know the importance of the mill because it was not an investment just of the mill; it was an investment to the entire industry. 

 

Tourism marketing: We have all talked about the ads.  We are also investing to drive new oil exploration.  The geoscience had to come first.  Because with the geoscience, after the geoscience, more people come in, they are interested and then they start exploring and drilling.  In the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico 3,000 or 4,000 wells have been drilled.  Offshore Newfoundland and Labrador, guess how many?  A little over 200.  There is a connection between geoscience and when the oil comes out the other end.  You start with a geoscience.

 

We also are changing our land tenure licensing in order to encourage additional companies, because we are seeing a lot of the same companies applying each year.  We are happy with that, we are glad they are there, but we would like to see some more come.  We are doing two or three wells a year, we want to see that up to six or seven, and then we would like to see it to ten or twelve. 

 

Of course, as everyone knows, we are investing to develop our hydro power potential, giving the people the cleanest power at the lowest and the fairest rates, meeting the demands that the people of this Province are going to have here on the Island and in Labrador; but, generating profits, because we are going to have a surplus, we are going to have more than we need.  Now, for the first time in our history, we are going to be able to take that surplus to market without going through the Province of Quebec, and seizing those opportunities and generating revenues that will come back to the people of the Province to be used as government sees fit, to either lower hydro rates or invest in new hydro projects, or invest in general revenues, health care, education, family violence protection, housing, and the list goes on and on. 

 

The choices we have made are good ones, they follow on years of good choices, and we are reaping benefits that demonstrate their effectiveness.  How do we measure how well the Province is doing after a decade of governance?  We are light years ahead of where we were a decade ago.  Our public debt is billions of dollars less than when we took office.  Most of the remaining debt is due to the unfunded liabilities in the various public sector pension plans.  Addressing these liabilities in co-operation and collaboration with our public sector unions is a priority for this government, and I know the Finance Minister is working on that.  Consistently, we have made this clear, and we remain committed to finding a solution that will put these pension plans on a sound and sustainable basis.

 

So, what do the bond rating agencies say about us?  What do they say we are doing?  I know the Leader of the Opposition and I, we get up and we have two different views.  I look at the positive; he looks at the negative.  So what do the experts say?

 

Moody's, Standard & Poor's, Dominion Bond Rating Service all place us higher than we have ever been rated before.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Dominion Bond Rating Service in December acknowledged our 10-Year Sustainability Plan illustrates the Province's willingness to tackle its pressing challenges and committing to fiscal soundness.  The Conference Board of Canada: On May 15, the Conference Board of Canada issued its economic report card for the provinces.  Using hard data, they ranked Newfoundland and Labrador alongside Alberta and Saskatchewan as the top performers of all provinces – the top.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: They gave us an A+ rating, so we are not only ahead of Ontario; we are ahead of Quebec, BC, Manitoba, and the Maritimes.  We are also ahead of Canada, its national performance, and ahead of twenty-six other jurisdictions in the world, including the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany, and even the model, Norway.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: We are leading the entire country in foreign direct investment performance, and also in employment growth.

 

The Conference Board did not only look at GDP, because as Bobby Kennedy used to say: You cannot eat GDP.  They were looking at a wide range of factors indicating the strength of an economy.  They measured productivity and said that most provinces continue to record weak growth in labour productivity.

 

They went on to say that there is no silver bullet for improving productivity, a number of factors merit examination and change.  Investing more in machinery and equipment, particularly information and communications technology equipment, fostering innovation, and attracting more foreign direct investment, are regularly cited as the key way to boost productivity.  That is what they are saying.

 

So, how are we doing?  How are we doing in what the Conference Board of Canada says we should be doing?  Well, here is a direct quote, “At the provincial level, it is the resource-intensive provinces – Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador – that invest more in machinery and equipment per worker than the United States does.”

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Then they talk about ways to promote innovation and included initiatives such as credits and programs that encourage business spending on research and development, investments in public infrastructure, reductions in barriers to trade, foreign direct investment, and labour mobility.

 

Well, Mr. Speaker, you will be pleased to know that they have just described many of the key initiatives that our government has been taking and facilitating.  Infrastructure investments, free trade agreements with the European Union, with South Korea, and of course our neighbours to the South, and labour mobility agreements in the Atlantic region.  I can also say that the agreement on internal trade, I understand that is now ready to go and to be negotiated.  I know the minister is aware of that.  Direct investments in research and development through business development programs, diversification programs, venture capital initiatives, the Research & Development Corporation, fishing science and R&D, forestry research and innovation, agriculture research and innovation, all of these things that we are doing in this year's Budget.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Not only does the Conference Board of Canada say that we are leading the country with an A+ and surpassing the top industrial countries of the world in our performance, but they show we are making the right choices for further growth by focusing on diversification.  Because we know that the non-renewable resources – we know the oil is going to be gone one day, so we have to make sure that we diversify the economy, we have to modernize, we have to innovate, and we have to attract investment into those areas. 

 

Mr. Speaker, this will be a very exciting year for Newfoundland and Labrador.  The economy will continue to be strong.  Our real GDP will continue to grow after leading the country in growth last year, but again you cannot eat GDP.  Our economy is driven by capital investment.  We led the country last year.  It is going to go up to $12.6 billion in annual capital investment, and that is what is driving employment in this country.  Capital investment is coming in because they like what they see here, and that means the major projects.

 

So, what is happening?  Capital investment is driving employment.  People are being paid high wages.  The average weekly wages exceeded the national average for the first time last year; they are continuing to grow this year.

 

I heard a story the other day that someone in Labrador was paying a cook – I think the Minister of Transportation and Works told me that – $21 an hour the cook was being paid.  When Muskrat Falls came in, that cook is now making $45 an hour.  This is prosperity for many people in the Province.

 

So we have people working; more people employed.  It is a new record.  We have never had as many people working in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador as we have this year.  Isn't that amazing?  It is absolutely amazing.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: The unemployment rate, at 11.4 per cent, is the lowest it has been in forty years.  We are no longer the Province with the worst unemployment rate.  That is amazing.  People are working, they are making money, and we are seeing the effects of it in retail sales.  We are seeing the effects of it in housing starts.  We are seeing the effects of it in car sales.  Last year car sales were the highest year ever for car sales in the Province.

 

Oil production is expected to increase.  Income is expected to grow; but, unfortunately, there are things over which we have no control.  We cannot control market prices for commodities such as oil and minerals.  They go up and down; we do not control them.  We do not control currency exchange rates.  We cannot accelerate the world's rise from global recession and keep one from happening.

 

We do not control interest rates.  We do not control the value of the dollar.  We have no influence on the US Federal Reserve System's decisions about quantitative easing and things like that.  Yet, all of these factors can directly or indirectly have an enormous impact on the state of our finances as they reverberate through the world economy. 

 

Instead of lamenting the things that we cannot change, we focused our efforts on the things we can change.  The things we can do are the things that we are doing, and we are doing well.  As the Conference Board of Canada and the bond rating agencies and the banks have all pointed out. 

 

The right approach, Mr. Speaker, is not solely a matter of fiscal accounting, as I mentioned earlier.  It is not just a matter of counting the beans.  It is not just a matter of how our GDP is doing.  It is more about people.  It is more about vulnerable people, about families, those facing special challenges, and seniors, persons with disabilities, persons who are ill, minorities, and children.  We would not serve any of them by running our economy into the ground as some would do in an effort to help them, but at the same time we cannot plow our economy over those who are standing before us asking for compassion and asking for a helping hand up. 

 

Striking the perfect balance means choosing the middle path between spending yourself into a hole and pruning yourself to death.  Finding the middle path is possible only when you take the long view and you see where your choices are going to lead.  Well, we have made choices that will neither bankrupt this Province nor bankrupt the vulnerable but make us all stronger in the long run.  That is the middle way: conservative, and at the same time progressive.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: The choices we make shape the society we share.  A decade ago we were a society in crisis, scoring low marks on one metric after another.  Confidence was lagging, hope was lacking, leadership was lacking.  Let's not forget, that many of the key policies shaping our circumstances today were sorely lacking then. 

 

There was no Energy Plan then.  There was no equity stake in offshore projects.  There was no Nalcor to drive exploration and investment.  There was no project to develop the Lower Churchill under terms favourable to Newfoundland and Labrador supplying clean hydro power to the Island to displace Holyrood oil. 

 

There was no Poverty Reduction Strategy.  There was no Northern Strategic Plan for Labrador.  There was no 10-Year Sustainability Plan.  There was no Violence Prevention Initiative Part I or Part II.  There was no full-day Kindergarten.  There was no ATIPP legislation in effect.  There was no Auditor General in the House of Assembly, and there was no whistleblower legislation.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: There was no initiative to replace student loans with non-repayable grants.  There was no decade long legacy of tuition freezes that gave our students the lowest tuition rates in the country.  Because we were not seeing those initiatives, we were not reaping the benefit.  All of those actions we have taken where others offered only platitudes. 

 

Anyone can make a promise, and a well-articulated promise can put stars in people's eyes.  What truly counts in the final analysis is implementation and delivery.  We stand on our record of delivering actions and results for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, there is more to be done under the wise leadership of the Premier who will follow me.  Judging by the recent speech he gave to Rotary here in St. John's and the attention that he gathered, I believe the people are very eager to see the plans that he wants to deliver.  Knowing him personally, I can say with confidence that our Province is going to be in very good hands.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, on a personal note, let me say that it has been an honour for me to be captain of this team to guide this transition that has taken place.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

PREMIER MARSHALL: It has truly been a team effort.  I want to thank each and every member of this team for making possible the actions we have taken.  I have heard the passion in your voices as you stood day after day to state your conviction that we are on the right course. 

 

I have heard all the arguments and the counter-arguments and now as we prepare to vote on this year's Budget, I believe more resolutely than ever that it is the right Budget for 2014.  We are stronger and we are going to continue to be stronger because of the course that all of us, that we, the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador has taken.

 

Thank you very much.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

It gives me great pleasure to clue up our Budget debate.  It has been nearly six weeks, and it has been quite the process, Mr. Speaker, a process like I have never encountered before. 

 

It is a very hard act to follow after that very invigorating speech, and while the Premier has done this five times, this is my first.  I have to say, it has been quite the experience.  There have been many debates along the way.  There have been many discussions along the way, back to debating, back to discussions, lots of exchanges of ideas.  Every single word that was said by our caucus, our Cabinet, our Premier, was certainly in the best interest of the people of the Province, and every decision that we made was made with their best interest at heart.

 

I really want to thank the Premier for his insight and his mentorship to me in this process, and to thank him for his vision.  I also want to thank my Cabinet colleagues.  As I said, it was quite an experience, sometimes gruelling, but also very, very rewarding, and I want to thank the officials in their departments for the long hours, the long analysis and work that has gone into this process.  I really want to thank the officials in the Department of Finance.  Oftentimes it was a treat if they got home in the same day that they came to work, because they would often leave after midnight, and they worked really hard to get us to this Budget process.

 

As I said, I really want to thank my colleagues and the Premier, and certainly thank the MHAs.  The MHAs worked very diligently in each of their districts.  They brought to the caucus table many items of importance to their constituents, and those items were reflected in this year's Budget, Mr. Speaker.

 

I want to thank the Opposition parties.  The Estimates process is a very valuable process.  I think we can all agree to how valuable the Estimates process was and an opportunity to have a great exchange of question and answer.

 

I want to thank all the people who came out to pre-Budget consultations.  I have to say that was a really, really good experience for me.  It was an opportunity to hear from people on the ground and the work they are doing, and how they touch people's lives every single day, the volunteer organizations, the medical professionals who showed up, and people who work with vulnerable people every day. 

 

I think when the Premier was sworn in he made it very clear that we would listen as a government.  The people I spoke to post-Budget now reflect back to pre-Budget consultations and they said, you committed to listening and you truly did listen.  Many of the things that we asked for in pre-Budget consultations were reflected in this Budget and we thank you for that. 

 

When the Premier was sworn in, he said that day he would have a focus on assisting vulnerable people.  That would have been a clear focus for him, a focus around social justice and a fair society.  That was reflected right in the theme of our Budget. 

 

Mr. Speaker, when you look at the things we have done in the Budget – and I certainly will not highlight all of them – but things that I heard from MHAs and from constituents everywhere: the Seniors' Benefit is the highest it has ever been, $1,036 this year up from $971 last year; the low-income threshold, the fourth time we have increased that since we have been in government; the increase for Income Support, a 5 per cent increase there.

 

Maybe I am telling secrets here, Premier, but we remember talking about what we could do.  Can you do more?  Can we do more for them?  Go back and see if you can do more.  That is where his head was.  I am so proud of that and all the work we have done around housing.  That was such a big priority for him and for the minister in that department.  When you look at the initiatives in the Budget for persons with disabilities, the stories we heard of the vehicle retrofit program and what an impact that had on people's lives and how we take that for granted. 

 

When you look at our investments in health care – and I can say that the second most thing I have had comments on is our changes to the Medical Transportation Assistance Program.  People struggle when they have health issues.  One of the things they should not have to struggle with is financial issues, Mr. Speaker.  We have made significant improvements to that program this year.  It is something we are very proud of. 

 

When you look at autism, what we have done in health care and in the Department of Education around Autism and the investments we have made there to increase the number of people working to improve the lives of children with autism.  When you look at improvements we have made to cancer drugs and making it easier for people – and we all know people who have cancer and making it easier for them. 

 

The Premier spoke of our tuition freeze and the loans to grants.  In fact, we have an invitation, just this week, on Thursday evening I will be presenting on behalf of government to the Canadian Federation of Students at their national AGM.  They invited us to that event because they say we are the leaders in the country when it comes to education.  They wanted us there to share our experience.  I will be the keynote there. 

 

When you look at our focus on justice and the investments we have made into organized crime, when you look at the increase in RCMP officers and the increase in the recruits in the RNC officers, it is something that we cannot afford not to do.  When you look at our strong focus on economy and the reduction in the small business tax, which now makes us the lowest in Atlantic Canada tied with Nova Scotia. 

 

No focus on economy can go without a focus on children.  We have to give our children the best start in life they can possibly get.  For me, and I know for the former Minister of Education and for all of my colleagues, one of the things that I have heard the most about since Budget 2014 – and one of the things I am personally most proud of as a member of this Cabinet – is the full-day Kindergarten, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS JOHNSON: While it is very much a social initiative, it is very much an economic initiative as well.  They will have better outcomes in life because of early learning. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I think the best compliment that this government has received about this Budget, and that I will take with me for a very long time, was by a blogger in The Telegram.  She referred to this Budget as a maternal Budget.  For a government, I do not think there is any better compliment you can get than that.

 

Mr. Speaker, our future is very bright when you look at Statoil and how it is the largest oil find in the world by volume.  The opportunities for our children, for my daughter, for members of the Opposition's children, for all of our children and then their children – it is just so exciting to think about the opportunities they have before them.  This did not happen by accident.  This happened because of strategic decision making on the part of this government. 

 

The Premier did outline what others have had to say and I will just quickly highlight that again.  The Conference Board of Canada gave us an A+ rating, Mr. Speaker.  It does not get much better than an A+ for the many teachers in this room and for the students in this room. 

 

Mr. Speaker, what I heard in previous speeches by the Leader of the Opposition is that they want to change that.  To change from A+, there is only one place to go from A+.  Why you would want to change that I am not sure.

 

When you look at the BMO Blue Book released in May, 2014 – and this is a quote, “The Muskrat-Falls hydroelectric project and the Hebron, Terra Nova, Hibernia and White Rose offshore energy projects continue to mature and provide high paying jobs and yield considerable economic spinoffs for the province.  Statoil and Husky's Bay du Nord discovery northeast of St. John's is also an exciting energy development for the province.”  It was only a couple of years ago that Mark Carney said, “We would all do well to follow the example of Newfoundland and Labrador.”

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS JOHNSON: Mr. Speaker, when you look at the credit ratings and the history of the credit ratings – when you look at Moody's we have had two upgrades since we have been in power.  When you look at Standard & Poor's, there were two upgrades there with them.  When you look at Dominion Bond Rating Service, there were three upgrades there.  These are all outside experts speaking to what it is Newfoundland and Labrador is doing here, and what a great job is being done.

 

Mr. Speaker, that is the bright side.  Then you have to look at what the Leader of the Opposition had to say, we are the worst, the last, and the lowest.  This is in a speech that he did to many supporters. 

 

We do not see things that way, Mr. Speaker.  There is a saying that the glass is half full.  Well, on our side of the House the glass is over pouring.  When you look at the other side of the House, I would not even say it is quarter full. 

 

I remember taking an economics course several years ago as a part of an MBA program – and there are many factors that go into the economy and how the economy is doing.  One of the critical factors is the perception of how the economy is doing.  The perception from this side of the House is very much a bright one.  Mr. Speaker, the perception from the other side of the House, the glass is certainly far from half full.  It is not the best attraction strategy, and certainly not a speech you want to bring to our students on their graduation ceremonies.

 

Mr. Speaker, I will conclude by a quote that I used in the Budget Speech, and it is one that I think is truly relevant to this government; destiny does not happen by chance, it happens by choice.  Our choice as a government is to continue on the path to prosperity that we have been doing for the people of the Province.  That is certainly reflected in Budget 2014. 

 

I know that the members on this side of the House will be voting for this Budget.  I truly thank the Premier, my Cabinet colleagues, my caucus colleagues, and members of the Opposition.  I know because of the great things in this Budget that I am certain all members of this House will vote for the Budget.

 

Thank you very much.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, I have received a message from his hon. the Lieutenant Governor.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the House approve in general the budgetary policies of the government.

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Nay.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Motion carried.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Division.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Division has been called.

 

Summon the members.

 

Division

 

MR. SPEAKER: Are the Whips ready? 

 

All those in favour of the motion, please rise. 

 

CLERK: Mr. Marshall, Mr. King, Mr. Hutchings, Mr. O'Brien, Mr. Davis, Mr. McGrath, Mr. Crummell, Mr. Felix Collins, Ms Johnson, Mr. Jackman, Mr. French, Mr. Verge, Mr. Littlejohn, Mr. Hedderson, Mr. Dalley, Ms Sullivan, Mr. Kent, Mr. Sandy Collins, Mr. Brazil, Mr. Granter, Mr. Cross, Mr. Little, Mr. Pollard, Mr. Forsey, Ms Perry, Mr. Kevin Parsons, Mr. Cornect, Mr. Peach, Mr. Hunter, Mr. Dinn, and Mr. Russell. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: All those against the motion, please rise. 

 

CLERK: Mr. Ball, Mr. Andrew Parsons, Mr. Osborne, Mr. Joyce, Ms Dempster, Mr. Edmunds, Mr. Bennett, Mr. Lane, Mr. Kirby, Mr. Mitchelmore, Ms Bennett, Ms Michael, Mr. Murphy, and Ms Rogers.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

CLERK: Mr. Speaker, the ‘ayes' thirty-one; the ‘nays' fourteen. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: Motion carried. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I have received a message from His Honour the Lieutenant Governor.

 

MR. SPEAKER: All rise.

 

As the Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, I transmit Estimates of the sums required for the Public Service of the Province for the year ending March 31, 2015, by way of further supply and in accordance with the provisions of sections 54 and 90 of the Constitution Act, 1867, I recommend these Estimates to the House of Assembly.

 

Sgd.: ______________________

 Frank F. Fagan, CM, ONL, MBA

 

Please be seated.

 

The hon. the Minister of Finance.

 

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I move, seconded by the Premier, that the message be referred to a Committee of Supply.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It has been moved and seconded that the House do now resolve itself into a Committee of Supply and that I do now leave the Chair.

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

On motion, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole, Mr. Speaker left the Chair.

 

Committee of the Whole

 

CHAIR (Verge): Order, please!

 

The Committee will be considering the resolution and Supply bill. 

 

Resolution

 

“That it is expedient to introduce a measure to provide for the granting to Her Majesty for defraying certain expenses of the public service for the financial year ending March 31, 2015 the sum of $4,658,836,400.”

 

CHAIR: Shall the resolution carry? 

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

On motion, resolution carried.

 

CLERK: Clause 1.

 

CHAIR: Shall clause 1 carry?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

On motion, clause 1 carried.

 

CLERK: Clauses 2 through 4 inclusive.

 

CHAIR: Shall clauses 2 through 4 inclusive carry?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

On motion, clauses 2 through 4 inclusive, carried.

 

CLERK: The schedule.

 

CHAIR: Shall the schedule carry? 

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

On motion, schedule carried.

 

CLERK: Be it enacted by the Lieutenant Governor and House of Assembly in Legislative session convened, as follows.

 

CHAIR: Shall the enacting clause carry? 

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

On motion, enacting clause carried. 

 

CLERK: Whereas it appears that the sums mentioned are required to defray certain expenses of the public service of Newfoundland and Labrador for the financial year ending March 31, 2015 and for other purposes relating to the public service.

 

CHAIR: Shall the preamble carry? 

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

On motion, preamble carried.

 

CLERK: An Act For Granting To Her Majesty Certain Sums Of Money For Defraying Certain Expenses Of The Public Service For The Financial Year Ending March 31, 2015 And For Other Purposes Relating To The Public Service.

 

CHAIR: Shall the long title carry? 

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

On motion, title carried.

 

CHAIR: Shall I report the resolution and bill carried without amendment? 

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

Motion, that the Committee report having passed a resolution and a bill consequent thereto, carried.

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Finance.

 

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

Mr. Chair, I move, seconded by the Minister of Education, that the total contained in the Estimates in the amount of $4,658,836,400 for the 2014-2015 fiscal year be carried and I further move that the Committee report that they have adopted a resolution and a bill consequent thereto and ask leave to sit again.

 

CHAIR: The motion is that the total contained in the Estimates in the amount of $4,658,836,400 for the year 2014-2015 be carried and that the Committee report that they have adopted a resolution and a bill consequent thereto, and ask leave to sit again.

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

On motion, that the Committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again, Mr. Speaker returned to the Chair.

 

MR. SPEAKER (Wiseman): Order, please!

 

The hon. the Member for the District of Lewisporte.

 

MR. VERGE: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of Supply have considered the matters to them referred, and have directed me to report that they have passed the amount of $4,658,836,400 contained in the Estimates of Supply for the 2014-2015 fiscal year and have adopted a certain resolution and recommend that a bill be introduced to give effect to the same.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair of the Committee of the Whole reports that the Committee have considered the matters to them referred and have directed him to report that the Committee have adopted a certain resolution, and recommend that a bill be introduced to give effect to the same and ask leave to sit again. 

 

When shall the report be received?

 

AN HON. MEMBER: Now.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Now.

 

On motion, report received and adopted. 

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board, that the resolution be now read a first time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that this resolution be now read a first time.

 

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

CLERK: “That it is expedient to introduce a measure to provide for the granting to Her Majesty for defraying certain expenses of the public service for the financial year ending March 31, 2015 the sum of $4,658,836,400.”

 

On motion, resolution read a first time.

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board, that the resolution be now read the second time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that this resolution be now read a second time.

 

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

CLERK: “That it is expedient to introduce a measure to provide for the granting to Her Majesty for defraying certain expenses of the public service for the financial year ending March 31, 2015 the sum of $4,658,836,400.”

 

On motion, resolution read a second time.

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board, for leave to introduce the Supply bill, Bill 11, and I further move that the said bill be now read a first time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It has been moved and seconded that the hon. Minister of Finance shall have leave to introduce the Supply bill, Bill 11, and that the said bill be now read a first time.

 

Is it the pleasure of the House that the hon. Minister of Finance shall have leave to introduce the Supply bill, Bill 11, and that the said bill be now read a first time?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board to introduce a bill, “An Act For Granting To Her Majesty Certain Sums Of Money For Defraying Certain Expenses Of The Public Service For The Financial Year Ending March 31, 2015 And For Other Purposes Relating To The Public Service”, carried.  (Bill 11)

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act For Granting To Her Majesty Certain Sums Of Money For Defraying Certain Expenses Of The Public Service For The Financial Year Ending March 31, 2015 And For Other Purposes Relating To The Public Service.  (Bill 11)

 

On motion, Bill 11 read a first time.

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board, that the said bill be now read a second time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the Supply bill be now read a second time.

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act For Granting To Her Majesty Certain Sums Of Money For Defraying Certain Expenses Of The Public Service For The Financial Year Ending March 31, 2015 And For Other Purposes Relating To The Public Service.  (Bill 11)

 

On motion, Bill 11 read a second time.

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Once again, I move, seconded by the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board, that the said Supply bill be now a third time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the Supply bill be now read a third time.

 

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act For Granting To Her Majesty Certain Sums Of Money For Defraying Certain Expenses Of The Public Service For The Financial Year Ending March 31, 2015 And For Other Purposes Relating To The Public Service.  (Bill 11)

 

MR. SPEAKER: This bill is now read a third time and it is ordered that the bill do pass and its title be as on Order Paper.

 

On motion, a bill, “An Act For Granting To Her Majesty Certain Sums Of Money For Defraying Certain Expenses Of The Public Service For The Financial Year Ending March 31, 2015 And For Other Purposes Relating To the Public Service”, read a third time, ordered passed and that its title be as on the Order Paper.  (Bill 11)

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

At this time I call from the Order Paper, Motion 3, to move that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole to consider a resolution respecting the imposition of taxes on tobacco, Bill 12.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that this House do now resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole.

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

On motion, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole, Mr. Speaker left the Chair.

 

Committee of the Whole

CHAIR (Verge): Order, please!

 

The Committee of the Whole will be considering Bill 12.

 

Resolution

 

“That it is expedient to bring in a measure respecting the imposition of taxes on tobacco.” 

 

CHAIR: Shall the resolution carry? 

 

The hon. the Minister of Finance. 

 

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Chair. 

 

Mr. Chair, I rise in the House today to introduce an amendment to the Revenue Administration Act to allow for the recent tobacco tax increases as announced in the Budget.  Budget 2014 brings an increase in the tax for both cigarettes and fine-cut tobacco.  Effective 12:01 a.m. March 28, 2014 the tax increases by three cents per cigarette and by six cents per gram on fine-cut tobacco.  As a result, the tobacco tax per cigarette will be 23.5 cents as compared to the old rate of 20.5 cents per cigarette.  Tobacco other than cigarettes and cigars will be thirty-eight cents per gram compared to the old rate of thirty-two cents per gram. 

 

It is a very straightforward amendment.  This will be retroactive to March 28, 2014, as I said; to coincide with the date the increase came in to effect.  This is just the amendment to allow us to do that tax increase.  It is that simple, Mr. Chair, and I will leave it there for any comments and questions.

 

Thank you.

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for Burgeo – La Poile. 

 

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

 

I am happy to stand and speak to Bill 12, which is a resolution respecting the imposition of taxes on tobacco. 

It is very straightforward in the sense that we are talking about the raising of the cost.  It used to be 20.5 cents per cigarette and now we have gone to 23.5 cents. 

 

Sorry, that is for cigarettes.  Tobacco has gone up from thirty-two cents to thirty eight cents, and cigars have gone up as well.  That in and of itself obviously is something that the government does from time to time, but one of the interesting things that I wanted to talk about was one of the main purposes of this raise, which I would assume is the creation of a smoking cessation program. 

 

I am very happy to see this.  It is something that we have called on for some time and the NLMA has called on for some time.  In fact, I was at a press conference last year where the NLMA came out and asked for government to come forward with a smoking cessation program.  They have a press release this year.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

CHAIR: Order, please!

 

I ask members for their co-operation.

 

MR. A. PARSONS: The NLMA has been asking for this for some time.  They asked for it last year and they put out a press release this year applauding the government for its commitment. 

 

I applaud government too, it is something that makes sense, it is sensible, however I do not think it goes far enough.  What I am going to do is spend my time – and I may have more time after – to talk about why I do not think they have gone far enough in the utilization of money realized from this tax raise to going to something that is hopefully going to improve the health of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and at the same time lessen the burden on our health care system.

 

I just have a few things to say and a lot of it is no surprise to everybody in this House of Assembly or most people out there in the Province.  Cigarette smoking is the single most preventable cause of premature death.  We have one of the highest rates of smoking in Canada.  That rate has stayed fairly stable over the last number of years.  We really have done very little to work on that.  Right now I think it is 23.2 per cent and maybe 23.3 per cent, but we are right up there when it comes to Alberta, when it comes to Quebec, and when it comes to PEI. 

 

One of the big issues I have had is this Province historically has always made a significant amount of money off the taxation of tobacco.  People have always said in the past it is a sin tax, you raise the cost on cigarettes, you raise the cost on booze, and those monies go towards other expenditures that this government incurs.  That has always happened.

 

One thing I have always questioned is why could we not take that money and spend that money on something that is actually going to save us money down the road?  That is why last year that was a full year before this government came forward with the program. 

 

A full year before this I said we need to spend money on a smoking cessation program.  Although I have gone one step further than the NLMA.  The NLMA has said let us do low-income individuals.  However, it is my belief that we could cover everybody in this Province at a fraction of the cost of what is being taken in.  In the long-run we are going to save money if we can stop even two out of ten who try it and fail.  We are still going to save money down the road.

 

Everybody knows when it comes to health care in this Province, our rates of COPD, our rates of heart disease, and our rates of cancer are amongst the highest in the country or amongst the worst in the country if we want to put it that way.  This seems to be something that we would try. 

 

I think last year we raised about $148 million off tobacco tax.  With this increase we are now up to about $165 million.  When you look at it you have just raised taxes, you have just raised $17 million just off this tobacco increase, yet you are only going to spend $712,000 on a cessation program.  Why could you not double that investment, increase the number of people who are covered?  Hopefully we have more people who quit smoking, stop smoking, and then we are going to save the cost down the road.  We all know the terrible effect that smoking has on people.  It is an addiction. 

 

That could bring me into something further where we talk about the substance use strategy that was promised back in 2008, but was never delivered.  This falls into that where we have a way of introducing a strategy that is going to keep people from the abuse of substances, and we could talk about nicotine.  That is going to save us down the road when it comes to people who get sick and use our health care system. 

 

The former Minister of Health stood here in the House sand said smoking in this Province costs $300 million to $400 million in health care costs per year.  That is a huge, huge amount of money.  Depending on the day of the week and depending on the strategy, the Province likes to talk about being leaders in some ways.  It is funny how they talk about leaders for certain things, but when you ask them about other things they do not want to be leaders, they want to be at the bottom of the barrel, the end of the pack.  Smoking cessation therapy is one of it. 

 

Right now, we, along with New Brunswick, are the only provinces that do not cover some form of smoking cessation.  Quebec themselves have actually put out some reports in the last little while showing how their smoking cessation has drastically reduced the number of people smoking.  A province that has a high prevalence of smokers and they are reducing that rate because they are making an investment. 

 

That is one of the things, when you talk about the greater cost and when we talk about the greater expenditure of money by this government, it is investment.  What do you get on your investment?  What is the return on the investment?  Obviously, the higher the return the better, but we do not want to make the investment in something that I think the return is going to be huge. 

 

I also believe that education at the youngest levels is probably one of our more effective ways to keep people from starting smoking.  If we can get into their heads at a young age, if we can talk to them, if we can explain how bad it is, then that has a better chance of carrying over.  Barring that, we have individuals who start smoking for whatever reasons and at whatever age.  A lot of people, once they get in, it is an addiction.  They need help, they want to stop, and sometimes they just need that help.  Smoking cessation therapy is one way in which to do that. 

 

I think the statistics are important here.  We have to put this out.  We talk about smarter health care; this is one way that we could have smarter health care.  I want the people on the other side to realize – because sometimes they get very touchy when we talk about things they should do.  I am telling you this is a good move. I am telling you the $712,000 that you are going to invest in this and the $17 million that you are going to make on your tax increase is a good thing.  I am saying that is good, I applaud you for it; it is a step in the right direction.  What I am saying is that you are not going far enough with it.  You could do more. 

 

AN HON. MEMBER: It is good, but not good enough.

 

MR. A. PARSONS: It is good, but not good enough. 

 

This will be a question that comes up and maybe there will be an answer, I do not know: Why wouldn't we try more?  Why wouldn't we take extra funds that - this is an extra $17 million we never had before.  That is an extra $17 million that we were not expecting, did not have, and that we are going to have.  Why couldn't you spend a higher percentage of that to help people quit?

 

We know under the smoking cessation program that is there, people get up to three tries.  I would say that the money you invest, there are going to be a number of people we invest in who fail in their attempt.  They are going to fail once, they are going to fail twice, and they are probably going to fail a third time.  That is part of this, too.  It is tough.  Anybody who has ever smoked, anybody who has ever had an addiction, it is tough to conquer. 

 

What we are trying to do is help them through this process, but right now we are only dealing with low-income individuals.  What about those others who would like to try?  That if we do not help them, if we do not give them that incentive, because sometimes it is not even – the monetary part is one thing but it is the psychological aspect that comes with this.  We have to help people quit. 

 

If we just get one out of ten people quitting, that is one out of ten people who are not going to be in our hospital suffering from a plethora of health conditions that come from smoking.  That is going to cost us – I believe the cost the Leader of the Opposition put out the other day, we are looking at $1,880 a day in the hospital bed.  That is just the cost per day to sit in a hospital, in an acute care bed I think it is.  That is just the cost per day. 

 

If we took that money and invested it in this therapy, we could prevent that.  I do not think I am saying anything that the members opposite do not realize.  I am just wondering why we cannot go that extra step, given that it is extra money they are raising.  It is not money they had before.  It is not an actual cost per se.  I guess it is not new revenue being generated.  It is extra revenue being generated from a previous taxation. 

 

We are making $165 million a year in tobacco tax.  We are spending $300 million to $400 million a year because of smoking.  I think it is a simple trade off.

 

Cost is a barrier to accessing smoking cessation.  We know that.  When you look at the cost of living in this Province, it is like most provinces I am sure, that the cost of living is going up.  Rent goes up; groceries go up, every other cost, the cost of goods, the cost of services.  It is all going up.  You have fewer dollars to spend, therefore when you are making those decisions, even though sometimes it is hard, you realize that the cost they will save by not spending that price on a pack of cigarettes, if they smoke a pack a day, a pack a week, whatever, that money could be saved by helping them make that investment. 

 

We already know cessation therapies have a huge impact on success rates for people trying to quit.  Cold turkey just does not always do it.  What I am saying here is that we need universal coverage.  Universal coverage will help give us a better health care outcome and result in the future. 

 

The stats show that in Canada, tobacco is killing 37,000 people each year.  This is obviously a major public health concern.  It is so preventable.  It is contributing to 85 per cent of all new cases of lung cancer in Canada.  It is staggering when you think about it.

 

One thing I want to talk about – and something that we asked about in Estimates and was uncovered – is that with this, though, there is the $712,000 that is invested, but there is actually a co-pay component to it as well.  I believe it is $75, but the minister will correct me if I am wrong.  If I am wrong, that is fine.  I know there is co-pay, and I believe it is $75. 

 

Any of the advocates will tell you that any co-pay is a disincentive or a barrier to trying to quit smoking.  I come back to the original premise.  We are raising $17 million extra new dollars, but we are still getting low-income individuals having to come up with $75 to avail of this. 

 

You are not going to see those statistics because those are individuals who are not even going to try in many cases.  They will not make that attempt because coming up with the co-pay is tough.  We have all heard the struggles, members on both sides hear of struggles.  It is a very, very difficult thing.  We already have all the known barriers to smoking and quitting smoking, and now we are introducing a new barrier to people who are trying to quit.  We should be reducing barriers when it comes to getting people to quit.

 

A lot of other provinces have done these studies.  A lot of other provinces have already gone down this road.  They have already been there, they see the success.  I am glad that our Province is following suit.  I applaud it, as I have said earlier just then.  We have asked you to do it.  I am glad that we asked.  It is a smart move.  It is called smarter health care, something we have been advocating for.

 

Quebec, in their economic review of hospitals, found out that 30 per cent of hospital costs are driven by smokers.  When you think of the extraordinary cost of health care and the significant proportion of that which is coming from hospitals, 30 per cent of that is coming from smoking.  I would wager that if there was a study done in this Province we would probably find something very similar to that.  Therefore, it would seem all the more likely that we should be doing more to combat, really, what is an evil. 

 

When I get another chance to talk, I actually have some numbers here.  I will get a chance to bring them up.  The cost to actually provide smoking cessation therapy to everybody in this Province is still far, far lower than the revenue being realized just from this tax increase.

 

Before anybody tires to get up and say: well, you are speaking out against it.  Look, tobacco increases, they come, they happen.  This is not the first time.  I do not even think it is the first time it has happened since we have been here since 2011, but what I am saying is you could cover everybody and you would still have money left over that you did not have last year.

 

I will have another opportunity to speak to this.  I am glad to see the Province doing it.  It is the right step, but you can do better.

 

Thank you very much.

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

I am glad to hear the member opposite is applauding what we are doing; unfortunately, he just voted against it a few minutes ago in the Budget, Mr. Chair.

 

Just for clarification purposes, this tax increase on tobacco tax is nothing to do about money, Mr. Chair.  This is about trying to improve people's health. 

 

A report came out recently, just prior to the Budget coming down and during the time when we were making our decisions, the World Health Organization came out with a report and they talked about what countries in the world are doing to reduce smoking rates.  They said out of all of the programs and policies in place the best thing you can do to reduce smoking rates is to increase the tax on cigarettes, and to do a significant increase, and, Mr. Chair, that is exactly why we increased it by three cents and six cents on fine-cut tobacco.

 

The member mentioned the main purpose to do this was to bring in a smoking cessation program, and that certainly was not the main purpose for doing this.  As I said, the main purpose for doing this was to help improve people's health, and to do that, as suggested by the World Health Organization, through increased taxes.  As an aside, we also decided to bring in a smoking cessation program.  As I said, I am glad to see he supports that, unfortunately he did not vote for it in the Budget vote.

 

Mr. Chair, he said we should do more in terms of spending.  This is a pilot project and there was research done into smoking levels.  When you look at the categories, this was a very targeted approach.  The research shows us that 40 per cent of smokers are in the low-income threshold category.  That is why we selected to do this for low- income earners, because 40 per cent of the smokers are in that range.  So, it would be a great place to start as a pilot.  As with any pilot, there is a level of analysis that needs to be done, and then evaluation.  Then certainly if we can see that the program is effective, our hope that this would be a universal program as well; but we want to start where we know we have the ability to have an impact, and then move from there.

 

He talks about spending more of the – he is focused on the $17 million.  You also have to realize that $17 million went into general revenue, and not only did it allow us to bring in the smoking cessation program, but it also allowed us to spend over $10 million in cancer drugs, Mr. Chair.  That is where a significant portion of the revenues went in this year's Budget in Health was into very much needed cancer care drugs to help with the prevention of cancer and to help with the improvement of lives of those people with cancer.  Funding also went into the Medical Transportation Assistance Program to assist people who may have cancer or other issues in terms of travelling to health care centres.

 

So, I just want to clarify for the member, the main purpose to do the tax was not to bring in a smoking cessation program – we could have brought in a smoking cessation and not increase the tax – but because of the expertise and advice from the World Health Organization, we followed through with what they said.  Some would say three cents was not enough; others would tell me it is too much.  We find it is the right balance, and it puts us on par with the rest of Canada, and we are now at the average in terms of smoking tax.

 

Hopefully, that clarifies for the member as to why we did.  It is to improve people's health, to improve their health outcomes, and why we targeted in a specific group; and that was for low-income earners, because that is where, through research, it shows that the majority of smokers in this Province are in the low-income range.  So we really did want to help them analyze that, evaluate that.  Then, hopefully, from there, the results will show that smoking rates did decline, and then we can take it one step further from there.  As with any program, you have to start, evaluate, and then improve upon and make changes, if necessary.

 

So hopefully, that clarifies that for the member.

 

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for Burgeo – La Poile.

 

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

 

I am happy to stand and speak to this again and respond to the minister's comments, and certainly I voted against her Budget that put a significant debt on the children and grandchildren of this Province.  I just want to put that out here, and I am going to speak a bit more about this therapy here.  There were good things in the Budget.  Because do you know what?  That is obvious – there were a lot of things that we asked for.  I am glad to see it, and we support those initiatives; but it is similar to the Harper and the omnibus, where there is a little bit of good but there is a lot bad.  That is again taking a lesson from your cousins. 

 

Again, one of the things that I wanted to talk about – and I am going to put this out there, because I still have not seen it – the minister talked about oh, we took the revenue from this and we invested it not just in this, but we put it to other cancer drugs.  I will remind the minister, and this has nothing to do with her department – she would not know this – but we asked for a list of those drugs and we still have not had them provided.

 

We sought a list.  I do not think that list has been provided yet.  We did ask for that during – and again, the minister would have been there and I know he provided an undertaking.  I know the minister will provide it because he is true to his word and provides it, but the list was not provided yet.  I would say at some point if you are going to talk about the drugs that you are paying for, show us what they are.  That is a very simple request.

 

I know that there were a lot of requests during the Estimates of the Health Department, there is a lot of information, so I look forward to getting that. 

 

I would come back to the fact that I am speaking in favour of this.  I like the fact that the Province is using money realized from this, but we have to look at some of the other facts as well.  We are the only province that did not see, from 2011 to 2012, a decrease in smoking rates.  We did not see it.  Again, I know that we are going after individuals in the low-income demographic, and that is good, but I think that we could make it a universal coverage and still have significant monies left to go toward other necessary causes.  I have no doubt about that. 

 

In fact, going on some estimates – and they may be low or they may be high – you could probably cover it for $3 million to $4 million and it would be universal.  That still leaves a fair amount of money left from this $17 million.  Again, the bigger thing is that hopefully, with this investment, you see a decrease in the health care costs.  That is the big thing that we need to look at here. 

 

This is a small investment now, but you want to see a large investment when it comes to the health care costs that we are going to save because there are fewer people smoking, fewer people suffering from the conditions that come with it.  I think now it is sort of taking the long view to small step now, but it is going to be big results, a big impact down the road.  Now, you might not see that right away; it may take some time.

 

I reiterate – and sometimes the message does not get across – I support this initiative.  I called for it last year.  I spoke about it in the House two years before I am pretty sure.  That is a good thing, but I think we could go that step further.  I think we will see that investment have a significant return down the road if we were to apply it universally to people in this Province.  Given the fact that we have roughly 800 people a year die in this Province, I think we could do a lot by getting everybody access to smoking cessation therapy. 

 

I just want to put that out there.  I may have some more commentary.  Undoubtedly, the minister will have some response to this.  It is hard for me to sit down because there is so much to say to this.  I will sit down now and I will give the minister an opportunity to respond to this.

 

Thank you.

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for St. Barbe.

 

MR. J. BENNETT: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

Mr. Chair, I am responding to this bill.  First, I would like to speak to something that, if it were in economics terms it would be referred to as the paradox of thrift.  In this case, it is a paradox of how we save money by increasing tobacco taxes by saving money through the health care system. 

 

In this situation what we are saying is that if we have smoking cessation programs, then people will not smoke so much.  If people do not smoke so much, then we do not get so much revenue.  That means we take a revenue hit; however, if people do not smoke so much, then over the long term they do not get all the smoking illnesses, the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, lung disease, all sorts of diseases that come from smoking.  This takes a longer time to get the health care benefit. 

 

Mr. Chair, this type of an increase in tobacco tax is – I think, in fairness to the people who are paying the tobacco tax, all of the increase really should be focused on smoking cessation.  Otherwise, we are saying to somebody who is addicted – and clearly smoking is an addiction – we are going to charge you a certain amount of extra money in a tax because of your addiction, but we are not going to put it back into fighting your addiction.  We are not going to put it back into helping you quit smoking.  We are going to put it in other areas.  We are going to put it in cancer prevention. 

 

That seems like a real folly to say we are going to jack up the taxes for people who buy tobacco products, and then we are going to invest that money into putting it into cancer treatment, when we really should be putting that money right back into getting people to stop smoking.  If people stopped smoking then the cancer rates would reduce, as would all sorts of other rates of illness would reduce the smoking-related illnesses. 

 

How much tax are we going to be charging on a pack of cigarettes when this is over?  I think the people need to be really mindful of how much it is.  At 23.5 cents for every cigarette, that means the provincial tobacco tax per package of cigarettes is going to be $4.70.  That is roughly half the price of a pack of cigarettes.  To that you need to add another seventy-one cents HST.  Now the provincial tobacco tax and the HST will be $5.41 on a pack of cigarettes.  Government is going to take this and put it into their general revenues, all the while complaining that health care costs so much. 

 

It would seem to make the most sense that the money that smokers pay in taxes should go toward having them stop smoking.  If they were to stop smoking, then tobacco revenues would decline.  Also, over the longer term, diseases related to smoking would also decline.  Mr. Chair, there is a real intriguing point, and that was the first paragraph of this tiny bill. 

 

The second point in this very tiny bill imposes the tax retroactively.  We went through quite a lengthy debate on whistleblower legislation where the government says we cannot have any sort of retroactive legislation.  This bill says, “This Act is considered to have come into force on March 28, 2014.” 

 

In fact, this is charging a retroactive tax for more than the past two months.  By the time it is implemented, according to the bill, who is going to pay for this?  The smokers are not going to pay for it.  If the act is considered to have come into force on March 28, 2014, presumably business will have to pay for it.  This can easily be seen as an attack on business by this government by introducing a bill that retroactively charges a tax for the past few months when there was no tax in place.

 

Mr. Chair, who is going to pay the tax on the retroactive part?  Why did government argue so vehemently over the past few weeks on the whistleblower legislation – which, even though it is passed today, does not come into effect until July 1 – but the tobacco tax increase is going to be considered to have come into effect on March 28, 2014?  It seems to be grossly unfair that businesses will now have to pony up for the money they have not yet collected.  It is like a back tax – a retroactive back tax. 

 

Hopefully the minister will explain the retroactivity of the back tax, because otherwise you would think that you would need an amendment.  It looks like you should have an amendment to say change it to coming into force at some future date, because that would allow businesses to accommodate the increasing in taxes. 

 

If government was going to consider an amendment, I think most people in the Opposition would probably say, well yes, we do not want you charging a back tax on business.  We know that businesses struggle as it is, and this government pretends to be business friendly, although this bill certainly does not seem to say that it is business friendly.

 

Mr. Chair, there is another issue that I have.  Clearly they have issues with their expenses.  We know there has been a serious issue, when you run deficits you have a problem with expenses.  This government on this bill seems to have a problem with revenue, because they cannot spell it right.  The title of the bill misspells revenue. 

 

What it is going on here?  Is it An Act To Amend The R-e-v-e-u-n-e Administration Act No. 2?  I do not know if we need an amendment, but I am going to move an amendment, seconded by the Member for Mount Pearl in any event, to correct the spelling to say Revenue, instead of ‘Reveune'.

 

Thank you.

 

CHAIR: Order, please!

 

I understand the Member for St. Barbe has moved an amendment?

 

Do you have a written copy of the amendment?

 

MR. J. BENNETT: No, unfortunately I did not notice the spelling error until I started to read the act a little more closely.  I could not believe it was misspelled.  I do not have a written amendment.  I am not sure we need much of a written amendment to correct the spelling to match up with the dictionary spelling.

 

CHAIR: Okay, the Member for St. Barbe –

 

The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

I appreciate the member pointing out the spelling error.  Unfortunately, it has been busy days, and staff sometimes in rushing to get their work – because this work is done by staff, of course, not by politicians here.  On behalf of the staff who did the work, I thank the member for pointing out the error.  Government would gladly consent to ask staff to correct the spelling there, and ask them that in future make sure they double check before we circulate to Opposition.

 

Thank you for pointing out the error that staff made on that.

 

CHAIR: Based on that, the Member for St. Barbe, would you be willing to withdraw your motion? 

 

MR. J. BENNETT: I think it requires an actual amendment, does it not?  I certainly would defer it to a constitutional expert, but if we pass bills that are spelled wrong, what can it say about the administration of government? 

 

CHAIR: Order, please!

 

The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Mr. Chair, my understanding is that if there is consent of the House, we can simply have the typographical error fixed.  I am offering government's consent.  I am seeing the NDP offer their consent.  If the House Leader for the Liberal Party is in consent, I see no reason why we cannot fix a typographical error and not have to go to a constitutional expert for an opinion.

 

CHAIR: Order, please!

 

This is sort of a new area for me as Chair.  We are going to recess the House for a few minutes to consider the amendment that was put forward by the Member for St. Barbe.  It might only take us a couple of minutes, but I have to check with the officials.

 

Recess

 

CHAIR: Order, please!

 

I have considered the amendment that the Member for St. Barbe has put forward, and indeed the amendment is in order.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

CHAIR: However, in consultation, I have found out that a spelling or typographical error, Legislative Counsel has the authority to make those corrections without an amendment.  So, based on that knowledge, would the Member for St. Barbe like to withdraw the amendment?

 

MR. J. BENNETT: Yes, Mr. Chair.  I am not sure if I need the consent of my seconder or not.

 

MR. LANE: You have my consent.

 

MR. J. BENNETT: I have his consent, so yes it is withdrawn.

 

CHAIR: Okay.  Are there any further speakers?

 

The hon. the Minister of Finance.

 

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

Mr. Chair, I certainly appreciate the Member for St. Barbe pointing out that spelling error.  I am sure staff will very diligently and quickly correct that. 

 

Now I want to point out his error, Mr. Chair.  If he had gone on to read past the title he would have seen that the commencement is, “This Act is considered to have come into force on March 28, 2014.” 

 

On Budget day, in the Budget Speech itself, I did announce that the tax would come into effect for consumers that very night.  There was a press release and there was also a notification that went out to all retailers.  When he suggests that businesses will be on the hook because this bill is retroactive, that is an error, Mr. Chair.  That is incorrect. 

 

Businesses would not be on the hook.  Consumers have been paying for the increase since 12:01 o'clock midnight on March 28.  That is how tax bills work.  This is very commonplace and has been past practice.  That is how it has been for other tobacco tax increases in the past.  So, just to clarify that error on his part. 

 

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Leader of the Third Party.

 

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

 

I am happy to speak to this bill which is obviously a result of a decision in the Budget.  The Budget was to increase the taxation on cigarettes and tobacco – well tobacco in the form of cigarettes and loose tobacco.  It is an easy form of revenue, there is no doubt.  All governments regularly look at something like tobacco or alcohol as well, as places to increase revenue.

 

I have no problem with that, except the increasing of revenue is very often, in the case of tobacco, on the back of lower-income people among whom smoking rates are higher than people with higher incomes; which is a sign we really do need more programs to help people with the addiction of smoking, because smoking is a serious addiction.  It is not easy for people to get over it.

 

I do note that in our Budget this year, in the Budget of government, they did respond to requests that have been made for a number of years actually, by both the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Newfoundland and Labrador Lung Association, the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Health Association, and the Association of Registered Nurses, all of whom, over the years, have been asking government to cover help for low-income people with regard to smoking cessation. 

 

In the Budget, we do have supports for health and wellness in Budget 2014.  One of those is $712,000 to subsidize smoking cessation products for people living on low incomes.  That is good that there is help there for smoking cessation products, but I think we need more than just products to help people with smoking.  I think we also need programs that are part of preventative health.  This is something we are weak on in the Province, and that is with regard to preventative health programs, and a smoking cessation program is that.

 

In the Province at the moment – this was a figure from 2013 – we still have 87,000 smokers over the age of fifteen.  That means a percentage of the population over age fifteen, of that percentage, 20 per cent still smoke.  I would point out, we do not have statistics on it, but unfortunately I am afraid smoking starts even younger than age fifteen.  I do not know what the percentage is among children, but I think we really do need to be looking at smoking cessation programs and further education programs with regard to smoking.  Especially in the school system, because we still have smoking going on among younger people at a higher degree than among adults, and we need to be looking at that.

 

In the Province, too – this is something that has an economic side to it – the more we get people to stop smoking the more we are cutting back on health care costs.  Because, again, from 2013 health care costs in this Province, acute care hospitalizations between 2011 and 2012 attributable to smoking; there were 4,702 hospitalizations attributable to smoking in this Province in 2011 to 2012. 

 

The estimated health care cost attributable to tobacco use in 2006 – which is the latest figure I have – was $95 million.  Hospitalizations cost $68 million; prescription medicines $22 million; family physician visits $3 million; ambulance costs $2 million.  All part of costs attributable to illnesses, diseases, and hospitalizations directly related to smoking.

 

We know that tobacco use has been linked to virtually every major cause of death: heart disease, many types of cancers, lung diseases, and even Type 2 diabetes.  Some of these are links that we do not even think about.  The link with diabetes has been, over the last couple of years, a new one for me to know about.  Seventeen per cent of deaths in this Province are related to tobacco use.  We had an estimated 4,657 deaths in 2012; therefore, 792 deaths due to tobacco use.  This is the reality that we are dealing with.

 

So while I am really glad to see government putting money into helping low-income people with regard to the products that help with smoking cessation, we really need a lot more effort, as I said earlier, with regard to programs.  We need programs in our community clinics.  We need programs in schools with regard to education around smoking.  We need programs within the health care system with regard to cessation.

 

Again, I see money being put into something here by government, but I do not see a plan to deal with the issue.  So, money is being put in to help with the buying of products that will help with smoking cessation, but nothing in there to help with the program where the person is being supported by other people and supported within the health care system as they try to stop smoking.

 

The benefits of quitting smoking are documented.  One year after quitting, the risk of heart attack is cut in half.  Now, that is an amazing statistic.  One year after quitting, cut in half.  Fifteen years after quitting, the risk of heart attack is the same as a non-smoker.  So, stop smoking in your forties, because today many people are living into their eighties and nineties.  If you can get somebody to stop smoking in their thirties or in their forties, they are going to live the same length of life or have the chance of living the same length of life as a non-smoker.  This is worth going after.  Ten years after quitting, the risk of dying from lung cancer is cut in half.

 

We have so many reasons for really helping people to stop smoking.  As I said, there is more to that than just the use of different products that help with that.  We also need to have programs to help with that. 

 

I think it is important to know and to think about how serious this addiction is in terms of being an addiction in order to help us realize how important it is to have the programs.  We know that in 1998 the US Surgeon General concluded that nicotine is similar to the addiction to heroin or cocaine.  These are heavy, addictive drugs and nicotine is similar in terms of its power as an addiction to heroin or cocaine.  Less than 50 per cent of smokers are able to quit cold turkey.  Many of us know smokers, many of us have had smokers in our families and we know that there are very few who can do it. 

 

I am happy to say that my mother, who is now dead – she died when she was eighty-eight – in her forties, did stop cold turkey.  She had a will of iron and she did it.  That is not true for a lot of people, so we really do need to have sympathy for people who have become addicted.  When you think about the fact that many of the people who are addicted maybe started smoking when they were twelve, thirteen, or fourteen years old, it is really hard for them to be able to give it up.  We really have to be able to work with them. 

 

Also, smoking cessation therapies – that is not just the use of prescription drugs, but there are so many different kinds of therapies that do not even use drugs that the smoking cessation therapy can double or triple the likelihood of quitting.

 

We will have much healthier people if we can help people quit and we will have savings to our health care system if we help people quit.  I really encourage government to look at not just putting extra tax on cigarettes and tobacco because that is not going to stop smoking – that has been proven that it is not going to stop smoking – and not just to put money into supporting people in buying products that will help them, but also put programs into our health care system and encourage our health care system to develop programs so that people will really get the help to stop smoking.  It will be an economic benefit and it will be a benefit to our society. 

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to have a few minutes on this debate this afternoon.  A couple of matters that have come up that members have asked for some information on, I will use my time on this at this point in time to try and provide some of that information. 

 

The Member for Burgeo – La Poile has asked about new drugs that were announced in the Budget this year.  I can tell him that the process on those is proceeding well.  There is a process in place where the consideration of drugs, first of all, goes through one of the three expert review committees.  Once that takes place, there is also a process whereby there is price negotiation through the product listing agreements that takes place as well, so that a lower price can be achieved and best value can be achieved for the people of the Province.  It goes through that process.

 

It has been a streamlined process from what it used to be.  It takes a much shorter time, so we are hoping that in the not-too-distant future we can start announcing those drugs that are now added to the formulary.  I just wanted to let him know; I know he asked about that.  He has asked for specific information and until those processes are completed, we are not able to provide him with that specific information. 

 

Mr. Chair, as for the co-pay part of the questions here, I would just like to point out that the co-pay for a person to enter into a three-month process, you are right; there will be a $75 fee.  It can be broken down into – depending how the prescription occurs and a person picks up their prescriptions, but they will be required to pay $25 per one month prescription for a three-month period.  That is $6.25 a week, Mr. Chair.

 

One of the advantages of a co-pay approach is that it also encourages people to take what they are doing seriously.  So, instead of just frivolous picking up the phone, order your products and move on, you buy into the seriousness of making an effort to cease smoking and to quit smoking.  We have designed it so that it is shared responsibility so that people who intend to and want to make an effort to quit smoking, it will help ensure that that co-pay is part of their commitment into ensuring that they are successful.

 

As for the price and taxation on tobacco, we know the Canadian Medical Association indicated that by raising the price by 10 per cent that they believe the result of that is decreasing smoking by 5 per cent.  They have indicated that by increasing the price, there is a correlation to lowering the frequency of smoking and those who smoke.  The World Health Association had said that the most effective approach to spreading the control of tobacco is through policies to directly reduce demand.  They went on to say that the elevation of prices is the best option.  The World Health Association has also said by increasing the price and cost of tobacco products, it is the best way to reduce the use of smoking.

 

Mr. Chair, our program will roll out this fall.  It is a first-time program for this Province.  There are two drugs that will be made available.  Champix and Zyban will be available for individuals aged eighteen years old and older, who smoke and meet the eligibility requirements of the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program. 

 

Mr. Chair, we are working with stakeholders right now to finalize the details of how the program will exist and how the program will roll out.  I would like to point out as well that part of this roll out of the program will include the use of other stakeholders. 

 

We currently fund the Alliance for the Control of Tobacco $210,000 a year.  We also provide annual funding to the Newfoundland and Labrador Lung Association's provincial Smokers' Helpline at $225,000 a year.  It is interesting to point out that last year the helpline received 6,200 calls from Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and 1,024 of those calls were first-time callers.  We also know, through the Smokers' Helpline, that 600 health professionals currently refer individuals to the Smokers' Helpline. 

 

Part of the roll out of this cessation program is also to provide that information.  People who want to participate, members of the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program who want to participate in the program as well, we will be providing them with source information for them to find the supports through the Smokers' Helpline and encourage them to utilize that as well as a source.

 

This program and this project we are rolling out, Mr. Chair, there are several different models in Canada with a variety of nuances to them and details to them.  We fully intend to review the program as it rolls out and how it occurs, review the uptake, success and so on, and then quite willing to make changes and improvements to it as time goes on.  We should be always willing to do that.  We should always be willing to look at how programs are operating and functioning and to find, how can we improve them to make them better?

 

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MS DEMPSTER: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

Since we are debating Bill 12 in the House today, I really wanted to get on my feet for just a couple of minutes and raise an issue that I first became aware of when I was campaigning last spring.  Today we are discussing An Act to Amend the Revenue Administration Act No. 2 where we are going to see an increased tax on cigarettes and tobacco. 

 

I want to talk for a couple of minutes about something that happened with Budget 2013 that really, really hurt and badly hurt a number of businesses in my district, Mr. Chair.  There are some paramount things that we remember about Budget 2013, the 1,200 public servants who were laid off.  There was a lot of dialogue generated around that and a number of other things regarding the Budget. 

 

There was a policy in place where businesses that lived within one hour of the Quebec border, because the taxes in Quebec were cheaper, to give these businesses a competitive edge, Mr. Chair, these businesses would get a rebate.  I know government's rationale was that it cost them $3.4 million in revenue, but I am wondering was there – I believe it was a case once again where there was no analysis done.  There was no follow-up.  Quite possibly, Mr. Chair, it might have been revenue neutral had there been some study done into that. 

 

Businesses in remote areas do not get many breaks, I can tell you that.  They pay very high commercial rates.  One of these businesses that was hurt very badly from the cancellation of the rebate, Mr. Chair, he actually was a guy who wanted to do some experimenting with wind energy because he lived in a prime location for that, but because of Bill 61 that was passed, giving the monopoly on energy in the Province to Nalcor, he was forbidden to do that.

 

Mr. Chair, the cancellation of the rebate hurt the sales of those businesses overnight.  Because when people would drop in for a pack of cigarettes they were also gassing up, they were getting their groceries.  There were gas sales, grocery sales.  There were jobs that were impacted because of this.  With that, Mr. Chair, there are always a number of other things that you run in and get.  We often joke and talk about Costco is the place where you pay $200 for a dozen eggs, because you drop in for a dozen eggs but while you are there you pick up a number of other things, too.

 

It is very concerning in an area where you have small businesses that are working very hard to try and maintain their viability and sustain themselves, to have government turn around and cancel that rebate.  There were situations, Mr. Chair, where people from Quebec were actually crossing the border and they were coming into my district, many of them, they were buying their cigarettes there and they were buying other things while they were there.

 

So, once again, like something I am experiencing every weekend when I see people from Quebec on the flight going in and out of Muskrat Falls, while my own people cannot get work there, we see that Quebec was given an edge here again.  I just wanted to get up and speak for a couple of minutes because I still hear it.

 

Just recently when I was the district one of the businesses raised the issue with me of how the cancellation of this rebate has really had a detrimental effect on their small business.  That is very concerning, Mr. Chair, when government decides they are going to cancel something like that without any analysis and without any follow-up.

 

Thank you.

 

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

 

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

Again, I rise in my place on behalf of the people of St. John's East.  I wanted to give a bit of a personal experience here when you are talking about the monies here in the Budget to increase the price of tobacco.  I spoke about this last year.  It was a little bit of a different topic considering I have a lifetime experience with it, considering that I am a smoker.  I am still trying to kick the habit and it is hard, very hard.  I know we are hearing an awful lot here today about smoking cessation.  Mr. Chair, sometimes I wonder about even starting it at all and about the monies that are being put in on that end of it, in other words upfront. 

 

I had occasion, I guess about two weeks ago now, to attend a graduation of sorts for a great program.  It is called the DARE program, which is the Drug Abuse Resistance Education Program over at Mary Queen of Peace.  I have to congratulate over 100 young students from Grade 7, graduating from Mary Queen of Peace this year, who took that program.  It is a ten-week program, and Constable Nixon was a great instructor for that program over there.  I think the Minister of Health also knows him from his previous life.  The kids received some great instruction as regards why they should be staying away from drugs in the first place.  It was simply a great program. 

 

It was, like I said, a ten-week program.  This program has been ongoing now for – well, I guess in the context of educational programs, not very long in the history of time.  In 1983 it was started up by Daryl Gates who was the Chief of Police, I think it was in Los Angeles, a fairly famous name in some circles.  When it comes to the program being in this Province, I do not think it has been around very long at all.  It is still a young program.

 

I am not quite sure exactly how much government itself would actually invest into this particular program but the reason why I bring it up is because I would like to see this on the school curriculum everywhere in this Province and probably encompassing more grades than just Grade 7.  Even though it is a ten-week instructional program, I thought it was very neat.  I thought I would bring it up on that context, that if we also had the initiatives on the front end for government to be funding rather than just the effects of smoking afterwards.  It seems like we put more emphasis on the after-effects of being hooked, rather than putting more money upfront for not starting smoking at all. 

 

I wanted to bring up that point.  It is only a very small point, but somebody had sent me the short, quick note on this when I was talking.  They said it is not just about stopping; it should be more about not starting.

 

I would like to hear from the government on that to see if they have any money in the Budget particularly, or any money in this particular initiative as well, geared around not starting smoking.  It is a habit that gets you.  I am fifty-one years old here now.  I have been smoking pretty much since I was fourteen or fifteen years old.  I quit once or twice and always ended up back on them.  You do get hooked and it is a very hard thing to quit, but that is not to say that I am not stopping to try to quit or anything, Mr. Chair.

 

I just wanted to bring that up to government if they have any more funding initiatives geared around the money they are going to be collecting around this piece of legislation that would be geared towards not starting the habit in the first place.

 

Thank you very much.

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

 

MR. DAVIS: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

The hon. member opposite addresses a significant, very important program administered through certain schools in Newfoundland and Labrador, the DARE program, Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.  It is very good program for young students.  It is very effective, very well received by students who have participated in it as well.

 

Also, I just want to point out to him, because I did mention earlier that we also fund the Alliance for the Control of Tobacco, just over $200,000.  We also have annual funding for the Newfoundland and Labrador Lung Association's provincial Smokers' Helpline at $225,000, so that was a $435,000 annual expenditure in those two particular line areas.  Now, with the adding of $712,000 this year for the smoking cessation program, that brings it up to over $1.1 million in smoking.

 

We also have school-based anti-tobacco programs through Healthy Students Healthy Schools program.  We also have funding through the provincial wellness fund community program that supports living smoke free.  So there are a number of other programs that are available, not just for people who have started smoking and now have a desire to stop smoking but also to prevent it in the first place.

 

As well, there are a number of things that are done – as I was sitting here listening to the debate this afternoon – through the Province and through legislation and policy development that also helps to curb smoking, such as how far you must be from buildings and health facilities before you can smoke.  It makes it less convenient for people to smoke. 

 

Just to remind members in the House as well, that we make significant investments through healthy communities, healthy aging, and those types of programs, which all in many ways support not smoking, living a healthy lifestyle, which includes many facets of our life including diet, exercise, so on and so forth. 

 

I just want to remind the members opposite of those as well.  The member opposite is correct that once a person begins to smoke, starts smoking, it can be very challenging to stop smoking.  There is great value in preventing a person or encouraging people not to smoke in the first place. 

 

CHAIR: Shall the resolution carry? 

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye. 

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried. 

 

On motion, resolution carried.

 

A bill, “An Act To Amend The Revenue Administration Act No. 2”.  (Bill 12)

 

CLERK: Clause 1. 

 

CHAIR: Shall clause 1 carry? 

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried. 

 

On motion, clause 1 carried. 

 

CLERK: Clause 2. 

 

CHAIR: Shall clause 2 carry? 

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried. 

 

On motion, clause 2 carried 

 

CLERK: Be it enacted by the Lieutenant Governor and House of Assembly in Legislative Session convened, as follows. 

 

CHAIR: Shall the enacting clause carry? 

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried. 

 

On motion, enacting clause carried. 

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Revenue Administration Act No.2. 

 

CHAIR: Shall the long title carry? 

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried. 

 

On motion, the long title carried.

 

Motion, that the Committee report having passed the resolution and a bill consequent thereto, carried.

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board that the Committee rise and report the resolution and Bill 12. 

 

CHAIR: The motion is that the Committee rise, report the resolution and Bill 12. 

 

Is it the pleasure of the Committee to adopt the motion? 

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried. 

 

On motion, that the Committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again, Mr. Speaker returned to the Chair.

 

MR. SPEAKER (Wiseman): Order, please!

 

The hon. the Member for the District of Lewisporte.

 

MR. VERGE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Mr. Speaker, the Committee of Ways and Means have considered the matters to them referred and have directed me to report that they have adopted a certain resolution and recommend that a bill be introduced to give effect to the same.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair of the Committee of Ways and Means reports that the Committee have considered the matters to them referred and have adopted a certain resolution and recommend that a bill be introduced to give effect to the same.

 

When shall the report be received?

 

MR. KING: Now.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Now.

 

On motion, report received and adopted.

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board, that the resolution be now read the first time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that this resolution be now read a first time.

 

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

CLERK: Be it resolved by the House of Assembly in Legislative session convened as follows: “That it is expedient to bring in a measure respecting the imposition of taxes on tobacco.”

 

On motion, resolution read a first time.

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Once again I move, seconded by the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board, that the resolution be now read a second time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that this resolution be now read a second time.

 

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

CLERK: Be it resolved by the House of Assembly in Legislative session convened as follows: “That it is expedient to bring in a measure respecting the imposition of taxes on tobacco.”

 

On motion, resolution read a second time.

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board, for leave to introduce Bill 12, An Act To Amend The Revenue Administration Act No. 2, and that the said bill be now read a first time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the hon. Minister of Finance shall have leave to introduce Bill 12, and that the said bill be now read a first time.

 

Is it the pleasure of the House that the hon. minister shall have leave to introduce Bill 12 and that the said bill be now read a first time?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board to introduce a bill, “An Act To Amend The Revenue Administration Act No. 2”, carried.  (Bill 12)

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Revenue Administration Act No. 2.  (Bill 12)

 

On motion, Bill 12 read a first time.

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board, that Bill 12, An Act To Amend The Revenue Administration Act No. 2, be now read a second time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the said bill be now read a second time.

 

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Revenue Administration Act No. 2.  (Bill 12)

 

On motion, Bill 12 read a second time.

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board, that Bill 12, An Act To Amend The Revenue Administration Act No. 2, be now read a third time.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 12 be now read a third time.

 

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Revenue Administration Act No. 2.  (Bill 12)

 

MR. SPEAKER: This bill has now been read a third time and it is ordered that the bill do pass and its title be as on the Order Paper.

 

On motion, a bill, “An Act To Amend The Revenue Administration Act No. 2”, read a third time, ordered passed and its title be as on the Order Paper.  (Bill 12)

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

With the consent of my colleagues across the way, we will take a short recess until about 6:15 p.m., about a forty-five minute recess.

 

MR. SPEAKER: This House now stands recessed.


 

June 3, 2014                   HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS                     Vol. XLVII No. 37A


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

 

MR. SPEAKER (Wiseman): Order, please!

 

The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

At this time I call from the Order Paper, Order 4, second reading of a bill, An Act To Amend The Mineral Act, Bill 15.

 

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

 

MR. DALLEY: I move the bill, Mr. Speaker, and certainly it is seconded by the hon. the Minister of Education. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 15, An Act To Amend The Mineral Act, be now read the second time.

 

Motion, second reading of a bill, “An Act To Amend The Mineral Act”.  (Bill 15)

 

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

 

MR. DALLEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

It is certainly a pleasure to stand this evening and have some discussion about an amendment, Mr. Speaker, An Act to Amend the Mineral Act and regulations.  It is a piece of work here that we want to do. 

 

Essentially, the spirit of what we are doing here today is trying to encourage more exploration, encouraging companies to explore more, and creating opportunities perhaps for more land to become available for prospectors.  We all know the significant impact of the mining industry in this Province.  There is tremendous prospectivity in this Province.  There are tremendous things happening in the Province around mining. 

 

Collectively, and in discussions with industry, and considering the impact of the mining industry, particularly around exploration, what it will have on jobs and opportunity and again, particularly in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, it is important that we do all we can to help facilitate, promote, and encourage exploration, Mr. Speaker.  Essentially that is what we are about to do with this particular act this evening. 

 

The Mineral Act, Mr. Speaker, was proclaimed in 1976, so it has been around for some time and it applies to surface rights.  It does not apply to quarries, petroleum, water, and subsurface rights; so, when we are going to do some mining, what is in the ground basically. 

 

There are two aspects of this act, Mr. Speaker.  One is the mineral exploration licence.  That provides an exclusive right to explore for minerals, to go out and look around, scratch the surface.  Prospectors go out and do some work.  It is very, very important to the mining industry in the Province.  They would go out and do some work, explore, and see what is out there.  To get an exploration licence currently under the act you get a five-year term, but it can be held for up to twenty years, renewable every five years. 

 

The second part, Mr. Speaker, is a mineral lease.  Once you have obtained a mineral exploration licence and you have made some sort of discovery, the mining lease provides you the right to remove the minerals, which you can actually develop into a mine.  The licence holder can demonstrate that there is the existence of a viable economic resource, make application, and then be granted a mining lease.  These leases are issued for a period of twenty-five years and can be renewed every ten years subsequently.

 

Mr. Speaker, I will give a slight overview of what the current legislation is, and then I will speak about the changes that we are proposing this evening.  The current legislation, particularly around the mineral exploration licence – and, again, that is to explore, not to develop the mine but to explore and see if there is anything available there, if there is any resource there that we can develop into a mine. 

 

Mr. Speaker, currently you can hold the exploration licence for a twenty-year term, and the maximum size of the licence would involve 256 claims.  The claims are 500 metres by 500 metres.  Within that one licence a company could hold up to 256 claims.  These claims are renewed every five years.  Each time you renew, there are fees attached.  Initially, after five years it is $25, then it goes to $50, and then it goes to $100.  Per each claim, each of the potential 256 claims per licence, you would have to pay a fee.  Each year as you move towards the twenty years you pay a little more money.

 

Mr. Speaker, the incentive, what drives that is for companies to ensure that they are doing a piece of work.  It is going to cost you money just to sit on the land.  We want the land explored.  We want new discoveries found.  We want new opportunities created. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the current legislation also allows the licences to be grouped.  You can have more than one licence, adjacent licences.  You can group them together; you can split them.  The reason they do that, and it is permitted under the current legislation, is that each year in addition to your cost for your exploration licence, you also have to pay per claim.  What the commitment is then from anybody who is holding a claim within the Province, you have to spend a certain amount of money on exploration.  You do not pay the money to government.  Essentially what you do is you go out and spend money on exploration. 

 

Then each year you have to pay – basically you have to do enough exploration to take you up to a certain amount of money.  In year one of five it is $200 per claim with it increasing $50 a year.  In years six to ten it goes to $600 right up to year twenty, Mr. Speaker, where if you are company and you are holding claims, land in this Province, you have to pay up to $1,200 a year per claim.  You do not pay that to government, but you pay it out in exploration.

 

The idea, the spirit, and the intent of the act, what it is built around here are the regulations that provide opportunity for exploration but encourage companies to get on with their work, get out there and find some discoveries.  All of this we recognize, particularly in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, creates jobs and creates opportunity.  As well, it drives the economy out in these regions and provides some open opportunity. 

 

The current legislation: twenty years, 256 claims in a licence, there are fees per claim, Mr. Speaker, to renew them, but each year you have to spend a certain amount on exploration.  As well, companies sometimes want to spend money on exploration in a certain area of the licence.  They may just take one claim within the licence and spend an entire chunk of money on that, Mr. Speaker.  If they spend in excess of what is required, then we will allow them to carry that over up to nine years. 

 

That is the existing legislation, Mr. Speaker.  I want to say this evening that we are not changing the existing legislation, we are adding to it.  Whatever is in place for up to twenty years is going to stay in place.  Prospectors, junior mining companies, larger companies, all that is laid out in the act right now will stay there, Mr. Speaker.  What we have done is made some changes.  What we found, and the feedback we have had from industry at the end of a twenty-year life and a twenty-year limit of their exploration licence, is that it is discouraging exploration over the full term of their licence. 

 

As many would know involved in the mining industry, that it is a long process from an exploration to junior mining companies buying into and spending more money on exploration and then to get it developed into a full mine.  It takes years and years of work, Mr. Speaker. 

 

What they are finding, particularly because of the cyclical nature of the mining industry around commodity prices and the ups and downs, there are periods of time where it is very difficult to attract investment and financing.  It is difficult to attract junior companies to come in and do some work.  They find it difficult to attract financing, Mr. Speaker.  As well, ultimately the prospectors will find it more difficult to attract a junior mining company to have interest in what they have found. 

 

There are some challenges at the end of the set term of twenty years, again, due to the cyclical nature, Mr. Speaker.  As well, when we look at other jurisdictions, many of them have different time frames and certainly unlimited time frames as well.  These are some of the other things that have been brought to our attention, Mr. Speaker, and in speaking with industry. 

 

As a result, we want to take a look at some challenges, take a look at some of the changes and recognizing that many of our current exploration licence holders are due to expire.  They have gone through their twenty years.  They are expiring.  They want to continue with some investments.  Some of them remain optimistic that there is opportunity there, so they want to hold on to these properties as well. 

 

Again, the spirit of what we are trying to do here is to find some balance within the industry, certainly to encourage companies to continue with investment.  At the same time to obviously indicate to industry, we want you to spend your money on exploration but if you are not, then you are going to have to turn the land over.  We do not want warehousing of land. 

 

We want land available for prospectors.  We want them to get out there and do their work.  They are a great group in the Province, Mr. Speaker, about 325 of them, and obviously they do some significant work.  Some of the first steps in the basis of mines in this Province started with prospectors going out and doing their work. 

 

So, Mr. Speaker, to find that balance we did some consultations throughout this in terms of surveys under mineral licence.  We have talked to the companies.  We have talked to prospectors on feedback, Mr. Speaker.  Even as we have developed this through, we have stayed engaged in terms of finding a balance here with this act. 

 

We have also done Aboriginal consultations, Mr. Speaker, on the amendments.  It is taking a little more time, but it is certainly a very worthwhile exercise as well.  We value their input.

 

What we are proposing, Mr. Speaker, in this act – the current guidelines, regulations, and expectations of the act will stay in place for up to twenty years, but we are going to extend it from twenty years to thirty years.  We will add an additional ten years, Mr. Speaker, in terms of providing opportunity for companies to explore their current land claims, but in doing that, we are not about to allow them to just hold the land without any expectation or increased expectation that they would invest and spend money in exploration.

 

What we have done is, we have increased the annual expenditure requirements.  From years twenty-one to twenty-five it will be $2,000 per claim, and years twenty-six to thirty it will be $2,500 per claim.  Mr. Speaker, some may see that number as high, but the reality is, if you want to get the exploration done, if you do not want to spend these higher fees, then spend them during the twenty years in which the fees are much lower.  That is an incentive here to encourage exploration, get more money spent, and go out and find some new discoveries.

 

As well, we have decreased the licence size from 256 claims down to 100.  That will require them to spread out their exploration money even more.  As well, we have built in frequent renewals and increased fees so that each year, after twenty years, companies will need to pay $200 per claim, or anyone who is holding a claim in the Province will have to pay $200 per claim after twenty years.  Again, Mr. Speaker, it is to incentivise the whole process to get out and explore and put your money into exploration and try and create new opportunities for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

We are also prohibiting some of the grouping of the claims, Mr. Speaker, so that you cannot hold up an entire land mass in 256 claims but just do exploration in one small area.  We are going to prevent the grouping so that after twenty years you have to start moving out.  You have to start using up and getting out there actively pursuing to see if there are any discoveries to be made out in your claims.

 

As well, Mr. Speaker, one piece in the old legislation is that if you spent more than was required you could carry your investment of exploration over for nine years.  After twenty years, Mr. Speaker, we are limiting that to five years.  We have tightened it up; we have increased the expectation for spending on exploration. 

 

The spirit of what we are doing here today is to encourage more exploration.  We want whether to explore and to create opportunities, or we want the land turned over so we can avoid the warehousing and holding of land, and from there to offer obviously more opportunities for our prospectors to get out on the ground and do their work.

 

Mr. Speaker, the benefits of what we are doing here today basically provides additional time, whether it is for currently operating companies or companies that have made some late discoveries, an opportunity to delineate and develop their resources.  We believe it is going to promote and increase mineral exploration activity and mining developments within the Province. 

 

We believe the time frames in which we have built in here will allow companies time to get through the cyclical nature of this industry and an opportunity to raise some funds.  We will move closer in line with other Canadian jurisdictions.  Hopefully more land is going to become available for claim staking which helps drive the economy, particularly the impact that this will have on the rural areas becomes increasingly more and more important.

 

That is the first piece, Mr. Speaker. The second piece to the changes in the act is more of a housekeeping piece, but there are a couple of things that we need to do.  Back in 2008 an amendment was made to the act.  At that time the requirements changed to move from an exploration licence into a mining lease, to move from the exploration to be able to get an application.  A mining lease allows you to hold the land for twenty-five years and ten years subsequent after that. 

 

The requirements prior to that, Mr. Speaker, were less restrictive.  In working with the industry we took a look at that.  The requirements changed in 2008.  It basically said that if you are going to move from an exploration licence to a mining lease, in 2008 it was determined that in order to do that you have to demonstrate that you have found something that is of economic benefit, an economically viable resource.  If you had done so, then you could make application and prove that.  When the analysis is done you would get a mining lease which allows you to hold the land, then, for a twenty-five-year period. 

 

That was put in place in 2008, Mr. Speaker, but what we need to do now - back into the act of housekeeping, at the time this was put in, the act is not clear as to what happens to those prior to 2008.  We know from 2008 onward, anybody applying for a mining lease would have to prove the economic viability, but prior to that, Mr. Speaker, they were not under the same expectations. 

 

Basically, what we want to do here is make some changes to clarify the act to ensure that anybody coming forward looking for a mining lease would have an obligation to demonstrate the existence of a mineral resource that is sufficient in size and quality to be potentially economic.  In fixing the language here, Mr. Speaker, it will be clear to all of those who currently possess a mining lease and looking to come back for renewals. 

 

Secondly, Mr. Speaker, the housekeeping piece; again, to clarify the language here, it was put in, in 2008 but we want to clarify the obligation of anybody who is owning a mining lease, they would have to ensure that they submit a written application for renewal no later than three months prior to the expiration of the original lease or the extension.  Whether you are on the original or you have an extension, if you want to continue with that you have to submit it three months prior to its expiration.  At the same time, if you are looking for a new mineral lease you would now have to demonstrate the economic viabilities. 

 

Mr. Speaker, this is a couple of changes that we need to make to the act.  Mining, obviously, is a tremendous industry in this Province with tremendous potential, tremendous prospective, Mr. Speaker.  We have a long history of mining.  There are tremendous things happening in this Province, both here on the Island and certainly in Labrador as well when we look at opportunities with Alderon, recent agreements with the Julienne Lake alliance, and other discussions with some large companies. 

 

It is a tough industry, Mr. Speaker, but I have to tell you, my experience with these people is they are very committed to it, they are very passionate.  I know for the prospectors, everybody is looking for the next Voisey's Bay, and that is exactly what we want in this Province, Mr. Speaker. 

 

With that, Mr. Speaker, that is the spirit of the changes we want to make to the act and I certainly look forward to the comments from others in the House. 

 

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

 

MR. BALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I will just take a few minutes to speak to Bill 15.  Before I begin, yesterday we had a briefing session on this with the Department of Natural Resources.  I want to thank the staff for the job they did yesterday in educating us and answering the questions we had in the time that we spent with them yesterday, questions around the bill to amend the Mineral Act.

 

This is an act, as the minister said, that has been in place now since 1976.  I think the minister did a good job in explaining what the objective is here.  It is an extension of the current legislation. 

 

We have reached out today and have had discussions with some people involved in the industry and agree with the comments that were made yesterday in the briefing session.  Most people are in favour of this.  What it is, of course, the whole objective here is to make it a little easier for people to get in a position where a mining lease or an exploration lease would become a viable mine and a huge contributor to the Province's economy. 

 

As we know, I think it has been previously mentioned here, we have seen $3.7 billion last year in 2013 and $3.8 billion in 2012.  When you look at numbers like this it is certainly a significant contributor to the economy of the Province, and indeed, in creating employment especially in Labrador right now and other areas of the Province. 

 

I will say, this weekend coming I understand there will be a mining conference in Baie Verte where some of the people who will be affected by this will be there.  They will be networking and communicating with each other.  I believe the minister will be there speaking on Friday night.  I certainly intend to be there myself on Friday night to meet with many of those groups as I have in the past. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I think the extension of a ten-year period beyond – which is really a twenty-year extension period that we see already.  So this is an additional period.  Coming with that are certain conditions that will be put on mining companies to make sure they are put into a position where they become a sustainable and viable mining operation, therefore creating benefits to the Province as a whole.  I understand, I have seen bits of this even in my own district where we have seen junior mining companies or prospectors come in, and they are excited, of course, and eager to find, as the minister said, that next Voisey's Bay; yet, twenty years in this business can go pretty quickly. 

 

Just last night in speaking to the Budget, I brought up how volatile the iron ore pricing has been for many, many decades now in the Province.  Back in the 1970s it was in the $10 or $11 range, yet we have seen in recent years where that commodity in itself has now become of substantial value.  Seeing where we are getting mining interests in Labrador West with the new Kami mine, of course, there will be many benefits that will come to the Province as a result of that.

 

What it speaks to is that twenty years in this business can go by pretty quickly and sometimes we have seen the challenges that junior mining companies have had to deal with trying to get to a sustainable mine.  This legislation I believe takes the twenty-year term, what we have right now, extends that an extra ten years because just getting capital and getting financing in place, putting the company in a position where it can become part of a larger group of companies that can share and develop the resource.  We have seen that happen in the past in our Province. 

 

Right now, as the minister said, there is a maximum of 256 claims on a licence.  Going from year twenty to year thirty, this will go down to 100 claims.  It will take more of a commitment from those companies to spend more money to make sure those claims are kept in place and therefore preventing people from just land banking and staking out areas of the Province. 

 

One of the things we found out yesterday in the briefing session was that half the Province right now is staked out or there is a claim on about half the Province.  The question was, what about the other areas?  You have to take out the watershed areas and some other parts of the Province that is really just not fit or not suitable to develop a mine. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the other thing I would just draw attention to is the size of the claim.  I was surprised with this yesterday because I asked.  When you look at a company that could potentially have 256 claims as part of their inventory, how big is a claim?  The answer was it is 500 metres by 500 metres.  When you think about it, that is not a very big parcel of land when you are going out into an area and you are exploring and hoping to find something when you look at the size of the Province.  With a claim of 500 metres by 500 metres, let's say you need to have a lot of luck I would say when you go out and you want to find that body of ore which will eventually become a sustainable mine.

 

Mr. Speaker, I will say this is a piece of legislation that we will be supporting.  There are ten companies right now.  One of the other questions that was answered yesterday is we have ten companies at thirty-seven licences that are set to expire over the next five years.  This is a retroactive piece of legislation I believe, going back into March of this year.  There will be restrictions put on those mining companies.  They will be required to do more work and keep the claims active.  Therefore, it will become more expensive for those mining companies to keep the claims active.  We wish them certainly all the best.  We hope that many of those claims right now will become viable mines in the future.

 

Mr. Speaker, for me right now there is not a whole lot as we move from this particular piece of the legislation and move into Committee at some later date, and then if there are some questions that we would have of the minister, I am sure he would be more than willing to get involved with that. 

 

One other note is that we have been asked some questions around the Voisey's Bay area, what would happen in that particular area.  That area right now, once it expires, cannot be reclaimed and re-staked because of the Aboriginal community which obviously are directly involved in it, that being two groups: the Labrador Inuit Settlement Area, and the Labrador Inuit development area.  These will not come up for re-staking once the licences expire.  What will happen here is once you have come from the exploration piece, of course, the objective is to get this into a mining lease where you would see the significant investment, and therefore the benefits to the Province. 

 

Mr. Speaker, it is not my intention to belabour the discussion on this piece of legislation tonight, Bill 15.  It is something that we, as the Official Opposition, will be supporting.  We have talked to a number of groups, a number of prospectors involved in this as well.  There is support for this piece of legislation in the Province.  We see this as an enhancement.  We have compared it to other jurisdictions across the country.  It seemed to be a reasonable balance on what we saw when you compare it. 

 

This is a piece of legislation that we will be supporting.  We look forward to actually more exploration in the Province and indeed more viable mines in our Province, creating economic benefits and employment for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. 

 

With that said, Mr. Speaker, I will take my seat right now.  I look forward to the debate continuing. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the member for Happy Valley-Goose Bay. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. RUSSELL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I love the way that sounds.  It is a pleasure again to rise in this hon. House, Mr. Speaker, and speak to an Act to Amend the Mineral Act and regulations.  As I always do when I rise in my place, I want to give a shout of thanks out to the great people of the District of Lake Melville who always are there to support me, back me, and have faith in me to get the job done for those people.

 

I have just a few comments and I will be brief as well, because ultimately we are all going to be in this House, I think, supporting this small amendment to the legislation, Mr. Speaker.  It is about encouraging exploration and leading to new discoveries, which in turn drive our economy.  It starts to create jobs and opportunities for the people of the Province. 

 

As a native Labradorian, Mr. Speaker, I will tell you this: when we look at the people who are employed by Voisey's Bay, Wabush Mines, IOC, I have seen lives changed by the opportunities that present themselves with those types of developments.  I have seen Aboriginal people become skilled.  I have seen their families develop a higher quality of life because of those wages that are associated with said work. 

 

With that, Mr. Speaker, of course it has already been said here, perhaps by the Leader of the Opposition, or our own minister too, in terms of how big mining and the mining sector is in terms of being a major contributor to the GDP.  In 2014 it is to be near $3.8 billion.  That cannot be understated and that trend is definitely going to continue.  That represents about 9 per cent for GDP overall.  The majority of that comes from Labrador. 

 

If you want to talk about employment, as I just said, in terms of the mining industry, in 2013 there were 3,000 person years.  In 2014 that is going to increase to about 3,700; the gross value of all of that, Mr. Speaker, being around $3.4 billion.  That trend will continue into 2014-2015. 

 

We have had some little setbacks; we have had some new discoveries.  Mr. Speaker, at the Scully Mine in Wabush, we have seen some people displaced.  Our government was there; we were on the ball.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I remind the member that this is an amending bill very specifically around a piece of legislation. 

 

MR. RUSSELL: Sure.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is not a broad bill with respect to the value of the mining industry which might have been the subject matter of the original act when it was passed.  I would ask the member to confine his comments very specifically to the amendments at hand covered off in this bill. 

 

MR. RUSSELL: Absolutely, Mr. Speaker.

 

I will be very brief in mentioning some of the other projects.  I just want to say the changes that we are making are very progressive.  Very modern legislation is what we want to call this.  What it is saying is that we want to encourage the exploration; we want to see people get finds, Mr. Speaker. 

 

In Labrador we have heard stories about the old hunters and trappers who would go out and chip off a piece of copper right off the ground, Mr. Speaker.  This is what we are talking about.  We are talking about seeing those prospectors develop into junior mining companies, and then, of course, raise their capital and be able to pay the new monies required in order to keep their estate claims, and then see them eventually develop a full mining operation which will lead to employment.

 

One thing I wanted to reinforce was the position of government in terms of Aboriginal consultation too, Mr. Speaker.  It is an older piece of legislation.  In making these progressive changes we have consulted with the Nunatsiavut Government.  When you look at some of the projects that are coming up in Labrador, like the Petmin group that are looking to go in near Happy Valley-Goose Bay and make some pig iron out of that stuff, they are going to be consulting and they have consulted with Aboriginal groups as well.

 

Mr. Speaker, we have seen Aurora, a junior company, develop into Paladin Energy.  What we have seen is consultation with the Aboriginal governments, the same as our government does here, where they go in and start talking about infrastructure and the requirements.  Now we start talking about roads, we start talking about power, and we start talking about all those good things which give a chance to enhance the neighbouring communities as well.  If we talk about the way the licensing works – and of course what we want to see is those people go from prospecting to actually get into having the ability to actually mine and develop that project. 

 

I can see that a lot of people want to get up and speak to this tonight so I am just going to say this one last parting comment if you will, Mr. Speaker.  It is very progressive what we are doing here.  We are doing it so that we can further opportunities for people of this great Province.  We are doing that in consultation with Aboriginal groups, and we are doing it in the best interest of all the people of the Province.

 

Consultations have happened at all levels with the people who are interested in mining and with the governments and Aboriginal peoples adjacent to these finds, Mr. Speaker.  I tell you what: it is very, very bright in terms of our future when it comes to the opportunities. 

 

This legislation and these amendments will help spur on and help generate this activity in our Province.  I am going to be in full support of this.  I am glad to hear from across the way that we are also going to have the support of the other members in this hon. House.

 

With that I will take my place, Mr. Speaker.

 

Thank you very much.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of St. Barbe.

 

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

 

I, too, am happy to speak in support of this bill.  I have taken an interest in mining, coming from a community that was a mining town and a region that could really use a mine.  The one thing that we really need in the Great Northern Peninsula is a mine. 

 

I have gone through the bill and I cannot find anything wrong with it. If I could find anything wrong with it I am sure I would mention it.  I have even checked the spelling and the math. 

 

Mr. Speaker, this is a useful bill because it helps streamline the process to get from when you have a mineral sample that has some degree of minerals in it that is worthwhile, to get yourself to the production stage.  It extends the time.  For this particular bill twenty years would have been available before, but now the extension provides an incentive for people to continue to develop what they would consider to be a potentially producing property from one that might be non-producing.

 

Mr. Speaker, in the area that I come from north of Gros Morne National Park, it is approximately twice as big as Prince Edward Island.  It is practically all rock, trees, bog, and water.  There has to be a mine there and there is no mine there today that is operating; however, there was a time when we had prospectors, and we do not have many prospectors any more. 

 

This type of legislation is an incentive to help people who have had a find.  They can go prospecting tomorrow or they may be attending the course in Stephenville this week where they can learn the prospecting craft.  That is also sponsored by the government.  If they find something they can send it to Springdale to Eastern Analytical and have it analyzed for roughly around $30.  They can stake their claim and, as my leader said, a claim is approximately a half of a square kilometre.  They can stake the claim electronically today.  They do not have to run around and drive stakes in the ground and do all that sort of thing; they can stake a claim electronically.

 

Now they have a situation where they need to do some sort of exploration.  The government has programs available to assist in mining.  I am sort of mystified that the minister or somebody has not promoted it more so; because if a person has a find, they can do an application to the Province and they can receive funding.  That funding will give them up to $6,000.  That way they can develop the mining prospect that they have discovered.  After the $6,000 program, they can further go into another program to further explore and further develop the land.

 

Why I am saying this is if somebody is going to commit a lot of time and effort, a lot of their own resources, they want to know that if it pans out, so to speak, they are going to be able to hang on to the lease, they are going to be able to hang on to that license and be able to develop it, and then maybe develop a mine in their own right or in partnership with others.

 

If they are not interested in it, clearly it should revert to the Province.  Maybe somebody discovered zinc and it was not enough, and a little later on somebody might be able to discover tin or silver or whatever.  It is important from the Province's point of view that the land be explored and developed and not horded, not stockpiled.

 

It is also important from the prospectors and the small exploration company that they be able to not risk too much if they are investing time and money into developing their mining prospect.  They want to be able to renew for the five years, then another five years, and then another five years.  After twenty years they can now renew annually for up to the end of thirty years.  This gives them some more measure of security.  If they have invested time, money, and effort into something that looks pretty good, they are going to be able to hang on to it for longer and develop it.  It also keeps in place for the Province an opportunity that the land would revert to somebody else to be able to prospect and go over the land.

 

Mr. Speaker, this is a useful piece of legislation.  It helps further the opportunities for mining in our Province.  I think the opportunities for mining are really, at this point, undiscovered.  We have had so little exploration in our Province compared to other regions that it is mindboggling, maybe because we have had, and still have, many other resources.  I think it is important that we develop our natural resources on land, and mining clearly is one.  I think this act furthers that interest. 

 

Those are my comments, Mr. Speaker.  I am happy to support the bill. 

 

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

 

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

We were looking at each other, wondering who was going to take the turn.  Thank you for recognizing me. 

 

I am happy to stand and speak to Bill 15, An Act to Amend the Mineral Act.  It is not a complicated amendment that we are dealing with here for sure.  The minister did a great job in explaining the bill that we are dealing with.  It is obviously something that we will vote for, because I think it is a needed amendment and, as I understand it, an amendment that is supported by the junior mining companies. 

 

I do not know a lot about mining, but I actually learned a fair bit when I was on the Voisey's Bay Environmental Assessment Panel back in the late 1990s.  One of the things that I learned was the amount of prospecting that was going on here in Newfoundland and Labrador.  I realized it was quite a bit. 

 

I guess I had an old fashioned notion of prospectors and what it was like with the gold rush out in the North, and some ideas of large companies with mines.  I had lived in two mining towns in the Province over the years, Baie Verte and St. Lawrence, so I certainly had a notion of the mines and the large companies.  I had really not much of a clue with regard to the degree of prospecting that goes on in the Province. 

 

I learned the role of junior companies.  They play a very important role in the whole mining field because they are really the ones who do the exploration.  They are the ones who are on the ground in the early stages.  They are the ones who are making the discoveries, finding the ores. 

 

Looking at their role is extremely important for the whole mining industry.  What is good for the junior exploration companies, I suggest, is good for the larger companies that eventually come in and pay for what these junior companies have found. 

 

These prospectors do put a lot of work and a lot of time in looking for finds, looking for something that is going to be worthwhile for a large mining company. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

MS MICHAEL: It does take time for them to search.  I think this act, or this bill that we are talking about tonight that will amend the act, is recognizing that.  It is recognizing that the junior companies need time, that discoveries can come as late as fifteen years down the road.  Our current act recognizes twenty years of maybe allowing junior companies to hold land tenures so that they can continue their exploration.  What this is recognizing is even twenty years is maybe not long enough. 

 

What we have with this bill are mechanisms that will allow a junior company to hold a claim going right through to thirty years.  We have the rules and the regulations with regard to how they renew their claims.  It is just not a given; they have to renew and they have to pay for that renewal.  One of the things that does is it also recognizes the fact that if they did not have to pay for renewal, if they only could hold something for thirty years, there may not be an incentive to be looking. 

 

As the minister said – the language he used and it was the language that was used in the briefing that our office received – you cannot have the junior mining companies warehousing land.  We cannot allow junior companies to be sitting on land that they actually are not prospecting, that they actually are not doing any exploration on.

 

The thing that this bill is doing is making sure that the junior companies understand they cannot do that warehousing.  If they are going to continue, they have to renew their leases and they have to continue exploration.  They can also – if they do not want to keep the land and they want to give up – revert the claims to the Crown.  That is one of the things they can do. 

 

When they feel they do not want to keep it any longer, they can sell their claim.  That has to be approved by the minister.  They can pay fees and continue exploration, and that is what this bill is about, and they can revert the claims to the Crown.  They have options.  This bill is helping them with those options.

 

It is the hope of the ministry I understand again from the briefing, that this will encourage more exploration activity.  I would hope that such is the case.  There is no doubt that mining is a lucrative industry in our Province.  Mining revenues currently are about $3.7 billion for the companies.  I personally would like to see how we could get more royalties from the large companies because I think that we should be getting more for the land, but that is not the issue with the junior companies.  I am talking about once we are into production and the huge multi-national corporations, for the most part, that are running the major operations in our Province. 

 

When it comes to the juniors, the large companies need them.  They do not want to be into the exploration.  That is not what they want.  They want junior companies that are out there doing the work, and junior companies want to have their work recognized.  Part of that is the recognition that it takes time to make the find, there is no doubt about that.  I have met some people who are prospectors and do the exploration.  I think it takes a certain kind of personality too, to be involved in this whole field. 

 

I am not going to belabour the issue, Mr. Speaker, because I think it is pretty straightforward.  The one thing that I would say to the government is that as we continue supporting the mining industry, which we should do, and as we continue regulating that industry, and as we continue helping with growth in that industry, we need, at the same time, to be making sure our concerns around environmental use and environmental degradation which can happen to the land, is something we are also working on at the same time and not just turning everything over to an industry like the mining industry.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I ask the member to make her comments relevant to the bill, please. 

 

MS MICHAEL: Yes, sure, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Having said that, I think that is some substance of the points that I want to make. 

 

Thank you very much. 

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. FORSEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I think we sort of got our signs mixed up there, myself and the Leader of the Third Party, for a minute there, Mr. Speaker, but we have that straightened out. 

 

It is certainly a pleasure to take a couple of minutes to speak on the amendment to the Mineral Act, Bill 15.  It is fairly clear and straightforward.  It seems like the speakers so far are in favour of the amendment. 

 

Basically, there are two things here.  It will “allow a mineral licence to be extended for an additional 10 year period beyond the 20 year extension period and prescribe requirements for licence holders who retain licences during that additional period; and amend the requirements for renewing a mining lease.”

 

In listening to the minister, he certainly had an explanation in good detail on the exploration licence and also on the mining lease.  This is important to the Province, and I do not have to look very far, Mr. Speaker.  Out in Central Newfoundland there is a lot of exploration on the go in Central, in the Buchans area right on down through the Exploits Valley.  So we want to keep that going.  We want to encourage the exploration.

 

I have friends who are prospectors.  They are involved in junior mining.  Right now, there is some drilling and mining on the go very close to my community, Mr. Speaker.  So, it certainly creates opportunities for the mining industry and we want to encourage that.

 

There are a couple of examples I would like to put forward, Mr. Speaker.  For argument's sake, Marathon Gold continues to develop the Valentine Lake Project.  The company has identified close to 1 million ounces of minable gold.  That is the kind of thing we are trying to encourage, and it develops into a full-fledged mine and then of course we get into all kinds of economic activity. 

 

Minco is conducting a preliminary feasibility study on the Lundberg property in the Buchans area.  Minco is also exploring other properties in the historic Buchans mining camp area.  This is all related to what we are doing here.  It is to encourage the exploration part of it, Mr. Speaker.

 

The Buchans mining camp area operated between 1928 and 1984 and consisted of five main mines.  These included the Lucky Strike, Old Buchans, Oriental, Rothermere and the MacLean's mines.  I am sure my colleagues next door, Grand Falls-Windsor – Green Bay South, and Grand Falls-Windsor – Buchans, are quite familiar with these mines as well.  Canadian Zinc is advancing the South Tally Pond project which is close to the Duck Pond mine and mill.  The company is exploring several other properties in the area as well.

 

This is the kind of thing that we want to see.  We want to see exploration.  As was mentioned earlier, when you stake a claim the licence can be up to 256 claims in the licence.  Now, a claim is very small.  It is only 500 metres by 500 metres, as was explained earlier; however, you can have a total of 256 claims in that particular licence.

 

As I said, these are some examples of opportunities underway in Central Newfoundland.  Encouraging exploration through modern, competitive legislation is important in maintaining Newfoundland and Labrador's position as a strong mining jurisdiction.

 

Mr. Speaker, despite some challenges, the provincial government is confident in the future of the mining industry.  We continue to support exploration in the Province through geoscience initiatives and incentive programs.  It is the right thing to do, to support an industry that drives significant economic and employment opportunities for the people of our Province. 

 

By the way, this is mainly in rural communities of our Province where the majority of mining operations are situated.  I do believe the minister and the Opposition went into the detail of the amendment, and they also stated they would support it.  Of course, this is why we are bringing it in. 

 

Basically, it is an amendment.  We want to encourage the exploration.  We want to encourage mining and keep the positive growth in the industry, and of course it only bodes well for the Province, especially in our rural areas, Mr. Speaker.

 

With that, I will take my seat and I am sure everybody will be supporting this piece of legislation. 

 

Thank you.

 

MR. SPEAKER: If the hon. the Minister of Natural Resources speaks now he will close debate.

 

The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

 

MR. SPEAKER: Okay.  With the agreement of the House, we will switch speakers to the hon. the Member for Torngat Mountains.

 

MR. EDMUNDS: I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, for the delay.

 

I have just a few comments on Bill 15, An Act to Amend the Mineral Act.  We, as previous speakers have said, will support this legislation. 

 

I would just like to go back, Mr. Speaker, to the exploration stage that immediately followed the Voisey's Bay discovery.  At that time, Mr. Speaker, there were claims staked from one end of Labrador to the other.  In going through the legislation, particularly to the Vale site, the area that was staked is slated to expire.  I would just like to point out that around the footprint area itself at the Voisey's Bay site, which includes the mine site and the shipping port, in every direction for 100 miles that land was staked. 

 

The process led to some intense negotiations between the federal government, the provincial government, and the Labrador Inuit Association at the time.  I understand that in this legislation claims that are set to expire on Labrador Inuit Settlement Area, or LISA, the Labrador Inuit development area, or Labrador Inuit lands, will not be re-staked.  I am glad to see that this is being done for one reason, Mr. Speaker.  When you look at this legislation being introduced or mandated to allow for junior companies to gain revenue in order to carry out exploration programs, I would just like to go back and point out that some of the sites I have seen up there with junior – we call them fly-by-night companies, was the sad state left on the land. 

 

These junior companies had enough funds to go in and start an exploration program, but at the end of the program they in fact did not have enough money to take their camps down.  I have seen a state where black bears have gone into abandoned camps.  I am hoping with this thirty-year legislation, with the extension, that conditions can be put into place that would make sure these companies have in fact placed a reasonable bond – I know this government does not practice that very well – to allow them to take their camps down and get them out there, and to have that level of security for the Province to not allow the mess that we have seen over the years by these companies. 

 

I have to point out, Mr. Speaker, that inside the Labrador Inuit Settlement Area there has been an ongoing zone; I am not sure what the status is, but it was called exemption of lands.  At the point of negotiations or signing of the deal, there was no expiration to take place on the mineral exempt lands. 

 

In terms of looking at the next Voisey's Bay, the fact that the Labrador Inuit Settlement Area will not be up for renewal for staking, I am hopeful there is a negotiation process ongoing with the Nunatsiavut Government that would in the future allow for some exploration.  This is not a big footprint area.  Once you look at the Voisey's Bay Project in terms of its geographical size, for the benefit that it brings to the people of Nunatsiavut and to the people of the Province, the footprint area and the environmental impact is not that big. 

 

I just have to say that I will be supporting this legislation.  I do hope the government takes it a little bit further to ensure that companies that do go up there to do exploration are made responsible to clean up the mess when they pull out because I have seen the state of affairs up there and it is a sad sight for the environment.

 

Thank you.

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources, when he speaks now he will close debate.

 

MR. DALLEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I certainly want to thank all members for their comments this evening.  The member opposite raised a couple of important points around further staking and development in the Voisey's Bay area.  Obviously, the Innu and Inuit have overlapping land claims, Mr. Speaker, and have been involved in selling the plans for that.  That is in place going forward and as a result, Exempt Mineral Lands.  At that time, obviously, the Aboriginal groups would have significant input in any direction that would take.  As well, we do have the support of the Nunatsiavut Government with these amendments. 

 

The other point that the member opposite raises; within the mining sector government requires a closure and rehabilitation plans to be on file as well.  They are updated as well, Mr. Speaker, over time.  A couple of important points have been raised, but just to let the member know they have been covered. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I do want to thank members in the House today for their comments, but I also want to take time to thank the members of the mining industry from the prospectors – a very important group.  I have had opportunity to meet with them.  I really like their enthusiasm.  I appreciate their support for this as well, all the way through, whether you are a prospector, IOC, Vale, it does not matter.  It is the makeup of the industry that is important.

 

I want to acknowledge, Mr. Speaker, to the people of the Province, we were recently recognized by the Fraser Institute and Newfoundland and Labrador was ranked ninth in the world.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. DALLEY: We were ranked ninth in the world as a jurisdiction most attractive to do mining business and mining investment.  I think that is a credit to the people in the industry and a credit to our government and various departments of environment around regulation and a place to come and do business, but certainly with the efforts and co-operation of the industry as well.  I want to acknowledge them this evening as well.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Is it the pleasure of the House that the said bill be now read a second time?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Mineral Act, Bill 15.

 

MR. SPEAKER: This bill is now read a second time.  When shall the bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole? 

 

MR. KING: Now.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Now.

 

On motion, a bill, “An Act To Amend The Mineral Act”, read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House presently, by leave.  (Bill 15)

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Natural Resources, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole to discuss this bill.

 

MR. SPEAKER: It has been moved and seconded that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole and that I do now leave the Chair.

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Motion carried.

 

On motion, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole, Mr. Speaker left the Chair.

 

Committee of the Whole

 

CHAIR (Verge): Order, please!

 

The Committee of the Whole will be considering Bill 15.

 

A bill, “An Act To Amend The Mineral Act”.  (Bill 15)

 

CLERK: Clause 1.

 

CHAIR: Shall clause 1 carry?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

On motion, clause 1 carried.

 

CLERK: Clauses 2 through 6 inclusive.

 

CHAIR: Shall clauses 2 through 6 inclusive carry?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

On motion, clauses 2 through 6 carried.

 

CLERK: Schedule A.

 

CHAIR: Shall the schedule carry?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

On motion, Schedule A carried.

 

CLERK: Schedule B.

 

CHAIR: Shall Schedule B carry?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

On motion, Schedule B carried. 

 

CLERK: Be it enacted by the Lieutenant Governor and House of Assembly in Legislative session convened, as follows.

 

CHAIR: Shall the enacting clause carry?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

On motion, enacting clause carried.

 

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Mineral Act.

 

CHAIR: Shall the title carry?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

On motion, title carried.

 

CHAIR: Shall I report the bill without amendment?

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

Motion, that the Committee report having passed the bill without amendment, carried.

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Natural Resources, that the Committee rise and we will report the bill as is.

 

CHAIR: The motion is that the Committee rise and report the said bill carried without amendment.

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

On motion, that the Committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again, Mr. Speaker returned to the Chair.

 

MR. SPEAKER (Littlejohn): The hon. the Member for Lewisporte.

 

MR. VERGE: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of the Whole have considered the matters to them referred and have directed me to report Bill 15 carried without amendment. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair of the Committee of the Whole reports the Committee have considered the matters to them referred and have directed him to report Bill 15 without amendment.

 

When shall the report be received? 

 

MR. KING: Now.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Now.

 

On motion, report received and adopted.

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

At this time I call from the Order Paper, Motion 4.  I move, seconded by the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole to Consider a Resolution Relating to the Raising of Loans by the Province.  (Bill 23)

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole to consider Bill 23.

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

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

 

Carried.

 

On motion, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole, Mr. Speaker left the Chair.

 

Committee of the Whole

 

CHAIR (Verge): Order, please!

 

We are now debating the related resolution and Bill 23.

 

A bill, “An Act To Authorize The Raising Of Money By Way Of Loan By The Province”.  (Bill 23)

 

Resolution

 

“That it is expedient to bring in a measure to authorize the raising from time to time by way of loan on the credit of the province a sum of money no exceeding $600,000,000.”

 

CHAIR: Shall the resolution carry?

 

The hon. the Minister of Finance.

 

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

I rise in the House today – again, a long day – to speak to Bill 23, the Loan Act, 2014.  As members of this House and members of the public would recall, during Budget 2014 we indicated that we would have to borrow up to $1 billion this year.  This legislation will provide authority to borrow up to $600 million as part of the borrowing requirement this fiscal year.  The Department of Finance also has existing authority under the Financial Administration Act to borrow the remaining $400 million.

 

So, Mr. Chair, through this legislation the Province will have the ability to borrow at the optimal new issue size and avoid arranging loans in the capital markets for small or odd amounts.  Government needs the ability to borrow in the capital market when conditions such as interest rates and market liquidity are favourable.

 

Mr. Chair, I would like to point out that the passage of this bill does not mean that the Province will automatically borrow the authority amount.  Actual borrowings will only be undertaken when it becomes clear that we will have an actual cash requirement.  Should the Province's actual financial results for the year be better than forecast at Budget time, then we will borrow less than forecast.  So we will only borrow what is needed, is the bottom line. 

 

Mr. Chair, our government has been very transparent about the fact that we will borrow money this year.  We predicted last year that we would likely need to borrow in the current Budget year, 2014-2015, and we confirmed this on Budget day. 

 

While we are projecting that we will borrow this year, we do so knowing that it is a short-term measure, not a long-term trend.  We will not borrow to fund our day-to-day operations.  We will take advantage of low interest rates to fund further investments in infrastructure, and additional equity in oil and gas and Muskrat Falls.  As I said, we are not borrowing for operational purposes.  In fact, Budget 2014 projects that there will be $400 million in cash provided from operations. 

 

Even as we borrow this year, we will maintain a cash balance of no less than $500 million to maintain sufficient liquidity to meet day-to-day obligations.  This is one of the things our bonding agencies tell me that they look for is having that liquidity available.  If that was not there, that could impact our credit rating.

 

Mr. Chair, the growth in our economy has helped the Province build a strong financial foundation which has contributed to surpluses in six of the past ten years.  This has resulted in our government not having to borrow money for operational purposes since 2004. 

 

Since 2005-2006, we have generated surpluses of approximately $5.7 billion.  We have used that surplus to pay off debt from years ago that has come due, and to pay for new much-needed infrastructure and to finance equity investments. 

 

Overall, net current and capital expenditure growth in Budget 2014 is limited to 2.1 per cent as compared to Budget 2013.  This includes approximately $852 million for infrastructure and about $523 million equity for Nalcor.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MS JOHNSON: Strong fiscal management by this government since 2003 is reflected in the fact that growth in net program expenses continues to be less than growth in revenue.  When you look at the growth in our net program expenses that is 83.6 per cent, and when you look at the growth in revenue it is 89.1 per cent. 

 

Mr. Chair, our government is committed to continuing to support economic prosperity and social responsibility, while continuing with our long-term plan for strong fiscal management as outlined in our 10-Year Sustainability Plan.  As we committed in the Budget this year, we will return to a surplus in 2015-2016. 

 

That is basically it in a nutshell.  We are seeking the legislative authority to borrow the $600 million.  As I said, it is not for day-to-day operations.  It is for much-needed infrastructure and it is for our investment into Nalcor.

 

As I have also pointed out, we did indicate on Budget day that we would need to borrow $1 billion, but we currently do have the authority to borrow $400 million under the Financial Administration Act.  We are still saying we need the ability to borrow up to $1 billion, but only $600 million of that through this Loan Act. 

 

A very important point that I want emphasize is that we will only borrow as the need arises to borrow.  This does not mean we will go out automatically tomorrow and borrow that money.  We will only borrow as needed.  When it becomes clear that we have a cash requirement, we will then go borrow. 

 

So that is it in a nutshell.  I certainly welcome debate on this, and any questions the Opposition may have I would be happy to answer them now, or as usual in Committee. 

 

Thank you.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

It is a privilege for me to stand in my place and say a few words to this bill, Bill 23.  Before that, Mr. Chair, for everybody watching at home at this hour, this is a money bill which allows members of the House of Assembly to speak on a variety of topics, whatever they so choose, within reason of course. 

 

I just wanted to say right off the top that it is nice to be having some nice weather outside.  I wanted to commend the groups in my district for organizing community clean ups, as is customary during this time of the year.  Last weekend I had an opportunity to go down to the Rabbittown Community Centre and participate in a community clean up down there.

 

On Sunday, the tenant association that represents tenants at the Wigmore, Austin, Thorburn, and Cumberland Crescent areas organized a community clean up.  It was a privilege for me to go down and chat with people and help out there. 

 

I believe this coming weekend our friends with the West Heights Tenants Association in the New Penneywell and Beothuk areas on the hill up there, up on Mount Ken, are going to be organizing another community clean up.  So we will all have had our hands well dirty before the next few weeks are out. 

 

Again, I just wanted to commend those groups for taking leadership, for demonstrating to people in our community that when we all come together we can certainly accomplish things.  The least of these is the beautification of the grounds around our homes.

 

Now, I want to say a few words to this piece of legislation here, and I will not belabour any of these points.  This bill, Bill 23, enables the Progressive Conservative government to borrow up to $600 million.  Now the average person can really barely comprehend the notion of borrowing such a sum of money.  Most people are fortunate enough to be able to get a mortgage to borrow maybe $150,000 to $200,000 or $250,000.  That is about what most people can expect to be fortunate enough to borrow.  That is to house themselves and their families.  This is an amazing sum of money. 

 

The Minister of Finance just stated as well, that they are also planning to borrow up to another $400 million.  One billion dollars in spending in what we hear on the airwaves day in and day out from this government is a time of prosperity.  We are living in the boom times.  I have heard prior Ministers of Finance talk about a white hot economy and this is the heyday and so on and so forth. 

 

At a time when things are purportedly going so well, we are borrowing $1 billion.  Putting $1 billion on the credit card of the next generations – and I say it because it will be generations paying this off – of young Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.  It comes as quite a shock in the face of all the rhetoric around this government's style of management and their purported record of success.  It really calls all of that into question.

 

Mr. Chair, this is why people are out there saying they cannot support this government anymore.  The people come up to me and they say to me, I cannot support this government anymore.  I voted PC in the last election, but I cannot vote for the PC Party anymore in the face of this.  Not just this, I mean this and the cloak of secrecy with which the government has conducted itself, the long list of broken promises and half measures that we have seen over the past number of years, all of this has culminated in this public discontent that we see. 

 

I was fortunate enough recently to attend the fiftieth anniversary of the Marine Institute.  The Marine Institute is a fascinating, amazing, post-secondary institution in Canada.  It is absolutely amazing what our people have managed to accomplish at the Marine Institute. 

 

As you well know, Mr. Chair, when you go out to public events you have an opportunity to chitchat with people and get to understand a bit about their work and how they see things.  I could not get over the number of people who talked about, not just the direction, or misdirection of public policy and finance in Newfoundland and Labrador today, but also the neglect that we have seen in various sectors, despite government making investments here and there.

 

Just take the Marine Institute, more or less over the course of a fifty-year period they have managed to take that institution and make it probably the best institution for naval and marine studies and research in the country, but we do not want to just have it to be first in Canada.  Of course, we want it to be first in the world, on the globe.  You cannot do that at the Marine Institute by continuing to cram and cram and cram increasing numbers of students and programs into the same space. 

 

We have not seen any building of new infrastructure up on Ridge Road, I do not know since when, in the fifty years perhaps.  We have the Engineering Technology Centre – which is not part of the Marine Institute, it is part of College of the North Atlantic – but no new space to grow and to become a global institution.  That was one of the conversations I had. 

 

It is not only that, if you look at our K-12 education system as it stands today – as I said in the House of Assembly last week, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-V edition, which is more or less the primary text that mental health practitioners, physicians, counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists all go to when they look at issues associated with mental health and disorders of various types.  That has now been updated, yet we are not going to implement or adopt the definition of specific learning disorder, which is really intended to broaden what we know as learning disabilities in order to ensure that kids who have learning disabilities get the attention they need early enough, to get interventions early enough to help them to succeed in school.  We are not going to do that until 2015. 

 

I heard the Minister of Education say it is new, it takes time and so forth.  Our kids can't wait for some bureaucratic machinations to work themselves out.  That is not going to work for them.  It is going to be too late.  It is like a lot of things that we have seen from the other side.

 

Back in 2007, we had the ISSP and Pathways Commission Report.  It was supposed to fix the problems that we have in the school system as it relates to the provision of services for students with special education needs.  Some of those things are very inexpensive.  Take, for example, the recommendation that there be public disclosure of assessment and wait-list information.  Of course, parents want to know this.  They want to know how many kids are on the wait-list for an assessment at their school; how many kids are on the wait-list for an assessment at the Janeway.  They want to know this.

 

Government has claimed a new-found connection to openness and transparency.  After all of the outcry or the imbroglio that ensued after Bill 29 was rammed through this Legislature about two years ago over the wishes of the Opposition, over the wishes of the people of the Province, over the wishes of anybody who knows anything about freedom of information in the world really, after all of that, government now claims it is open.  Why can't they take simple wait-list information and put it on the Internet, on their open government Web site?  Why can't they do that?  That would not cost a whole lot of money.  That was a key recommendation of the ISSP and Pathways Commission Report. 

 

Other simple things are procedures to address the needs of all at-risk students; procedures to address the needs of gifted students.  Gifted students, children, students who perform well above their peers, they are some of the most neglected kids in our school system.  Some of the most neglected are some of our most bright students.  They are also some of the students who are most prone to threat of suicide, because of neglect, because of the boredom they experience, because they have such difficulty fitting in.  Very, very little is being done in that regard.

 

We have talked numerous times about the need to expand the role of assistants in schools to that of teacher assistants, to not just have student assistants.  Student assistants perform a very vital, important task in the classroom.  There is no question about that, but those tasks are very limited.  They do not provide the level of assistance that our children with disabilities really need to have.  We need to have teacher assistants in the classroom working alongside teachers; teacher assistants who are skilled in learning pedagogies that understand everything from how to perform instruction properly to how to perform assessment properly. 

 

In other provinces in Canada, community colleges are training paraprofessionals such as these, graduating them every year, and they are being integrated into the school system.  It is much like you would see in the health sector.  It is just a variety of different professionals performing different tasks, and it makes a lot of sense. 

 

At community colleges in Canada you can study to be a teacher assistant, a special education assistant, and an autism assistant.  There are a whole variety of new professions and disciplines.  If we want to expand post-secondary education, if we want to give our young people more choices about what it is they are going to do after high school, well here you go; here is something else to add. 

 

Government is always talking about how they want to reorient College of the North Atlantic, the public college system, to meet the labour market needs of today.  I can buy into that.  I can see where it is you are going, but I do not see a whole lot of additions.  We see cuts, like we saw with the Adult Basic Education and other training programs, all across the Province.  We do not really see much of anything new. 

 

I think this really boils down to where we are today and why we run into so many people who say they cannot vote for the PC Party anymore.  That is because this government is truly and genuinely out of gas.  Not only is this Province running out of oil and running out of gas, this government is very, very quickly running out of fuel, and not the kind that is on the Grand Banks either. 

 

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) ideas, too.

 

MR. KIRBY: Yes, and ideas. 

 

We are not seeing a whole lot new.  I think that really is symptomatic, it really is something that displays the exhaustion we see on that side, how tired they have become and how little innovation we are seeing.  Which is really unfortunate, because I know people in our school system, in the college system, in the university system, our young people are full of ideas, new ideas, full of innovation, bursting with energy.  Instead, we have a tired process, a tired government, a tired PC Party that is just sort of muddling through and struggling along. 

 

You even have people like former Lieutenant Governor, Mr. Crosbie, who was very involved with the PC Party for most of his political career, and he is on the front page of The Telegram, the front of the CBC Web site and the top of Here and Now, NTV, Open Line and VOCM.  He is all over the news criticizing the government for the way that they have shut down, they have clammed up, they have stepped back and they have just shut the people out.  That is ultimately what we are facing here.  That is why I have to say that this really comes as some shock, Mr. Speaker.

 

CHAIR: I remind the hon. member that his speaking time has expired.

 

MR. KIRBY: Thank you.

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay – Cape La Hune.

 

MS PERRY: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

It is certainly a privilege for me to rise tonight and speak to Bill 23, and before I get into it I will say this government is anything but tired.  Members opposite will take note, over the next few months, of just how much energy and enthusiasm and commitment we do indeed have.

 

Now, Mr. Chair, this piece of legislation that we are passing here tonight is really just a routine piece of business.  In this year's Budget we are forecasting to borrow $1 billion.  What, in effect, this legislation does is it gives the authorization to the Province to borrow.

 

Now, we are not going to need to borrow that full $1 billion, Mr. Chair.  We are in a very good financial position, as everyone knows, with our A+ credit rating.  We are in a very great position to sell Treasury bills.  That is how the Province does indeed raise a significant amount of its funds.

 

We expect to raise at least $300 million in T-bills towards the $1 billion requirement we have on our Budget.  We get these T-bills at a very favourable rate, Mr. Chair.  It is usually somewhere below the 1 per cent mark.  It is a 1 per cent interest rate.  It is certainly some of the cheapest money that we can avail of; the cheapest source of funds that we can get. 

 

Mr. Chair, we also have some sinking funds available to us as a Province.  That will contribute another $300 million or so, Mr. Chair.  So our borrowing requirement is not going to be excessive.  Why do we need to borrow in terms of where we are as a Province?  This money we are borrowing is because we have options.  We can raise taxes or we can borrow money.  The way our Province is performing, we are certainly in an excellent position to be able to borrow that money. 

 

The way we look at it, it is a short-term measure and we will certainly be able to afford to pay this back, and then some, Mr. Chair, with the types of investments we are making in the economy of Newfoundland and Labrador today.

 

We did not want to restrict or constrict the economy in anyway, Mr. Chair.  We wanted to continue to invest in much needed infrastructure.  We did not want to have to wait a year or two until we see things back in the surplus, which certainly will happen next year.  We did not want to have a delay. 

 

We wanted to proceed with the construction of schools, with the building of roads, with the investment into Municipal Capital Works; the much needed water and sewer projects that town councils need.  The much needed road investments that town councils need, Mr. Chair, and we wanted to invest in dialysis units throughout the entire Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, not just in centralized areas but in rural remote areas where people need it most.

 

To us, this borrowing is very much a wise expenditure at this point in time.  Far wiser than increasing taxes and placing the burden back on the taxpayers of Newfoundland and Labrador for years and years to come.  We will borrow the money, we will repay the money in short order, and we will have fabulous infrastructure, much needed infrastructure in place as a result of it. 

 

It is our investments in things like Nalcor and Muskrat Falls that are going to ensure that we are going to have the revenue in the long-term that we need to continue these such investments, Mr. Chair.  It speaks to the foresight and the vision that our government has and the confidence that our government has in the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

I, for one, will certainly be supporting this bill.  It has been quite a long time, Mr. Chair, since we have had to borrow money in the Province; I believe since about 2003-2004.  It was once a regular occurrence.  It was once needed to do day-to-day operations of government, and we are certainly not in that position here, Mr. Chair.  We have more than enough money to run the day-to-day affairs of the Province.  This money, as I said, is going to be used for infrastructure, investments in communities, and investments in the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

 

I will be rising in support of this bill.  I am quite honoured to support this bill, and quite pleased with Budget 2014.

 

Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for Bay of Islands.

 

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

I just want to stand and have a few minutes to speak about this bill.  I see I have ten minutes to speak.  I want to speak a bit about the Bay of Islands. 

 

Mr. Chair, I hear some members opposite, and I am not here to be argumentative tonight.  I am definitely not here to be argumentative tonight, but we saw a Liberal nomination last night, Mr. Chair, and he won by three votes.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Chair, I hear the people over there teasing the member.  Do you know what I just said to the member?  I said do not worry about what they are going to say.  The three votes he won by are going to be three votes more that they are going to have at their PC convention on July 5 or July 6.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. JOYCE: Let's not worry about any of this, Mr. Chair.  We are going to talk about this bill for a second now.  I heard the member talk about how this is just a minor bill.  I mean $600 million is a minor bill, a small bill, this is just something minor.  That is unbelievable; we are talking about taxpayers' money. 

 

Mr. Chair, I am just going to have a few words about the Bay of Islands and talk about some of the things and how to use some of that money.  I know the Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs, there is a lot of concern about the lack of infrastructure in the Bay of Islands.  I will say we had a great meeting, myself and the minister, with the Towns of York Harbour and Lark Harbour concerning amalgamation.  There were some concerns brought forward and some commitments that the town would like to have.  The minister, I give him credit, he did not make any commitments.  He will bring it back to see what he can do for them. 

 

Mr. Chair, that is a major part of the Bay of Islands.  It is very much tourism.  They are looking for water and sewer, a fire truck, and other things.  The minister has said he would bring it back and see what he could do to try to facilitate the amalgamation.

 

Mr. Chair, as you go up a bit further in the Bay of Islands and you look at Humber Arm South, there is a portion of Frenchman's Cove in the Town of Humber Arm South that was committed to water and sewer back in 2008, 2009.  They did one phase of it, but the second phase is still not done. 

 

Just as an example, probably about three weeks ago there was a fire there.  I spoke to the person today who was in the house.  Luckily, a person happened to be walking by and got the people out of the apartment.  The big concern is that there is no water there, no town water system.  The fire department had a hard time fighting the fire itself. 

 

This is a part of the Bay of Islands, Mr. Chair, that was committed to way back.  Well before I was re-elected in 2011, and it is still not done.  It is a concern.  I can honestly say there have been no major investments in the Bay of Islands for a long while, none.  This year I think there is about $300,000. 

 

We are waiting for amalgamation in York Harbour and Lark Harbour.  Also, as the minister said, that may be a fair chunk of change.  I will give him credit, it probably will be.  It probably will be if some of the conditions that the town would like to see to move the town forth are looked at. 

 

Mr. Chair, we will move on up from Humber Arm South, then we will look at Mount Moriah.  There are a few concerns in Mount Moriah about the extension of the water.  Last year they received funding to do engineering for a new installation of a fire station, a building for their fire truck.  This year they did not receive any funding for it.  They put in for some roads.  Last year they received some money for the roads.  This year there was absolutely none for the town roads. 

 

Go into Irishtown and Summerside, Mr. Chair.  In Irishtown and Summerside, I think they have a $75,000 commitment from Municipal Affairs to upgrade their water system for the chlorination building.  That will help the water.  As we go on out now – and there are major concerns in Irishtown and Summerside.  Water is one, and the sewer in Summerside is another.  The sewer in Summerside is a major concern. 

 

Mr. Chair, as we see the announcements made in a lot of PC districts, somewhere – and when you look at the spreadsheet, these are priorities for the department in Corner Brook.  There has to be funding for some of it.  We always hear the government talking about all the money they are spending in the municipalities.  I have to say, I do not see it.  I do not know about other members on this side if they see the amount of money, millions and millions being spent in their districts, but I do not see it.  I honestly do not see it, Mr. Chair. 

 

As you move out from Summerside you go into Meadows.  Meadows did well last year with the roads.  This year they are looking for some money for the roads and some money for the ball field.  There was no money, absolutely none. 

 

We go into Gillams, Mr. Chair.  Once again, there is no money there for Gillams for water and sewer, absolutely none.  For the third or fourth year in a row, none. 

 

We go into McIver's.  Two years ago McIver's got some for an outfall.  In the last two years, nothing in McIver's. 

 

This year, Mr. Chair, water and sewer – Cox's Cove received some money to help out with the flow of the water in Cox's Cove, but very little.  It might be $125,000, or close to that.  I do not have the figure in front of me. 

 

There has to be sometimes when there are districts on this side, Mr. Chair, that need water and sewer.  It cannot be just one part with water and sewer.  You cannot all of a sudden just take twelve districts and say: Okay, none of you, you do not have a problem with water and sewer.  I have to give the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills credit, Mr. Chair.  If you are going to go out and do applications, you at least try to be fair.  I understand the political process.  I understand that, Mr. Chair, but at least you try to be fair with it. 

 

I know there is money left back with it, Mr. Chair, that if there is anything else that pops up in his department there is some flexibility.  I understand that 100 per cent, but when you get departments out in the regions that are making recommendations which are health concerns, they have to be looked at.  They just have to be looked at, Mr. Chair.

 

You try to work with the government officials.  I will use Transportation and Works.  I spoke about this last night, Mr. Chair.  Last year we had floods.  With $600 million that we can borrow, I am hoping some of this money can be used.  We had floods there last year.  I went to the former minister trying to get some work done, but we could not get it done.  The current minister did.  He stepped in and made some changes for the winter.  Mr. Chair, he did step in and made some changes. 

 

This year, there is a place in Hughes Brook, Mr. Chair.  Hughes Brook Hill and it is very dangerous.  I am talking about the ruts are extremely dangerous.  I went to the minister, I sat with the minister, and the department came back and said it is extremely dangerous.  Guess what?  It is going to be done.  That is the way the system should work, Mr. Chair. 

 

There are three other spots in the district that have major faults in the road.  One is out by Coppermine Brook, one is in John's Beach, and one is in McIver's.  I went to the minister and I said here is the problem.  The minister received letters upon letters from the town councils.  He said: Eddie, here is what I will do.  There are Geotech engineers on the scene, when we come up with a solution that is going work, we will fix it. 

 

I went back and told every town council, here is what the minister said.  Do you know what they said?  Perfect.  Finally someone is listening.  Finally someone is going to try to fix our problem.  They are not saying it is going to be fixed to their satisfaction 100 per cent because if the road shifts there is not a lot anybody can do, but at least they have the confidence, Mr. Chair, of saying there is a minister who is sitting down and listening to their concerns, not just writing back some form letter, but is saying to the people: I understand your concern, here is what is happening and here is what we are going to do. 

 

I told each council that.  Do you know what they all said, Mr. Chair?  Every council, through their person, do you know what they said?  Finally, someone is looking at it.

 

Mr. Chair, a lot of times we get up here and we banter, and a lot of times we are out for political gain, but there are times when we are all elected to represent all people of the Province.  In this case it works.  In the case of Advanced Education and Skills, it works.  Do you get what you want?  Of course not.  You can never get – no matter which government is in, you can never get what everybody asks.  It just cannot happen.  I would never expect this government to give everything that we want to get.  You cannot do it.  If we are ever on that side, you can never do it, Mr. Chair, but you have to make priorities. 

 

To me, the two priorities when it comes to Municipal Affairs and Transportation and Works is water safety and road safety.  You may have some roads that are bumpy, but are they safe?  If they are safe, fine.  If they need to be fixed – and I mentioned to the minister earlier about some parts of roads that are flooding, the minister said: Send me a note.  There are no guarantees but he will look at it, and that is the way it should be.

 

Mr. Chair, I am sure I will be back to have another few words.  Thank you for the opportunity.

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for Bonavista North.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. CROSS: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

It sure is a pleasure to stand again tonight to offer a few thoughts and a few comments towards Bill 23.  I am sure in the next few minutes I will try to react to a couple of comments made from the other side and try to offer some enlightening comments as to the approach that this government is taking towards this activity that we are finding is a new activity for us, and something that we have not had to do.

 

I would like to thank the Director of Debt Management in the department for the brief briefing we received a couple of mornings ago.  It was an eye opener in many ways.  Number one is the fact that we are talking about borrowing.  That is something new for this government, Mr. Chair.  It is the first time we have had to consider borrowing for any major expenses that we want to undertake, capital expenditure, since 2004.  It is something that we have to sort of rewrite the act for. 

 

The other act would give us a little bit of borrowing power, Mr. Chair, but it would be probably out of date by the time we would need to extend this.  Therefore, this amendment for the bill is going to rescind the Loans Act from 2004.  It will put a new act in place to allow us to borrow at this time. 

 

Like I said, there has been no borrowing activity since 2004.  That is ten years.  For a decade, Mr. Chair, this government has not needed to borrow any money for capital expenditure.  Because of that record, we are going to now rely on this. 

 

As a couple of previous speakers from the opposite side mentioned, and I have a couple of comments here – I am going to go to these notes first, Mr. Chair, just to get there.  I might get back in time to where I want to go, but $600 million.  Like the member opposite said, that is a big number.  It is bigger than any of us can dream about in a personal life, but because of the AAA rating we are given, because of how we are recognized by all of the bonding agencies and the lending agencies around the world, Mr. Chair, we have the ability to go borrow that so we do not have to do any of the other options. 

 

I will lay out what some of the options are, Mr. Chair, on the alternate side of where we would have to be.  Just think about what we had to do in the years leading into 2004.  We were borrowing on quite a regular basis.  If your pattern is borrow, borrow, borrow year after year to meet your capital and your operating expenditures, you would need to look at that record and you would have trouble finding someone who would want to let you have some of their money so you could meet your obligations. 

 

Another member on the opposite side talked about we could probably dream of mortgaging or borrowing up to maybe $250,000.  That would be what we would extend as our amount.  If you look at the Province as a whole and you take that ratio and you expand that by the size of the Province, the size of our budget and the size of our ability to borrow, than that does not compare too unfavourably to what this Province is doing at this time. 

 

We are recognized in the lending agencies as a very, very good risk.  In fact, most of the agencies will look at us as not a risk at all, Mr. Chair.  We are operating on a good platform here, that we know the direction we want to take this Province.  We have been following that plan.  We now have another sustainability plan for the whole economy over the next decade, Mr. Chair, and as we go into that we can actually develop that, and borrowing is just one option. 

 

What is the other option, Mr. Chair?  My friend on this side, she started to lay out some of these options.  In the last taxation year we left just about $600 million in the pockets of taxpayers.  If we took all of that taxation money back we would be able to proceed without borrowing.  Then, who is paying for it, Mr. Chair, at that point?  You are not borrowing against a capital asset and let the asset pay it off for you.  You are going out there and you taking money out of your taxpayers by not letting them have the tax breaks that we have set up. 

 

The other part of this that we might go and get some of it is the change in the Corporate Income Tax rate for small businesses, Mr. Chair.  We could have left that at 4 per cent.  That extra 1 per cent would have gotten us some of it, Mr. Chair, but did we do that?  No, we did not do that.  We could have taken the HST rebate off fuel for seniors, and all these other options.  That is money that is out there that we have lain in the hands of people in the last few years. 

 

Did we go out and take that back, Mr. Chair, for this when we had the option to borrow?  We will not have to take one plug nickel out of the pocket of any Newfoundlander at this point to finance this operation and to move it forward.  Mr. Chair, when it moves forward, what is it going to do for us?  When we move forward with the plans and the developments that we are creating, they are going to be turning over money for us.  They are going to be helping us to instill more money back into our economy.

 

If we are going to borrow some of this for our equity stake in Nalcor and in Muskrat Falls, then over the next twenty to thirty years, the next two decades, Mr. Chair, we will have – the forecast from previous finance ministers, and their statistics are pretty sound, it will return billions of dollars into our economy over the next twenty-five, thirty, or forty years.  It will start off in small amounts but as we own more of the stake, Mr. Chair, it will just build and build and build. 

 

By the borrowing we do today, I heard a member over there saying we are putting it on the credit card of our kids.  We are borrowing this so we will not have to use a credit card for our kids, Mr. Chair, or they will not have to use a credit card in thirty or forty years' time.  I think that is sound management.  I think that is the way we need to go and that is the good thinking we need to be doing, and that is the excited thinking we are doing over here because we are not tired.  We are not tired.  We are not running out of time.  We know the direction.  It is sound, Mr. Chair.  We can take us in that direction. 

 

Like I said, this Loan Act, even though it sounds like we are going to need to borrow a billion dollars, we have the authority right now under the Financial Administration Act to come up with $400 million of that, but we will not need to borrow that either, Mr. Chair, because we can go out and auction Treasury bills.  I think the way they work is you can auction them off and you can bank them.  The money you get for the purchase of them and the interest you make off what you sell in the Treasury bills more than covers the interest it costs, so therefore you are more than just breaking even, Mr. Chair.  It is a way of putting money into the economy.

 

We also have the Sinking Fund she referred to.  That is like you are always putting money into a savings account.  Mr. Chair, wouldn't you do that every day if you had the opportunity?  You are putting aside a little, tiny bit.  Just a little bit here and a little bit there, a little bit again.  If you have a few dollars next week, you put it aside. 

 

It is like that savings account you have put aside for a rainy day.  I have one, Mr. Chair.  If you get on my Internet banking, a rainy day account.  A cute name I have on it, a rainy day account, because in the future there might be a rainy day when we are not so well off as we were three years ago.  Today is probably the rainy day.  There are no big thunderstorms, the sky is not falling.  It is just a rainfall, and we are going to get through this period, Mr. Chair, because of the management we put in place in the past eight to ten to twelve years. 

 

We are going to go forward.  This will not be the major hit that it would be if we had the record of borrow, borrow, borrow.  This is borrow number one, with a slight more borrowing next year to finish it up, but the forecast, Mr. Chair – all the lending agencies know about this – is in 2015-2016, we are going to be back in surplus spending again.  What are we going to do when we get there?  We are not going to need to borrow.  Then we are going to start looking at making sound investments against our debt again, Mr. Chair.  We are just hitting a little bump in the road. 

 

The Member for Bay of Islands talked about roads.  Well, this is like a bump in the road.  We are hearing it and we will move over the bump.  In the next short while we will not have to worry about putting another bill like this through the House, Mr. Chair, because we will be back in surplus spending again. 

 

I think this is wise action, Mr. Chair.  I commend the Minister of Finance for bringing this bill forward. I will be supporting it.  Anybody with a good, sound judgement will be supporting it.

 

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

CHAIR: The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

 

I move, seconded by the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, that the Committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.

 

CHAIR: The motion is that the Committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.

 

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

 

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

 

Carried.

 

On motion, that the Committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again, Mr. Speaker returned to the Chair.

 

MR. SPEAKER (Verge): Order, please!

 

The hon. the Member for Port de Grave. 

 

MR. LITTLEJOHN: Mr.  Speaker, the Committee of the Whole have considered the matters to them referred, have asked me to report progress and ask leave to sit again. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair of the Committee of the Whole said that the Committee have considered the matters to them referred, report progress and ask leave to sit again. 

 

The hon. the Government House Leader.

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

At this time I call from the Order Paper, Order 5, second reading of a bill, An Act To Amend The Labour Relations Act.  (Bill 22)

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Service NL. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. CRUMMELL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the Member for Labrador West, that Bill 22, An Act To Amend The Labour Relations Act, be now given second reading. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 22 be now read a second time. 

 

Motion, second reading of a bill, “An Act To Amend The Labour Relations Act”.  (Bill 22)

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Service NL. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. CRUMMELL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Mr. Speaker, this bill amends the Labour Relations Act to (a) provide workers with a mandatory secret ballot to vote on a union certification application, and (b) amend the conciliation provisions and reorder the strike lockout provisions. 

 

Currently, the Labour Relations Act provides for card-based certification of a union at 65 per cent or more of the workers in a bargaining unit sign a union card when the required conditions of the legislation are met.  If the presented signed union cards are between 40 per cent and 65 per cent, the Labour Relations Board will conduct a secret ballot vote.  If less than 40 per cent of employees support the certification application, it will be dismissed without a vote.  Mr. Speaker, the proposed amendment will change the manner in which workers express their preference to be represented by a union. 

 

The bill proposes the implementation of a two-stage process where (a) an application is made to the Labour Relations Board based on over 50 per cent of the workers in a proposed bargaining unit signing union cards, and (b) followed by a mandatory certification vote by secret ballot. 

 

Mr. Speaker, what this bill proposes is to revert to the mandatory secret vote process that was present in our Labour Relations Act prior to 2012.  Statistics indicate that in the vast majority of cases applications for certification which are presented to the Labour Relations Board with the requisite support of the membership and which are subsequently sent to a vote are confirmed when a secret ballot is taken.  Based on this, the amendment passed in June 2012 was intended to streamline the process, to cut out an extra step in determining the true wishes of workers to join a union.  That was the intention, Mr. Speaker.

 

So, what has changed?  Why is this bill proposing to repeal and replace an amendment proclaimed twenty-three months ago?  Since these amendments, we have heard significant concerns from employers and the card certification system.  As a government, it is a responsibility to listen to any concerns that are raised with us.  We have listened to those concerns and we have considered their arguments.

 

Mr. Speaker, we have heard from employers that the card-based certification process eliminates their opportunity to talk to their employees.  Let's not forget that an employer communicating with their workers during a union certification process is not prohibited.  Yet under the card-based certification system, circumstances can arise where certification of a union as a bargaining agent can occur in a workplace without the employer having any knowledge of the process. 

 

There is literature available, as well as various polls and studies, which show that workers overwhelmingly support the right to be fully informed and to have the opportunity to mark their X in secret.  For instance, a poll conducted by Leger, a national market research and polling firm, on October 2013 confirms this, with 84 per cent of workers who completely or somewhat agree that a secret ballot vote should be required, and 93 per cent completely or somewhat agree that workers should be entitled to obtain information from both the union and the employer. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the marking of an X in secret is a powerful symbol of our democracy, and I believe after considering all of the information again that a two-stage certification process creates the best balance and fairness for workers.  This amendment does not eliminate or reduce or interfere in any way with the ability of a union to inform, promote, or persuade union certification.  They have that right as long as they, like employers, conduct themselves in accordance with the Labour Relations Act. 

 

The unfair labour practice section of the Labour Relations Act is unchanged.  Employers and unions are equally required to play fair to ensure that workers are not intimidated or coerced.  Any allegation of misuse of this opportunity to inform and persuade can be referred to the Labour Relations Board.  This amendment will confirm an informed process by which all perspectives are expressed and considered and voted on by workers in secret.  

 

In addition, Mr. Speaker, we are making changes to the conciliation process.  This government recognizes that parties to a collective agreement often require assistance in order to successfully conclude collective bargaining.  Conciliation services are provided to employers and unions by the Labour Relations Agency.  With the assistance of our conciliators, a settlement is reached by the parties in over 95 per cent of cases. 

 

The Labour Relations Act outlines a process for requesting conciliation services from the agency.  Currently, a party to a collective agreement must request the appointment of a conciliation board as a prerequisite to legal strike or lockout, but in practice, however, the consolidation officer rather than a board is appointed to assist the parties in concluding a collective agreement.  This amendment will reflect this current practice and the initial request for conciliation services will be for a conciliation officer and not a conciliation board. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the minister is not losing any authority with this amendment.  In instances where it is deemed appropriate, a conciliation board can still be appointed.  This amendment will also clarify that parties have the ability to request appointment of a conciliation board following the commencement of a strike lockout.  The current legislation does not specify this. 

 

Finally, Mr. Speaker, the strike lockout provisions will become more streamlined.  The conditions precedent to a strike lockout will not change, only the order in which they appear in legislation.

 

I look forward to the debate on this amendment and I ask that all hon. members support this piece of legislation. 

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I will just stand here for a few minutes to speak on this bill.  This is a bill we are amending that the government brought back in June 2012.  We are amending the bill that they brought in, in 2012.  It reminds me of Bill 29, Mr. Speaker.  We bring it in, we go through it, and now all of a sudden we are coming back here. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I just want to read something.  In 2012, I was part of that debate.  I just want to read something that I said at the time.  Here is what I said at the time: They should be given the facts – the workers – and then enjoy their democratic right to have a vote.  That is the way it should be. 

 

We are parliamentarians.  Anything that we do in this House of Assembly, we are here because the people vote to get us here.  That is our democracy: to vote.

 

I gave an example back in 2012 why I was disagreeing against this bill at the time.  I remember when the union was in to certify – and I have no problem with unions certified.  I have no problem with unions whatsoever – absolutely none.  It is a part of our life.  Unions should be, union workers – I want to make that very clear. 

 

The fight, Mr. Speaker, at the time got kind of personal, kind of bitter.  I remember when the situation happened and they came back and said we have a number of people who signed cards, certification.  I remember the fight at the time.  I was not elected, but I worked in Clyde Wells' office at the time and I was one of the ones who said this is not right.  This is just not right.  I saw the tactics that were going on, on both sides – not just one, on both sides.  I said it is just not right.

 

I approached the government at the time.  I was an executive assistant at the time.  I said we have to change this.  What we changed it to at the time, Mr. Speaker, was that if you get a certain number, 40 per cent of the people who are certified as workers in your company, then we have a secret ballot vote.  Mr. Speaker, what is wrong with that? 

 

I remember back when the former minister brought this to the House of Assembly and I was trying to explain to him why this should not happen.  Mr. Speaker, we were almost told well no, this is the way – we had these public consultations, this tripartite committee that we were setting up.  We had all these public consultations and that is what everybody agreed to. 

 

Mr. Speaker, we, at the time, thought we had all of these public consultations.  We were told at the time that everybody was consulted.  Mr. Speaker, I have in Hansard that the former minister – and I am not here to criticize.  I am definitely not here to criticize.  I say to the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills, I am not here –

 

AN HON. MEMBER: IBRD.

 

MR. JOYCE: I say to the Minister of IBRD, I am not here to criticize.  I am here to try to get it right.  You can laugh, but you remember you voted for this. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I ask the member to direct his comments to the Chair.

 

MR. JOYCE: I am sorry, Mr. Speaker.  I am trying to speak serious here, but the Minister of IBRD is over there laughing.  She voted for this.  Now she has to turn around, swallow her pride, and vote to change it again.  I am trying to get it right, like I tried in June 2012.  That is what I am saying.

 

At the time we, on this side, were told that there were consultations with all of the committees involved.  We were told that.  Guess what, Mr. Speaker?  I am saying what is here in Hansard.  We were told that there was a committee set up.  This was lower on the agenda.

 

Guess what?  The minister finally said no, it was not discussed.  I have no reason as to why the minister is saying this and in agreement with this, that there has been public consultation, there have been issues with this, but he has discussed this with all the parties and this is something that he came up with.  So, Mr. Speaker, that is one part of it.  That is definitely one part of it, and I agree with the change that the minister is making.

 

The second part of the bill that was brought in place was that the first offer would be brought to the workers.  Guess what?  I stood up against that again, Mr. Speaker.  I stood up here in this House.  I have Hansard – I will not read it, but I stood up against that.  I was against that fundamentally because what is happening is you are subverting the union leadership, which I think is wrong.

 

That is why I stood up against that, defending the union leadership, Mr. Speaker, because the union leadership should have that authority.  It is like the people in this House of Assembly.  If there is something brought to the House of Assembly, we should have the authority to vote if we should bring it further or not.  We should not say, okay, do not bring it to the Cabinet; just bring it right on to the people.  It is not the way it works, and that is why I voted against that at the time.  We did not have to vote.  There was no standing vote, Mr. Speaker, but I spoke against it. 

 

Again, I have to say, that was never proclaimed.  The part we all voted on back in June 2012 was never proclaimed, Mr. Speaker.  That was the other part of it that I defended the union on.

 

Mr. Speaker, I will not stay any longer on this bill.  I will just say that I did bring it up before.  I know that I have members of the Official Opposition who are going to speak on this, who are going to go through different parts of it, but I have to say – and I will say this very strongly – when a democratic vote is taken properly, there is no other special right that we can have to say aye or nay, is to have a secret ballot, which I support 100 per cent.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

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 indeed an honour to get to speak to Bill 22.  The hon. member on the other side talks about two years ago there was some discussion around the legislation and there was some changes done after consultation.  I want to note to this individual twenty-five years ago, I was part of some of the changes in this piece of legislation.  It is a living document.  It is something that continues to move forward as we improve how we work with the labour movement, how we work with employers, how we work with the unions, and this indeed is another part of us moving that forward.

 

As the minister has noted, over a period of time, after assessing what other information was there, after consulting with people, after reviewing, we felt there is a better way that we can move this piece of legislation forward and improve the whole process.  The amendments that are being put forth are exactly to do that.  The member agreed that what we are proposing now improves this piece of legislation, and I am glad he agrees with that.  I am glad he is going to support it and I would hope everybody would support it. 

 

From somebody like myself who came from a union background, very active, very engaged, part of the whole union process, but a very strong believer in democracy – and democracy, the simple process, vote, a private vote, a secret vote means something.  It means people have an individual way of promoting democracy, an individual way of making sure that their own views are the ones that are counted.

 

This piece of legislation draws towards doing that and this came basically after we looked at what needed to be adjusted in this legislation, and there are two particular parts here – conciliation.  Conciliation is first about how do we make sure we are better equipped to get labour and employers to come up with collective agreements, come up with an agreement that works for both, that is in the best interest so there is less disruption in our labour markets, less disruption in the services that we offer people. 

 

We did that by looking at what is the best approach here; and conciliation, we found, is the best approach.  We have trained qualified people within the department that fall under the act, and fall under the auspices of following their professionalism and how they do their jobs.  We looked at that.  We felt that in collective bargaining, parties sometimes encounter difficulties, but we are saying that we can help move them forward.  We can help come to collective agreements.  The best way to do that, instead of going with the old process that we had, that people would come in looking for a conciliation board where you had to appoint multiple individuals to look at a process, we felt one individual, a qualified individual who understands both sides of the bargaining process would come in, would sit down, would try to look at exactly how far apart both of the entities were and then try to find common ground and move it to a collective agreement that would be workable for everybody.

 

That is what we ended up doing here.  We have asked both parties – in this piece of legislation, we are bringing it to a point that the first step they would need to do when they contact the minister responsible under the Labour Relations Act is that they are looking for a conciliator to move in there, to work with both groups.  We have done that.  We have looked at certain things that we wanted to put in place. 

 

We know that over the last six years 95 per cent of the labour negotiations where a conciliator was put in place were settled very quickly and very diligently among both groups, without too much adversity, and people move forward based on that. 

 

The legislation currently written requires parties to request a conciliation board in order to get into a strike or lockout position.  What we look at there is a conciliation officer is appointed.  That person then will do exactly what is necessary to be able to find a solution to this process.

 

Conciliation boards are very rarely used.  There are only a couple of incidents since 2006.  They are normally in a more volatile collective bargaining area where there is a multitude of factors that have to be engaged, or you might need three or four entities that have specialities sitting on a board to really examine both sides; but, even in those, we have been very successful in coming to an agreement with all parties involved. 

 

This piece of legislation addresses that.  It cleans up and does some of the housekeeping, but it also makes it very clear that the first process that either side in a bargaining negotiation has to use is to go look for a conciliation officer and request that from the minister.  The process after that, the consolidation officer will then report back to the minister for review based on what the findings were, if there is common ground, how close they are to an agreement, if they have come to an agreement, if there are situations there that cannot be overcome, or if indeed there is a recommendation to go to a conciliation board.  That is reviewed then and addressed by the minister.  Again, I am glad to say 95 per cent of these get solved very quickly.  It is very important as we do that. 

 

The second part of this, Mr. Speaker, is the card-based certification.  As we have talked about it – there is no doubt we had a debate about it in this House two years ago.  We have gone from one system that had worked, from the early 1990s, to something else that we thought, because of consultation with the parties out there, that this would be a better approach.  We have since looked at that and gone back and said: What would really work for the industry?  That means those who are in the unions, also the employer.  What is in the best interest?  What really promotes democracy and promotes the fact that there can be a better agreement among the parties? 

 

What was felt here after looking at other jurisdictions, seeing which jurisdictions make this work, seeing what their success rates have been, was that we would go now to a secret ballot voting process for all of our negotiations when it comes to that process, that the card-based certification process would not exist in our Province any longer. 

 

We looked at the rationale behind that.  We looked at the research that we had done.  We looked at our own polling.  We looked at the success rates when you manage to be able to do that.  We looked at what the employers were saying were some of the restrictions or some of the challenges, but more importantly we looked at what the employees were saying.  That they wanted to have a process where they would get all of the information upfront.  They would be able to make an informed decision when it came to if they wanted to be certified or decertified. 

 

They also wanted to have privacy on how they voted.  They also wanted to know there would be a process in how the votes are done and counted and sealed.  All these things are normal democracy that we do in this House of Assembly.  We all were elected based on that same principle.  That is what we wanted to bestow on everybody else.  That is a privilege and a right we want to give them. 

 

Sometimes you go back and review things and you try to improve it, and in this case that is what we are doing here.  We are doing it, but in the hands of making sure that labour and the employers are taken care of.  This is not a one-sided thing, by no stretch of the imagination.  This is about making something equitable for all involved and making sure that we solve a lot of the disputes before they get too out of hand, before we have to go to the conciliation board level where then you have a massive dispute and you are into lockouts or strikes.  We are trying to prevent that. 

 

This piece of legislation does that.  It is open; it is democratic.  Does it make us say yes, we have had to review things?  We are open enough to do that.  We are big enough to admit that.  We now realize there is a better way of doing it and this is a way of improving on this piece of legislation.  We have looked at things like this.  We looked at the simple things. 

 

What are the changes of the certification provisions of the Labour Act?  Card-based certification will be repealed and will return to a previous two-step process involving sign a card and a subsequent certification secret ballot.  It is something we had that worked.  We did not have a lot of pushback, but we had pushback in an area. 

 

Like in every piece of legislation, over a period of time you review it.  You review it because you feel sometimes maybe it is getting stale, maybe there is a new approach.  Maybe there are some new pieces of information that you need done to get things moving.  In this case, that is what we did.  We came up with what we thought would be the card-based certification.  We have since moved away from that. 

 

This piece of legislation we are going to put forward now will put that back on an even keel; put it back to where it was.  Sometimes the old cliché, you fix something that was not broken.  In this case we probably did that prematurely, but we are going to go back and fix it.  We are going to fix it so that it benefits everybody engaged. 

 

As part of this process, we know the end result will be more openness.  There will be more agreements settled.  We have a conciliation process in place that works.  We have the resources within the department to do that.  We have the qualified people to do it, and both the employers and the employees understand the process.  We want to make it clear.  This is user friendly. 

 

The legislation is put in such words that any union would understand what it is all about, so would the employees.  That is what we wanted to make sure, it works in that process.  We have looked at that.  We have put it in place.  We are coming in and making these amendments.  We know we have support from a number of the entities out there. 

 

I would think and hope a lot of people who are in the same boat I was a number of years ago, as union members would understand and respect why this is in the best interest of themselves and their employers.  That the secret ballot process is another example of how we move democracy forward and how they are part of a bigger process.

 

So, Mr. Speaker, I will be supporting this, and I would hope my colleagues in this House will be doing the same.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. Barbe.

 

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

 

Mr. Speaker, two years ago we were presented – we in the Official Opposition, I guess the entire House – with changes to the Labour Relations Act.  One of the changes that was hotly debated, or should have been hotly debated and maybe was not, was that unions could only be certified by way of a secret ballot.  That would seem normal.  The secret ballot process has been in use for a long time. 

 

The Opposition was prevailed upon, by having it explained to us that there were trade-offs.  That government had consulted with the employer groups and labour groups and they were content, more or less, in exchange for cards to be signed that would indicate 65 per cent of employees in a prospective bargaining unit wanted to be certified to be members of that union, there would be an automatic certification without a vote. 

 

The trade-off, or one of the trade-offs, was that if an employer was in a collective bargaining discussion, if they were involved in negotiations with a union, then they could reach over or reach around the union and make an offer to the employees.  So the employees could vote on it without the union leadership having any say really in the members having a vote. 

 

That was presented to the Opposition by government as being a rational, reasonable, compromise of the two parties, and apparently that was not true.  Apparently, it was not a fair compromise.  There had been insufficient consultation, or very little consultation.  Now we are told that for the past couple of years, since that bill was passed, there have been discussions back and forth to undo what the Opposition went along with in good faith at the government's request two years ago. 

 

It is sort of a warning.  Opposition parties should be extremely careful.  When government offers something and they say they have had consultation with all parties and everybody is happy, and you should go along with it, and we did, maybe we ought not to have. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the proposal that is before us today, the bill that is before us today seeks to undo – at least this is what we are being told – what we did two years ago.  I am afraid it goes further than undoing what was done two years ago, and I will get to some of that part in a moment. 

 

Mr. Speaker, by way of the secret ballot; we live in a culture and a society today where I think generally we take secret ballots for granted.  Well, it has not always been the case.  The secret ballot – also referred to as the Australian ballot – was introduced in the format that we are familiar with in two Australian states, Victoria and South Australia, in 1856.  From there it spread to Great Britain, where we have our political heritage, in the Ballot Act of 1872.  The United States adopted it in the presidential election of 1884. 

 

Secret ballots have been around for quite some time.  Generally, it is seen as the most democratic way that people can express their view and say what they want, to support for or against.  By contrast – even minimal research over the last little while can disclose – some of the issues with card checks and different courts in the United States have commented – we do not have a lot of court litigation related to secret ballots or union drives.  We are probably blessed in that respect. 

 

By way of example, the United States Fourth Circuit Court said, “It would be difficult to imagine a more unreliable method of ascertaining the real wishes of employees than a ‘card check,' unless it was an employer's request for an open show of hands.  That is pretty strong language coming from the Fourth Circuit of the United States Court of Appeal, which is just below the United States Supreme Court. 

 

The Ninth Circuit Court referred to the National Labour Relations Board in the United States saying, “Congress and the Supreme Court regard a secret ballot election conducted under the Board's auspices as the preferred method for resolving representational disputes in the manner that best ensures employee free and informed choice.”

 

In support of free ballots and a proper democratic election, in the United States the US House of Representatives by Bill H.R. 2346, last year, just a year ago this month, introduced the Secret Ballot Protection Act.  It has three key features.  This is similar to what we are looking at here.  It says the Secret Ballot Protection Act, “Require a secret ballot election before a union can be certified or decertified,” – so it goes both ways – “eliminating once and for all the threats posed by the card check scheme”.  It also prevents employers from bargaining with any union that has not been certified by a secret ballot election, and it prohibits any unions from negotiating with an employer before they have been certified by a secret ballot election.

 

So, Mr. Speaker, it seems clear that the bill that we passed two years ago was not well thought out.  It needs to be undone.  I think that part clearly will be undone by this bill; however, government has a tendency to put some good stuff in with some stuff that is not so good so that you are sort of forced to vote for all of it.

 

If you continue on, Mr. Speaker – to read directly from the Labour Relations (Amendment) Act that is before us today, this current bill which is Bill 22, if we look at conciliation, what they are saying at paragraph 107 is that, “A member of a conciliation board or a person who has been appointed for that purpose in writing by the board may, without authority other than this section, enter a building, ship, vessel, factory, workshop, place or premises in the province where work is being or has been done or started by employees or in which an employer carries on business or a matter or thing is taking place or has taken place, considering the matters referred to that board, and may inspect and view work, material, machinery, appliance or articles there and interrogate persons in or upon the place…”.  Mr. Speaker, interrogate persons.

 

This bill now is going to give freewheeling power to either someone from the board or someone appointed by the board to enter into any of these premises without search warrants, without warning, without consent, go over all of this, and interrogate people on site.  It goes on to say, “…a person shall not hinder or obstruct the board or a person, so authorized by it, in the exercise of a power conferred by this section or refuse to answer an interrogation made under this section.”

 

Mr. Speaker, this has to be the hobnail boot clause of this piece of legislation that is supposed to fix up the mistake that government talked us into helping them make two years ago.  Clearly, the secret ballot is a very important feature, but this feature to literally jam this down people's throats to say that the board can send someone over to interrogate your employees pretty much anywhere in the Province, on your ship or at your business, or plant or factory, this is completely unnecessary and I do not understand why the government is bootstrapping this section onto to the other section to get a result it seems nobody is looking for. 

 

Mr. Speaker, to add insult to injury a conciliation board recommendation is not compulsory; it is not binding.  So, after doing all of this, after violating people's charter of rights, presumably, or their privacy rights, interfering with them under threat of law that you could be found guilty of an unfair labour practice and/or fine, even now the report that is made by the conciliation board, they do not have to go along with it anyway. 

 

It seems like legislation that seeks to undo something that was not very well thought out and it also adds more stuff and more power that nobody seems to be looking for so that it is all rolled up into one little ball and we are supposed to vote for the whole package. 

 

Mr. Speaker, I am quite certain that the Official Opposition will be supporting the bill.  We may well be trying to get some revisions or amendments or changes to it because it is necessary to undo the mistakes of a couple of years ago, but why is it necessary to add more mistakes to the new bill that seeks to undo the mistakes from the old bill that we did not need in the first place? 

 

I just do not get it, but maybe the minister will be able to explain that in more detail.  Those are my observations tonight, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear! 

 

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

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

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

 

It is indeed a privilege to get up here tonight again and represent my district – the beautiful District, as I always say, of Cape St. Francis.  Mr. Speaker, this is an important bill we are doing here tonight.  The Opposition member was just up that time and you would not know if every bill that we have put up in this House, no matter what it is, they jump up and agree with it.  I have noticed there are times in this House when there are bills that come up that they do not agree with, but this one, when we put it in, in 2012 they did agree with it, Mr. Speaker.  They had ample time to do their investigations and everything else, their research, like they do on most bills, just as well as we did. 

 

Mr. Speaker, he says is we are undoing something.  I say that we are making things correct and we are changing things – not all things are always done whenever you bring anything in.  We do not live in a perfect world, Mr. Speaker.  Sometimes there is stuff that gets done and you have to reflect and look back and say okay, what is the best way and what is the best process, and look at things after a while – I know it is only twenty-three months since this bill has been brought in, but you have to look at things that you are doing and say okay, maybe we should have done it or we should have left it alone.  That is what we are doing here with a part of this bill. 

 

Mr. Speaker, there are two parts to the bill.  One is to provide workers with a mandatory secret ballot to vote on a union certification, and the other part is to talk about conciliation and what happens in a conciliation process.  A lot of times when there are disputes, whether it is strikes or lockouts or whatever, that assistance is required.  Both the union and the employer go through all the processes and they look and say we are at this stalemate right now and there is no way that we can solve this, we need some help, somebody needs to come in and conciliate and just see what is happening here with the bill. 

 

The process before was that they made an application to the Labour Relations Agency and the employer or the union came in and said: Listen, we need to get somebody to come in and to conciliate, come in and get the two parties sat down and perhaps they can give different perspectives and we can settle our dispute.  Most times when a conciliator is put in place, 95 per cent of the disputes are settled.  I was just thinking the other day when I went over to the briefing – and I also must thank the people over to Service NL for the briefing they gave us.  A lot of times when you go to those briefings, you find out a lot of information and there are a lot of things going on.  I think they said that since the 1990s there was only six times that a conciliation board had to be put in place to settle a dispute.  In most cases, nearly in every case, a conciliator is put in place.

 

Mr. Speaker, like I just said, when a conciliator is put in place, 95 per cent of the disputes are settled, but the process is what we are changing here in this part of the amendment.  What we are changing here is that the request always goes in for a conciliation board; but, in most cases, a conciliation board is not what is put in place; it is a conciliator.  So, the process is changed now that you will go and you will ask for conciliation and a conciliation officer will be put in place.  It does not take what the minister can do – the minister still has the right to appoint a board but right now, like I said, in most cases when you ask for conciliation, it is a conciliation officer that goes in place.

 

All we are doing is changing the process.  Before, you asked for a conciliation board but you get an officer.  Now you go in and you ask for conciliation and you will get an officer.  If it is serious and if down the road you go to the minister, he still has the same right to go and put that board in place.  That is the only change in this part of the amendments that we are doing. 

 

The other part now is to do with card certification.  After the last time, in 2012, I spoke to some employers and I spoke to employees and union people and everything else and there were some concerns that I know some people had who spoke to me about this part.  When I look at it, I always look at the way our democracy works.  I will tell you a little story now.  The first time I ran for election in Flatrock, the guy who ran against me, a good friend of mine – this is about a secret ballot.  Two of us were sat down and we were just wondering who was going to win the vote and when the vote came out I think I won by 350 to 50.  He looked at me and said: Kevin, there are a lot of liars in Flatrock. 

 

Mr. Speaker, a secret ballot – people can say what they want when they are out there in a group of people but what they really believe is when they get in there and they get the chance to mark that X.  There is nobody with a gun to their heads.  We are not over in the Ukraine where you are frightened to death to go in.  It is a secret ballot.  It is a right that we had people fight in wars for.  It is a right that everybody in this country and everybody in this part of the world – it is great to be able to have that right. 

 

It is probably the biggest right we have as civilized countries, is the right to be able to go in and mark your X.  That is basically what this is doing now.  In some cases, unions do a fantastic job.  They represent their people really, really well.  In some cases, there are going to be companies out there and they want to be unionized.  There are two parts to it.  There is the part that the union has to be able to explain the benefits that we are going to give you as a union, but it is also a part that the employer should also have that same right to give his part, should be able to tell the unionized people this is the effects that it is going to have on my company.  These are the pros and these are the cons. 

 

Everybody gets informed and everybody gets their same say, but this is what it is doing.  At the end of the day, it is that person who walks in and makes that X.  When you make that X, that is your right – nobody else will know how you made the X unless it comes out 100 per cent and they will say well boy, you voted for it.  That it the way it is, and that is the process that this is all about, this card certification, is giving people the right to do it.

 

What happens basically on this part of it is that 50 per cent say okay, we want to be unionized and they go to the Labour Relations Board, so they ask for certification.  The Labour Relations Board has five days to say okay, we are going to call a vote; but that five days gives the union, gives the employer, time to say listen here, these are the implications of the union.  This is what we can offer you.  As union reps, you can get this.  The employer has the same right; but, at the end of the day, it is the right of the employee.

 

The hon. minister got up and he gave us some statistics.  I think some of the statistics that he gave us is that 84 per cent of workers agree with a secret ballot.  Eighty-four percent of workers in the workplace agree that it should be a secret ballot.  I can see why, because it is a right that we all earned, and a secret ballot gives them the right to do so.  Ninety-three percent, he said, completely or somewhat agree that the workers should be entitled to obtain information from both the union and the employer – 93 per cent of the workers out there.

 

That is what this bill is all about.  This bill is not about the union.  This bill is not about the employer.  This bill is about the workers.  This bill is about the workers' right and the workers' right to have the freedom and what our democracy is all about, the right to mark your X.  That is what this bill is about. 

 

Mr. Speaker, like I said, I spoke to employers and I spoke to workers.  I do not think that most workers in any part of the workforce today have a problem with being able to go in and secretly mark their X.  Now, maybe there will be some backlash, I guess, against the unions because unions would rather do it where you go in, you get your people in place, bang, bang, it is done, and there is nothing anybody else can do. 

 

There is also the right of the employer to be able to inform the worker of what they can give and what they can do.  It is a choice that they will make and it is a choice that they deserve to make.  I really believe that it is a fair bill.  I think that looking back on what we did in 2012 that it is a real good thing what we are doing with this bill to go back to where it was before 2012, because I think it is the right thing to do.

 

Mr. Speaker, after listening to our Premier today and listening to his speech, there is a lot of things that we do and there is a lot of things you have to do because it is the right thing to do.  This is the one thing that is the right thing to do.  It is the right thing for the employer, I think it is the right thing for the unions, and I really think the main person that it is the right thing for is the worker.  It is to give them the right to mark their X and put it in a place where – there is no way that somebody can come back and intimidate or whatever.  There is a part of the act there that is under the part of the Labour Relations Act and it is called unfair labour practices. 

 

Under that, both the union and the employers are protected.  It is to secure that the workers are not intimidated.  There are all kinds of rights there that they have if some kind of intimidation or anything is in place – I know everyone on this side, and what I hear from the Opposition over there, will be supporting this bill because it is a good thing and it is the right thing to do. 

 

Thank you very much, 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 am quite upset that I have to get up and even talk to this today, knowing that what we did two years ago was the right thing.  I speak from life experience here when it comes to unions, when it comes to the whole certification process and what I dealt with years ago when it came to almost unionizing the taxi industry.  There is one industry, buddy, I tell you, Mr. Speaker, that needs it.  We would not be here now today talking about lone worker legislation.  We would not be here talking about the violence that is undertaken in that particular field.  We would not be talking about the need for more safety equipment because we would probably have that legislated. 

 

Let me tell you, when it comes to conciliation, teachers are a fine example of when the last time was that they were called in.  Two years trying to negotiate with a government, exercised in frustration –

 

MR. SPEAKER: Hear, hear!

 

I would ask the member to speak to Bill 22. 

 

MR. MURPHY: Absolutely, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Still, the topic of conciliation, we have a good example right now of a consolidation officer that was appointed and hopefully that agreement will work out.  Let me tell you about having that union card at the time and going through the whole process of unionizing.  Having that card gave me a sense of ownership, and that is what this does for anybody who signs on to a union.  That is the whole purpose of being a card-carrying member of a union when it comes to the whole certification process.

 

Mr. Speaker, I find it hard to believe that in this Province, with the transient workforce that we have, how you would not be able to have that card-carrying member out there.  It is pretty hard as it is now to get –

 

MR. KING: A point of order, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

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

 

MR. KING: Mr. Speaker, this is just a point of order to the relevance of the bill.

 

It is my understanding in amending legislation that we speak to the purpose of the amendments of legislation.  With all due respect, the member is talking about being a card-carrying member of a union.  This bill speaks to the process of a union certification happening.  It does not speak to the elements of being a card-carrying member or what it means to be a part of a union.  There is nothing to do with that in this legislation. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

There is no point of order, but I would ask the member again to speak to the principle of the bill in second reading. 

 

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Maybe I am having trouble as regards the concept that government is trying to carry on here with, because as far as I am concerned, what this is doing is weakening what workers have earned these past couple of decades when it comes to workers' rights.  I just feel that something is being done here that is going to end up lowering wages in this Province.  I want to be very cautious when I say this to government when they are bringing this in, that we have a danger here of losing what we have now. 

 

Wages will be lower.  There is going to be a little bit less of a wage level that is going to be earned on the part of the worker who has signed on here when it comes to this whole process.  Frankly, I am nervous about it.  I really am, and I fear what is going to be down the road when it comes to labour relations in this Province. 

 

We know the government, for example, came out and said – the minister just said a few minutes ago that they came out and consulted with everybody, but they did not consult with the heads of the union in the Province.  I am saying to myself – and our leader asked questions in Question Period earlier today about having that three-way agreement - you figure if the employers were going to be getting together with government and talking about the issues that are affecting our labour market out there that the heads of the labour unions in our Province would have been invited to that same table, but they were not.  They were not consulted with on this. 

 

I have to ask government what their intentions are when it comes to this.  It is quite disturbing to see, for example, for our own government workforce, we have probably 8,000 members, and as far as I am concerned, according to what the minister said, they were not consulted with it.  That is the best information that we have on it. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I remind the member one more time that you must speak to the principle of the bill in second reading.  Your comments cannot be irrelevant.  I would ask the member to speak to – there are three points to the bill, and to confine his comments to that. 

 

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

 

MR. MURPHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

When I read this, perhaps a better briefing for me might have been a little bit in order here.  As far as I am concerned, what is being done here with the lack of consultation I think is an important topic that I have to bring up.

 

I wanted to reflect on the process of union certification, trying to relate it back to my life experience of what happened.  I do not know, Mr. Speaker, if I am being out of line when I say that because I think life experience is what this House is all about, so I will try to be a little bit more clear as regards what happened.  I can only reflect on the taxi industry.  It is the only place I think there was ever an attempt, while I was in that workforce, that certification was attempted. 

 

I do know that in the ensuing time period when the certification was underway, while some of us had signed cards and wanted representation by a union, at the same time there was a lot of time in between that the campaigning, if you will, could be done on the part of the employer and the sell job was put on us that – well, I guess for all intents and purposes, Mr. Speaker – allowed us to change our mind when the full facts on both sides were not even in.  I do know one thing, nothing changed in the industry since, even though the promises were made.

 

There is an importance here as regards the union that is out there and the changes that have happened out there in the workforce.  There is a reason why we have different things, including a Labour Relations Act that deems how negotiations would happen or even deems how a worker is treated in a workplace.

 

I want to reflect, too, that in the taxi industry we were more or less a transient workforce.  The same thing happens with the offshore industries, for example, we have different shifts that happen.  Again, I am really worried about this.  I do not like the fact that there is – I can understand where government might see that there would be a voting process. 

 

They are trying to call it a secret ballot, but when I read other sections of the act and what I was told when I was out looking for information on it – I am also told, for example, that if there were 1,000 employees in the workforce and only 300 voted, it can be said that the other 700 who did not vote actually did vote a no position, for example, or a yes position when that vote is taken, depending on what the question was.  So that worries me, that because somebody did not drop their ballot that that could potentially happen.

 

I wanted to start off by leaving those comments with you, Mr. Speaker, and with the House, and perhaps the government can further explain its intention of what it is trying to do here.

 

Thank you very much.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Are there further speakers?

 

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

 

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

 

I am very happy to stand and speak to this bill, the amendments to the Labour Relations Act.  I have some concerns about the proposed amendments.  Predominantly, I would like to start off by questioning the minister on how the amendments came about.  I am particularly interested when we have a tripartite committee, that is an established committee that has been working well, and we know that labour was not invited to this discussion.  Mr. Speaker, that is absolutely outrageous. 

 

We are seeing a very definitive, very specific amendment that is a reversal.  It is a reversal to what we have seen in this act, a reversal that came about from hard work.  We had an act that came about from hard work, from respect, from integrity by a tripartite committee.  Now this reversal comes apart.  It is a complete violation of the strategic partnership that was established to look at our Labour Standards Act, at our Labour Relations Act. 

 

That was the basis on which we made decisions, through the recommendations of a tripartite committee.  A strategic partnership that again was respectful, that was informed, that was honoured by this House, that was honoured by this government, that was honoured by employers, and was honoured by labour.  That is how we got the act that we have now.  The amendments that are put before us in this House tonight are a violation, a complete violation of that process.  It is a violation of trust.  It is a violation of integrity. 

 

I am curious, Mr. Speaker; I would love to have been at the Cabinet table to see which minister brought this to the Cabinet table.  How did they explain this amendment?  How did they explain how this amendment came about without even consulting labour?  It is nothing short of a complete violation; a violation of trust that labour has put in this government, that labour has negotiated in good faith with this government on the Labour Relations Act.  I cannot imagine, Mr. Speaker, how it came about.  I would love to have been a fly on the wall to hear the description.  I would love to have been a fly on the wall to see how this came about, because it is nothing short of a violation of trust.

 

Today, the Premier stood in this House and talked about prosperity and wealth.  He talked about how that prosperity and wealth that we –

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I remind the member that her comments in second reading of this bill should be confined to the amendment that we are talking about.  I have given the member some time to bring that around.  I would ask her to do that now, to make her comments relevant. 

 

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

 

The Premier was talking about labour.  He was talking about how important the labour is in our Province, that the prosperity and wealth we experience as a Province is on the back of labour, the people in our Province who work so hard.  That is what this bill is about.  This bill is about our workers. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

Again, I would ask the member to speak to the amendments that are found in Bill 22. 

 

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

 

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

 

Mr. Speaker, today in response to this bill unions are saying that government has given in to the employer lobby, rather than standing up for the rights of workers.  They say that government is dressing it up as democracy and the secret ballot when it is really taking away these rights.  This is what this bill is doing.  Rather than protecting the rights of workers, by imposing a secret ballot within the workplace it is taking away from the rights of workers. 

 

They say the change will make it harder for workers to exercise their Charter of Rights to assemble and form a union by allowing employers to interfere with that right.  The freedom of association, Mr. Speaker, and the right to free collective bargaining are fundamental human rights.  That is what we are talking about in this bill.  

 

We are talking about the freedom for workers to assemble, the freedom for workers to have collective bargaining.  That is a fundamental human right and I am sure that everybody in this House agrees to that.  It is endorsed by the United Nations and the International Labour Organization. 

 

In 1944, the International Labour Conference adopted the Declaration of Philadelphia which said in part that labour is not a commodity – and I know we all believe that in this House – and that freedom of expression and freedom of association are essential to sustained progress.  That is what we are talking about here, Mr. Speaker, the right of workers –

 

MR. KING: A point of order.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

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

 

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. 

 

I would just like to draw the Speaker's attention again once more to the whole issue of relevance.  I will just refer to the House of Commons procedures that we use here often, Mr. Speaker, on page 623.  Very clearly the rules state that we debate the points that are relevant to this bill.  This is amending a piece of legislation.  There are three points stated here. 

 

I have also sat here and listened at length to the member talk about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and bills out of the United States.  I am failing to see the connection between that and the three pieces of amending legislation, Mr. Speaker, that we have here. 

 

Thank you. 

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

There is no point of order. 

 

I would ask the Member for St. John's Centre to continue.

 

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

 

Mr. Speaker, in 2012, section 47 of the Labour Relations Act, pertaining to certification of a union, was amended in our own act to allow certification by getting 65 per cent of members to sign union cards.  If 40 per cent to 65 per cent of members sign cards, then it goes to a vote of the members. 

 

Currently, certification is automatic when 65 per cent of employees sign union membership cards.  That is automatic.  When at least 40 per cent, but less than 65 per cent, of employees sign union cards, a certification vote by secret ballot will still be required.

 

Before 2012, once 40 per cent of eligible employees signed union cards and the union filed a certification application, a second voting process had to be followed.  The employer had the ability and the time to communicate with employees during the time period between the certification application being filed with the Labour Relations Board and the certification vote taking place, which was generally a five-day period.

 

In our own Labour Relations Act we had one of the most stringent provisions in the country.  It was brought in 1994 under Clyde Wells after an industrial inquiry into attempts to unionize certain fish plants.  Mr. Speaker, when we were looking at this, we had a tripartite committee. 

 

The industrial inquiry recommended that workers vote twice for their union to come in.  First, they signed the union cards, but that is no longer enough.  Even if 90 per cent or 100 per cent of the workers sign the cards, they also have to vote.  This gives employers time to undermine the union before the votes, and that was a concern, Mr. Speaker.

 

That is why we have the act that we have, before what is being put before us here tonight.  What was put before us here tonight, what we had before what is being put forward here tonight, is a result of experts coming together at the table, again out of trust, out of respect, out of integrity, and out of caring for the workers of this Province.

 

As the Premier said today, the wealth and prosperity we experience in our Province today, which is great for many, is because of the great work and because of the dedication and the labour.  It is on the backs and off the sweat of the brow of the workers who have worked to build the Province to what it is.

 

Mr. Speaker, our act – before what is put before us tonight – was to protect that work, was to protect those workers.  It was to ensure that workers had representation.  Representations that ensured they had a safe working place, that they had fair wages, that they had ample benefits, that they had fair benefits, that they had fair protection in their workplace and for their future, which would benefit all the people of the Province, which benefits the communities in which they work and in the communities that they live.

 

Mr. Speaker, that is how that particular act came about.  That is how those changes came about two years ago.  Now what we have before us is such a violation.  It is such a violation of the trust and the work that was done at a table where government was present, where labour was present, and where employers were present.  It was a strategic partnership that worked.  Now I am forced to stand to speak to an act that I cannot help but think is sneaky and disrespectful.  The piece of legislation that has come before us now is sneaky, it is disrespectful, and it is a violation.

 

This is a movement.  What we have before us now, Mr. Speaker, is we know that labour is about protecting the rights of workers in our Province.  What we have before us here is a movement against our people.  This is a movement against the protection of our people.  This is not an amendment that protects the rights of our people.  Again, the process in which this act is tabled before us is so disrespectful, is so dishonest, is so sneaky, and is so duplicitous.

 

Mr. Speaker, I cannot believe, after the work that has been done, not only the concrete work that brought us to the act that we had two years ago, but the work that it took to build a relationship of trust and to build that strategic partnership, and then to again violate that.

 

In other provinces, Mr. Speaker, and federally, either 50 per cent plus one, or 60 per cent to 65 per cent of the workers had to sign cards and then no extra vote was necessary.  That was in Manitoba, New Brunswick, PEI, and Quebec.  That is something that we work towards, Mr. Speaker. 

 

Card certification was one of a series of amendments the provincial government has enacted to maintain a positive labour relations climate, and that is what we had.  That is what we had.  We had a positive labour relations climate because of the process; the process that government agreed to.  This government agreed to that process.  Employers agreed to that process, they were at that table.  Labour agreed to that process.  Then this government has turned around and has been sneaky.  It has done something without having labour at the table.  It is such a violation of trust.  It is such a violation of the rights of our workers.  It is such a violation of their families. 

 

It is a mystery, Mr. Speaker, and absolutely confounding to think that government would violate that trust at this point, would violate that process.  One that they had to work so hard to build an atmosphere of trust and respect, and an atmosphere of integrity and honesty.  This is double-crossing the workers of our Province.  This is double-crossing the unions who are representing them.  This is absolutely unforgivable. 

 

Mr. Speaker, at this point I do not know what else there is to be said about this legislation except that government has promised, this current Premier has promised to listen and he did not.  This government has not followed through on that promise because nobody is listening to labour.  As a matter of fact, not only were they not listening to labour, they totally cut them out of the process.  They violated the process that they themselves had set up, and that was not done in consultation with anyone.  Unless they were consulting with someone and even in that process, cut labour out of it. 

 

Mr. Speaker, who does this benefit?  How does it benefit our workers?  Who is this really benefitting?  Why was there no consultation?  Why is government ramming this down?  There was no consultation with labour.  I cannot believe it, Mr. Speaker.  This example of how this act comes before us is exactly an example as to why we need unions to protect our workers.  That is what this act is.  It is an example of why we need those unions. 

 

This is not about protecting workers, because if it was about protecting workers then labour would have been at the table.  Instead, they were excluded from the table.  They were excluded from the process.  Again, the process that this government committed to.  Government has double-crossed, it is a breach of trust, it is a breach of process, and it is a double-crossing of the strategic partnership.  I do not know how this –

 

MR. KING: A point of order, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

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

 

MR. KING: Yes, Mr. Speaker.

 

We are speaking to a bill here introduced by the hon. the Minister Responsible for Labour, and I would suggest the member is using unparliamentary language to suggest that what he has presented here is in breach of trust and breach of confidence.  I ask the member to retract those statements.

 

MR. SPEAKER: There is no point of order.

 

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

 

MS ROGERS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

What I was talking about was the process that got us to this point, that got us to the amendments on this bill.  Mr. Speaker, again, I do not think that can be said enough.  I really, really do not think that can be said enough.  I wonder, Mr. Speaker, what was in the minister's mind to think that it was okay to do this?

 

We have certain procedures in this House.  We have certain processes that we follow.  The only way we can get our work done is that we respect those processes.  We respect those procedures, that there is a strategic partnership in this House. 

 

We have three parties, and our Labour Relations Act was subject to that tripartite committee.  It was a well-defined process.  It was a strategic partnership, again, that this government initiated, and initiated for all the right reasons.  That committee continued on and it had a process.  It had a procedure, and why that would be violated is beyond me.  To what end?

 

Obviously, if government felt that the amendments we are speaking to tonight were good for workers, then they would not have hidden the process from labour.  I believe that this whole process of coming up with these amendments was actually deliberately hidden from labour, because labour knew nothing about them – labour who was sitting at the table.  Can you imagine, Mr. Speaker, in some kind of business arrangement, some kind of agreement, to omit one of the partners of an agreement or a treaty? 

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The Speaker is reluctant to interject too frequently in a debate that is so important to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, but it is also important to the process of the debate in the House that we adhere to certain principles in the debate.  One of the fundamental principles that we have many discussions about in this House is relevance to the debate at hand. 

 

If the House is okay with it, can we stop the clock so the member does not lose her time? 

 

I just want to refer members to the Explanatory Notes inside the first page of the bill.  This talks about an amendment to the Labour Relations Act.  There are three very specific points mentioned here.  This is about an amendment to “…the certification process regarding the requirement for a representation vote; remove the requirement for parties to collective bargaining to request a conciliation board in order to advance the collective bargaining process; and” – the third and final point – “reorder the provisions relating to conciliation proceedings and strikes and lockouts.”

 

This is a very specific amendment to an already existing act.  Issues around the value of the unionized labour movement, the value or criticisms about unfair labour practices, or issues around the value of unions and the process that was used to come to the establishment of the act in the first place are all important issues.  No one would dispute the fact that they are statements of fact that members are making as they stand on their feet, but they have little relevance to the bill before us this evening. 

 

So, the debate around a particular bill has to focus on the bill itself.  There are many interesting stories and interesting facts about any subject matter that we may bring before the House that might be valuable for people to learn and understand, but they are not relevant to the bill at hand. 

 

I would ask members to really focus their commentary on the bill before us this evening.  Particularly, if you find yourself challenged to find out what that might be I always suggest that you refer to the inside cover and that brings your attention back to the issue at hand before the House this evening.

 

I will ask the member to – we will start the clock again – if she would conclude her comments. 

 

MS ROGERS: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for those instructions.  I really appreciate that. 

 

Mr. Speaker, once again, card certification was one of a series of amendments that this provincial government has enacted to maintain a positive labour relations climate.  They were based on recommendations of three reviews of our labour relations framework, guided by the tripartite labour relations committee.  That is what brought us to the point before the amendments this evening.

 

The government release in June 2012 said that amendments will modernize provincial labour laws.  I believe that the government was very, very proud of modernizing our labour laws.  Mr. Speaker, I believe that, in fact, what is being proposed before us this evening does quite the opposite and takes us backward, that it is regressive rather than progressive, and that it is a shame that they have not included all members of the tripartite committee.

 

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

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

 

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

 

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak to Bill 22, a bill that I am not very happy about because of one of the particular pieces that is in the bill.  That is the changes to the card-based certification that we have here in this Province and that we had in this Province before 1994.

 

We had changes in 1994.  Then, in 2012, many of us in this room discussed and debated the bill that we are amending tonight.  That bill, which brought in the amendment of card-based certification, was a bill that I was extremely pleased to see and a bill that was the result of four years of hard work and consultation at the tripartite table that has been referred to by my colleague for St. John's Centre.

 

The card-based certification that was brought in, I think – and so did the government think at that time.  This government thought it as well that the card certification was a move forward.  The press release that was put out at the time in June, just two years ago, said that the amendments will modernize provincial labour laws.

 

So this government, two years ago, thought that the bill that they brought in and that we passed in this House was going modernize provincial labour laws.  Tonight, we are being told that what they brought in two years ago in card-based certification, that it was wrong and that now what is happening is modernization.

 

I would like to say that one of the reasons we have one of the highest percentages of unionized workforce in the Province throughout our country – we have the highest actually – is because of card certification and that is something that the labour movement itself attest to.  That is why they support what is happening.  They support what we have in place. 

 

This government has told us and has asked us to believe that they listen to people who are involved in an issue, in a situation.  For example, tonight, we had a piece of legislation where we were listening to the junior companies involved in the mining industry.  The Minister of Finance when she closed the Budget talked about how pleased she was during the consultation process because she heard the issues of people and people are now telling her that she listened and the Budget reflects things that they are saying.

 

Well, the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour which represents tens of thousands of workers in this Province says that the card-based certification is the way to go.  That the card-based certification is the method that really does give freedom to workers when it comes to becoming certified.

 

There are many labour lawyers who have studied and written about card-based certification.  One of those lawyers has said: Card count gives union members a strong sense of belonging.  People are being asked to sign membership cards, being asked to choose to be a member of a union, not just voting in favour of one.  A union is only effective at settling disputes if the membership feel engaged and members who have signed their names to a card feel that sense of ownership.

 

This is an objective person, a lawyer who does represent labour and employers and who has observed card-based certification and the role that card-based certification plays.  This same person talks about the experience of our mobile workforce in Newfoundland and Labrador and how difficult it is for unions who are trying to unionize if the people they are trying to unionize move from workplace to workplace.  So, sometimes you have somebody who is at Bull Arm and then not too long later that person is working up in Voisey's Bay or maybe working in Long Harbour. 

 

Trying to hold meetings to get people unionized is extremely difficult and card-based certification is the thing that helps people express their opinion.  What I have heard from the government side on this issue is that the only way to express democracy or have a democratic right is by going to a ballot box.  I am not saying that ballot boxes are a bad thing, of course not; but you cannot equate a ballot box in which you are choosing among people and the process of card-based certification.  They are two different realities.

 

When we approved the legislation back in 2012, we approved a package that did include a vote on offer if the card-based certification did not meet all its criteria.  So, for example, the card-based certification in our current act that has not yet been amended says that if 65 per cent of the people identified in the bargaining unit, if 65 per cent of them sign cards, then you get certification.  If the number is between 40 per cent and 64 per cent, then you have a vote on offer.

 

In the last two years, since we approved the act back in June of 2012, there have been twelve certifications.  Ten of those certifications went smoothly, ten of those certifications met all the criteria, and the bargaining units were approved.  Two went to a vote.  There have been no problems identified.  The unions have not identified a problem with the card-based certification and they do not understand where this is coming from.  The government is saying they listen to people who are affected by this situation.  Well, the labour movement is saying they know that card-based certification works.  So they are the voice that should be at the table and be part of this discussion.

 

The card-based certification which exists, as we know, in a number of provinces, as well as on the federal level, as well as in three of the territories, is proving itself to be correct.  Here, when we approved it back in 2012, we were pretty stringent.  Because saying there had to be 65 per cent of the identified members of the bargaining unit sign the cards was pretty high.  There are some places in the provinces that have it – the federal one, for example, is 50.1 per cent.  So we were pretty high, we were pretty strict, and the labour movement agreed to that percentage of the identified members of the unit who signed the card.

 

Some years ago, in 2007, when we were under the old process that we had, there was an article written in the National Post by a lawyer – an assistant professor, actually, at the Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.  She looks at the whole thing of the mandatory vote procedure, which at that time applied in BC, Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador.  She looked at the card-based procedure, which at that time was in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.  What she says, and the conclusion that she comes to, is that both procedures have strength, there is no doubt about it, and both also have weaknesses. 

 

She goes on to say, “The question of whether the card-based or mandatory vote procedure is ‘better' is really a question of which more accurately reflects employees' true wishes about union representation”.  It is not that one is democratic and one is undemocratic.  Does the card-based certification and does the vote in the ballot represent what the workers want? 

 

What we approved in our legislation back in 2012 had a whole process for showing that the cards that were signed and the people who signed those cards knew what they were doing.  This is what they wanted.  That is what is important, according to this professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. 

 

The important thing is, does it reflect the wishes of the workers?  That is what is important.  What I am saying is, based on our experience; it seems that the process does show that the workers are happy.  What we should be doing, Mr. Speaker, is not ending something after two years, but saying we need actually to keep it in place longer in order –

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The Speaker is having difficulty hearing. 

 

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

 

I am having difficulty hearing myself, to tell you the truth, so thank you. 

 

I have lost my thought.  I was talking about the importance of the workers themselves.  Yes, we are not evaluating this long enough.  In the two years that it has been in place there have been no hiccups.  There has been nothing indicating that there is anything wrong – absolutely nothing.  There have been no hiccups, so if we want to find out if this is the right way to go then why not go a bit longer with it? 

 

I cannot believe the speed with which this is happening here.  I cannot believe that this legislation is being brought in without consultation with all the stakeholders.  It is not enough for me to hear a minister say that he spoke to workers.  The Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour represents tens of thousands of workers, all of whom believe in the card-based certification and most of whom – it would not be all of whom because we did not always have it –are in unions because of the card-based certification.  The card-based certification is working.  If we want to evaluate it, then let's leave it in place longer and then evaluate it, but let's not get rid of it.

 

When we approved the legislation in 2012, we had the two pieces in the legislation: we had the card-based certification and we had the vote on offer.  Those two things balanced each other out.  The vote on offer was something that gave a sense of security to the employers in the face of the card certification so that it could ensure that if there were any questions - and the criteria set out all of that - there would be a vote to ensure that this was a sure thing. 

 

The government that put that legislation on the floor here two years ago chose not to enact that second piece of legislation.  What we are doing here tonight is, instead of saying let's enact that piece of legislation to balance the card-based certification, no, we are going to get rid of the card-based certification and bring in this piece of legislation which was supposed to be something to balance things on behalf of the employers.  We are getting rid of what was there for the right of the workers and bringing in what was there to balance the employers' rights in light of the card-based certification.

 

Mr. Speaker, I just cannot say strongly enough that we have to put an end to these regressive amendments that government is attempting to have passed in the House of Assembly this week for the Labour Relations Act.  I would like the Premier to ask his minister to go back to the table with Bill 22.  My caucus and I are offering to work with government to create amendments that allow the people of this Province the right to unionize and to have legislation that is faithful to the original intent of the work and consultations that the strategic partnership was involved in.  I therefore move that Bill 22 be not now read a second time, but be read a second time six months hence.

 

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

The House will take a brief recess to review the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Third Party and to see if it is in order.

 

Recess

 

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

I have reviewed the motion, the amendment.  The amendment in terms of its form and substance is in order, but there is an issue with respect to the seconder for the motion.  I recognize that the member stood on a point of order and indicated and cited, without identifying the section, O'Brien and Bosc as a reference that a seconder was not required for the motion. 

 

I just want to clarify a couple of things that might have led to that conclusion.  The member was using a reference in Chapter 16 of O'Brien and Bosc.  I will cite from page 764, Chapter 16.  The last sentence in the second paragraph says, “Each amendment must be submitted in writing to the Chair of the committee” – the operative word here is committee – “and may be moved in either official language.  In contrast to the rules that apply to motions presented to the House, no seconder is required.”

 

If you look at the footnote that makes reference to, the 317 footnote is in reference to the Standing Order 116 in the House of Commons.  The House of Commons Standing Order 116 says, and I will read it for you, “In a standing, special or legislative committee, the Standing Orders shall apply so far as may be applicable, except the Standing Orders as to the election of a Speaker, seconding of motions, limiting the number of times of speaking and the length of speeches.”  The reference used in Chapter 16 is one that refers to the Committee of the Whole and we are not in the Committee of the Whole. 

 

If you are using O'Brien and Bosc as a reference, the more operative chapter would be in Chapter 12.  I refer the House to the top of page 557 in