Pursuant to Standing Order 68, Paul Oram, MHA for Terra Nova, replaces Bob Ridgley, MHA for St. John's North, pro tem.

The Committee met at 9:00 a.m. in the House of Assembly.

CHAIR (Mr. Oram): Order, please!

I think we are ready to start. I think we will probably do the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation first, under subheading 1.1.01., if that is okay with the Committee.

First of all, I want to do some introductions here and we will move forward from there. I am going to ask Mr. Ball if he would start with an introduction.

MR. BALL: Dwight Ball, MHA for Humber Valley.

MR. BUTLER: Roland Butler, MHA for Port de Grave.

MS MICHAEL: Lorraine Michael, MHA for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi.

MR. COLLINS: Felix Collins, MHA for Placentia & St. Mary's.

MR. CORNECT: Tony Cornect, MHA for Port au Port.

MR. FRENCH: Terry French, MHA for Conception Bay South.

CHAIR: Thank you.

We will start with probably the minister.

MR. SKINNER: Shawn Skinner, Minister of Human Resources, Labour and Employment.

I have a number of staff here today, so I guess we will just go through and have them introduce themselves.

CHAIR: Please, that would be great.

MR. SIMMS: Len Simms, CEO of the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.

MR. PENNY: Wayne Penny, ADM, Human Resources, Labour and Employment.

MS CAUL: Brenda Caul, Deputy Minister of Human Resources, Labour and Employment.

MS HART: Norena Hart, Manager with Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.

MR. THORNHILL: Clyde Thornhill, Executive Director of Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.

MS KING: Cynthia King, Manager at Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.

MR. LAWRENCE: Tom Lawrence, Chief Financial Officer of Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.

CHAIR: Whenever your light comes on, that means you are on next.

MR. HANLON: Brendan Hanlon, Director of Finance for Human Resources, Labour and Employment.

MS LINDSTROM: Jackie Lindstrom, Applications, Vacancies, with Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.

MR. O'NEILL: Joe O'Neill, CEO - Acting, of the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission.

MR. FOWLER: Wayne Fowler, CEO - Acting, Labour Relations Agency.

MS JEANS: Jennifer Jeans, Assistant Deputy Minister, Department of Health and Community Services.

MS VIVIAN-BOOK: Lynn Vivian-Book, ADM, Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment.

MR. MORIARITY: Ed Moriarity, Director of Communications, Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Congratulations, Lynn, on your new job.

First of all, I guess we will get the minister to have a few opening comments that will be very short, I am hoping, and from there we will start the questions.

Go ahead, Minister.

MR. SKINNER: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Just for the information of the people opposite, Jennifer and Lynn, you may have heard them introduce themselves as Jennifer with Health. Jennifer was ADM up until about a week or so ago and moved to Health. Her and Lynn had a little switch, so that is why both of them are here today.

Thank you very much.

It is my pleasure to be here today as Minister Responsible for the Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment and also Minister Responsible for Housing. I have, as you can tell, a number of people here with me today. We have the Housing Corporation represented, the Labour Relations Agency and the Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment, and it is my intention to do each of them in that order.

I will not say a whole lot. I do have some opening remarks that I would just like to make. As the Chair knows, I am typically not too long-winded. I will just have a few brief remarks on the Housing Corporation and then I will throw it back to members opposite to ask any questions that they may have.

For the first time in decades, Newfoundland and Labrador Housing has been given an extremely high priority within government. The largest additional investment of funding for housing programs and projects related to housing will be found in this Budget.

To touch on some of the highlights, we have a Social Housing Review that is underway. We have announced funding of approximately $25.5 million in the Modernization and Improvement Program over the next five years. We have announced funding of $24 million, which will double the contribution towards the Provincial Home Repair Program or the RRAP, as some people refer to it. We also have an Affordable Housing Trust with $4.3 million being added to the existing federal-provincial private non-profit affordable housing program. We, in this Budget, have funds available to build a new regional office in Corner Brook. Approximately $1.3 million has been allocated for that; and, under our Affordable Housing Program we have a number of submissions that have been accepted where we are looking to potentially create or construct an additional 150 rental housing units throughout the Province.

Without going into any further detail, Mr. Chair, given the size of the delegation and the number of departments that are going to be questioned in the Estimates, I will conclude my remarks related to Housing and open up the floor for any questions.

CHAIR: Thank you, Minister.

We will start with Mr. Butler.

MR. BUTLER: I just have two or three questions, Minister, with regard to Housing, and I will begin this year like I did every other year.

I have to say that, when it comes to dealing with the staff at Newfoundland and Labrador Housing, the relationship has been nothing by excellent. Not that you get what you are looking for all the time on behalf of your constituents, but the people are there to return the calls, and I have to say they are a pleasure to work with and they do a marvelous job, and I have said that before.

MR. SKINNER: Thank you for that, Mr. Butler. That has been my experience as well.

MR. BUTLER: The first question is in relation to, you mentioned that for the Provincial Home Repair Program the funding this year will double. I am just wondering, where will that take us in the Province with regard to the long list of people we have there? When people call now, I have to tell them: Boy, you are on the list for two-and-a-half years unless it is an emergency or something like that. Where do you see this going with regard to the numbers that are there; and, the two-and-a-half year time frame, what will that be, say, within a twelve month period?

MR. SKINNER: You are quite correct, Mr. Butler, there is a long waiting list. Approximately 4,500 applications are currently on file, as I understand it. Currently, the officials at Housing are dealing with people who applied in the calendar year 2004, so there is quite a wait unless, as you say, it is an emergency case.

We recognize that as a government, and that is why we asked Cabinet to approve some extra funding. The extra money that we have put in, the extra $24 million over the next six years, will eliminate that waiting list.

I will put it to you this way: we normally process about 1,500 applications a year - and I am being approximate because it is hard to judge the kinds of repairs we would have to do but it is about 1,500 a year - we expect, with the new funding, we should be able to add about another 700 or 800 applications per year to that, so we will increase the number of applications we can process by about 50 per cent per year.

The expectation overall is that in six years' time the waiting list that currently exists will be eliminated. So, if you are the last person on that list today we will definitely have that taken care of in six years' time, but obviously as we roll it out we may do it in a faster time than that.

MR. BUTLER: My next question is with regard to units that are in various areas of the Province, and I know there are mortgage units out there, and rental units and so on. What I am finding in my area - and I understand, I suppose, why it happens - some of the units, when some of the residents move out, are in pretty hard shape, or what have you, but it seems like now they are going on the market and being sold off. They go up on tender or whatever, and some general individual will come in and take them over. I am not saying that is the cause of it, but in my area I know there are quite a few people looking for units and there is nothing there very close to where they are trying to find something.

I am just wondering, is there anything in the works that this might be alleviated, that there could be other units? I am not saying you are going to build new ones, but anything for the Conception Bay North area? I have a couple of people now who are trying to get something in close proximity to where they live, but they may have to move to Carbonear or further up the bay, that type of thing.

MR. SKINNER: Okay, I will give you a bit of a general answer and then I will ask if maybe one of the officials can more specifically address your particular geographical question.

Within Newfoundland and Labrador Housing we have had cycles in the past whereby we have had excess units and they have sat vacant for extended periods of time. In particular, I know up in Labrador and in the Marystown area we actually sold off or tore down some units just because we had them there and they were costing us money to keep them and there was no demand for them. A couple of years later, then, there is a demand that shows itself and we are scrambling to try and find some units. So, it is a management of that resource, or a management of that inventory, that we try to do to the best of our ability. If, for and extended period of time - and I am talking a couple of years - units are vacant, we do make decisions on whether to sell them off or whether to tear them down, or whatever we do with them in terms of getting them out of our inventory.

In terms of your particular geographic location, I will ask Mr. Simms if he might be able to give us more particular information.

MR. SIMMS: Thank you, Minister.

I will just elaborate on what you said, really. The units you are referring to are mostly - the ones that we sell off are usually in the rural parts of the Province, isolated areas where we have one unit, or something of that nature. More frequently it is because they have become vacant and really there is nobody who are clients of ours who want them, but there are other people quite interested in buying but perhaps are above the low income amount to $31,000 per household, that sort of thing; and, also, they are hard to get to in terms of major maintenance and renovations. It does not happen a lot, but there are occasions when we do it.

In terms of replacement units, Housing has not really, for all intents and purposes, built any new housing units, unfortunately, for about twenty years; they have never had the funding or financing to do it. Fortunately, over the last couple of years there has been a federal-provincial agreement, the Affordable Housing Program, where there are two components to it. One is for the non-profit sector, and that would be for groups like Stella Burry and the Wiseman Centre and so on, and we have helped them a lot. The other component is for the private sector, where we can actually provide a capital subsidy to a private entrepreneur who wants to build, say, ten units, mostly to serve seniors, disabled, handicapped people and so on, and that program will give us, over the next couple of years probably, an additional 300 units stationed throughout the Province.

There are benefits for us. There is no ongoing subsidy, as there is for our own units, because the owners have to keep them maintained, but they do have to keep them at a low end of market rental rate for ten years. That is the deal.

Unfortunately, in Conception Bay North there have not been any private sector applications for that program, even through the program has been well advertised for the last two years. The same thing has applied up in Labrador West where there has been a bit of an issue in terms of housing, but it certainly has been well advertised and well promoted. In fact, this year, as the minister alluded, I think we have sixty-seven applications for probably about fifteen that we are going to be able to approve in the end, and those are done in a specific way. That helps us increase the number of units. That is the best vehicle and the best method that we have.

MR. BUTLER: The 300 units that you just mentioned, is there a breakdown of where they would be, say, versus Avalon, Central, Western, Labrador?

MR. SIMMS: Most of them are outside of the Avalon Region, let me put it that way, or outside of St. John's. I guess that is your question. There are a couple of projects from entrepreneurs in St. John's that were approved but we cannot announce them, unfortunately. It is a federal-provincial agreement and, if you are familiar with those, you know there are all of these little stipulations: no announcements to be made until everybody is ready, and all that kind of stuff, so we are waiting to make some announcements from the ones that we approved last year.

The ones for this year have not yet been decided; it will probably be the end of May. We had indicated probably the first week of May, but we had sixty-seven as opposed to forty-three applications from last year so our technical people, the engineers who are doing the assessments of these applications, are going to need another two or three weeks, so we figure by the end of May.

It is not a political decision. The decision basically is made by professionals, technical people down in the engineering department, our finance people and our affordable housing people who assess the needs in the area, et cetera.

I can tell you where the applications are from; by far they are from outside of the St. John's area, and the ones that have been tentatively approved, that we cannot yet announce but they know who they are, for the most part are from outside the Avalon Region - 70 per cent of them, anyway.

MR. BUTLER: My next question goes back to, I guess it is a couple of years ago now, the federal government, before it changed, came in with a program, the home heating efficiency program, I think it was called, or something similar to that, and I believe it was to be administered through Newfoundland and Labrador Housing. I know we received a letter saying that very shortly we should have the applications and so on.

I know another program has been announced by the federal people, and I believe those applications were supposed to be out by April 1. Is there anything to report on that? Because I have about sixty people waiting to get an application and I don't think they are believing me that I don't have them.

MR. SKINNER: There is a bit of confusion, Mr. Butler, over that program that you refer to. You are correct that Newfoundland and Labrador Housing will eventually deliver on that program, but it is actually a program that falls under Environment and Conservation and they do not yet, as I understand it, have all the details worked out as to what they will be doing. Once they decide what they want to do, we will be the delivery agent, but we are not a part of the strategy, if I could use that word.

MR. SIMMS: It is not our program.

MR. SKINNER: It is not our program, I guess that is what I am saying to you ultimately, but we are waiting on direction from Environment and we have not yet received that.

MR. BUTLER: But you will administer the program?

MR. SKINNER: Correct. We will deliver the program and administer the program.

WITNESS: Whatever type of program they have.

MR. SKINNER: Whatever they have, yes.

MR. BUTLER: One of the problems I saw, and it will probably be corrected when it gets to you people - like, for instance, with your own repair programs you have your own inspectors who go out and look at it. I had information from the MP for Avalon, Mr. Manning, eight or ten pages on this particular program, and one of the things that was very disturbing to me, and I know we are not going to have much to do with it, but if I applied for that program - and a lot of the people who are applying are very low income families - you have to pay between $250 and $275, I think the figures were, to have their inspector come and look at it.


MR. BUTLER: Now, some poor old soul out there trying to get a window put in, if she had $275 she would have the window put in.

I am just wondering, and I know you people don't have it yet, do you see any changes in that?

MR. SKINNER: What you are referring to is a fee for a home audit that they do on the individual's home, some type of home energy audit. I have heard numbers from $250 to $500, and that is very much a sticking point or a deal breaker, I guess, in terms of the program.

I have had conversations with the Minister of Environment about that; I believe there have been officials within Housing. We have voiced our opinion, I guess, if I could say that to you, on that kind of a thing.

Again, what the Minister of Environment is doing with it, I cannot really speak to. All I can say to you is that you are quite correct; it is a concern, we have addressed it as a concern with the minister, but I am not sure yet what they are planning on doing with it.

WITNESS: (Inaudible) advocating for the audit.

MR. SKINNER: Yes, I should mention that as well.

Just as a final point, one of the issues relating to that energy audit is that advocates in the community who are supporting the program - Bruce Pearce, for instance, is a gentleman well-known here in the St. John's area - are advocating that element of the program stay in place.

WITNESS: Paid for out of the pot, whatever the money is (inaudible) -

MR. SKINNER: Yes, people would lose that $250 or $500 towards putting in another window to pay for an audit. Our opinion is that maybe we should not be doing that, so I think the minister is getting competing opinions on it.

MR. BUTLER: One last question.

I probably should know more about this particular issue, and for lack of a better word I am going to call it the fuel adjustment through Newfoundland and Labrador Housing.


MR. BUTLER: I had a couple of calls, believe it or not, from the Burin Peninsula this past winter. I guess you people have units in Marystown, and that is where it was from. They were trying to explain to me that they were allowed so much per year. I don't know how it works, whether they get it all one month and when that is gone you have nothing left.

Those two ladies told me that they were sitting in their rooms then with their feet up on the oven door with the electric heat up on high in the oven. I am sure that is not helping your units, either, if you are looking after the other part of it. How does that work?

MR. SKINNER: I can tell you that prior to becoming minister, and even now as minister, there have been hundreds of hours of time spent on reviewing that situation.

I will ask Mr. Simms, in his very eloquent, lucid way, to explain that to you.

MR. BUTLER: I am looking forward to it, the way he is reacting there now.

MR. SIMMS: Thank you, Minister.

When I first went down to the Housing Corporation two-and-a-half years ago, or whenever it was now, that was one of the items that we were directed by Cabinet to have a look at, this home heating issue. When we looked at it, we assigned a person full-time on it, a person with an M.B.A., to try to figure it out. It is very complicated to answer here.

There are about nine different kinds of formulas. We have people who are not our actual tenants but they are tenants who live in our private non-profits units; they get 100 per cent support from heating. Then we have tenants who live in units that are heated by single oil tanks; they only get 43 per cent subsidy. Then we have people who are living in all of our other rental units, who are heated by electricity; they get about 57 per cent subsidy. Then there is another group that are heated by bulk units, so you can imagine the complexity of the issue.

We have been looking at it and trying to determine the fairest way to treat everybody. The fairest way to treat everybody, I suppose, would be to give them all 100 per cent subsidy, but we spend now $8 million out of our budget for heat subsidy.

The one move we made this year, by the way, in the budget was to provide an increase for those who are heated by one single oil tank. There are some in your district, Ms Michael, many in Mr. Ridgley's area and so on. There are some on the Labrador Coast and a few scattered throughout the Province, about 900 of them. They were getting, from us, a subsidy that equated to about a 43 per cent subsidy. They were responsible for paying for the rest themselves. Everybody else in our units - well, not everybody, but most of them who are electrically heated were getting 57 per cent subsidy from us. The government was good enough this year to give us an increase to allow those who have the single unit tanks to get an increase of about $200 a month. At least they are going to be equal to the ones who are getting 57 per cent subsidy. I think we are a long way away from being able to increase it significantly. It might be something we will move at in another year, I do not know the cost line.

MR. SKINNER: If I could, Mr. Butler, just to sort of conclude on that point. We recognize that there are inequities within the system that have evolved over time. It has just sort of taken on a life of its own. We have tried to address that. We started this year, as Mr. Simms indicated, by dealing with those that we felt had the most inequity and moving them up. The challenge becomes, for those who have the cadillac plan, for lack of a better word, can you bring everybody to that level? Can you afford to bring everybody to that level or do you somehow try to bring both more towards the middle? There is going to be some work done on that but it is an issue and it is an issue that I have identified, and I have discussed it as recently as yesterday with Mr. Simms and his officials. Hopefully, we will have something coming forward next year in the budget process.

MR. BUTLER: My previous question - I will conclude on this one, Mr. Chair. When you mentioned about the federal program and it has not been received by you people yet, did you mention the Environment and Conservation had it, you were talking about provincially?

MR. SKINNER: Yes. Minister Jackman's department.


That is it for me, Mr. Chair.

CHAIR: Ms Michael.

MS MICHAEL: Thank you very much.

I will not have a lot of questions because I think my colleague has covered quite a number of things that I would have talked about.

First of all, I, too, will commend Mr. Simms and the agency on the good work that is happening - not to butter you up, but I think you really do good work. The openness of Mr. Simms and his staff to hold meetings with my staff earlier in the year soon after I became MHA, I think was a wonderful decision and it was very helpful. First of all, there was a meeting between myself, the minister, Mr. Simms and Deputy Minister, and then meetings between my staff and staff here in the St. John's area, just to make sure that all communications were going well.

I am actually happy to report, to the best of my knowledge, as of yesterday, I do not have any constituents banging on our door who are unhappy. There have been a lot of things resolved over the last months and things are flowing well.

AN HON. MEMBER: That will probably change.

MS MICHAEL: It probably will, but as of yesterday - it changes on a daily basis.

I think it is important for me to bring it up simply because the one area that we get the most calls on in my office are around housing, from my constituents. By far, the highest number of phone calls that we get from constituents are about housing because we do have a lot of people in NLHC in my district. So, I am really delighted with how things have gone since I have been in and it has been a short period of time.

Just a couple of questions. As I said, I think Mr. Butler has covered some things that I would have wanted to ask about. This is just straightforward information. The 150 new rental units, what is the breakdown of where they are being located in the Province?

MR. SKINNER: I will have to refer to staff and ask that staff give you that detail, if you would?

WITNESS: Sure, yes.

I do not have an exact list with me, but most of them, as Mr. Simms indicated, are located outside of St. John's. Non-profit groups in the City of St. John's have been very good, Stella Burry Community Services, Tommy Sexton Centre and the Wiseman Centre. Other than that, the private sector has been more active outside the city than it has been inside. So the majority of those, about 90 per cent, will be outside of St. John's.


MR. SKINNER: Ms Michael, if I could, if you want something provided to you in terms of a breakdown, I can certainly get that forwarded to you. I apologize for not having it here this morning.

MS MICHAEL: No problem. If it is available, sure.

MR. SKINNER: Yes, we cannot make it public because of the federal/provincial agreement.

WITNESS: We can tell you privately where they are located, probably.

MR. SIMMS: Conversely, if I could add, minister, on the non-profit side, which I know you have a great interest in -


MR. SIMMS: The vast majority of the non-profit funding goes into the St. John's area.


MR. SIMMS: And for members outside of the St. John's area, the reason for that is these are all operated and run by volunteer groups. They have difficult times trying to keep these going and things like that. We have had a heck of a time trying to get applications. Even though we have gone around the Province over the last two years and put ads in the papers, we have had a very difficult time to get non-profit groups to apply for the funds that we have, which amount to $70,000 per unit - which is a fair chunk of change to put up ten units for seniors or disabled people, but we cannot. So we are working with a group now in Corner Brook, for example, a non-profit group, who have mental health patients who have no place to go when they get out. We are working with a group up in Labrador West, a women's group up there trying to do something similar.

MS MICHAEL: Yes, I am aware of that one.

MR. SIMMS: It is like pulling hen's teeth. If we had a Jocelyn Green to go around the Province and tell them how to do it, it would be done, but that is one of the difficulties. So most of the non-profit funding really has gone into the Wiseman Centre, Tommy Sexton, all of these great projects here in St. John's, but we wish we had more supportive housing projects, non-profit projects outside St. John's.

MS MICHAEL: Right. I guess two questions then from that, or one is a comment. The 150 new rental units then are mainly the ones that you are talking about -

MR. SIMMS: Private sector -

MS MICHAEL: - and therefore are all - not all, but for the most part geared towards, sort of special needs groups?

MR. SIMMS: No, low income.

MS MICHAEL: Low income, but some of them are special needs, too.

MR. SIMMS: Seniors, handicapped.

MS MICHAEL: Right. Well, the Tommy Sexton is special needs.

MR. SIMMS: That is non-profit.

MS MICHAEL: Yes. Well, I am talking about the non-profit actually. I am sorry. The non-profit I am talking about.

MR. SIMMS: Yes. They are all what we call, and what you call, I guess, supportive housing, second stage housing.

MS MICHAEL: That is right, exactly.


MS MICHAEL: Then the others are the ones in the private sector, but what happens if the agency identifies a need in an area and no applications are coming in, there is no avenue for the agency to look at new units that the agency will be responsible for?

MR. SIMMS: Non-profit you mean? Not the private sector because we have closed off the dates for those the end of March.


MR. SIMMS: Non-profit we are much more flexible. In fact, to be honest with you, we have difficulty because of the fact that they are run by volunteers. We have money, but not that we cannot give the money away because I know Jocelyn would take it all if we offered it to her, but we are working with other groups, like I said. There is a group in Corner Brook and a group in Labrador West.

Yes, there is an opportunity if somebody still wants to come in on the non-profit side and work with us and Cynthia's staff; she if the manager of affordable housing. They are very interested in trying to get some projects outside St. John's in particular, if you know of some groups who would be interested in getting into supportive housing projects. The problem, like I said, is having the volunteers and making them work. They have to pay for themselves, or they have to go look for money from health and all this sort of thing.

CHAIR: Was your question -

MS MICHAEL: Well, my question is a bit more than that because I guess what I am asking is if you identified an area - I am not going to pick an area because I do not want to pick an area, but just say you identified an area and you said we really need housing there but there is nobody in the non-profit sector organized to do anything about it. There are no applications from the private sector. Then you just say: Well, that is too bad. Is the agency then proactive, neither saying to the minister that maybe we need to build units there, our own units, but if we know there is a need and it is not coming up from the other two sectors, who is then going to take up the need and do something about it? That is my question.

MR. SKINNER: I guess the response to that is we do face that issue in terms of sometimes the community, be it the private or non-profit sector, is not or does not want to respond, or is not able to respond. Part of our Housing strategy, hopefully, will address how we as a corporation can respond to that.

I guess the response today to you, Ms Michael, would be that would be something that we would identify as being an issue. Currently, we would sit around and discuss that and say: Okay, what are we going to do about that? - and maybe go out then into the community and try and stimulate or instill within somebody a response. We, ourselves, are not able to do it but that does not prevent us from trying to instill within some group, organization or individual to do that.

I have had discussions with people in some areas in the private sector trying to get them to come in and have another look at this, people who told me they looked at it before but did not feel it was viable. I have tried to say to them: Well, come in and have another look and talk to us, tell us what the problems are, tell us what you think the challenges are and maybe we then, as a corporation, can do things a little bit differently to try and help you with that.

So, that is sort of an ad hoc way that we are doing it now, but I am hoping as a part of the Housing review that is being done that there may be more come forward in a formalized way that we would be able to do that.

MS MICHAEL: When do you expect the review to be ready, minister?

MR. SKINNER: I was going to say early 2008, but Mr. Simms says maybe by December.

MS MICHAEL: Okay. Well, I will be looking forward to that. I am glad to know that you are dealing with the issue that I have just raised.

Now, I have to comment on Mr. Simms' comment about having a Jocelyn Green. Why not have a Jocelyn Green? Why not have somebody in that position? It would certainly tie in with one of my concerns that I have raised in other discussions and in the House of Assembly as well.

One of the things with regard to rural development, and I think good social housing is part of rural development, is to have staff who work with communities or community groups because people do not always have the skills they need to do that community organizing, and it does take community organizing. Here in St. John's you have people who have been at community organizing for decades, not only years but decades.


MS MICHAEL: They have so many skills but a lot of people in other parts of the Province do not have them. So, it is something I have been talking to government about, asking questions in Question Period, et cetera. So, I bring it out here again. Why not put some resources into people who help organize in order to meet needs? This would be one area, and because you said: Why not have the Jocelyn Greens hired?

MR. SIMMS: Yes. I am glad you asked the question because we have a meeting this afternoon at 2:00 and that is exactly the issue that we are discussing. We have been talking about it internally. We have talked to Bruce Pearce and asked his advice on it, and so on and so forth, and that is where we are heading.

We think we can access some funding from the Affordable Housing Program to hire a consultant, or maybe a full-time staff person or something. We have not quite decided which route to take, but somebody who would be able to go and help those volunteer groups put together their project and their application for their project, show them how to run the operation and that sort of thing, like a Jocelyn. I do not think she would be available, but Jocelyn and Bruce, these people, we have talked to them and they might be able to give us some ideas. We might advertise for the person, or we might hire a consultant who has some expertise in that field and so on. That is precisely where we are heading and we feel the same way as you do. There definitely is a need for somebody to help walk them through the process, and that has been the problem.

MS MICHAEL: Right, and make sure it is not a bureaucrat. It has to be a consultant who can work with people on the ground, not a bureaucrat.

MR. SIMMS: Oh, definitely not a bureaucrat.

MS MICHAEL: Sorry, but you all know what I mean. I am talking about a bureaucrat mentality who is working from that mentality instead of a community development model.

MR. SIMMS: Ideally, you need a Jocelyn Green or a Bruce Pearce; neither of whom are available.

MS MICHAEL: Yes, that is right - or a Lorraine Michael if she were still doing community development work.

MR. SIMMS: Or a Lorraine Michael. Exactly. Are you interested in it?

MS MICHAEL: I am quite happy where I am, thank you very much.

MR. SIMMS: We agree with you and that is exactly where we are heading, and you should be happy to hear that because I am.

MS MICHAEL: I am very pleased to hear it, I really am, I have to say.

I think that is it for the moment, Mr. Chair.

Thank you.

CHAIR: Are there any other questions with regard to the Housing Corporation?


MR. BALL: Just a couple of questions. On page 253, we see line item, 01. and the federal contribution of $6.8 million. Is this matching dollars or is this a new program, or is this the Affordable Housing component here?

MR. SIMMS: You are talking about $6.8 million?

MR. BALL: Yes, $6.8 million. It was not there last year, so I did not think it was the affordable housing piece.

MR. SIMMS: Yes. A couple of years ago the previous federal government announced housing trust funds to provide to the provinces to do some housing projects. There were limitations and conditions on what you could use the funding for. Primarily, they are for revitalization of areas like Dunfield Park that you would be familiar with in Corner Brook, Cashin Avenue and those sorts of things, or to build new units. Unfortunately, there is no subsidy to go with them to help continue to maintain because that was cut off by an agreement ten years ago, but at the same time that is what the money was used for.

Our share of that money is approximately $12 million, and $8 million approximately for Aboriginal housing which we are still discussing with the Aboriginal groups and Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs. Of the $12 million we have, this year we went to Cabinet and sought approval to spend $6.8 million of it. Because the money has already come to the Province; that is why it shows up in the Budget. We had to then access it from the Province, the Housing Corporation. That is why it is in and out. Out of the $6.8 million, $4.3 million of that we decided to put right into the Affordable Housing program to increase what we had there then for non-profit affordable housing and for private affordable housing. There is a breakdown of it there somewhere.

In addition to that, there is $1 million that we are going to spend in St. John's to replace units that were burned down or taken down. Occasionally, we take down units and get criticized for it. Unfortunately, we have not had a mechanism to replace them, but we do have this mechanism here, a small mechanism. We are putting up units and we have not quite decided where. They are brand new units. We are going to replace or build six new units in Stephenville. They are the units that were damaged in the flooding over there a couple of years ago. We are not eligible as a Crown corporation for the emergency measures funding, but fortunately we have this trust fund, so we are going to spend $1 million to put those units up there.

Not to publicize it too much, we have two families up in the Shea Heights area who are really, really in difficult need. They have three or four children all of whom are disabled or handicapped, so we are building two special units up in the Shea Heights area for those families. That is an estimated cost of $500,000. We have $1.1 million set aside for revitalization of Dunfield Park, but that will not be until next year's Budget.

What else is there? I think that is it. I think that adds up to about $6.8 million, does it? Did you do your rough calculations there?

MR. BALL: Yes.

MR. SIMMS: Four point three million for affordable housing; $1 million for here for units, that is $5.3 million; $1 million in Stephenville, that is $6.3 million; and $500,000 in Shea Heights, that is $6.8 million.

We still have $5 million in that pot so we may be able to think of some things we can do with that. We have until 2009 to access that money.

Does that answer your question?

MR. BALL: Yes, a good answer.

Just about everything else has been covered off. It would be remise of me, I guess, if I did not congratulate your staff in Corner Brook, because last Friday morning we had the opportunity to go down and meet with all of them. They are a fantastic bunch to deal with. We are actually communicating with them virtually every day there. What was really interesting - and I would not mind even if you could pass the message on, because I did not realize this until I left the meeting - that Tina Snow, after she left our meeting, was on her way down and she was doing a promotion for Daffodil House and she did a fantastic job there.

MR. SIMMS: Tina is a social worker, Tenant Relations Officer, and we have six of them Province-wide. They do superb work, there is no question about that.

With you permission, since you have all mentioned this - I am hoping the other members, if they say anything, will be just as complimentary - we put out an internal staff newsletter to our staff and I wouldn't mind being able to sort of mention, in the newsletter, you all by name and say that you have been complimentary to our staff.

MR. BALL: Well I would appreciate that.

MR. SIMMS: Thanks.

CHAIR: Mr. Cornect.

Sorry. Mr. Ball, are you finished?

MR. BALL: Yes, I am.

MR. CORNECT: Thank you, Mr. Chair, Mr. Minister and Mr. Simms.

I come from the District of Port au Port, and the office at Stephenville, yes, I have to compliment them as well. The co-operation that I get from the staff there is second to none.

MR. SIMMS: Of course you worked there.

MR. CORNECT: It is very encouraging and I am very happy, Mr. Minister, that you have influxed a lot of money to take the wait list away. I know in my district, although there is a wait list of two-and-a-half to three years, people are still telling me: Thank God for Newfoundland and Labrador Housing and RRAP, we can get our house done.

I am encouraged by the monies going in and I certainly hope that we do not go to six years to get that wait list finished up and gone and out of the way. I hope it is within three years, Mr. Minister.

Just one quick question on the heating program, the subsidies for heating. Can these clients or these people renting from you avail of the heating rebate program that is offered by the government as well?

MR. SIMMS: Can clients -

MR. CORNECT: Clients who are living in your housing units and they are subsidized by heat by the corporation.


MR. CORNECT: Can they avail of the government program as well?


MR. CORNECT: Good. Perfect.

MR. SIMMS: Most of them are subsidized. It is built into the rent.

MR. CORNECT: Thank you.

CHAIR: Mr. Collins.

MR. COLLINS: A couple of quick comments, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Minister and Mr. Simms, I, too, share the positive remarks directed your way. Of course my experience with Newfoundland and Labrador Housing goes back a long way, so I am not surprised you get that kind of reaction. If I could be a bit facetious for a minute, that with all these platitudes coming towards Newfoundland and Labrador Housing, it is interesting that the CEO has been absent for the last three weeks.

A quick question on a question that Mr. Butler asked earlier, and either through a combination of my being partially deaf or not having my machine on here or not paying attention, the status of the waiting lists, could you repeat that again, Mr. Minister? How soon can we get up to speed on the waiting list?

MR. SKINNER: There are approximately 4,500 people on the waiting list.


MR. SKINNER: My understanding is you are talking about RRAP, provincial home repair?


MR. SKINNER: Yes, okay.

There are 4,500 applications currently on file. We do approximately 1,500 per year. It is estimated that we will now be able to do an additional 700 or 800 applications per year. Having said that, we will not necessarily reduce the waiting list by the 700 or 800 because we anticipate, with the new funding, an additional 300 or 400 applications per year coming in, so the net benefit will probably be 400 applications per year more. There will still be people coming in, adding on to the waiting list.

Worst case, we are saying we will have the waiting list eliminated in six years but we are going to be monitoring that an a fairly regular basis and it is our intention to get rid of it as quickly as we can, but in fairness it is going to be a few years. It is not going to happen in eighteen months or twenty-four months, I think it will be a few years.

MR. COLLINS: That is for the whole list, but people who were on the list now, say for two years, how soon do you anticipate getting them off the list?

MR. SKINNER: People who are currently on, say, a two year or two-and-a-half year or three year cycle will probably be looking now at eighteen months, maybe two years on the outside. Until we get at it, it is hard to say, but just based upon raw numbers we are thinking we can drop at least a year off their wait time.

MR. COLLINS: The other question I had for you: In terms of the new funding available for refurbishing old units and what not - I am thinking, for example, of units in Placentia that got a little bit of a cosmetic facelift last year, a bit of paint and what not, but they need much more than that - are there any extra funds in the Budget for that kind of work?

MR. SKINNER: Yes, we do have a number of dollars put into the modernization and improvement, the M & I budget we call it. That will consist of things like windows, doors, roofs, siding - the building envelope as Mr. Simms refers to it. The things that are leaky or drafty, those are the kinds of things we are going after.

MR. COLLINS: Okay, thank you.

CHAIR: Are there any other questions from the members?

MR. SIMMS: I was wondering if Mr. French wanted to be complimentary to the staff so I could add his name in the newsletter.

MR. FRENCH: I have a couple of things in the can I am waiting on.

MR. SIMMS: I am going to put all of you names in the newsletter to the staff so the staff can get a little pat on the back.

MR. FRENCH: That is fine, I will wait and see.

CHAIR: Mr. Simms, in the two previous Estimates's sessions that this Committee has held, that backbench has been very quite and I do not know why you have them stirred up here this morning.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Their name is going out in print now.

MR. SIMMS: I apologize, Mr. Chair.

CHAIR: You promised them publicity, didn't you?

MR. SIMMS: Mr. Chairman, it is probably part of my background and history and somehow when I get to sit in one of these seats it all comes back, and I apologize.

CHAIR: It might be.

MR. BUTLER: The only comment I want to make to that, when I made the complimentary comments about your staff -

MR. SIMMS: It was not about me.

MR. BUTLER: No, we will not go there because we had a discussion about what I said one time before.


MR. BUTLER: No, seriously, regardless of who was there. I have been involved with Newfoundland and Labrador Housing now and in my former position as an EA back to 1989 and I have to say the same thing. It is not getting any worse, it is just getting better, but it was always there.

MR. SKINNER: Thank you.

CHAIR: I will ask the Clerk to call the subhead then please.

CLERK: 1.1.01.

CHAIR: Shall the subhead 1.1.01. carry?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.


On motion, subhead 1.1.01. carried.

CHAIR: There is only one subhead, I am not sure if I have to call the total, but I will call it anyway.

Shall the total carry? There is a total for only one subhead?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.


On motion, Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation, total head, carried.

CHAIR: Shall I report the Estimates for Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation carried without amendment?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.


On motion, Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation Estimates carried without amendment.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr. Simms and staff of Housing.

MR. SKINNER: We are going to do Labour Relations.

Mr. Chair, would it be alright if I shuffled the deck a little bit and moved some people?

CHAIR: We may just have to do introductions again for the people downstairs.

MR. SKINNER: Yes, alright.

In terms of our shuffling of the deck, Mr. Wayne Fowler has moved along side of me here occupying the seat that Mr. Simms formerly had. Mr. Fowler, as he has already indicated, is the Acting Deputy Minister of the Labour Relations Agency.

CHAIR: Thank you, Minister.

We are on page 216 then and we will call the subheads inclusively. We are dealing with 7.1.01 up to 8.1.01 on page 218. Shall 7.1.01 carry?

Again, Minister, did you want to have some introductory remarks on this?

MR. SKINNER: I will be very brief. As I indicated, Mr. Fowler is here in terms of the Labour Relations Agency. In terms of subhead 8, Mr. O'Neill is up here in the back and I was just going to bring him down afterwards, but if you want to engage him now, by all means we can certainly do that. There is no problem on our side, but just for clarification, Mr. O'Neill is there and he will certainly do that.

OFFICIAL: (Inaudible).

MR. SKINNER: My apologies. My mistake. Just for clarification, I jumped ahead of myself. Mr. O'Neill will not be doing number 8 because that is the review division, which falls under Mr. Fowler. My apologies on that. I did not mean to confuse the matter, Mr. Chair.

In terms of introductory remarks, I will be very brief as I indicated. The Labour Relations Agency side of the department is one that probably has a lot of activity but very little of it actually garners much public attention. Sometimes we have some issues - the IOC strike being a recent one - which hit the media, but there are many, many issues that this department deals with that never see the light of day from a press perspective.

Mr. Fowler and his staff very quietly go about their business trying to bring resolution to disputes that come up in the workplace and do a very good job of it, and that is why a lot of it does not make the light of day.

I will just conclude with that and see if there are any particular points that the members opposite wish to question us on and we will try to provide answers as best we can.

CHAIR: Mr. Butler.

MR. BUTLER: I just have a couple of questions and I will make reference to the minister's comments. No doubt that is how it is with those ladies and gentlemen, whoever is working there. Very seldom do we really have that much contact with them.

I have just a couple of questions. The first one is under heading 7.1.03, down in Revenue-Provincial, the $70,000 there, I am just wondering, in reference to that, where does the revenue come from? How is that derived at?

MR. SKINNER: I can give you more background if you need it, but the Revenue actually comes from clearance certificates for labour standards. People who are looking for those certificates have to pay a fee for them.

MR. BUTLER: My only other question - and I think you said Mr. Fowler would deal with this one; 8.1.01. That one has to do with the amount spent on Professional Services last year. I know it was budgeted at $410,000 and it was revised to $280,000. I am wondering what type of Professional Services would have been purchased under that heading, and also, I guess, why was $410,000 budgeted but only $280,000 spent there?

MR. FOWLER: Your question, Mr. Butler, falls under the Workplace Health and Safety Review Division. The reason for the decrease in what was budgeted was: from the Review Division's perspective they do the appeals for decisions that come out of Workers' Comp. With the recent changes, I guess, that Workers' Comp have been putting in place, the number of appeals that are coming forward have reduced. That, they believe, is due to the Early and Safe Return programs, getting people back to work a lot quicker. So that is the reduction in the amount of money that was used.

The money is really allocated for the adjudicative expenses of review commissioners, chief review commissioners, who have to get paid for doing the appeals and reviews. Obviously, as the number of cases before them decreased, the amount of money we have to pay them to do it has decreased as well.

MR. BUTLER: Just a follow up and as a general question - and, if you cannot answer it here that is fine as well. You are talking about the reviews out at Dorset Building, right?

MR. FOWLER: Yes, the Dorset Building.

MR. BUTLER: For instance, when you go with individuals to an appeal, is there any authority through your department where you are trying to subpoena somebody to come to those hearings? How does that work from your perspective? I had an incident where that happened and they did not show, and probably rightly so they do not show, but is there anything there that they should be a part of, once their information made the decision and what the individual is actually appealing? I know it is not a financial question.

MR. FOWLER: I am sorry? Just to clarify, are you questioning when someone goes to the appeal division to present their appeal how they can subpoena somebody?

MR. BUTLER: Yes, I know they can subpoena them.


MR. BUTLER: But, people were subpoenaed and did not show. I guess they can refuse anyway, but I am wondering is there anything there? Because the file was totally based on the comments that they made about the individual, but they will not come and back it up, you cannot question them more or less. I am just wondering is there anything that can be put in place?

MR. FOWLER: Good question. Right now is the first time I have ever heard anybody raise that question. I know the review division is a totally independent division, quasi judicial from that perspective, reporting directly to the minister. We handle the administrative functions just with respect to the staff payments and not the legalistic functions of it. It is something we can certainly check on for you and get back with an answer.

MR. BUTLER: It has nothing to do with the review division, every is fine there, but do you know what I am saying? When you get the big file and everything is based on two investigators who took the pictures and said this and said that, Workers' Compensation cannot answer it for you, the Chairperson cannot get involved, the employer is sure not going to tell you, and the two individuals who really got this file where it is, you cannot get them there.

MR. FOWLER: I will say, within the system there are worker and employer advisors who are funded through the Workers' Compensation Commission to assist, whether you are a worker or an employer. Anyone who has any questions, including the question like this, could very well get that answer directly from a worker or employer advisor out in the system. It is something I have not heard asked before but will check it.

Just for the last comment, I would say to anyone who comes to you with a question that we do not know, the worker or employer advisor certainly would be able to give them some information on that. The Workplace, Health, Safety Compensation Commission has a customer service officer down there and I am sure that individual would be able to help as well. So there are areas for them to get answers A.S.A.P. on it, but we will check it out for you.

MR. BUTLER: Like I said, in this particular case I am referring to, the Compensation Review Division did issue the subpoenas to them.


MR. BUTLER: That is it for me, Mr. Chair, on this particular section.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr. Butler.

Are there any other questions on this segment?

Ms Michael.

MS MICHAEL: Yes, just a few line items. Mr. Butler just covered one under 8.1, so I do not have to go there.

Back to 7.1.01., a similar question, and the same way in 7.1.02., both of them in Transportation and Communications. So 03 in both of those sections, again budgeting a certain amount but money not being spent. In 7.1.01, $50,100 budgeted for Transportation and Communications, you only spent $13,800, yet you are budgeting again this year for $50,000. Why was it so low last year? Was it that is was an anomaly and that is why you are going back up to $50,000?

MR. SKINNER: I will turn that over to Mr. Fowler and ask him to answer that for you, if he wouldn't mind.

MR. FOWLER: Thank, you.

Yes, an anomaly it was. Staff were involved in a number of things last year that required that they stay in-house. Specifically, staff were involved in the stat review process, three people directly into it, and being involved in those processes, we had to not go to some federal, provincial, territorial or local meetings. As well, there were some meetings that we could not get to due to the weather, and there were some other meetings that were cancelled. These meetings that we budget for are regularly held meetings every year. We all understand, and so do the people through the federal areas where we attend these meetings, that sometimes you just cannot attend because of your working group. We do try to attend them every year, it is our intent, so when we budget back, we say: We did not make them, there is a justified reason but we need to go to them because it is mainly part of the business that we do.

MS MICHAEL: Sure, that is fine. That would cover both sections, I think, wouldn't it?

MR. FOWLER: Exactly, both sections.

MS MICHAEL: Then under 7.1.03, under Salaries, have you added a new position this year? Because you do have approximately a $100,000 difference in this year's Budget and last year's budgeted figure.

MR. FOWLER: In 7.1.03 under Salaries?


MR. FOWLER: The Estimates are $1,120,300 versus the Budget of last year of $1,087,400.

MS MICHAEL: That is right.

MR. FOWLER: No, the variance is due to salary increases that are going to come within the Labour Relations Agency, the Labour Relations Division, Labour Standards Division. No new positions have been added.

MS MICHAEL: So, $100,000 worth of -

MR. FOWLER: Unless I am reading it wrong, it looks to be any about $33,000.

MS MICHAEL: Oh, you are right. I am sorry. I am doing bad arithmetic. You are quite correct.

Thank you very much. That makes sense.

That is all, Mr. Chairperson, thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Michael.

Any further questions under this section?

Mr. Ball.

MR. BALL: Page 218, category 8.1.01, line item 02, the revenue from provincial government. I was trying to follow this through there. In the 2006-2007 Budget we saw $896,700, revised to $1,481,900.


MR. BALL: It seems to me there was a contribution from the provincial government to go to zero, but yet we have an outstanding debt there of $714,000. I am just wondering where that stands now or how that works.

MR. FOWLER: The budgeted was $896,000 correctly and $1,481,000, but the variance is due to an increase in revenue resulting from 2005-2006 revenue that was not received until 2006-2007.

Yes, the review division is fully funded by the Workers' Compensation Commission, so the money comes back to pay for it. Obviously, what happened here is the money came back to pay for 2005-2006 in the 2007 year, so that is why you see $1,481,000 as revised. Basically, it is the payment of the money for the year prior to being paid in the current.

MR. BALL: Okay, that is it for me.


CHAIR: Are there any further questions on this section? If not, then I will ask the Clerk to call the subheads.

CLERK: 7.1.01 to 8.1.01 inclusive.

CHAIR: Shall the subheads 7.1.01 to 8.1.01 inclusive carry?

All in favour?


On motion, subheads 7.1.01 to 8.1.01, carried.

CHAIR: Shall the total of these subheads carry?

All in favour.


On motion, total subheads 7.1.01 to 8.1.01, carried.

CHAIR: Shall I report the Estimates for the Labour Relations Agency and the Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Review carried without amendment?

All in favour.


On motion, Labour Relations Agency and Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Review Estimates without amendment, carried.

CHAIR: We will move then to the department itself or another arm of that department which will take us to -

MR. SKINNER: We are going to do a little shuffling of the deck again just for our people down in communications.

Moving in along side of me will be Brenda Caul, the Deputy Minister, and Wayne Penny, the Assistant Deputy Minister, is moved over a bit.

CHAIR: I think he stayed where he was.


CHAIR: Minister, maybe for the benefit of the people downstairs, we will just go through a quick introduction of who we have there.

MR. SKINNER: That is not a problem.

I will start off with myself. Shawn Skinner, Minister.

MS CAUL: Brenda Caul, Deputy Minister.

MR. PENNY: Wayne Penny, ADM.

MS VIVIAN-BOOK: Lynn Vivian-Book, Assistant Deputy Minister, HRLE.

MR. HANLON: Brendan Hanlon, Director of Finance.

MS JEANS: Jennifer Jeans, Assistant Deputy Minister of Health and Community Services.

CHAIR (Mr. Ridgley): Okay. I believe that is all concerned with this department.

We are dealing now with subheads 1.1.01 up to 6.1.01. I will ask the Clerk to call the first subhead.

CLERK: Subhead 1.1.01.

CHAIR: Shall subhead 1.1.01 carry?

Again, I will turn to the minister for introductory remarks.

MR. SKINNER: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Again, I will be brief given the time that we have and the number of questions that may want to be asked.

I would say, Mr. Chair, that this department has been in a period of transition and continues to go through a period of transition from being a department of focusing, I guess, on income support, social services, welfare - I have heard it referred to by all kinds of names, we refer to it as income support - to a department now that is very much interested in trying to assist people in terms of educating, ‘skilling' them and getting them involved in careers and career development, getting people employed so that they can sustain themselves and enjoy a quality of life that having a good job and good income brings with it. There have been a number of initiatives and a number of changes to our service delivery which we have implemented over the last year to assist us in shifting our caseloads on income support into some of our career development services.

I will conclude my remarks there and just open the floor for the questions. Hopefully, in some of the questions we will get an opportunity to talk about some of those initiatives.

CHAIR: Thank you, Minister.

Mr. Butler, will you be leading off? We will say fifteen minutes to start and then we will go to ten.

MR. BUTLER: Not a problem, Sir.

I am going to start off with a general question. I guess it relates to the changes with regard to the delivery of service. I am sure Mr. Penny knows where I am going.

I take you back, Minister, to when the twenty offices closed around the Province. I know it was stated it was due to technology, the different ways of doing it and I agree with that to some degree. The office closed in Bay Roberts and the people had to travel as far as Carbonear if there were any needs, if they had to go in and see their worker and what have you. That has changed and they have a toll free number where they call, whether it is to make an application or if there is some major issue they have to deal with.

The problem that I have with it - first of all, I was going to ask were there any savings derived from the changes? The part that really bothers me, I guess, and I know it will probably never convert back to what it was, but to me the social conscience is gone out of it. I have people out there who have a major problem, it may be only minor to me but a major problem to them. They always had a system where they either could go into the Bay Roberts office, or later to the Carbonear office, and sit down face to face with someone and discuss it. Now they call a toll-free number and they speak to someone. Don't get me wrong. Those people - I have worked with them; I worked in the department as an EA in 1989 - are wonderful people. It has nothing to do with the people who are there, but the system that is provided to the individual out there now. You have people calling who would like to be able to go in and have it explained to them, or if there is something they want to do and they are told, I am sorry, you have to call this number and you do this back and forth through the mail.

I am not saying a full-fledged office should be put back in Bay Roberts or Carbonear. Even if there was one person there for instances like this, where they could go in and sit down. I mean, there are wonderful people there. Mr. Parsons is there; Bob Wheadon is there.


MR. BUTLER: The way that it is changed now, they cannot even get in to see these people - not saying that is who they should see, but just using those as examples. If there was only one person there, where they could go in and sit down.

Maybe the need is not a major item where you need a lot of staff; even if there was one person. Is there any thought to that? Maybe you do not see it as a problem like I do, hearing from the people out there.

MR. SKINNER: I will start off, Mr. Butler, by saying that the change in client service delivery methodology in terms of the toll-free number that you refer to, and people not being able to access somebody through our toll-free support line, has been, I believe, a positive experience. I am speaking now in my role as an MHA, particularly when I still am MHA for St. John's Centre. For the first couple of years my experience was very, very negative in terms of the service level, the quality of service, to my constituents from the department. When the changes were made, my constituents told me - and still tell me, I have to be honest - that they believe it is a better quality of service.

We do surveys of all of the caseloads that we have, and those surveys indicate very high response rates. I do not know the exact number, but I am comfortable in saying to you that over 90 per cent of the survey respondents indicate that they feel it is a better level of service that they are receiving.

That is fine for the nine out of ten, but what about the one out of ten who is not happy, and maybe that is the one you are talking about, and maybe it is more than one out of ten but I get your point.

We try to be an open door for people, so if somebody does want to come into an office and speak to somebody we certainly try to accommodate that. I know in my own case I have dealt with constituents who have had difficulty and I have directed them to specific individuals within offices. In some cases I accompanied them myself. When we had offices down in the Templeton Building and so on, I used to accompany them down to Water Street here and go to some of these meetings.

In terms of, are we going to do something like that? I would say to you, that is something that would always be considered as long as I am minister, and with the executive that I have. We constantly talk about ways that we can improve our service delivery level, but the indicators are, to me, from a personal level, face to face as an MHA, and from the surveys that we do, that we do not have major issues in terms of people being able to access individuals and services that they need. When I do become aware of them, I am able to direct them towards staff to be able to have those issues resolved.

If your experience is different, I would certainly be interested in talking to you more about that and seeing if we can accommodate you on that.

MR. BUTLER: I am not saying that the new program is not working. I will just give you an example, and I won't use any names. I had one lady who had to come to St. John's with her son - they were receiving income support - and the appointment got changed on a Friday. They were supposed to go on Thursday or something of the previous week. Anyway, they called and they had an appointment for Monday morning; this was on a Friday. They usually make the arrangements with the taxi to take them in, but where it all happened so fast.... What could have happened, if there was someone there like was always there, they could have gone to the office in Bay Roberts on Monday morning and picked up their slip or whatever they had to give to the taxi driver in this instance, but here she was in a panic: How am I going to get my son in there? Because all of this happened and changed so fast. She called the toll-free number and they looked it up on the screen - and they do their work; I am not saying that -


MR. BUTLER: - but they could not help her at that time because the time frame was not there to do it. Whereas, if she could have walked into that office that morning, she could have moved on.

I agree with you, probably 90 per cent or 95 per cent are probably saying it is a good service, and I agree with that because now the stigma is not there where people have to walk out and go into an office and people are saying: They are on welfare - like you used the terminology earlier.

All of that is wonderful, but incidents like that, where there is an office in Carbonear - and I understand where you are moving away from income support and trying to get more people out into the workforce and what have you - if there was someone there who could deal with those minor number of issues, that service from time to time, that is all I am referring to.

MR. SKINNER: Yes, and point well taken. I would say to you that is something that, from our perspective, we will look at doing.

Again, I can only say to you that my own experience as an MHA is that when people were in turmoil or crisis, or whatever you want to call it, any time of the day, even if it was after hours, there is always somebody on call. I have accessed people on call myself. In St. John's, 7888 is the number. I have called it myself, left my name, and said: Could you ask the person to get back to me? I have somebody in crisis that I need to help here - and we have been able to resolve it.

I think it can be done through the system we currently have. Is it the best way to do it? As I said to you, I am open to that in terms of looking at alternative ways, but my experience is currently that the system is able to respond to needs like that; not suggesting that we don't have cases where maybe we don't respond quite appropriately.


On page 208, subheading 1.2.02., Administrative Support, in 2006-2007 Salaries was budgeted 2,088,800 and it was revised to 1,893,800. I was just wondering where the difference came in there.

MR. SKINNER: Mr. Butler, could I just ask you to repeat the numbers? I apologize; I missed a couple of numbers.

MR. BUTLER: That is not a problem.

Subhead 1.2.02., Administrative Support, under heading 01., Salaries.

MR. SKINNER: Yes, sorry.

MR. BUTLER: Where it was budgeted at $2 million and it shows there $1.893 million revised. I was just wondering why the reduction there.

MR. SKINNER: Okay, thank you.

The documentation related to the reduction is that there were salary savings of - the number adds up to be approximately $195,000. There was an internal audit position and some clerical positions that we were in the process of filling. There were just some delays in filling those. It was basically a couple of positions that did not get filled when we expected them to be filled. They were filled a little bit later.


Under the same heading, under 06., Purchased Services, where it shows $2,018,000 and this year it has gone to $2.5 million, I was just wondering, what would the additional services be? Last year the Budget was $2 million, Revised was approximately the same, but this year it is $2.5 million.

MR. SKINNER: It just takes us a second, because there are so many numbers there. I just want to make sure I have the right numbers when I am giving my answer back to you.

MR. BUTLER: No rush, Sir.

MR. SKINNER: The increase is approximately $518,000, if I refer to the numbers that you are referring to.

MR. BUTLER: That is it.

MR. SKINNER: We have new funding because the low income drug card appeal board is a portion of that, and there are some increased costs in accommodations as well.

WITNESS: Office accommodations.

MR. SKINNER: Office accommodations.


MR. SKINNER: Those two categories are where the increase comes from: the low income drug card appeal board and some office accommodations.


Under that again, under 07., Property, Furnishing and Equipment, last year the Budget was $5,000 and it went to $137,000.

MR. SKINNER: We had a one-time increase there of $132,000 which basically related to some outdated equipment. I would assume, although my note does not say this, that some of that would be related to some of the changes the OCIO are making, as well as there were some furniture changes and some purchase of photocopy equipment.


Under heading 1.2.03., Program Development and Planning, under Salaries, it was budgeted last year at $2,398,000 and it went to $2,509,000. I was just wondering if you could elaborate on that one.

MR. SKINNER: Yes, there were overall salary increases of approximately $247,000. There were approved salary increases of $60,200. That would be, I would assume, just normal incremental steps and yearly increases - that was about $60,000 of that - and there was new funding approved of $270,000 for: a manager of research and evaluation, who we brought into the division; a policy specialist for reducing barriers for persons with disabilities; a policy specialist for the Poverty Reduction Strategy; and, our Labour Market Working Group, we also had a position there. So, these are new staff positions.

In particular, if I could elaborate, one of the things we are trying to do is to be able to do some research and evaluation of some of our initiatives that we are doing on an ongoing basis to make sure that the funds that we are committing to new initiatives are being well spent, and we are creating, basically, real-time information that we can use in helping us on a go-forward basis to continue with those initiatives, or to discontinue them if need be.


Under 3.1.01., Income Assistance, budgeted last year was $218,507,000 - that is under Allowances and Assistance - and it was revised to $213 million. I was wondering if you could explain the $5 million, or approximately $5 million, difference there.

MR. SKINNER: Basically, Mr. Butler, the majority of that would end up being a decrease in the caseload of the number of people receiving income support. The amount, approximately $5.5 million, if I am referring to the right heading, has to do with the decrease in caseload.

MR. BUTLER: Could you explain that? Have all of those people gone out into the workforce, or have they moved out of our Province - families, like that? It is probably a job to get a breakdown like that, is it?

MR. SKINNER: In terms of the decrease in caseload, we have a number of initiatives within the department where we try to increase the labour force attachment to some of the clients who will be receiving income support. I could not give you exact numbers right now, but a number of those would be people who were transitioned into workforce attachment. It may have been training and workforce, it may have been strictly back into jobs, but in terms of actual numbers I would have to do a little bit more work to be able to provide you with more detail.

Some of it, no doubt, may be people who have moved away; I would not suggest to you it would not be. I would suggest to you that a significant portion of that would be related to us creating workforce attachments for some of our clients.

MR. BUTLER: It is a clever chunk of change, and I know you have budgeted this year basically the same amount as what was spent. That is why I was wondering, where it was $5 million.

Under 3.1.02., National Child Benefit Reinvestment, you budgeted $600,000 and the revised was $520,000. I was wondering, could you explain the difference of the $80,000 there?

MR. SKINNER: On that one the answer is, quite simply, just less people who took up the program, less people getting the money.


Under 3.1.03., Mother/Baby Nutrition Supplement, I notice last year it was budgeted at $400,000 and it was revised to $325,000, and the estimate for this year is $475,000. I think there was something in the Budget about additional money for that.

MR. SKINNER: Correct.

MR. BUTLER: I was more concerned - the reduction last year, why the full amount, or what happened there?

MR. SKINNER: We did increase the amount this year, you are correct, by $15 per month.


MR. SKINNER: Again, it is just lower than anticipated take-up on the program. We budgeted expecting a certain number of moms to take us up on this program, and we just had less.

MR. BUTLER: What do you think is causing it to go up to $475,000 this year, if you only needed - I am sorry, budgeted, your estimate - when you only required $325,000?

MR. SKINNER: One of the things we had to budget for was the increase of $15 a month.

MR. BUTLER: Okay. Sorry, yes.

MR. SKINNER: Because we increased the amount obviously there would be more money spent.

MR. BUTLER: Sorry about that, you explained that.

MR. SKINNER: The actual caseload may not change, we are not sure, but we had to allow for the extra $15 a month.

CHAIR: Okay, Mr. Butler, we will move to Ms Michael and we can come back to you if need be.

MR. BUTLER: Not a problem.

MS MICHAEL: Thank you very much.

If I could just come back up to 3.1.01 again, $5 million does seem like a lot of money. Just from my general knowledge - I do not have figures in front of me and you probably do not either - I cannot imagine that $5 million worth of people have gone into the workforce. I really am stymied by that $5 million.

MR. SKINNER: In terms of trying to explain that a little bit more, Ms Michael, that dollar amount related to individuals, I guess, to try and put some context to it, which is what I am trying to do for you, would be about 730 individuals. That is what it would amount to. Unfortunately, I do not have information here with me to be able to tell you how many we may have transitioned into the workforce or got labour force attachment, but I am comfortable in saying to you there would be a number of them. As Mr. Butler indicated, some of them, sure, may have left the Province seeking other work or other opportunities. It is our experience that we do create labour force attachment with some of the initiatives that we have and some of those people then move into that category.

MS MICHAEL: Hearing that it amounts to 730 individuals helps me, because that was going to be my next question; how much per person is spent on income support.

MR. SKINNER: That is an approximate number.

MS MICHAEL: That is an approximate number. Okay, that gives me something to work with then. That I can deal with. Thank you.

I am going to come back a bit then. Let me see. That one is okay. I have to check and see what Mr. Butler covered. I do not want to go over stuff that he asked questions on.

1.2.03, Program Development and Planning: My questions have to do with line 05 and line 10. 05, Professional Services are going up quite a bit in this Budget. I am just wondering what the Professional Services are that you are anticipating? Also, Grants and Subsidies have gone up. If I could have answers for both of those lines, please, why you are anticipating having both of those lines go up by about $200,000 each, actually?


I am delaying because I am just trying to figure out the $255,000 on Professional Services, so I will jump to the Grants and Subsidies because I know the answer to that one.


MR. SKINNER: I will try and organize my thoughts on the other one.

The Grants and Subsidies is just an extra amount of money we gave to Kids Eat Smart. We increased the funding. I believe they get $500,000, if memory serves me correctly, and we upped it to $700,000. It may be $550,000 to $750,000.

OFFICIAL: (Inaudible).

MR. SKINNER: $500,000 to $700,000 is the number, and $50,000 from the Department of Health. That is where the other $50,000 came from. That is the $200,000, Ms Michael.

WITNESS: The rest of it is (inaudible).

MR. SKINNER: The other amount - I indicated the Professional Services - is the Property Reduction Strategy. We have some research and evaluation positions, some people who are evaluating some of initiatives that we have under Poverty Reduction Strategy. Again, as I said, we are trying to really get some comprehensive data to see if the initiatives that were undertaken are really have a meaningful impact. We needed to get some resource, basically, to be able to evaluate that, so that is where that money is being spent.


Thank you very much.

The next page, section 2.1.01, there has been quite a jump in salaries there, $1.6 million. I think I am doing my math correct on this one, because I did it ahead of time. What is that about?

MR. SKINNER: Yes. We did have approved salary increases to normal steps, collective agreements and all of that. It actually adds up to $472,000 of that amount. Then, we have a bunch of new positions that were approved in this year's Budget, which is about another $1.45 million. That would be our CIRC centres, our Career Information Resource Centres, career development specialists -

MS MICHAEL: All of those new positions are coming under that?

MR. SKINNER: Yes, all of those are coming out of that amount.


MR. SKINNER: Liaison social workers is another important one that we have. There are around sixty-five people.


I remember all of that from the Budget, but this is where it is all coming from.

MR. SKINNER: I am being told, Ms Michael, just for your information, thirty-six of them actually come from that budget target but there are others within the department that would come from others.

MS MICHAEL: Okay, that is helpful, thank you.

Under Purchased Services, there is a fair increase there of $180,000. What are you anticipating under Purchased Services this year that is new?

MR. SKINNER: I will try and explain it to you. I may have to defer to staff on this for a better explanation but I will give you my take on it.

The thirty-six new positions that we are bringing in, there is a piece of work that has to be done to be able to accommodate that influx of staff and so we have some services that we will be requiring to assist us with that.

MS CAUL: Like office supplies, travel, typical things that a person, while they are doing their day to day work, need, those kinds of expenditures.

MS MICHAEL: As a Purchased Service? Well Supplies and Transportation, they are two other lines.

MS CAUL: I guess, all told, all those increases together. All of those increases are directly related to the new initiatives that we want to roll out next year. It is the salaries associated with that, the travel associated with that, the purchases of supplies, all of those kinds of things. I do not know if there is anything else unusual.

WITNESS: Printing and photocopying.

MS CAUL: Printing, photocopying, those kinds of materials, but they are related to those new initiatives that we are going to initiate next year like the CIRC that the minister had mentioned and the expansion of the Graduate Recruitment Program and the other employment programs that we have. These are all the costs that are associated with running that: salaries, travel, office supplies. It is all in those numbers here.

MS MICHAEL: You are putting Supplies and Transportation under Purchased Services. They are not Purchased Services.

MS CAUL: I guess all I am saying is that there is a $249,000 increase in Transportation and Communications as well.

MS MICHAEL: Right and that I see.

I am just trying to understand what would be under Purchased Services because I do understand the increase under Transportation and Supplies.

MR. SKINNER: If I could; I guess what we are trying to say, and we are not doing a good job of explaining it, it that -

MS MICHAEL: No, I am not getting it. It might be me. I am not good in the morning.

MR. SKINNER: - there is a significant amount of work that will be done in us trying to promote these new initiatives and launch these new initiatives across the Province. So when we go and open a CIRC or have the availability of a new liaison social worker we will be promoting that to the clients, to the constituents, so there may be things like posters, radio spots, whatever we decide to do with that. That is what that money is being used for, to let people know that we have these extra services and extra people within our offices that they can avail of.

MS MICHAEL: You would probably be contracting out some of that work?

MR. SKINNER: I would think we would. I am being told that under the initiatives that we have we expect we would contract out most of that design type of work.

MS MICHAEL: Okay, thank you very much. That makes sense.

Section 4.1.02., LMDA Projects - I should know this from my past work, shouldn't I? This all has to do with the LMDA, the agreements and the initiatives. All of these line items, are these the expenditures of the initiatives, not expenditures inside the department. In other words, the money comes into the department and gets funneled out to the initiatives? Is that correct?

MR. SKINNER: I would defer to some of my accounting people for that.

MS CAUL: I assume you are talking about the $6 million.

MS MICHAEL: Yes, that is correct.

MS CAUL: Yes, the federal Labour Market Development Agreement is a $132 million to $133 million agreement.


MS CAUL: We get to deliver $6 million of that directly by the Province. It has not been identified as to exactly what it is going to be spent on at this particular point in time, but there is always an allowance put into the provincial Budget of about $6 million to carry our projects. If we do not spend the full $6 million, the remainder goes back to the $132 million to $133 million federal pot and it gets spent through there. So, the full $132 million or the $133 million will be spent, it is just that we have direct control over about $6 million of it.

MS MICHAEL: Right. I guess my question is: The $3 million for salaries, that is not for salaries inside of the government, that is for salaries in the initiatives?

MS CAUL: Yes, that is correct.

MS MICHAEL: That is my question. I just wanted to get a full understanding. I figured that from my past experience, but I just wanted to be sure about that.

CHAIR: Ms Michael, if you are finished on that point then we will move to someone else and come back to you.

MS MICHAEL: Sure, and if my others do not get covered I will come back.

Thank you.

CHAIR: Mr. Ball.

MR. BALL: Yes, just a few questions.

Under 3.1.02, this is the $80,000 again, 09, Allowances and Assistance. We did not spend that money. Could you give me some idea who could apply for that under the National Child Benefit. I am just surprised that $80,000 was not spent.

MR. SKINNER: If I could, Mr. Ball, I will ask Jennifer if she would do that one.

MS JEANS: The people who are eligible for that have to meet an income test and there is a certain income level. I think it is around $23,000. The number of people who have taken advantage of this over the past few years has declined. It reflects changing demographics as well. We do promote the program through advertisements and so on in that. So, it is less take up; less people eligible.

MR. BALL: Any discussion around maybe rising the threshold so that more people could apply, take it, let's say, from $23,000 to $25,000.

MS JEANS: There has not been discussion on this. This has been tied to the threshold of the National Child Benefit. We have raised the threshold in the past, but it has to be done in sync with what the federal government does. I do not have a lot of past history of that. If you would like for us to follow up, we could provide a bit more information.

MR. BALL. Okay.

Under 4.1.01 on page 211, Grants and Subsidies, line item 10, an extra $2.5 million: Could I just get an example of how this program works?

MR. SKINNER: You are referring to the $8.7 million, Mr. Ball?

MR. BALL: Yes, I am.

MR. SKINNER: What I am going to do, Mr. Ball, is we have a list of the kinds of organizations, I think that might help you in terms of understanding the kinds of groups we are helping. I will just ask that they give you some examples of that, and then if you have further follow-up, we can entertain that.

MS JEANS: Under this one, we have new employment business development projects to help build employment in rural areas. That is something similar to what the Random North Development Association is doing out in the region with their program called Bridging the Gap, where we work with the communities and businesses in the area in new or emerging sectors and we provide or support, through that type of model, a combination of workplace literacy, skills development and work, sort of all on the job. It is a combination and an initiative that entails a combination of aspects.

What Bridging the Gap does is they work with an employer who has a need, and it is a new and emerging business. They will take employees on. They work with the College of the North Atlantic to provide a literacy development, as well as skills training that relates to the required skills on the job, as well as work experience. So, it is for people who often are either on income support or are unemployed and they do not want to spend a whole lot of time in training or getting basic literacy. It is provided all in one in the workplace.

MR. SKINNER: Just as a follow-up, Mr. Ball, there are a number of various kinds of initiatives that we have. I am just looking at some of the documentation I have. They range from new employment business development projects to working with community partners that we would provide funding for to assist with that. Some of it involves assisting income support clients in terms of pursuing their education, training or work experience goals. There is a bit of it that looks like it is related to ABE placement support, Adult Basic Education placement support. So, there are a variety of initiatives like that and a bunch of programs that we would have.

Actually, I will give you an example. Tonight, as a matter of fact, I will be going down to the Delta Hotel to attend a graduation of a group called Making It Work. It is actually our second group, Making It Work II. These are approximately fifteen to twenty clients that we have partnered with. The Fortis Group of Companies came to us as a department and indicated they were having trouble recruiting people for housekeeping, wait service, maintenance in the hotels and so on, the properties that they own, so we did an advertisement amongst our clients and had, I believe, sixty or seventy income support clients express an interest. We took one group of about fifteen that graduated a couple of weeks ago. Now, tonight, we will have a second group graduate. They were put through, approximately, a five to seven-week program - I am not sure of the exact length of time - where they got some basic education and educational skills, but, more importantly, they got some specific skills related to the industry they are going into. We funded those clients while they did that training. Fortis provided the training location, the training opportunities, and those people now are being employed by Fortis.

So, they went from being an income support client of ours six or seven weeks ago to, tonight they will graduate and they will have jobs with the Fortis Group of Companies doing various things within their properties; basically, full-time jobs. Some of the training they got was industry certification, and Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador was a partner in that. That is the kind of money we are talking about there. That is the kind of initiative that we are doing there to get people off income support and giving them a labour force attachment.

MR. BALL: Thank you.

Subhead 4.1.01. - the same page, 211 - there was $300,000, I guess, in the budget last year spent under the same program. What I do not see attached to this program - I am just wondering where the salaries would be for the people who actually administer this program? Where would they be captured?

MR. SKINNER: Go ahead, Brenda.

MS CAUL: Is this 4.1.02, the Salaries from $3 million in 2006-2007 to $2 million revised and then up to $3 million? Is that the line you are talking about?

MR. BALL: No, I am sorry. It is still under the same category, 4.1.01. I do not see any salaries for that particular area. I am just wondering where they are captured?

MS CAUL: I am sorry. Okay.

MR. SKINNER: The indication is, Mr. Ball, that back in 1.2.03., Program Development and Planning, that salary burden is the salary burden that is used to work with the Employment Development Programs in 4.1.01. So 1.2.03, Program Development and Planning, there is a salary line item there and that is the salary line item that reflects 4.1.01.

MR. BALL: Okay, thank you.

WITNESS: There are others as well.

MR. SKINNER: And others as well, I am told. They are not just specifically for that, but for others as well.

MR. BALL: The same page, 211, 4.1.02., Transportation and Communications, line item 03. We only spent $400,000 of a $1.3 million budget for there. Is there an explanation for this?

That is the LMDA projects again.

MR. SKINNER: This, again, is part of the money that we talk about from the federal commitment. For the projects that were approved, we only needed to use $400,000 of that for transportation and communications based on the projects that were approved. So that money then reverted into the federal pot of $132 million that we referred to earlier. That would have been spent then in other areas or others ways, but we only needed to utilize, based on the projects we had, $400,000 for that particular line item. If do not need to spend it, it goes back into the general federal pot and it gets spent within the Province on other initiatives that they may have.

WITNESS: (Inaudible).

MR. SKINNER: Client service issues, yes.

MR. BALL: On page 212,, Grants and Subsidies, this is for Employment Assistance Programs for Persons with Disabilities. What I am wondering about here is how this applies throughout the Province? Is this in every office? Obviously, there is going to be another - what do we have, $1.4 million spent here this year?

MR. SKINNER: Well, we have funded it to a greater extent, yes. In terms of, if it is available in every office, the programs are available right across the Province, yes. So, any service that we offer is available across the Province. We just targeted this year - this particular program is one that we felt we wanted to try and do more with, so we increased the funding level to try and provide more assistance and assistance programs for people who have disabilities.

MR. BALL: Yes, I agree with that. What are we finding throughout the Province? Is this evenly distributed, do you think, or is it more - do you find there is more of an uptake on the, let's say, the Avalon versus the West Coast versus Labrador?

MR. SKINNER: I will say to you that one of the items in there was - we had a special request this year coming from the Vera Perlin Society. They are doing a capital project to build a new facility and they asked us to make a contribution to it, so we approved $500,000 toward that. So, $500,000 of that amount will be used by the Vera Perlin Society. I am assuming you are familiar with them and the work they do?

MR. BALL: Yes.

MR. SKINNER: So, that is part of it. Then in terms of the take up on the programs, again, a lot of that really is sort of trying to meet the needs as you see them. I am comfortable in saying the majority of our services related to that would be in the greater St. John's-Avalon area.

MR. PENNY: I think it is fair to say that the Avalon region is more active. A lot depends on the ability of the community or the interest of the community, the number of people with disabilities in the communities, but services, generally, are available throughout the Province.

CHAIR: Okay, Mr. Ball, we will move on and we will come back to you.

MR. BALL: Thank you.

CHAIR: Are you finished the point on that?

MR. BALL: Yes, I am. Thank you.

CHAIR: Mr. Butler will be next.

MR. BUTLER: Okay, Sir.

Under 4.1.03., Grants and Subsidies, I was just wondering, the Budget last year was $250,000, this year it was Revised to $11,000 and this year the Estimate is $1.8 million. I was just wondering if you could -

MR. SKINNER: Mr. Butler, that is a cost-shared program with the federal government, the new program, a targeted initiative for older workers. There is a new program this year where the feds and the Province will be cost-sharing initiatives related to older workers, and that is where that money comes from. It is a 70-30 breakdown on the money; seventy for the feds, thirty for the Province.

MR. BUTLER: Under the heading there it says: address major permanent layoffs. When you refer to major permanent layoffs, could you elaborate on where that could have taken place?

MR. SKINNER: I guess what we are talking about is people who have had a career in a particular industry. In our own Province, I guess, you could be talking of people who may be involved in pulp and paper or the fishing industry.

I have a couple of constituents who have been involved in office work for twenty, twenty-two years and they are now forty-five, forty-seven and have been laid off and been declared redundant. These are the kinds of people, and the situations they find themselves in, that we would be trying to work with targeting older workers to get them back into a workforce.

MR. BUTLER: Is this a new program?

MR. SKINNER: Yes, it is brand new program.

MR. BUTLER: Okay. That is why the figures were lower the previous year and so on?

MR. SKINNER: Exactly.

Just for clarification. You will notice underneath there, Revenue, $1.5 million of it comes from the federal government, 70 per cent of the funding, and 30 per cent we cost share with them.


I just want to touch on, minister, the Kids Eat Smart Program, which is a wonderful program. I am not downing the program whatsoever. Back in 2005 when the Budget came down the figure that used to be used there was $500,000. It was reduced to $250,000. The reason given by the minister at the time was: Well, those people got a lot of money coming in from various groups, corporate donations, and all they would have is a pot of money there. The figure that was used at that time, there would be a surplus of $483,000 that they would have. In other words, $250,000 was taken away to go into some other program. That $250,000 has gone back to make it $500,000. Now this year there is another $250,000.

What has changed in this Province? I asked the same question last night because it was under the heading under health a little bit there, because like you said earlier: $50,000 or whatever, they put in.


MR. BUTLER: The answer I was given is that there are additional schools this year, but to go from saying two years ago that they have lots of money and we are taking some away, to now increasing it by $500,000 within two years. What is happening out there? What is causing this major turnaround of events in the span of two years?

MR. SKINNER: As I understand it - and I have met with officials from Kids Eat Smart in the last thirty or forty days to discuss the grant that we provide to them. It is my understanding that the Kids Eat Smart Foundation, a couple of years ago, as you indicated, did have surplus funds. The sustaining grant that they needed from the provincial government did not need to be as large as it was because they could use their sustaining funds to do the work that they wanted to do. The grant was reduced, as I understand it, from $500,000 down to $250,000 or whatever the number was. They have since utilized that surplus that they had, or those extra funds that they had, in providing the services that they are providing. They are reaching out to more schools and it is my understanding that their plan this year is to get into even more schools than what they have been. They have more requests. The reason they came back to us was they said that people are realizing that the program is a good program, it does work. They feel that it is providing better academic results in the schools because the children are getting fed nutritious meals in the mornings, and they want to continue to be able to provide that to the school communities that are coming to them.

In terms of what has changed, the program is recognized as being a successful program and more people want to participate with it.

MR. BUTLER: I guess, having said that, it also means that two years ago I am sure the need that is in those additional schools that are coming on stream now, back at that time, even though they may have had the funding there. What I am saying is, surely government must have seen the need was there in other areas and all of a sudden it is coming to light that they are going to put additional money into it.

I know government has a strategy on poverty. Is this saying that there is a major problem out there with regards to that issue linked into the same program for the kids? Like I said, it is a wonderful program. I have two schools in my district and I visit them regularly when they have their functions. It is a wonderful program, but it concerns me too. There must be a major problem out there that we are not seeing in order for government to see now that this massive amount of money has to go in there when they thought there was no need of it just two years ago. I know you have answered it, probably what I am rehashing again now.

MR. SKINNER: Again, I can only speak to two years ago what I understood the situation to be. I do not think that there was not a recognition two years ago of whether there was or was not a problem. I do not view Kids Eat Smart as resolving a problem. I view it as being a service, a service level that is being provided upon request, and something in a positive sense, not in a problem sense. The money, as I understand it, two years ago was reduced because Kids Eat Smart had their own funds. It is as simple as that. It was not a matter that government did not see a problem, or did not want to recognize the problem, Kids Eat Smart had enough of their own funds to be able to fund their operations and required less of a sustaining grant from government. They have now come back and indicated that they no longer have surplus funds, they actually have more schools, more school communities, that recognize the benefit of what they are doing and they want to be able to expand their reach and that is why we are going to increase the funding to them.

MR. BUTLER: It probably also says that the corporate donations, or whatever they were getting, was probably reduced to some degree.

MR. SKINNER: My understanding is, in certain geographic locations it is almost nil. They do not get any because there are no corporates to donate to them. They are trying to do their fundraising in their own small little community and it is the same pocket you are reaching into all the time.

The cost of the meals in some of those areas is 100 per cent funded from Kids Eat Smart, whereas in other areas, like here in the greater Avalon area, they get a lot of corporate support and the meals do not cost Kids Eat Smart nearly as much.

MR. BUTLER: I do not have the figures here with me, Minister, but I know last year one of the major concerns - and there was a chart showing people under the age of thirty who were in the system, we will say, for Income Support. I am wondering what can you release to me on that today with regards to - I know you said the number there earlier is $5 million savings. I am wondering what percentage of that would have been, say, that group of people that the major concern was about. We will always have people who will require Income Support, but when you are talking about our youth from thirty years down, I am wondering has that figure changed much, when you mentioned earlier that there is $5 million less this year being spent as versus the previous year?

MR. SKINNER: I can give you some statistics on that, Mr. Butler. Hopefully they will answer it. Currently, we have approximately 26,000 people receiving Income Support. About 75 per cent of those people are over the thirty years of age mark, so obviously 25 per cent of them are less than thirty.

Having said that, though, I believe around half of our new Income Support applicants are youth.

MR. BUTLER: Half of new ones?

MR. SKINNER: Yes. Approximately now, I do not have the specific number, but about half of them would be youth. In terms of educational level, about 55 per cent of that group have less than high school education. So education is a key part of what we need to be working on with those people. We need to be getting them back into the school system and into skills training and educating them.

MR. PENNY: Just to be clear, the number of people applying for income support is less but 50 per cent of those who apply are young people. So, less people applying.

MR. BUTLER: I know, throughout our questioning today, there are a lot of programs for training, and like you said it is going in that direction. What percentage - or maybe you would not have this figure either - but what percentage of this group of individuals we are referring to here would be taking part versus people over thirty? Are there people coming into the system saying - I know there are some for sure who want to retrained and get into the system and what have you.

MR. SKINNER: I do not have numbers that I can give you on that but I will say to you that the focus of the department is to try and become more of an activist or interventionist in terms of getting people moved along, in terms of trying to educate and skill them, as apposed to passively providing income support. We believe our role is, when somebody comes to us looking for income support, certainly we have to assess and apply that to them. The other thing we feel we need to do is show them and assist them with the opportunities that are out there, that we may be able to transition them to another stage of their life, be that back into ABE, high school, post-secondary, career skills training, whatever it may be. We try to sort of provide that continuum for them that, yes, your current situation is such that you may be in need of income support but here are the other programs and services we offer where we try to move you along.

I do not have factual information right here in front of me to be able to give you a breakdown on that.

MR. BUTLER: When you mention under thirty, would you have an approximate figure? Would it be people who just do not finish school and as soon as they get out of high school they are trying to receive income support? Is there any figure there or would they be all older than that, in their mid to late twenties? Is there any figure like that for instance?

MR. SKINNER: In terms of breaking it down even further by age?


MR. SKINNER: We could capture it. I only have it here from eighteen to twenty-nine. Your question would be when they are eighteen and coming out of high school, how many of them -

MR. BUTLER: When they finish high school: That is it, I am finished it and I am going out and try to get income support.

What I am trying to say is, if you had that figure there and 50 per cent you are saying is under thirty, and 50 per cent of that figure is just high school students who are leaving, then that says something, not regards to your department, but we have to do something in the education system too to try to break that barrier before they really get out and then down the road, maybe their late twenties or early thirties, here you are trying to retrain them again to get them back into the system.

MR. SKINNER: We can get that. I understand your point. We can certainly get that information. I do not have it here, so we will make a note and I will provide that to members of the Committee.

MR. BUTLER: Thank you.

CHAIR: Mr. Butler, if you are finished that point we will move it back to Ms Michael.


CHAIR: Are you okay on that one, on that point?


MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

We will continue with the youth then, under subhead 4.1.05. Obviously, this is a brand new initiative of the federal government with the Province, a federal-provincial project. Could we have some information about this? Is it a particular project that would have its own program, or will the money from this project go into other things that the Province is already doing with regard to youth, or is this going to have its own particular program? If so, has that been determined yet, what the program is?

MR. SKINNER: It is a particular program.

This will be Youth Connect. I just want to be sure.

WITNESS: (Inaudible).

MR. SKINNER: It is a particular program, Ms Michael. We call it Youth Connect. I will give you the Coles Notes version of it and based on whatever followup you may have I may have to refer the staff to give you more detail.

We are going to run this program this year where we are going to try and do two streams of youth coming into our system. It will be done randomly, so when people apply for income support, come to the department and we identify them as youth, some of them will be put through a stream that will be, I will call it, the normal stream, and go through the system we have today, and others will be siphoned off into this Youth Connect stream. The purpose of that is we will provide, on a pilot basis, more intensive interventions and different options than what we are currently providing to youth who apply to us for income support.

The purpose of that will be to see if, using some of these new interventions and these new options that we are going to pilot, we are able to make a substantial difference in the length of time the individual receives income support and in the services, be they educational or otherwise, that they avail of from the department. We are trying something a little bit different to move youth off income support, but give them something more to allow them to make that transition. There will be face-to-face supports, there will be counseling supports, there will be, if I remember, financial incentive for so much extra, I believe.

Do you remember how much it is?


The big difference of this program is that we will have some funding to provide participants for skills training. Normally, we have not been able to support that. As well, the career development specialists who will be a part of this will have a smaller caseload that will allow them to do some intensive counseling. Many of the young people who come on income support have other issues that they need to address, so we can work with them to get them the supports that they need and for the first time be able to offer financial supports for skills development, so attending CONA or wherever that would fit with their employment plan.

MS MICHAEL: I presume you will be taking so many from various areas of the Province, will you?

MR. SKINNER: There will be gender analysis done on it, it will be geographic, all of those kinds of things.

MS MICHAEL: Has the federal government indicated - I am hoping this is not a one-year thing, that this is going to be long-term and can then be evaluated.

MR. SKINNER: It is a three-year pilot. Obviously, there will be a lot of research done and a lot of information and data captured and then we will use that to help us on a go forward basis.

MS MICHAEL: Thank you.

Finally for me, 6.1.01. Needless to say, I am delighted to see more money going into the Office of Immigration and Multiculturalism and I am looking forward to see things play out with regard to the strategy, the immigration strategy.

Will all of these salaries and everything be centered just in one office here in St. John's?

MR. SKINNER: I believe all of them are. I will say this to you, Ms Michael, initially yes is the answer, but I would also say to you that because it is a new initiative one of the things we will be looking at - and we have talked about it but it is not something that we have actioned yet - is we recognize there is going to have to be movement throughout the Province. We just have not determined yet where and when the needs to happen. The answer to your question is, yes, with the proviso that I think that may change over time.

MS MICHAEL: I think that is it for me, Mr. Chair.

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Michael.

We are back then to Mr. Ball.

MR. BALL: I am done, thank you.

CHAIR: Mr. Butler.

MR. BUTLER: Yes, I have two or three other questions.

CHAIR: You have stronger batteries than the rest of them.

MR. BUTLER: Duracell.

Just a couple of things to clue up with, I guess. It takes me back to the first question. I always go back to the office closures in the different areas.

One of the things that I see now - and that is why I asked earlier if there were any savings from that, and no doubt there had to be.


MR. BUTLER: Is that money invested back into the investigation system? Because, I will tell you - like, for instance, I have to go back to my area, Port de Grave district, in Bay Roberts. When the staff were there in that office it was almost like they were living in their own home - not the building part, but the district - and they knew everything that was going on. They knew their clients, they knew who was coming in, they knew what they were doing, whether it was right or wrong, and really they did not have to move outside to get the message. Now I sense that people are not there dealing one on one. There are things happening that should not be happening.

I am just wondering, is there enough put into the investigation side of it to correct it? Because I think things are going out of whack from that perspective: that people are not there with hands on. I referenced different issues with regard to, if someone was supposed to be renting in this unit and you are paying the rent, they probably are not there, they are only there part time, and there are things going on. When the staff had hands on, they could catch up on all of this. Is the system, do you think, working properly with the investigation that is in place?

MR. SKINNER: I will start off by saying, in terms of the savings that were realized, the majority of those savings went back into what we call our CEYS division: Career, Employment and Youth Services. We reinvested those savings to try and transition youth off income support into workforce attachment or educational attachment.

To go to the second point you make in terms of the investigative side of the department, I can tell you that, as minister, I receive mostly e-mails - I will get the odd phone call, but mostly e-mails - from people alleging that so-and-so is doing such-and-such and so on. I refer those to the appropriate personnel. We have a protocol and a system that we follow. I will tell you that the majority of the ones that I have received and passed along came back telling me that there was no inappropriate activity happening. Somebody says that so-and-so is working now and getting his income support and is not telling the local office about it. When, in fact, we check into it, that person very appropriately has indicated to us that they are receiving some income from other sources and have been declaring it and, accordingly, their income support payment is reduced.

My experience in the short time I have been minister is that, when we have actioned on some of those items that have come in, people who are on the system have, for the most part, been very honest and up front with the department in describing their circumstances to us as they change on a go-forward basis. My experience has been that there is a lot of suspicion but not a lot of truth to some of that suspension.

MR. BUTLER: I know that back a couple of years ago the department entered into a contract with Telelink. Is Telelink still being used for any reason now through your system?

MR. SKINNER: I am not aware. I will look to my officials, but I am not aware of anything with Telelink.

WITNESS: (Inaudible).



This is not a major earth-shattering question, but I know that when the Auditor General's report came down last year he felt there was a lack of adequate recording keeping within the department. I was just wondering what he was referencing there. I thought everything was wonderful within the department.

MR. SKINNER: I am going to ask one of my officials who might feel they know something about that to help me.

WITNESS: What specific...?

MR. BUTLER: I just remembered, it just came to my mind, I think it was the Auditor General. Maybe it wasn't your department - if it isn't, I apologize - different departments that he named, that he felt that record keeping was not appropriate or up to par. What he thought, now, not saying there was anything wrong, because auditors look at things different than everybody else.

MR. SKINNER: I am not aware of it, and it appears that my staff is not. Maybe to help you, I do remember reading some documentation from Newfoundland and Labrador Housing where there was some issue around documentation related to rental receipts and stuff. It might have been under the general umbrella, Mr. Butler, but it might have been Housing.

MR. BUTLER: For my last question, I go back to the Mother/Baby Nutrition Supplement. It has to do with that, because I guess when we classify mother/baby we are talking about infant children and what have you.

I have had the occasion recently to speak with two teachers in elementary schools. Like they said, they don't know how to bring it to the forefront because it places them in an awkward position. One of the things they are finding, and I know through Health and Community Services they are bringing in a Wellness Program and the full bit, but the concern - and it is not only in the one area; I have had calls from people in different areas - is kids in Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2.

I am probably a poor one to speak about this, when we talk about obesity, because I have not lived up to the rules either, but what they are finding is that small children, they have told me - now, whether this is 100 per cent accurate or not, they are reliable people who told me - they find that children who unfortunately are in families who are in receipt of income support - now, I am not saying they are not getting enough money to do it; maybe the money is not spent properly, and that is another issue, but - they find that those kids, some of them who are obese, are in those families, and what they are hearing is that they just cannot afford to buy the proper foods for them.

I am wondering, is that a concern that has been expressed? I don't know what you can do about it - I am not saying your department can do very much about it - but it seems to be a concern that now is coming forward from a new front, the teachers who are dealing with it, and they said those kids, when they go to the gym, the Wellness Program, unfortunately they cannot take part in a lot of the activities. They are stemming it back, whether rightly or wrongly, to families who are, unfortunately, in receipt of income support.

MR. SKINNER: Yes, Mr. Butler, it is a concern. I have grave concern over that, and see instances like that almost on a daily basis when I go to my district, so I know exactly what the teachers and you are speaking of.

This department has a role to play in that, there is no doubt about it. Fundamentally, we are the department that provides the income for some of those families, so obviously there is some impact we can have in terms of that.

As a part of our Poverty Reduction Strategy, we believe there are a number of fronts that we need to address to be able to try and help people who find themselves in a situation that you describe. Part of it is financial. Part of it, I believe, is societal. Part of it is educational. Part of it is attitudinal.

I do not think there is any one quick fix, but I will speak from my own perspective. I will certainly - and I have, with the Minister of Education and the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, we have had discussions about this, as has Minister Wiseman with me, but we need to advance that agenda on a whole bunch of fronts. Hopefully, we will get an opportunity to do some things like that. You may see some new initiatives next year which will assist with that, but the short answer to your question is: Yes, it is a concern. Yes, it is something that I think we need to be aware of and address, and we will do that on a variety of fronts.

MR. BUTLER: Thank you.

That is it for me, Mr. Chair.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr. Butler.

Ms Michael.

MS MICHAEL: Could I just make one comment on the last discussion that was happening?

CHAIR: Sure.

MS MICHAEL: I think one of the reasons why the department and the government need to become more proactive with regard to people having adequate income - I will put it that way - is also to keep people from having to go to food banks. As we know, the numbers are going up; they are not going down. This is a very serious indicator. Food banks are forced to give people processed food, because they cannot have fresh food all of the time. They do not have the capacity for maintaining fresh foods, et cetera. A lot of the processed foods, whether they are canned or packaged, are foods that are also adding to health problems and obesity. The percentage of salt, for example, in processed foods is one issue, and there are many others that we are aware of.

One of the big indicators for me with regard to whether or not the Poverty Reduction Strategy is working, what is happening in the Province, is seeing our numbers go down at food banks. Yet, at food banks, we know that we just do not have people on income support going to food banks. We have people working at minimum wage going to food banks. We have pensioners we are not getting adequate pensions going to food banks, and I think that in - I do not know if the department is doing this yet or not, but even though the food banks are run by the private sector, I think it would be really good to get - official is not the word - a reliable profile of who is going to food banks because I think we have to take very, very seriously the fact that people do not have enough money to eat correctly and that is impacting on, obviously, our health costs as well. I just wanted to add that.

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Michael.

Any further questions? Members in the back? Mr. Collins?

MR. COLLINS: Mr. Chairman, just a brief comment on a question that Mr. Butler asked at the beginning of this session. That is basically with, I guess for want of a better word, the face-to-face contact in the delivery system. You mentioned, Mr. Minister, that the input you are receiving so far is that the changes have been positively received, and I can appreciate that.

This might be precedent setting but I have to support something that Mr. Butler said here. The people, the clientele, that we are talking about are some of the most vulnerable in our society and probably, with no disrespect meant to them, less literate perhaps, and something is lost, I think, in the translation with the lack of face-to-face contact.

In Placentia, for example, there is a Genesis office there, as you well know, Mr. Minister, and the Genesis person is actually being swamped by income support people because Genesis has a contact with the delivery system that they are aware of and grab onto. You mentioned that you are re-looking at it, and I just throw it out. I think it deserves some degree of - I am not saying you are going to go back to what we had, that is not going to happen. Certainly, we are moving more and more in-line with what you are saying. It is just for your own consideration, to add to your consideration. I think it would be wise just to - not necessarily have another look at the whole system, but there is something out there that needs to be addressed. I say that not as a criticism of the system but as something that maybe you should look at.

MR. SKINNER: My response, Mr. Collins, is that everyday we have to challenge ourselves to be able to do it better. That is how I view my role as minister. I challenge my staff and I ask them to challenge me. I do not have all the answers. We do not have all the answers.

I know from my experience as an MHA, I encountered situations that some of the people sitting over here with me today maybe never encountered before and they needed to hear it and it helped them in their decision making and policy making. So, I hear it Mr. Butler. I hear yourself, and we will certainly make a note and look at what we can do to address that challenge. I am open to that.

MR. COLLINS: Thank you.

CHAIR: Mr. Butler.

MR. BUTLER: Just one comment. I will just give you an example. I know one particular family - and the thing has been resolved now, but that is not the issue. Unfortunately, this gentleman had to go to a doctor, required medication, had no means to get it. Do you know what he had to do? He had to pick up the phone, make out an application and give all the information - and that is wonderful because it was in the privacy of their home, but then that had to come to St. John's. It came in here, and here he was still waiting for his medication - and there is a turnaround time, that is understandable, people cannot do it automatically. Unfortunately, not knowing - like this gentleman just said, illiterate. He did not include all the information that he had to send back and here he gets it back in the mail: I am sorry, Mr. So and So, you have to provide this and send it back in again.

Here was a gentleman waiting three weeks for medication. Now, I am not saying it was crucial that he had to have it, but the doctor prescribed it to him. Whereas, if there was someone out in the system, not saying you have be a massive - it could have went in and they could have given a drug card for one day until that was done. That is the part I am talking about, and I am glad you spoke up on it, sir.

MR. SKINNER: Yes, point taken. As I said, we will certainly deliberate on that as we have our discussions at the executive level in terms of some of the responses to those situations.

CHAIR: Any other comments or questions from the members?

MR. BUTLER: It has been a good session.

MR. SKINNER: Thank you.

CHAIR: Minister, any concluding remarks before we call the subheads?

MR. SKINNER: I would just like to thank all the staff that I have here today for their support and help. As you indicated, I have a lot of confidence in them as well, and did when I sat as an MHA. I would like to thank the members opposite for their time and attention today.

CHAIR: Likewise, thanks to both sides.

I will ask the Clerk to call the subheads, please.

CLERK: 1.1.01. to 6.1.01. inclusive.

CHAIR: Shall subheads 1.1.01. to 6.1.01., inclusive, carry?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.


On motion, subheads 1.1.01. through 6.1.01. carried.

CHAIR: Shall the total for those subheads carry?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.


On motion, Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment, total heads, carried.

CHAIR: Shall I report the Estimates of the Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment carried without amendment?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.


On motion, Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment Estimates carried without amendment.

CHAIR: One further item of business would be the minutes from last night. I entertain a motion that the minutes of the meeting last night for the Department of Health and Community Services be carried?

Moved by Mr. Butler.

MR. BUTLER: (Inaudible).

CHAIR: I am sorry.

MR. BUTLER: My mike is still on, not that it matters though.

CHAIR: Okay, Mr. Butler's mike is still on.

MR. BUTLER: It might be confusing hearing (inaudible).

CHAIR: You can move this at the same time.

MR. BUTLER: (Inaudible).

CHAIR: To move the minutes.

Moved by Mr. Butler.

All those in favour, ‘aye'.


CHAIR: Carried.

On motion, minutes adopted as circulated.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.

Our next meeting of this Committee will be Monday morning at 9:00 to consider the Department of Justice.

Motion to adjourn by Mr. Ball.

All those in favour, ‘aye'.


CHAIR: Carried.

On motion, Committee adjourned.