November 12, 1992            HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS          Vol. XLI  No. 62

The House met at 2:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Lush): Order, please!

Before going into our routine proceedings, the Chair feels obligated just to make a couple of quotations from Beauchesne, and I think, without any preamble, hon. members will appreciate why I do this today. It is related to the Speakership and, without any preamble, I just want to quote them.

Beauchesne, page 48, section 167 and I am just going to read appropriate quotation about the Speaker: "The Presiding Officer, while but a servant of the House, is entitled on all occasions to be treated with the greatest attention and respect by the individual Members because the office embodies the power, dignity and honour of the House itself"; and continuing on to section 168, again just a quotation: "When rising to preserve order or to give a ruling the Speaker must always beard in silence. No Member may rise when the Speaker is standing. Reflections upon the character or actions of the Speaker may be punished as breaches of privileges. The actions of the Speaker cannot be criticized incidentally in debate or upon any form of proceeding except by way of a substantive motion." I just wanted hon. members to know that and simply to say that I think that particular quotation from Beauchesne is fundamentally integral to the successful operation of any Parliament.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Statements by Ministers

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

MR. BAKER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, some provinces have made statements in the past few days relative to their fiscal positions. These statements have been made necessary because of the effect of the continued recession upon their revenues and expenditures, and by the receipt of mid-year re-estimates of federal transfer entitlements and income tax revenues. As hon. members of this House are aware, about this time in each fiscal year, provinces receive from the Government of Canada, re-estimates of these critical revenue sources. This information, the first significant re-estimation this fiscal year, was received last week. Our analysis of that re-estimation has now been completed. Mr. Speaker, it indicates that we now face some very serious problems.

I wish to advise the Honourable House that, as a result of these re-estimates, the Province will now experience a significant decline in revenues from these sources in both the 1992 and the 1993-94 fiscal years. For the current fiscal year, the federal re-estimates mean a decline of $80.4 million. Coupled with a decline in provincial own-source revenues of $16.1 million, this results in a total revenue shortfall of $96.5 million.

Mr. Speaker, our current account expenditure projections for the current fiscal year will also exceed our expectations at Budget. These extra expenditures have caused a total expenditure increase of $28.3 million. Attached to the statement, Mr. Speaker, you will find an outline of the major variances both in revenue and expenditure.

If left unchecked, these variances in revenues and expenditures would result in a major increase in the projected Current Account Deficit for this year from $29 million estimated in the Budget to $153.8 million. If left unchecked, these variations would result in a projected Current Account Deficit of much more than $250 million for 1993-94. This, Mr. Speaker, is unacceptable to Government.

It is worthy to note, Mr. Speaker, that over the four-year period from 1985-86 to 1988-89, when the national economy was performing well, transfer payments from the Government of Canada were growing at an annual average rate of 8.1 per cent. If that rate of growth had continued for the last four years, we would be receiving this year $362 million more in Equalization and EPF payments than our current estimate, and over the four years, Mr. Speaker, we would have received an extra $800 million.

Now, in spite of this shortfall, over the four Budgets presented by this Administration, considerable strides have been made in controlling the deficit so as to maintain the confidence of the international capital markets and, in doing so, Mr. Speaker, preserve our ability to provide essential public services to the people of this Province. If we do not, now, act decisively, our ability to provide these essential services will be in extreme jeopardy.

The government is not willing to take that risk.

Accordingly, Mr. Speaker, today we are directing the departments and agencies of government to immediately freeze hiring and achieve a 1 per cent reduction in their salary budgets for this fiscal year, with the exception, of course, of the front-line Social Services workers. They have also been directed to achieve a 3 per cent reduction in their operating budgets, with any special problems to be dealt with by Treasury Board, and also, Mr. Speaker, to immediately freeze the hiring of consultants that is done through their current account expenditures.

Also, Mr. Speaker, I will be presenting to this Honourable House before the end of the month a revised fiscal plan for the current year. Although I cannot be more specific at this time as to the measures we will take in that plan, it will be designed to reduce the expected deficit in both current and coming fiscal years, and, because of its magnitude, will impact on all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

I call upon all those in a position to influence Government expenditures - all public servants, all public service unions, all groups receiving revenues directly or indirectly from the provincial government, to co-operate fully in the difficult months ahead. Working together, we can overcome these difficulties, continue to provide, with dedication, the essential services necessary in this Province, and emerge from these difficulties stronger than ever.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. WINDSOR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Some time ago I called the former Minister of Finance 'The Grinch who stole Christmas'. We now have a new grinch, because this statement is certainly going to take the shine off Christmas trees for this particular year, and probably next year, as well.

It is a very serious statement. I don't want to make light of it at all, because obviously, the Province is in a very serious financial position. I can sympathize with that, but I have to say, there are some things in here with which I have to find some difficulty.

First of all, we find our increase in the current account deficit now projected to be 500 per cent of what the former minister predicted in his Budget of last March. That is an incredible variance, Mr. Speaker.

I understand all of the factors that it impacted over the past year, but I said to the minister when be brought in his Budget last year that he had overestimated the revenues from federal sources. I told him also that he had underestimated his expenditures in certain areas. I think that has been verified here now.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WINDSOR: We see here expenditures have increased $28.3 million over and above what had been predicted. I say to the government: That certainly was within the government's control.

Now, they will try to tell us that they had emergency programs of $13.5 million - employment programs. We told them they needed employment programs. These were the employment programs this government said, '... we will not use. We are going to have great economic strategies to create permanent jobs. We are not going to use make-work programs'; so there was nothing in the Budget for it.

So they come back in the middle of the year and bring in an Emergency Response Program. We had some discussions about that with the minister last week, and we will have others as well, to see where exactly that money is going and for what emergency purposes it was used.

Personal income tax is not something this government can blame on the federal government. They try again to say that everything is a problem, or a lot of it is caused by variances in federal funding, in transfer payments. A lot of it is, Mr. Speaker, but I know how these numbers are worked come Budget time, and I say that this government over-estimated. They'll try to tell me that: we only gave you what the federal government gave us. But as it relates to personal income tax, Mr. Speaker, that's a direct impact of the economy of this Province, and I say that's a result of the mismanagement of the economy by this particular government.

There are many things one could talk about in here. The impact on all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, yet the immediate impact again is on the backs of the public service. We're delighted to see that at least social workers will not be reduced. They should be increasing the number of social workers, because of the state of the economy and the number of people who are forced to look to that for assistance this year.

A revised fiscal plan for the current year. All we've heard since the House opened is the great economic strategy, Challenge and Change. Maybe it's time, Mr. Speaker, to forget about constitutional change, forget about long-term strategy, and let's deal with the emergency situation that's faced by this Province as evidenced by this particular statement.

Oral Questions

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Burin - Placentia West.

MR. TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, after listening to the announcement by the minister I'm not sure that I really want to ask this question. More unemployment, more people going on the Social Services caseloads, and not enough social workers to do anything about it. The only thing they've been freed from is a reduction, they have not seen any new increases.

We all in this Province know the plight of the workers employed by the Department of Social Services. Not only are we aware of the fact that they're overworked, we know now that the work is not being done by the Department of Social Services, because there are not enough workers to do it.

The minister some time ago acknowledged that there was a crisis in this field, that it had reached crisis proportions, and that he was going to re-align the offices throughout the Province to do something. I'd now like to ask the minister: how many workers have been transferred from the regional offices and headquarters to the front lines of his Department in district offices?

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

MR. GULLAGE: Mr. Speaker, as the member has said, in answer to a question in the House I did say that we were in the process of re-aligning our front lines and making sure that people came down from the regional offices to assist and to work in the district offices and to help us with this problem. That process is on-going. We have union agreements in place, as the member knows. We have the Public Service Commission and competitions and procedures that have to take place. Because in many cases job functions are changing. That process is on-going.

As to the numbers that have already been affected and have taken place I'd have to get those numbers for the member. But I can tell you the process is on-going on an urgent basis to effect the changes that are necessary as quickly as we can.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Burin - Placentia West, on a supplementary.

MR. TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, let me ask the minister, then: How many of the workers to be transferred to the front lines will be transferred without any responsibilities being transferred with them?

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

MR. GULLAGE: I am not sure what he means by that question, Mr. Speaker, but I assume he is making the point that some workers will be transferred to positions that are different from those that they presently occupy, and that is to the point I just spoke to, in that if that is the case and duties have to change we will have to have competitions for the positions and so on.

In all cases, of course, the workers are qualified for the positions they are going to but, because of seniority and because of competitions and procedures that have to be followed, it is not just a simple matter of making a transfer from one position to another, as the member knows.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Burin - Placentia West.

MR. TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, the minister doesn't know what is going on obviously. What I am asking the minister is: In his announcement of realigning offices there will be district offices that will become larger and will become satellite offices. Now, if you are going to transfer an assistant district administrator or an assistant regional director to an office with the same responsibilities that he already has, he is not going to be a front-line worker who is going to be out meeting the clients.

So let me ask the minister this: Will he give his word today that in the realignment of these offices all of the positions that presently exist in the regional offices will become positions in the district offices with no strings attached, that they will become front-line workers.

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

MR. GULLAGE: Mr. Speaker, the intent is to have regional offices with an administrative function only. The speciality positions that are in those regional offices now would be located in the district offices. We have positions other than social workers and financial administrative officers on the front lines, if you like. Other than those people, we have other specialty workers in the district offices. Of necessity, we are going to have to add to those numbers by way of people coming down from regional job functions. In some cases they will become social workers, in other cases, financial administrative officers, and in other cases they will remain in the specialty job that they occupied in the regional office. The intent is to downsize the regional offices, leave the regional offices with strictly an administrative function with a responsibility for x number of districts offices. They will not have the numbers of people at the regional office level that they presently have.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Burin - Placentia West.

MR. TOBIN: What the minister is saying is they will be transferred to the district offices with the same responsibilities that they already have, and we won't see any front-line workers in this Province. That's what the minister is saying.

Now, Mr. Speaker, despite this statement that was made today about the layoffs and the 1 per cent reduction in budgets, every regional office in this Province, including the one in St. John's which I understand alone has requested an additional fifty new workers, can the minister tell me today whether or not they will be receiving the numbers of people that they require to carry out the policies, programs and responsibilities of his Department?

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

MR. GULLAGE: Mr. Speaker, I said in answer to the first question I would get the numbers of the changes that have already taken place and the numbers involved. We are making sure that the offices most seriously affected by caseloads are addressed on a priority basis. As to the exact number of workers that are going to be required, I can't tell the member at this point because we are making sure we do the downsizing first, and we move the regional office people into the district offices.

The priority is to give emphasis to the front lines where the interaction takes place between the client and our workers. That will be the priority. I can't say, Mr. Speaker, that we will take all of the regional office positions and make them either social workers or financial administrative officers. That will not be possible, because we certainly have specialty areas where we still require workers in place.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Burin - Placentia West.

MR. TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I can tell the minister how many offices should have priority, all fifty-three offices throughout the office, but particularly in the St. John's region. The Mount Pearl offices and others are priorities, because there are people screaming out for workers in my own district.

Let me ask the minister this: The minister admitted the other day there is a 50 per cent increase since this government came to office in the number of people who are on social assistance. We also know that the social workers throughout the Province are not able to meet their commitments to those workers, particularly those in the field of child welfare, as well as those on social assistance. We have child welfare people who are wards of the director, or whatever the case may be, who are expecting social workers to visit their homes. The visits are not being made because the time is not there, nor the numbers. There are people in this Province starving to death, day-in and day-out, unable to have visits from the social workers, or people from the Social Services Department. Whose neck is on the line, let me ask the minister? Will it be his, or will it be the social workers if something happens because they're not able to do their work?

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

MR. GULLAGE: Mr. Speaker, I can only repeat what I said in answer to an earlier question, that we're moving as quickly as we can to make sure that the numbers of people necessary will be in the district offices. Some district offices have more serious increases in caseloads than others. He mentioned the St. John's offices. Quite true. The increases are more dramatic in the St. John's area. There are other parts of the Province that have increases that are greater than the average, if you like, throughout all fifty-two district offices.

We recognise, Mr. Speaker, that over all we have a serious problem and we are addressing it. It does take time. We have the Public Service Commission to deal with, and the unions, and agreements that are in place. And making sure that competitions are done fairly and people are placed in positions, giving recognition to their background, to their training, and to the need of placing people properly in offices where the caseloads have to be addressed.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Burin - Placentia West.

MR. TOBIN: Final supplementary, Mr. Speaker. Let me ask the minister this question. It's fairly simple. How many new social workers can we see put in place in this Province as front line workers before Christmas? How many can we see before Christmas?

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

MR. GULLAGE: Mr. Speaker, I think this is the third time I'm going to answer this question, the same way. I can't possibly give numbers today. The process is on-going, we're working as quickly as we can.

MR. TOBIN: (Inaudible) process!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. GULLAGE: As soon as we know the numbers that are needed -

AN HON. MEMBER: You asked the question, wait for the answer.

MR. GULLAGE: - and as soon we're able to answer that and give specific numbers, I will do so, Mr. Speaker. But we're following the process that we feel is necessary at this point, and that is to make sure we move as many people as possible to the district offices and onto the front lines to assist us with the caseloads that we have. That is on-going and happening right now, Mr. Speaker. As to the numbers that will be needed, if more are needed at that point, I'll be able to answer that question when that first process is complete.

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

MR. SIMMS: Mr. Speaker, I have some questions I'd like to ask the Premier dealing with a couple of different topics.

The first one deals with a matter of extreme importance to workers in this Province as well. Specifically I am talking about the legislation dealing with the amendments to the Workers' Compensation Act, Bill 48.

Now the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations has said publicly that he intends to deal with this legislation in this sitting; so presumable some time in the next three weeks or so he intends to have this legislation through the House. I think that is his expectation.

Since the government has not held any public hearings on this particular piece of legislation - none of the committees of the House have held any public hearings on this particular legislation - and because of its extreme importance, not only to the business community but to the people of the Province in particular, and since this has already been a piece of legislation that has been sat on for a considerable period of time, I would like to ask the Premier if he would not give some direction from the government, to ask that a committee of the Legislature be charged with the task of travelling around the Province to hold some public hearings to give the people of the Province an opportunity to have their say, and perhaps even more importantly to understand exactly what it is that is being proposed and how it is going to affect the workers of the Province.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WELLS: Mr. Speaker, there are several reasons why we would not do that - good, sound, logical reasons.

I think the Opposition House Leader, if not the Opposition Leader, knows, or was told a couple of days ago that the legislation was being called today. If he did not know it, his House Leader did not tell him, I guess. I think the House Leader has been advised that the legislation was going to be called today.

MR. ROBERTS: Called the workers' compensation, today.

PREMIER WELLS: Workers' compensation.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. ROBERTS: A couple of days ago; that is right.

PREMIER WELLS: A couple of days ago. Okay.

So I do not see much point in - you know when it is going to be discussed. It is going to be discussed this afternoon. That is the House's business. That deals with the first question raised by the Leader of the Opposition. Now let me deal with the second question.

Will we cause public hearings to be held? No, for several good reasons; one of which is, all of these proposals stemmed out of the commission - the Committee of Review - the review committee of the workers' compensation legislation. That committee had views expressed, and there has been public expression of views. The government announced its intentions with respect to workers' compensation proposals. I believe some four to six months ago we announced that we would be bringing forward legislation - some time during the last sitting, in the Spring or early Summer at least.


PREMIER WELLS: July 2 - I am sorry; the House was closed. It was July 2.

Now we have been sitting again for a week or ten days, and we are now bringing the legislation forward, so it could not be brought forward any sooner than that. There is no need to hold public hearings. There is a very clear and substantial indication as to what should be done to deal with the incredible workers' compensation mess that the former government's policies left us with. Those intentions were announced on July 2, and we are now following through with them. There is no need for further public hearings at this stage.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. SIMMS: Mr. Speaker, there is not much point in pursuing the question with the Premier. He obviously has his mind made up, so I will move on to another item; but we will continue to push for it and deal with it ourselves. His answer, by the way, had totally nothing to do with my question - the answers he gave.

I want to ask him some questions related to another issue. On last June 5 - since the Premier's memory is serving him fairly well today - he will recall that he was asked by me in this Legislature to provide a breakdown of expenses associated with the constitutional talks. In fact the Premier himself, in the Legislature on that very day, said: Yes, he would table all of the expenses - June 5.

Despite that, a few days after the referendum vote, on October 30 - only two days before the House of Assembly opened - a breakdown appeared in Bill Callahan's column in The Evening Telegram. I would like to ask the Premier first of all: Who provided that information to Bill Callahan? Secondly, and more importantly: Why was that information not provided to the elected representatives of the people in the House of Assembly, as promised to me by the Premier on June 5 - five months ago?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WELLS: I will check and see what I provided, if anything, and I do not know with certainty at this stage that I provided anything before the House closed. When did the House close? The House closed on June 10?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

PREMIER WELLS: June 10. You asked for it on June 5 and the House closed on June 10. Obviously there was not time to provide it to the House.

Mr. Speaker, we have responded. But the answer is very simple. We provided it to The Evening Telegram because we were asked. I was asked in an editorial board meeting with The Evening Telegram.

MR. SIMMS: You were asked it in the House on June 5.

PREMIER WELLS: The House adjourned on June 10, before the information could be provided. What did he want to do - reconvene the House to give him the answer to the question? We are not hiding it. We gave it to The Evening Telegram, a newspaper published in the province. Mr. Speaker, I gave it to the Evening Telegram for the simple reason that - I think it must have been early October, perhaps it was even in September, at an editorial board meeting.

MR. SIMMS: No you didn't.

PREMIER WELLS: I tell him I did! At an editorial board meeting with the Evening Telegram, in early October or September, I was asked to provide a breakdown of the expenses, and I said we will get them together as soon as we can and pass them on to you. We were living up to that commitment by a respected member of the public media in this province. I see nothing wrong with it. Now the fact is I don't see there was any need to wait until the House opened necessarily when we had the information. We were requested to provide it by the Telegram. We had no desire to hide anything. We gave it to the news media. I see nothing wrong with it, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. SIMMS: I'm not the least bit surprised, Mr. Speaker, that he wouldn't see anything wrong with it, but that isn't the point. The people of the province through their elected representatives see something wrong with it. If you gave it to Bill Callahan on October 30th, why didn't you give it to the House of Assembly on November 2nd. Two days later the House of Assembly opened.

Now let me ask him this: According to Mr. Callahan, the total cost was $532,000. Will he confirm that those are the actual costs, in excess of half a million dollars? Are these figures, figures for just this fiscal year since the first of April? For example, does the $532,000 include the cost of the Premier's 'Householder' that was sent to every household in the Province, as he knows, just before the vote on the referendum? Finally - I have asked this question before - will he table all expenditures related to national constitutional issues since the fiscal year beginning April 1st 1990? That question has been asked before and not answered either.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WELLS: I don't recall ever seeing the question before. Maybe it was asked, but I will table all expenses in relation to constitutional issues since April 1st, 1990. I have no hesitation. It may take a little while and a little bit of cost to dig it out, but I will certainly dig it out.

Mr. Speaker, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the government of this province providing to a respected public news media in this province information such as that, and it was provided. Not with the point of view of depriving hon. members of it, but to make it available. I should say, Mr. Speaker, it wasn't provided to Bill Callahan personally. It was requested of me in an editorial board meeting with a variety of news reporters from the Evening Telegram, and we provided it to the Evening Telegram. Whether it went directly to Mr. Callahan or somebody else is more than I can say, but we were responding to the request and happy to do so, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. SIMMS: Mr. Speaker, it is too bad the Premier wasn't as happy to respond to the request in the House. That is my point. The House opened two days after, on November 2nd. He could have provided the information in the last two weeks, but he didn't do it.

Now I want to ask him one final question, Mr. Speaker. Even though the Premier, over the last couple of years, has hired a constitutional advisor for his government - for example, the first one I believe was Deborah Coyne, full-time, and now I believe the individual's name is Ken Tyler. I am not quite sure, but I believe he is from Saskatchewan. If that is correct, I'm not sure. Anyway there is somebody else there. During this recent process in addition to the lawyer that he hired as a constitutional adviser to the government, and, of course, we all know that at these talks and during these talks he had himself, an esteemed constitutional lawyer, as other people say. I don't say it, and he doesn't say it, but other people do. He brought in his constitutional superman, the Minister of Justice. Nobody else here could handle the department because they had the constitution to deal with. He had the previous Minister of Justice with him, the Member for Humber West, on all of these things. But in addition to that, we understand that he hired yet another firm, a firm known as Blake, Cassels and Graydon, I think is the correct name. Can he confirm then, in fact, that this company was paid some $160,000 for something? Who are the principals of the law firm, where are they from, and what was the $160,000 for, and over what period of time were they paid this $160,000?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WELLS: I believe the figure was something like that, but I will have it shortly, so I will be able to provide it specifically. If that was the figure in the newspaper, that was it. I have no idea who the principals of the firm are. The individual with whom we worked was a superb constitutional expert; his name is Neil Finkelstein. And this wasn't just a recent thing, Neil Finkelstein worked with us, as well, in 1989 and did a superb job. He really provided yeoman service and provided the service at far more reasonable cost than one might expect such services to be provided. He provided only the service we specifically asked for. Now, you have to remember, Mr. Speaker, in terms of the numbers - and I had my esteemed colleague, the Member for Naskaupi and all his constitutional ability; I had my esteemed colleague, the Member for Humber West and all his constitutional ability - I discount myself - and the Member for Pleasantville; and do not discount the soundness of the political, constitutional judgement of the Member for Pleasantville, it is very sound. He and I may disagree on some points here and there, but I greatly respect his judgement and the dedication with which he tackles these things.

Now, Mr. Speaker, people must remember that these meetings and discussions were going on with an intensity unknown in the past in these kinds of discussions, meeting virtually every single day, day and night, from last March right through until the end of August. Now, that is essentially what was happening. There were times when we had far - we did not, we were not able, to participate in all of the discussions. We should have had more people there than we did but we simply couldn't marshal the forces. It was necessary to have the professional expertise that we had.

Mr. Speaker, I say, this Province was well served by everybody who participated, and I commend them, particularly the public servants of this Province. Fred Way and Barbara Knight - I will name them gave superb service. Ken Tyler, the Director in the Constitutional Law Section in the Department of Justice, gave superb service. I could only wish that his services would be available to us in the future. Unfortunately, they are not going to be, and that is going to be our loss. He was a superb performer. We got great service out of all of them, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. R. AYLWARD: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

I have a question for the Premier.

On Tuesday, when the Premier -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. TOBIN: No, he will do it afterwards.

MR. R. AYLWARD: Table it?

MR. SIMMS: We are under Answers to Questions.

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

MR. R. AYLWARD: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, on Tuesday, when the Premier was asked questions about the renovations to his deluxe suite of offices on the eighth floor, he tried to leave the impression that most of these eighth floor renovations were done because of fire safety needs, turning a stairwell to the floors above his office. Mr. Speaker, is it not true that when the eighth floor was renovated a couple of years ago, the office in the southwest corner, formerly the office of a press secretary as I remember, was designed to accommodate these safety features, and particularly the stairwell, so that the rest of the office suite would not have to be torn up?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

AN HON. MEMBER: It sure was.

PREMIER WELLS: No, Mr. Speaker. The answer is clearly known. I intended to table all of this information today and I have not, but I will table it in response to questions for which you have had notice and I will give the complete detail. But the simple fact is, Mr. Speaker, the real problem, was that when the decision was in the process of being made, after nearly thirty years in this building, to do the necessary renovations because certain of the structural aspects of the building needed to be addressed, including the electrical and the heating system, and so on, instead of working with the system to go from the bottom up, the Premier of the day couldn't wait, so he had $504,000 worth of renovations done to his office right then and there that were of no value because most of it had to be torn up to do the essential renovations.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. TOBIN: Not true.

PREMIER WELLS: That is right. The total expenditure, at the time, was $652,000. on the eighth floor: $504,000 on renovations, $148,000 on office furniture, Mr. Speaker -


PREMIER WELLS: - not just for the Premier's Office, for the whole eighth floor. Mr. Speaker, not only did they jump the gun and put all of that money into redecorating - all it was, essentially, was redecorating - but they moved the conference room, the Cabinet room, off the floor, eliminated the conference room, drove them upstairs into the newsroom on the eleventh floor. Mr. Speaker, when, in the ordinary course of time, the building renovations progressed beyond the sixth, seventh and eighth floors, going up to the ninth, tenth and eleventh floors, when that other essential work had to be done, all of that was a waste because, Mr. Speaker, the Premier of the day couldn't wait. Now, Mr. Speaker, as nearly as we can judge - and I will provide the detail - the total cost of renovations that are taking place to the eighth floor now is about $275,000.

AN HON. MEMBER: What! What!

PREMIER WELLS: The total cost, the vast majority of which would have been made necessary solely, Mr. Speaker, to address the things that had to be done anyway with the heating, electrical and structural system in order to meet the requirements, all of that resulted from an incredible waste by the former government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. R. AYLWARD: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

I am surprised that the Premier would give such an answer. We had $600,000 spent on the office just three or four years ago and we have another $250,000 being spent on it to satisfy King Clyde, to make a castle for King Clyde.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. R. AYLWARD: We had the statement today saying that the Province is bankrupt, yet we get $250,000 to satisfy his wallpaper and doorknob needs.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the member is on a supplementary and should be speaking to that.

MR. R. AYLWARD: Mr. Speaker, will the Premier not confirm that the majority of the renovations that are taking place on the eighth floor right now are not where the stairwell is going, which is on the western side of the deluxe office suite, but are taking place on the eastern side of the eighth floor deluxe suite of conferences?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WELLS: Mr. Speaker, when they took the Cabinet floor, the conference room that was available on the Premier's floor was gone. It was put on the upper floor and left was a little cubbyhole that was about the size of two of these desks, as far as here, no windows, no nothing, to meet people in. Ten, fifteen, twenty people sometimes come in, and this is what was left there. To satisfy the urges of the Premier of the day, this is what was done, Mr. Speaker. The Cabinet floor is up on the eleventh floor.

Now, Mr. Speaker, that was done at that time without taking into account that all of those ceilings would have to be removed and, not only that, Mr. Speaker, but they redid it, put new lights up there and then covered it over - I said bamboo because that was it looked like, but it was oak, strips of oak through which it was impossible to penetrate anything. So they covered all the lights with oak. You couldn't see anything in the office. It was oak shaped to look like bamboo, Mr. Speaker, as a result of an incredible waste of some $650,000.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

PREMIER WELLS: Now, Mr. Speaker, in terms of the time, it wasn't two or three years ago, it was in 1985 it was done. I can give you the breakdown of the cost and I will provide the answers shortly, when the time comes.

Mr. Speaker, these renovations that are being done on the eastern side now, restore only a meeting room. I checked with the officials this morning and they told me - the minister estimated it for me, and I don't know what the basis of his estimate is - that more than 75 per cent of the cost had to be spent anyway. Our office was told by the officials in Works, Services and Transportation, `If you are going to adjust any of the space, now is the time to do it at the lowest cost, because we have to remove the ceiling, redo the floor covering and redo much of the walls anyway. So if you want some changes in your space, now is the time to do it at the lowest possible cost.' And that is exactly what we have done, Mr. Speaker.

AN HON. MEMBER: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair is recognizing the hon. the Member for Kilbride.

MR. R. AYLWARD: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

If the Premier is so sure, Mr. Speaker, that he is right, why would he refuse to allow the media, the cameras in particular, to go to his office on the eighth floor to take pictures of the renovations that are taking place now? What is the Premier trying to hide by not allowing the media to visit those offices?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WELLS: I have nothing to hide, but I run an office, I don't run a media circus. I don't pull the kind of stunt the Opposition did the other day when they brought poor Mr. Bailey into the gallery in a wheelchair. I don't pull those kinds of stunts. I don't run my office in that way, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition, on a point of order.

MR. SIMMS: Mr. Speaker, not to get into some picky little point like that, that the Premier often throws out, but let me say to the Premier, he does himself an injustice by accusing us of bringing in that particular gentleman. That gentleman came in here on his own, believe me. I think that is below you.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader and Minister of Justice.

MR. ROBERTS: Mr. Speaker, the events of the other day speak for themselves, and what the Premier says speaks with the ring of veracity, because it is true. Let me also say while we're at it that hon. gentlemen opposite are making precisely the point that I am about to make, Mr. Speaker. They have consistently throughout Question Period been allowed to address their questions without being interrupted, but will not extend to the Premier or my other colleagues here the courtesy of letting them answer the question without being interrupted.

In addition, what we are hearing is unparliamentary language from gentlemen opposite who know full well they are not allowed to make the kinds of statements that they make repeatedly. I say, Mr. Speaker, they ought to ask their questions -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) point of order.

MR. ROBERTS: My response is to the hon. gentleman's point of order, and mine is a better point of order than his, Mr. Speaker. If they want the answers to questions they should let the truth make them free.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

There is no point of order. The Leader of the Opposition took the opportunity to clarify a point.

Question Period has expired.

Presenting Reports by

Standing and Special Committees

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Fortune - Hermitage.

MR. LANGDON: Mr. Speaker, I am presenting a report today from the Government Services Legislative Review Committee on the proposed changes to An Act To Amend The Shops Closing Act.

That particular committee, of which I was Chair, also had the Member for St. Mary's - The Capes, as Vice-Chair; the Member for Carbonear; the Member for Baie Verte - White Bay; and the Member for Torngat Mountains.

The Legislative Review Committee called for hearings in St. John's, Gander, and Wabush. There were four presentations in St. John's; one in Gander, and three in Corner Brook. Since there were no presenters indicated for Wabush, the committee and the Chair decided against holding a hearing for it, because it would have meant an extra cost. In addition to these hearings, the Chairman spent an hour on CBC Crosstalk.

On the proposed eliminations of the named holidays from an Act To Amend The Shops Closing Act, all presenters, without exception, felt that Thanksgiving Day should be reinstated as a shops closing day. The presenters were assured that it was not government's intention to eliminate holidays, but that the stores would be permitted to be open on these days.

There was considerable support on Crosstalk for the proposed changes to the legislation. The business community also expressed strong support for the proposed changes. There was, however, opposition to this from the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, Nape, and the two other presenters.

All presenters except one felt that the government should eliminate Clause 2 of the draft bill, which would amend the act to allow a non-Christian owner to open a shop on Sundays. There was also concern expressed about the exempt shop.

The recommendations - I will not go into all of the report - from the committee were that the government would place Thanksgiving Day as a shops closing day in the holiday schedule, and that Clause 2 regarding Sunday opening would be omitted. There was also agreement from the proposed change to fines and penalties.

Finally, there was majority committee support for the proposed elimination of four days from the shops closing schedule - namely St. Patrick's Day, St. George's Day, Orangemen's Day and Discovery Day.

At this time I would like to thank the members of the committee for their indulgence and for their support in making this recommendation to the government and to the minister.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. HEARN: A point of order, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. HEARN: St. Mary's - The Capes.

MR. SPEAKER: St. Mary's - The Capes. I am sorry.

MR. HEARN: For the record.

On the point of order - I will tell my learned friend that there is such a thing as a point of order.

On the report as submitted by the Member for Fortune - Hermitage, in the latter part he said that there was majority approval of having the other four days removed from the Shops Closing Act.

The agreement, I understand, from our meeting when we prepared the report, was that no consensus was arrived at, and was to be reported as such - that there was no consensus on the removal of these days. There was disagreement among the committee, and it was to be brought back to the House. Just for clarification, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: There is no point of order. The hon. the member had a point to express about the report.

Answers to Questions

For which Notice has been Given

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WELLS: Mr. Speaker, I was asked in Question Period earlier this afternoon about why the information respecting the constitutional cost was given to The Evening Telegram.

I am happy to table the information given to The Evening Telegram with full detail, together with a letter to The Evening Telegram, of October 29, which reads: At the last editorial meeting with Premier Wells you enquired as to how much money the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador had spent on constitutional negotiations. The enclosed statement lists all the expenses recorded as of October 29. That's the reason, the basis, behind it.

Now by reason of having answered certain questions relating to office renovation expenditures during Question Period I can shorten greatly what I would have otherwise had to provide. But there were certain specific questions raised by the hon. member that I will now answer.

References made to a doorknob costing $600 - it doesn't exist, Mr. Speaker. What it is, is the security entry system that under their management they started to put in. You see it out in the front building. You have to put in a card to enter. There's no doorknob costing $600.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

PREMIER WELLS: Mr. Speaker, that was part of the design of the system and it's there and we're now stuck with it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: (Inaudible)!

PREMIER WELLS: That's part of the building security system. Here's the other one. Seventy thousand dollars worth of wall vinyl to be placed in the Premier's personal office. That's his allegation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: (Inaudible)!

PREMIER WELLS: That's what I'm told.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: (Inaudible)!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER WELLS: The present contract, Mr. Speaker, specifies vinyl for much of the walls throughout the eleventh floor and throughout the eighth floor. The total cost of all wall coverings - vinyl, paint, wood, everything combined - for both floors in total is $80,000.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

PREMIER WELLS: Yes, sure, most of it's going in my little cubbyhole.

The $3,000 for chairs for the boardroom. Utterly false, Mr. Speaker. The boardroom chairs are thirteen chairs ordered at a cost of $780 each.

Were tenders called for the ninth and tenth floor?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible)!

PREMIER WELLS: It's $780 each. They're boardroom table chairs.

MR. MATTHEWS: (Inaudible).

PREMIER WELLS: Each, each!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: (Inaudible)!

PREMIER WELLS: E-A-C-H. Each. Now, Mr. Speaker -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: (Inaudible)!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER WELLS: Three thousand dollars.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair reminds hon. members again about interruptions. Members aren't to interrupt a member when speaking. I've told hon. members there is a procedure. If an hon. member wants to ask a question of a member, the member knows how to do that, and if the minister concedes then the question can be asked. I ask hon. members please not to consistently throw a barrage of questions while somebody's speaking.

The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WELLS: The other question, Mr. Speaker: were tenders called for the work done on the ninth and tenth floors? Yes. The contract was awarded to the lowest bidder.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

PREMIER WELLS: Oh, I don't know, a year or so ago, I suppose, yes.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

PREMIER WELLS: No, no. All of this, Mr. Speaker, was done when the former government decided to move the House of Assembly down here. Now we tried to stop it! We tried to stop it, but it was gone too far and it would have been a waste of money, so we couldn't. So now we were left with the House of Assembly on the ninth floor and the tenth floor. What do we do with it? With a need for office space, and the government renting space all over the city, we decided to renovate it to use it. So tenders were called and it was done.

The next question was: what were the costs associated with renovations for the eleventh floor, and is the work on the ninth and tenth floors part of the contract? The eleventh floor was publicly tendered, along with the work for the eighth floor. They were tendered together. The lowest tender was received from Eastern Contracting Limited in the amount of $598,000, total, for both floors. The portion of the price that is associated with the eleventh floor is estimated, on the basis of square footage, at about $323,000.

The next question was: installation of $100 per foot replacement for a countertop. Complete and total fabrication. There's no countertop anywhere costing $100 a foot. So far as I know there's no countertop costing fifty dollars a foot; so far as I know there's no countertop costing twenty-five dollars a foot. So it's a total, complete fabrication, like virtually everything else that he said.

I will table the rest of the information, Mr. Speaker, which provides a summary of all these costs and also provides a breakdown of the cost done in 1985 as well.

MR. R. AYLWARD: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. R. AYLWARD: Mr. Speaker, I just want to rise on a point of order, because the Premier avoided answering the question that I asked. The question that I asked on the tenders, was to see the dates when the tenders were called for and awarded and could the Premier have stopped them? That was the intent of those questions.

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

MR. ROBERTS: Mr. Speaker, I am not going to say that even the hon. gentleman should know that is not a point of order, but I will say that any member of the House, who is at least a bit familiar with the rules of this House, knows that there is no point of order. All he is doing is debating with the Premier. The Premier has made an answer to the questions the hon. gentleman asked, and we did not interrupt the hon. gentleman when he asked the questions even though he asked them in a very improper form. Now he does not like the answer, but again I say to him, Sir, the bible says: The truth shall make ye free. He should sit and listen to the truth.

MR. R. AYLWARD: (Inaudible) read the bible.

MR. ROBERTS: No. You do not read the bible, I believe you.

MR. SIMMS: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order.

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

MR. SIMMS: Mr. Speaker, I will confess at the outset that this is not a point of order, but I wanted to use the opportunity -


MR. SIMMS: - to ask the Premier -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. SIMMS: - is he going to respond to the other questions I asked today in Question Period?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. Leader of the Opposition knows that he cannot get on the floor that way, saying it is not a point of order. The Chair might say it is not a point of order, but the hon. Leader should at least state his point and then the Chair will make the ruling.

There is no point of order.

MR. SIMMS: I would like to make a point of order then, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. SIMMS: The Premier today in the Legislature indicated that he would table answers to other questions I asked with respect to the constitutional talks and he has not done that. Does he intend to do that?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WELLS: On the point of order, Mr. Speaker, I do not know where the member was, if he was here he was not with it. If he was out of the Chamber, then I advise him that I tabled the information as to the costs up to October 29th. Now, Mr. Speaker, there may have been some other costs coming in over the last few days that I do not know about.

The other question he asked: was it for this year only? That is there too. If he looks in there he will see the expenditures you see. 1991-1992, 1992-1993, so it covers both years.

AN HON. MEMBER: He does not know what that means.

MR. SPEAKER: There is no point of order.


MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Burgeo - Bay d'Espoir.

MR. GILBERT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I stand in the House today to present a petition from 1,043 residents in the community of Ramea in my district of Burgeo - Bay d'Espoir, and I suppose this is the oldest forum people have of addressing a grievance in a British democracy, in the British parliamentary system which we follow, so I will read the prayer of the petition now and I will make my comments as I go along.

To The Honourable House of Assembly of Newfoundland, in session assembled, the petition of the undersigned residents of Ramea, Newfoundland, now avail themselves of the right to present a grievance common to your petitioners in certain assurances that your honourable House will provide a remedy.

As I said, it is an honour for me to be able to stand here to represent the people of Ramea to present this petition, but I feel that the real sin is the fact that they felt they had to go this far to get a solution to this problem which could very easily have been remedied if the correct procedure had been followed.

WHEREAS, The fish plant in Ramea has been in the deep sea fishery since 1856;

Now, Mr. Speaker, that is showing I suppose, that the community of Ramea has been actively involved in the offshore fishery since 1856 by virtue of the fact that John Penney and Sons operated a fishing business there that started in 1856 and it was an offshore business. Now if you want to go back farther, there is an English history called The English (inaudible) and there is a letter in it to Lord Burleigh, on September 14th, 1591 which states that these people, the English (inaudible) did discover the island of Ramea off the coast of Newfoundland, so I do not think there is a community in Newfoundland that can show a longer history or tradition of having been involved in the fishery than the community of Ramea.

WHEREAS, the plant in Ramea has processed northern cod since the inception of Enterprise Allocations; and, Mr. Speaker, that can very readily be found because anyone who wants to can check with the Department of Fisheries, because when they started the Enterprise Allocations, indeed, John Penney and Sons were given a part of the Enterprise Allocation to fish northern cod, and as a result in the mid-70s and the earlier '80s, the firm of John Penney and Sons did prepare for this by having one of their trawlers reinforced in Marystown for the northern cod fishery. They spent $4.5 million on a trawler called the Penney Hope and, then, they had another one build in South Africa called the Penney Smart which cost something like $15 million. So you can see, Mr. Speaker, the place that developed it, the plant in Ramea, were integral and traditional in the northern cod fishery when it started.

Now, the third Whereas: Fishery Products International have admitted that 22 per cent of Ramea's production was northern cod up until 1990 at which time less than 10 per cent of its production was northern cod due to a federal and provincial government decision to operate Gaultois, Grand Bank and Trepassey for an extended period of time.

Mr. Speaker, as I have said, the plant in Ramea had a northern cod allocation from the time it was first given out, and we know Fishery Products had written to the Department of Fisheries and Mr. Crosbie on September 24 of this year and again on October 9 and pointed out that, indeed yes, from 1989 as far back as they have records there was a significant amount of the production from the Ramea Fish Plant that was northern cod. For the last five years of its operation, which were the only figures they had available, 22 per cent of the production of the Ramea Fish Plant was northern cod until 1990.

Again I will quote from a letter that Mr. Young sent to Mr. Crosbie on September 24 of this year: "In conclusion," he says, "there is no doubt had there not been an extended notice program and had Trepassey and Grand Bank not operated in 1991 then Ramea would now qualify under the Northern Cod Response Program." So I think that proves the point that there is, without doubt, a precedent for the Ramea plant.

The fourth Whereas: Fishery Products International has formerly announced that due to these decisions Ramea will qualify for the Northern Cod Adjustment and Recovery Program, but yet the federal government has denied this support.

We know now that they have given them the precedence for it, and Fishery Products gave the federal government the precedence for it and the reason to change it. The people in Ramea didn't get out in protest, they didn't occupy any buildings, they didn't try to hang anyone, they didn't try to throw anyone over the wharf, they very civilly asked that they be -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. GILBERT: By leave, to finish?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: By leave! By leave!

MR. SPEAKER: Does the hon. member have leave?


MR. SPEAKER: The hon. Member for Burgeo - Bay d'Espoir.

MR. GILBERT: Thank you.

The fifth Whereas is: They now say, by virtue of the fact that the federal government decided they are not going to take the precedent that was given them by Fishery Products and which was their right, by virtue of the fact that the Fish Plant in Ramea was a northern cod plant - the fish was taken out by an executive decision of Fishery Products at the request of the governments of the day and this fish was taken and processed in Trepassey and Grand Bank. Those plants now qualify for the Northern Cod Response Program and Ramea doesn't. So now, in conclusion of the prayer of the petition, they are calling upon Fishery Products International to change its decision to operate fish plants that qualify for the Northern Cod Adjustment and Recovery Program and reopen the Ramea fish plant so that the residents will have a means of survival until after such time as the moratorium has been lifted.

What they are basically saying now is that they sat back and let Fishery Products cut the work term in Ramea from thirty weeks a year, they let them take the trawlers out of Ramea and put them into other plants, they let them take the fish and put it into other plants to keep them open, to be good neighbours, to keep the other plants open so that those people would qualify for an extended notice period. Now, the irony of this whole situation is that Ramea, which was the good neighbour, the one who sat back and didn't protest and didn't cause any commotion, said: Okay, we will do this. They saw their work term cut from at least thirty weeks a year to ten weeks a year and are now the ones who are left out to fall through the cracks in this program.

They feel, Mr. Speaker, that indeed a grievance has been done to the community of Ramea and the fish plant in Ramea. So they are asking now that Fishery Products be directed to take the fish that they are going to use in one of the plants that they plan to operate this year, one of the plants that does qualify under the northern cod. I understand that the Fishermens' Union were in Ramea and made an announcement that they would ask their workers in those communities, the ones that are going to be open, to stand aside and let this happen so that the people in Ramea would be given a chance to make a living.

What they are asking is that Fishery Products be directed to take the fish out of one of the plants that they are going to operate this year, albeit Fortune or Marystown or wherever it is, process it in Ramea, let those plants go on the northern cod because it is established that they do qualify for the northern cod, and let Ramea be given a chance to carry on until such time as the moratorium is lifted and we will see then what direction is going to happen, and where the fishery is going to go in this Province after the moratorium is lifted.

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I point out that in the agreement that was put out by Mr. Crosbie, one of the things on Page 6, one of the criteria, the eligibility criteria, says that both fishermen and plant workers may be deemed eligible for the program if they can demonstrate, through a historical attachment to the 2J+3KL fishery before 1990, that they would have met the eligibility criteria were it not for extenuating circumstances.

Mr. Speaker, on the strength of that I do not think there is any doubt that there were extenuating circumstances. I do not think there was any doubt that there was a historical connection to the northern cod before 1990; and for that reason I am asking for this House to support the petition of the people of Ramea and give them a chance for a life until such time as the moratorium is lifted.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Grand Bank, and Opposition House Leader.

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

I take pleasure in rising today to respond to the petition put forward by the Member for Burgeo - Bay d'Espoir about the plight of the people in Ramea - a very serious situation in which they find themselves.

No one can argue too much with what the member said. We all know the history of Ramea, as I am sure most of us know the history of the south coast, particularly those of us who were born and raised on the south coast. We know the history of the south coast fishery, and we know what a turn of events has taken place in our south coast fishery.

On the south coast of the Province we did not know what it was not to work twelve months a year, I say to members in this Chamber. We did not know what it was not to work twelve months of the year. We did not know what it was to work three months and five months and six months and eight months. We always worked twelve months. What has happened to us over the last ten or twelve years is almost unbelievable, to see what has happened to our south coast fishery and what has happened to our people.

People now are grateful to get their six months work or their five months work - to get twenty weeks so they qualify for UI. You hear the sigh of relief come out of them once they get that magical number of insurable weeks earnings. What a change for a people who all of their lives worked twelve months a year. They were very productive and contributed very much to the economy of the Province and to this nation - and to see what has happened to them.

The member is so right about Ramea. To have the people of Ramea now have to plead for someone to include them in a compensation package so that they can put bread and butter on the table. It is a sad, sad reflection on what has happened with the fisheries all around our coast, really. It is a sad reflection.

I look at - the first Newfoundland community, I suppose, in the deep-sea fishery was probably Burin; and they were the first ones to come out, I say to the Member for Burgeo - Bay d'Espoir. Burin was the first one shut down by FPI, but were lucky enough to get the secondary processing plant.

Then it was the others. Then it was Grand Bank and Trepassey and Gaultois, in that order. Now we see Ramea that seems to be finished with regard to deep-sea.

The member has made some good points, and I totally support the people of Ramea in their call to be included in the compensation package. If they are not going to be included in this compensation package, it won't be long before someone is going to have to include them in some kind of a compensation package, whether you call it the Northern Cod Moratorium Benefits Package or NCARP as we all call it now, but if they are not included in that, they are going to have to be included in something else and a lot of other communities like them around the southwest coast of this province. This is a very, very serious situation.

Now the member went through some of the criteria that was announced by Mr. Crosbie. Now to be designated as a plant under the program, I think it was 10 per cent of the fish processed through the plant had to be from the northern cod stocks. Then there was a minimum weeks requirement per year in 1990-91. I think that is probably where Ramea is in the difficulty. I am not sure, but I am sure the member knows full well after probably just coming back from there. It seems to be the number of weeks that the employees have worked over the last couple of years, particularly this year, that they fall short on the requirement of the criteria for the program. But there is no doubt, Mr. Speaker, that this is an exceptional case. I just hope that the powers that be certainly gives due consideration to the people of Ramea. We all know the history, and I hope that there is due consideration given it.

It brings up the question of the need for other special response for areas not covered by the Northern Cod Moratorium. We have a number of failure areas in this province this year where people are not covered under the Northern Cod Compensation Program. The big question is what is going to happen to them? Will we see the minister there? Will the province be participating in a Fisheries Emergency Response Program in those areas, a cost-shared program hopefully with the feds? Because I know in my own area, just like the Member for Ramea is here today speaking out on behalf of their concerns, which he should and which I support, that right along that south coast - I know in my own area I get calls every day: Is there going to be some kind of program to help us, because this year I didn't catch enough fish to qualify for UI, or our inshore fishermen didn't catch enough so I could get enough weeks working in our plant to qualify for UI, so we have that all over the place.

I want to finish by saying to the Member for Burgeo - Bay d'Espoir that certainly I am pleased that he has brought this issue on the floor of this Legislature. I totally support it, and I only hope that in the final analysis there is a reconsideration to the plight of the people of Ramea, and that indeed they are considered and compensated under the program.

MR. SPEAKER: Before recognizing the hon. the Minister of Fisheries, the Chair apologizes. I was remiss in welcoming a group of students. I expect they are gone now, but we can welcome them in absentia. Please welcome to the galleries today, twenty-four level III students from Garrigus Collegiate, St. Lunaire and Griquet. It is too bad that these people came all the way from St. Lunaire and Griquet and we didn't welcome them to the House. They were accompanied by teachers, Mr. Brad Sheppard, and Mr. Ellis Pope. I am sure hon. members would want to extend them the normal welcome in absentia.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

The hon. the Minister of Fisheries.

MR. CARTER: Mr. Speaker, I want to speak briefly on the petition so ably presented today by the hon. Member for Burgeo - Bay d'Espoir. I commend the member for the interest he is taking in the problems in his district, especially as it relates to the town of Ramea, and to a lesser extent maybe Burgeo, and the effort that he has made in focusing public attention on the problem.

Mr. Speaker, Ramea occupies a very unique position in the troubled fishery. Unique in that from 1986 to 1989 inclusive, northern cod constituted 22 per cent of the landings that were processed in Ramea. Twenty-two per cent of the total put through that plant from 1986 to 1989 inclusive constituted northern cod.

I should point out, Mr. Speaker, because of a corporate decision made by Fishery Products International and supported by the government to land this northern cod elsewhere in 1990 and 1991, Ramea's participation in the northern cod moratorium program is now being questioned. Of course that is what led the hon. gentleman to present that petition today. That is quite unfortunate. Mr. Speaker, based on that, the Premier and I have both made strong representation to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans requesting him, in light of the circumstances, to insure that Ramea would be included in the Northern cod compensation area.

Mr. Victor Young, who is the Chief Executive Officer and President of FPI, wrote Mr. Crosbie, as well, to the same effect back earlier this summer. And, of course, on August 7, I wrote the minister supporting Mr. Young's suggestion that Ramea be included. Then, on November 4, again the Premier wrote Mr. Crosbie to the same effect. Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that, in the circumstance, the plant in Ramea deserves to be part of the Northern cod moratorium.

There are a number of inequities in the present system as it relates to the Northern cod moratorium areas. For example, in Anchor Point, a plant that employs - how may people? -

AN HON. MEMBER: One hundred and fifty people.

MR. CARTER: - one hundred and fifty people - has been excluded from the moratorium area. Yet just to the south of Anchor Point, in Brig Bay, that plant is included, and on the other side of Anchor Point, in Flower's Cove, that plant, too, is included in the Northern cod moratorium area. So it makes one wonder sometimes what is the rationale, what is the criteria that is being used by Fisheries and Oceans in determining what plants are included and what plants are not included.

The answer, of course, to the Ramea problem - maybe it is not a long-term answer, but certainly it is a short-term answer - would be to have the Ramea plant and the workers in that plant included in the Northern cod moratorium area. If that were so, then, of course, like other plants in the Northern cod moratorium area, they would have a breathing spell in order for them to take a new look at their plant and what, in fact, the future might hold for it.

So, Mr. Speaker, the government has already put itself on record in the strongest terms possible to ensure that Ramea will be included. Now, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, I think very unwisely, has decreed that Ramea is not going to be included, as, of course, he decreed that Anchor Point would not be a part of the Northern cod moratorium compensation package. I think the minister is wrong. I think my friends opposite should make representation to Mr. Crosbie, their political soul mate in Ottawa, and ask him to give further consideration to the request coming from FPI, from the town, and from the Province, that Ramea be included in the Northern cod compensation area. Thank you.

Orders of the Day

MR. ROBERTS: Motion 1, Mr. Speaker, please.

MR. SPEAKER: Motion 1.

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations to introduce a bill, "An Act To Amend The Occupational Health And Safety Act," carried. (Bill No. 53).

On motion, Bill No. 53 read a first time, ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

MR. ROBERTS: Mr. Speaker, Order 20, Bill No. 48, please.

MR. SPEAKER: Order 20, Bill No. 48.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Workers' Compensation Act". (Bill No. 48).

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. It is always a pleasure to rise in the Legislature, although, with the particular topic we are dealing with today there isn't a great deal of pleasure in terms of some of the things that are contained in this bill. Because there are some very tough measures involved here that I'll spend some time in the next period of time spelling out for the hon. members assembled.

While there's no great pleasure attached to it, it certainly is something that we, on this side of the House, see as a necessary duty that has to be performed. To put it into context, before I move into some of the specifics of the bill, I point out that since the government has changed in 1989 there have been a number of items of pressing concern that have had to be dealt with.

The accumulated debt over the years has placed some continuing strain on the public treasury, and there was further reference to that here again today.

The pension funds were discovered to be in a state of -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I want to remind hon. members again about the noise level here. The Chair doesn't want to intervene, or interfere with the person speaking, other than to say that the Chair finds it noisy. I want hon. members to know that it would help the Chair to know, if hon. members were uncomfortable when they are speaking, because I don't know whether the noise level is making members uncomfortable. I just happen to hear it. It might not be uncomfortable at all. Hon. members might be proceeding very well under the circumstances, but I inform hon. members that if they do find it difficult, to ask the Chair to ask for order. Then, of course, hon. members have to give that order.

Under the acoustic system that we have here, the Chair might be noticing the noise level and hon. members not, so I just want to make it straight to hon. members here that if they are finding it difficult to speak, then, of course, they can ask at any time for order, and hon. members are obligated to give that order, and the Chair is obligated to call for it.

The hon. the minister may continue.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I certainly appreciate the intervention, but I was just into some preliminary remarks.

I understand the gravity of the matters in this bill before us, that as we get into the actual substance of the matter relating to workers' compensation, if members would choose voluntarily to pay some considerable attention - because I know that in discussion with members assembled, they have taken this matter very seriously, and they are looking forward to participating in this debate over the next few days and/or weeks.

I was mentioning, however, by way of introduction, that upon assuming office, this administration found, as well, that the publicly administered pension funds in the Province were in some peril, and that certain actions had to be taken. We are at a point now, I think, where everyone, the public servants affected, all of the different groups that are expecting a pension in years to come, agree that the changes that were made were necessary changes, and that for the long-term viability of those funds, they have seemed to be definitely pointed in the right direction. I think the continuing reports to the Legislature on an annual basis show that to be the fact.

However, in the early days of those changes there was great concern because they were the kinds of decisions and kinds of approaches that the members opposite would not take in the last days of their Administration. As a matter of fact, I think the public record clearly states that the Premier of the day resigned rather than deal with some of the issues that he and his Administration had before them. He quit office instead of tackling the difficulties that arose, and trying to come forward with some practical solutions to the problems, bailing out when the best leadership was needed.

Not to overplay the issue, but the protection for injured workers in the Province came to our attention to have fallen into that category. It is in that context that I would like to spell out for members today, Mr. Speaker - and I have been doing this on occasion now for the public - the kinds of changes that we are proposing, and why we feel it absolutely necessary to do these things.

There is no doubt that the injured workers' fund, administered through the Workers' Compensation Commission, is in serious financial trouble. Everyone who has asked for it has had access to the financial statements and the documents at the Commission, and it is clearly and readily evident that two things are true: that is, that in the last couple of years, in particular, the annual monies collected by the Commission, through their assessment process, have not paid for annual expenditures of both injury claims and administration, and they have had to dip into reserve funds that had been put aside to pay for future costs of injuries that people know are going to last for years, and from which injured workers are expecting to collect benefits in the years to come - much as they expect to collect a pension when their time comes.

The real disaster is in the fact that once that occurs, not only is that reserve fund to provide for future injuries not growing - it is diminishing. The projections provided to the government, to members of the Opposition and to interested parties, indicated that if the trend of the last two fiscal years, as reported here in annual reports, continued, that the Workers' Compensation Commission in our Province would be bankrupt in 1996, and there would be absolutely no ability to pay injured workers in a current year or in the future - someone who was injured and was going to be long term, expecting some provision, some comfort, some protection.

Further to that, we asked them to look at it and say: Well, that sounds very serious, and it is obviously distressing and kind of desperate, but is there any other scenario that might prevail? They said: the last couple or three years have been the worst experience for the Commission because of the economic times, because of the fact that companies are closing, there are less contributors, all of this, Mr. Speaker, in light of the fact that the number of claimants in the last couple of years has been diminishing, that there have been fewer new injuries reported during that same period of time than there were, say, over a ten-year period before that.

So we said: even if we could look at a rosier picture of the previous decade, what would happen to the finances of the Commission? And we were guaranteed in all the assessments that were done that even if the best possible scenario applied - that if the number of accidents continued to reduce and that the current economic condition were to pass and become brighter - this plan was doomed with the current rates and so on that are involved in it. It was doomed that it could last no longer than the year 2002, at the absolute outside.

So we are looking at a scenario where, if the experience of the last couple of years were to prevail - which I think the indications are today that that's more likely than not, something along similar lines - than this whole protection mechanism would be defunct, bankrupt, totally useless to anybody in four years time. Even if there were a great turn around in the Province, it was still going to go bankrupt if we didn't make major changes. It would just take a little longer.

So with that kind of information, in all of our deliberations, we felt that we could not risk losing the protections available to injured workers in the Province and we had to take the types of necessary changes and the necessary steps to ensure that there was going to be a protection system in place in the Province for injured workers for the long term. It is from that background and on that premise that I will introduce the things we are outlining in Bill No. 48, which is before the Legislature, "An Act To Amend The Workers' Compensation Act."

I will point out, as well, that there is a statutory requirement in the Workers' Compensation Act that every five years the whole system has to be reviewed, anyway. Because people understand that, over time, circumstances change and certain aspects of protection for injured workers need to be adjusted. To make sure that it didn't happen on an ad hoc basis or didn't get ignored, there is a statutory requirement that it be reviewed at least once every five years.

With the information that we had available to us upon assuming office in 1989, it was clear that we couldn't wait for that five years and we ordered, through the minister of the day, who is now the hon. the Minister of Environment and Lands, that that review happen a year earlier. It was initiated in December, 1990, even though it wasn't required under the Act until 1991. We felt that we had to have it looked at, and the Statutory Review Committee was put in place, which held hearings throughout the Province - all of the Island and Labrador - and everyone who had some issue he wanted to bring forward in terms of how the Workers' Compensation system was functioning in the Province, was provided an opportunity to do so before the Statutory Review Committee.

That committee reported just about a year ago now, in October. Then we went further with the consultation. They came in with some forty-two recommendations on a wide range of things. Several of them are already being acted upon, because they didn't require any legislative provision. They could be done. I will spell that out in just a few minutes. Other require legislative approval to make the changes, which is why this bill is here before the House. I will go through them in some detail in the time available to me.

Upon receiving the recommendations of the Statutory Review Committee, I again initiated a consultation process with all the stakeholders and all the affected groups. I indicated to them that they had had an opportunity to have input in the statutory review, but they had not had an opportunity to say what they thought about the recommendations of the Review Committee. Normally, when that kind of process was followed in the past, two things happened. Firstly, the groups were not given an opportunity to deal with the recommendations. It was done directly by the Cabinet of the day without further consultation. Secondly, history has shown that the majority of them were left unattended to. Like many reports they were just put on the shelf to gather dust, and it was hoped that they would go away.

We decided to give everybody an opportunity to look at the recommendations and talk to us in the government about whether they thought the directions pointed out by the Statutory Review Committee had merit or not.

Then, on July 2, after that consultation process, we announced publicly the intent and the direction in which the government planned to go, and provided opportunities since then for again stakeholders, affected individuals and groups to come forward and look at their concerns or point out what their concerns would be. Granted, the finality of it, in terms of the actual wording, the legal wording of the change, the bill, that which required legislative change, was not available until a couple of days ago, and was tabled here in this House on Tuesday before we closed in honour of Remembrance Day.

There is still opportunity for individuals and groups and so on to come and talk to us about the actual wording. The Bill, the wording, is available to anybody. If they can point out to us, as has happened at various stages before, that we've missed something or that the intent that we've spelled out to the public is not covered by this Act, we can still have time to reconsider. But we've done a lot of work in a year. We think that this Bill 48 which I'll talk about today for a little while is true to what we have said are the directions of government publicly, and will go a long way toward making sure that the Workers' Compensation system is here for the long-term, viable, and making sure that there is some level of protection for injured workers in the Province.

I point out, as well, Mr. Speaker, that in the very beginning of this debate, we went back to one of the basic premises as to: since there was going to be a review, should there be a Workers' Compensation system in the Province? Because the other option, of course, is to go back and have individual employers provide insurance and protection for their workers. On balance, in examining that option, it was clearly evident to us that was not desirable. It left the workers of the Province open to a wide range of different protections and coverages. It left the employers of the Province open to escalating costs. There are some who still would argue that they think they can get insurance more cheaply than if they're in the Workers' Compensation system and paying assessments. They can, in some instances, but it would also be cheap insurance, and it would cover very little, in terms of the types of things that are covered now. On balance we felt that it was clear that we should maintain the same as they do in every other province in Canada, and in almost every state in the United States, to commit to having a workers' compensation no-fault protection system in place for injured workers.

Then we looked at the approaches that were to be taken. A number of them obviously had to do with those things that would have direct and immediate impact on the funding at the Commission, itself, to make sure that it was going to be a stand-alone, viable financial entity. A number of those I will spell out in the next few minutes.

Others had to deal with representations and respond to representations that all of us agreed with from those people who represent workers in the Province - through the Federation of Labour, the nurses' union, the teachers' association, and so on - which indicated that one of the real thrusts in our approach had to be a commitment to be making sure that there were safer workplaces; That you shouldn't just deal with the money paid out and paid in, in terms of assessments and claims, but that somebody had to be serious about trying to make sure that every employer and employee in the Province gets serious about trying to reduce and minimize, if not eliminate altogether, lost time, accidents, and injuries arising from duties in the workplace.

So we looked at, on balance, a four-pronged approach, if I might put it that way, to the whole problem. The first one, which is already being actioned, because it didn't need legislative authority to do so, was increased emphasis on occupational health and safety. Because everyone involved in the discussions bought clearly into that argument and understood it to make sense on face value. It was common sense. While I indicated earlier the numbers of accidents have declined in the last couple of years, somebody is doing a good job. Because while part of the decline can be attributed to a decline in the number of people working, the decline in accidents is greater than that. So somebody is doing something right already in terms of paying attention to matters at the workplace. There are less accidents being reported, in each of the last two years and so far this year, for ten months now than there was in the previous year. So it is going in the right direction, and it is going in the right direction for more reason than just the fact that there is an economic downturn and maybe less activity in the workplace. Somebody is doing something right.

Within the department itself, in the occupational health and safety division, it was only about two weeks ago that I was at a session where I was welcoming the six new staff members who will operate in the occupational health and safety division, to do their two things. Number one is to encourage employers and employees jointly to make sure that they are aware of, and doing everything possible to respect regulations aimed at a safe workplace; and secondly, when violations are found, to enforce the law.

There are six of them currently added to the staff. Three of them will be located here in the St. John's area. One will operate out of the office in Grand Falls - Windsor and cover central Newfoundland as additional staff, and two will operate out of the Corner Brook office and provide additional services on the west coast and the Northern Peninsula of the Island part of the Province.

That action was taken right away. It was the first thing that we could do. It was the first thing that we did, and everybody agreed that there had to be an increased emphasis on occupational health and safety in the workplace.

The second thing that became clear in the statutory review in all of our study was that there were some organizational difficulties at the commission itself in terms of dealing with claimants and delivering their programs. I am sure that every single member in this Legislature - bar none - has had calls from constituents who have had difficulty trying to sort their way through what they find to be a bit of a bureaucratic maze at the Workers' Compensation Commission.

We dealt with the staff at the commission. They brought in outside consultants to look at a structural review - an organizational review. They met themselves, and they acknowledged that they too could probably do some things a little better. They are already in the process because that did not require legislative authority to change. They are in the process of reorganizing delivery within the system, and the intent is clearly this: They have made some changes. They are implementing others now, even as we are here debating this bill in the Legislature, but the intent is to try and make sure that an injured worker who makes contact with the Workers' Compensation Commission is then tagged to that person so that you have much better and more expedient claims management, rather than getting bounced from one section to the other.

They do not have all the changes in place yet, because everybody here too can relate to somebody saying: I was in on temporary earnings lost; then I was put on medical for awhile; then I went over in rehab, and every time this happened my file changed and I got a new person. It is frustrating. I start over again and I get cut off and so on.

Those kinds of things are being addressed, and they recognize that when they are finished their organizational changes at the commission, they should be able to eliminate most of that frustration, because it was also pointed out to them by the outside consulting firm that it may be that those kinds of things, too, might have been contributing to some injured workers being frustrated and maybe even have to spend longer time on claim than was necessary; and that some people were in the position where they were trying to get permission to go back to work and, because they were delayed at the commission, they ended up being in receipt of benefits longer than was necessary and so on.

They are also making the necessary approaches, in consultation with the medical community, to try and make sure that access to medical services, both in diagnosis and treatment for physiotherapy and the like, is expedited so that injured workers can access the kind of treatment and diagnosis that they need so that they can spend less time trying to recuperate, and be less frustrated in their own efforts to try to get back to work as soon as possible.

So those two types of things are ongoing, Mr. Speaker, and they do not need any authority from this Legislature for them to happen, and they are proceeding even today.

There is one other issue that I want to mention before I look at the specifics of Bill 48, and that is that it came to our attention as well, that just like any system whereby a benefit is paid to some people, over a period of time from when it is first established, as it grows and different things come to the attention of the system, the criteria for entry into the system changes significantly. Workers' compensation systems have been in place in North America since the turn of the century. It has been in Newfoundland since 1953, in some form or other, and the basic rules of the system are that there is no fault to be ascribed to anybody. That would be except if there is an accident, it is at the workplace and it is an accident that was actually caused and arising out of the duties that the person was expected to perform at the workplace. So the two criteria in terms of being recognized as a compensable injury would be that the injury happened in a particular location, being the work site the workplace, and also that the injury occurred as a result of performing a duty that was required as part of your work.

That has been fairly consistently applied for the almost forty years that the system has been in place in our Province, but in our Province and in other jurisdictions throughout the country and throughout North America, a number of twists have come into that entitlement, that basic entitlement legislation, based on appeals to cases, court decisions and decisions made with respect to individual cases over the years. Most people now agree that there are a number of different things entering into that situation where maybe people are accessing the system today, somewhat beyond the parameters of what it was designed to be in the first place, and comparisons are made to such things as the unemployment insurance system which has changed drastically over the years. It is used and utilized completely differently now than when it was first introduced and those types of things.

This system is used significantly differently now than when it was first introduced and as a result of that there are compounding pressures on the financing of it, because the arrangements for financing have not changed significantly from the point in time when they were financed to deal with these two basic premises. Now you have a wider range of things occurring and there have not been adjustments made in the financing of it so there is a strain on the financial capability of the system to survive.

We have asked, Mr. Speaker, that the commission undertake, through some kind of a study group, a major study into the whole entitlement issue and that we work back to the basic definition of workers' compensation and what is defined to be a compensable injury to see how far it has been expanded over the years and whether or not it is time to redefine it in language that makes sense and fits the case in the 1990s and into the next century. We are trying to make sure that there is a system here that fits today and lasts into the foreseeable future, and I just might point out by way of example a couple of things so people will know what I am talking about.

The one that causes probably the greatest concern in terms of the capability of any insurance system to fund it at this point in time is stress, and presently there are cases being determined in other jurisdictions in our country where workplace stress is being awarded as being compensable under the workers' compensation system. So it is being deemed to be an injury arising from your duties at the workplace and many people are very concerned that because stress is fairly prevalent and it is more prevalent today than it was twenty years ago, because of the changing times and circumstances and the society and the work environment in which we operate no one argues that, but whether it should be compensable or whether it was ever even thought of or dreamed of, in terms of the original definition and the original funding mechanisms to fund injury at the workplace, is something else.

Some provinces have dealt with it by saying that stress will be compensable provided the stress is the result of a traumatic incident; so that if there was an accident or some tragedy and you are stressed as a result of that, then that would be compensable because it is understood that that stress would be relieved in fairly short order. But there are many people today who are stressed because of their work environment, who could be compensable for undetermined amounts of time, and there is a great fear that if stress generally becomes one of the things under which entitlement is granted that there might never be enough money in any compensation system anywhere to pay for it, if it becomes generally acceptable in a compensation system.

So because those types of things are relevant in the '90s and will be with us for awhile, we felt it was very, very necessary to go back to the basics again, and have a study done of the whole definition of compensable injury and the basis on which an injured worker gets entitled to compensation under the system and that will be in the process very soon. I understand that they are about to make some kind of proposal calls to have someone do this type of study in a major way and to point out to all of us, the kinds of things that might need to be done in terms of the basic access to a workers' compensation system.

Then, Mr. Speaker, with those three things covered there was one other component that we dealt with lastly but we could not avoid, and that was the actual finances at the Commission itself. We found ourselves with two sets of information. One being that our assessments for the employers - because I should point out again for the record, because many of the people who contact me individually don't understand the clear distinction. There are no taxpayers' dollars in workers' compensation system. There are no employee contributions. It is a system by its very design, since 1953 in the Province, that is paid for by the employers, because of the fact that the employers are then taken off the hook in terms of anybody taking them to court and suing them because they're responsible for an injury or an accident at the workplace. So the trade-off is clear in the basic underpinnings of the system.

The assessments over a period of time in our Province have been at the point now where they are the second highest in the country. On a daily basis you will hear any number of employers complaining that it's one of the great costs of doing business - some people suggesting that they should stop paying, and so on. Thankfully, most people ignore those types of irresponsible and irrational approaches to solving a serious problem. We've recognised that regardless of what else is done, the assessments in this Province in all likelihood will have to continue to increase for the foreseeable future. Hopefully, they won't be exorbitant increases. In our neighbouring province of Nova Scotia a week or so ago they announced publicly, for the first time, that their unfunded liability had now reached $400 million, and that they were going to increase every category, regardless of experience, by 15 per cent for next year. That was only to cover current year costs. They were saying that would make no contribution whatsoever to the unfunded liability. It was only hoped that it might cover current year costs. So they had to increase 15 per cent.

Last year in our Province, to put that into context, the Workers' Compensation Commission, which has that responsibility to do the rate assessment procedure and so on, increased every category in Newfoundland and Labrador by 8 per cent. That followed increases in double-digits for two or three years before that, and got us in a position where we are the second highest in the country.

We also have a situation where our unfunded liability for future costs that we know will be incurred because of people who are injured now and will be expecting payments for the long term has reached $160 million in our Province. Four hundred million in Nova Scotia. Several other provinces in the country are now in the process of disclosing the difficulties that they're experiencing with workers' compensation and spelling out in their provinces what their approach is to try and deal with the problem.

We decided again that on balance you could not solve all the financial problems of the Commission just by increasing assessments. The assessments might have to double or treble in almost every category, and that was just not a plausible type of thing to even consider. Understand, there will be some increases, but they couldn't be of that magnitude, because it may even then be part of the impetus, but it might cause some businesses to close their doors, along with other difficulties they have and cost in running a business. We don't need any other employers closing in Newfoundland and Labrador for any reason, let alone it be this one.

So the balance was to look at putting employers on notice that there are likely to be increases. The new board of the Commission, which was announced last week, one of the first duties that they will take upon themselves at this point in the year is to set the new assessment rates for next year. They like to do that around this time of the year so they can notify the employers, because they have to set their budgets, and most of them work on a calendar year, January to December, rather than the fiscal year of government. They need to know what their assessment rates are going to be so that they can plan their budgets for next year. They'd like to know now. The board of the Commission will try to complete that process as soon as possible and get the information to them within a month or so, so that they can have it available to them as they plan for next year.

With the assessments increasing it was determined, though the use of the actuaries who advise the government in all of this work, that this was the first serious review as well of the benefit entitlements since the changes that occurred in 1984. That this system could not sustain - this wage loss system - could not sustain a 90 per cent of net benefit level on an ongoing basis, even with increasing assessments.

If I might spend just a minute or two on that, Mr. Speaker, to clarify. Prior to 1984 compensation was based on the severity of the injury. I think the vernacular that was used, that many members here and stakeholders would be familiar with, is that the system was based on a meat chart. That depending on how seriously you were injured or maimed, that determined how much compensation you got. Minor injuries, very small compensation; major injuries, more compensation, up to certain maximums. In 1984 the system in Newfoundland changed, as it did across most of the country, to remove itself from that to a wage loss system. So that it didn't depend upon the severity of the injury, it would depend upon your ability to earn income. If that ability was taken away from you then the Commission would try to replace your income. So it changed from the previous system to a wage loss.

The number picked across the country - the previous number used to be 75 per cent of gross. That you could get a certain amount of money depending upon the severity of the injury up to 75 per cent of your gross pay. The new system said: let's move from that altogether and we will go to 90 per cent of net. So you would take out your Canada Pension, your Unemployment Insurance, and so on, and then 90 per cent of that would be paid as a wage loss to the person for the period and duration of their injury.

That notion as to whether or not 90 per cent - that was their best guess in 1984 as the number that made sense, didn't unnecessarily penalise or burden the injured worker, could be sustained and would be able to maintain into the future. The first serious assessment as to whether or not that number could be sustained was done in the last year and a half. The actuaries who looked at that - not only here, but in other provinces in the country - have indicated to the various governments, ourselves included, that that number is too high, and that you'd have to look at across the board major increases in assessment for every category for the foreseeable future in order to maintain 90 per cent. That the type of levels that are probably maintainable on an ongoing basis is closer to 80 per cent. Eighty per cent of net pay.

Recognising as well that in some situations there are some certain tax benefits available to the injured worker, but only for the first number of weeks - if you go into any kind of extended injury, that disappears. There's no doubt in anybody's mind that an injured worker, particularly anyone who's injured for a long period of time, if they have to depend only on the workers' compensation system, will experience some financial difficulty and financial loss. Some of that has been picked up by other things that have been negotiated over the years, and I will address that before I finish today as well.

On balance again then we felt we had to look at the assessment side and the benefit side, and the changes in respect to that are spelled out in Bill 48, in this Act.

I'll get to that when I get to the relevant sections in the Act, which are basically clauses 15, 16 and so on. What I would like to do now for the next little while is to walk through the explanatory notes with the members assembled, and point out the impact of the changes under each heading. So that you'll see the full series of changes that are outlined here that need legislative approval to give them cause and effect.

Clause 1 arose as a result of review by the board, and this is a completion of the changes in terms of language that's needed to be adjusted since the changes in 1984. Because the idea of "disability" and so on is not so much a functioning word now as "impairment" and so on. The idea of disability and impairment have to be properly defined in terms of how it's applied in the Act now. These will be done. The deletion of the word "annual" from subparagraph 2(v)(iii) refers to looking at the reports from Revenue Canada, which are more useful to the Commission if they can be used as they're issued, every four months or six months, rather than annually. Those are a couple of housekeeping changes.

Clause 2 is here and gives affect to changing the board of the Commission. The current legislation calls for a board of up to eleven. We indicated, and went through it with all the stakeholders, that we felt that a board of seven could appropriately function. We are operating on the basis that we believe that this move to a board of seven has general consensus as being a move in the right direction, even though some people would like to see a(???) slightly different representation of the seven who are now appointed. But the notion of moving from eleven to seven has general acceptance as we understand it.

The second clause also adds the assistant deputy minister with responsibility for occupational health and safety as an ex officio member of that board, along with the chief executive officer of the board, and the chairperson of the workers' compensation appeal tribunal. So it would be seven voting members who are now appointed and these three ex officio members who will sit in on the board meetings.

Clause 2(3) repeals subsection 4(5) because that made reference to a Vice-Chair, which is in the current act, which would no longer be designated in the legislation that is before us. We will go with a board of seven, with a Chair named, and one of the board members will act as Chair in the absence of the Chair on any occasion.

Clause 3 points out that it is our intent, clearly, to look at the appointment of the Chief Executive Officer of the board - the process that we are going through right now - because the former Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Mitchell, has recently been reassigned and reappointed as the Chief Electoral Officer for the Province as of October 19. There is a gentleman in the acting capacity now, and we are in the process of soliciting indications of interest in people who would like to take on the challenge as Chief Executive Officer of the commission. But once this Chief Executive Officer is put in place, through a Cabinet appointment, future such appointments would be done with the work being done by the board of the commission itself to find an appropriate Chief Executive Officer, subject to prior approval of the Cabinet.

Clause 4 is a housekeeping matter. It indicates that once expenses are approved by the board, they do not have to come to Cabinet to get any approval for them. That was a clause, actually, that had some merit and worth up to several years ago, and is no longer necessary. It was placed there previously to restrain the board of the commission from running off and expending any number of millions of dollars on buildings and property without the approval of Cabinet, but with the current structure and facilities in place it is deemed to be no longer necessary.

Clause 5 allows the board of the commission, until the first of June, to submit its annual report, instead of the first of April, as previously, to give them a bit of extra time to do a proper report for tabling in the Legislature and public release.

Clauses 6 and 7(1) talk about impairment and so on, and they reflect the changes that have been in place since 1984, whereby there is now a system of lump sum payments for partial and functional impairment versus the old system that some people are still under, of partial permanent disability pensions that people injured pre 1984 still receive.

A very positive move in Clause 7(2), to put some pressure again, and the onus, on the commission - that if, in fact, payments to a claimant are delayed beyond 30 days, due to some kind of administrative difficulty at the commission, -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

It being Thursday, and it being 4:00 p.m., I must inform hon. members as to the topics for debate at 4:30, the motion to adjourn.

The first one is submitted by the Member for Ferryland, who states his dissatisfaction with the response to a question given him by the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs, related to reduction in MOG grants.

The second one is submitted by the Member for St. John's East, who states his dissatisfaction with answers given by the Minister of Education to questions related to student aid.

The third one, submitted by the Member for Burin - Placentia West, states his dissatisfaction given by the Minister of Social Services re front-line workers.

The hon. the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I was pointing out that in Clause 7(2), if there is some negligence on the part of the commission itself in terms of getting the proper compensation, the proper monies owed to a claimant, then the commission must pay the monies owed, plus interest. So we are hoping that will be a point to guarantee that the commission staff exercise proper diligence in processing claims.

Clause 8 looks at Section 44 and removes statutory bar and provides that the person can act against liability insurance covered in the case of automobiles. It is a significant change.

Clause 9(1) allows action to be taken against a third party, and an option to be exercised by the injured claimant within six months. These are two significant changes in terms of looking at other sources whereby payment can be properly received for the injured worker, other than having to rely only on the workers' compensation system.

Clause 10 is also a positive change, Mr. Speaker, in the sense that permanent functional impairment lump sum payments can now be paid even if the person does not lose any time at work. Previously, a person would have to lose at least one day on the job in order to be considered for a permanent functional impairment, and the tie into loss of earnings is now removed, so that if a person unfortunately becomes permanently functionally impaired to any degree, even though they do not lose the full day at work because of it, they can get the entitlement to the permanent functional impairment award.

Clause 11, says that the compensation will be paid and adjusted using the CPI index on a yearly basis for those categories of claimants who are entitled to indexation.

Clause 12, is a positive change in the sense that it removes a current provision that says: that if a surviving spouse remarries, they lose their entitlement to any dependency coverage from Workers' Compensation. That is being removed as it is seen to be in violation of the Charter of Rights, and there will be no tie in to remarriage if there is an entitlement under the act from this commission, it will continue.

Clause 13, Mr. Speaker, is also a positive change in that, currently dependents are paid up to the age of sixteen, that will move to the age of eighteen to reflect current school-leaving ages versus what it previously was in the old act.

Clause 14 (1), again is an '84 clean-up in deleting references to disfigurement and using references to impairment, which is the currently operative language used at the commission. The same thing in 14 (2), Mr. Speaker.

And then Clause 15, spells out in the act, the new benefits that will be available to injured workers, and it spells it out, Mr. Speaker, in three different categories because there are three different categories to be dealt with.

First of all, if we look at the actual words in Clause 15 in the bill, it points out that after December 31st 1992, a certain set of circumstances will prevail and those circumstances prevail for all workers injured after that date, so these would be new injuries occurring after December 31st, and the rate for those newly injured workers would be 75 per cent for the first thirty-nine weeks and then moving up to 80 per cent if the person is still on claim and injured and unable to return to work after thirty-nine continuous weeks.

The reference to the thirty-nine weeks is new and the change in entitlement, Mr. Speaker, is consistent with the kinds of change that are about to occur in New Brunswick and also in Manitoba along the same lines, that the thirty-nine weeks from the actuarial and from the accounting point of view is the maximum period of time under any set of circumstances where there can be any kind of a tax impact or tax benefit for any injured worker in any category. Beyond that period of time, it diminishes to a negligible and a zero consideration factor, but in the first thirty-nine weeks of any injury it can be shown in most categories of injury, that the non-taxable, the tax-free 90 per cent with any taxes that may have been paid previously in the year, can actually give a benefit above 75 per cent and closer to 80 per cent, and the actuaries indicate to us that in all categories of injuries and in all circumstances, the 75 per cent in the first thirty-nine weeks will probably indicate or equate to a benefit of 80 or 81 per cent where there are taxes being deducted.

In the second part of Clause 15, Mr. Speaker, it points out that for workers who are injured prior to January 1st '93, those who are already on compensation at the time of the change, if they have been on the system for less than thirty-nine weeks, they too will be reduced to 75 per cent of their net pay versus the 90 that they would have been on before and the expectation in our analysis of the current bank of claimants that are on file at the commission, is that there could be as many as 1,500 currently receiving benefits from the workers' compensation system, whose cheques from the commission could be reduced by 15 per cent, from 90 per cent to 75 per cent and that would be a category of workers who were injured prior to December 31st and have been on claim for less than thirty-nine weeks.

Any of those who were injured prior to December 31 of this year, Mr. Speaker, and had been injured and had been on claim for thirty-nine continuous weeks or more, will be maintained at the 90 per cent level with no reduction in benefits. So the intention clearly is for those people, who have been long-term injured claimants, to suffer no reduction of benefit from compensation and to be maintained at 90 per cent.

Two other provisions relating to that, because those people then fall into two categories, as well - some of those longer-term injured workers, Mr. Speaker, are in a category where they do not have any indexing applicable to their benefit and, in that case, they will be maintained at 90 per cent for all of the next year, the fiscal year for the commission which is January 1, 1993 to the end of December, 1993. Then beginning January 1, 1994, if they are still on claim for another full fifty-two weeks, which means they would have then been on claim for at least ninety-one weeks, if they are not, at that point in time, moved to any different category that provides indexing they will be reduced at the rate of 2.5 per cent a year until the 90 per cent benefit becomes the equivalent of 80 per cent over a period of four years, five years counting the first year in which they will remain at 90 per cent.

So the hope and expectation, Mr. Speaker - and this will be reviewed from time to time - is that the workers in that category, if they are already on claim for thirty-nine weeks or more and if they are going to be on claim for another full year, by that time they, in all likelihood, would probably move to a category that will enable them to have indexing applied to their claim. If that is the case, if there is indexing applied to their claim at that point in time, they will then move to a new category which is referenced in Section 74 which is Clause 16, Mr. Speaker, whereby the group that has indexing applied will be frozen at 90 per cent but will not have the indexing applied to them until the benefits that they will forego provide for the equivalent of the 90 per cent to move down to 80 per cent. So they will not see any reduction in their cheques, Mr. Speaker, but neither will they see any increase until the current 90 per cent benefit becomes the equivalent of an 80 per cent benefit. Because, over time, we are committed to a process that, in the best information available to us, can sustain an 80 per cent benefit for injured workers for the long term.

The reason we have to move to 75 per cent for the initial injuries is so that we can maintain some money in the fund to make sure that we red circle the people who need to be maintained at 90 per cent for a longer period of time. The monies taken off one end will be used to maintain the longer-term injuries and claimants who are already beyond thirty-nine weeks and may be on the system for life. So those types of considerations are there.

In Clause 19, Mr. Speaker, it then says that any monies received under the Canada Pension Plan will be considered earnings and will be deducted from any payments received from the Workers' Compensation Commission.

So, on balance, we are trying to put in place a system whereby there will be, on average, an 80 per cent benefit payable to any injured worker, 75 per cent for new claimants for the first thirty-nine weeks, moving up to 80 per cent if they are beyond that, for existing claimants at 90 per cent, maintained at 90 per cent reducing down to the equivalent of 80 per cent over a period of time either by a reduction of 2.5 per cent a year, if they are not into an indexable category, or not moving down at all but staying frozen at their current levels of pay from the commission for a period of time until the 90 per cent becomes the equivalent of 80 per cent.

So the only expectation in terms of immediate impact from the Workers' Compensation Commission is that there might be up to 1500 people on the current profile of claimants who, on January 1, are on the system previously, have been on the system for less than thirty-nine weeks and will reduce from 90 per cent to 75 per cent, going back to 80 per cent if they are still on the system after thirty-nine weeks of claim.

So those are the provisions, Mr. Speaker, in terms of benefits to the injured workers. I think it was probably the toughest decision that any of us involved in the Cabinet and in the Caucus at the time had to come to grips with, recognizing that there is the potential for some of these people to actually see a reduction in their cheque for a period of time, somewhere between January 1 and when they reached the thirty-ninth week. But the balance which made the decision a clear one for us was that if these changes are not made then in four years time nobody will get anything, there will be no protection, no benefit paid to any injured worker in the Province through our Workers' Compensation system because it will be totally bankrupt.

So with that balance, Mr. Speaker, once you are faced with those kinds of very stark realities, and those kinds of choices, sometimes the most difficult choices are the easiest ones to make, because it is black and white; there is very little grey, and it is very easy then to make decisions that are in the best interest of injured workers for the long-term, even though some people may have to undergo some adjustment for a short period of time in between.

Then, as well, the other reference that we need to deal with is looking at Section 20, Clause 20, which deals with what is commonly referred to as 'the topping up provisions' in collective agreements that exist mostly in the public sector, but also in the private sector. In fact, the changes that are spelled out in Section 81 of the new act say that after January 1 there will be a continuation of topping up provisions in collective agreements in the Province. They will continue as long as the agreements are functional and operational, but then they will be prohibited by law from being negotiated when new agreements are signed.

It was clear to us that while that may seem to be a very type of strident move, that we were left with very little choice in the sense that the whole system is now in a position where the numbers available to us indicate that with the workers' compensation benefit, plus a top up and other considerations, that a large number of workers were actually in a position where, while injured, the total money available to them was in excess of what they could have accessed while working, and that those numbers are clear. Any number of examples have been pointed out from all categories of workers covered to show that is the case, which was never the intention under the system, and was never the intention when the top up provisions were provided. Everybody understands that a worker injured through no fault of their own should not be penalized, but neither should there be any advertent benefit as well.

So to make sure that the system itself provides what it can, consistently for everybody, this notion will be put in place no later than January 1, 1995. As new contracts as negotiated, the idea of paying the difference between what you get from the commission and what your salary was, will be outlawed by law in the Province.

The current provisions will continue on. We understand, from the changes that are outlined here in Section 81, that when these provisions were negotiated, because the benefit from the commission itself was 90 per cent, that the liability for the employers in the Province was the other ten, and that 10 per cent, or whatever it was to top up to whatever the wage was, was a number that is clear in everybody's mind when they negotiated the contracts, and there are clear dollar values on it now.

It was felt, as well, quite clear that while we were making a change in the legislation to change one part of that equation, it could not be considered fair or equitable to cause employers to increase their costs, which they agreed to in free and open collective bargaining.

So there will be one interference with collective agreements in Clause 20, in Section 81, to the point that the dollar value of the top up provision that exists on December 31 will not increase as a result of this legislation.

In a situation whereby some injured worker is getting a certain portion of their cheque from the commission, and a certain portion of their cheque from their employer, the amount from the employer will stay exactly the same, and if they are impacted adversely by any part of the cheque from the commission, then that may be a reduction; and we have indicated that there are up to 1,500 who might experience that; but there will be no reduction in the amount of money they receive, dollar value, on top up.

Now we have not addressed, in this piece of legislation, what will happen to that top up in terms of the foreseeable future, beyond the existing agreements and so on. However, the thought that we have always put forward is the same one that we did with trying to preserve the long-term injured claimants at 90 per cent - that there may be some mechanism that we can devise or negotiate or work out whereby the dollar value of top ups for existing claimants may be able to continue on until the person is off the system and may be able to be red circled into the system. That is not spelled out in this piece of legislation, but it is a matter that will be addressed further through other avenues. It is certainly a sentiment and a point of view that we understand fully and that we have tried to achieve in the other considerations of keeping long-term injured claimants without reduction at 90 per cent. So, short-term injured claimants and new claimants will be entering into a significantly new system. A long-term injured claimant on January 1, 1993, who is on a 90 per cent benefit and has been there for beyond thirty-nine weeks and is receiving a top up, will see no change in any portion of their entitlement. The 90 per cent is preserved and the dollar value of the top up is preserved. Now, what will happen to the top up through the future is yet to be determined and will be discussed and so on. What will happen to the 90 per cent is spelled out in this Act because that is a matter for Workers' Compensation and cost to the Commission. The other items in terms of the top up in cost are matters of cost to the employer. So we felt again, in balance, that this preserves the top up. Workers who are injured after January 1 of 1991 and their agreements are still in place will still be able to avail of top up provisions, as outlined in their agreement, but only at the 10 per cent level. There will be a calculation done as if the 90 per cent is still in place, and the difference will be there as to the difference that was agreed to by the employers when they signed the contract, knowing that at that point in time when they signed the contract the Workers' Compensation entitlement was 90 per cent and the difference was the employers. So that difference will be maintained, and that is the intent spelled out in clause 20.

Another positive change, Mr. Speaker, in section 21, in pointing out that many times when you have an unfortunate death at the work place - if the worker is injured, there are rehabilitation services offered to the worker. Many times if there is a death, the spouse is the person who might need some rehabilitation training to take up the slack, go out and provide for the family. Rehabilitation services and funding will be available to surviving spouses, as outlined in section 21.

Section 22 indicates that asbestosis will be agreed to as an industrial disease without any further testing or diagnosis being required by the Commission.

Section 23 also points out that because of the fact that some workers can get injured while they are undergoing rehabilitation, their previous employer shouldn't be charged with responsibility for that, so a separate fund will be set up to pay for injuries arising while people are in rehabilitation programs. So it will not be costed out or charged against any individual employers.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, the last change also changes the structure and size of the advisory council, which is expected to be appointed some time between now and the end of the year - the advisory council which advises the minister on matters relating to occupational health and safety.

With this whole series of changes, Mr. Speaker, we believe we have gone a long way towards making sure that we have a sustainable, maintainable, viable, fair Workers' Compensation system in place that can be here for the long run. We know that there are some difficulties involved for some categories for injured workers at a certain point in time, but we believe it is much better for everyone involved to make sure that there is a proper and sustainable level of benefit for the future for injured workers in the Province, rather than to try to go ahead blindly and maintain current levels when all of the advice given to us says that is an absolute recipe for bankruptcy and the end to the Workers' Compensation system.

I look forward, Mr. Speaker, to participating further in the debate as we go into the other stages of debate. I hope my comments today have spelled out clearly for the members assembled, the intent and the direction of the provisions provided for in Bill 48. Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. WINSOR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It gives me pleasure to take part in this debate today on changes to the Workers' Compensation Act, Bill 48. We recognize that the minister and government, and, indeed, Workers' Compensation workers in this Province have serious problems with this Commission, with its funding, and, Mr. Speaker, I am not sure that the method we have used to attack it is the right approach. I am not overly sure, Mr. Speaker, that this is the right approach, from the gist of what the minister said today. One of the statements that almost knocked me off my seat was the minister's statement that consideration was even given, at one point, to cancelling workers' compensation completely and replacing it with a private insurance program for employers in this Province, when employees - and having extensive involvement with a number of constituents in the private insurance program, I say, if this present system is a mess, then God help us if we go with the insurance program that the minister talked about.

Mr. Speaker, the minister, on July 2, tabled a - at a press conference in which he looked at the problems with workers' compensation. To hear the Premier today, you would almost think that the Conservative administration caused all the problems with workers' compensation.

AN HON. MEMBER: They did.

MR. WINSOR: Yes, they caused - in 1988 it was $47.3 million, and in 1991 it was $80.9 million. It is this Administration, over the past three years, that has -

MR. ROBERTS: (Inaudible) sprang up.

MR. TOBIN: You didn't spring up.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) sprung up.

MR. WINSOR: Mr. Speaker, could you silence the Minister of Justice?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I have recognized the hon. the Member for Fogo.

MR. WINSOR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The problems have been ongoing. This Administration has done nothing to help it. Indeed, it might have done things to help the problems that we have; added to the problems, Mr. Speaker.

While the minister did say revenues have declined, it is partly a result of this Administration's handling of the economy. There are no new revenues going in. With the ever-increasing unemployment rate in this Province, workers are going to hard-pressed, and even more so in the days to come - even more so, because there is no one working and paying into the fund. So that is the principal problem we have. There are very few people now paying into the fund.

Then the minister, in his July 2 statement, comes up with an explanation as to why we can reduce the benefits from 90 per cent to 75 per cent, and it will level out at 81 per cent. He presents a nice little graph showing how it works, assuming that the salary was going to be, I think, $25,000 or $26,000 a year. Now, Mr. Speaker, for most workers in this Province that reflects an hourly wage of $12. That is $12 an hour to have a salary of $26,000.

The minimum wage is $4.75. I would suggest that there are thousands in this Province who will only make $13,000 a year because they will only make $6 an hour. How are they going to be impacted? At $6 an hour, their take-home pay is probably $200 a week. With Canada Pension, UI, maybe union dues and a number of other things, Mr. Speaker, they will be reduced to $200 a week. And the minister is saying that you are now going to have only 75 per cent of that - 75 per cent of that is take-home pay. There is no category for people who falls through the cracks in this scenario, because it is easy to do it when you take the average wage of the worker to be $12 an hour; but that does not exist in this Province, for thousands of people.

MR. MATTHEWS: Certainly, in the fishing industry there is no (inaudible).

MR. WINSOR: In the fishing industry, in the retail sector, in many of the councils and municipalities throughout the Province, they don't pay these kinds of wages, and workers don't make $26,000 a year. So the minister's assertion that they will level out at 81 per cent is not correct. It is correct if you look at the figure he took of $26,000 a year; but having, in my lifetime, done several hundreds of income tax papers in the small communities in which I have lived, I find that not many workers make $26,000. I do several who make less than $10,000. What will be the impact on these people, by reducing to 75 per cent from 90?

It might not be much for the minister and the minister's salary, but 90 per cent of the take-home pay of $200 gives the worker $180. Seventy-five per cent of $200 reduces it significantly to $150, Mr. Speaker, and that is a lot of money for the poor worker in this Province. That difference, is significant and the minister has not addressed it, and this particular proposal we have does not address it.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I don't have much time to get into the essence of my remarks today, but I think the minister should look at what he is doing in this piece of legislation because he is, number one, attacking the worker, all injured workers; number two, he is asking the employer, who already pays the second highest rates in the country, to pay more, and, we have to ask: Why is this occurring? What is happening?

The minister, in his July 2 press statement, said that we were going to hire, I think it was five Occupational Health and Safety -I think he said six today. The question is, Mr. Speaker, Have the other parts been implemented? The minister noted a $100,000 program, I think, in that July 2 statement, for back injuries. Mr. Speaker, I heard the President of the Nurses' Union say a couple of days ago, that the incidence of back injuries in the nursing profession is rising and, Mr. Speaker, one of two things can cause that, either the minister's program has not worked, or secondly, too much pressure - lifting - has been placed on nurses in this Province; they are short-staffed and that is resulting in an increased burden on Workers' Compensation. It is as simple as that, Mr. Speaker, that what we have in Occupational Health and Safety has just not worked. It is an unmitigated disaster and I know this without mentioning names.

The minister referred to the fish plant owner in the Premier's district, Mr. Barry, who talked about boycotting wages. No one can agree with that, boycotting payments for compensation, but, Mr. Speaker, his reasons are pretty sound; $13.75 for every $100 of payroll in this Province, and $4.40 in Nova Scotia? Mr. Speaker, if I were an employer, I would have to look seriously at moving my operation, too, if I could get a 3 per cent - a three-times reduction in the amount by going to Nova Scotia, and if, as the minister said, they increased all categories by, I think he said, 15 per cent, so we will call it five and that is 15 per cent of five, they will put it up to 7.5, about half of what it is going to be in this Province, and, Mr. Speaker, why is it $13.75 in this Province?

Is it because we have an exceptional number of injuries in the trawler industry? Most likely it is. Then the question comes back to, Why are we having so many accidents in the Newfoundland trawler fleet, compared to those in the Nova Scotia fleet? Is it something that is happening on the ship? Is it that our Occupational Health and Safety regulations are not up to scratch and that we are having a number of injuries, as a result of this kind of thing that should be eliminated?

Mr. Speaker, it is 4:30. I adjourn the debate.

Debate on the Adjournment

[Late Show]

MR. SPEAKER: Pursuant to Standing Order 31(h), I now call on the hon. the Member for Ferryland.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In the House on November 5, the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs stated that: any municipalities that experienced hardships with their MOGs, were contacted or visited - and I agree with that. He also stated that: 'either the repayment was alleviated' - and I am quoting from Hansard - 'or in some cases there was a grant issued in lieu of the loss to the municipalities.' And on the following day in the House, I asked him if that was the case, and he said, if he said any different, he would be telling a lie. Well, on the following day, he said he treated the municipalities in my district, the same as he treated all others. If that was the case, there were no adjustments made in the entire Province, because there hasn't been one adjustment made in my district. So, I will not say you were telling a lie, if I did, I would be ruled out of order, but that simply is true.

For example, Renews-Cappahayden had a $10,000 cutback on a budget of $114,000. They were consulted and no response was received. Fermeuse, $4,000 was cut back. They were consulted and no response was received. Witless Bay had a $23,000 cutback. They were consulted and no adjustment was made. In fact, they had a cutback in recreation in their community and they have applied to your department now for permission to get a loan to carry on the recreational needs in their community. Petty Harbour and Maddox Cove had a $5,000 cutback. In addition, they budgeted for $12,000 for fire fighting and the regional bill is $40,000. They had $75,000 in cutbacks in the last two years. That is a dire need in a community that is 100 per cent dependent on the fishery. All of these communities have very serious problems.

The minister here indicated that they got the same treatment as everybody else. Bay Bulls, over $14,000 in cutbacks. There are letters here that have gone to your department, by the Mayor of Bay Bulls and the community, indicating the need in that community. People who built new houses and were told that the roads were going to be completed this year and snow ploughing would be carried out are now being informed that it is not going to be done. They are being informed that the insurance company will not cover insurance in case of fire. There are documented letters now on file at your department from these people in the community stating the road will not be ploughed and the insurance will not be paid if there is a fire because the community budgeted to have these done and, because of cutbacks of over $14,000, in a couple of specific areas of Bay Bulls they are experiencing severe hardships.

The minister did state emphatically here that something was done about it, and they are the communities that contacted me and I have spoken with, there is only one other, I think, incorporated municipality in my district, Cape Broyle, a new one that just started - they had no basic criteria, I guess, to judge their needs. They are just newly incorporated. That community, I think, maintained their status quo I understand in the district and no communities were refunded money. If they were they are now deducting them from their allotments. If they are, I would certainly like to know which ones so I can go back to these communities and get information to that effect.

So this minister did mislead the House here on November 5 and he mislead it again on November 6 and he is continuing to say it in spite of statements by the mayors and the clerks and documented information. On June 22, in a meeting that was requested by the municipalities, the minister went into the district and met with the mayors and all of these people and told them that action would be taken to correct this problem. He admitted here in the House and elsewhere that there were mistakes made in his department that shouldn't have been made, and that is quoted here. There were mistakes made in his department. He was going to correct these mistakes and action was taken. To date there is not one mistake corrected in any municipality in my district that I am aware of, unless the municipalities are telling me lies. I don't think they are telling lies. I spoke with the mayors in communities just fifteen minutes ago and, up to now, nothing has been done. If the minister has more up-to-date information other than that of fifteen minutes ago, I would be very interested in finding out what the information is.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

The hon. the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs.

AN HON. MEMBER: What gobbledegook!

MR. HOGAN: Yes, gobbledegook. I have another name for it. A dog wouldn't jump over it, he is piling it that high over there.

Mr. Speaker, I stand to deny - I am not allowed to call them lies, either, I don't suppose, but that is what they are. He must be repeating lies somebody else told him, that is all I can say to him.

MR. TOBIN: The snowblower.

MR. HOGAN: You're the snowblower.

MR. TOBIN: The snowblower man.

MR. HOGAN: A (inaudible) from the Burin Peninsula.

Mr. Speaker, for example, the hon. member mentions the community of Renews/Cappahayden. They had a surplus last year of $29,000. There is no long-term debt in the community and at the end of September they had a $16,478.22 bank balance. The town of Witless Bay: Bank balance at the end of August was $36,600.86 surplus, cash.

MR. FLIGHT: My districts never had any surpluses.

R. HOGAN: And not only that if they cut back -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. HOGAN: And if they cut back on recreation, shame on them, because they have an interest bearing term deposit for a total of $67,000 in the bank.

MR. FLIGHT: What? In the bank?


MR. FLIGHT: And want us to pay for their snowclearing?

MR. HOGAN: If, as the hon. member is saying, he has a statement over there, and now he stands on his feet and says they have no money, then he can't read the statement.

MR. SULLIVAN: That is not what I said.

MR. HOGAN: Either that or he is telling lies.


MR. FLIGHT: Oh boy! His credibility is gone down the drain.

MR. HOGAN: Mr. Speaker, since June 22nd inspectors from my office have been in the communities of Renews/Cappahayden, Witless Bay, Bay Bulls, Cape Broyle, which incidentally didn't get any money taken back from them, they got an additional $12,000. The MOG went from $10,133 to $22,284.

MR. FLIGHT: Now, how about that!

MR. HOGAN: I don't know if they were just incorporated or not, but they still got $12,000. The community of Fermeuse: the council, it says here in my notes, is in a healthy financial position funds available for them as of September 30th is in the amount of $68,982.


MR. FLIGHT: What? Mr. Speaker, the man should be censored.

MR. HOGAN: And revenues to date have exceeded expenditures in spite of a slow tax collection. The council deficit, which it had been carrying since 1988 was eliminated in the 1991 budget and left a surplus of $47,547.


AN HON. MEMBER: That is more than (inaudible).

MR. HOGAN: Port Kirwan on the southern shore, the accumulated deficit is less than $5,000, and taxes receivable are small amounts currently outstanding for poll tax and water tax, and are about equal to half the current years levy.

The only two communities, Mr. Speaker, that haven't been visited on the southern shore as far as I know to date are Ferryland, and probably Aquaforte. It was because the officials in those particular towns were not ready to meet with the inspectors on the particular day they were available. As a matter of fact if memory serves me, and I will have to check this out, that because of particular problems ongoing in Ferryland or Cape Broyle, I am not sure which now, we provided a special grant to assist them in a health and environmental problem.

MR. FLIGHT: What? A special grant?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. HOGAN: I did, yes. I did meet with the council on June 26. I went up to meet with the council in Ferryland on the 22nd of June at the request of the Ferryland Town Council. When I got there, there were eight councillors there -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please! The hon. minister's time is up.

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. minister doesn't have leave.

MR. HOGAN: Do I have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: No, you don't have leave.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This is a case - I know the formula for -


MR. HARRIS: The formula for the Late Show, Mr. Speaker, is basically that I am not satisfied with the answers to the hon. minister's questions that were given on the issue of student aid. This is a clear case where the minister's answers were entirely unsatisfactory, Mr. Speaker. I asked the minister a couple of very important questions affecting hundreds and thousands of students at Memorial University.

Mr. Speaker, we are told from some sources - the minister's department can't find the information, maybe the minister has it today - that some 2,300 students are still awaiting their appeals. Now the minister may correct that. He may make it higher or make it lower - not hundreds of thousands. The minister purposely misunderstood my remarks the other day to try and make light of the plight of hundreds and thousands of students throughout this Province who first of all are facing the problem of not having the money that the appeal would result in them getting - or should result in them getting - particularly the grant portion; but now they are not able to register for winter courses.

As the hon. members opposite may know, particularly the former Minister of Education, the Member for St. John's North, and the current Minister of Health, being university professors in their most recent former lives, this is a very important consideration for students, particulary now when the registration system prevents them from getting into the courses that they want to, because it is a first come, first served basis for registration.

Registration has been open now since November 2, and students who want to get into key courses for the purposes of their degrees, whether they be compulsory courses or required courses, are now faced with the prospect of not being able to register because they have not paid their fees for the fall semester. In addition to being docked an extra $75 penalty for non-payment of fees, they are also not able to register for these winter semester courses and some may lose these courses.

So there is a case of serious problems being caused by the system. The system of appeals is severely backlogged. We are told by students that they come over and wait for hours and hours trying to see the loan appeals officer; that this person does not make appointments. In fact, not only does he not make appointments, but does not tell people when he is or is not seeing students for appeals.

That is a serious problem that deserves a serious answer, and not the kind of bombast that we received from the minister the other day, suggesting that asking questions about the appeals procedure was a suggestion that the government should interfere with the student loans process. That is obviously not the problem. The problem is a very serious one, and has to do with student aid for people.

The second question that I asked him was: Why are there so many appeals in the first place? We have a serious backlog and we also have a serious number of appeals. The reason for it is because his rules assume that if a student works at all during the summer time, that he or she made at least $2,000. That is a stupid assumption, particulary in this Province where, for example, the largest single employer of students in Newfoundland over the course of the summer months is through the Challenge Program - the federal government Challenge Program. Most of them get six weeks; some get seven; some get eight.

If they got seven - let's assume they got seven - the maximum amount of money that they make on that is $1,300. Many make less - perhaps $1,200 or less, working for six weeks. They are assumed to have earned $2,000 and the grants are given out accordingly, and the loans are given out accordingly. All these people are forced to appeal. It is unnecessary. The minister should change that policy and base it on the actual earnings that people make - the actual income that they receive, and not some assumed amount.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. DECKER: Mr. Speaker, I must have misunderstood. I could have sworn that the hon. member said there were hundreds of thousands of students. He says he did not say that, so now he is trying to weasel out from under it and says: There are 2,200 students, Mr. Speaker. So says the hon. alarmist from St. John's East - 2,200 students he says now.

Let's get some facts on the table here. At the moment there are 757 applications which have not been processed. From hundreds of thousands down to 2,200 to 757. Of these, 354 are university students.

Approximately 7,500 have had their appeals reassessed. The exact figure is given in terms of semesters, so that figure is 14,158 semesters.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: (Inaudible).

MR. DECKER: Newfoundland is far ahead of the other Atlantic provinces in the appeals, Mr. Speaker. Most of the other provinces have only started their appeals in the last two weeks, and this Province has gone through 14,158. We're left not with hundreds of thousands, not with 2,200, but with 757 - 354 of which are university students.

The hon. member is making a big fuss over the fact that the blank on the form, where you're asked to anticipate your income, where the student seeking the loan fills in $2,000. That is done for the benefit of the student. That assumes that the student will get the minimum income over the summer. Then his loan can start to be processed earlier in the summer. The hon. alarmist from St. John's East suggests: why not wait until you get the actual income?

Just listen to what he's saying. He's saying: wait until the middle of September, when the job is over, and the student then fills in his application. Can you imagine the bottleneck then it would create at Student Loans? It's too foolish to talk about. The Student Loans division estimates the minimum wage at $2,000 and in most cases, if a student works at all, that is sufficient. If the student does not work then he or she can appeal.

If we were to listen to what the hon. alarmist from St. John's East is talking about you would have no applications filed until the middle of September. Then 18,000 students would descend on the Student Loans office. If we have a mess now, God forbid to say what kind of a mess we would have if we listened to what nonsense he's talking about, Mr. Speaker.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible)!

MR. DECKER: I'm not the least bit surprised that today's cartoon shows what the Bible refers to as an ass, with a Jack on top of it, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Burin - Placentia West.

MR. TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I didn't see the cartoon but I assume the member is talking about himself.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: (Inaudible).

MR. TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, can you ask the Brylcream commercial to restrain himself?

I've got a question that I brought up today for the Minister of Social Services. That is, that the social workers in this Province are overworked, and the clients in this Province who depend on Social Services are not being treated fairly. Indeed, there are people in this Province who are starving. Starving because the social workers can't get out to see them. The minister has recognised that. I think he has tried to do something about it but I sincerely believe he has lacked any support whatsoever in Cabinet.

The fact of the matter is that there are 70,000 people in this Province receiving social assistance. There are people in this Province who are now wards of the Director of Child welfare and who depend - as a matter of fact, by law they are compelled to make home visits.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: (Inaudible).

MR. TOBIN: I don't know what he's doing there. What's he doing there?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: (Inaudible).

MR. TOBIN: I'm not sure. It just might be a tomahawk. There are people in this Province today who by law are expecting to have a social worker visit their homes, and it is not happening. Because this government has not put in place the number of social workers that are required in this Province because, number one, of the economic mess that has been brought on by this government and, number two, because the social workers have not been replaced who have gone on.

So what we have in this Province are social workers who are working through their lunchtime and who are not getting home till 9:00 and 10:00 in the night, and are still not doing the work that needs to be done.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: (Inaudible).

AN HON. MEMBER: Shame on you!

MR. MATTHEWS: We need a good government, boy, we need a good government.

MR. TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I'd say to the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs that this is serious. Whose neck is on the line if something happens to one of these people who is supposed to have a visit from a social worker? Some of these child welfare workers? Whose neck is on the line if the visit is not made when it's supposed to be made? Whose neck is on the line when it's two or three days before somebody goes to see them?

I'd say this is very serious. There are people in this Province who are starving to death, who have no food in their homes. Now the social workers, not only do they not have the time to visit, but do you know what's happening? The travel budgets are now being affected, for the social workers in this Province. I'd say that that minister over there needs all the support he can muster in Cabinet in trying to do what needs to be done. Yes, and I say it in all fairness to the present minister and I said it the other day and I say it again, that when he stands in this House, he does not blame it on the former minister like you are doing. He does not get up and blame everything on you, like you going down to the Federation of Municipalities and blaming everything on the former minister. We do not see any of that.

But I can say that as a former Minister of Social Services, you should be supporting him in Cabinet when he goes looking for more workers. That is what we need. The social work profession in this Province is at an all time low because they do not have the workers. The social workers are burning out in this Province and today we see - what do we see today -

MR. MATTHEWS: Freezes, freezes more freezes.

MR. TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, there are people in this Province who are living on $2.20 a day, yet the Premier can spend $600 for a security doorknob. $13,000 for chairs; $80,000 for wallpaper. There are people in this Province who do not have doors to their homes, do not have windows that are safe and watertight and wind tight and yet the Premier can spend $80,000 for wallpaper? Has he gone mad, what is going on? People are starving - $80,000 for wallpaper; $600 for doorknobs -

AN HON. MEMBER: What about limos?

MR. TOBIN: Yes, what about limos? There are usually two parked out in front of that door, fellows with big hats while the people in this Province are starving to death. Limousines, not only limousines, chauffeurs on the government payroll. The Minister of Works, Services and Transportation, has chauffeurs for driving the Premier around and they have an Oldsmobile limo out there picking him up every time he stirs, and people starving to death, that is what is happening in this Province; I say to the Member for St. John's South, they do not have a door let alone a $600 doorknob -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. MATTHEWS: By leave?

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

MR. GULLAGE: Mr. Speaker, as I said in the House today, I guess about three times in answer to the same question, we are in the process of answering this difficult, difficult question of caseloads, and as I explained in the House - in fact I presented stats in the House in the Spring sitting, showing that we are up significantly in most parts of the Province and indeed in most categories of assistance, although some are up significantly more than others.

Mr. Speaker, there is only one short-term solution and that is to

address the difficulties the front-line workers are having with these caseloads by adding staff to these offices. One of the difficulties we have had over the last few months is attempting to find out what a reasonable caseload per worker is, and we have talked to other provinces.

The difficulty is that many provinces have what is known as a two tier system of social assistance, where the province and the municipalities are both involved in providing assistance, and both involved in decision making, and indeed the amounts of assistance vary in some provinces, even by region and by county, and a lot depends on the contribution of the municipalities towards a given case. So it is a very difficult matter on which to get a firm handle.

There is no question - one thing we did discover, is that many of the provinces, almost all provinces, are having difficulties right now. Ontario is an example, a province, I suppose, none of us every thought would have the difficulties that they are having with their economy, and their caseloads now, I believe, are the highest they have ever seen in history. So we are not unique, and we are all trying to deal with it. Nobody is denying that the caseloads per worker are higher than we would like them to be.

Mr. Speaker, the first way to deal with that is to look at our present resources which, as I explained today, is what we are doing. We are going to be moving people out of regional offices where they are less useful to us in this particular circumstance, in those particular positions, as they can be on the front lines helping out with these caseloads.

We are going to be flattening out the system, for the want of a word, and making our regional offices responsible strictly for an administrative function, with some clerical support, but other than that all of the other professionals, if you like, in the office, will certainly be moved to the district offices and will help us. I am told - I think I am fair in saying so - they will help us considerably in addressing these excessive caseloads that we have right now.

Mr. Speaker, we may find, when that exercise is over, that we have solved our problem, at least with the existing caseloads we have, which are now still around the 30,000 level. We have some 65,000 recipients, but 30,000 cases per se. That number is I hope the highest we're going to see, and hopefully it will level off and hopefully drop over the next few months.

I think we've got the situation well in hand. I would hope that in the next few weeks we'll see significant changes as we go through the necessary procedures that we have to follow in making these changes in alignment of staff. I hope we'll see pressure taken off the workers as quickly as we possibly can do so.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader and Minister of Justice.

MR. ROBERTS: Mr. Speaker, I'm not sure that, strictly speaking, it's necessary to move the adjournment, according to the Standing Orders. Let me take advantage of the occasion to say that we shall again tomorrow be carrying on with the debate on Bill 48 - Workers' Compensation. My friend for Fogo had the floor and I assume will pick up and carry on with his remarks. We'll carry on with that Bill tomorrow, Sir.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. ROBERTS: I'm sorry?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. ROBERTS: I hope he carries on for a couple of days, because given the start he's made he needs some time to recover and get on with it. I move the adjournment, Sir.

On motion, the House at its rising adjourned until tomorrow, Friday, at 9:00 a.m.