June 8, 1994                HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS                Vol. XLII  No. 58

The House met at 2:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Dicks): Order, please!

Statements by Ministers

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the President of Treasury Board.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BAKER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to inform members of the hon. House of Assembly that we have reached a tentative agreement with the NAPE/CUPE coalition. Details of the agreement cannot be released at this time but I'd like to point out that this is the result of several months of intense negotiation between both sides. I'd like to particularly thank the negotiators from the Hospital Nursing Home Association, the negotiators from Treasury Board, the negotiators from the Newfoundland Association of Public Employees and the negotiators from the Canadian Union of Public Employees for the tremendous effort they put in, in these rather difficult times to come together and reach an agreement through the normal collective bargaining process.

Over the next while - because there are over 15,000 employees involved in twenty-four different bargaining units, it takes some time to have the vote done. I understand that both unions are going to carry out the vote in due course and it will take a few weeks before we know whether, in fact, the membership have accepted this tentative agreement.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. A. SNOW: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased and the people on this side of the House are also pleased to see that the government and the unions have reached a tentative agreement. We hope that the membership of the unions will accept the offer if, indeed, it is a good offer. I don't know what it is, the minister didn't say and he hasn't released it. My understanding is that the leadership of the union are recommending the acceptance of it, but we'll have to wait and see exactly what occurs when it is presented to the membership, because we recognize that a deal that was negotiated or cooked up before -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time has elapsed.

Does the hon. member have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. A. SNOW: - was not acceptable to the membership but was acceptable, though, to Treasury board, to the government and to the leadership of another particular union, the NLTA. It wasn't acceptable to the membership, I hope this one is, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Does the Member for St. John's East have leave to address the House?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Briefly, I would just like to say that I'm delighted that the efforts of collective bargaining have shown positive results and it should encourage the government to be more appreciative of the collective bargaining process and not take actions which detract from that. I hope that all members of these unions can accept the agreement that has been reached by the leadership.

Oral Questions

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

MR. SIMMS: Mr. Speaker, the good news just keeps rolling on. It is good to hear. I notice members opposite are very happy these days, the last day or two. Yesterday we had some terrific news, too, the Premier decided and announced that he wouldn't be proceeding with Hydro privatization, Bill 1 - so that was great and terrific news. At least he would not be proceeding with it before the House adjourns this summer, which was contrary to a position he had taken about three or four days before that. Nevertheless, it was great news.

He is now reported to have indicated that he won't probably be proceeding with the bill until the House reconvenes sometime this Fall. Having said that, I would now like to ask the Premier if he would tell the people of the Province why on earth he has wasted between $50,000 and $60,000 of the taxpayers' money just this last week alone on that crazy advertising scheme that he first spent $100,000 on a couple of months ago? Why such an obscene waste of money if you weren't going to proceed with the bill? Secondly, while you are on your feet, could you tell me, the House, and the people in the Province: Do you intend to continue with advertising between now and the fall?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WELLS: Mr. Speaker, the hon. member keeps insisting on misstating things. Let me correct his misstatement first before I answer the specific question.

MR. W. MATTHEWS: (Inaudible).

PREMIER WELLS: I will start again, Mr. Speaker.

The hon. member keeps misstating things. The hon. the Member for Grand Bank doesn't help any when he interjects in this way and interferes with the answering of questions, so I just ask him to restrain himself for a minute and allow people to answer the questions they have been asked in the House. It is a normal courtesy to extend to people when they are asked questions - he doesn't understand it, obviously.

The statement I made is not contrary to a position of three or four days ago. The position of three or four days ago was very clear, that government intended to continue to build support, and we intent to continue to build support that we know in the end will be there to provide for the privatization of Hydro.

Mr. Speaker, we have made it very clear that we wouldn't be proceeding without an acceptable level of public support and we haven't done anything inconsistent with that position. Everything we have done has been completely consistent with that position and we intend to continue to follow that.

MR. W. MATTHEWS: (Inaudible).

PREMIER WELLS: Let me start again, Mr. Speaker.

Everything we have done has been consistent with that position. Then, the additional question the hon. member asked, was whether or not we intended to continue with what he called wasteful advertising.

Mr. Speaker, informing the people of this Province is not wasteful; it is what government should do. What I would consider wasteful is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to put your picture in the paper day after day after day; that's wasteful.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WELLS: That, Mr. Speaker, is a wasteful, obscene abuse of public taxpayers' money, which the former government practised on a daily basis, led by the present Leader of the Opposition. He was the one who led it, for heaven's sake.

Now, Mr. Speaker, the government of this Province, the present government, has stopped that practice. We have only used monies to advertise in this nature where it is in the public interest to do so, and so long as it remains in the public interest to do so the government would intend to exercise the powering authority that it has to so take steps to inform the people of this Province.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. SIMMS: Mr. Speaker, the Premier has become so unpopular these days in this Province, he has to pay to get his picture in much of the advertising, Maclean's Magazine and all these other places.

Now, his definition of consistent is certainly at odds with the definition of consistent, I think, understood by most normal-thinking people in this Province, because let me correct the hon. Premier. He did say a week ago, in fact, that he expected the legislation to be passed before the House adjourned for the summer. Now, that is what I said he said, and that is what he did say, so he can deny it all he wants.

I want to ask him this question. Last week, or over a week ago, he also told the media, and through the media, the general public, that he, too, had done a public opinion poll on the Hydro issue. Last week, in fact, I asked the Premier here in the House if he would tell us who conducted the poll, how much did it cost, he may recall, and he indicated he would get the information for me. Now, a week has passed and we don't have the information. Is he in a position today to give answers to those two relatively easy questions?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WELLS: If I can comment on the hon. member's first comment, I would say to him, if and when I ever sink to a low of 6, 8, 10 or 12 per cent, then the hon. member opposite will have some basis for commenting on popularity. Then he will know he will have some basis for doing it, but until then he ought to remember the glass house he has lived in for the past three years, and that he is likely to be back in again, before he goes casting aspersions of those kinds.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WELLS: Now, Mr. Speaker, in answer to the specific question -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

PREMIER WELLS: Mr. Speaker, I will start again.

In answer to the specific question, I haven't provided the answer to the amount that the poll cost because I don't have the specific cost at this stage; the bill isn't in for it. I understand it is in the neighbourhood of about $6,000. That's what I understand the cost to be, in that neighbourhood. But I don't have the precise bill, so I don't know what the cost is.

MS. VERGE: Who did the poll?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please! One question at a time.

Does the hon. the Leader of the Opposition have a supplementary?

MR. SIMMS: Yes. On the other part of the question, who conducted the poll, the Premier can answer that I guess?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WELLS: No, Mr. Speaker.

MS. VERGE: What?

MR. SIMMS: You don't know who conducted the poll (inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Let's get some order here.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition. Does a member other than that member wish to be recognized?

MR. SIMMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I just want to get it clear on the record. The Premier has indicated that he won't say who conducted the polls, is that correct?

PREMIER WELLS: I won't answer the question the hon. member asked about who conducted the poll.


MR. SIMMS: Well let's make sure we get it correct.

MS. VERGE: Are public funds being used?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

One hon. member at a time if we want to have a question and an answer.

MR. SIMMS: Yes, Mr. Speaker.

I just want to make sure we get it correct. I asked him who conducted the poll last week, and he said he would check into it. Today he is saying he won't say who conducted the poll. Is that what he said, because I want to understand clearly what he said. I don't want to misquote him. That's what the Premier said. He will answer I guess when he stands to answer this supplementary question.

Mr. Speaker, as a result of questions in the House and information tabled I believe by the Minister of Finance, possibly by the minister responsible for Hydro, we now know that the government and Hydro have spent together, not tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands, but millions of dollars in consultant fees, legal fees, advertising and probably a lot of other costs related to the Hydro plan as well, the plan to sell Hydro.

Will the Premier tell the House today, can he give the House at least some ballpark figure of the total amount spent to date by both government and Hydro on this plan to sell Hydro? Secondly, would he table a precise detailed breakdown of those expenses at the earliest opportunity?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WELLS: Mr. Speaker, I can't give him the figure today because I don't have it; and as to whether I will table a complete breakdown, yes, absolutely. There will be a complete breakdown of all the costs incurred both by government and by Hydro in preparation for the privatization of Hydro.

MR. SIMMS: Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. SIMMS: Will that information be tabled within the next few days, what has been spent thus far, or is the Premier playing his games again now and talking about tabling the answers to those questions, after Hydro is privatized? I want to get it on the record.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WELLS: Mr. Speaker, it is a silly request but I suppose I have to answer it anyway.

There is no way in the world that I can table it in the next day or two; I can't do it. It will take some time to put it together. I don't have the figure and it will take some time to put it together, so I can't undertake to have it tabled. If he wants to, I have no quarrel with making it public sometime in the future. You don't have to wait till the House resumes in the fall, if that is what he is asking. I have no quarrel with that.

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

MR. A. SNOW: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

My question is to the President of Treasury Board. As he stated prior to question period, NAPE and CUPE and the government have reached a tentative agreement that is being recommended to the membership. I wonder if he could give us a status report on the state of the talks with the nurses union and the NLTA?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the President of Treasury Board.

MR. BAKER: Mr. Speaker, in terms of the nurses' union, there have been a number of bargaining sessions held. I personally had one meeting with the nurses' union, along with the Minister of Health. The purpose of the meeting was not necessarily collective bargaining. As a matter of fact, most of the meeting centred on some concerns with the Department of Health.

So, the process is continuing and there are certain things we are doing now to try to bring the negotiations with the nurses' union to a speedy and successful conclusion.

MR. SPEAKER: Supplementary, the hon. the Member for Menihek.

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

From statements that the minister has made, both inside and outside the House, it seems that government feels that it may not need savings from the employee compensation package this year. Has the government dropped or modified its demand of the 2.5 per cent reduction in the employee compensation package?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the President of Treasury Board.

MR. BAKER: Mr. Speaker, our position on that has been very clear all along. At the point where it was obvious that perhaps this was the year that things would turn around we notified all unions involved and indicated that perhaps in terms of the 2.5 per cent it is probably better to wait till the mid-year numbers come in. If in fact our revenues have improved enough, then either all of that 2.5 per cent or a portion of it would not be needed. This was always the position put to the unions for the last month. The consideration of increased government revenues was always a factor in this round of negotiations.

MR. SPEAKER: Final supplementary, the hon. the Member for Menihek.

MR. A. SNOW: My initial question, Mr. Speaker, was to the President of Treasury Board. I asked for a status report on what was happening with negotiations between the nurses' union and the NLTA. I wonder if he could give us a report on what is occurring with the NLTA.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the President of Treasury Board.

MR. BAKER: I think that everybody in the Province knows what has been happening over the last few weeks. It is a result, I suppose, of negotiations never getting started in the normal way, and not having time to try to negotiate a settlement.

There was an agreement, a tentative agreement, reached between government and the NLTA that was accepted by the provincial executive as well as by the branch presidents but was rejected by the membership. Since that time, there have also been intensive negotiations over the weekend, which have been continuing into this week. I cannot say any more about it right now, but I could say to the hon. gentleman that I may have some news a little later on this afternoon.

MR. A. SNOW: A final supplementary, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: I believe the member had his final supplementary. I move to the hon. the Member for Bonavista South.

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, a question to the Minister of Social Services.

An advocacy group called LISTEN has made a proposal to government for federal\provincial funding to place long-term social assistance recipients in full-time jobs in the private sector. I ask the minister: Why hasn't his government approved this proposal? And will you reconsider and provide the funding LISTEN has requested?

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

MR. LUSH: Mr. Speaker, for some time now we have been having meetings and dealing with the LISTEN group. Their overall policy and approach, certainly their approach, to dealing with the unemployment situation as it relates to social assistance recipients, pretty much approximates the government's own policy. With respect to the details of the program, there are many initiatives presently being undertaken by the government.

We have a meeting scheduled with the LISTEN group, myself and a couple of other ministers with the appropriate departments, to discuss precisely what government's position is, and we expect that meeting to take place within the next eight or ten days.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for Bonavista South.

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, several months ago, government ministers were very supportive of this idea and plans put forward by this group. In fact, the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations said that their proposals mesh with government's own policies. Yet, the group can't seem to get anywhere with the support that counts - namely money.

I ask the minister: Does he believes their proposals will work, will they create permanent jobs for people on social assistance, and will it save money for both levels of government?

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

MR. LUSH: Mr. Speaker, as I indicated to the hon. member in my previous answer, certainly the overall philosophy of the group approximates that of the government, namely, to get our people engaged in meaningful work, to reward people for working, to have a program that provides incentives to work as opposed to having disincentives; so, in that respect, it does meet with the overall policy of government. However, I point out two things: One, that the government, itself, has many of those programs within the Department of Social Services and within the Department of Employment and Labour Relations. Secondly, the government wasn't looking, at this particular point in time, to another agency to deliver these jobs. The government, itself, is now delivering these services directly. We are doing the jobs ourselves, so at this point in time we are not looking for another agent to do the delivery system on these jobs. That is not to say we will not do it, but up to this point in time, government is taking care of these programs itself.

MR. SPEAKER: A final supplementary, the hon. the Member for Bonavista South.

MR. FITZGERALD: I would like to ask the minister if he has discussed LISTEN's proposals with his colleagues up in Ottawa, the Federal Government, and if so, what has been their response to this particular program?

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

MR. LUSH: Mr. Speaker, the program under which LISTEN applied was the SAR program, which is jointly sponsored by the Province and by SAR - by the Federal Government and the Provincial Government. So it went to that committee. But, Mr. Speaker, in terms of discussing this specific program, with federal officials, I didn't take it because I wasn't asked to take it to the Federal Government. We have discussed, naturally, the program in general, what the Province is doing, because we are all talking about income support programs and how we can mesh that in with employment initiatives, and that is the direction for the future - how we can mesh the income support programs with employment strategies so that we can have a program, Mr. Speaker, that is directed towards job creation and job training so that we can create meaningful jobs for the people of this Province. Those are the initiatives we have undertaken.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Waterford - Kenmount.

MR. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My question is for the Minister of Education. The process of negotiations between the churches and the government on governance changes to the structure of the education system has been ongoing for some months. Can the minister confirm that the process has progressed whereby a consensual agreement for reform to the education system is not only a possibility but a probability?

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

MR. DECKER: Mr. Speaker, I can confirm that we have had meetings with the church leaders over the past number of weeks. They have been excellent meetings. Both sides have clarified some misunderstandings. I don't want to say whether it will be a probability or not. I never like to count the chickens before they are hatched. I think things are progressing, and to quote the Minister of Mines and Energy who often says he is cautiously optimistic, I think that would be the best way to describe my feeling at this time, cautiously optimistic.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for Waterford - Kenmount.

MR. HODDER: Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the minister could share with the House the criteria reached on a definition of a `viable' school? Would he also care to comment on the future school busing practices, and will these school busing practices be used to assure the continued viability of uni-denominational schools?

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

MR. DECKER: Mr. Speaker, what we've said about viability is that viability will be established solely on educational grounds, but we will be consulting with all of the stakeholders, the denominations especially, because they have played a major role over the years. We have also said about busing that we will provide busing to uni-denominational schools on the same basis as we will on multi-denominational schools.

MR. SPEAKER: A final supplementary, the hon. the Member for Waterford - Kenmount.

MR. HODDER: Mr. Speaker, the reforms to the education system will require amendments to the schools act. Will the minister be tabling this proposed legislation prior to the summer recess of the House, and can he assure the House, regardless of when the legislation is tabled, that there will be an opportunity for some type of public review?

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

MR. DECKER: Mr. Speaker, we had thought that we would be able to able it before the House rose tomorrow. Of course, the hon. member knows that is impossible, we won't be doing that. The talks with the churches have gone so well that we would like to be able on the day that we table that legislation to be able to make a public announcement that this has the blessing of all the churches, and that is not out of the question.

What we are going to do - there are two options. One option would be for us to put it to one of the Legislation Committees over the summer and let them have public input into it, or bring it into the House next Fall. I can tell the hon. member, who must recognize that we've now had almost two years of discussion of a Royal Commission, we have consulted with practically everyone in this Province who is a stakeholder in this. In the same tradition of being open with everything, this legislation will not come as any surprise to anyone. I'm quite confident, Mr. Speaker, that when it is finally tabled, the support that it will receive will be so overwhelming that the hon. member will be up on his feet insisting that we hurry up and make this available to the public of the Province.

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I have a question for the Premier concerning the importation of American industrial waste into the Province, and environmental guidelines, and specifically the Baie Verte asbestos waste disposal project. Mr. Speaker, the environmental preview report response will be in the hands of the minister on June 17 and will be considered by Cabinet after the House closes this summer. A number of people are concerned that this process may be truncated and be approved without full public hearings. Can the Premier assure the House that Cabinet will insist there be a full environmental assessment process with access to public hearings and public information all over the Province, considering that this is the first proposal for the importation of American industrial waste that has gotten this far?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WELLS: There's no proposal to import American garbage. There is a proposal that would consider putting back into the hole from which asbestos came in the past, asbestos waste, from whatever the source. Some may be from the United States, some may be from other parts of Canada, some may be from other parts of the world. The only thing that I can assure the House is that the full letter of the law will be met. The full environmental process required by the law will be followed.

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So far we've been assured that the contents of this industrial waste will be 1 per cent asbestos and 99 per cent unknown content from apparently unknown sources and unnamed companies. Is the Premier prepared to abide by, with respect to this project, his Ministerial Statement of December 7, 1992, in which he said that the project must be acceptable to the people of the Province as a whole and meet the requirements from a social economic and biophysical perspective,including public opinion on the matter? Is the Premier prepared to abide by that with respect to this proposal and to this project when it comes before Cabinet?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WELLS: Mr. Speaker, I don't know where the hon. member got that fabricated story he came up with, about 1 per cent asbestos and 99 per cent unknown. That's utter nonsense. I don't know where that came from so I say nothing further about it. It's garbage, as far as I'm concerned.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WELLS: On the second point, I'm quite prepared to stand by the statement that I made but not the hon. member's interpretation of it. I'm quite prepared to stand by the statement that I made but not any rejigging of it by the hon. member.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. Mary's - The Capes.

MR. MANNING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My questions today are for the acting Minister of Tourism and Culture. The department has commissioned a study to prepare a provincial theme touring routes master plan. Would the minister tell the House when this study was commissioned, what company received the contract and what is the total amount of the contract?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Industry, Trade and Technology.

MR. FUREY: Mr. Speaker, I don't have the actual specifics but I'd be happy to get them within the next hour and table them.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for St. Mary's -The Capes.

MR. MANNING: Mr. Speaker, most of this Province already has theme touring routes such as the Viking Trail, the Heritage Run and so on. Other sections of the Province are being looked. At the present time, there is a comprehensive tourism study of the entire Avalon, which includes theme touring routes. I ask the minister: Why do we need another study? Doesn't he think this is another example of re-inventing the wheel?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Industry, Trade and Technology.

MR. FUREY: No, Mr. Speaker, I don't think it's another example of re-inventing the wheel. If you look at the example that he used, the theme touring route for the Viking Trail, a great lot of energy and time has been put into that by the private sector - the coming together of all of the businesses on the Great Northern Peninsula, putting together a study, an action plan with the help of consultants. It's paying off handsome dividends. We're seeing our numbers increased and we're seeing jobs being created because of it. So you can only go by the examples of the past. If you take the Viking Trail tourism study, the theme touring route and you see the positive results coming from that, surely, if it's working in one part of the Province, we should give effect to it in other parts of the Province.

MR. SPEAKER: A final supplementary, the hon. the Member for St. Mary's -The Capes.

MR. MANNING: Mr. Speaker, part of the process of the study is consultation with industry and the general public. Three meetings were held across the Province during the past few weeks. I ask the minister, if he is convinced that the study is necessary, will he take it upon himself to ensure that several more meetings are held across the Province, and especially in Labrador, to gain input from the industry and the general public?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Industry, Trade and Technology.

MR. FUREY: Mr. Speaker, we will do whatever is necessary to grow this industry. We've highlighted it in the Strategic Economic Plan. If you look at jurisdictions across the country, you'll see that there was negative growth in other parts of the country last year. Newfoundland and Labrador must be doing something right. We grew by 6.4 per cent last year.

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

MR. TOBIN: I am delighted to hear the minister say that there is an industry in this Province growing because my question is to the Minister of Forestry and Agriculture who is trying to destroy an industry in this Province.

Several of my colleagues have received copies of letters that the minister has sent to the operators of pasture lands in this Province, reducing the grant by 50 per cent, from $55 per animal unit to $27.50. I always thought it was the responsibility of the department to promote agriculture in this Province, not to downgrade it.

Can I ask the minister why he has decided to attack that aspect of rural Newfoundland, Mr. Speaker?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Forestry and Agriculture.

MR. FLIGHT: Mr. Speaker, I want to tell the hon. member that it is the intention of this government not to destroy agriculture but to make sure that our money is well spent and we get the proper value for our dollar. A government decision this year was to not necessarily close the pastures but to withdraw funding for pastures that were no longer viable in this Province, that didn't have the animal units to support them, and that didn't have the participation of the local community.

What we decided to do instead, Mr. Speaker, was to identify fifteen regional pastures that serve the purpose, out of which we will get the best value for our dollar, and that decision was supported by the agriculture industry.

MR. EFFORD: Hear, hear! What a minister!

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for Burin - Placentia West.

MR. TOBIN: I can tell the minister, it was not supported by the farmers, particularly the sheep farmers in my district who took advantage of the pasture land there, or any other districts in this Province. The minister said there will be fifteen regional pastures left in this Province, and he said he was downgrading them. What he has announced is that as a result of this reduction, no funding will be available for your pasture in the future, so what you have done is eliminate it.

Let me ask the minister which pasture lands have been removed, will not receive any more funding? What districts are they in, and how many are there, Mr. Speaker? Yes, the minister might laugh, and I say that for a reason. He knows why I am asking that question. Why, which ones, and what districts are they in, and can the minister also tell me in response to his last statement, that there will be regional pasture lands? What regional pasture land will be left on the Burin Peninsula?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the minister of Forestry and Agriculture.

MR. FLIGHT: Mr. Speaker, the hon. member obviously doesn't expect me to list the names of all the pastures that have been retained. There are sixteen, but I can tell him there are three retained in the district of the hon. the Member for St. George's, and it is justified by the numbers, Mr. Speaker. I can tell him there are members on this side of the House who have been on my back this past month because I have closed pastures in their districts. I can tell him, another pasture that I understand is closing is in his district - Winterland, Mr. Speaker.

I can also tell him that at the Estimates Committee when I defended that decision, members of the Loyal Opposition were there and nodded in agreement, agreed that was the right thing to do.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. FLIGHT: The hon. member should speak to his agricultural spokesman on that side of the House who was present at the Estimates meetings and agreed it was the right thing to do under the circumstances.

MR. SPEAKER: Question Period has elapsed.


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Answers to Questions

For which Notice has been Given

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the President of Treasury Board.

MR. BAKER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to reply to a question asked yesterday by the Member for Placentia regarding the Argentia employees and the situation in terms of the wind-down of the operation.

Mention was made of the severance pay. There has already been agreement that the appropriated employees and the non-appropriated employees will be treated the same way in terms of severance; therefore 100 of these non-appropriated employees will receive full severance benefits.

The problem arises with the pensions, and the hon. gentleman is correct there. The situation is this, that that pension plan has now to be wound up and in winding-up the pension plan, the way that we do it here is as follows: Under the wind-up formula, all eligible employees retire immediately; the ones who are eligible for pension retire immediately and receive their pension. Those who cannot retire are vested and the value of their pensions must be transferred to locked in RRSPs.

Now this process of winding down has an extra cost associated with it of about $2 million, an extra cost, and that is what is causing the problem. It seems to me that the officials at the base don't want to have anything to do with that extra $2 million; whereas, under the wind-down arrangements of a plan, that extra $2 million cost must be in there.

So that's where the situation stands now. We are still insisting that that extra $2 million be put in, but there seems to be some reluctance so we are going through channels to make sure that we are on solid ground in terms of that extra $2 million.

I hope that satisfies the gentleman for Placentia; and I would like to table a sort of a note that I was given on it and I am sure he could read it and see what else is there.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Industry, Trade and Technology.

MR. FUREY: Mr. Speaker, some questions were asked yesterday with respect to historic sites. One was with respect to the Cape Bonavista Lighthouse, what was happening with respect to repairs, and was it painted.

The exterior was painted last year and it will be painted again this year. The Interpretation Centre had a leak in the roof that was fixed, two bathrooms were renovated and an interpretation exhibit is to be installed within the next three to four weeks.

Last year the historic sites opened on June 28; they are opening on July 1, this year. If bus groups make prior plans to be at any of these particular sites, Mr. Speaker, and they give us advance notice, we will have people there for interpretation. If it is required to open it for a day or two days for bus groups, prior to the official opening date, we can certainly do that.

That's about it I guess. Those are all the questions that were asked.

Orders of the Day

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader, on Private Member's Day.

MR. ROBERTS: Your Honour, in accordance with the agreement reached in the House yesterday, we will deal first with Motion 5. I understand the debate will be quite short with the hon. gentleman from St. John's East, a speaker from the Opposition and a speaker from the government side, and we will then go on to other matters.

MR. SPEAKER: Yes. Motion 5, the hon. the Member for St. John's East.

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I speak today on the Private Member's Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper with respect to the Newfoundland pony.

The resolution, Mr. Speaker - and I won't read it because it is there for all members to see on the Order Paper - relates to the current situation and plight of an animal known as the Newfoundland pony.

Mr. Speaker, this is a distinctive breed known only in this Province, developed through adaptation, local conditions and local breeding over the last couple of hundred years. It is a species which has developed characteristics which are especially suited to our climate and to the needs of our people and communities over the years for an animal which could provide transportation needs; essentially a working animal, Mr. Speaker, particularly in rural Newfoundland but in urban settings as well.

This animal is in danger of extinction but can be rescued by definitive action on the part of government as well as those others who have made significant efforts to try to ensure the survival of the breed as part of our distinctive Newfoundland heritage, and a breed important because of its uniqueness to this Province.

I will mention some of them, Mr. Speaker. I don't want to leave anybody out, but there are a couple of groups which deserve particular mention. The Newfoundland Pony Society is one which is dedicated to the preservation, development and breeding of the Newfoundland pony. An organization in Ontario called the Rare Breed Conservancy, which has noted and expressed its concern about maintaining rare breeds, not only of horses but other animals, have taken a particular interest in the Newfoundland pony. An organization called Newfoundland Pony Care Inc., or sometimes known as Friends of the Newfoundland Pony, which has placed a great deal of effort into providing spaces for ponies to live, provided care for Newfoundland ponies, and have an adoption program which allows ponies to be cared for at the expense of donors to Newfoundland Pony Care Inc.

Also, Mr. Speaker, I want to give recognition to the work of a veterinarian, Dr. Andrew Fraser, whose contribution, in addition to his concern about the pony and his activity as a veterinarian, has been in the production of a book called The Newfoundland Pony, which was published in 1992. It makes the case for the Newfoundland pony as a distinctive breed in the context of recognition of breeds of horses and animals, in that sphere, and explains in great detail and with much erudition the history of the horse and the place of the Newfoundland pony in it.

Mr. Speaker, others have helped as well, people in government, people outside of government, and some hon. members here who themselves are particularly concerned that government try to do something to save the Newfoundland pony. I should say in reference to Dr. Fraser and his book, Dr. Fraser is in the gallery here today to witness the debate and has expressed his pleasure that something was being done by the House of Assembly in recognizing the importance and significance of the animal. Also, in reference to the book, I will say that the Minister of Education was mistakenly - mistakenly, I say - criticized in the newspapers recently when someone wrote a letter talking about how the minister was reading a book in the House, a picture book on horses. Hon. members will know, who have seen the book, that this book, The Newfoundland Pony, was being read by the Minister of Education as an educative effort, trying to educate himself about the Newfoundland pony, so that he could be prepared to support this legislation here in the House today.

Mr. Speaker, I encourage all members to support this resolution. It is going to do three things. I know a lot of hon. members are interested in the Newfoundland pony and expressed an interest in it, but this resolution does more than that. It provides some significant recognition to the animal. That hasn't been done to date. The importance of recognizing the Newfoundland pony as a heritage animal by government and putting that in legislation, which this resolution asks to be done, is an important prestige to the animal that will increase its value, its importance and significance for the Newfoundlanders who own them, for individuals who want to breed them or sell them, and for individuals who want to get involved in the tourist aspects of the Newfoundland pony. By saying that the Newfoundland pony is a heritage animal, efforts can be made to protect them and to go about identifying examples of the breed.

The second part of the resolution asks "that measures be taken to assist in the establishment of the Newfoundland Pony as a recognized breed including providing or endorsing means of acknowledging individual animals as Newfoundland Ponies." This is important because what is happening to Newfoundland ponies today is that sometimes the owners themselves or their communities don't recognize the significance of an individual animal. The meat collectors come by and offer a low price for an animal to so-called take it off the hands of an individual and take it off to New Brunswick or Montreal to the meat trade for a very cheap price. Individuals don't recognize that they have what is a potentially valuable animal. So to recognize individual animals, something should be done, Mr. Speaker. I think the Newfoundland Pony Society, as the breed group, is perhaps the best body to be given the opportunity to identify and recognize individual animals.

There are now less than 100 breedable Newfoundland ponies left in existence. That is a very small number. There are only six stallions in that herd. There are a number of other animals that are beyond breeding stage, or are incapable of breeding because of their geldings or castrated males; so less than 100 breedable animals. This is down from 500 a couple of years ago, and 5,000 or 6,000 in 1980. So we are at a point, Mr. Speaker, where the size of the population is very crucial. It is very crucial, and I think there is an opportunity here for government action, which is inexpensive but necessary, to preserve and provide for the rescuing of this breed. Not only the rescuing, but to encourage the growth and development of the pony population.

They have tremendous potential for having a significant commercial value as well to their owners and to the tourist trade in this Province. For example, I want to acknowledge today that as late as yesterday the Department of Environment and Lands have made available approximately ten hectares of land in the Trinity Hopeall, Trinity Bay area, to establish, by the Newfoundland Pony Care Inc., a sanctuary for the Newfoundland pony. That's on the Baccalieu Trail area, and once that sanctuary is established and a herd is developed there, this will be of significant tourist interest as part of the Baccalieu Trail tourist region.

That is only one example, but there are tremendous opportunities both in breeding and in recreation, in tourism and in establishing, perhaps, working heritage farms or examples of how these animals could be used.

They have been replaced in many cases, Mr. Speaker, by four-wheel drives and ATVs; and we know the problems we have had from these. They are an important part of the cultural and working heritage of Newfoundland, and action to protect them is very important. In fact, without action now there is still a grave, grave danger that the Newfoundland pony population may disappear. There may be accidents, there may be problems in the breed or in breeding that could cause the demise of the Newfoundland pony entirely.

Mr. Speaker, we have the opportunity now to support this effort. These three things that are contained in the resolution are of great significance to the survival of the Newfoundland pony as a distinctive breed, and to promote it as a distinctive breed, and to promote the growth and development of the population.

I want to thank hon. members who have indicated previously their support for the motion and for government action. I know the Minister of Forestry and Agriculture has responded, saying his department is studying these initiatives. I think the support of the House of Assembly for this motion - and I would hope that that support would be unanimous for the motion - that the House of Assembly's significant support of such a motion, would give greater encouragement to the Minister of Forestry and Agriculture, in particular the officials, to get moving and doing the things that have to be done to ensure the survival of this particular breed.

The other item that is mentioned here, in terms of government action that is needed right now, is the prevention of the export of Newfoundland ponies for meat. That is still going on, Mr. Speaker, that ponies are being sold, bought by buyers, and taken out of the Province for meat export. That can and should be stopped by action right now at Port aux Basques and at Argentia, where the ferries are running, to prevent the export of Newfoundland ponies for meat. That can and should be done without any expense. There are already agricultural officials there. A way ought to be found to ensure that this does not happen.

If we do those three things today, Mr. Speaker: Encourage the government to bring forth legislation to establish the Newfoundland pony as a heritage animal, it would give it value and significance and prestige that it does not now have; that we find a means of identifying individual animals to certify that this particular animal is indeed a Newfoundland pony - if we can do that, Mr. Speaker, that would increase the value of individual animals; and thirdly, Mr. Speaker, prevent the export of ponies for meat. Those three things, if they can be done now, will perhaps ensure the survival of the Newfoundland pony.

I commend all hon. members in support of this resolution. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Terra Nova.

MS. YOUNG: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to support the motion brought forward by the Member for St. John's East. I'm in total agreement with the motion. Over the years the Newfoundland pony has certainly been part of our rural culture. The Newfoundland pony, as we know it today, evolved from a number of breeds that were brought into this Province centuries ago. Today the Newfoundland pony is near extinction, as my hon. colleague has indicated. This is due partly to the fact that the pony has been replaced by modern machinery. The municipal regulations also caused a lot of the problems because there were no grazing lands for the animals.

I remember growing up in Lethbridge and on any given evening you could see ponies working their way up the road, probably about half a dozen horses, hauling sleigh loads of wood after spending a day in the woods working very hard. A number of these were Newfoundland ponies and even though they were very small they certainly pulled their share. We as kids often jumped onto the pile of logs and hooked a ride somewhere. Then during the summer these horses were left to graze. Anywhere around the community you could see a number of horses grazing and they never seemed to create any problem. They were just part of the country scene out there. Of course we didn't have as many automobiles, we didn't have the fast traffic. It was just one of these things that we certainly enjoyed.

I had the honour, on May 28, to represent the Minister of Industry, Trade and Technology and the Minister of Forestry and Agriculture at the Newfoundland Pony Society meeting which was held in Chapel Arm. I was very pleased to see the dedication of the members present, dedicated to saving the Newfoundland pony from extinction and I know that they do have the support of these two members.

As well, the Minister of Education and I had a chat yesterday - and I was glad that my colleague pointed out that he was indeed reading the book of Newfoundland ponies. I also indicated to him that down in Point Leamington some of the people there have developed some stories based around the Newfoundland pony, and they are using that in one of the themes on horses in the elementary curriculum. The minister was very pleased to learn about that and I'm sure he will be looking further into that aspect.

I was indeed pleased, when I was in Chapel Arm, to have the opportunity to meet Dr. Fraser. He has certainly contributed very well to the cause of the Newfoundland pony. I know that the book he wrote was from the heart, it wasn't just something to make some money. It's a wonderful book, it's full of factual information and I was very pleased that my husband received a copy as a Christmas gift.

I would also encourage members opposite, and on this side as well, to certainly join up. Join the Newfoundland Pony Society, it only costs ten dollars. I'm asking you to put some money into this very worthwhile cause. If anybody would like this sheet of factual information and the subscription form, you can certainly get a copy and that will certainly promote the cause.

Now this Newfoundland pony could certainly fit into any department. It could certainly fit into Works, Services and Transportation, because the pony worked very hard, it provided a good service and it was transportation there as well. It could fit in with Education now because there are stories being written about the Newfoundland pony and we're recognizing its contribution. It could fit in with the Department of Fisheries because no doubt the ponies hauled the dried fish from the stages to the sheds. It could certainly fit in under Environment and Lands, because it was an environmentally friendly animal. It didn't cause too much pollution, because it all worked back into the soil. It could certainly fit in with Tourism and Culture because there are people in other parts of this country, and indeed around the world, who are horse lovers who would certainly come to this Province just to see some of our Newfoundland ponies. It is part of our culture and we should make every effort to ensure that it remains part of our future.

The Minister of Forestry and Agriculture has certainly indicated a willingness to carry out the resolutions put forth in this motion. He has his staff doing research on this entire matter and I'm very, very pleased with the response that not only he but other Cabinet ministers - and you know, there is indeed justice in the world, because the Minister of Justice also endorses this motion.

Mr. Speaker, I certainly urge all members of the hon. House of Assembly to join with me and my colleagues today in our support for this motion. As well, I give full credit to the Newfoundland Pony Society and all other horse lovers out there who are protecting the future of this wonderful little animal which has worked its way up through the history of our Province. Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. CAREEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I take great pleasure today in rising to support a motion that was put by the Member for St. John's East and supported by the Member for Terra Nova.

Far too often our society recognizes something when it is gone. We have a chance now, starting today, to hold on to something that should be taken care of. It goes back to the times long past, before responsible government, and through it, and the Commission, and now a province, but also part of a country. It is very important that they hold out. There is something dreadfully wrong that we let an animal that is nearly extinct go for mink food and cat food and dog food.

My family moved to Placentia in 1951 from the Cape Shore and I spent all my summer holidays out there after. That was a transitionary type of period in that area, from the time they were getting horses imported from the mainland; and you would see the mixtures of the Newfoundland pony running along.

On the cliffs on the Cape Shore, before it became popular for tourists, Bird Island, there would be hundreds of horses from all over the Cape Shore out there in the summertime, and you would see the smaller pony with them. They were very sure-footed animals, animals bred over centuries that were adapted to Newfoundland's weather and terrain. The overhead cost of these animals was less to the person who had them than some of these other hay burners that we had. Pound for pound they were better than the Belgians, I've been told.

AN HON. MEMBER: They were just like goats (inaudible).

MR. CAREEN: Yes, very sure-footed, as I said, and am reminded by my colleague. They are a part of our culture, and something like ourselves. We dug in and stuck here and we are going to stay here.

It is something that is very important, that animal. I'm glad there are people out there such as the Newfoundland Pony Society, the advocates and the other supporters, of having this animal designated as a heritage animal. They should be recognized, endorsed and acknowledged as Newfoundland ponies; registered.

As the hon. member said earlier, that would drive up the value of them. Then we certainly wouldn't see them used as animal food. As we see so often ourselves, and I imagine other people - things that we never thought of as valuable, family things that were passed down through the years, went out in the garbage. Americans and Canadians came in here, have taken things and then gone; furniture that was old, that we never took any pass on, tables that our great grandfathers and all these had sat at, and we realized it too late. Then, certain laws had to be put in to stop stuff from being taken.

I am glad to be able to support the hon. member, the member across the way, and others, who will make sure that starting today, the Newfoundland pony will not be extinct. What will be extinct will be those who want to make it into dog food and cat food.

I am pleased to be here today.

Thank you.

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

Motion, carried.

The hon. the President of Treasury Board.

MR. BAKER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to announce to the hon. House that we have reached a tentative agreement with the NLTA.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BAKER: The union will now go through its process of having meetings around the Province and take a vote sometime in the next three of or four days. We hope that this time we will bring a successful conclusion to this round of negotiations.

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

MR. ROBERTS: Mr. Speaker, that is two out two for my hon. colleague today. He is on a roll, so let us keep going.

Could we do Motions 1 through 3 first? That is simply to give first reading to three bills, and then we will begin the debate on Order 16 which is the Worker's Compensation Act amendment bill.

Motion, the Minister of Works, Services and Transportation to introduce the following bills:

"An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act," (Bill No. 30)

"An Act To Amend The Department Of Works, Services And Transportation Act (No.2)," (Bill No. 31)

"An Act To Amend The Public Tender Act." (Bill No. 32)

On motion, Bill Nos. 30, 31, and 32, read a first time, ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

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

MR. ROBERTS: Could we now go on to, as it were, the main portion of the day's business, the Workers' Compensation Act amendments? It is Order 16, Bill No. 27, in the name of my friend, the Member for Exploits.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend To Amend The Workers' Compensation Act (No. 2)." (Bill No. 27)

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

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It might take some time with respect to introducing this particular bill because I think the record of the Legislature, Hansard, should make some note of the very specific changes that are contained here, and for that purpose, I will go through an introduction with some detail regarding the explanatory notes that are contained in Bill 27.

Bill 27, Mr. Speaker, as was explained to the House of Assembly on Friday past, is really an amalgam of two things. It is Bill 4 which has been on the Order Paper for some time, in which there are a couple of significant changes to the Workers' Compensation Act, along with housekeeping changes, as well as the brand new additions here with respect to a complete overhaul of the current appeal system within Workers' Compensation, or the external appeal system at least, that is currently referred to as the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal, and that will from July 1 forward become known as the Workers' Compensation Review Division.

All of these, Mr. Speaker, are incorporated in this one bill, Bill 27, and as I indicated, I will take a few minutes to look at the details of them.

You can see in the explanatory notes that Clause 1 spells out that the appeal tribunal will basically be replaced by a new entity known as the review division and that the membership of the appeal tribunal, being currently a Chair, Vice-Chair that sits and chairs the appeal hearing, assisted by two sides people, will be replaced by a single review commissioner, who will hear the appeal brought forward by a dissatisfied claimant in Workers' Compensation, who has registered the fact that despite everything that is happening, everything that has happened so far to them, that they are still dissatisfied with the decision rendered, Mr. Speaker, by the Workers' Compensation Commission and its processes.

Clause 2 of the bill, Mr. Speaker, amends subsection 4(3) as the explanatory note indicates, by removing the chairperson of the appeal tribunal from the Board of Directors of the Workers' Compensation Commission. This too, indicates that presently the chairperson and CEO of the Workers'Compensation appeal tribunal, by law, is an ex officio member of the Board of Directors of the Workers' Compensation Commission, which is the policy-setting body of Workers' Compensation for the Province. In the new arrangement, the review commissioner is not to be involved in policy decisions at all or in any policy review, but is to render a decision as to whether or not the Workers' Compensation Commission has brought forward an appropriate decision based on existing law, regulations and policy,and there is no loop.

The old loop used to be in what was Section 21 and then the new Section 28 which is now being abolished altogether, that the Workers' Compensation Commission could, in fact, override a decision of the appeal tribunal and that's eliminated, Mr. Speaker, which is one of the important parts, and the decision of the review commissioner is final and binding, and the only way that anyone can deal with that, the only role for Workers' Compensation is to implement the decision rendered by the review commissioner without a reference again, back to policy and a review of policy and those types of things.

So since there will be no reviews, on a policy basis, of the decisions of the review commissioner, it is felt that the review commissioner would not serve any role being on the Board of Directors of the Commission,itself; they will sit in judgement of the decisions rendered but they will not give any opinion as to what policy should be, therefore they should not sit around the policy formulating table which will have the normal board of directors being a couple of members representing workers, a couple of members representing employers, a couple of members-at-large and the neutral chairperson of that particular commission.

Clause 3, just substitutes the new language `review division' for the words appeal tribunal consistently throughout the act, and then clause 4, repeals existing appeal tribunal which is spelled out, its role and functions in the current act in sections 21 to 34; all of those sections are repealed and they are replaced then; clause 4 replaces and substitutes for anything referencing the appeal tribunal, the rules and conditions and terms, in terms of setting up and also providing the mandate for the new review division which will consist of review commissioners who would individually have the power to review the commission decisions. So that's what is contained, Mr. Speaker, in clause 4, which is the most extensive clause by far in this particular bill, and it spells out in the act that will then spell out the new section 21, the new sections 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 up to and including - and that's clause 4, ends with the new section 30. So, in the new act as it will be proclaimed afterwards in the Workers' Compensation Act, the review division and the role and mandate of the review commissioners, will be spelled out in new sections numbered from 21 to 30, and the current sections 21 to 34, which set up and spell out the mandate of the appeal tribunal will all be summarily substituted and repealed from the current legislation. So there will be a major replacement exercise in terms of the piece of legislation, Mr. Speaker, that is contained and spelled out in clause 4.

In a few minutes again, just for the record, I may make a couple of comments with respect to a couple of those individual clauses between 21 and 34 in the act that are contained in clause 4 of the bill.

Clauses 5 and 6, Mr. Speaker, are then consequential amendments arising out of the repeal of Section 34. There are a couple of housekeeping things that have to happen as a result of that because Section 34 is repealed, therefore there are some other consequential amendments throughout other parts of the act that have to occur and are spelled out in clause 5 and clause 6 of this bill, and in the bill they appear on page 9, where the couple of words: `34 or' and `appeals and stated cases' after section 37, are amended to bring them in line with the new review division.

Clauses 1 to 6 contain the changes that are relevant to replacing the appeal tribunal with a review division. That is all contained in those six particular clauses.

The other clauses that we have in the bill are related to other changes that were previously in Bill 4 and are now incorporated just exactly as they were on the Order Paper in Bill 4, in this new Bill 27.

Clause 7 defines `motor vehicle'. One of the changes made in January of 1993 was that basically, in the Workers' Compensation system, individuals give up their right to sue, but there was one exception. In the case of motor vehicle accidents, in the course of duty where there is third party liability, there is an option clause where people can sue the liability insurance, because in some cases it is more lucrative than workers' compensation would be. In fact, that was designed in January of 1993 to be more beneficial to the injured workers, but one of the confusions in one of the cases that arose since, was that `motor vehicle', for definition under this act, wasn't appropriately defined.

So the change in clause 7 is here to make sure that `motor vehicle' in the Workers' Compensation Act is basically defined the same as it is in the Highways Act, so that any time there is an accident involving vehicles, where the people are driving in the course of their duty, they can exercise their right under the Workers' Compensation Act to either take the compensation and let the Commission launch a court action against the liability insurance of one of the parties, or they can forego their right to compensation and launch the action themselves. That choice is in the bill, but to make it workable,we need to make sure that the definition of `motor vehicle' is consistent with what it is in the Highway Traffic Act. That is what clause 7 accomplishes in this bill.

Clause 8 is a great improvement that has been lobbied for for some time, particularly for widows of miners in the St. Lawrence area, and also applying sometimes now in Baie Verte and otherwise where there have been workers who have, some considerable years after their employment ceased, passed on, because they were suffering from industrial diseases. The most prevalent and most common ones are the lung diseases that people contracted in the mines of St. Lawrence, and there have been some cases arising out of Baie Verte as well.

One of the unfortunate parts of the rules was that the widows and the dependants of those people could only get workers' compensation if the person was working at the time they died, and these people, because of the nature of the lung diseases, were actually off work and away from work sometimes for years before the actual lung disease caused their death. But if it is determined, as it has been in a number of cases already, that it is the industrial disease, the lung disease, that caused the death, then the widows and the other dependants will get the benefits, regardless of whether or not the person was working at the time he died from the industrial disease.

MR. W. MATTHEWS: (Inaudible).

MR. GRIMES: Yes, in response to the question from the hon. the Member for Grand Bank, the Opposition House Leader, I think they have been accepting all cases where, at the point when the person was leaving work because of illness, the indication from the doctors was that he had the beginnings of a lung disease or industrial disease; then, later on, whether it takes a year, two, three or five, that is being accepted as a matter of course without the onus of proof as being the cause of death at the end of the day.

There has been, I think - and the way the people protected themselves, is that the medical files have shown, when the person left work in the first instance, even before retirement age, in many cases, the early evidence of the lung disease and industrial disease was recorded in the files, and those people will be accepted for this claim without further onus of proof.

I think that has already been indicated. That one will come into effect retroactive to January 1, 1994. Those people who are waiting for this to be passed will be notified by the Commission. They won't need to apply, and their payments will start effective January 1, 1994 and come forward from that date in time for everyone who has been identified.

There has been a successful lobby and a proper lobby about that particular aspect over a period of time, largely resulting from miners in the St. Lawrence area, and the board of directors of the Commission listened to the argument, felt that it was fair and proper, and have agreed that from January 1, 1994, upon passage of this bill, that new amendment will, in fact, make it possible to make workers' compensation payments to the widows and their surviving dependants according to the act.

AN HON. MEMBER: Starting January 1?

MR. GRIMES: It will go back to January 1 of this year.

AN HON. MEMBER: Payment (inaudible).

MR. GRIMES: Payments will. There will be retroactive payments for six months or seven months. This will be proclaimed on July 1 and then they will continue on from there. Anyone else coming into the system as of January 1, 1994, will be picked up immediately.

So that one is here, Mr. Speaker, and I think that there are a number of people we know of already who are anxiously awaiting the passage of this bill so that can happen.

Clause 9 is being repealed because that was a transitional clause. When the changes were made in the benefit rates from December 31 of 1992 to January 1 of 1993 there needed to be a transition clause referring to the people who were in the system for thirty-nine weeks or longer and thirty-nine weeks or less so they could go from the 90 per cent to the new appropriate rate. That is no longer needed because this is now a year and six months later. The transition has occurred. The actual piece of legislation is redundant because all new claims are coming in under the new system and at this point in time any recurrences are coming in under new legislation. This is not needed. It served a purpose for a period of three or four months to clear up some cases at that point in time, but is no longer necessary, so it is being removed from the act altogether.

Clause 10 is also making an adjustment to ensure that employer-sponsored pension plans, all of them, whether they be in the public service or in the private sector, if there is an employer-sponsored pension plan in which the employer either pays for all of the benefit or part of the benefit on a matched basis with the employee, all of those pension plans will be treated for the purpose of Workers' Compensation exactly the same as the Canada Pension Plan is. That is that there will be a certain claw back of certain amounts and so on and that however Workers' Compensation treats the Canada Pension Plan, it will treat any other pension plan into which the employer makes a contribution, whether it is all of it or some of it.

The only one where there will not be any connection and any relation between the pension plan and Workers' Compensation is if the employee, himself or herself, made the total contribution through an RRSP arrangement or it was privately funded. That is considered the same as private insurance plans and so on and is not deducted in any way, shape or form from a worker's compensation entitlement. That change is being brought forward in clause 10 of the bill.

Clause 11 is a further amount referring to the industrial disease. The other reference talks about when Workers' Compensation has paid some money out on behalf of an injured worker and then Workers' Compensation makes an action, takes an action, recovers that money from some other source, that before Workers' Compensation pays out the amount of money in the settlement to the injured worker, they will deduct any monies they've paid to the worker, which will not only include money they've paid to the injured worker for salary compensation but also money they've spent in relation to medical expenses, rehabilitation, other expenses.

If Workers' Compensation makes a claim, for example, in the case of the third party liability again, and receives a settlement from an insurance company that is in excess of what the injured worker would have received from Workers' Compensation, they deduct whatever their expenses have been, whatever foregone wages they've paid to the injured worker, and then the rest of it after those expenses, they pass over to the injured worker. It just spells out exactly what it is that the Commission deducts before they give the rest of the money to the injured worker.

Clause 12 basically is a transitional clause that spells out exactly how current appeals in the system will be dealt with while we are changing from an appeal tribunal to a review division. It spells out clearly that for the ninety days after July 1 if there are hearings already started they will be finished by a panel, as it is set up. If the current panel has started work on a case it will finish the work, but it is ordered by law to finish that work within ninety days after July 1. If any appeals have been registered now but have not yet started in the hearings process they will be heard after July 1, but they will be heard by a single review commissioner and they will be heard by the rules of the new act even though they've registered before July 1.

Clause 13, the last one, basically is the clause that spells out that the plan certainly here is that for clauses 1 to 6, which is the reworking of the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal into a Workers' Compensation Review Division, it gives effect and says that even though we may very well pass this bill in the Legislature today or tomorrow or before the House closes for a summer recess, that the new rules and provisions and those new parts of the act would come into effect and have the effect of law in the Province as of July 1.

Mr. Speaker, those are the major changes. I think there has been a fair bit of public debate and discussion about this. We understand that it doesn't meet fully, in many cases, the desires of different people who have made representation to us as the government but, in our view, taking everything into consideration, we feel very strongly that this will be very much beneficial for injured workers in terms of making sure that there is a timely response to their complaint and to their appeal, and that it will be heard, and that the review commissioner who sits will, in fact, decide very quickly for the appellant, whether or not Workers' Compensation has properly enforced the law, the regulations and the policies, or whether they have made an error.

If, in the opinion of the review commissioner, the commission has made an error, then the new law states quite clearly that the commissioner is ordered with the authority and the power to render the remedy, to state clearly what the new decision should be, and the role for Workers' Compensation, the Commission then, is to enact that decision, and that is to be appealable only to a court, and only on very limited basis, and the basis basically is that if Workers' Compensation, if the Commission, for example, feels that they are aggrieved by the new decision rendered, the only way they can go to a court of law is if they feel that the review commissioner has made an error of law in terms of deciding whether or not the law, the regulations or the policy were enforced, or if they argue that the review commissioner would have exceeded his or her jurisdiction.

Mr. Speaker, what we hope to do is have the debate on this issue now in the Legislature, to hopefully see passage of the bill, and to spend the time between now and July 1st putting in place six or seven people who we hope will publicly meet a judgement of being impartial, they will be seen to be fair people whose first interest is to make sure that they understand the needs of injured workers, and that they will do a complete and thorough review of the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commission in any case where there is an appeal, to decide whether or not the decision given by Workers' Compensation was appropriate in light of existing circumstances, or whether they should order a new remedy or a new decision.

We want to cut out completely the loop that takes those decisions back to Workers' Compensation, make those decisions final and binding. And the only thing that I could probably commit to, when we did the comprehensive review that came into place January 1, 1993, some eighteen months ago now: I said that if the experience starts to be positive with respect to workers' compensation, we wouldn't necessarily wait the five years for the next mandated legislative review.

We are still looking at that, because we have since had the first report under the new circumstances and the new legislation, which has showed some improvement. It has definitely shown some improvement in the financial circumstance of workers' compensation itself. We are studying now what the real reasons for that were, to see whether or not there is any point and any purpose, at this point in time, to look at the other issues, because we still want to look at the issue of whether or not the Commission can sustain a benefit rate above and beyond the 75 and 80 per cent levels that are currently law - the changes from the previous 90 per cent.

So we are looking at that and evaluating it, and if that can happen we won't wait the five years for that to happen. We will probably need a little more time to look at that issue. And in this instance, Mr. Speaker, two things: We will review the functioning of this new operation, this new review commission, fairly early in its mandate. Somewhere within six to ten months after it starts we will compare whether or not they are meeting their six-month mandate, whether this is an improvement for injured workers or not, whether or not the decisions are timely, what the cost factors are looking like, and if anything, I have been discussing already with the current chairman and chief executive officer, and the vice-chairs, because my own preference would have been to put in by legislation a time line shorter than six months.

I am advised at this point it might be tricky to try three months or two months, but we will look at how the cases flow through this new system in the early part of the new mandate of the review commission, and the one thing I would like to be able to do is to return to the House next Fall, or the Spring after, a year from now, and if we are going to make any change to this at all, it would be one to try to even shorten the times lines even moreso than six months. Because I believe all of us in this Legislature agree that there is one thing that injured workers deserve - they have already been frustrated by not getting a decision that they understand or agree with through the whole process, and to have to wait even six months longer is really a time period that causes some concern, but it is the best we can do at this point in trying to mandate a shorter time, because I think everybody here, even by representing their constituents, understands that the current practice has led to time frames that are normally double or triple that. So we'll review the six-month criteria as soon as we can after we get some cases through this system. If there's anything we can do immediately, it will be to further shorten the time frames so that the injured workers can get through this process as quickly as possible. And they will know for sure whether the decision of the Commission is upheld or whether a new decision will be ordered by the review commissioner, which the commission will then be charged with implementing.

So, Mr. Speaker, with those opening remarks - mainly for the record, because we've had much of this discussion before - I certainly look forward to the other participants in the debate. Any commentary or question they might have, I would certainly try to deal with at the close of the debate later today or tomorrow. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

I have a lot of questions concerning the legislation brought before the House. It was only tabled on Monday and asked to be dealt with in a fairly expeditious and forthright manner by the government. Let me preface my remarks by saying, Mr. Speaker, that since the general election of last year, the Employers' Council, the Federation of Labour and indeed the Newfoundland and Labrador Injured Workers Association have made and submitted briefs to the minister, to the government, dealing with changes that these groups would independently like to see to the Workers' Compensation Commission, itself, and to the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal.

Now, these three groups' views vary greatly, depending on what aspect of the Workers' Compensation Commission you talk to them about, that they would like to see changed; but clearly, Mr. Speaker, independently, each of these groups has called for significant changes to the appeal tribunal process. Indeed, what they have called for and asked for really is identical, these groups who represent the stakeholders when it comes to Workers' Compensation, the Employers' Council; the employers, themselves, who underwrite - with their own money, Mr. Speaker, underwrite the Workers' Compensation Commission; The Federation of Labour representing labour groups, and people who are in the workforce, who are at risk to potential hazards and potential dangers in the workplace and thirdly; the Injured Workers Association who represent injured workers in the Province in a daily, weekly and monthly fashion in relation to the problems they have encountered with the Workers' Compensation Commission. What have they asked for? Mr. Speaker, they've asked for this: They have asked for the present appeal tribunal to be dismantled. The minister has done that. They have asked for an independent chairman to be hired on a full-time basis, they have asked for a full-time employer representative, they have also asked for a full-time employee representative, who would review cases, make decisions based upon consensus of those three groups being represented at the appeal process but, Mr. Speaker, the government and the minister have chosen to ignore really what the stakeholders have said to them - the people who are affected each and every day by the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal and the time it takes.

Now, some parts of the legislation - the minister has dealt with the criticisms that have been levied by the Employers' Council, the Newfoundland and Labrador Injured Workers Association, and the Federation of Labour and indeed, Mr. Speaker, has dealt with some of the complaints that have arisen from myself, as critic for Employment and Labour, and indeed, the loyal Opposition. Namely, one of the biggest criticisms has been that the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal decisions were not final and binding upon the Workers' Compensation Commission. Now, I wonder if the minister would be able - maybe we could, clause-by-clause, I say to the minister, debate this. If I could pose a question and he could respond immediately, I don't know if he's up to that - if that's fine with him?

MR. GRIMES: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: As we go through it now.

You talked about the decision of the review commission and review commissioner being final and binding upon the Workers' Compensation Commission, but there is a loophole you referred to yourself just a moment ago - that the Workers' Compensation Commission has the right to bring before the courts in the Province any decision that they believe a commissioner has made outside the guidelines of the Workers' Compensation Commission. Is that what you referred to?

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

MR. GRIMES: Mr. Speaker, I understand, if it's agreeable with the rest of our colleagues that we'd do it -

AN HON. MEMBER: Clause-by-clause.

MR. GRIMES: - similar to like we would have done in Committee and whatnot, sure. The changes are significant, Mr. Speaker, and I guess we're referring now to what's in Section 26(2). In the old legislation, what occurred was that there was a clear loop and a mandate in the old section 21, prior to the changes, and then section 28, that gave the Commission the authority to make a judgement upon the decisions rendered by the appeal tribunal, that they were empowered by law to do that. That section has been deleted completely and it has been replaced by section 26(2) of which the legal words are here, and I read the legal words, because I had to go through with our colleagues in Justice and others, because I explained to them exactly what we wanted to accomplish, and then they explained to us that this is exactly the way you accomplish it by legal text.

What we wanted to accomplish was to make sure that there was no longer a right for the Workers' Compensation Commission board of directors to second-guess the decision given; and if they felt there was a problem, if they felt that someone had exceeded their jurisdiction, or that they had made an error in law, we would even try to prevent that. But even when you put words in like in 26(2) that say you can't go to court, there are those two bases that you can't prevent somebody from going to court on.

It is not that the Commission board of directors can now just say: We don't agree. What they used to do then was send it back to the Appeal Tribunal and say: Reconsider. There was a reconsideration. They used to turn it down or reconsider. Send it back to the board. It would go back. This could go on for months and months. That is completely eliminated. The words here say: "An order or decision of a review commissioner is final and conclusive and is not open to question or review in a court of law..."

But I'm advised, and one of our people here at the Table here can even tell us, because they had a hand in writing a goodly part of this particular bill, that even with those words, if somebody is aggrieved of the decision of the Commissioner, even though it says it "...is not open to question or review in a court of law and proceedings by or before a review commissioner shall not be restrained by injunction..." and so on, that someone can still end up getting into the courts but only on two very narrow bases.

They have to argue before the courts; they have no power to overturn it themselves. The only way they can stop implementation is to make a decision to go to court. They would have to argue that there was an error of law, that the commissioner made an absolute mistake and didn't know what he or she was doing from a legal basis, or that they exceeded their jurisdiction. That they went beyond the jurisdiction which says: Review the decision in light of the current law regulations and policies, confirm the decision as being an appropriate one, or order what you think the proper decision is. Because I think the language that talks about that talks about ordering the remedy.

It gets as close as you can, to saying that the decision has to be implemented. There is no point in having a big debate. The Commission's board of directors then must say: We've got a choice. We either implement the decision, the remedy that has been ordered by the Commissioner, or we go to court, but we can only go to court and argue that the Commissioner made an error of law or exceeded his or her jurisdiction. They can't have a big debate about the policy and all this kind of stuff.

That loop is completely removed from the legislation. We are advised that this is as close as you come to telling anybody that under no set of circumstances can you go to court. You can't apparently write a piece of legislation in anything that says you can't go to court. This basically stops it as effectively as you can.

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

MR. E. BYRNE: I thank the minister for his explanation and feel satisfied that the loophole has been closed to a narrower gap than has existed previously. Suffice it to say, maybe before this sitting is out, that whereby no lawyer has ever been able to draft a piece of legislation that could stop something from going to court, maybe the hon. the Government House Leader is just one such lawyer who would like to bridge that gap. Certainly, his opinion of himself and his background as a lawyer would eminently qualify him - in his own mind, I say, Mr. Speaker.

MR. ROBERTS: No one has ever been able to stop the courts from getting into (inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: Let me go on, Mr. Speaker, to talk about the government's decision to put in hand a review commission, a single adjudicator sort of process as opposed to having an employee representative, an employer representative, and a neutral chairperson who reach decisions on consensus. Where there is a complete majority decision in terms of those three people agreeing that a case, yes, should be considered, or yes, a decision should be overturned, a majority opinion is offered. Where there is one abstention there are times when a minority decision is also written.

Why did government not listen to the stakeholders, the very people who have the most to win and the most to lose when it deals with the Workers' Compensation Commission and the Tribunal? What was so predominate in your thoughts and in government's thoughts, that they moved to a single adjudicator as opposed to implementing a structure that was recommended to them by the stakeholders in this industry?

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

MR. GRIMES: Mr. Speaker, there were a couple of things actually. As I indicated at the press conference a couple of days ago, on Monday, this is not an issue we have only been dealing with in the last few days. This is `the' issue that was left over as a result of the statutory review that was conducted in 1991. We implemented some fifty or sixty recommendations that came into effect on January 1, 1993 and it was clear that there was another recommendation made, and it was with respect to that Section 28 that we just talked about, about the loop of going back, about the role of the appeal tribunal, the relationship to the board, and who could overturn what and so on.

There was a clear recommendation made, Mr. Speaker, in that statutory review, that we find a way to make the decisions final and binding. Now, the other part we looked at was to say, what is the role of these sides people anyway? What we have been doing as a government since 1989, is we have been, a step at a time, very gradually, in the appeals process, moving away from tribunals. We have very clearly taken the argument that when workers want proper decisions made at Workers' Compensation, the best place for them to have an impact is through their representatives on the board that recommends to government the regulations, and sets the policies that determine and guide the decisions in the first place.

The same thing for employer representatives - if they want to have a real impact in terms of the kinds of decisions that are coming out of Workers' Compensation then, most of the time, their argument is with the policies that were the framework for the decisions in the first place. They might have some difference of opinion as to whether or not this or something else should be allowed or permitted. The people who are rendering the decisions, the staff, are like staff in any other department, once policies and regulations are put in place they don't have flexibility to vary that, go beyond, or so on. They have to interpret what is there and make a decision on the basis of the existing policy.

So we are saying that once you get to the appeal, just like we do for the human rights adjudicative panel, there is a human rights commission in which all kinds of interests are represented. They debate issues, formulate policy, and make recommendations to government as to what the Human Rights Code should be and so on.

Now, when it gets down to a person, though, filing a complaint that goes through a process, and they want to know whether or not their human rights have been upheld or violated, they go to an adjudicator. They don't go through a panel. There is no labour and there is no employer dealing in many of those, although history will show that about 80 per cent of the human rights complaints in Newfoundland are employer-employee related. They come from a work environment in most instances. But they don't go to a tribunal where there is an employee rep, an employer rep, and a neutral person - they go to a neutral person who judges whether or not the policies and rules were properly enforced in this particular case, or whether there was an error made by somebody.

We are saying that is the exact same role here. It is a year or so ago that we made the same change with respect to labour standards, where workers come forward, mostly workers in this case, and argue that they have not been getting the proper wage according to the labour standards, that they haven't been paid appropriate overtime, that they don't get sick leave, they don't get rest periods, they don't get vacation pay, and there is a disagreement between them and their employer. They used to go to a tribunal where there would be an employer representative, an employee representative and a neutral adjudicator. We eliminated the sides people and said there is really no role for someone representing the employer or the employee to have a discussion, they have already stated their case. They have already had an investigation. They have told everything they had to tell. Now, we need someone to decide whether or not a proper decision was made.

In the current rules, Mr. Speaker, in the old section 27, it is spelled out that the decision of a majority of the members of the appeal tribunal, or of a panel, represents the decision of the appeal tribunal. When you couldn't get unanimous consent, what would happen, and it is the same thing that happens in arbitration cases and so on, the chairperson writes the decision. What they do now is, they basically are in a situation where this says you have to get a majority of the panel, so they have to shop around and get one or the other to agree with them, and if they didn't get one or the other to agree with them, there was no decision rendered; but, in fact, all that really happens, in the real world, and I think the hon. member knows this, too, from experience with similar types of tribunals, is that the Chair keeps going back and forth until he gets someone to agree with what he wrote in the first place. So the decisions, by-and-large, are the decisions of the chairperson. Now,they have to have some discussion in the tribunal.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) consensus.

MR. GRIMES: Reached by consensus,in a manner of speaking, but the reality is that the Chair writes it and they wait and they wait and they wait. The pressure comes on because an injured worker is waiting for a decision, wondering why he doesn't get it. The chairperson tells that to the employee rep, saying, `Boy, you should agree with this because now we can get a decision on it.' If that doesn't work, they go the employer rep and say, `You should agree with this so we can get a decision on it.'

They will get somebody to agree, sooner or later, but there was never an exercise where three people sat down and wrote the decision. That has never happened under the current system, and we feel that what really happens is that the employer and employee input should be into the policies. Someone would then judge an individual, the same as if you went to court, the same as if you went to Human Rights, the same as if you went to Labour Standards, a person - and the main criteria is to find someone who is accepted as being fair and impartial - a person will make a decision and render a decision as to whether the rules were appropriately applied, properly applied, or whether an error was made. Then, if he thinks there was an error made, he will then order the remedy. We feel that there isn't a role for sides people in the adjudicated process. It should be back at the policy-making level.

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

MR. E. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, I think the minister and government have overlooked a very serious consideration in terms of the argument that the minister has just put forward. There is no question that employers and employees are represented on the board of directors in terms of the formulation of policy, formulation of rules and regulations, but it is what happens to those rules and regulations, and to the policies that they had up front input to, that causes the most concern.

Suffice it to say that if the majority of rules and regulations and policies of the Workers' Compensation Commission were enacted in the spirit in which they were drafted, most of the appeals that are before the appeal tribunal now would not be there, and the reality is this: At the appeal tribunal, when an injured worker appears, or an employer appears, based on whatever the case may be, the rules and policies were not, in fact, enacted, and decisions that have been overturned have found out that that has taken place.

I could go on for three or four days in terms of case descriptions, but when it comes to the actual appeal process, where the employee representative, the employer representative and the neutral chairperson are sitting at the table, they are the ultimate judges of that, if policy and regulations have been up front, have been adhered to in terms of the spirit in which they were drafted. Now that is eliminated, I say to the minister. What we are looking at is one person who sits in judgement, who has neither any background, necessarily, in terms of the stakeholders, in terms of employers who underwrite the Workers' Compensation Commission, in terms of employee or injured worker who has gone through the process and who knows best, in many cases, where the problems of the Commission lie, that they, themselves, do not have a direct input into their own fields of experience. And I think the government has made a mistake here in going with the single adjudicator process, and I just want to be on record as saying that.

Now, in terms of the decisions you talked about, how a decision is rendered, is most often that the chairperson writes the decision, runs back and forth between an employer rep and an employee rep in trying to reach consensus, but most often it is the chairperson.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: Exactly. The chairperson is there for that reason, but my experience, and I have had some experience with different boards and tribunals, as the minister has pointed out, is that more often than not, consensus is reached up front; the decision is written thereafter.

There have been decisions at the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal where the employer and the employee rep have agreed and have overruled the decision of the chairperson. So what sort of decision would the chairperson of the tribunal write then?

I don't necessarily buy into the argument, although it sounds good, but the practical applications and fallout of how it actually works is not necessarily what you described. And, consensus, in my experience, it has often been shown and demonstrated that consensus is reached up front and that decisions come out in an expedient manner.

The other question I would like to ask, there are a number, but you talked about putting in a time frame, dealing with the six months, that the review commissioner or commissioners must make a decision within six months. Now, that again, and we have talked about it outside the Chambers, but we have talked about: how do you enforce that?

For example: can the minister say today what is the backlog in terms of cases before the appeal tribunal? And as a result of this new system, what is the tribunal's predictions, or the commission's predictions or the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations' predictions, of how soon that backlog will be cleared up so that decisions can be rendered within six months? or, will we be back here this time next year, Mr. Speaker, talking about: we said in legislation that decisions have to be made in six months but we are yet experiencing decisions not being up towards twelve to thirteen months.

It is just a cautionary sort of statement that I make. And, does the minister have any quantifiable data to show that seven commissioners, one of whom is the chief review commissioner, will clear up this backlog quickly and will get decisions made in six months? so that, as he said, we may be back here next year talking about reducing that in legislation to a two or three-month period on behalf of injured worker?

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

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We have started some discussion of those issues already, because I think, from our point of view as the government, this is the most critical part of the bill in terms of trying to make sure that we get timely response. As of today's date, in checking, there are some 230 appeals registered at the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal that have not yet had a hearing date set. There are others that have hearing dates set, somewhere in the range of sixty or seventy on which dates are set down and they are expected to be heard this month, or someone has committed already to hear them in the early part of July and so on.

Also, Mr. Speaker, we should know that they are averaging three new requests for appeals each working day that the office is opened, so they are getting about fifteen new ones a week, that is the average that is coming in, there are about three a day coming in, in terms of meeting the requirements that within ninety days of a decision from Workers' Compensation Commission that they have to apply for an appeal.

So, at that particular rate, the same as the last couple of years, it is expected that we will have a workload consistently for a while through the review division that will be in the range of 400 to 500 cases a year. And even in clearing up the 230 that are already registered, which is our first concern, the expectation is that if we put the chief review commissioner or an acting chief review commissioner in place as of July 1, who can work at this job full time, that they can do at least twenty cases in a week - average, I should say, ten a week for the individual. Even if they average two cases a day just for the hearing, they may then need some time in the week after that, if they get backed up on their decision-writing to hear fewer cases, but with two or three of the other commissioners, hopefully being people who will be available to us almost on a full-time basis even if they are not put on a full-time salaried position anyway, that we can deal within the range of twenty to thirty cases a week.

They might need some time in the next week to write, but monthly we could expect that we could clear up somewhere in the range of fifty of these cases, being a hearing and then a stipulation that in fact they give the decision. We are also looking at even though the law doesn't ask for that, Mr. Speaker - it spells out six months as the time frame, and I will answer that question just after these other couple of comments - that we would like them to put in place a new administrative structure, that enables them to provide - the phrase in the business is, I think, `a quick and dirty decision' - you give them a short, one-page answer rather than a twenty- or thirty-page decision with all the reasons and all the history and so on; that whatever the main point of appeal is, it might be possible to restructure the actual format of the written decision so that the review commissioners will be able to provide within a week or ten days of the actual hearing date, a short version of the decision with the main points highlighted in it for the claimant.

Within that kind of time frame, if they are working at this full time, we can turn those over fairly quickly so that inside of six months, between now and Christmas, we are hoping to have these 230 that are currently registered, cleared completely off the books, and then we will probably get into a position with a full-time available chief commissioner and one or two people available on a fairly regular basis, that will be able to keep well apace of the average of three a day, and as they come in, a hearing date would be set very quickly.

The main delay then would be in the staff over there getting the affidavit file from Workers' Compensation. As soon as that file is in the hands of the commissioner, in the hands of the complainant, and in the hands of anyone else who has expressed an interest in appearing, then the hearing date can be set down, the hearing can be held and we can render the decision quickly.

Again, I've asked him to be cognizant of the fact that there is no penalty - we looked at it - there is no really workable penalty. What are we going to do, fine the commissioner $100 if he doesn't give the decision on the exact six-month day? The control that we have, Mr. Speaker, is that when these people are offered appointment they will be made completely aware of this and the government's concern that timeliness be the number one priority.

If we have people who can't meet this time frame then we will remove them and appoint others. We will get to the point where we will have to have people who can meet this time frame, because the current staff and the current Chair and Vice-Chair of the Commission feel that when operating on a full-time basis, people making themselves available pretty well full-time for this instead of part-time as now, there is no reason - other than the very odd exceptional case where maybe the claimant himself or herself might ask for delays or new information might come forward, and so on - there is no reason that anyone can see, why they can't meet the six-month time line and, as a matter of fact, as I said earlier, to try to make it even shorter than that - even if we get to the point where we can amend the act and say four months is the most you could ever have to wait from start to finish.

That is the one, though, Mr. Speaker, that we will be monitoring most closely. We are also looking at internal administrative mechanisms to try to give that decision and render the basic content of a decision on a very quick basis without jeopardizing the quality of a decision.

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

MR. E. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would like to talk about review commissioners and part-time review commissioners. The minister, I believe - and he can correct me if I'm wrong quickly here - said that initially there will be a chief review commissioner hired, full-time, and possibly another person hired full-time to clear up the backlog. Is that true?

MR. GRIMES: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: At least in the first year, that is a possibility. You talk about the chief review commissioner, that this would be a full-time position, that person devoted solely to getting decisions written, getting decisions made quickly, getting the appeal process sped up so that people can get on with their lives.

We've talked about, as well, that in the legislation this position will be appointed by Cabinet, the Lieutenant-Governor in Council, upon the recommendation of the minister. Remuneration and benefits will be decided by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council on a recommendation of the minister. Can you enlighten us on some of those areas? Because, as he knows, the debate about the cost associated with paying a chairperson some $98,000 and a vice-chair some $83,000 in terms of the benefits that really accrued to the people who were going before the tribunal for such a cost - what are we looking at in terms of actual salaries for these people? Part-time I know is a different story, because, depending on the backlog, it will depend upon how much work, or how much they will be paid, and that is a different concern.

But if we are looking at somebody full-time, does that person necessarily then have to - is he part of the public service, part of government? Is he allowed to be a private consultant, for example, hold down private or part-time jobs? Could it be an MHA or city councillor, I ask, which is the present circumstance? What sort of remuneration package are we talking about? Could you just enlighten me on that?

MR. SPEAKER: Before I recognize the hon. minister, I just want to note for the record that we are not following the normal rules for debate in second reading here, but it is by leave of the House, as I understand it, that we are allowing a member to speak more than once and the minister to answer the questions.

The hon. the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will try to deal with the components of the question.

The only exclusion would be that - and I know you didn't ask because you thought somebody here was interested in one of these jobs - but MHAs would be excluded. Because, in fact, by virtue of our positions, and the Internal Economy Commission and the Morgan Commission Report, we state that we are full-time members of the Legislature by virtue of collecting our full-time salary. Unless somebody here wanted to state they wanted to go part-time and work part-time over there. I think that exclusion would be there.

I understand, as well, the question with respect to one of the current vice-chairs who is a city councillor, Mr. Brace - that is a part-time position that they do, it is not a full-time job. As a matter of fact at the press conference on Monday, I indicated that three of the current five have been asked whether or not they were interested in continuing. Because we would also like to have someone there with some experience. We don't want to bring in seven brand new people who have never done anything with Workers' Compensation before, because it is a complex area and we would like to have someone who demonstrates some experience.

Mr. Seabright won't be involved because of the policy of government about the double-dipping, and won't be offered any new appointment. His appointment will expire at the end of this month. Mr. Brace - I have an initial indication from him. He would be interested in one of the positions. I haven't yet heard from Mr. Watton or Ms. Allen Westby from Corner Brook. They had expressed some interest before in continuing on if the present system continued. Ms. Fagan indicated to us earlier that due to her law practice and other duties, she didn't think she could devote enough time to appeals and wasn't interested in continuing on with the Appeal Tribunal. I'm assuming that she is not interested in becoming a commissioner, either full-time or part-time. If we hear from any of those, we would certainly have to consider whether or not they would continue.

I've asked for an expression of interest, and also I've written to the Employers' Council and to the Federation of Labour asking them if they would suggest names that they would find acceptable. Because knowing that they are biased in the process and neither one considered neutral - but if the Federation of Labour were to suggest to myself and to Cabinet some people who, as far as they are concerned, would be acceptable on the neutrality and unbiased and fairness criteria, and convinced that the community, generally, would accept him or her as a person whose only interest was making sure that the proper decisions were rendered - because that is what the review commission is there to do - then we would certainly consider those names. I've offered the same courtesy to the Employers' Council. Even though their normal appointees came with an employer bias, if they thought they had some people they could recommend, that the employees, the injured workers, the unions and so on would see as being fair, even though they might be from the employer camp, then we certainly wouldn't rule that out.

Because there is no stipulation that it has to be someone with a legal background. It always has been by tradition ever since it started in 1987. If there are other people in the community who are arbitrators, adjudicators, and so on, who aren't from a legal background, we would consider those as well.

Maybe, Mr. Speaker, the best I could do, is do some thinking out loud for the hon. member, because I haven't made this proposition to the Cabinet yet. There are two choices, I guess, we are going to explore. One is to take at least the chief review commissioner and put him or her on a full-time salary retainer, make him or her a full-time employee. If we do that, the thinking is that they would probably be offered a salary somewhere equivalent to the assistant deputy minister level. I think that range is somewhere in the $63,000, $64,000, up to $75,000 range. I think that is the scale on which assistant deputy ministers are paid.

I've already had discussions where there are people currently in the system - employer reps, employee reps, and the chairs themselves - who think there are downsides to that. Because if you put somebody on a salary there is no motivation for him or her to hear a lot of cases. Their job is to hear cases, but there is no motivation.

The other proposition that we are considering is whether even for the chief review commissioner, that we might put him or her on a retainer - $5,000, $6,000, $10,000 a year - and then pay them by the case, so that there would be a real incentive for the person to hear cases. You can see the debate that conjures up, because would somebody rush the case and probably make a poor decision because they make more money? We are debating those options and they will be spelled out for the Cabinet. I will recommend one course or the other to the Cabinet somewhere in the next couple of weeks so that we can have at least a week or ten days prior to July 1 to make sure everybody knows that the system will very smoothly transition into July 1 without a gap in hearings and so on.

Those are the things we are considering. I can probably give a personal inclination. I lean more towards a per case payment, because I think that motivates people to make sure that they hear the cases, deal with the cases, render the decision. Because the other component of that we are thinking about - and again I say, doing some thinking out loud - is that currently the people bill as they go. If I heard a hearing today, which some of the Chairs are doing, then they put in a bill for today, but you mightn't get the decision for ninety days. The other thing I'm asking them to think about administratively is to not pay any money until the decision is rendered. Again, there would be a real impetus and a real encouragement and a real enticement for the commissioners to get the decisions written up and get them delivered to the injured workers, because that is what will trigger their payment.

Those are the things, Mr. Speaker, that we are thinking about. I would certainly be interested in hearing the hon. member's and others' views, because that is one that we will have to come to grips with in the next couple of weeks, and right now I don't know which way we will go with it. It is likely to be one version or the other of those two types of things.

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

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

As the minister is aware, today really, is usually reserved for Private Members' Day. I had a private member's resolution on the floor calling for three things; one, that the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal be terminated as it now exists, which he has done; two, that there be a full-time representative of employers and employees and a full-time neutral chairperson, which we have already debated; the third point I'd like to get to in that private member's resolution deals with the individuals selected to serve on this tribunal or on the commission itself, that these positions would be selected and hired independently by the Public Service Commission.

As I was going to do during Private Members' Day, and I'll do it now - I will explore the possibility, the realm of possibility, especially dealing with the review commission as it now will be called as of July 1, 1994: Why couldn't government, for example, why couldn't your department put out to the Public Service Commission these positions and ask the Public Service Commission to provide them with the job descriptions and criteria? You could still do the things that you've outlined here in terms of - when you were thinking out loud of how you would pay these people, all those sorts of things. But why couldn't government, in terms of the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal or the review commission, publicly open up the job competition for the review commission? What would it do, I ask the minister? What would such a move do to enhance, not only the quality of work that may be done at the commission, it also would enhance the credibility of the Commission itself.

Now, I want to talk about the quality of work. I think that a public sort of competition, through the Public Service Commission, removes the notion and removes any possibility that there was political patronage involved, that political patronage is continuing. What we've seen recently - there have been charges levied dealing with the notion of political patronage and the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal - but what really is wrong with opening up these positions to the Public Service Commission, I ask the minister? Now, he may argue in fact that the chief review commissioner, if he/she is going to be paid at an assistant deputy minister level, that those positions normally do not go through the Public Service Commission, and he's right. But what about if government maintains the right to appoint the chief review commissioner but yet, in the same breath says to the Public Service Commission: We are opening up, for competition, the part-time review commissioners for the review commission of Workers' Compensation. We are hoping to get, as a result, the best people, with the best credentials, with the most experience, who are the most qualified, so that, at the end of the day, the very mandate you are putting forward here today in terms of wanting to get decisions made and rendered quickly on behalf of injured workers who've come before there, that by doing that, you are ensuring that that will happen in a more expeditious manner and a more credible manner, not only to the people who are appearing before the Workers' Compensation Commission but also to the general public at large.

Some of the nonsense, I say, Mr. Speaker, that has happened here, dealing with patronage, the government boards - and I'm not really necessarily pointing my finger at this government because they have participated in it, as have other governments to more or less degrees, but the problem with something like that is that it overshadows everything else that members do in this Chamber, members who, by the way, work sixteen or seventeen hours per day on behalf of the people who elected them. Something so trivial on one hand, in terms of the work that we do here, besides that - but something so important on the other hand, which ensures political credibility, I think, in terms of restoring some honour to the profession that we are practising here as members, then why doesn't government take serious consideration in putting six of those review commissioners into the Public Service Commission and wash their hands clean of it, I ask him?

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

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I do recognize, as well, in fact, with the private members' motion that was on the paper, point three of that was to the individuals selected to serve in the three positions on the tribunal, which would now be the seven positions on the review commission, shall be selected and hired independently by the Public Service Commission. It's one of the things, Mr. Speaker, that while I haven't ruled it out completely, I think this time frame with respect to July 1 will rule it out again in this particular circumstance.

The hon. member, I think, knows, as would many other of the hon. members opposite, particularly those in the front benches who were in the Cabinet before, that the Public Service Commission is put in place to go through a clearly impartial hiring process for employees of the departments of government, people who become government employees, who are paid for by the taxpayers whose money is controlled by the government of the day; taken in and paid out.

Now anything to do with workers' compensation doesn't have anything to do with the tax system. There are no taxpayers' dollars paying one cent towards anybody at the commission itself, at the tribunal or anything else. It is only for a matter of controlling the act and the legislation, that there is an administrative arrangement where the money goes from workers' compensation to the department that I happen to be the minister of today, and from our department paid out to the appeals tribunal. That is done so that the appeals tribunal, which will then become the review division, can be seen to be at least somehow separate from workers' compensation. Because one of the problems before was that in the beginning days when this change occurred back in '87, the three commissioners, Mr. Maynard and the other two - if you talk about patronage - but Mr. Maynard and the other two who sat there running the Workers' Compensation Commission, were also the review commission. So they were the commission that set the policy, and if you had a problem you had to go and see Mr. Maynard or one of the other two commissioners; right in the same building, right in the same office. So that was thrown out in 1987. The appeals tribunal, arm's length removed, was seen to be better, different, more impartial and to give a better chance for real re-examination of the issues.

Now we have come to the point where that has served us fairly well for seven years, except it became overloaded; and that's the big problem, Mr. Speaker. But even before, even when they were having forty and fifty cases a year at the appeals tribunal, it was still taking over a year on average to get a decision. The large part of that as well again was that loop, because you would get a decision, it would go back, if the board didn't like it, they would ask for reconsideration, and they would hear it again. Now that is all done away and now we would like to have these people.

Because these aren't departmental employees, what we will do is try to find, through that process of involvement and contact with - because the whole commission, while paid for by employers, clearly has the stakeholders in it who are the workers reps who represent all the people in the workforce, those who are out there now hoping they do not get injured and those who unfortunately have gotten injured in the workplace and the employer reps who are trying to protect the best interest of the employers and keep the assessments down. We do have some of the highest assessments in the country and this year they are paying an extra premium to buy down some of the unfunded liability. That is one of the reasons why their financial statement is a little better, only because they are paying a higher price, and part of it is fourteen-and-a-half million. It is a special levy just to go against the unfunded liability; it has nothing to do with paying for injuries. So that is part of it.

What we want to do is to look at making sure that those two parties again, hopefully, will agree with us because I will submit to them, let them know: Here are the people, here is the pool of twelve or fifteen people whom we will deem, in our view, to be impartial, good people, sound minds, known to have good judgement, recognized to have good judgement in the community. I personally hope some of them are identifiable Liberals, because there happen to be some people in Newfoundland and Labrador who don't mind telling anybody that they are Liberal. There are still some of them around. There are a few even who go around and say they are PCs. I can't find very many, but there are a few of them.

AN HON. MEMBER: Pure and (inaudible) Liberals.

MR. GRIMES: On the patronage issue, Mr. Speaker, I understand that as long as the Cabinet reserves to itself the right to appoint, we will always be open to some accusation of patronage, particularly if one or two or three of the people end up being readily identifiably associated with the party in power at the time. Some of them, I have no idea what they are, some of them I know, but the key to it is to make sure that the representatives of the employer community and the representatives of the employee community, hopefully will agree with me before I go to Cabinet that the names we are going to put forward will be deemed by them to be good, sound people, with good reputations in the community and considered to be people with good judgement and deemed to be capable of being impartial. So that will be the criteria.

The main thing, Mr. Speaker, while I was tempted as well, though, to ask the Public Service Commission to maybe put out, not a job application but even an expression of interest, and have it done through them. I think this time, because we are trying to do it in ten days or so, it would take them ten days even to formulate an ad and so on. So I think they are out of the question for this time. We have used them before, by the way. The Premier has even used the Public Service Commission to seek out expressions of interest in jobs such as assistant deputy minister. The Cabinet, in the end, still appoints them, but we have used that process sometimes before.

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

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

I am going to conclude, I guess, by saying this - and this is in response to some of the comments that the minister made - that yes, I acknowledge that employers underwrite the Workers' Compensation Commission; they pay for it. We must not forget here, Mr. Speaker, that individuals give up their personal rights, in terms of liability, forego their own rights in terms of accidents in the workplace, to more of a collective liability. So while employers underwrite the Workers' Compensation Commission, it is very much an agreement between employees and employers. Employees gave up much, I say to the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations, in terms of establishing the Workers' Compensation Commission. So both partners came to the table equally, and in giving up much.

I just want to conclude with discussion on some of the other sections of the act. Certainly clause 11 deals with industrial disease and entitlement as a result of industrial disease. The time frame associated there says, January 1, 1994. Minister, does that mean that anybody, somebody who ten year ago was categorized or diagnosed with an industrial disease, or last year or the year before, does not qualify according to this section? Is that what you are saying?

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

MR. GRIMES: Mr. Speaker, a quick clarification: No, it is not a matter of qualification. It means that any payment would only be effective as of January 1. So even though the death may have occurred five or six years ago, the payment to the dependants won't go back and be retroactive five or six years. The payment will start from January 1.

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

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

I will conclude my comments today by saying, it is my personal view that the government, in terms of wholesale review of the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal, could have done somewhat better; that while they have eliminated the right of the Workers' Compensation Commission to override the decisions of the appeal tribunal, which has caused, in many instances, unnecessary delays to injured workers, I think government should have given more serious consideration to the proposals made by the stakeholders, those being employers, those being labour groups, the Federation of Labour, and certainly the views represented by the Newfoundland and Labrador Injured Workers' Association; who, in my opinion, know full well in detail exactly what has taken place and what is taking place at the Workers' Compensation Commission.

I will even go so far as to say to the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations, that he should give serious consideration the next time that an appointment comes up for the board of directors at the Workers' Compensation Commission, that he appoint an injured worker from the Newfoundland and Labrador Injured Workers' Association. They are not represented there now and, from a practical point of view, there are injured workers who are credible, all, for the most part, who have tremendous life experience, who come from all sorts of backgrounds, who could offer some insight into the board of directors, and who could really help in terms of speeding up the process from where policy and rules and regulations are made to how they are actually carried out within the system.

I would like to suggest, in the strongest possible manner, to the minister, that he give serious consideration to the suggestion I have just made.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I know that there are other members here in the House who would like to participate in this debate, and I will conclude.

Thank you very much.

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I want to say that I think what the government is doing with respect to the wholesale amendment to the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal procedure, that what is happening here really is a travesty taking away a right of appeal. There is no right of appeal anymore. There is no more right of appeal from decisions by this bureaucracy known as the Workers' Compensation Commission. The only access that an injured worker has to compensation is through the Workers' Compensation Commission, not through the courts. No court is allowed to look at an allegation or a claim for compensation through the negligence of an employer, or the negligence of a fellow worker which occurs in the course of his or her employment.

Their only recourse is through the rules and regulations of the Workers' Compensation Act and to a group of bureaucrats or public servants within the Workers' Compensation Commission. That replaces the judicial system which allowed for applications to the court, rights of appeal, all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada on matters of fact in law. If the original adjudication was wrong, in fact or in law, misinterpreted the law, misinterpreted the facts, misconstrued the circumstances, there was a right of appeal. That right of appeal, under the Workers' Compensation Act, was through the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal.

I want to read the provisions of the previous section which is being repealed. Section 25 of the existing act says that the Appeal Tribunal can rehear and have exclusive jurisdiction to dispose of appeals from actions or decisions of the commission respecting an injured worker's or dependant's entitlement to compensation, entitlement to rehabilitation services, provision of medial care, employers assessments, or the assignment of an employer to a particular class or group, or the merit or demerit rating of an employer.

Some of these things are now subject to review but not appeal. They can be reviewed but not appealed. Someone has a second look at them but it is not an appeal because it does not have the essential element of the appeal process in the existing legislation which says, Section 25 (4): Decisions of the Appeal Tribunal shall be upon the real merits and justice of the case; and it says that the tribunal is not bound to follow strict legal precedent. So, the Appeal Tribunal provided for the real merits and the justice of the case as the purview of the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal.

They have taken away the real merit, they have taken away the justice. They have repealed that section: no recourse to the real merits, no recourse to justice, only a determination by way of review, not appeal, a determination as to whether or not the commission acted in accordance with the policies and regulations set up by the commission. That is what we have, Mr. Speaker, essentially the taking away of the right of appeal.

They go further, Mr. Speaker, by preventing participants in that process, in what they are now calling their review process. They quite rightly have not used the word appeal because there no appeal in a strict legal sense of appeal on the merits of the case. There is no appeal on matters of fact or law, our interpretation of law. They go further by eliminating important elements of the process at the appeal level, important levels of the process that are so important in other boards and tribunals, such as the Labour Relations Board, such as the UI process, and unemployment insurance and others, where workers have a right to go to seek redress, to a panel of experts on the Labour Relations Board, or the UI Board or others. It is considered by Legislatures to be so fair and so acceptable that they prevent any decision from going to court. Now they keep that.

Section 26(2): An order or decision of a review commissioner is final and conclusive, not open to question or review in a court of law, and proceedings by or before a review commissioner shall not be restrained by injunction, prohibition or other process or proceedings in a court of law or be removable by certiorari or otherwise in a court of law.

So they are isolating any decisions that the Workers' Compensation Commission or this review commissioner can make from the courts. The court is not allowed to look at it; the court can't look at the justice of the case; the court can't look at the merit of the case; the review commissioner can't look at the justice of the case; the review commissioner can't look at the merits of the case. The only people who are going to look at that are the people who are working for the Workers' Compensation Commission. So the bureaucrats are going to have their way, or their say, and it is not open to appeal, not subject to appeal.

When you go before the Labour Relations Board, Mr. Speaker, the decisions of the Labour Relations Board are not supposed to be subject to appeal; you can't appeal to the court. In other words, you are stuck with the decision, whether you like it or not, the decision of the Labour Relations Board, as long as it is within their jurisdiction. A court will say: Well, I, or we, may not have made the same decision as the Labour Relations Board, but that is within the jurisdiction of the Labour Relations Board; or, another way of saying it: Well, they have the right to be wrong. We are told by the Legislature, hands off, this is a tribunal that is specialized. It is a labour relations tribunal. It has representatives of employers on it, representatives of employees on it, and it has an impartial chairperson on it. This is a specialized tribunal. The respect for the process requires that the court not second-guess the decisions of the Labour Relations Board as long as they are acting within their jurisdiction.

I think that is acceptable. I think it is acceptable for the Legislature to say the court shouldn't interfere with that, because to that process is brought the experience of professionals on the employer's side and on the employee's side who know the kind of things that go on in the workplace and in organizations, or in trade unions or in the back rooms of the employers. They know what goes on there. They are there because of their experience, because of their knowledge of the process, because of their knowledge of the real world. They bring that expertise and experience to the Labour Relations Board, for example, and between them a decision is made, a decision which is not subject to review by the courts, only for what is called excessive jurisdiction.

That is acceptable, and it would be acceptable, and it was acceptable, under the existing legislation where the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal has, as two of its elements, in addition to the chair, persons representative of employers and persons representative of employees, the two groups of people whose rights are so dramatically affected by the workers' compensation legislation. You take away that element of consensus and you no longer have the justification for keeping the courts away from the process. Not only that, Mr. Speaker, you no longer have the consensus of both sides of the equation with respect to the process.

The Labour Relations Board process is generally acceptable to employers and to employees, I mean the law-abiding ones, not the ones who are quite happy to violate every law in the books, that members opposite gave a certain amount of congratulations to by changing the Labour Relations Act. I mean the employers who are satisfied to obey the law. Those employers are satisfied that the labour relations system that is composed of representatives of employees and employers, there is a consensus about it. They accept the system and acceptance of that system is important to labour (inaudible). The Minister of Finance know that when you've got the collective bargaining process working right, for example, you have peace and harmony. When you interfere with that and you take away the rights of employees or employers, then you got disharmony, and you have strikes and you have chaos. That's what happens, Mr. Speaker, and that's what's happening here.

Who is against this? Who is against this proposal? The employers are against it, the employee groups are against it and the unions are against it. So who's in favour of it? The minister? The Premier? A few of the boys around the Cabinet Table? Is that who's in favour of it? Everybody else is against it. The system, Mr. Speaker, has to respond to the consensus of the participants who are involved in it.

They're taking the recent exposure of the failures of the government within the process, the excessive payments to double-dippers, the criticism of that. That's being used in excuse. Now while we have the pot stirred up, says the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations, the public out there who doesn't necessarily understand the details, they think everybody is criticizing the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal. They think they're criticizing the expense of that. Well that's used as an excuse to take away the whole system, to tear apart the system and introduce a new system that we think is going to be cheaper.

There were no complaints that I recall. I don't recall any complaints about the expenses of aside persons on this Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal. I think the expenses of the chairman were the ones that people were concerned about, the chairman charging excessive amounts or large amounts. They may have been excessive in certain circumstances, large amounts for making decisions and other chairpersons charging lesser amounts. That's what people were complaining about.

People were complaining about delays. Mr. Speaker, I don't think that the delays are caused by consultation and by having the requirement of a decision to be made by three people instead of one. That's not what causes a year's delay. A year's delay is caused, Mr. Speaker, by not having sufficient people involved in the process. A year's delay, Mr. Speaker, is caused by not having proper procedures in place to speed up the process. Those aspects of the decision making process could have been fixed. The minister could have put a six-month provision in there. It exists now in Labour Relations Board decisions - I'm sorry! - exist in our arbitration collective agreements.

It's not enforceable, by the way, I can tell the minister. If the review commissioner comes out with a decision six months and one week after the thing goes, what have we got? Have we got a failure of the appeal? Have we got an automatic win of the appeal? What have we got? Have we got a nullity? Is the appeal finished? Can a person appeal again? What have you got? You got a black hole, Mr. Speaker, and I think the minister knows that; he's nodding his head. Is he trying to create a black hole or is he going to fix it? Is he going to fix it by saying that if they don't reply in six months either there's an automatic granting of the appeal or there's an automatic refusal, or some consequence that's negative that would induce a review commissioner to act accordingly. So it's not enforceable.

The individual who's appeal or review - I won't call it an appeal, I won't dignify it with the title of appeal - but an individual who's application for review is not considered within six months, what can that person do? Will he have to go to court, Mr. Speaker, and get a court order allowing the decision to be made? Is that what the minister intends or is he going to change that before he tries to push this legislation through?

So, Mr. Speaker, the decisions by the government to amend the Workers' Compensation Act to remove the existence of the tribunal, to remove the appeal process, to remove the true merits and justice of the case from the considerations of an appeal board is to take away an opportunity for an individual, an injured worker, to have a chance at the end of the day to question the decisions and the judgement; not whether they were within procedures or not, but to question the judgement of the doctors advising the Workers' Compensation Commission, to question the judgement of the adjudication officers, to question the judgement of the employees of the commission - not whether they were within procedures or not, but their judgement. That is what they questioned. They questioned the decisions that are made, not whether the decisions were made within the procedures.

What that means, Mr. Speaker: When all you are doing is reviewing a decision to determine whether it is within the procedures, you are not entitled to say whether the person is right or wrong. You don't exercise as a reviewer; you do not exercise your own judgements at all; you are not called upon to say whether the decision was right or wrong; you are only called upon to say whether the decision was made within the procedures and within the policies of the act of the commission, and that is fundamentally wrong, Mr. Speaker. Then the decision that is being made and being reviewed is isolated or insulated from the court by what is called a privative clause.

Mr. Speaker, I think the minister has an awful lot of explaining to do. This is not a mere administrative reshuffling of procedures and powers. This is the taking away of the right of appeal on the merits of a decision that is made reflecting an injured workers whole future, perhaps his or her whole life. On far simpler matters there is a right of appeal. There is a right of appeal for unemployment insurance, if you apply for unemployment insurance and you get denied the benefits. It may only be for a temporary period, for a period of two or three months that you need UI, and if you do not get a decision in your favour you can go to a board of referees, a representative of employers, a representative of employees and an independent adjudicator on the board of referees. If you do not like that you can go to the umpire, a federal court judge sitting as an umpire. This is over a benefit period that may be just two or three weeks. This may be related to a benefit period of only one, two, or three weeks but you have the right of appeal to a board of referees involving three people, one of whom is representative of employees, and one of employers. You can to the umpire, and if you do not like the umpire's decision you can go to the federal Court of Appeal. You can go all the way up, Mr. Speaker.

This minister is saying, on a matter of Workers' Compensation which could affect the entire future of an injured worker, that you can't go to court, you can't go near the court house, and not only that we are not going to let you appeal the decision. We are not going to let you appeal the judgement of an individual in the Workers' Compensation Commission. We are only going to let you have a review to determine whether or not proper procedures, policies, and regulations were followed, and not whether or not the judgement exercised by the commission was correct; and that is the difference.

I invite hon. members opposite, because you are the ones who will be asked sometime today or tomorrow, next fall, or whenever, to say, `aye' or `nay'. Those of you who have gone before the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal - and I know the Member for St. John's South has taken cases before the Workers' Compensation Commission. I want him to know that what they are doing in this legislation is saying that once the commission makes a decision there is no appeal. The judgement that is exercised by the commission is not open to question. The review procedure just says: Well, was this in the accordance with the policy and procedures, yes or no? Yes, it was.

I am saying that that is no right of appeal. Look at Section 25 (4) of the existing act. It says that the decisions of the Appeal Tribunal shall be upon the real merits and justice of the case. Now, there is nothing in this about the real merits and justice of the case.

AN HON. MEMBER: You can read a statute any way you want.

MR. HARRIS: The member is saying, you can read a statute any way you want. Well, I have to say to the hon. member, that is not the case. There are ways of reading legislation and statutes, and I say that those terms under Section 25 (4) give the Appeal Tribunal the power to make a decision on the basis of whether or not the judgement of the Workers' Compensation Commission was right or wrong. What is going on with the review commission now is the review commissioner does not say whether the decision was right or wrong. He just says: Well, it may be right or it may be wrong, but is it within the procedures and policies? Well, if it is within the procedures and policies I am not going to touch it. That is what is happening now.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible)

MR. HARRIS: Well, you might as well give up doing them now, because there is not going to be any point, because you have taken away the justice and the merits of the case. That is taken out of the act. No longer will the justice or the merits of the case have anything to do with this review commissioner's mandate, and I think that is fundamentally wrong. If you are being asked to do that, if you are being asked to vote to support this legislation without fully reviewing that, I would seriously question - I would suggest to members opposite that they ask that this matter be put off until caucus can discuss it, and find out exactly what the consequences of this are, because I think they are very serious.

Not only that, anybody who has filed an appeal and whose appeal has not been heard yet, they haven't started a hearing yet, they lose their right of appeal. They are taking away the right of appeal from people who have already appealed. They have already appealed, and this minister is saying: Whether you appealed or not, we don't care. We are going to take away that right of appeal. It is in section 12 (2). Any appeals where there is no commencement of hearings yet, if the hearing hasn't commenced, if you appealed since last September or October, January or February, or whenever, you have appealed under the existing procedure, and you have the right, under the existing procedure, to a decision based on the merits of the case. He is going to take that away unless the hearing is already started.

Mr. Speaker, I think that is another travesty of justice, taking away the rights of injured workers to question decisions that are affecting their entire lives and future, and that of it's dependants. That is what is going on here. The minister hasn't really addressed those questions yet, and I am very concerned about that.

There seems to be some provision to allow for participation of the individual in the review process. It seems fairly minimal. I don't know what kind of review process is actually going to take place on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps the minister can tell us what he envisages. There is a right to appear by council or by agent. So someone can go to the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal, or to the review commissioner, and take somebody with them to act on their behalf, whether by legal council or by agent, by a Member of the House of Assembly, as before. But in the decision-making process, and this is what is going to be missing, in the decision-making process itself there is not going to be any experience brought to that from the employer and employee side of things as to what actually goes on, the nuts and bolts of the system.

The review commissioners are really just kind of overseers of the bureaucracy. They are overseers of the bureaucratic process. Was the bureaucratic process followed, or was it not? It is almost like a mandarin sitting up and saying: Well, did they follow the right procedures here? Did they follow the policies? Not did they make the right decision, or the wrong decision, but did they follow the policies and rules? That is what bothers me, and there is no input in that from both sides of the equation.

I think the minister overstates the problems of having a three person panel hearing decisions. Arbitration boards all over the Province hear them regularly. They don't always need an agreement by the chairman and one other person, by the way, I say to the minister. If he looks at the Labour Relations Act, for which he is responsible, the standard arbitration clause is that if there is no majority, shall we say, then the chair's decision is the decision of the arbitration panel. That provides for not being able to get an agreement from anyone. If the representative of employees, or the representative of employers, does not agree with the chair, the chair's decision holds. Now the two others can, together, overrule the chair, because then they form the majority and the Chair is in the minority.

If the minister wanted to speed up the process, streamline the process, he could have used that mechanism as well, and made it clear that if there was no majority of the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal, that the decision of the Chair would be the decision of the tribunal; that could easily be done by changing the legislation, so what we see at work here, Mr. Speaker, is more than that. It is more than that. It is more than just saying, well we are going to speed up the process, it is no more than saying that we want to eliminate the expenses, we are not doing that.

The minister talks about `quick and dirties' in one breath and then talks about maybe considering a fee per hearing; I would advise against that, because if you decide to put a fee for each case, you will get a lot more `quick and dirties' than you counted on; because if you give a fee for a case, then the incentive is to do as many cases as possible, as quickly as possible, and to collect the fees. So I think you have to be very careful about doing that, it is a difficult balancing act and I don't criticize the minister for having concerns about what way to do it; it is not easy. You know, you can't let it loose on the one hand and you can't create an incentive for fast and quick work, I think the `quick and dirty', the dirty part of it is that you don't really give it full consideration, that's the dirty part. I don't think that we want a system that is so quick that it is also dirty.

We want a system that if it is a true appeal that is going to go on, there has to be an opportunity for full consideration of the merits of an appeal and that it gets the consideration that it deserves. Maybe I will suggest to the minister, imposing a maximum might be a reasonable, if the average decision might take three or four hours of consideration, then putting a maximum fee based on that average plus a little bit more to provide for a little leeway; that might be more sensible that saying there is a per fee case, a per hour situation might be well appropriate.

I think you can keep it in control if you looked at the fees of the various Chairs over the last little while, you will see there is quite a variation and some reasonable level can be found and say: okay, this will be the maximum unless it is some special case that you might have to come back to the minister for approval for anything more than that maximum. So I ask the minister to consider that if he is considering how to control the costs, but I say also that that can be done under the existing system without having to throw out the baby with the bath water, and I think that is what the minister is doing is, throwing out the baby of an appeal process that there is consensus about, and the involvement of both parties, throwing out that with the bath water of the problems. If the problems are there, fix the problems - don't destroy the process. Don't destroy the consensus that there is, the support for the institution that is there, when the stakeholders have a say at the appeal process the same as they do in arbitration.

We have one of the best arbitration systems in the country in this very Province. The reason we do is because there is a consensus about it. It is a voluntary system in the labour relations sector on arbitration, for the most part, and that system works very well because there is a consensus from both sides that the process is fair and is reasonable. That process now exists in the WCAT system but it needs to be fixed up a little bit. I ask the minister to reconsider the drastic measures he has taken here, particularly with respect to taking away an appeal on the merits of the case.

Those are my remarks on second reading of this bill. I hope hon. members opposite will persuade the minister to withdraw this bill and give it consideration over the summer and fix up the Tribunal in a different way. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: If the hon. the minister speaks now he will close the debate.

The hon. the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I certainly appreciate the contributions made by both speakers opposite. I just wanted to take maybe a couple of minutes. I don't expect to go beyond 5:00 p.m., but I understand from the House Leader and the Opposition House Leader that they may have a couple of other things that might take us beyond 5:00 p.m.

MR. ROBERTS: Would the member yield?

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

MR. ROBERTS: Mr. Speaker, would it be agreeable to the House to sit a little beyond 5:00 p.m. to deal, when we finish with this bill, with the Committee stages on the two bills we dealt with yesterday? That is the Literacy Council and the NLCS bill. That shouldn't take long at Committee and third reading, and then we will adjourn for the day.

MR. W. MATTHEWS: Could the Member for Menihek speak for a couple of minutes?

MR. ROBERTS: Yes, of course - sure. My friend for Menihek wants to speak on the bill? I have no problem. I'm sure the minister would yield.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave of the House, the hon. the Member for Menihek.

MR. A. SNOW: I'm pleased to have a few words on Bill 27, Mr. Speaker, concerning some changes in the Workers' Compensation Appeal Tribunal. A lot of people in my district - this bill while it doesn't specifically deal just with the tribunal process or the appeal process, it is an act to amend the Workers's Compensation act, and the appeal process that has been a part of the act for years is now being proposed to be changed by the minister.

The minister talks about how this is going to speed things up. He hangs his hat on - the success of this is going to be to speed up the process. I think one of the things we have to be aware of, that the minister should be aware of, is that while we want to see the process of appeal speeded up and approved - we don't need this waiting six months or a year or two years for this appeal process to occur - we have to be fair. It has to be fair to the injured worker, it has to be fair to the employer.

One of the things that the employers have said is that they want access, they want representation there, so they can ensure that they're being treated fairly, because they feel that they have a stakehold in this process. The employees, the injured workers, themselves, have to be considered. That's why I believe that the private member's resolution proposed by the hon. the Member for Kilbride has merit, Mr. Speaker. Because I believe it will allow the process to be speeded up, it will allow the process to be cleaned up, because it's going to be done - the appointments to the appeal tribunal would be a tribunal and wouldn't be political appointments. It would be done through the Public Service Commission and you would have representation from the employee, from the Federation of Labour, they would appoint somebody, somebody from the employers could appoint somebody to it and a neutral person appointed by government. So I think that's what should have been done and could have been done by this government to be fair to all the stakeholders in this, Mr. Speaker. It's important that we consider the employers but, more importantly, the employees, themselves, the injured workers, should have a person representing them on the appeal process in order that their rights are protected, Mr. Speaker. It's bad enough that they become injured on the job and aren't available to work. They can't work anymore. They've suffered enough without having to endure further indignity, Mr. Speaker.

I would hope that after this process is tried for a year - I think the minister and the department will see that this process is not going to work as well as hoped and that they're going to have to change. I believe that the process should be what was recommended in the private member's resolution. I hope that the minister - after he considers it, maybe he can propose changes to this particular bill so that the appeal process can be improved. But it also protects the injured worker because it's important and that's what we should be doing, keeping in the back of our minds, Mr. Speaker - or not in the back of our minds, keeping in the forefront, that we have to protect the rights of individuals. The rights of these injured workers have to be protected and the best way to protect them is through a tribunal process with their rights, their people being represented as part of the appeal process, Mr. Speaker. Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations, if he now speaks, will close debate on the bill.

The hon. the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I just want to take a couple of minutes again, for the record, to look at a couple of issues that were raised particularly by the hon. the Member for St. John's East and the hon. the Member for Kilbride. I would understand - I don't know if the hon. Member for Menihek was here for the initial discussion with the hon. the Member for Kilbride, but many of the same points were raised, and I addressed them as we went along, with the Member for Kilbride, so I don't think I need to go back and deal with those over again. But I do agree, Mr. Speaker, that our intent, and I can say this at the beginning, our intent, is to be faster, but again, as the hon. the Member for Menihek points out, it would be our wish and hope - and we will certainly monitor the system very closely to make sure that we haven't done anything to jeopardise the fairness of the system.

With respect, there is one issue maybe, for the hon. the Member for Kilbride, Mr. Speaker, that I may cover, and then two or three items for the Member for St. John's East. We have had representation before about the idea of having a representative of the Injured Workers' Association on the board of directors of the Commission so that they could have direct input into the policy formulation of the Workers' Compensation Commission, the whole system; and while we haven't carved out a particular position for them, I can only suggest, as I have done in the past, that these injured workers, while some of them are employees in the unionized setting and some are not, there are enough of them who are, in fact, members of the organized labour movement, of whom I think, that if their brothers and sisters in the labour movement share that concern with them, they know that what I have done in the three years since I have been minister is accept the nominations of the Federation of Labour for worker representatives. And if they believe in the argument that it has real merit and worth in it, one of the worker representatives should be someone who is currently injured or at least has suffered a workplace injury and has utilized the workers' compensation system and if the Federation of Labour brings that recommendation forward, I would have no hesitation in going to Cabinet and recommending that an injured worker, nominated by the Federation of Labour, be one of the worker representatives on the Board of Directors of the Workers' Compensation Commission. So there is an avenue, Mr. Speaker, to be explored on that particular issue.

Maybe it would take a couple of minutes, Mr. Speaker, the number of concerns registered by the Member for St. John's East. He talked about no right of appeal, appeals being registered and not being heard and so on. With all due respect, I really believe that the hon. member, Mr. Speaker, is very wrong in his reading of it.

He started off building his case with that argument, Mr. Speaker, by referencing the current section 25, which spells out the jurisdiction of the appeal tribunal president and again, unfortunately, he was a little bit selective in his reading because he talked about an act respecting a re-hearing and he started by saying a re-hearing of a matter and so on and then jumped over to subsection 4 of section 25 that says the decision of the appeal tribunal shall be upon the real merits and justice of the case and try to suggest that there is a major difference here.

Even with those wordings, Mr. Speaker, he left out, conveniently or what, I don't know, but he left out the key to the whole of section 25, which had caused much of the problem in the first place.

Section 25 starts with this phrase, which means that everything else in section 25 is subject to this phrase: Section 25, which is now repealed, starts with the phrase: Notwithstanding the power of the Commission to reconsider a matter...

Now therein lies the root of the most of the problems, as was acknowledged by the hon. the Member for Kilbride, representatives of the Injured Workers' Association, representatives of the Federation of Labour and so on, that despite all the rest, even subsection (4), that if they dealt with the real merits and justice of the case it was still subject to the power of the Commission to reconsider the matter, and that is what was causing the problem, that even when they looked at the real merits and justice of the case, if the Commission didn't like it, they didn't do it. That was the problem; it went back to the Commission.

What we have said is, we have to take that out, and we have taken that out, so you can't again, unfortunately, in my view, build what sounds like a convenient case in saying, well, we would rather keep this in, and this was much better because you had the real merits and justice, because all the words that said that started off by saying, you can do all that, gang. Now, people, you can do all this, but notwithstanding the power of the Commission to reconsider it, and that is what caused the problem in the first place, which we have eliminated.

Even then, with language that sounds good and sounds different, like the real merits and justice of the case which is not there now, and is not there deliberately, the appeal tribunal still could not do anything that violated the existing law, regulations or policies. Still, even though those words were there, if they were to make any decision that went outside the existing act, the existing regulations, or the existing policies, it would go immediately back to the Commission, who would reconsider the matter and would not enact a decision because it went outside the law of the regulations and the policies. So the real effect is that what we have put in the current review legislation is what the former appeal tribunal could do anyway, because if it did anything different, it was overturned and not enacted. So what we put in place is a practical position that says, look at justice and fairness, but you can't go beyond the law, the regulations and the policies anyway.

You couldn't before, and the hon. the Member for St. John's East, and a lawyer of some accomplishments within the metropolitan St. John's area, and probably in the Province, he knew that. I don't know why he left it out, but I guess maybe he wants to send his speech somewhere or something. But he knows that even looking at other considerations, you can't go beyond the law, the regulations and the policies. You couldn't then; you can't now. He made the comparison with UI, the UI tribunals, the umpire and so on, still the same thing; they could not go beyond the law, the regulation and the policies. You cannot render decisions that set aside the law, the regulation and the policies. It couldn't be done then, it can't be done now.

So, with that assurance to everybody that there is no major difference, all we are looking at is trying to streamline it, looking at saying: A single person can do this. If you go to court, you don't get a tribunal with somebody from the worker's side and somebody from the employer's side - you get a judge. Our judge is a review commissioner. We will hope to appoint people who will have public acceptance on the basis of fairness and a good, sound mind - impartial, unbiased judgement being the credo for them, and timeliness, so that the injured worker gets an answer much more quickly and just as fairly, if not moreso, than they do under the current system.

With those remarks, Mr. Speaker, I move second reading of the bill.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Workers' Compensation Act (No. 2)," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill No. 27)

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

MR. ROBERTS: Could we resolve ourselves into Committee, Sir, to deal with Orders 3 and 4? They are the Literacy Council bill and the NLCS bill.

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


June 8, 1994               HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS              Vol. XLII  No. 58A

[Continuation of Hansard No. 58]

Committee of the Whole

MR. CHAIRMAN (Snow): Order, please!

A bill, "An Act Respecting The Literacy Development Council Of Newfoundland And Labrador." (Bill No. 28)

Motion, that the Committee report having passed the bill without amendment, carried.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Bill No. 24, a bill, "An Act Respecting Newfoundland And Labrador Computer Services Limited." I understand there is an amendment to the bill, an amendment to Clause 10.

The hon. the Minister of Justice.

MR. ROBERTS: Mr. Chairman, if I may, I made a declaration at second reading which I would repeat here. There will be an amendment to Clause 10. As my friend, the Minister of Finance, can't move the amendment, I would ask my friend, the Minister of Education, to move it. It's to Clause 10 of the bill, and copies have been provided to the Committee.

I will not speak on its merits, but the only thing it does is add Memorial University to the list of exemptions, as I understand it, but the ministers involved will speak to it. I would ask that notice be made that I have absented myself from the debate.

On motion, clauses 1 through to 9 carried.

MR. CHAIRMAN: Clause 10. The hon. the Minister of Education.

MR. DECKER: I move the amendment that clause 10 of Bill 24 is repealed and the following substituted: The agreement is exempted where, in conjunction with the sale of all of the issued and outstanding shares of Newfoundland and Labrador Computer Services Limited, agreements are entered into with the corporation called Newfoundland and Labrador Computer Services Limited for provision by Newfoundland and Labrador Computer Services Limited of goods and services as provided for in the agreements, to the government of the Province, agencies of the government, and Memorial University of Newfoundland, the Public Tender Act does not apply to the acquisition of those goods and services during the currency of those agreements.

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

MR. WINDSOR: Mr. Chairman, I ask the minister, if he would, to just clarify the purpose of that clause. I understand that any existing contracts that are in place now will carry on, that there's no requirement to call public tenders. Also, I think it is for the period of time that this new corporation gets up and running that these agreements can continue without calling public tender in order to allow - because government is obviously the sole client of the new corporation at this point in time.

Is there a time limit on that? Is there a sunset clause that eventually public tenders will apply? Because I am not sure that it's in the interest of the Province to give this new corporation ad infinitum the opportunity to get those contracts without having to tender. There may well be other private corporations that wish to bid on government work in the near future.

I can understand the need to ensure for the next couple of years, be it for three years, be it for five years perhaps even, but I would like to see a sunset clause on it that doesn't give them forever and a day, or that we don't have to come back to this House to change it at some point in time, that it would be open to public tender. They may well still be successful. It may be twenty years before there's another company with the same ability, as to the qualifications and facilities here, to compete with them but perhaps not. If we're going to privatize it then we should privatize it. Let's not privatize it but give them unlimited access to government contracts without public tendering. Maybe the minister would like to comment on that?

MR. BAKER: Yes, the Member for Mount Pearl has done a pretty good analysis of the situation and his description is very accurate. In order to complete the sale or the privatization of NLCS, part of the negotiations have been what happens to the business that government and Memorial University - unfortunately we'd forgotten about it, it's an error, we forgot about MUN - but the business that these agencies give Newfoundland Computer Services, which really is all their business, the intention is to do an agreement. If we reach an agreement there will be a signed agreement specifying what services are to be provided for, what length of time and that's why it's during the currency of the agreement.

I would suggest to the hon. member that the term of that agreement would perhaps have some impact on the amount of money we would receive from it, so it's important. It could be for instance five or seven, that's the kind of thing we're talking about, and I'm not sure what's going to be in the final agreement but there will be a fixed number of years and it will not be a long, long number of years. The hon. member is right that in this Province right now there's no other organization anyway that could supply those services the way that NLCS can. Hopefully there will develop other companies in this Province that, in a number of years, will be able to provide that service. After the agreement runs out - and there will be a definite term on that agreement - then everything is open to competition and to bids. There might be then, at that point in time, an opportunity to develop another company in the Province. So there will be a fixed term. This won't be indefinite, there will be a fixed term and it probably will be in the vicinity of seven years. That's my understanding at this point in time.

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

MR. WINDSOR: Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the ministers information but that still leaves me with some concerns. First of all, will that agreement come before this House? Is government in this case required to bring that sale agreement here, it can be done by Cabinet? In other words government can sell not only the assets of Newfoundland Computer Services - once this particular act is passed which facilitates that - but they can also sell a seven year contract, the minister is suggesting, of business. Now I would suggest that seven year contract of business is probably worth just as much as Newfoundland Computer Services to bricks and mortar. In other words that business is very important. I would suggest if we're ever going to have other companies in this Province one assumes that the purpose for privatizing NLCS is to get that business out there in a competitive basis and hopefully receive lower costs to government. What we're doing is selling a monopoly for seven years, that's what we're doing.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. WINDSOR: The cost will be specified. Well the problem is that the House has been asked to pass a piece of legislation here and we don't have the information to judge whether or not the subsequent contract is a reasonable one for the Province. I know the minister might say well you have to trust government for that. Well pardon me if unfortunately we do not totally trust government's judgement in these matters. So you're asking for a lot of authority. You're asking here for the power, not only to sell a Crown corporation but also the power to bargain away a seven year contract perhaps or perhaps more, it could be ten years, it could be fifteen years. The minister says five to seven, we'll take him at his word but it's still a considerable contract to be able to bargain away without any public tendering. You're basically saying that you could not probably expect another company to emerge in this Province for that period of time because it would be very difficult for a company to emerge without access to at least, part of the government contract. You are talking all of Memorial University, all of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and several other Crown agencies.

MR. HEWLETT: It's from a Crown monopoly to a private monopoly.

MR. WINDSOR: Those are the biggest contracts in the Province and are the ones being bargained away here; so I have some very serious concerns here and they may well be alleviated, if and when, we see the contract, but it is very difficult for us to support this particular act without knowing what the contract, subsequent thereto will contain, very difficult, so I ask the minister: Will he assure the House at least, that that contract will come before this House for debate or for ratification?

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

MR. BAKER: No, Mr. Chairman, quite the opposite. The contract will not come before the House for debate because we hope that we can have this deal finished very quickly and that we can get started on the development of this Province and not wait until November or whatever, so there is no requirement for the contract to come to the House and the contracts are not coming to the House.

I would like to point out to the hon. member that I can't give numbers simply because year by year, this House will decide, through the Budget process how much computer work we are actually going to do, year by year, we will decide that. This current year, the amount we spent on computer services has dropped substantially because of our financial problems and also because, as we become computerized our needs dropped, and as the government and the various agencies of government, the departments of governments become computerized then the expenditures drop, so nobody can pre-commit, I can't say what expenditures we are going to spend next year, is it $11 million, is it going to be $6 million, is it going to be $5 million or zero million, I can't say that.

The contracts I suppose - and I have to be careful of what I am saying here - will be along the lines of unit prices or whatever and will not commit a level of expenditure; we cannot do that in each year so it is very difficult to deal with the hon. member's questions because that process will be decided in the Budget process year by year, so it is not the kind of a contract where you can say we are committing $10 million of the business each year for the next seven years. It just simply not done.

AN HON. MEMBER: Let me ask a silly question.


AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. BAKER: Yes, and the Minister of Justice points out that there will be a section in the Financial Administration Act which simply confirms what I just told to the hon. member. This comes from clause 25 section 6 of the Financial Adminstration Act. Except as otherwise provided in the act is the condition of every contract providing for the payment of money by the Crown, the payment under the contract to a subject being an appropriation for the particular goods and services for the fiscal year in which payment under that contract falls due; so just to reinforce the point I was making, that it is a very difficult number to give.

I have no concept as to how much business is going to be available from government or from MUN in any given year over the next ten years, so the amounts are not there but that still does not get away from the fact that we will be committing whatever appropriation that we make in each of these years, we will be committing to dealing with that company that we have been dealing with ever since it has been in existence, and at the end then of that point in time, obviously, we will then contract out but I would say to the hon. gentleman that he is quite correct, that a very valuable part of that company is the government's business and MUN's business, no doubt about it, that's the most valuable part; it is not the bricks and mortar.

Bricks and mortar are not valuable at all in comparison and the expertise that is over in that company and in order to maintain that company as it is, we have to make the commitment that that much business is going to be there, to maintain the company as it is and then to have a large enough workforce to be able to expand and get business from outside. They must have a business base in order to survive; it is as simple as that, otherwise, why not just close the whole thing down and take the building apart over there and take our chances on the market, so it is simply not feasible.

The privatization of NLCS must include the business under certain terms for a certain length of time in order for that company to develop and grow as we hope it will, because, if that is not there, if that business is not there then there is no company. So, Mr. Chairman, the members on the opposite side have to understand that that is an essential component of privatization. I mean, if we were to privatize, for instance, parts of Works, Services and Transportation, let's say; let's suppose we were to privatize some of that, then we would be giving the work to that privatized company, obviously why would you privatize it, you know? Whatever the company happens to be, if you contract it out to companies that exist.


MR. BAKER: Yes, but just a second now, just listen now, just listen now. In that instance we would contract out work to companies that exist and can do the work. The point is that at this point in time, there is no company around here that can do the work, so we are privatizing NLCS, they will still do our work and as they develop and grow, then at a certain point in time, that work will then be able to be contracted out and hopefully, in the interim, as this new company builds other companies in the Province - and this is one of the commitments we are looking for - maybe there will be other companies that can do segments of our work or all of our work, so this is the only way, Mr. Chairman, that the privatization can occur.

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

MR. WINDSOR: Mr. Chairman, the minister has not indeed, alleviated my concerns one bit. What we have done here is, taken a Crown corporation, you haven't privatized it, you simply turned it over to the private sector, but by privatizing normally you now would get the benefit of competitive bidding of being able to go to more than one client for that particular service; that's one of the main advantages. What purpose is being served here in transferring the company from government ownership to private ownership? The only difference is, is that the private corporation now is making money off it, that's the only difference, you haven't changed anything. You just rearrange the deck chairs. You haven't opened up the opportunity for other companies to bid on this work; you haven't given the government -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. WINDSOR: Bidding on it now, bidding on the corporation and bidding on the asset-


MR. WINDSOR: What they are bidding on is -


MR. WINDSOR: You are not negotiating with one, you had proposals from four as I understand it and now you are negotiating the final deal with one company, that's a long ways from a public tender or even a public proposal talk. If the government had said we are inviting proposals from companies to take over ownership and operation of Newfoundland and Labrador Computer Services, and along with it go five years of government contracts, then everybody would be bidding on the same thing.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. WINDSOR: Tom Hickman is going into the computer business, I wouldn't doubt it. So however, your concerns, Mr. Chairman, I understand the rationale for saying to this company or whoever is going to buy Newfoundland and Labrador Computer Services, for a period of time you will have government business, and if the minister is so sure of what he is saying, is accurate, then let him make another small amendment; let him say, as it reads here, that the public tender does not apply to the acquisition of those goods and services for a period of a maximum of five years. Then I will accept this without any problem. A maximum of five years, I don't think that's unreasonable, that's enough, but to give them a blank check forever, subject to the whims of government, is a little bit too much, I say to the minister, and ask this House.

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

MR. BAKER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

It's interesting what we're seeing happening here. We, from day one in terms of the privatization of Newfoundland and Labrador Computer Services, indicated that this was not a simple, straight, privatization, but a privatization aimed at economic development in the Province. We're not simply selling a building. We're not simply selling some equipment. We're not simply doing that. We are trying to develop the IT industry in this Province - now, to use NLCS to develop an IT industry for this Province.

Mr. Chairman, it would be easy for us to close down that building over there. Let's say we will privatize the way the Member for Mount Pearl wants it done. Let's suppose we do that. Let's close down the building and lay off these 250 people. Let's do that, and then -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. BAKER: No, you listen now, because that's what you're suggesting.

Then, let's go to public tender for the business, and let's let Systemhouse do it in Montreal somewhere. Let's let IBM do it in Halifax. We will give the business to these people and forget about this Province; that's what you're suggesting.

We went to proposals to get the best deal for this Province, to bring business into this Province, to create jobs in this Province, and that's the way we're proceeding with this, and we're not going to listen to the negative people opposite who are, in fact, against any type of privatization at all that we care to do. We're not going to do that.

Mr. Chairman, the term of the contracts will be what is negotiated by the negotiators, and will be part of the final deal that we're doing. When that's done, everything will become public. We will have a company here that will bring business to this Province instead of shipping it out, as you're suggesting. It will bring business to this Province, will create an IT industry in this Province, the likes of which people opposite have never seen and never imagined, and are not capable of imagining. That's what we're going to do with this privatization.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. CHAIRMAN: The hon. the Member for Menihek.

MR. A. SNOW: Mr. Chairman, in the other opportunities I had to speak on this bill, I referred to what the minister was asking with this particular piece of legislation. He was asking us to give him a blank bill of sale. That's what I refer to it as, a blank bill of sale, and the hon. Member for Mount Pearl is correct in his assessment of what's occurring here.

It has been raised in previous debates about how much government work is going to be guaranteed, and for how long. What was interesting today is that it was the first time we had a time period fixed in an answer by the minister. The minister responsible, the President of Treasury Board, the Minister of Finance, said today, for the first time, it was interesting -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. A. SNOW: In previous debates he did not tell us that it was going to be five or seven years. One of the facts he did mention in the debate was the fact that there was some - with regard to the dollar value of government work. The dollar value was somewhere around $10 million to $11 million, was it?

AN HON. MEMBER: Last year, yes.

MR. A. SNOW: Last year - government work - with the amendment that provoked this particular debate today - with the amendment additional work by Memorial University. I wonder if he could tell us how much the value of that particular work is too? Was that included in the $10 million last year? So how much additional business is this new company going to be buying because that's what we are talking about giving them? They're going to be getting new business, right? This Memorial University business, how much additional work is that? How many millions of dollars or how many dollars in total does Memorial University Computer Services - how much work will that generate for this new NLCS? Would the minister care to answer that?

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

MR. BAKER: Yes, Mr. Chairman, the business that is currently being carried on by NLCS we envision the same business being carried on for a period of time.

Mr. Chairman, I move that the Committee rise, report progress or lack of such and ask leave to sit again.

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

MR. SPEAKER (Dicks): Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Trinity - Bay de Verde.

MR. L. SNOW: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of the Whole have considered the matters to them referred, have directed me to report Bill No. 28 carried without amendments, and ask leave to sit again.

A bill, "An Act Respecting The Literacy Development Council of Newfoundland and Labrador." (Bill No. 28)

Motion, that the Committee report having passed the bill without amendment, carried.

On motion, report received and adopted, Committee ordered to sit again presently, by leave.

MR. SPEAKER: Presently, by leave?

It's assumed that the said bill be now read a third time. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

On motion, a bill, "An Act Respecting The Literacy Development Council of Newfoundland and Labrador," read a third time, ordered passed and its title be as on the Order Paper. (Bill No. 28)

MR. ROBERTS: Mr. Speaker, before I -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I'm having trouble hearing the hon. Government House Leader.

MR. ROBERTS: Before I move the adjournment - my friend from Burin - Placentia West is less rambunctious - if he would control his rambunctiousness and let his intelligence take over he might be further ahead. I realize that's a struggle for him.

Mr. Speaker, before I -

MR. DECKER: Restrain yourself over there, restrain yourself.

MR. ROBERTS: Mr. Speaker, will the attendants spring to my defence so the rambunctious Member from Burin - Placentia West - it's getting close to school letting out time and he's showing it.

Mr. Speaker, tomorrow we shall carry on with the stimulating debate at the committee stage on Bill 24 and we'll see where that gets us. When that's finished we'll go on to deal with the remaining bill on our bill of fair, our menu, and that's the Retail Sales Tax -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. ROBERTS: - that's the Retail Sales Tax Act amendment bill which is Bill No. 11, Order 9, on today's Order Paper. When we have dealt with that bill, through all stages, then the House will adjourn. That's up to the House when we do it. I have made no plans for anything this side of Regatta Day and with the -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. ROBERTS: - one day off on the Royal St. John's Regatta Day, we can carry on. I would say to my friend from Grand Bank that I'll be either rowing or walking on the water depending on whether I wish to be with him or beside him.

Mr. Speaker, with that said, I move that the House do now adjourn.

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