March 27, 1996                HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS           Vol. XLIII  No. 5


The House met at 2:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Snow): Order, please!

Before we begin the routine proceedings, I would like to welcome to the public galleries, on behalf of all members, Mayor Augustine Rumbolt of Bird Cove with council members: Lawrence Caines, Dale Kennedy and Pius Gould.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

Oral Questions

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My first question today is to the Premier. I ask the Premier: Was he aware that there were severe cost overruns on the two supply vessels being constructed at Marystown, when he was in Marystown on February 6, during the recent election?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I have been aware that every shipyard in Canada, and indeed, just about every shipyard in North America, has been having trouble operating in a manner that allows them to compete with shipyards elsewhere in the world. To the extent that Marystown is one of the shipyards in North America, yes, I was aware that Marystown has, for many years, in fact, for decades, through many administrations, including administrations of the Progressive Conservative Party of Newfoundland, had difficulty. So yes, Mr. Speaker, unless one was totally out of touch with the state of shipyards generally in Canada, I would have to say that I was aware that Marystown and every other shipyard, has been having difficulty functioning and competing with shipyards in Asia and elsewhere around the world. No, I was not aware of the specifics of Marystown Shipyard versus any other shipyard.

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

MR. SULLIVAN: The Premier was aware, I guess, that there was a $6 million surplus or profit supposed to be made on those boats.

My next question is to the Minister of Industry, Trade and Technology. I assume the minister has read the recommendations of the Nelson Report that were presented to government and to the Marystown Shipyard Board of Directors. Mr. Minister, in just two weeks, the Nelson Consulting Group, along with Argyle Corporation, analyzed the Marystown Shipyard, and I can tell you, the report is not a nice one. Can the minister tell this House how many of the identified major recommendations have been implemented?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Well, Mr. Speaker, I am sure the minister will give the House, and all those who are interested, a full report on the state of play with respect to the recommendations in the report that is in the hand of the Leader of the Opposition. But I was expecting the Leader of the Opposition today to continue with the line of questioning yesterday, because yesterday he ended the day charging a cover-up, and severe problems - a cover-up by the government, and questions as to the integrity or the competence of Mr. Ruelokke. I issued a caution and a warning yesterday that these kinds of comments - because I believe the Leader of the Opposition to be a fair man - ought not to be made casually in this House.

Mr. Speaker, I have checked the record since yesterday, and I want the record to show that there is nothing in the employment history of that individual whose name was bandied about yesterday on this floor, which would warrant or justify his reputation being called into question, directly or indirectly, and I would ask the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw these suggestions of yesterday of cover-up and impropriety.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Back to my question to the Minister of Industry, Trade and Technology; the Premier has a habit of answering my questions a day late. I ask the minister now: Will he stand in this House and tell us how many of these major recommendations of The Nelson Consulting Group have been implemented?

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

MR. FUREY: Mr. Speaker, many of these recommendations have been implemented. All of them, I think, have been acted on in one way, shape or form; but I would have to get the detailed answers from the board on that particular question, and I will provide same to the House when it is available from the board, with a detailed report on exactly what has transpired on each recommendation.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition, a supplementary.

MR. SULLIVAN: My next question: During a recent meeting the minister had with Marystown Shipyard, he discussed several options with regard to the future of the Marystown Shipyard. One of the options was the closure of the Marystown Shipyard. Now, can the minister confirm that the Nelson Report states that the Marystown Shipyard could reach a break-even point by April 20, 1996, just twenty-four days away? Can the minister report exactly how far we are now from that break-even point?

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

MR. FUREY: Mr. Speaker, if I didn't know any better, I would think that the Leader of the Opposition would want this yard closed. This government, the Member for Burin - Placentia West, the Member for Grand Bank, are working diligently with this minister, with this department, with this board, with this management, to turn the shipyard around. That report lays out some projections. That report also is the basis of the board providing a new business plan forecasting into the future a break-even period.

We want the workers down there, their families and everybody, to have a healthy prosperous future, Mr. Speaker, but we cannot do it so long as the bottom-line is bleeding large sums and leaving large debts on the bottom-line. This new board, this board of men and women who run their own businesses, are giving us projections for the future, and they are giving us a plan to turn the yard around. I want to give it time and this government wants to give it time. We are worried sick about the families and the workers on the Burin Peninsula and we want to give it every fair chance.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition, a supplementary.

MR. SULLIVAN: Mr. Speaker, another question unanswered. If the minister, Member for Grand Bank and the Member for Burin - Placentia West were working so closely, why was he not briefed yesterday on what was happening and had the information? He knew nothing about it. There is no consultation going on. Now, since the minister has always talked about how heavy we are in debt at the shipyard, can he explain why the recommendations were not implemented immediately? This report was dated April 20, 1995 - and why, because of this, did we lose a woman of the calibre of Ms Peggy Witte?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I must say that I hope there is an opportunity for the public of Newfoundland and Labrador to hear the exchange today on the floor of the House of Assembly of Newfoundland and Labrador about the future of the Marystown Shipyard. We have the Leader of the Opposition spending two days of valuable House time to finally come to the conclusion, come to the matter that really concerns him. He is concerned about the welfare of a helpless, weak, and undefended individual who cannot defend him or herself, in this case, Ms Peggy Witte, and not at all concerned about the workers at Marystown or the future of the shipyard.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. Leader of the Opposition, on a supplementary.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I have nothing but praise for Ms Witte. I am criticizing the lack of this government's responsibility to do something about the operation. In this House yesterday I asked the minister, and he indicated here, that the financial advisers advised Marystown Shipyard to circumvent the normal purchasing procedures and to purchase equipment which was the Ulstein design without buying futures to hedge against any fluctuations in currency, and costing this Province, taxpayers $3.2 million. Now, I ask the minister, who were those financial advisers who gave that advice and, have they been fired?

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

MR. FUREY: Mr. Speaker, I stand by the answer that I gave yesterday. I gave an honest answer, it is recorded in Hansard. We have advisers, these advisers are in the financial community, they make recommendations to the management of the board and the management takes the recommendations and acts on them or they don't. In this particular case they didn't because the Norwegian kroner was strong against the Canadian dollar and they decided not to hedge. It was a costly mistake. We admit that up front.

Mr. Speaker, let me clear something else up for the record because it seems to me that the media or some media are just reporting that somehow the minister is stating that the only viable option left for the shipyard is closure. I have never, ever, said that that was the only option; I laid out a range of options, Mr. Speaker. I said the status quo is possible; it is not probable but it is possible.

I said, Mr. Speaker, that privatization, an aggressive privatization plan is possible. I said that the board's recommendations in consultation with the Argyle Group and the new business plan forecasting a future where we will break even is possible. I said, Mr. Speaker, a scale back is possible and I said, Mr. Speaker, a final conclusion could be suggested but closure is possible. That is the wide range of -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister to finish.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) I can't answer.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Baie Verte.

MR. SHELLEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Today, Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Mines and Energy, but first of all, the news continues to break about the enormous potential of Voisey's Bay. Of course, the latest bidding with Falconbridge and Inco confirms the magnitude of this project. There are many Newfoundlanders with our track record over the years in resources and so on, that we do the proper job - and, of course, during the election we talked about getting our full share, so we will have many questions on Voisey's Bay.

Mr. Speaker, to start, I would like to ask the minister: In the last session of the House, the previous Administration introduced amendments to the Mineral Tax Act which have specific implications for Voisey's Bay. Can the minister tell the House if those amendments will be brought back in this session and when, and, if he expects any new amendments or changes to those amendments?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, given the member's interest and, I know, the interest of all of the members of the Legislature and indeed the people of Newfoundland and Labrador in what is developing over last night and again today, with respect to the counterbid by Inco for the assets of Voisey's Bay, and this indeed has been raised by the Member for Baie Verte. I want to inform him and through him and through the House - inform the people of Newfoundland and Labrador that today I have spoken with Mr. Mike Sopko of Inco, the President and Chief Executive Officer, and I have confirmed for Mr. Sopko that the position of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is quite clear, that whomever at the end of the day emerges with the controlling interest to Voisey's Bay, the only acceptable development plan for the government and for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador is one that sees a mine, a mine mill, a smelter and a refinery built in this Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER TOBIN: I am delighted to report - and I thank the Member for Baie Verte for his question - that Mr. Sopko has agreed fully to those terms and conditions.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Baie Verte, a supplementary.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SHELLEY: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I understand the election is over now, and I heard the Premier say that many times during the election campaign. The question was: Will the amendments come to the House again this session with any change or not? Of course, you didn't answer that question. So I will ask the next question now, and of course, we have to relate it again to the election campaign because I am sure we all heard it then; and that is the question on the smelting and refining in the Province, which you just referred to. But now we are going to ask - of course, one of the solutions, they said, was to put the smelter on wheels.

AN HON. MEMBER: Question!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. SHELLEY: Mr. Speaker -


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member is on a supplementary. Could he get to his question?

MR. SHELLEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to ask the minister of the procedure of the deciding on the location of the smelter, and when does the minister expect to have it at least down to a short list on some potential sites, seeing as everybody in the Province has been promised a smelter.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Mines and Energy.

DR. GIBBONS: Mr. Speaker, I don't know if anybody has been promised a smelter. In particular, I know I have received lots of calls. Everybody wants the smelter, it seems; everybody has the best place in the Province for the smelter and the refinery, it seems. My position is that there has to be a thorough evaluation of the sites starting with sites in Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

DR. GIBBONS: Because this mineral deposit is in Labrador. That has to be assessed first. Secondary, look at sites around the Island and evaluate all the potential sites. I know that the companies involved have some consultants who are doing some work on site selection. I don't think they have issued any particular public proposal call with regard to this but they are doing some background work on it and there are a number of sites around the Province that are good potential sites.

MR. J. BYRNE: Forty-eight.

DR. GIBBONS: Yes, there could well be, as the hon. member opposite from Cape St. Francis is saying, there could well be forty-eight. There could be one in every district; in some districts I know there are more than one. So in due course, in the next few months, we will probably see a short list.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for Baie Verte.

MR. SHELLEY: I say Port de Grave is on the last of the lists, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I will ask the minister just one direct question again, the same amendments that were tabled in the last session of the House, will those same amendments be brought forward in this session of the House, the amendments to the Mineral Tax Act?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Mines and Energy.

DR. GIBBONS: Mr. Speaker, at this time the new government has not gone back to review these amendments. At the time that the House of Assembly was dissolved, at the time of dissolution the amendments had been moved to the committee stage of the House of Assembly and a large list of people had submitted an interest in appearing before the committee. We have to consider where these amendments were at that time and determine whether or not we want to go through a consultation process first before we bring them back in. We have not yet done that but I know that there is a lot of interest in having some comment from the general public and from various industries.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for Baie Verte.

MR. SHELLEY: Mr. Speaker, I am glad to hear that the minister is looking for public comments on this and the fair and full share I guess is the bottom line.

Now, Mr. Speaker, with the last question for the day and of course this is also a burning issue with this particular project, with respect to native land claims, could the minister tell the House the status of negotiations between the Innu and Inuit with respect to Voisey's Bay and does the minister foresee any delays with development of this project?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Yes, Mr. Speaker, it falls under my responsibility as Minister responsible for Intergovernmental Affairs.

Mr. Speaker, the land claim negotiations are a priority for the government. There is no question about that. I have already had preliminary discussions with the leadership of the Innu people of Labrador and we will be meeting shortly with the LIA as soon as a full meeting can be arranged. We have said many times that this project in Labrador is sufficiently rich, that is Voisey's Bay, that everybody should be a winner, starting with the people of Labrador but including our aboriginal people and that is the basic approach of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. I think it is an approach that is non-partisan and one that all members of the House can support and indeed all the people of this Province. So I can only say to him, it is a new administration but we will proceed to negotiate quickly but responsibly, full and fair benefits for all of those affected and in particular, aboriginal people.

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

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, my question is to the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture. Would the minister inform the House of the latest reports on the condition of cod stocks in Newfoundland and Labrador or more specifically the stocks as it relates to 4RS and 3PS?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

MR. EFFORD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is a clear understanding from everybody in the fishing industry, according to the latest scientific reports, that the cod stocks are at a low state everywhere in the waters around Newfoundland and Labrador, not just in one division. The stocks are at a point where the scientists have a great deal of concern. The only place where they are showing any significant improvement are in the 3PS division where there are some stocks that have been shown in the inshore sector to show some substantial amount but it is one of the things that they are concerned about, in the stocks that they have shown in the different areas on the testing that they have done, is that there is some renewable resource taking place but the concern is over the age of the stock. So what we are saying is that time over time, over the next few years the cod stocks around the island, that we have a confidence that will regrow but right now we have a deep concern about the stocks, how low they are, the age of the stocks and it is going to take a long time before we are satisfied that they are growing at the renewable rate that we would like to see.

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

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would like to ask the minister if he has been briefed on the new policy of DFO as it relates to cod by-catch with pelagic and shell fish gear? This new policy is zero percent by-catch. All cod caught must be thrown back in the ocean dead or alive. This new policy, Mr. Speaker, is something that has been just recently brought forward. I would like to ask the minister if he agrees with this policy, and would he explain the conservation in releasing or throwing back dead codfish.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

MR. EFFORD: First of all, Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is asking the question but he is putting it in a manner in which it is perceived to be that all fish caught - now that is the issue - dead or alive will be thrown back in the water. Conservation is a number one thought on everybody's mind.

What the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is saying is whatever possible measures can be taken in all fisheries, that the type of equipment that can be used in all fisheries would eliminate, in a lot of cases, the catching of any cod into a by-catch. That is our number one goal. It is not to catch the fish and release them dead or alive. Our number one goal is to have the proper equipment into the nets, whether it is into the cod traps or whether it is into the type of mesh size that we use, or whether it is into the trawling gear, to minimize the catching of any cod whatsoever. It is not to put dead fish back in the water as the hon. member is trying to point out.

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

MR. FITZGERALD: Mr. Speaker, I asked the minister if he was briefed on this latest policy. I say to the minister very simply that I made a phone call before I came to the House and talked to a gentleman in DFO, and these are the rules and regulations. That any fish caught now in pelagic gear or in shellfish gear has to be thrown back whether it is dead or alive. Up until now there was a 10 per cent or a 5 per cent, whichever fishery was taking place, allowed as a by-catch. That now is not allowed to happen.

I ask the minister again: Does he agree or does he disagree with the policy of not allowing fishermen to bring ashore dead codfish, or should they be thrown overboard like he made so many funny remarks here about the salmon fishery a couple of years ago?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

MR. EFFORD: Mr. Speaker, I don't put a whole lot of confidence into the phone calls that the hon. member makes. Because I can assure you, over the last two or three sessions of the House and many times he talked about phone calls and the answers and the points that he brought to this House of assembly, and we found out later that there was not much substance to the information that he had brought to this House.

The question on everybody's mind is simply this. Gear technology, the type of gear that is used in implementing a fishery, is the key thing to conservation. Now if the DFO is bringing in a management plan that requires fishermen as a deterrent that you will not be able to take advantage of a by-catch of cod, it would be on the emphasis of conservation only, a deterrent not to encourage to catch by-catch, and to place the proper gear facilities in your equipment that you will catch the least amount of cod whatsoever. It is proven out already in many instances where in the otter trawl last year on the Grand Banks in the catching of skate. Not one cod was brought in out of that fishery last year in the fourteen or fifteen boats that were fishing that type of gear because there was no by-catch of cod allowed in that fishery.

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

MR. FITZGERALD: Mr. Speaker, the minister still doesn't answer the question, he skates around it, but I can assure him that is the policy of DFO. I would like to ask the minister if he has made any representation to the federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans or the Atlantic Province with regards to monitoring and conserving those cod stocks that could be in jeopardy through the provincial food fishery taking place in the Maritime Provinces and Quebec. Has the minister made representation to those other provinces so that they may be treated exactly as Newfoundlanders?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

MR. EFFORD: Mr. Speaker, I have been in the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, what, two weeks right now. I have had one full half an hour of a conversation with the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. I have been to his office; I have spoken to his people here in St. John's. The one thing that is on my mind as my responsibility as the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture and the further development of our fisheries in this Province is conservation for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. What is going to happen to the fish stock here in this Province?

My main interest is that whatever measures can be put in place to conserve the stocks here, to ensure that we are going to have a viable fishery in the future is my interest to date.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. EFFORD: What I discuss with the federal minister at a later date will be determined by the agenda that will be set. My main interest now is what is happening in Newfoundland and Labrador, and if we all put our heads and our thoughts in the right direction it is going to be for all of our best interests, and that is what I intend to do as minister as long as I am in the office.

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

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

Last Friday I asked questions to the Minister of Mines and Energy regarding the Newfoundland Power increase. He indicated, he said, that: We, as a government, do not interfere with the operation of the Public Utilities Board. We will allow it to operate.

In view of that answer, I would like to ask the Premier: Last week the Public Utilities Board denied the Consumer Advocate information related to the power increase, denied information that Newfoundland Light and Power should have provided and should provide to the Consumer Advocate. In view of that, does the Premier support the process of the Public Utilities Board? And will he actively intervene, as all members in the House have an opportunity to do, to indicate that he stands against any power increase, or request for one, at this time?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I fully support the process in this Province and, indeed, it is a process that is used elsewhere all around the world of having a Public Utilities Board which is arm's length from the Opposition, arm's length from the Government, consider these kinds of questions and, without any partisan or political interference, come to a conclusion. But because it is an arm's length process from government it means that all of us, as members of the House of Assembly, are free to express our views.

I think that I speak for all of the members on this side when I say that we respect the process, we insist it be independent from government, and we express on behalf of our constituents the wish that we have a regime in this Province that offers all of the people of this Province the most efficient and lowest priced electricity that we can possibly have.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. E. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, what we have just witnessed is a typical political song and dance. The reality is that this is a non-partisan issue. Newfoundland Power has asked and requested a 4.9 per cent increase. The government has appointed a Consumer Advocate. The Public Utilities Board has –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member is now making a speech. I ask the hon. member to get to his question; he is on a supplementary.

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

The Public Utilities Board has disallowed information to the Consumer Advocate. Will the Premier intervene? Will Cabinet take a second look at this process to ensure that no increase happens at this time?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, the hon. member was giving a song, a dance, and a speech.

Mr. Speaker, the simple reality is that we have a Public Utilities Board, a process which allows this kind of application as brought forward, all of the interveners to be heard by an independent panel. That is fundamental to functioning with respect to public utilities in any kind of free and democratic society where governments ought not to intervene at the drop of a hat.

We have confidence in the process. The process has to be allowed to proceed without interference by the government. Having said that, it is the role of government to provide the funding necessary to have an intervener take an action on behalf of those who are concerned about rate hikes. A lawyer is now in place and is doing his job, we hope, and does it very well. We hope that the result is that consumers in Newfoundland, those we represent, face the most efficient and lowest electricity costs that are possible in the circumstance. But if the member is suggesting that the government should interfere in the courts when the courts meet, that we should interfere with the police when the police do their jobs, that we should interfere with any regulatory agency before the hearing is even held, then I have to say to the member, he does not believe in a proper democratic process, and I would ask him to re-examine what he is asking the government to do.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Kilbride on a supplementary.

MR. E. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, I, like many other members, understand that a process is in place, so let me be clear to the Premier in what I am asking the government to do.

Let the Public Utilities Board proceed as it should; let it call expert witnesses as it should, but will the Premier of the Province go to the Public Utilities Board, as this member is going to the Public Utilities Board, and request of the Public Utilities Board that no increase from Newfoundland Power take place at this time?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, this, in my judgement - and if I use words that the member finds rather harsh, I can only say I regret that his question, his posture, has brought me to this point, but this is so transparently a tactic on the part of the member that it is not difficult to see through. He says I respect the independent process of the Public Utilities Board, and I respect the fact that it has to be able to do its job without interference from the government that provides, through a regulatory legislative structure its independence, but will the Premier tell us in advance of the board having the hearings, will the Premier tell us in advance of the board doing its work, that government is going to overturn whatever they do if the government does not like the conclusions it comes to? That is not an independent process.

This government, and the members on this side, are as concerned about the state of play with respect to the cost of electricity as anybody else in this Province, and our members individually are concerned that we have the lowest priced electricity possible. We share that concern, but we are not prepared to destroy an independent process in order to respond to a partisan question.

MR. SULLIVAN: Order, please!

Question Period has expired.

Answers to Questions

For which Notice has been Given

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

MR. EFFORD: Mr. Speaker, I want to correct an answer to the question that the hon. Member for Bonavista South just asked during Question Period. I have the answer now in front of me that I didn't have a few minutes ago, but this is what I am talking about when I did not place a whole lot of confidence in the type of phone calls that are made and information brought to the House, and I will read the answer to the question of by-catch: By-catch limits of 10 per cent or 5 per cent depending on species and areas involved remaining in place for 1996, DFO will close fisheries in which the by-catch of closed or prohibited areas species exceed these limits. Fisheries with potential by-catch problems will also be closed if they cannot be effectively monitored and controlled. A by-catch of 10 and 5 per cent in the areas where the by-catch - no fish thrown away, Mr. Speaker.


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. FITZGERALD: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Bonavista South, on a point of order.

MR. FITZGERALD: Mr. Speaker, a point of order.

What I was referring to, and I made it quite clear when I asked the question, and I want to say this for clarification, that I talked about cod stocks caught in pelagic and shellfish gear, and that is not what the minister is referring to at all. I am talking about cod fish caught in those two types of gear which, up until now -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. FITZGERALD: - they were allowed to catch.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to take his seat. Clearly, he has not raised a point of order. There is, I guess, a disagreement between him and the hon. Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture as to the allegation of fact but that certainly doesn't constitute a point of order.

The hon. the Minister of Environment and Labour.

MR. K. AYLWARD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In response to a question from the Member for - as a matter of fact there was a good minister before me, Mr. Speaker, I have to say, a very good Minister of Employment and Labour.

A question asked the other day by the Member for Kilbride pertaining to CN property where there was some concern -

AN HON. MEMBER: St. John's South.

MR. K. AYLWARD: Oh, sorry, St. John's South. - where there were some concerns about rodent population in a building. We have had the officials check that out and there is a company contracted to deal the situation there by CN, and they have applied for a permit with the city to tear down the building. There is a process underway to deal with it so in the next few weeks we should see some progress made. The officials have also been on site and inspected the property and it appears to be in order but they are going to keep monitoring the situation for the next few weeks.

Thank you.


MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Harbour Main - Whitbourne.

MR. WHELAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise in this honourable House today to present a petition on behalf of the people of Marysvale in the District of Harbour Main -Whitbourne, a district that I am very proud to represent. The area of concern is the English Harbour Road. It is a rather old road but in the past fifteen or twenty years the number of houses that have been constructed on that road and the number of people that have moved there and the number of children who are going back and forth there on school buses mostly during the winter, has increased drastically.

The prayer of the petition reads: WHEREAS the English Harbour Road in the District of Harbour Main - Whitbourne is in great need of extensive upgrading and paving; and

WHEREAS the above-mentioned road is used as a bus route for transporting children to and from school; and

WHEREAS the people of this area of the Province feel that safe passage of their children cannot be granted due to the poor condition of the English Harbour Road;

WHEREFORE this House of Assembly should call on the provincial government to fund the repair and pavement of the English Harbour Road in the Town of Marysvale in the District of Harbour Main - Whitbourne, and as in duty bound your petitioners will ever pray.

Mr. Speaker, there are approximately 160 names on this petition and I would strongly urge the Minister of Works, Services and Transportation to give very serious consideration to their request. I live fairly close to that particular road and I know that during the winter there are numbers of times when the road becomes soft and you have ruts there and freezes again, the road is practically impassable and makes a rather dangerous set of circumstances for children in the area especially school children, a number of very small children.

I realize that the restraints on the particular department we are talking about are very serious, however I believe that the condition of the road, the set of circumstances with regard to this particular road, are such that it would warrant very serious consideration, and I strongly urge the minister, as I mentioned before, to give serious consideration to the request made by the people of Marysvale.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay South.

MR. FRENCH: Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak in support of the hon. member's petition and say that I certainly do hope that the minister takes that road, as well as many other roads across this Province that are in a very deplorable condition, under advisement, and hopefully when the Interim Supply and the Budget comes down there certainly will be money, not only to do this road but a lot of other roads in this Province as we go into 1996 and 1997.

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

MS BETTNEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I would like to thank the member for the presentation of the petition, and obviously the people who have made this petition to the House. I would like to say to the House that the department is in the process of reviewing all of the road requirements within the Province on a region by region basis, and that is something as a new minister that I will be looking at over the next few weeks.

Members are aware as well, of course, that we at the beginning stages of the Budget process and that any decisions that get made on the capital allocations for roads, and for the specific decisions that are made will be made based on the most objective information that we have on urgency requirements in this area. We will be looking at all of the requirements around the Province very seriously over the next few weeks, and in addition to that I have made available, myself and members of my department, for consultation with as many representatives from different regions of the Province as is possible.

The matter of funding is part of the Budget process and the actual decisions will be based on the most reliable information that we are able to obtain, both from my department officials and from people around the Province.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Orders of the Day

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

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

As all members in the House know, and certainly people who are in the gallery, every Wednesday is Private Members' Day, and it is an opportunity for a private member to put before this House a resolution to be debated amongst all members in the House, and ultimately to either be passed, modified, or not passed before the House of Assembly.

The resolution that I put forward on Monday deals with Newfoundland Power and the requested 4.9 per cent increase they are looking for this year in electrical power rates. It is too bad the Premier has left, but let me say first and foremost, that I understand fully, and I do not think for a moment that every member in this House wishes to see zero increase in power rates. I believe that. I believe that each and every one of us would like to see a zero per cent increase in electrical rates right now. I believe that each and every member who represents their constituents have gotten calls requesting that that may happen.

This is not a partisan issue, Mr. Speaker, nor have I tried to make it one. I have asked simple questions of government, questions dealing with what is within government's power to decide. In questions asked of the Minister of Mines and Energy he indicated that the Public Utilities Board has been put in place, government has appointed a consumer advocate, and we should not prejudge what will happen through that process, and to some extent I agree with him.

If history proves correct, Mr. Speaker, then what will happen after the Public Utilities Board makes its ultimate decision on whether or not there will be an increase, then I can assure each and every member of this House that we will look at an increase in Newfoundland in the electrical rates in this Province. Historically, over the past twenty years, each and every time that Newfoundland Power has gone to the Public Utilities Board for an increase one has been granted. They may not have gotten the increase that it requested, but the fact remains that it did get an increase.

I think that is what is up for consideration today. If you look at the private member's resolution, and we get to what I'm requesting of each and every member today, it is simply this: "Therefore be it resolved that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador do whatever is required to ensure that an increase in electricity rates does not occur at this time." It does not request of the government to squash the Public Utilities Board and throw that process out the window. It doesn't ask that. It simply leaves the door open for government, Cabinet and all members to do whatever is necessary or required to ensure that there is no increase in electricity rates at this time.

Mr. Speaker, there are many good and solid reasons why I put this private member's resolution before the floor. Many reasons why Newfoundland Light and Power in my opinion should not receive an increase. Many reasons why the Public Utilities Board should squash and should not grant an increase to Newfoundland Power.

One certainly deals with that Newfoundland Power has a monopoly in the delivery of an essential commodity in this Province. It is not at risk in any way, shape or form of becoming non-competitive. Secondly, Newfoundland Power, having made about $27.8 million last year I believe in profit, in my opinion is not in need of extra revenue from its consumers. It should be pointed out that this profit margin was made after shareholders were paid and after all expenses.

Newfoundland Power in passing on corporate income tax increases to consumers again would be defying government's intention of ensuring that corporations dip into their own profits to help bear the cost of public fiscal responsibilities. We live in a time of restraint. Municipal governments are cutting back services; taxes that we pay are going up. We see social service recipients who are now getting claw backs on income tax that they have coming towards them. The Department of Social Services is clawing back. Public servants have not received increases in wages. Services offered by provincial governments have been cut. Capital works programs have been down scaled. The amount of capital works in terms of road and construction, not as much happening. Federal government operations being down scaled, centralized. Everywhere in society today we are operating under restraint and cutbacks.

I think that Newfoundland Power as a corporation in this Province has the same responsibility to each and every one of us -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: I would say that the minister would have his opportunity to speak to the private member's resolution, and if he wishes to I'm sure that the chair will recognize him.

Each and every one of us, Mr. Speaker, in society today across the country, I remind the minister, not just in this Province, is operating under restraint. I think that Newfoundland Power has the opportunity to show some leadership from the business community and not claw back or request for an increase in electricity rates.

The other overriding reason is that the expanding low energy use market is a situation Newfoundland Power helped create itself. Over the past three to four years it has consistently advised consumers to reduce their demand for electrical energy. We have seen the commercials, we have heard the advertising, it has come into our homes: Seal windows, reduce your heat costs, save money. It would be wrong I think for the Public Utilities Board to try and alter this situation by penalizing consumers like ourselves and people out there who did exactly what Newfoundland Power asked us to do. We heeded its advice, we reduced the amount of energy required, and now we are being penalized for it.

Another reason that many Newfoundlanders who do not use Newfoundland Power delivered electricity to heat their homes, but instead use wood furnaces because they cannot afford to do otherwise. There are many people in that situation.

Over the past couple of days in presenting petitions before this House some member I believe shouted out: For those people who find themselves in a bind, Newfoundland Power's Share the Light program is there. What most people do not realize or do not know is that that Share the Light program is not extended to social service recipients whose light bills are back two months, that it is not open or accessible to those people, the poorest in our society, that the Share the Light program is open to what we would call the working poor, and that the amount of money that Newfoundland Power contributed to the Share the Light program is not astronomical, as some people believe, but was a mere $15,000 last year. It did not pay a lot of light bills, I suspect, but the majority of the Share the Light program came from donations from consumers of Newfoundland Light and Power, came from taxpayers, rate payers, who need this essential commodity.

Mr. Speaker, differential rate increases, while penalizing the poor for not using electric heat, will do nothing to provide them with the money they need to pay for electric heat so as to increase the company's competitiveness, but will force, in my opinion, many people, the disadvantaged especially, to dip into their food budgets to pay for electricity that they need for lights.

I have attended a couple of public meetings on the issue now. I have about, I think, close to thirty letters from constituents. I have one that is pretty touching, one that came from a single mom, three kids, on social services. Right now she is three months behind in her light bill. They are threatening to cut her off. I think she receives - the amount of money from social services, as we all know, provides the bare minimum. She is doing the best that she can with the amount of money that she has, but this is the person, and the type of person, who is going to be hurt by these increases. It is impossible for her to keep up with the cost of electricity during the coldest months of the year right now, let alone be forced into a situation to pay an additional 4.9 per cent. I think these are the individuals who we must consider, as members of the House, in debating this issue.

Mr. Speaker, there are Newfoundlanders, I submit to this House, on low and fixed incomes who use the smallest amount of electricity, since they have the fewest electrical-run amenities. It is therefore, in my opinion, the poor who will bear the brunt of a differential rate increase at this time.

Newfoundlanders suffering from the fish resource crisis, the general economic downturn and deep government spending cuts can ill afford increases in essential commodities like electricity at this time. Newfoundland Power's assertion that not having a rate increase since 1992 is no justification for them to get a rate increase in 1996.

Now, `What can the government do?' is the question. What power do they have? The Public Utilities Board is governed by an act that this Legislature put in place some years ago. The Public Utilities Board - maybe when this dispute is over with, maybe when this comes to a close, maybe I can make a couple of suggestions - positive ones - for government to look at. Maybe it is time for us to review the role of the Public Utilities Board in how it responds to requests from corporations such as Newfoundland Power for rate increases. Maybe it is time for us to have a more open debate about that very important board that affects all of our lives. The decisions emanating from that board, from time to time, affect each and every person in this Province.

The rules and regulations governing the Public Utilities Board have not been changed, in my understanding, since 1950. Maybe it is time for Cabinet to have a look at the rules and regulations governing that board.

Mr. Speaker, when government did what it should have done, it appointed a Consumer Advocate, the Consumer Advocate then, on behalf of all of us, requests information from the Public Utilities Board. Then, last Friday, a release comes out from the Consumer Advocate, Mr. Denis Brown, and I would like to read it into the record:

Late Friday afternoon, the Public Utilities Board denied the Consumer Advocate an application which would have required Newfoundland Power to produce documents relevant to the power company's application for a rate increase. The Consumer Advocate is required by law to review, investigate, and make appropriate recommendations to the PUB concerning the reasonableness of the rates proposed to be charged by the power company.

The Consumer Advocate argued, Mr. Speaker, during the application and still maintains that these documents are essential in order to ensure the power company has made a full disclosure of all relevant information. He went on to state that it is critical that Newfoundland Power co-operate unconditionally - which it is not now doing - with the investigation that he is launching. The Consumer Advocate will decide, after meeting with council, whether to appeal the PUB's order to the Province's Court of Appeal, which I think he has done.

Mr. Speaker, that act unto itself, a Consumer Advocate appointed by government, requesting information from the PUB so that he can get on with his investigation, that he sees as being relevant to the case that he must put together on behalf of all consumers and being denied, I believe is an example and exemplifies the situation that needs to be corrected at the Public Utilities Board.

Mr. Speaker, I think that we will see many petitions continue and I trust that members opposite will do whatever is within their power to ensure that an increase, in an essential commodity like electricity, an increase or a requested increase by the power company does not occur at this time and that Newfoundland Power be a responsible corporate citizen and tighten their belts, as all of us are expected to do. With that, Mr. Speaker, I will sit down and hear from other members. Thank you.

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

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

I, too, would like to stand in the Legislature today and add my voice as one who is very concerned in terms of what the rates and the rate increases being proposed by Newfoundland Power will do to the poor, and indeed, the working poor of this Province.

Mr. Speaker, sometimes it is easy for us to simply stand here and to state our own cases but I know from my own history of dealing with this issue, I can go back some ten years ago when a similar rate increase was being called for and there was a very strong outcry in the Province at the time. And I added my voice to it, in those days as a business man, saying that this should not happen. I say the same thing today.

Ten years ago, I convinced my business associate at the time that we should do more than simply say, this is wrong, that we should put our own money where our mouths were and that we did indeed, at that time, do as was suggested at a public meeting that the hon. the Member for Kilbride attended the other night, that everybody should turn their power off at a given time in order to send a message to Newfoundland Light and Power. I stand here today as a proud individual, saying that, to the best of my knowledge, we were, at the time, the only business who actually did that. We actually held a candlelight vigil on the parking lot of our Kentucky Fried Chicken store on Elizabeth Avenue, served hot chocolate and literally pulled the plug on what is - well, the tax department might be listening - one of the most profitable stores in Atlantic Canada. But we pulled the plug for that hour to show our concern and our protest. I understand at the time that we were the only business in Newfoundland who did that.

AN HON. MEMBER: So the chicken dried up?

MR. WALSH: No, actually we gave it away rather than serve it. We would never serve anything an hour later.

Mr. Speaker, there is a shell game taking place here at the Fortis Corporation that has not been talked about this afternoon. The shell game is that some years ago Newfoundland Light and Power became Fortis. Fortis, with its profits that it received from Newfoundland Light and Power, created a number of different companies, one being Fortis Trust, which is now in the banking business; another, Fortis Properties, which is into everything from hotels, office towers to shopping malls. Fortis Trust became a major shareholder in Maritime Electric, all from the profits of Newfoundland Light and Power.

Now, these new companies may today be standing on their own. They may today be making profits unto themselves. Part of the shell game also, Mr. Speaker, that I believe is taking place, is the fact that many of the senior officials within Fortis Trust received most of their income, not from the new companies that were formed but indeed are receiving it from Newfoundland Light and Power. Twenty-seven point eight million dollars has to be enough, when every other company in this Province in this Province and, indeed, across Canada, have had to tighten their belts.

Some concern has to come to all of us here today when we are standing - and others will this afternoon to discuss this important issue - other concerns have to come to us. There are people I see in the gallery today, some of whom have taken the time, I know, to call members of the House of Assembly. Some whom I see in the House today took the time to write letters to a number of us, and I myself received one of those letters, saying that they are concerned. The hon. the Member for Kilbride said that many members of this House of Assembly are concerned, and indeed we are.

When one has the opportunity to hold a monopoly, one has to be very careful how one exercises that monopoly in dealing with individuals and groups of people. All of us in this Province know full well that at the end of the day it will be the working poor and indeed, the poor, who will bear the brunt. Those whom we see on the side of the road on many weekends when we are travelling, who are hauling logs out from the woods in order to have firewood to get them through the winter will now see an increase, ironically because they have been saving, ironically because they have been cutting back on their consumption. If this goes through they will bear that brunt.

Mr. Speaker, we have to do what we can to ensure that Newfoundland Power has to hold the line, that they have to do as the rest of us have to do in this Province, and that is get by on what we have. I am not sure, as part of their argument, that the bonding companies they have to deal with may look unfavourably upon them should they not maintain that profit level. I heard that argument ten years ago when it was in the $18 million to $19 million profit range. We have gone up by $11 million, but the argument is still the same one that they are continuing to use.

The differential rate that was mentioned by the hon. the Member for Kilbride I think was 4.8 per cent. I am not sure if I am correct but I thought I heard Dennis Browne say something on a newscast in the last couple of days that that may, in actual fact, be 5.5 per cent or 7 per cent when it is actually worked through. We have to be concerned. We have to also stand in this Legislature and do everything we can to protect the people whom we represent - six months ago, fifty-two of us, today, forty-eight of us. The number of people whom we represent are the same, it is just that in some cases the districts have gotten a little larger.

We also have to have respect for the process. We also have to have respect for the institutions that are in place that are being asked to monitor and review what it is that Newfoundland Power or other public utilities wish to do. Today we have the PUB in place to do that. We have to show some respect for the process, simply because without that process, then it all may as well come back into this Legislature for us to deal with on an individual basis, regardless of whether it is electrical or trucking or anything else. So we have to have respect for them. In doing so, we also cannot make a mockery of the process that was put in place I believe by the predecessors of this government; I am not sure whether it was Mr. Moores or Mr. Peckford, but someone who gave the strength to the PUB to carry out the job that they have.

So, Mr. Speaker, in recognizing the fact that Newfoundland Power's demands are stronger on the public than they should be, recognizing the fact that there is a process in place, and recognizing the fact that we should not now look to make a mockery of that process, we also have to give the PUB an opportunity to carry out the job that they have been asked to do.

With that in mind, Mr. Speaker, as the Member for Conception Bay East and Bell Island, seconded by my colleague, the Member for Bonavista North, I want to amend the resolution by deleting all the words after: `rates' in the first WHEREAS, and adding:

WHEREAS Newfoundland Power has a monopoly in the delivery of an essential commodity in the Province; and

WHEREAS there is a great deal of concern about the proposed electrical rate increases being sought by Newfoundland Power;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador ensure that the recently appointed Consumer Advocate use every possible means to bring the concerns of the consumer to bear on and be reflected in any decision forthcoming from the Public Utilities Board on the rate application by Newfoundland Power.

Mr. Speaker, we are here today discussing what we believe is a crucial issue to all the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I understand the hon. member has moved an amendment?

MR. WALSH: So moved.

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair would like to have an opportunity to see the copy of the amendment so that I can rule as to whether the amendment is in order or not. And to do that, of course, the Chair will briefly recess the House. I have not seen the amendment so I would like to take an opportunity to have a look at it.


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair has had the opportunity to look at the amendment put forth by the hon. the Member for Conception Bay East and Bell Island, and the amendment is in order. It meets all the standard requirements of the amendment plus on any amendment, the object of any amendment may be either to modify a question in such a way as to increase its acceptability or present to the House a different proposition as an alternative to the original question, and I think the amendment does make it perhaps more acceptable to the House.

The hon. the Member for Conception Bay East and Bell Island.

MR. WALSH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I guess, in conclusion, in terms of the remarks I was making earlier, it is good to see a resolution of this type come to the House of Assembly. I remember, back in 1991, there were three of my colleagues on this side of the House of Assembly who were standing strong at that time as well; the Member for Pleasantville and the Member, at the time, for St. John's South and I, were some of the three or four lone voices on this side supporting the fact that these issues had to stop.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. WALSH: By leave?

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


MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MR. WALSH: In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, what I am saying is that we have to honour the process that is in place and, indeed, we cannot allow ourselves today to make a mockery of the process that is in place.

Mr. Speaker, I can say to all hon. members that if the process at the end of the day is not one that we believe is fair, if it is not one that we believe is just, and if it is not one that we believe is giving the best results to the people of this Province, allow me to assure you that our voices will be heard yet again.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in my place today and support the resolution put forward by the Member for Kilbride. I know the Member for Conception Bay East and Bell Island has moved an amendment, and I accept the ruling of the Speaker on that although my personal view is that the proposed amendment does change the intent of the resolution put forward.

It is generally assumed, I would imagine, that the Consumer Advocate who would be appointed by the government to intervene on behalf of the consumers in the Province would put forth the best case possible. That, to me, is just a basic assumption, so to me, this is hardly worth the paper it is written on. I think that it is, again, one of the moves of government to try to not support the resolution put forward by the Opposition.

As I said, I support the resolution put forward by the Member for Kilbride. Mr. Speaker, I remember growing up in Torbay. I grew up in a big family, twelve children, nine boys and three girls, and we heated our home, when I was growing up - which was thirty to forty years ago type of thing - with wood, coal and oil. We had wood, basically, in the summertime and in the fall of the year, and coal and oil in the winter months. We had an oil furnace, or a floor furnace at that time they were - in bungalows that is normally what they had back then, I think, oil furnaces, floor furnaces. We had to purchase oil during the winter months when we were growing up, my family did, my parents, and I remember on Saturdays in the winter months going into the woods in the truck with my brothers and my father, cutting wood, lugging it from the woods to the side of the road, piling it up, and bringing it home in the truck, then standing it and letting it dry, and cutting it the next summer, and junking the wood up by bucksaw. We didn't have chain saws back then - you may have had them, but we didn't have them. So we cut the wood up, sawed it up by hand, myself and my brothers, piled it, and used it in the winter months, with the floor furnace, and the wood stove for cooking.

But the part that I remember most about being in the woods, of course, is the boil-up on Saturdays at lunch hour. You would have your `mug-up', your tea; you boiled your old pot or kettle type of thing. And then we would have maybe some bread and molasses, some beans warmed up in the frying pan, and what have you, and have a fine feed. This is all coming to a point down the road, now, as I continue on.

I remember, too, growing up, that we had to bring splits to school to get the fire going, to get the old pot-bellied stove heated up. During the winter months, also - we lived in a long, long laneway, probably a quarter to half a mile from the road, and we had to shovel the laneway in the winter months so the oil truck could get in probably once a month type of thing, or once every two weeks, to give fuel for the furnace. Now, today, you are being limited as to how much wood you can cut in the winter months, and actually, the time when you can cut wood is limited. I think today you can cut six cords. And people in different areas in my district, even in Pouch Cove and Torbay, still cut wood to heat their homes.

I have to wonder if there is a plan afoot here by Fortis, by Newfoundland Power, and actually by the government, to a certain extent, I suppose, if they are going to support an increase, which is obviously what they are going to do - the Premier basically said today that he supports a rate increase for Newfoundland Power. I wonder if there is some kind of plan to limit the amount of wood people can burn so they will be forced to either purchase oil or use electricity, Mr. Speaker. That is the concern I would have.

Mr. Speaker, in 1974, actually before 1974, I found a nice little woman for myself; we were married in 1974 and I started building my own home which I still live in today. At that time, of course, the big factor was electricity. We had the Churchill Falls situation not long underway and there was a big promotion on, and the question was whether we should heat our homes with electricity, or go with an oil or a wood furnace. I listened very carefully; I researched, and then decided that I would go with electricity. Of course, with the promotion that was on the go, and being a young fellow at the time, and listening to the promotions of Newfoundland Power, I decided I should heat my home with electricity.

I had reasons for that, of course. They said it was a clean source of fuel type of thing and it would be cheaper in the future. You put in the big long electric radiators. Some people did not like the heat, they thought it was too dry, and more people liked it, that type of thing. I built my home, put electricity in the home, and I have been paying the price ever since 1974 for heating my house with electricity.

Now, I am one of the fortunate ones in the Province. Since 1974 I have been generally always employed, and have always had a reasonable income, I suppose, compared to a lot of people, and I have been able to keep up with the increase in rates from Newfoundland Power, Newfoundland Light and Power back at that time. But there are many people in this Province who are not so fortunate as I have been in being able to make the payments to Newfoundland Power.

I have had situations since I became an MHA where I had to contact Newfoundland Power on behalf of people in my district who had their electricity cut off by Newfoundland Power, and people who were threatened to have their electricity cut off by Newfoundland Power. I must say, though, generally speaking, that Newfoundland Power has been very co-operative in this matter and we usually work out a deal somehow or other. The people who seem to be getting their power cut off more and more these days are the people on social assistance. I mentioned that the other day.

Once your electricity is cut off by Newfoundland Power it is much more difficult to have it hooked up once again. It is easier to work a deal with Newfoundland Power before they cut the electricity - and I sure a lot of members in the House of Assembly have had experience with that. Anyway, as I said, it is easier to work a deal with Newfoundland Power before your electricity is cut of, rather than have it cut off and then try to work a deal, because they want so much money up front. I have had people who owed Newfoundland Power $1,500 to $2,000, who were on social assistance. And you would go and try to get a deal worked out for those people. Then Social Services will come and say, well, we allow only so much money; so it gets harder and harder all the time to get some kind of co-operation with the department. But it works sometimes.

As we know, Mr. Speaker, the people on social services rolls are growing and growing all the time - since 1989 from 30,000 up to over 70,000 now. We have stated here in the House before - a lot of members have said it, and we are getting tired of saying it - it is about time this government started doing something to create jobs and get people off social assistance. Sometimes I wonder if there is some kind of plan afoot to actually put as many people on social assistance as they can and force them out of the Province so we will be rid of them. That is kind of cruel and cynical, but it is the way I feel sometimes.

AN HON. MEMBER: That is shocking.

MR. J. BYRNE: It is shocking - that is right.

Mr. Speaker, Newfoundland Power have a system put in place which they call Share the Light. I am not quite sure on this figure but I believe it is $15,000 that Newfoundland Power put into Share the Light last year. Now, Newfoundland Power last year made $28.7 million profit after they paid their dividends to the shareholders and had their expenses and maintenance completed.

Now, maintenance is a point I want to get on to at this time. I do now know what Newfoundland Power, or Newfoundland Hydro, is doing but every time we have a little snowstorm, a little windstorm, or a little bit of sleet, it is getting to the point now where, if you have fog, the electricity goes - electricity is lost in different areas of the Province at different points in time, Mr. Speaker. Fog - it is getting to that point now. I don't know what they are doing with their maintenance.

MR. WOODFORD: (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: Pardon?

MR. WOODFORD: (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: The minister for - the Member for Humber Valley. A Freudian slip, then. I said minister for Humber Valley. I was expecting the Member for Humber Valley to be in Cabinet over there. I am wondering when he is going to be in Cabinet. I am sure there will be a few upset people over there when he does end up in Cabinet. The Member for Humber Valley said that the light should be gone out here all the time. I don't know why he would make such a statement but he has his own reasons for that, I suppose.

Anyway, the money that is being spent on maintenance in this Province by Newfoundland Power is something - it certainly appears, I can't say for sure - to be, what's the right word? Pathetic, I suppose. Because as I said, every time we have a small bit of wind, a bit of sleet or a bit of a snowstorm, we lose electricity, Mr. Speaker.

Newfoundland Power made $28.7 million last year in profits. If you take the $15,000 and see the kind of money they put into Share the Light, if an individual for example, pays $200 a month, say, on average, or $250 a month to heat his house, general electricity for the house, and heat and light type of thing, and he gives $5 or $10 a month, well, that is probably what, five, $200, 2 per cent type of thing. Newfoundland Power made a contribution, I think, of $15,000. That works out to be 0.0005 of 1 per cent of Light and Power's profits last year, which is really five ten-thousands of 1 per cent. That is the kind of money that Newfoundland Power put into Share the Light last year. And they expect people in the Province to put money into Share the Light. To me, it shouldn't be `do as I say', it should be `do as I do'. They should be setting an example and putting in much more money than that, themselves.

Now, as I said earlier, people in this Province are hurting. I have stood in this House a number of times and said it before and I will say it again, and I imagine I will continue to say it for a while to come: There are people in this Province who are hurting. There are people in this Province who do not know where their next loaf of bread is coming from, where their next pound of butter is coming from, or their next bag of sugar, type of thing. There are people hungry out in this Province. And it is not going to help in any way, shape or form if this rate increase is permitted to go ahead.

Newfoundland Power, as I said, are looking for a 4.9 per cent increase which I believe is morally wrong at this point in time. The Member for Conception Bay East and Bell Island was on his feet and he said that the Consumer Advocate mentioned that it would be anywhere from 5 per cent to 7 per cent when it works its way through the system. Again, that is just playing with numbers. Newfoundland Power is playing with numbers. I honestly believe that it is just morally wrong. It may be legally right or legally correct to do it, to have the rate increase. The Public Utilities Board may decide that they are legally justified in getting the rate increase, but I believe personally that it is morally wrong.

Newfoundland Power, for a number of years, had promoted conservation in this Province when it came to electricity. We have had ads in the paper, little pamphlets coming out in the billing envelopes, ads on television promoting conservation. And people listened to it with the best of intentions. What happened? Now, we come around and we see Newfoundland Power trying to nail the people who listened to them in the first place, trying to nail the people who are conserving energy by putting, maybe, those plastic sheets up to their windows in wintertime with the tape around the windows, and get your hair dryer or whatever the thing is, and you heat up the plastic and it becomes tight. People went out and spent money on that and listened to Newfoundland Power. People put insulation in their ceilings at extra cost, people insulated their basement walls over the years, did all kinds of things to conserve energy, and what do they have now? Newfoundland Power going after those very people who were trying to save a few bucks.

I know an individual, Mr. Speaker, in Flatrock who was paying out a lot of money in electricity rates every month. I asked him: `Do you have your basement floor insulated?' He didn't have a basement but I asked: `Do you have your floor insulated?' He said, no, he did not. So I asked: `Why don't you try to get a few bucks together and insulate your floor, it will save you a lot of money monthly,' and that is what he did. He went out and scraped together a few bucks, enough to insulate his floor, and he started to save a few dollars. What do we see now? Newfoundland Power is saying because you did that, now you are going to pay more, anyway. I think it is absolutely ridiculous!

Then, Newfoundland Power, when the people started to kick up a fuss about the differential rate increase, they said, Well, maybe what we should do is come up with a seven-dollar or eight-dollar-a-month across the board type of thing. Now, that gets me wondering, did they do this deliberately? I don't know, Mr. Speaker, but since I came in here, I think I have become pretty cynical. I am saying to myself, well, was this their plan in the first place? Did they want to get the people upset and then they will back off and come up with a flat across the board rate increase, Mr. Speaker? That is what we see this government doing a lot, this very, very same thing. So I am wondering are they getting their voice from the same people. So we see this government - I should not say this government, I suppose, because technically they are a new Administration as of February 22, but when you look at the front benches you think it is the same government, Mr. Speaker, because they are all the same faces. So I would say this Administration, in the past, has brought down budgets, type of thing and -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. J. BYRNE: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

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

This Administration has brought down budgets or this -

MR. TULK: (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: I know you are wonderful, yes. I have to say one thing to the Government House Leader, I would rather see him sit there than the guy previous to him, I have to tell him that. It is nice to see him promoted, it was long overdue.

MR. FUREY: (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: And the Minister of Industry, Trade and Technology confirms and he agrees with me himself that he would rather see the member -

MR. FUREY: If you are starting to get nasty about my former colleague I am going to withdraw leave.

MR. J. BYRNE: I am not getting nasty. I saw you up the other day going around - you were up in Opposition offices the other day with the former Government House Leader and -

MR. FUREY: (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: No, I would not do that.

Anyway this is a serious matter, Mr. Speaker. I know the tactics of the people opposite, Mr. Speaker, trying to get me to digress from this very serious issue that we are dealing with here today.

The Member for Kilbride put forward this resolution and some very serious concerns. Basically, what the bottom line is from my perspective - I had all kinds of notes here, Mr. Speaker, that I wanted to get into but my time is up, so I won't abuse the leave of the members opposite. But the bottom line on this is very simply put: there are people in this Province who cannot afford to pay this 4.9 per cent rate increase, which is anywhere from 5 per cent to 7 per cent, in actual fact. They cannot afford it. People today are having less disposable income over the past eight or ten years, Mr. Speaker, and they cannot afford it. If they are going to pay more for electricity and not have their electricity cut off they are going to be taking away from food on the table, as I said earlier, Mr. Speaker, and other very important services that they require in their families.

So the bottom line for me is this: I believe the Premier stated today that the Member for Kilbride wanted the government to basically overturn any rulings that the PUB may make. That is not accurate and it is not a fair comment for the Premier to make. All we are saying and asking for - and I think most members in this House would ask for - is that the government make a presentation themselves. From my perspective they made presentations before to commissions, on the Boundary Commission, and they should make a presentation to the Public Utilities Board that they believe whatever they believe. If they believe in a rate increase, sobeit. If they believe that they should not have a rate increase well, then, make that presentation, but at least let the people know in the Province where they stand on this, not appoint - I mean it is a good idea that they appointed a Consumer Advocate, sobeit, and they can make the case for the consumer, but the government itself should be up front and say where they stand on this issue and that, basically, is all I am asking at this point in time. With that, thank you.

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

MR. WOODFORD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WOODFORD: Mr. Speaker, I would like to have a few words on this particular motion put forward by the Member for Kilbride. A very good motion, Mr. Speaker, a very good and timely resolution, one that I would submit that, if there was a referendum held in the Province today, I would say it would be a landslide, 99.99 per cent and the only vote that would be against it would probably be the shareholders in Fortis or Newfoundland Power. Those are the only people who would vote against this particular resolution, those are the only people in this Province who would have anything negative or anything positive I should say, to say about this particular resolution or an increase. The same goes, Mr. Speaker, for all the other utilities really. Up until a few years ago, the phone companies in this Province used to have to go to the PUB, now they go to the CRTC, a little different. Newfoundland Hydro, Newfoundland Power still go to the PUB for increases.

The PUB has been there for some time, Mr. Speaker, and one of the things that I would like to say before I go any further is that, I don't think there has been any changes or amendments or anything else made as it pertains to the PUB since 1950. My recollection over my eleven years in this House is that there has been none since and I don't think there has been any previous to that, maybe some slight amendments to the act but nothing substantial, nothing that would say to them or give them the powers that they should have, as far as I am concerned, over and above what they have today.

I was astounded, Mr. Speaker, last year when I went to have a talk to the PUB concerning No Fault Insurance in the Province, with a couple of my colleagues. I asked them the question: what information do they get from the insurance companies before they make their submissions, before the PUB make their rulings as it pertains to insurance, and asked them if they get specific information with regards to profits and losses and so on. No, we can't get it. So, what do they do? They have actuarials done. The companies have actuarials done by the actuarial people, have their accountants look at it, have their corporate lawyers look at it and what do the consumer have? Absolutely nothing.

The board, to their credit at that time, had an actuarial done by a US firm -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. WOODFORD: Yes, very familiar - they based their studies on trends in the insurance industry in the Province. Now, there was no trouble to do that, anybody in this Province today who is in business or have anything to do with insurance companies or had anything to do with running your household could have done that. All they had to do is look back over their bills for the last eight or ten years and tell the difference, and that is what it was whether it was an increase in straight insurance rates or whether it was an increase in just liability insurance. I don't want to get on to that subject, Mr. Speaker, because that could take some time as well according to some of the submissions I am getting from my constituents with regard to the increases in liability rates of the last two or three months.

Coming back to this particular resolution, Mr. Speaker. Newfoundland Power and other members have stated here today already, that in the past and especially as this past winter has been on television and in the papers, no matter what station you turn to, talking about switching to electricity versus oil. Now, the people of the Province, if this increase is granted, are about to pay a heavy price if they did just that and even if they didn't, they are still about to pay a heavier price. Whether it is 4.9, whether it is 1.9, one, five, six, seven, regardless of what it is, they are paying an extra burden, Mr. Speaker, which they cannot afford at this time.

What other company in this Province has a monopoly on something and especially a company that is guaranteed a 13.5 per cent rate of return to its shareholders, that is into real estate, that is into the generation of electricity, that is into the distribution of electricity? A necessity. You know, it is up to yourself whether you go for a holiday or whether you buy a new car this year or next year. We are talking, Mr. Speaker, about a necessity of life for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and now we are about to pay an extra price for it.

Usually, as the Member for Kilbride said, over the past twenty years every time it goes it gets its increase. It usually knows what to ask for. If it wants 5 per cent it will ask for 13 per cent. If it wants 1 per cent it will probably ask for 2 per cent, or 2.5 per cent. This time it asked for 4.9 per cent, and I would submit it is looking for probably around 2 per cent or 2.5 per cent to be approved, to cover its costs and everything else.

What other company in this Province, what small business in this Province today, can go out and ask the people in their constituencies, ask the people in their communities, or tell them: Come in, we will give you a loan to insulate your windows, we will give you a loan to insulate your home, we will give you a loan to do this at fairly low rates. But at the same time come back and ask for an increase to cover the cost of all this financing. Because that is what it is all about.

How stunned do they think Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are? We were so-called sucked in and suckers for long enough. It is about time the people in this Province took the bull by the horns, through their members in this Chamber and through anybody else who has an interest in it, to do something about this particular increase, and increases. Because I submit this is not the end of it all.

I would say that over the next while one of the things that would have to be looked at would be the act itself which governs the PUB. We can intervene all we like. I can intervene, members opposite can intervene, we can have consumer advocates intervene. We did this before when there was a different political stripe in power in this Province, intervene on behalf of the consumers in this Province through the Federation of Municipalities, but it still got its increases. What did we do then? I asked members opposite and I asked other people around this Province about the PUB. We did absolutely nothing. We intervened, politicians intervened, everybody else intervened: we did absolutely nothing. When it went for its rates it got usually a percentage of what it went for.

I ask today to people who criticize the PUB, and I'm one of them: What really is the answer to this particular problem in the Province today? I questioned it before and I question it today. Why should a company which has all kinds of holdings - and I'm certainly not against profits; profit is not a dirty word with me, but there is a limit - why should something like that be guaranteed a 13.5 per cent return to its shareholders and be able to come back and ask for an increase on the backs of the consumers of this Province when they are just making ends meet? They have a job to put food on the table.

Just before I came to the House today I had a letter from a Salvation Army officer in Deer Lake about three calls people had just yesterday, their electricity had been cut off. They cut off their electricity. They are on social services. There is no compassion, there is absolutely none. Every now and again you will call, and if an individual can come in, in three or four days with something, a substantial amount towards the bill owed, they won't cut him off. But it doesn't seem to matter whether it is February, July, whether it is a snowstorm or whether it is fifty below, when they say they are going to cut off they are going to cut off. That to me says something for the corporation itself.

Now, granted, just like everything else, we have certain people, I suppose, who could very well pay and are probably not, who are supposed to pay $50 at a certain date and are not doing it, which makes it bad for the other person who is making a real effort to do something - we have that in everything - but they should not all be put into the one pot. They should be given some courtesy. They should be given a chance, especially in the winter months in this Province, to pay their bills and to do what they do, what Newfoundlanders and Labradorians always did, and that is to be up front and honest; and, like I said, we have a few who do otherwise. The rate payers of this Province - I didn't say taxpayers; I say the rate payers - the rate payers of this Province, as far as I am concerned, should be afforded a little more courtesy.

I said before that we can have interveners go up, we can have every member on this side, and every member on that side, forty-eight members, go up to that room, all at one time, and make a submission, and we could have one person stand on behalf of the forty-eight members in the House of Assembly, and I would say that it won't make a bit of difference at the end of the day when they deliberate to see exactly what percentage Newfoundland Power will get - not one bit - because those people have their homework done in more ways than one.

I sat there before when they waltz into the room. We would walk in, representing communities in this Province, we would walk in with our so-called homework done with the people and the resources that we had, and in they walked with their corporate lawyers and their accountants, I suppose the highest in the country - not in the Province, in the country - and what chance did you have? You talk about an increase, you talk about profits, you talk about small communities; they didn't know but it was fit to eat. They knew one thing, and one thing only, and that was bottom lines and bottom lines as they pertained to profits and bottom lines as they pertained to extreme and very generous profits.

The question I asked earlier about: How are we going to approach it? What are we going to do about it, besides appointing a consumer rep to intervene and try to get across the point that every Newfoundlander and Labradorian out there is saying today, to try to get across the point that we just cannot take any more - we just cannot take any more - especially in those times when everything is so expensive, everything is going up. We always seem - like, for instance, now there is Newfoundland Power, or Fortis. Then we look at, just a few weeks ago, or late last fall, the profits by the banks. We look at just the first quarter profits from the banks in this country just a few days ago, and where are they? You walk into the bank for a loan today, just a term loan or something, anything to do with small business - walk in for a term loan to pay your light bill and you will see what kind of a look you will get. In through this door and out through that one. If your bill is $1,000, give me $5,000 worth of collateral and we will sign, no problem. Put up your house worth $100,000 and we will give you the $1,000 to pay your light bill. That is the way it is done. They are guaranteed; they cannot lose.

Everywhere we turn today, when you are looking at those large institutions that we have to use - we have to use - except for every now and again we hear tell of a few people around the Province, I suppose, who tried to keep their little bit of money home. We just heard and saw an example last week here in this town - it was sad - a lady just burned to death down here in a house using a wood stove, but clutching $25,000 or $26,000 in cash. It is sad when we look at those things, and one of the reasons, God knows, might be that she figured she just could not afford to turn up her electric heat - she probably didn't even have it - but she did get her little bit of wood, I suppose, to use her wood stove and so on, but look at the sad, sad irony in it all.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. WOODFORD: Mr. Speaker, with those few short comments I would just like to end by asking members opposite and all members: what else do we do beside use the PU Board and an intervener? What is the other answer?

AN HON. MEMBER: I told you.

MR. WOODFORD: Well the hon. member said he told me. I would like to just clarify something now that the hon. member said - he mentioned about the fog. He said the electricity is out for everything those days, including fog. I said: Well then, Mr. Speaker, it should always be out here. And I was referring to the Avalon Peninsula when it comes to fog. So I would just like to clarify that with the member before I sit down but, Mr. Speaker, there is no easy answer with this. Regardless of what members say there is no easy answer. I would just say that I am just as concerned as members opposite or anyone else in this Province when it comes to increases in lights, telephones, anything that has to do with how a person tries to survive in this Province today.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay South.

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today in support of the motion. I come from a district where a lot of people cut firewood almost on a daily basis, especially during the winter months. Most of these homes are heated by wood. A lot of them have wood and oil stoves and there is a great deal of it that goes on in my district from Long Pond right through to Holyrood. I think it is ludicrous for Newfoundland Power to be back again looking for another rate increase.

I read with some interest a brochure that Newfoundland Light and Power have put out which says; `Important customer information on proposed increase in electricity rates.' It is very interesting to read some of the points in here as it relates to why they should have an increase. I won't go through them all, Mr. Speaker, but I will certainly touch on some of them. They talk about they have to pay more income tax, they talk about depreciation and they talk about finance charges. I guess probably at this time, from a finance point of view, finance charges in this Province or probably with the banks with the exorbitant profits they make is probably one of the lowest times that interest rates have been for may be some time.

They talk about, `How will this increase affect the electrical bill?' They go on to say if you pay sixty dollars a month it will only cost you another eight dollars a month but, Mr. Speaker, during the month of February, when I covered most of my district, I found an awful lot of people who could not afford that eight dollars a month. I found a lot of people on social assistance, fixed income and a lot of people who were living on unemployment insurance. A lot of these people certainly could not afford to pay any increase to Newfoundland Power at all. It galls me no end to know that they have made $27-plus millions in profits and they are back again looking for more.

They even go so far in their brochure to say that really what they want to do is punish rural Newfoundland. In their brochure as it relates to their proposed information on why they want increases they talk about: Is it true that part of my electrical bill goes to pay Newfoundland Hydro's rural customers?' Of course they answer yes. Then they go on to talk about the millions of dollars that they spend because of rural Newfoundland and I think, Mr. Speaker, that this is an utter disgrace. We have enough trouble in rural Newfoundland now. Some of the problems, hopefully, over the next two to four years, this House is going to be able to cure. Newfoundland Power customers pay $24 million they say to subsidize Hydro to rural customers. This subsidy is in effect a tax so they are back again crying that they now have another tax added on to them. As far as I'm concerned, Mr. Speaker, they are not taxed enough.

So I think it is time that the PU Board gave this crowd nothing. I think maybe it is time that this hon. House looked at changing the rules as they relate to the Public Utilities Board to see what we can do to maybe have things such as power rates come back before this House. Maybe this is where the final decision could be made.

Again, Mr. Speaker, it galls me no end to know that it has a monopoly and it can pretty well do what it likes to all of us. From a small business background where I come from this increase is devastating, and it is devastating to a lot of small businesses in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It goes on to say that it won't increase its profits. If it doesn't increase its profits what does it want the increase for? What is it going to do with the money? It has talked about how it has laid off people, it has talked about how it has down sized. My friend across the way mentioned a few minutes ago about power rates. There is a section in my district sir, in Kelligrews, that every time the wind blows at all the power is gone. Not only do the businesses but the residents of that area suffer a great deal because of no electricity.

I think it is time that some part of this House took the PUB to task. I don't think that this crowd should get anything. I don't think they should get 1 per cent, I don't think they should get a half a per cent. I think it is time we looked at the PUB, the rules and regulations that regulate the PUB, and maybe it is time that we put something in place to put a stop to this. I remember one time calling the PUB about a rate increase and about - not necessarily a rate increase, but something that would affect some business that I was involved in at the time. I finally ended up by saying: I didn't really believe that we lived in Russia. No matter what way you turned or no matter what you tried to do as a small business person in this Province, these guys had you. There was absolutely nothing you could do, these fellows had you.

I think it is time we stopped this. There is a gentleman from my district who is out right now circulating petitions all over this Province, from Labrador right to Conception Bay South and into the city. These will be presented by him and myself at a hearing of the Public Utilities Board, and I hope in the near future maybe in this hon. House.

Mr. Speaker, on that note I will close to say that I think it is ludicrous again that these people are looking for an increase, and I think that the PUB should turn them down.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Burgeo & LaPoile.

MR. RAMSAY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. RAMSAY: They were very successful actually, to the hon. member. One of only two Newfoundland teams to become Canadian champions.

AN HON. MEMBER: Were you the coach (inaudible)?

MR. RAMSAY: The answer is, no, I was president of the organization. We ran a half million dollar semi-pro hockey team on the side, if you wanted to look at (inaudible).

Mr. Speaker, I do want to speak to this resolution and the amendment put forward by the hon. member formerly of Mount Scio - Bell Island, now the Member for Conception Bay East & Bell Island. The hon. Member for Humber Valley did say, and it was interesting, it was a point about what do we do if we want to uphold the process that we have in place and hold up the credibility of the process of the Public Utilities Board as a means by which the utilities in this Province can seek rate increases and what have you. If we want to hold that up - and it seems there is an agreement on the other side along with us here in government that that process has to remain. Maybe it needs to be modernized somewhat, maybe the support that we offer through consumer advocacy by legal counsel or others has to be improved somewhat, to make sure that the public's interests are well represented before this body.

The other thing we have to look at is what exactly is it that we are discussing? We are discussing the fact I think that the average person does not want to see an increase in his or her electricity rates. On that basis the issue becomes one of emotion. It becomes one where people who are having a difficult time economically want to be assured that any increase in rates is a necessary increase in rates. They would prefer to see that Newfoundland Power and the profits made thereon, because of the monopoly that it does have and the guaranteed rate of return, are in fact for the right reasons.

Who can say what the right reasons are? The regulatory regime and the legislation that allows utilities to operate in the way that they do in this Province is a matter of fact. It has evolved to a point where Newfoundland Power, or Newfoundland Light and Power as it was one time called, now have a parent corporation called Fortis Corporation, or Fortis, Incorporated, and Fortis acts as the agency which utilizes the profits made over and above any amount that is required to pay the shareholders of Newfoundland Power in the bonds and the shares that are held in the marketplace.

Based on that situation, any excess of profit goes to Fortis Corporation, so looking at Fortis Corporation it is a good locally run company that has utilized the money that has been made available to it, and as a result, no doubt, because of this monopoly that has been had, through the process of government regulation, Fortis has been a good steward, I suppose, as far as their involvement in the community, their involvement in the Newfoundland and Labrador business community, investing in local enterprise, investing sometimes in things that did not work out that well, but in a lot of cases investing in a way that made good money and good sense for the shareholders.

These are the efforts that company has been allowed to undertake as a result of the regime that we have in this Province with respect to regulation and legislation. Now, that is one way of doing it, I suppose, but what is another way, what are the other answers, how do we see that we can do better things for the consumers of this Province, the electricity consumers? One possibility is a total deregulation of the electricity sector, and another would be a partial deregulation. You could deregulate it so that there would be competition, competition for the consumer's electricity contract. That is now seeing the light of day as far as another side of the utilities spectrum goes in Canada, and that is the telecommunications side.

We have telephone companies competing for long-distance, a regulated marketplace but there is now competition allowed in the long-distance sector. Soon, we will see competition in the area of local phone service. It is just a matter of time before that kind of thing happens, and with the preponderance of wireless communication for cellular phones, wireless for other means, basically your regular telephone service will eventually become almost certainly a wireless system, and on that basis we will see a total deregulation of local phone services.

It only goes for us to think that eventually we will work towards a deregulated and a competitive marketplace for electrical services. This monopoly will not last forever, nor should it. The monopoly is there initially to protect the people of the Province by making sure that the electrical service is there to service the customer, and that protection allows them to operate and allows the overall operation of the electrical utilities to provide benefit for the people of the Province.

Do we allow competition? I think competition would be a tremendous thing. Eventually you would have the low cost producers, which is the hallmark of a piece of legislation passed here last year, that low cost producer is the one who will be chosen to provide new electricity sources for the benefit of the people of the Province, so that low cost producer aspect of the legislation should eventually work its way into what the consumer can demand.

In the United Kingdom, Mr. Speaker, over the last number of years, since the advent of Margaret Thatcher's changes to the systems over there; we have an evolution of the electricity sector in the United Kingdom which has seen a complete competition for electricity in the marketplace.

MR. EFFORD: Did you know Margaret Thatcher was a Tory?

MR. RAMSAY: She was, yes, but she had some good ideas.

MR. EFFORD: I don't know.

MR. RAMSAY: You see, the only opposition over here is from within, as you can see.

Anyway, as the hon. member points out it was a Tory government over there which was very outstanding.

AN HON. MEMBER: A good government.

MR. RAMSAY: I do not know about good government. They have their problems to deal with over there now, and they are dealing with their cattle problems and everything as well, the mad cow disease and that.

If you have a marketplace for the production of electricity and you make it similar to a commodities market, if you compare it to the commodities market that exists in the United States for example, and if we see electricity as a commodity that the people of this Province have to consume, the commodities of food, the different commodities and the futures that are traded on the open marketplace, eventually, if electricity is allowed to be traded off that way, we would I would hope - now maybe the Newfoundland market is too small.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. RAMSAY: Well, there you go, that is another aspect of it. The Lower Churchill, I had a meeting recently -

AN HON. MEMBER: The Upper Churchill.

MR. RAMSAY: - or the Upper Churchill, but also the Lower Churchill. What you will see eventually in the United States because of the deregulation of the electrical industry down there, and I have this from good sources - I don't profess to be an expert on it myself - but is a complete deregulation of it so that it is an open-market system where the low-cost power will see the light of day. Only that low-cost producer will be the one able to sell.

The Lower Churchill, if we manage to get the Lower Churchill on line, there are companies that will buy that power no matter what the cost because it still ends up being cheaper than the actual electricity that is being generated by generation plant, oil-fired or coal-fired generation plant in the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. We could sell every bit of that Lower Churchill power down there at a lower cost than the actual power that is being produced there at this point in time, so there is ultimately a reason if you can get the power through Quebec at all, for the creation of the Lower Churchill Hydro dam, and likewise with the Upper Churchill.

All of this power is just able to be sold at a lower price and what I am coming around to, actually, Mr. Speaker, is that, if we allow competition, if we allow the small hydro plants that have been suggested, the Star Lakes of the Province that have been suggested as a good position put forward. Another one would be the co-generation of electricity by Abitibi-Price in Stephenville using peat as a power source. If you allow these to come on line and the avoided cost prices as low or lower than the existing, eventually that should pass on to the consumer an improvement in electrical rates as long as there is no problem with the delivery of it.

Now, if you look at why are Newfoundland Power and Fortis as, I suppose together, looking for this specific rate increase. They maintain a number of reasons why; they say taxes is the main reason. They have said that most of the extra money is going to pay taxes and it was a good point made by a member of the opposition who stated that: well if it is not going to contribute to the bottom line, why ask for it? So you can say that any specific amount of increased revenue is going to pay for any specific part of your overall bottom line, then that allows you to free up money for profit somewhere else. You know, it is just a matter of being I suppose, crafty with your figures, your statistical analysis of why you are offering these different reasons to the Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities.

So, Mr. Speaker, speaking about the actual amendment that has been made here, the government at this stage, has supported the hiring of a Consumer Advocate who will take the case -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. RAMSAY: - who will hire the necessary experts and I submit that the hon. Member for Signal Hill - Quidi Vidi - it depends on who you talk to - but that hon. member will not be consulted as an expert so I don't fear for the necessity of having him make his comments on this particular issue. But the experts will be sought and we have to make sure that the arguments against the increase are equally well researched to the expertise that is hired and sought by Newfoundland Power in this application before the Public Utilities Board, and on behalf of the people of the Province, the government must support this process to assure the people of the Province that it is done fairly and maybe we have to take a look in the future at a deregulation of the electrical marketplace somehow or other, to see to it that the competition - Maybe someone knows how to do this easier, maybe one of these days electricity won't be carried on poles, who knows?

When the electrical companies were first coming into play here in Newfoundland and Labrador there was a fear that they were going to put all the candle makers and the kerosene lamp makers out of business and that wasn't too long ago, that was within this century. So, looking at that, that fear is there; maybe electricity will be generated through the air. It seems like a funny thing right now, but we send radio and telegraph signals through the air; so, therefore, why not think that eventually electricity may be generated in some other means than by wire, and it will throw the whole process up for review, and the idea of monopolies in the delivery of this service will be a thing of the past, I would think.

With that I will sit down and allow a member of the Opposition to have a say. Thank you.

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

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to respond briefly to this very important issue that we are debating here in the House this afternoon. I feel that some of the history is relevant, and from that point of view, I would like to discuss some of the history leading to why this motion, and indeed the amendment to the motion, is being discussed by hon. members on both sides of the House.

This matter originated in an application of the company to the Public Utilities Board to fix and determine the rate base, to determine a just and reasonable return, to determine any rates of depreciation, to approve a revised schedule of rates, tolls and charges, and to approve any revisions to the rules and the regulations. So that, indeed, was the original application before the board as set forward by the company in the hopes of obviously having the requested increase take place.

Mr. Speaker, on an order of March 8, 1996, a Consumer Advocate was appointed, by the name of Mr. Dennis Browne. He was appointed by government to obviously represent consumers' concerns, and to represent the various points of view at the hearing.

It is interesting to note, and I would like to point out briefly, what the role is of a Consumer Advocate. A Consumer Advocate is defined as follows: `A person who represents the interests of consumers in relation to services provided by public utilities in this Province'; secondly, `to review, investigate, and make any appropriate recommendations to the board with respect to...' And it is interesting to note that the definition of a Consumer Advocate in what the role or definition of the Consumer Advocate is, addresses the very issues that were put to the Public Utilities Board by the company.

What is the role of a Consumer Advocate? `To review, investigate, and recommend to the board with respect to the reasonableness of rates, the reasonableness and adequacy of the services furnished with respect to any proposal by any public utility to reduce or abandon service to the public, to review, investigate, with respect to mergers and consolidations of public utilities.'

So, clearly, this is the mandate of the Consumer Advocate, to represent the public, to represent the very issues when, in fact, when you analyze today what is being said by members on both sides of this House, to make representations to the board of the very things that we are saying here in this Chamber this afternoon.

To continue with the history of this matter, this same Consumer Advocate who was appointed felt that he had inadequate information to deal appropriately with the issues and questions that have been raised on behalf of the public of this Province. So, what does this Consumer Advocate do? Quite appropriately, he brings an application to the board for the production of documentation and information which would assist this person in dealing with the representations before him.

Now, there is a list available, and I certainly do not intend to through the list of all the information that was requested by the Consumer Advocate. However, I will mention just a few of them.

This Consumer Advocate requested of the Board that all application material and related documentation by Newfoundland Power be forthcoming. This Consumer Advocate requested of the Board any documentation relating to the described new initiative of the power company with respect to the reduction of cost as implemented in mid-1995. This same Consumer Advocate requested of the Board any documentation relating to the most recently conducted Dominion Bond Rating report on the power company's bond rating; requested a new depreciation study and any/all related documentation; requested the power company's commissioned study on mark-up percentages on related party transactions and all related documentation.

This individual appointed by government, the Consumer Advocate, requested much more - requested all reports, memoranda, opinions, documents, directions, notes, necessary in the opinion of this Consumer Advocate to conduct a proper and thorough investigation. In addition, the Consumer Advocate requested detailed financial reports on environmental costs for 1994 to the present; financial reports on increase in communication costs; financial reports on all remuneration earned by senior management; all draft reports, all relevant memoranda and information.

The list goes on and on. I have only repeated approximately one-half of what the Consumer Advocate, again in the interest of Newfoundlanders, put to the Board as being essential information to conduct a proper examination of the issues.

To continue with the history: The Board, on March 22, 1996, last Friday, made its decision, and amongst other things in its final statement said the following: The application for order for production of documents made by the Consumer Advocate is hereby denied. So this Consumer Advocate, in an effort to put forward to the people of this Province the issues important to the people of this Province, in seeking all of the information relevant to this issue, in putting forward this application to the Board - the application is denied and turned down.

Thought is therefore being given by the Consumer Advocate to put before the Court of Appeal, the Appeals Division of the Supreme Court of this Province, an appeal of this very decision. It is my understanding that decision has not been finalized; however, a news release as referred to earlier by my colleague, the Member for the District of Kilbride, in that same news release it was being considered that the appeal of this Board would be put to the Court of Appeal of this Province. As indicated, I am not sure if there has been a finalization of that decision.

We now come to the amendment to the resolution we are discussing here this afternoon. Although, in my own personal view, there is a slight deviation in the spirit of the original motion and the subsequent amendment, nevertheless, I can live with the amendment. Because I feel the amendment gives to the people of this Province a commitment to use its ultimate authority and influence in assisting this Consumer Advocate, to whom I just referred, in carrying out his role, his prerogative on behalf of the people of this Province. Let me just read from the amendment;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador ensure that the recently appointed Consumer Advocate use every possible means to bring the concerns of the consumer to bear and be reflected in any decision forthcoming from the board on the rate application by Newfoundland Power.

The key words here, Mr. Speaker, `Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.' It shows the source, it shows the authority. The next word, `ensure' and that to me, as a member of this House, Mr. Speaker, gives me some assurance that the Government will indeed ensure that the appointed Consumer Advocate be able to perform his role sufficiently on behalf of the opinions that have been expressed by the people of this Province.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.


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

By leave.

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It can be done briefly in the following way; by allowing publicity, by allowing legal services, Mr. Speaker, by allowing the Consumer Advocate to have the necessary and essential resource personnel, by allowing the Consumer Advocate to have adequate office space to ensure there is an opportunity for this individual to have adequate public consultation and the space provided to do that, as I indicated, research and resource personnel to ensure that government intervenes in any legal hearings and proceedings, including any court proceedings and the -

MR. SPEAKER: If I may correct this, the hon. member's time is not up until 4:20. I had made the comment in error. The Chair apologizes.

MR. OTTENHEIMER: I see, thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. OTTENHEIMER: However, Mr. Speaker, my hon. friend the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture will be pleased to know that I am at an end. I will just conclude simply by saying, Mr. Speaker, that the amendment does not trouble me. I feel comforted by the fact that the wording of the amendment is such that we can put our faith in the hon. members opposite so that the assurance is given to all of the people of this Province, that the tools, the individuals, the resources, the personnel, the funding is in place to give the necessary ability to this Consumer Advocate to do his work properly and thoroughly.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

MR. EFFORD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. EFFORD: I am going to be taking my time. I will totally ignore any calls from the other side. I am going to pretend there are no Tories opposite.

Mr. Speaker, I want to take what time is allotted me in this hon. House -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. EFFORD: We don't have a whip. I am going to use the time allotted to me to be able to speak to the motion and to the amendment put forth by my good friend and colleague from Mount Scio - Bell Island -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. EFFORD: Conception Bay East & Bell Island now, it is changed is it? Conception Bay East, I cannot keep up with the changes.

Mr. Speaker, the motion put forward by my colleague over on the other side of the House - which I said I was not going to mention - I read it over with great interest. I guess if you look at it from a consumer point of view you cannot argue with the intent of what the members opposite want to accomplish. Any burden placed on individuals in this Province now, with the lower income, we all have to be deeply concerned about it.

I know my experience of living in rural Newfoundland gives me the level of understand from the incomes of people in rural Newfoundland who have to depend on a heating system in the form of electricity or I guess, we take it beyond that to oil or to coal, some coal, in fact I burnt some coal myself this winter and some wood, but no matter what the form of heat that you use in your House, the level of income that great numbers of people have to live within our Province, gives them not much opportunities or leeway where they spend that money. The greater portion of their income goes into heat and the little bit of food that they can buy from the income that they get, and I am talking in particular about the low-income people, the working poor as referred to in many instances, those people on the minimum wage.

I think we could say very clearly that those people are disadvantaged more than even the people on social services and we know full well that the people on social services, with their amount of income, they don't have many luxuries that they can purchase with the amount of money that is available, and we have to understand under today's economic conditions in this country of ours, there is not a whole lot of choice in being able to supply or to give enough funding that they could sustain the type of environment or the type of livelihood that most of us would like to see them on. We are all not capable of earning higher wages, we are, through different circumstances and our own abilities, our disabilities or whatever they may be, reduced to a level of income that is not suited to providing reasonable, satisfactory, living conditions, and when you hear talk of increases in any consumer goods, whether it is food or in any basic cost of living and especially in the heating arrangements, we all have to be deeply concerned about it, and for any member to stand in this House of Assembly or anywhere in the public of Newfoundland and Labrador and to be any different, I would have to question his methods or his motives or his reasoning as to why they would speak in any different manner. We are all deeply concerned.

I am speaking this afternoon as a minister in a government with a responsibility to govern this Province to the best of our abilities, and to suit the needs of all people within the Province. I just spoke about social services but I just meant to talk about the low-income people in particular. If you are on social services and you get a basic income, you have your rent paid or your mortgage, if you have that. You get a special food allowance if you have a health problem whether it is as in my own particular case - that comes closest to my mind, I am diabetic - I visited a family last week where one of the members of the family was a diabetic and she was receiving a special food allowance.

In some instances, on emergency service they receive extra money and on and on the list goes but, the low wage income earners are pretty well left to what they earn themselves and it is pretty difficult for anyone earning a minimum of $4.75 an hour, the minimum wage, to go and get any special allowances or extras from a social agency and that is the way the system is and that is the way the system works. Only in certain, special needs or emergency needs are allowances made, although in every instance in the Department of Social Services or social environment in which they are, each case is assessed on its own merits, but that does not take away from the hardship that is placed on individuals in this Province when the cost of living increases no matter what that cost would be.

So I wanted to point out those two or three comments and references to the individual families and the desperate situations that they will have to live with in the low-income bracket in relationship to the reason why this Private Members motion was put forth in the House today.

The intent of bringing attention to the seriousness of an impact of an increase in cost of living on any family is, I am sure, what the intent and the reasoning and the motive behind this motion is. Nobody is going to argue with that. Nobody is going to argue with that whatsoever.

I guess where we have a difference of opinion, and a difference of policy, and a difference of where our responsibility lies, is: How does that process work, and does it work for the best interest of the consumer of this Province? And we are talking about, in particular, the Public Utilities Board. I don't need to give a full, detailed explanation of what the purpose and the reasoning is behind the Public Utilities Board. I guess it is in every province in this country, and probably in most areas in the United States in some form or another. The Public Utilities Board is there to protect the interest of the people in the requests put before them. In this case it is Newfoundland Power looking for a rate increase.

Government, in its wisdom, has put before them a Consumer Advocate to work on behalf of those people who are the most greatly affected by a rate increase, simply that - those people who would be most affected by the rate increase - that is the purpose of the Consumer Advocate, to represent those people.

In this particular case I know the individual fairly well from an experience that I have dealt with him many, many times over the years, and I have total confidence that an individual like himself can and does have a genuine interest. So, I guess as far as an individual is concerned it is one thing, but the responsibility... Whoever the individual is who is there is not the issue.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. EFFORD: That is what I was going to get to, as long as that individual has the resources, has the ability to have the resources, to be able to determine, to make the case on behalf of the consumer is the next issue. Do we have the confidence that that individual can do that, that person who is representing the consumer at the Public Utilities Board? Yes, I do have the confidence, and we do, as a government, have the confidence that that individual can represent well, can get the necessary resources and the necessary tools to represent the people in the best manner possible. And I think we have to ensure that process must work in the best possible way for, as I said, the best interest.

I, personally, and I guess everybody has their own ideas about the cost of living. I guess being from a large family like I came from - a very, very large family - in a small community, who, when we were living in a time and an age when the social programs certainly were not in place, the income levels were down to almost nil. You worked hard, and you caught a lot of fish, and you grew a lot of vegetables, but the existence of what you were able to do beyond that was very limited, so I guess it is important that we are all able to relate to the hardships that a family is going through. My history and my family environment in growing up was not unlike any average family in rural Newfoundland and Labrador - not only rural Newfoundland; I should not refer just to rural Newfoundland - in Newfoundland and Labrador, that we have experienced the difficulties any normal family would go through.

I think what we have to bring together in our thoughts and our minds is that we had an advantage - we had an advantage - in those days over the same type of family environment or a similar type of family environment today, because we could live off the existence of our land, the resources and our land, the fish in the sea, the vegetables in the garden, and the cutting of wood.

There wasn't much electricity when I grew up in Port de Grave, I can assure you of that. You had a light bulb, and that was about the extent of it, but today that opportunity is not there in the same manner that a family can use the resource that we used in those days to live in the same manner. Therefore, the hardship placed on the individual family today is much greater than it was in the past, and I think we all have to be very aware of that, and we all have to be very understanding. I guess most of us have lived it, so therefore we would understand it, but we shouldn't forget it.

I guess that is basically the point that I am trying to make; we should not forget it. We should not forget where we came from. We should not forget out roots, and we should not think that because we are living in a very comfortable setting in our own lives that everybody is living in that, because that is not real; that is not true.

AN HON. MEMBER: And the suntan.

MR. EFFORD: Seriously, all in good fun, Mr. Speaker, I am speaking to the motion and I cannot get sidetracked. I will not allow myself.

I think, and I have the confidence, that at the end of the day the intent of the motion put forth, while we disagree with some of the wording, the amendment we submitted to the motion put forth by the hon. Member for Kilbride, that at the end of the day their intent on the other side, our intent on putting the amendment here on this side, the common goal, I think at the end of the day, the common goal we all hope to accomplish here by this motion is reached. I think that is everybody's intent.

The political arguments that go back and forth here in the House of Assembly, the responsibility of a government to adjust the motion according to the policy which the government has set down, and the public utilities are in place, the consumer advocate is in place to work in the best interest on behalf of the consumer, as I say again in conclusion, Mr. Speaker, the common goal at the end of the day is that the interests and the wellbeing of the consumers of this Province is protected to ensure that they have a reasonable, fair chance of sustaining a living from low income and living within the means they have, and that the comfort of life does not get any harder than it is today.

I congratulate the member for putting the motion and his intent behind it, and at the end of the day we can vote according to the best interests of the people of this Province.

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

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to commend the Member for Kilbride for putting forward the motion which affects so many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and affects so many of us here as representatives of the forty-eight districts that represent the very same people this rate increase is going to affect. I will not take my full fifteen or twenty minutes because I understand there are a couple of other members who want to speak here today, and I think we should afford them, and allow them the opportunity.

Mr. Speaker, not only do we see a utility looking for a 4.9 per cent increase after making a $28 million profit and say that is the end of it, but once we allow them to go out and make $28 million in profit, or look for a 4.9 per cent increase, then we pay our bills and that is the end of it. Well, it goes much further than that, Mr. Speaker. I do not know if anybody has had an opportunity to deal with somebody who was about to start a new business in this Province.

I did a few months ago. This family had moved from Gander out to my district and they were buying a local grocery store there, so they had to go to all the different departments in order to get their licenses put in place, and one of the things that Newfoundland Power demanded in order to get the name of that business changed was to get a three month utility bill paid up front, to look back over what they would expect to receive from that particular business at that particular time of the year, multiply it by three, and I think it worked out to something like $1150, and that particular family and that particular businessman was expected to bring forward $1150 paid to Newfoundland Power up front before they were willing to change the name of the company in order for them to be provided a bill on a monthly basis.

Now, everybody knows today that when you start a business the last thing you want to be confronted with is paying something in advance, especially a utility bill that can be paid on a monthly basis, and allow the business to flourish and survive. Those are some of the things that this great utility brings forward and that is very, very unfair to the consumers in the Province. If you go and erect a house, or erect a cabin, or any other structure, and they have to stick, I think it is any more than one pole in order to give you access to the power that they are providing, Mr. Speaker, you will find that you will probably have to pay $300 or $400 for each pole that they have to stick in excess of one in order to provide you with the commodity that they are selling.

Another case in point, Mr. Speaker, a little place called Hodderville in my district. This gentleman decided that he was going to put electricity to the cabin and there was another cabin which existed about sixty feet from the one that - this was not a cabin, this was a home. Somebody was living there but they did not have electricity because it would cost them something like $3,000 in order to get electricity brought to their house and they just could not afford it.

This other gentleman who brought the cabin next door to them decided that he could afford it and he was going to go and pay Newfoundland Light and Power the $3,000 to have the amount of poles stuck and the wires strung to provide his cabin with electricity. So he went and did that, Mr. Speaker, he paid his $3,000, the utility company arrived, they stuck the poles, ran the wires and provided them with electricity. So then he decided: well now that I am after paying the $3,000 I may as well be a good neighbour and allow the gentleman who has the home next to me to hook up as well. He called Light and Power to tell them to come down and hook up the home next to him now that the poles were stuck. Not likely, Mr. Speaker, not likely. It does not work that way. If that gentleman wanted to access power from the last pole that they stuck he would have to pay $3,000 as well. This to me, Mr. Speaker, is very unfair and it seems like it's the things that we, I suppose should not expect but is the kind of treatment we get when anybody has a monopoly on a service that they are providing.

We all talked about going in the woods, cutting wood and heating our homes. Mr. Speaker, we can all talk about that because I think it was probably part of all the lives of those who lived in rural Newfoundland. It was the only thing that we knew at that time. It was not an option to go out and have electricity or to have electric heaters installed. That was the accepted thing and it was accepted because we knew no better, Mr. Speaker, there was nothing else that was available to us. But after we progressed and we did get the electric lights - I think it was called at the time - you had to pay your light bill. Nobody ever referred to it as a utility bill or a power bill. It was a light bill because that is all we had when the houses were wired in the beginning. You had one or two receptacles and the rest were lights. Nobody had any need for anything else, never had a need for all the appliances that are on the market today.

So, Mr. Speaker, many of those homes that we are talking about are not homes that are built according to the R-2000 regulations. It is not uncommon for many of those light bills today to be $400 and $500. It is not uncommon because of the type of houses that many of those people live in. When you look at the 4.9 per cent, which the hon. Member for Humber Valley said will probably even out at 2 per cent or 3 per cent, when you look at basing that on $400 and $500 you are talking about a fair amount of money, Mr. Speaker, on a monthly basis, money many of our people out there today will do without something that is of a necessity to feed their children, clothe their children or something else that they need to run their household in order to come up with that money.

So I plead with the people on both sides of the House to represent the people who sent them here, to represent their constituents, Mr. Speaker. Don't be afraid to stand up and bring forward a petition or to speak in favour of a petition if it is brought forward because you are only representing your constituents. You are representing the people who gave you the opportunity to come here and sit and represent them and they expect nothing less from you.

So, Mr. Speaker, in conclusion, to allow my other colleague from St. John's South to say a few words, I would urge every member to be vocal on this issue, to support the constituents out in their district and speak on behalf of their constituents, and make sure that this increase is not allowed to happen, and let us hold the line on electricity rates which are needed by everybody and every resident of this Province today.

Thank you.

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

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Newfoundland Power (inaudible) rate increase, I have to seriously wonder how they can justify asking for a rate increase when they have shown a profit of over $27 million. How can the Public Utilities Board justify granting them this increase? And how can we, as members representing the public of Newfoundland, justify allowing this rate increase?

For a company that can afford to put off a massive advertising campaign to advertise their utility, when they hold a monopoly in this Province, and have made such huge profits, how can they justify asking for this rate increase? They do not need this rate increase. We have the same feelings for the banks who have made such huge profits over the past couple of years, and yet still impose service fees.

My fear, as well, is if we harmonize the PST and GST, this will further put a burden on the public of the Province, as I understand that this harmonization tax will probably include utilities. So I ask the members here to represent the public of the Province, and support them in rejecting a rate increase through the Public Utilities Board.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Signal Hill - Quidi Vidi.

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is my pleasure to have a few moments to speak on this resolution. It is an important one because it affects everybody in the Province, and it involves a monopoly corporation in a situation where they are demanding from the Public Utilities Board a rate of increase based on a return on investment that is substantially higher than that which is allowed for Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro.

The past couple of years we went through a big debate in this House about whether or not Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro ought to be privatized, and this hon. member spoke many, many times about the value of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro as an entity, and also the consequences of the privatization of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. One of the consequences, of course, was that rates were going to have to go up, and the reason for that was because a private utility demands and gets from the Public Utilities Board a rate of return on its investment substantially higher than Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. It was estimated that the rate of return that Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro would get on its investment, or equity as so called, is around 6 per cent or 7 per cent; 7 per cent, I think, is the figure that was used. And what does Newfoundland Power demand and get from the Public Utilities Board? Somewhere between 10.5 per cent and 12.95 per cent, close to 13 per cent, on its investment. Why is that? It is because it is a private utility and supposedly claims to get its capital from sources that demand a rate of return of 12 per cent or 13 per cent.

Well, there is one real answer to those rate increases, and those rates can, in fact, be reduced substantially instead of having an increase, and that is to have a public utility providing domestic, residential, consumer electricity in this Province. And the real answer, if this government had any real guts about doing things for the people of Newfoundland, they would be nationalizing Newfoundland Light and Power, and not sitting around here and talking about letting a Consumer Advocate talk about issues that really have to do with the nuts and bolts of giving Newfoundland Power a rate of return based on the capital markets and the private capital markets.

So there is a solution, and I haven't heard anybody today in this debate put it forth, but the real answer is to nationalize Newfoundland Power and ensure that there is a proper rate for electricity in this Province.

Now, Mr. Speaker, why does Newfoundland Power demand 12 per cent return on investment? I heard this morning an economist talk about the fact that they have to have a really good return on their investment because they need to be able to go to the capital markets to get new investment. I am not aware, Mr. Speaker, of the last time Newfoundland Power ever went to the capital markets to get investment, new investment, new equity investment. They say that their rate, their individual amount of the 12 per cent, about 6 per cent of that is passed out in terms of dividends and the other 6 per cent is reinvested in capital expansion and if they did not have that money they would not be able to continue their efforts.

Well, Mr. Speaker, they are not going to the capital markets every time they need to reinvest money. They are, in fact, using the profits that they make to reinvest, and it is not necessary to have -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. HARRIS: May I have a moment to clue up?

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

MR. E. BYRNE: (Inaudible) go ahead.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MR. HARRIS: I thank the Member for Kilbride for allowing me a minute into his time. I will not take up more than a minute, but I do want to assure all hon. members that I do fully support the efforts to deny Newfoundland Power this unnecessary rate increase and look for a longer term solution to electricity rates in the Province by looking towards either nationalizing Newfoundland Power or freezing their rates, just as salaries and other things have been frozen in this Province.

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

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

I would have given the Member for Signal Hill - Quidi Vidi a few more moments if he wanted, but fair enough, he has concluded.

I would like to ask the Member for Conception Bay East and Bell Island, the member who has proposed the amendment to the private member's resolution that I put forward: Does he have - and I will be willing to sit down just for a moment after I ask the question, if he would like to respond. His amendment says: `Therefore be it resolved that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador ensure that the recently appointed Consumer Advocate use every possible means ...' Does that mean, I ask the member, that the government is going to insure that if legal services are required from the Department of Justice, that the Consumer Advocate will have that at his disposal? Does it mean if the Consumer Advocate requires resources human, financial or otherwise, to launch a campaign of any sort to inform consumers of what this means, is the government committed to that, those type of things? I will just let the Member for Conception Bay East and Bell Island answer the question.

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

MR. DECKER: The Consumer Advocate will get money from Justice to do that, but at the end of the day, that comes back from the utility itself. So that is all paid for. There is no problem there.


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please! Order, please!

Does the hon. the Member for Conception Bay East and Bell Island have leave to speak?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MR. WALSH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

To the hon. the Member for Kilbride; the reason I did not answer immediately is I thought that maybe the minister could answer on the legal part to help you clarify. But it is my understanding that those resources are available to him, including the need for human resources and the need for whatever additional legal counsel he may require, or expertise that he may require is available to him. I was reluctant to answer specifically for the Department of Justice and asked the minister if he would clarify that for you. But, in answer to your question, yes, that is my understanding for the amendment that I have put forward.

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

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

The reason I asked is because the amendment put forward by the Member for Conception Bay East and Bell Island, in my opinion, is a completely different resolution, and the spirit of it is different from what I put forward. Again, I am not challenging the Speaker's ruling on the amendment, I am just saying, in my opinion. But with the assurances given by government members, I have no problem in supporting this. I think it is important and incumbent upon government and all of us to do what is required to ensure that this increase does not go through, I say to the hon. the Government House Leader, that the request by Newfoundland Power for a rate increase is denied.

I just want to say for the record as well today that I wasn't asking the Premier to intervene in the process of the Public Utilities Board, but asking the Premier would he, as every other member here has the right to, appear before the Public Utilities Board and articulate his position as a private member, and his view as a private member of this House in terms of what he thinks the requested increase from Newfoundland Power would be. I just want to say that for the record.

I want to thank also all the speakers who participated in the debate today, the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, and my eloquent friend, the Member for Bonavista South, who always speaks so passionately when he stands on any issue. Afterwards, I will be receiving some sort of donation from him because he wanted a copy of Hansard to send out to his district, from what I understand.

Mr. Speaker, I will close debate today by saying that we support, on this side of the House, the amendment put forward, and look forward to go ahead.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: No question about it.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Is the House ready for the question?

On motion, amendment carried.

On motion resolution, as amended, carried.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

It is not quite 5:00 p.m. but, according to our Standing Orders, the business of the day is completed, so the House will now adjourn until tomorrow. Does the hon. member wish to -

MR. TULK: I think the Government - Opposition House Leader knows - I am not being prophetic, either, when I say government - the Opposition House Leader knows what we are debating tomorrow, but we will be debating Interim Supply.

MR. SPEAKER: This House now stands adjourned until tomorrow, Thursday, at 2:00 p.m.