The House met at 2:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Snow): Order, please!

Before we begin routine proceedings, the Chair would like to welcome a number of groups to the gallery today. First, we have thirty-eight Grade IX students from MacDonald Drive Jr. High, accompanied by their teacher, Mr. Doug Gosse. As well we have thirty-eight Level II students from Ascension Collegiate in Bay Roberts. They are accompanied by their instructors, Mr. Ed Wilding and Ms. Corinne Ellsworth, along with bus driver, Mr. Don Sullivan.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

Statements by Ministers

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, every year, preventable accidents occur with the onset of winter. Freezing rain and snow conditions dictate a change in driving habits.

In conjunction with the Department of Government Services and Lands, the Department of Works, Services and Transportation has begun an educational campaign to make drivers aware of the hazards of winter driving. This campaign begins in conjunction with Safe Driving Week, with important messages delivered to drivers in the electronic and print media.

Motorists have an important part to play in safety. They can make a significant contribution to reducing the number of accidents by becoming better informed before they drive.

Information on road conditions can be very helpful. It is updated regularly and available in several ways. Most of our main depots in each region of the Province have updated information available on a 24-hour basis.

Beginning tomorrow, a 1-900 number will be in service during business hours. This service provides information on road conditions for all of the selected regions. It requires a Touch-Tone telephone, and callers will be billed seventy-five cents for each call. The information will also be available on the highway conditions segment of the weather channel as well as on our Web site.

Mr. Speaker, we also ask that drivers be patient. We know that this winter there will be times when the roads will be icy and roads will be blocked due to heavy snowfall, regardless of the amount of equipment or crews assigned to a particular area.

I strongly encourage all motorists in the Province to drive safely. The Department of Works, Services and Transportation does its best to ensure the Province's roads are safer in winter. I take this opportunity to remind motorists that they must also do their part too.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. J. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I would like to thank the minister for sending me a copy of his statement when I sat here in my chair. I appreciate it.

Listen to this, now; I will read directly from this: Motorists have an important to play in safety. They can make a significant contribution to reducing the number of accidents by becoming better informed.

Talk about stating the obvious. The minister talks about a 1-900 number. It is a good idea, and I think we would agree with that, but to charge seventy-five cents a call, there are some problems there. To me, it might be just another way to grab a few bucks.

He talks about the drivers being patient. "...we also ask that drivers be patient." To me, the minister is probably hinting at a pre-emptive strike, because we all know that very seldom is the department ready with snow ploughs, sanding equipment and what have you, each year at this time of the year. That is basically what is going on here.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Government and Services and Lands.

MR. McLEAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As members are aware, we recently gave third reading in this House of Assembly to a new Credit Union Act for the Province.

Part of this act deals with the Credit Union Deposit Guarantee Cooperation, a provincial Crown corporation providing deposit insurance protection to credit union members. This deposit protection is backed by a guarantee from government and is evidence of the strong commitment we have to the credit union movement in this Province.

Mr. Speaker, the credit union movement consists of fifteen credit unions operating from thirty-four locations throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. The credit union movement has 34,300 members, employs 195 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and has $295 million in assets. It is an extremely important component of the financial services industry, not only in this Province but also throughout Canada.

I am pleased today to announce the appointments of Wilfred Letto, William Dilny and George Cull to the Board of Directors of the Credit Union Deposit Guarantee Corporation as credit union representatives. These are volunteer positions, and these three men have spent many years providing volunteer services to the credit union movement in this Province. The Board of Directors of the Corporation consists of six members, and there are also three government representatives on the board.

The Credit Union Deposit Guarantee Corporation is an excellent example of how Government provides effective regulation to a financial industry through cooperation with the industry.

It is through the efforts of close to 200 volunteers, such as Mr. Letto, Mr Dilny and Mr. Cull, that the credit union movement has grown and prospered to a point where it provides a full range of financial services to residents of Newfoundland and Labrador.

I wish the new appointees every success.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. J. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for a copy of his ministerial statement before I sat down. What is in this press release or in this ministerial statement is basically what was discussed last week when we approved the most recent bill with respect to the credit unions.

With respect to the individuals appointed, I want to congratulate these individuals for being appointed to the Directors of the credit union board. I know one of the individuals personally and he has the experience and qualifications to do a good job, and I look forward to that. It is about time, I would say, and I said it last week, that the banks received some competition from the credit unions.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, does he have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave!

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to thank the minister for an advance copy of his statement. The Credit Union Deposit Guarantee Corporation plays the same role with respect to credit union deposit as the Canadian Deposit Insurance Corporation does with the banks. It is a very important role, and I think the track record of credit unions in this Province will show that no one has actually lost money that they have deposited in a credit union, which is a very good record indeed. I do not think that can be said for the banks historically in Newfoundland and Labrador.

We are pleased with this legislation. I do want to congratulate the credit union appointees to the Corporation. They are all experienced, in some cases pioneers -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. HARRIS: - in the bringing about of credit unions. I hope that the work of the Credit Union Deposit Guarantee Corporation continues effectively.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair, doe she have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave!

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased to see this House passed revisions in the Credit Union Act unanimously, but I am also pleased that the minister has selected such high-calibre individuals to be a part of the Credit Union Deposit Guarantee Corporation. I want to congratulate all of them on their appointments.

Particularly I want to point out Mr. Letto who is a member of my district, a prominent business man both across Labrador and on the West Coast of Newfoundland, and also one of the founding members of the Eagle River Credit Union. I applaud the remarkable efforts and contribution he has made to that particular movement -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MS JONES: - and congratulate the minister for seeing fit that he be placed in a capacity at a provincial level.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Environment and Labour.

MR. LANGDON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure today to inform hon. members of my department's active involvement in a Canada-Russia Cooperative Environmental Decision-Making Project sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA, and the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, CCME.

I am pleased to say that Mr. Haseen Khan, Manager of Surface Water, with the Water Resources Management Division of the Department of Environment and Labour, visited Russia in October of this year as a member of the Canadian delegation representing CCME. He, along with other Canadian experts, organized a workshop and Mr. Khan presented a paper on the topic of river basin management and water quality improvements at Peter's River, Newfoundland. His paper focused on local efforts to work cooperatively to resolve water management problems. He described the process where stakeholders in the Peter's River area came together to discuss their concerns about water quality and to resolve the issues to their mutual satisfaction.

The project came about as a result of CCME's involvement in the Canada-Russia Federalism Project in 1995, during which time environment ministers from Alberta and Prince Edward Island went to Russia to discuss the decision-making model we employ in the organization. The primary objective of the project is to demonstrate cooperative and shared decision-making by focusing on two important issues: municipal solid waste management in Moscow City and the surrounding area, and water quality and quantity management issues in the Angara River area.

The Russian people are facing waste management and water quality management problems similar to those faced by other countries. As is the case throughout the world, environmental problems often entail numerous issues, involving many jurisdictions and the interests of many stakeholders. Yet, in few cases is there a process for stakeholders to come together to resolve these problems.

The project involves the establishment of broadly based task forces in both Moscow and Irkutsk. These task forces will attempt to apply the CCME model to build cooperative approaches to solve waste management and water quality management problems. In addition, Canadian experts on these topics are visiting Russia to participate in workshops and work with Russian counterparts on technical issues.

This project is important for many reasons, but mostly because it was the first time all stakeholders in both Russian communities were brought together to have a meaningful discussion on a cooperative decision-making process that would significantly improve waste management and water quality in Irkutsk.

In time, members of the Russian Task Force will visit Canada where they will familiarize themselves with the development of our work in water quality management.

Let me say here today that I am proud of the work done by the staff of the Department of Environment and Labour. Mr. Khan's involvement in this international project speaks well for his abilities and for the expertise that exists within my department to deal with water quality management. But also, Mr. Khan's work has showcased the willingness and capability of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to come together to resolve issues cooperatively. I believe that the lessons learned here and in Russia will continue to flourish and will assist us all in dealing with many issues, environmental or otherwise.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. T. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I too would like to show appreciation for the cooperation between our country, and in particular our Province, and Russia. The minister said, "As is the case throughout the world, environmental problems often entail numerous issues..." One of the things we can learn from Russia and other areas of the world is that fact that there is, and will continue to grow, the problem of water shortage throughout many areas of the world, and the problem with water quality throughout many areas of the world.

Newfoundland is about to embark on a fantastic new industry of dealing in water, water exports and water bottling. I hope that our Province can learn from the problems that other areas throughout the world have in water shortage and water quality problems, that we should maximize our resources for the people of our Province.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, does he have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave!

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased to see that officials of our government are working actively in a cooperative project with Russian officials in doing something that needs to be done. We know Russia has incredible problems in the environmental area and hopefully they can learn something about process from us, and perhaps we can learn something about the kind of things that have gone on in Russia.

I would be remiss if I do not point out that we have our own environmental issues to deal with here. Issues of water quality, for example. If the provincial government would pay water tax to the City of St. John's, perhaps they would have a better means of looking after the water quality in St. John's and looking after St. John's Harbour. There are lots of issues we could pay attention to here as well, as well as the one the Member for St. John's South has talked about with respect to the export of bottled water.

Oral Questions

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

My question today is for the Premier. Warnings about the year 2000 millennium bug problem were issued more than ten years ago, as the Premier is aware. Certainly by 1996 it was clear that a failure to take decisive action to dedicate the resources right away to correct the problem could potentially have disastrous consequences for every operation dependent on technology and computers, which is virtually everything in our society. This is an issue that had been explored over a year-and-a-half to two years ago in the House.

I would like to ask the Premier today: Can the Premier tell us whether he has commissioned and received a comprehensive report on this Province's preparedness in the face of what some are saying is a looming crisis? Has he commissioned a report, not only on the government preparedness, but also on the preparedness of the private sector companies on which our citizens rely for essential services, like electricity, food, banking and transportation?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I have to make a confession to the Leader of the Opposition. He caught me without my millennium bug response ready. It is a serious question and it deserves a serious answer. I make humour of it only to cover my own embarrassment at not being properly prepared to give the Leader of the Opposition the full and complete response this serious question demands.

I can tell him I have made enquiries repeatedly over the last several years about this particular file. I have asked the Clerk of the Privy Council, Mr. Malcolm Rowe, to ensure that all government departments are taking the necessary measures and making the necessary investments to ensure that Newfoundland and Labrador, this jurisdiction along with others, is not caught unprepared for the millennium bug problem.

I have been informed that the Province and the infrastructure of government is largely on track, that we should be ready to be compliant in advance of 2000. I don't have a briefing note right in front of me where I can give the Leader of the Opposition more detail, but I would be very happy to get my hands on it as soon as possible and share the information with all members of the House.

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

MR. E. BYRNE: While the Premier may not have a briefing note right at his fingertips, surely this is an issue Cabinet must have been dealing with over the last two years. I would just like to ask him some specific questions, if he can take some time to recollect from his own memory then.

Does the Province, for example, have in place a high level coordinating group, including the public and private sectors and police, to ensure that it is doing the most it can to be ready for the year 2000, both in fixing the computer code problem on the one hand, and being ready for problems that will result by not being ready on the other hand in some sectors?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Yes, Mr. Speaker, in fact there is a high level group. The group is chaired by the Clerk of the Privy Council, Mr. Malcolm Rowe, and it is comprised of the appropriate deputies within government, looking at the agencies and departments most seriously affected, or potentially affected, by this problem.

I would point out that while we haven't listed departments or services in order of priority, certainly the health care services of the Province are amongst the highest priorities for government. There has been collaboration and work between the central agencies of government, Treasury Board, the Clerk's office, the appropriate ministers and deputies, and for example the health care institutions, to be ready for 2000, to be compliant in that regard.

Obviously all of the payroll and other functions of government, including the provision of assistance programs - in particular, for example, through the Department of Human Resources and Employment. It is also important in that regard that we not have a breakdown there in the direct level of services being provided to individuals who are the recipients of government aid. I have a note which says: Table of Contents, Treasury Board, Tab 2. I am very happy to see.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, if the Leader of the Opposition would be so kind as to ask me another question I could get the bugs out of this book.

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

MR. E. BYRNE: Maybe the Premier could be so kind as to enlighten me on who sent down the note so I can turn to the gallery and ask that person the questions, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. E. BYRNE: It is an important problem. It is a problem that is going to pose serious consequences for everybody in society. My understanding is that there is much left to do within the provincial government circles to eliminate the error at the root of this. My understanding is that there is much left to do within the provincial government and what it is responsible for, whether directly through departments or within its Crown entities, health care institutions, educational institutions, et cetera.

My question is: Has there been any pilot testing done on any solutions that have been put forward? Have any converted programs yet been tested and have any failed under testing? What sort of specific things have government been trying, department by department?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: I can undertake to give the Leader of the Opposition, when I have had a chance to assemble that information, as to whether or not there have been tests in individual departments, and whether or not those tests have met with success or failure. I would undertake to get all that information back to the Leader of the Opposition. I can tell him that unquestionably this issue has been a very significant preoccupation of government, as it has been for every other jurisdiction in the country and every other private sector company.

The Leader of the Opposition knows that through the NISL arrangement which is the privatization of the Newfoundland Information Services and the relationship with NewTel and, of course, their association with Anderson Consulting, that a lot of the provision of computer services and computer related services within government are provided through the private sector.

NewTel I think has established themselves and is recognized as an industry leader, both within this Province and certainly, arguably, around the country, in providing information solutions, including solutions to the problem of the 2000 millennium bug.

I want to assure the Leader of the Opposition that government is taking very substantial steps, and I now can apprise him of some way of quantifying those steps. Thus far by department: the Department of Education has spent $540,000 in preparation for this problem; the Department of Works, Services and Transportation, $900,000; the Department of Municipal and Provincial Affairs, $72,000; the Department of Development and Rural Development, $70,000,; the Department of Government Services and Lands, $200,000; the Department of Mines and Energy, $100,000; the Department of Health and Community Services, $100,000; the Department of Human Resources and Employment, $1 million; the Department of Justice, $1.5 million; the Executive Council, across the board, $7.2 million, for a grand total of $11.7 million getting ready to beat that bug right into the ground.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

A year and a half ago, when the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board was asked questions directly, it was at a time when they were just assessing what the potential problems would be. Obviously, the Premier is enlightened, and has given more information to the House, and through the House to the people of the Province, on what various departments are doing.

The question I have then is this. What actions have the Province taken specifically in terms of ensuring emergency preparedness, in terms of ensuring that water, food, power, health care, telephone and other services continue? This is a serious issue, no matter what happens to the systems. The question is: Is there a continency plan by government in that regard? If there is, are you in a position to be able to table it today or sometime in the near future for all to have a look at?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I do not think the government is planning for a huge breakdown of the capacity of government communities and private sector to function, such that we would have - we are contemplating at this point emergency measures for food, shelter and so on. We think it is a computer bug, not the next world war we are dealing with.

I would say to the Leader of the Opposition I now have more information in my hand. Let me go through some of the areas that are compliant.

The teachers' payroll - this will be important to the teachers - is ready; high school certification is ready; student aid administration is ready; the Department of Justice ticket management system is ready; Motor Vehicle Registration is ready; the Newfoundland Medicare MCP Information system is ready; the municipal assessment agency is ready; the Department of Works, Services and Transportation purchasing is ready; capital spending, same department, is ready; highways maintenance system, same department, is ready; finance taxation collection system - wouldn't want that to break down - ready September 1999; pension system ready, in December 1998; financing accounting system, Treasury Board, ready December, 1998; Treasury Board payroll system, very important, ready in December 1998; the Department of Human Resources and Employment, financial assistance computer terminal systems, ready in September 1999. Aye, sir, we are ready.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: I tell you, Minister, I won't even respond.

Within government departments, certainly, there is a move towards being ready, as the Premier outlined. I would like to ask him this: Are Newfoundland Hydro and Newfoundland Power Y2K compliant? I believe it is the government's responsibility to get a guarantee from the utility companies that it regulates that they are either Y2K compliant or else prepared with an adequate continency plan. Has government received any such guarantee that power services will continue uninterrupted?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, the member to my left, who retains a sense of humour, notwithstanding the circumstances of the last week, says that Hydro and Newfoundland Light and Power are more worried by the extra load brought on by the light bulbs outside the building than they are by the Y2K problem.

I want to assure the Leader of the Opposition that yes, there has been discussion with Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, which is a Crown corporation, and discussion as well with some of the major utility providers, in this case the - you have mentioned Light and Power; you could have mentioned as well the telephone company - to ensure that they too will be compliant with the Y2K problem. I cannot give the Leader of the Opposition today an assurance that compliance has been achieved but I know they are in the process. They either have achieved compliance or are in the process of achieving compliance.

With respect to all of these specific questions, I will ask staff to note the specific areas raised by the Leader of the Opposition and give him a full and complete report, and through him and the House the people of the Province a complete report in the days ahead.

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

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

There has been, to my knowledge and also in some recent reports within the media some time ago, about efforts of the Health Care Corporation to address the Y2K problem. Can the Premier tell us when preparations for this conversion began, where they are now, whether any corrected systems have been tested, and whether they will be ready? Is there a backup plan in case key health care systems face serious challenge or even possible failure?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: I can tell the Leader of the Opposition that in our Province the Newfoundland and Labrador Health and Community Services Association have established a provincial Year 2000 Committee and they have assigned a full time project coordinator to that Committee to work with all of the health care groups. Of course, that measure will support ongoing efforts in the health care boards to determine the extent of the impact on respective organizations. This group, in our Province, is also working with the national health year 2000 secretariat that has been established to coordinate sharing of information between health care institutions all across the country.

Now, Mr. Speaker, with respect to the Leader of the Opposition's request that I update him on what stage of preparation are they at, I would have to beg the indulgence of the Leader of the Opposition to check, for the Leader of the Opposition, with the health care boards and to table that information in an appropriate time.

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

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

A final question. It is obvious that the systems within the health care system involve not only network computers but stand alone systems that include computer chips, for example. These systems are everywhere, especially in the health care system. I guess the Premier, when he updates us further, can update in terms of what the magnitude of our exposure is to this problem and what government intends to do about it.

The question is this: Has government made a commitment, in terms of what the financial consequences are in dealing with this problem and the serious challenges that it faces in particular to the health care system, that the financial resources that are required will be put in place to address it so that essential health care services will continue to be delivered as they are now or if not, in a better fashion?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I want to give an assurance to the Leader of the Opposition that government has every intention that there will be no interruption in the provision of health care services in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. I think we all recognize in this House that Y2K problem or not - and it does present a real challenge. The Leader of the Opposition is right to ask the question. It is a large challenge for this Province, its agencies and a large problem countrywide. I do not think anybody would be foolish to stand and say that they are 100 per cent certain of full compliance, until we find out just how much of our computer based technology is affected by the problem. I, for one, will be at home. I will not be flying at 30,000 feet on January 1. No offense to the airline companies, but I will just take a day off that day.

Mr. Speaker, the reality is it is a large challenge. A large number of people are working diligently to solve it. There is no question that in critical areas like health care we will take all efforts and make whatever expenditures are necessary to ensure that we are Y2K compliant.

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

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My questions today are for the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs. Will the minister confirm that after announcing in June the provincial home repair program he produced a memo in September announcing that homes in desperate need of repair would be placed at the head of a six-year RRAP program waiting list? Will he confirm and explain why this memo was only sent to MHAs in his own Liberal caucus? Were the constituents of the other twenty-five per cent of districts in the Province not eligible to be placed at the top of this list even if their homes were in urgent need of repair?

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

MR. A. REID: Mr. Speaker, as you can remember, first of all I made a statement in the House pertaining to a new RRAP program or provincial housing program, and then subsequent to that went outside and held a press conference. There is not one single person in this House who did not know about that new RRAP program and what it entailed. In fact, if you go back through Hansard and see what I tabled that day when I made the statement it would include all the things that my hon. colleague has suggested that I provided to this side and never to them.

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

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I say to the minister that is bad enough to keep a memo announcing a significant policy change from a quarter of the MHAs in the Province, denying their constituents that new information. Will the minister also explain why a quarter of the projects approved on the Avalon region this year were approved in is own district? Will he confirm that many of the projects approved in his district did not meet the criteria for jumping to the top of the list, but that he directed his officials to approve these projects anyway?

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

MR. A. REID: Mr. Speaker, from the Avalon regional office, which takes in all the Avalon Peninsula and part of the Burin Peninsula, there were 2,200 applications made for the whole of the Avalon Peninsula. I say this to my hon. colleague here and you, Mr. Speaker, because the Carbonear office represents you has well, that 1,200 of the 2,200 came from the Carbonear office. That indicated to me, and indicated to the people who for this Government and for Newfoundland and Labrador Housing, that there is a more serious need for housing repair in the Carbonear office then there would be in the St. John's office. Therefore, for the past fifteen to twenty years that the RRAP has been ongoing more houses have been done from the Carbonear office on a percentage basis than the St. John's office. It is logical, when you sit and you think about that for a few minutes. That would explain itself to you.

Let me say about moving and doing something he mentioned about special... I have a list here, a memo from the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing I received this morning, with over forty applicants that were inspected by Newfoundland and Labrador Housing. They are not all from my district, by the way. They are from a number of districts around the Province, one including the member's own district. Out of this list -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. A. REID: Yes, out of this list only four were actually done. I say quite honestly to the hon. member what he is getting at here is something he heard from a media person. He did not bring this up. A media person went to him on Friday morning and asked him a question. In answer to that question he had, I suppose, to make a few comments. The bottom line here is he does not really know what he is talking about.

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate you today, just you. Because even though I as the member only got twenty-two, you managed to pull thirty-two out of it, and I congratulate you for doing a good job as a member (inaudible).

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Will the minister also confirm that he and his political staff sat down and manipulated a province-wide program to ensure his own constituents would be placed ahead of others who were assessed as being in a far more desperate need of home repair? Can he explain to this House and to the public of the Province why he abused his power as minister to oversee a gross misappropriation of taxpayers' money for his own political gains?

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

MR. A. REID: Mr. Speaker, if there is anyone sitting on this side of the House that needs more congratulations and criticism it is me. Each member of this House, both on this side and that side, and quite my hon. colleague who sits to my right condemns me for doing as much for my hon. colleagues across the way as I do for my hon. colleagues here.

Mr. Speaker, let me give some you some information. I only need a minute or so do it. The member made references to exceptions. Yes, I made exceptions. I made two exceptions for the hon. Member for Ferryland.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: (Inaudible).

MR. A. REID: The hon. the Member for Conception Bay South just admitted I made an exception for him. The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis, I made an exception for him. I made an exception, Mr. Speaker, for the hon. the Leader of the Opposition. Can I for the record - to prove what I am doing in regards to the Housing Corporation and the Department of Municipal and Provincial Affairs of being fair - can I just read this quick statement to you? It says: I am writing this letter today, as per our conversation regarding -


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. A. REID: - an eighty-year-old constituent.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. the minister to conclude his answer quickly.

MR. A. REID: It goes on: Recently her house insurance was cancelled because of bad wiring and a bad chimney. Due to the lack of heat, Mrs. X had to leave her residence. She has applied to the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing for help.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. the minster to finish his answer.

MR. A. REID: May I have leave?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister to conclude his answer quickly.

MR. A. REID: Mr. Speaker, the cost of repairs to this particular house is $14,500 and this is the note that I wrote on the top of it. It is to Mary Marshall, who is the head of the housing (inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. A. REID: `If you can accommodate Mr. Byrne, please do.' This came in on Friday, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister to take his seat.

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

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My questions are for the Premier and they have to do with the issue of public service pensions.

Until the Wells' Administration changed its policy in 1989, when public servants got wage increases, these increases were extended to Members of the House of Assembly and to public service pensioners. This year, public servants got their increase; this was extended to Members of the House of Assembly; but, Mr. Premier, that is where it stopped. I say, two out of three is not good enough. Many people were left out. I would ask the Premier: Will this government use its power to rectify this most inequitable state of affairs?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite has put this very question to the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board who is not in the House today. The Minister of Finance and Treasury Board has made clear that if the public service unions wish to put this question on the table for the process of collective bargaining, it is an issue that he is open to.

The point that the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board has made - I think very eloquently - is that to provide an increase, one has to identify the dollars to pay for it. I stand to be corrected but I believe every 1 per cent increase is costing $20 million. To give an increase over the next number of years, equivalent to what was negotiated for the public service, one would have to assume you are looking at $140 million to pay for a 7 per cent increase. Given that the member opposite has just put the position that there ought to be an identical treatment of public servants, given that it costs $20 million per 1 per cent, the member opposite needs to identify where the $140 million is coming from.

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

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The 1997 Public Service Pension Plan Annual Report shows that almost $96 million was paid to pensioners that year. I have some difficulty, Mr. Premier, and I would ask you to show me where 1 per cent of that amount comes anywhere near the - actually $22 million, I believe, was the figure used by the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board, but according to your figures some $20 million.

Mr. Premier, you are reported - and in fact many political commentators indicate that the Premier can be flexible. He can be, from time to time, a very flexible man. We have seen it. We saw it a few months ago on the issue of the National Child Tax Benefit, where a decision was reversed and many children in this Province received benefit therefrom. I would ask the Premier to exercise similar flexibility and at least entertain the concept, the idea, of welcoming not only, Mr. Premier, union representatives, but representatives of the Public Service Pensioners' Association, to sit down with you with a view to the possibility of reviewing what is, for thousands of our public service pensioners of this Province, a very difficult situation. I would ask you to exercise some of that flexibility which you have shown in the past to help reflect the concern and the needs of so many of our senior public service pensioners.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, the member across the way knows that there is as much concern on this side of the House for the plight of those who live in poverty, or near poverty levels, as on that side of the House.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER TOBIN: The member also knows that governing and government is about making choices. I have no hesitation, none whatsoever, in saying that were the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador in a position today with a surplus today, that one of the areas to which that surplus would be committed would be a discretionary decision by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to provide a pension increase for those who have retired with public service pensions. That is an easy statement for me to make.

The harder statement for me to make, the more unpleasant one, is to remind the House that if you talk about an increase of 7 per cent, equivalent to what public servants, including MHAs, have received, based on the analysis by the Department of Finance, we need in excess of $100 million to afford that.

Members of the Opposition began this particular session of the House a few weeks ago by making the argument that the Province was drifting toward, I think, to quote them accurately, $150 million deficit. That is what the Opposition across the way were saying. The Minister of Finance pointed out that was wrong, that while we will have a larger deficit than we had planned, as do most other jurisdictions, our situation is within control.

We now have a request today, one that I would love to be able to say yes to, to take an action which would cause a dramatic increase on an annualized basis, as the full 7 per cent kicked in, over $100 million, to have that commitment made today by me in the name of being flexible. Mr. Speaker, I am flexible, I am a Liberal, I want to reach out and help those most in need, but I won't make them a promise I know I cannot keep, and I will not cry the tears of the crocodile when I know the truth is what they need, not just the sound of my compassion but my capacity to respond.

The only capacity we, as government, have to respond is to look at something more generally applicable to all seniors in the Province, be they public service pensioners or not, or look at something that we can negotiate at the table because we can pay for at the negotiating table.

The member knows that. I know he is concerned about this. He knows that I am concerned about this, but he also knows that the speech he gives and the request he makes is not funded, not on this side of the House and not on his side of the House.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS S. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My questions today are for the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women.

Friday here we joined the Federal and Provincial Ministers Responsible for the Status of Women in a declaration of the commitment to end violence against women. Today I would particularly like to deal with women who leave abusive situations and find themselves at Kirby House. They have to wait two weeks before they get their comfort allowance. Now, we know that many of the women arrive there with just the shirts on their backs. They have absolutely no money, and they are left for two weeks without money.

I understand that the administration at Kirby House have written in the past couple of months two or three times about this problem, with no response. The allowance is a mere $25 a week. It is cost negligible. We know that many women return to abusive spouses out of fear or mistrust.

Does the minister feel that we are now creating another reason for them to return to abusive situations?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Human Resources and Employment.

MS BETTNEY: Mr. Speaker, there is very close communication between my department and the Department of Health and Community Services around the issue of the transition homes, and around being able to provide timely service to women who are in crisis and are being provided with assistance through these transition homes.

Now, the specific issue with respect to the comfort allowance is one which, of course, crosses over both departments because of the nature of the services being provided at the transition homes themselves. It is one that both departments are looking at in terms of trying to increase its efficiency. During the time that the women who are at the transition homes are staying there, and of course in crisis, I would have to say that every effort is being made by both the staff at the transition homes, the staff of my department and the staff of Health and Community Services, to try and ensure that they receive the best possible service and assistance that they require at that time.

MR. SPEAKER: Question Period has ended.

Notices of Motion

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Environment and Labour.

MR. LANGDON: Mr. Speaker, I give notice that I will on tomorrow ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, "An Act Respecting The Management Of Waste Material."

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

MR. FUREY: Mr. Speaker, I give notice that I will on tomorrow ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, "An Act To Amend The Quarry Materials Act."

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I always defer to the elder brother.

Mr. Speaker, I give notice that I will on tomorrow ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, "An Act To Amend The Pippy Park Commission Act". (Bill No. 46)

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

MR. DECKER: Mr. Speaker, I give notice that I will on tomorrow ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, "An Act To Amend The Provincial Court Act, 1991."

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

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I give notice that I will no tomorrow ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, "An Act To Amend The Private Training Institutions Act."

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. A. REID: Mr. Speaker, I give notice that I will on tomorrow ask leave to introduce the following bills:

A bill, "An Act To Amend the St. John's Assessment Act".

A bill, "An Act To Amend The Municipalities Act."

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

MR. HARRIS: Mr. Speaker, I hereby give notice that I will on tomorrow ask leave to introduce the following motion:

WHEREAS the provincial government retired pensioners have sought an increase in their pensions because increases in the cost of living have diminished their value and many pensioners live in dire financial circumstances; and

WHEREAS the provincial government had an established practice of granting a pension increase to coincide with or follow public sector pay raises, thereby creating a reasonable expectation that this would continue to be a feature of their pension entitlement; and

WHEREAS this practice was discontinued after 1989, thereby hurting all pensioners but especially those on low fixed incomes; and

WHEREAS a pay raise has recently been negotiated for public sector workers through their bargaining representatives passed on to non-bargaining unit personnel of government; and

WHEREAS the House of Assembly has just passed legislation that has not yet been given Royal Assent, authorizing a similar pay increase for Members of the House of Assembly while government had not acted on the pensioners' reasonable request for consideration;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the House of Assembly urge the government to delay the implementation of any pay increase for Members of the House of Assembly until it has addressed the reasonable demands of the pensioners for a pension increase, particularly those long-time retirees whose pensions are grossly inadequate;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that government be urged to immediately sit down with representatives of the retirees to negotiate an increase in retirement pensions.

MR. A. REID: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will rule on it after you hear it.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs, on a point of order.

MR. A. REID: I have to apologize to the Chair. I said earlier that the Chair was the one who had the most approved. I just had a note passed to me. The Member for Cartwright - L'Anse au Clair is the highliner right now in the Province in regards to RRAP programs. She has exceeded the thirty-five as of today, and still climbing.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!


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

MR. T. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I have a further petition from the people of Labrador West:

To the hon. House of Assembly of Newfoundland and Labrador in legislative session convened, the petition of the undersigned residents of Labrador City;

WHEREAS the residents of Labrador City condemn the provincial government in supporting the Iron Ore Company of Canada's decision to process Labrador resources in Sept-Iles, Quebec;

WHEREFORE your petitioners urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to reverse this decision immediately and support a policy of secondary processing within the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador;

And as in duty bound your petitioners will ever pray.


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. T. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, I have spoken to this petition on a number of occasions, and today is no different. The stand that I take on this petition is the stand that I take with the resources of Newfoundland and Labrador. Probably since time began, since Newfoundland has been inhibited by people, we have seen our resources go for the benefit of people and countries elsewhere.


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. T. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We have seen our resources go for the benefit of people in other countries and other provinces of Canada, and many, many times not to the benefit of the people of this Province. We have seen the resources of Churchill Falls go to the benefit of Quebec. We have seen the resources of our fisheries go to the benefit of many countries, including Canada, when not so much to the benefit of the people of this Province. We have seen the benefits of our iron ore resources, of our other mining resources, of our forestry resources, of our oil resources - it looks as though now perhaps our water resources.

What we as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have to do is stand up and take a strong position that our resources are going to give benefit to the people of this Province. We can start with the pellet plant in Labrador West. We can start with the pellet plant in Labrador City.

The people of Labrador City have worked for the Iron Ore Company of Canada for many years. The people of Labrador City have seen the Iron Ore Company of Canada take hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from our resource, and still based on a royalty regime for the iron ore resources in Labrador that is perhaps meagre at best.

The Premier has taken a stand on Voisey's Bay, saying that the smelter must be placed within this Province; and if there is no smelter, there is no mine, there is no mill, the resources will stay in the ground. Yet, Inco say that the smelter is not a viable project on its own.

While we will all admit that the overall project is viable when you include the mine, the mill, and the resources from Voisey's Bay, the same stands true for the Iron Ore Company of Canada. While the pellet plant may not be as profitable if put in Labrador as it would be in Sept-Iles, Quebec, while the Iron Ore Company of Canada say that it would not be as profitable and maybe not even profitable put in Labrador, the overall project, the mine, the resource, and the pellet plant placed in Labrador would be a viable project.

That is exactly the stand taken by this government, taken by this Premier: that if the overall project for Voisey's Bay is profitable, the smelter stays in this Province or they are not getting our resource.

There is absolutely no difference in nickel, copper and cobalt from Voisey's Bay as there is in the Iron Ore Company of Canada's interest in iron ore. If the overall project is viable, that pellet plant should stay within this Province, give full and maximum benefits to the people of this Province, the people who own the resource. It is time we stand firm and take a solid position and say that our resources -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. T. OSBORNE: - give full benefit to the people of our Province.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to support the petition put forward by my colleague, the Member for St. John's South. The Member for St. John's South has been presenting petitions on this matter for some days now. He is basically asking the provincial government if they would reconsider their decisions relative to the pellet plant operations in Labrador City and, of course, in Sept-Iles, Quebec.

I remind the House of Assembly that a few weeks ago we had visitors to this House from Labrador City. A delegation representing the Town of Labrador City and the Town of Wabush, the Combined Council of Labrador were here as well, with the United Steelworkers of America Local 5795 representatives, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Municipalities representatives, the Federation of Labour and Labrador West Chamber of Commerce. They were all present here in the people's House to address the issue that this petition raised to the government, to be addressed by all the members of the House.

We know that last year the Minister of Mines and Energy made some commitments to the people of Labrador West, that they would be able to make some changes on the energy side, the power side, to make sure that jobs would stay in Labrador West and that they wouldn't be having a situation develop whereby their ore would be shipped down to Sept-Iles, Quebec, and the jobs that would be developed in Sept-Iles, Quebec, would be at the expense, either directly or indirectly, of the employees in Labrador City and Wabush. Mr. Speaker, the leaders that were here that day, community leaders, were saying to the government: Would you please do something about the situation and would you hear our petition?

Mr. Speaker, we on this side at that time made a commitment. The commitment was that we would continue to bring that position forward to this Legislature; we would continue to remind the government side of the commitments made to the people of Labrador West last year. When we listened to the private member's resolution put forward by the Member for Labrador West, we on this side of the House found that the resolution called upon the government to support the people of Labrador West to the extent that they could. Mr. Speaker, the people of Labrador West believe that they have not been treated fairly.

Mr. Speaker, I listened to some news reports just a few days ago, over the weekend in fact, whereby the Mayor of Labrador City is still not satisfied that all has been done that could be done to support his community in this time of crisis.

Mr. Speaker, we all know what is happening to the Province's out-migration, and we hear the Mayor of Labrador City saying that his population base is going to be detrimentally affected by the decision that this government has permitted to be made.

Mr. Speaker, we have tried to put forward alternate proposals that have not been accepted by the government. The members on this side have had extensive discussions. We would ask the government again: Is it possible that we could do something about this particular situation? The Mayor of Labrador City is leading the charge. He is trying to do the best he can to make sure that his voice gets heard in this particular Legislature.

Mr. Speaker, we on this side will continue to bring forward these petitions and we believe the government should be doing a little more to help the people of Labrador West in this time of crisis, to make sure that the jobs that should be in Labrador West continue to be there, and that we do not see our resources going out of this Province to create jobs and employment opportunities anywhere else, and that includes Sept-Iles, Quebec.

Orders of the Day

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

MR. DECKER: Order 16, Mr. Speaker, Bill No. 37.

MR. SPEAKER: Bill No. 37, "An Act Respecting Child, Youth And Family Services".

The hon. the Member for Bonavista South.

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise today to pass a few comments, say a few words, on Bill 37, An Act Respecting Child, Youth And Family Services.

Mr. Speaker, I have had a chance to review this bill and read it, and there are certainly a lot of good things in this bill, a lot of good things that will bring us a long way from where we are today to where we want to go.

Mr. Speaker, it stops a little bit short, I think, of what we would like to see. We on this side of the House have been advocating for a child advocate. That is the concern that we have been putting forward. We have continued to say here on this side of the House that anything less than a provincial child advocate would fall far short of what is really needed today in order to pay attention to the problems that we are experiencing in this Province today as they relate to students and children.

One other thing that we continue to say on this side of the House is that we should look at having social workers in our schools. If we believe in protecting the rights of children, then we should reach out and try to protect those rights and try to provide that protection at the earliest possible time. What better place to reach out and touch that child or attend to the need than right in the classrooms of our Province.

Today in many rural Newfoundland communities - especially, we see school counsellors, education counsellors, in our school. Far too often those counsellors are far too busy to be able to attend to the social needs of the children in taxing their skills, I suppose, or their time, to the limit. It is not uncommon for one of those of people to have to attend to many different schools and for the most part concentrate on the efforts of counselling towards a vocation rather than helping the social needs of our children.

Back in 1994, a committee was struck here in this House, a non-partisan committee that was represented by both sides of the House, to travel this Province. In fact, I believe they travelled the country and received in excess of 200 submissions from interested people who came forward and brought forward concerns that they saw in the community, in the school, and in society today. They brought forward suggestions and opinions of what should be done and what should be implemented and what should be brought into legislation right here in this House in order that the government of the day, in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, would be able to or should pay special attention to the problems that we are experiencing today with some of our troubled youth.

I suppose it is a reflection of our economy. I think it is a proven fact - it is a given fact - that as our economy weakens, and as work opportunities become much, much less, then those problems are filtered on down the line and for the most part go right to the youngest in our society, the children, the sons and daughters of the people affected.

It was only the other day - I think World Food Day was the name they had associated with the special day - I turned on the radio and heard somebody talking about the problems that we are experiencing in the world today, as it relates to our troubled society and our young people. It did some comparisons. One of the statistics that they put forward was that in excess of 1.3 billion people today live on less than $1 a day. In excess of 1.3 billion live on less than $1 day.

It talked about the consumption of meat and it made a comparison of: A Canadian or a North American consumes something like 260 pounds of meat in one year, compared to a person living in Bangladesh who consumes less than six pounds of meat in one year. That is a vast difference. It talked about the amount of money that the Europeans spend on ice cream. It went on to say that in excess of $11 billion is spent on an annual basis in Europe on ice cream, an amount of money that would provide the world, if you would, with a good water and sewer system. The needs in the world today that fall short of a good water and sewer system could be financed by less money than the Europeans spend in one year on ice cream. In excess of 750,000 Canadians go to the food banks each month; in excess of 750,000. That is 250,000 more people than live here in the Province of Newfoundland.

We talk about our own children, right here in this Province. We are not living in any pocket of heaven when we are living in Newfoundland and Labrador, I can tell you, when you hear of in excess of one-quarter of the children in Newfoundland and Labrador today going to school hungry. I think it is time that we take a look at what is happening. It is time we take a look at what is happening in our society, and if we are really reaching out and filling the need and touching the people we should be touching and we should be helping.

The child interest committee travelled across the Province and did up their report. It was a substantial report, actually, started in 1994 and presented in the House of Assembly in 1996. That is two years ago now. Up until now that report has been allowed to sit on the minister's shelf and gather dust. There has been absolutely nothing done in order to bring forward the suggestions and concerns that have been echoed by the Select Committee on Children's Interest. There has been absolutely nothing been brought forward.

The minister stands here and talks about Bill 37 as being a bill that she holds up and says is a wonderful bill that will go a long way to attending to the needs of the children in our society today. She is probably right, it will. It will certainly be a beginning. When you hear the minister talk about the child welfare bill that is presently in existence, that was brought into a House of Assembly in Newfoundland back in 1944, that is fifty-four years ago. I suggest there are very few people in this House who were even born at that particular time. In excess of fifty-four years ago, and we have done absolutely nothing in order to attend to the problems that have been existent in this Province today.

You talk to the school teachers and some of the social workers, and they will tell you the need is there today like never before. There is no point in bringing forward a piece of legislation, there is no point in us getting up in the House of Assembly and saying we are concerned, paying lip service to the problem, unless we are going to make a commitment to do something about that particular problem.

I think the first commitment we should make is to make sure we put the right people in the right places in order to attend to the problems we have today. If we are going to get involved in solving problems then we have to put our money where our mouth is. It is not good enough for the Premier or the minister or anybody else to stand in his place and always say: We cannot attend to it because we do not have the money to respond to it.

If we are going to respond to the problems in social welfare today, the first thing the Premier will say or the minister will say is: In order for us to get the money, would you support the closure of hospital beds, would you support a hike in taxes? What is always thrown back at you is: If we are going to do this, then we must take something else away from you.

That is not good enough, I say to the members opposite. We have to look at innovative ways and we should all pull together and try to come up with some resolution in order to help those who need to be helped most of all. It is certainly discouraging. You do not realize it until you go to the schools. That is one place you see it first-hand.

I remember just a few short months ago I went into a school in my district. It was Canada Day, that is when it was. I was invited into the school to take part in a little exercise the Grade VII class had planned where people were issued citizenship certificates, and people talked about how proud they were to be a Canadian and what being a Canadian meant to them.

When I went into the staff office before we had our little meeting, I saw two refrigerators. One of the schoolteachers happened to open the door and I saw it packed with those little packs of juices and little packs of UHT milk. I had to enquire as to why it was there. I was completely immune to the fact that those kinds of things were kept in schools in order to be given to children who came to school hungry. I was immune to it until that time. The conversation went on that this was milk, juices and snacks that were brought from donations that people would make to the school in order to provide food to the children who came to school hungry, who came to school without breakfast, who came to school without lunch. They would pack it and the child would be given the lunch in a little brown paper bag in a way that was done very discretely so that he would not be singled out from other people.

Now up until that time it never really struck me that this was happening right in my own district, right in the communities that we know so well. We see people getting on the bus and going to school in the morning, and we take it for granted they have had their breakfast, they have been well clothed and they are being looked after. That is not happening. It is not happening in our own districts, it is not happening in the Province, and it is certainly not happening in many other rural areas. All we have to do is look at some of the stories that we see happening. I will not single out any area of the Province . The stories I am referring to are certainly known by everybody here if they watch television at all.

We have to reach out to help those people. We have to reach out and provide the help and the funding that is needed in order to address the problem. It is not going to go away. It can only get worse. Removing somebody from their families or from their community or putting them in another school is not the answer to the problems we have. Taking them and putting them in an institution is not an answer to the problem. Many times you take young people and put them in an institution that was put in place to penalize people and to bring about reform. Usually that puts out a person, at the end of the day, who is much more hardened, the person you will continually find frequenting your prisons and causing you the problems that afflict everyday society.

This particular bill is a good bill. It stops short of what we feel should be done. It stops short of a child advocate, which I think is badly needed in this Province, somebody who would operate at arm's-length from the government of the day, operate at arm's-length from the House of Assembly.

Some of the goods things that are in it is that there is going to be a board or a committee put in place that will be responsible and answerable, I suppose, to the minister and her department. It is another situation where those people will be appointed. I don't know how you could do much less than appoint somebody in this particular area. At least the minister had the foresight to include somebody who has accessed child welfare. From my understanding, it is an arm's-length advisory committee comprised of individuals who have an interest in children's issues, including a lawyer and two persons who have received child welfare services.

That is important. Many times we see people put in place because they have done somebody a favour or they are of some political stripe, or because we feel they will bring back a report that we want brought back, and somebody that the minister or the department can control. I hope that is not the case with this particular board or committee. It is good to see the minister at least having the foresight to be able to come out and say that if we are going to receive a report that is going to reflect the needs of children and reflect the needs of people, then we must have two people on that particular board who have received child welfare services.

It also talks about dispute resolution, something that if there is a problem it can be solved before you have to go through the procedure of going to court and have a situation where, before you get an answer or a resolution to your problem, you are going to see it dragging through the courts, and the timely and costly process that that will certainly entail. A dispute resolution mechanism is certainly very important.

I do not know if there have been some comparisons done, comparing unemployment levels with problems in social programs. There certainly must be. I would think there is a direct comparison there. I would think that as your economic problems and your unemployment problems become greater, then I would think social problems become greater as well.

There is another reason that I firmly believe has probably brought on some social problems as well. It is brought about through necessity, but I think it is a problem that has allowed our social problems, especially in our youth, to increase. That is where today it is very common and it is a necessity to have both parents in the household working. It is a necessity. Unfortunately, when you have two people in the household working there is usually a need for that to happen. Usually the need is shortchanged by the fact that in allowing that to happen we have not reached out and filled the void at the bottom of the pole by allowing a daycare program, allowing people that find themselves working at meaningful jobs, but not jobs that pay well, a situation where they cannot afford to pay for a baby sitter. They cannot afford to have somebody come in. Or if they do, then it is only for the least amount of time that can be allowed in order for them to be able to afford that particular luxury, if you would, or that need.

Far too often, when you get two people in the same household working, making a small amount of money, you find children left by themselves and fending for themselves at a very early age. Because you and I know that the children of today are probably a whole lot smarter than we were when we were growing up, but their basic needs are certainly not a whole lot different, Mr. Speaker.

At the time when we were growing up you would always find somebody in the home. I do not ever remember coming home from school and not finding somebody in my house when I was growing up. I do not ever remember coming home from school and finding the door locked, or going into an empty house. It was always a situation that when you came home one of your parents were there waiting for you. One or the other. You had to do your family chores or you were chastised for something you should have done. It was a situation that you were receiving guidance on almost on an hourly basis, or minute by minute while you were home. You were always under direct supervision.

Times have changed. I do not even know if we would want to go back to some of things you had to do in order to survive. Many of the things you had to do then are not accepted today. They are not acceptable. Because of that, because people reached out and wanted to take on new challenges and wanted to acquire more, it finally became a necessity that two people - in order to survive and in order to attend to the needs and pay the bills - had to find jobs. I think that is where a lot of our problems have started from.

If we could provide funding at the lower end of the totem pole, to provide funding for daycare, we could provide funding or have the parents who are working being able to make enough money in order to pay for a baby sitter or somebody responsible to be in the home all the while the children are there. I am not talking about two- and three-year-olds. I am talking about twelve-year-olds, ten-year-olds, nine-year-olds. If we could provide that kind of funding then I would think it would go a long way to addressing some of the needs of our young people today.

I don't know what the workload is for social workers in this Province. I know their talents, their efforts and their time are taxed to the limit. I know that it has almost gotten to a point now with the Department of Social Services that the financial assistance officers probably carry on a greater amount of work than the social workers can attend to. Because they are the people who write the cheques and supply the money for the immediate need. I am sure in talking with people, and knowing the small amount I know about child welfare, that there is certainly still a great need there to supply and to provide more child welfare, child social workers, than we presently employ today.

I fear that all we are doing, for the most part, is attending to the need as it exists and not getting into preventative maintenance, if you would, not trying to reach out and tend to the problem and solve the problem before it happens. I don't know even how we compare with other provinces. I don't know how we compare with other provinces with the workload that is put forward.

This piece of legislation is certainly a step in the right direction. It says in the bill, as well, that the reports from the committee that the minister will appoint will come back here to the House of Assembly. They will be presented to the House of Assembly. So it will not be a situation, hopefully, like other reports that have been brought here and reported to a department or to a minister, where the minister accepts the report and does not make it known, keeps it within the protection of her own department and says: It is not the right thing to do to make it public. Or else: It is not something we are prepared to do at this time. Or: We are studying it. Or: It has not been passed by Cabinet. I understand it is going to come back to the House of Assembly and be scrutinized by members on both sides of the Legislature.

While it is a step in the right direction, it falls short of what we would like to see happening. We will continue to put forward our need, and we will continue to put forward the needs of the people who are expressing the desire to us to see an advocate. We think that is something that should be there. The child advocate is put forward by six other provinces in this country, and from what I understand it is working well. It is somebody who can operate independently of the minister, independently of the House, to go out and work as a protector, if you would, an ombudsman.

We did away with the ombudsman. This government has seen fit to do away with the ombudsman as well. I suppose it would work like an ombudsman, and it would almost be like the Auditor General. It would be a watchdog to go out there and make sure we protect the most vulnerable people in our society today. They are our future. They are the people who will someday sit in this House of Assembly. I fear for the most part a lot of them, if we do not provide the protection, will go by the wayside and will cause us grave problems and great grief in trying to deal with them in another way.

There is nothing more discouraging than to go out and visit the Whitbourne youth centre, I say to the minister opposite. Go out and see the young people who are presently in that particular institution. I have gone there as well. I have gone to the Whitbourne youth home, the Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Centre. I have toured the place and talked to some of the residents there. It is certainly an eye-opener to go there and talk to some of those young people, find out why they are there, talk to them about how many times they have been back there, where they are from, and what their parents do. You can sit there and I will tell you, when you come away you certainly have a whole new feeling for the problems that are existent there.

I do not think that is the answer. I do not think taking people, putting them behind chain-link fences and putting them behind cameras to have them watched on a twenty-four hour basis, is the answer to solving the problems in our youth care today. We have to be much more progressive, if you would, than that. We have to attend to the needs of those young people at a much sooner stage.

The place to reach out and do that is in the schools. I fear that until government takes the approach of putting social workers in schools, especially in troubled areas, it is not going to change. I will repeat what I said earlier, that where you find your highest unemployment levels, where you find your least amount of opportunities, that is where you find your troubled spots. The problems of the parents, the problems of the guardians, are taken back to the school and reflected in the child.

Far too often that goes unnoticed, it goes unattended. What you allow at the end is a troubled youth, and we wonder or should ask ourselves who was responsible. Because they are certainly not responsible for where they find themselves. They are a product of society, I suppose, if you would. This act, while attending to some of that need, certainly will not fill the whole void that is left behind.

I suppose we were brought to an understanding of what can happen in society, and what can happen with youth, through the Mount Cashel shenanigans, the Mount Cashel affair. Up until that time I think a lot of us were blind towards what was really happening out there in society. We thought that because we lived in Newfoundland we were living in this pocket of heaven where nothing could go wrong. I can assure you that what is happening in the Torontos, the New Yorks and Calgarys of the world is happening in the Bonavistas, the Clarenvilles, the Hatchet Coves and every other place in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. We can see that more and more everyday, that we are not protected from the demons of society because we live in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

The need is there just as well as it is in St. John's or in any of the other larger places. Until we attend to that need, then we are always going to have those problems. We are always going to be faced with grief and with a situation that when something happens we should look at ourselves in the mirror and say that we could have done more. We could have done more because we should have reacted. We should have acted instead of reacting. We should have acted sooner and it should have been done right in the classrooms of this Province.

If government in their wisdom is going to put money into child protection, or if government in their wisdom is going to really attend to this problem, I suggest that where they first set their sights is on the schools of the Province, and fulfil the need at that particular level. Then I think the next higher levels, in all likelihood, will look after themselves.

With that I will conclude - I think my time is up, anyway - my remarks on Bill 37, and say through you that it is a beginning, it is something I think many people will be able to take some comfort in. At least after fifty-four years we have identified and we have admitted that we have a problem and we have brought it right here to the people's House in order to be addressed.

While most of us here in this House are younger than fifty-four years old - some of the people in the front benches there, Mr. Speaker, I am sure are more than fifty-four years. In fact, some of the people have probably around much longer than that, but even those people here, I am sure, who cannot remember anything related to the act that was brought here about fifty-four years ago -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. FITZGERALD: It is a beginning. I congratulate the minister for making that beginning. It falls short to where it should be, but we will support this particular bill. We may bring about some changes, but it is a beginning and I thank the minister for that.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Port au Port.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased to have the opportunity just to engage for a few minutes in the debate on this particular piece of legislation. I feel obligated to do so because I had the occasion some time ago to work as part of a select committee of this House which brought forward a number of recommendations. The impact of these recommendations and the influence of our deliberations and the number of people we heard from throughout the Province, I feel are reflected in the piece of legislation which is currently before this House.

Mr. Speaker, in June of 1996, this document was produced and was a comprehensive piece of work. It came about after fifteen months of work by the committee of this House that travelled extensively throughout the Province, received some 215 briefs, and in all heard from some 600 people.

In examining this piece of legislation, I could not help but reflect back on many of the hearings which we participated in, in various corners of this Province, and reflect back on the many stories, horror stories in some cases, that we heard from people, from parents and young people themselves, of their experiences as a result of the lack of protection that was being provided by the legislation which existed at that time, or even today, in this Province.

When I had the privilege to present the Report of the Select Committee on Children's Interests in the House in 1996, I stated in my remarks in presenting the report that I felt that certainly we, as a committee, felt genuinely that all of the members of this hon. House were determined, as legislators for this Province, in our capacity as representatives of people of this Province and as the people at this present time in power to make laws for this Province, that we were in fact, all of us, determined we would make a difference.

Mr. Speaker, I think this piece of legislation, as we have been hearing for the last number of days from the various hon. members who have participated in the debate, is a progressive piece of legislation. There is no question about that. Not only is it being recognized as such by members of this hon. House, but indeed by members of the legal community, and indeed by legislators from outside of this Province who are looking at this piece of legislations and are seeing it for what it is: a progressive piece of legislation and a fundamental change in what has been, up until this point in time, the practice in this Province, and certainly I think can, in many ways, be seen as a trailblazer or a trendsetter for the rest of this country.

This piece of legislation is truly child-centred. In referring to the legislation itself, in Part II, section 7, under Principles, "This Act shall be interpreted and administered in accordance with the following principles...". The very first principle identified and outlined there. "(a) the overriding and paramount consideration in any decision made under this Act shall be the best interests of the child".

First and foremost this legislation is stating quite clearly that it is in fact child-centred. This legislation has been developed to protect the rights of the children in this Province and to try to ensure, as the hon. member opposite just mentioned before me, that we do take steps necessary to protect this very important and valuable resource of this Province, our young people, our children, our future, the people who will be coming after us and the people who will be making a difference.

In subsection (b), "every child is entitled to be assured of personal safety, health and well-being." Mr. Speaker, I can assure you and the hon. members of this House that when we travelled this Province and heard presentations in various areas of the Province this was certainly not the reality being experienced by many of our young people. This was not the reality of many of the children. Far too often we found cases of abuse that were nothing short of horrendous. It was really difficult at times to sit and listen to someone relate to the committee their experience and the fact that they felt that nowhere within the system was there protection being provided for them. They felt that they were victims, first of all, as a result of the abuse that was inflicted upon them, and then they very often found themselves further victimized by the very system that was designed to protect them.

Mr. Speaker, in subsection (c) of section 7, "the family is the basic unit of society responsible for the safety, health and well-being of the child." What this legislation does is clearly identify and lay out the importance of the family unit. Mr. Speaker, one of the things that we have to be aware of is that the family unit - very often when we hear people speak of the family unit we think in terms of the traditional family unit, mom and dad and the children, but we have to recognize that in today's world the family unit very often takes on many different forms. Nonetheless, regardless of the form that it does take on, the family unit is still very, very important. The family unit is the basis of our society, and the family unit has a very important responsibility in developing these young men and women into the mature adults that we hope one day they will become, and the productive members of society that we hope they will one day become.

Mr. Speaker, beyond that, what this legislation further does, in subsection (d), it recognizes not only the importance of the family itself but also points out the importance of the community generally. Because basically everyone, all of us within the broader community, have a responsibility to support the family and try to ensure that in fact the job of raising children is something that we all have to play a role in. It is important to all of us, because the job that is done, whether we do a good or bad job, reflects on all of us. For that reason it is important that the community, generally, is being recognized.

In subsection (e), "prevention activities are integral to the promotion of the safety, health and well-being of a child...". Here, Mr. Speaker, we get to the crux of it, because as much as we want to believe and would like to envision, all of us I am sure, a society in which all of our children and indeed all of our citizens feel safe, healthy and happy, that is not the reality. So we must provide protection for children who find themselves in a situation where they are being abused or their rights as individuals are being neglected. We must provide that protection for them, to ensure that they are provided with the basic necessities.

Mr. Speaker, prior to getting into politics, I worked for many years as an educator, and as an educator I had occasion to see, many, many times, incidents of outright abuse. When we hear of abuse, most of us think of the worst case scenarios. We think of physical abuse and sexual abuse, but abuse comes in many forms. I saw, as a school administrator, many cases where young children were not being afforded the opportunity to get a basic education because the family and the parents were not taking the necessary steps to ensure that these children were in regular attendance at school. That sounds like a very simple thing but, if you look at it, it is very, very important because with these young children, if they don't have the opportunity to get a basic education, we know that their opportunities will be restricted, that their chances to succeed in life later on will certainly be negatively impacted upon if we do not provide them with that basic education which they so require.

It is also self-evident that this starts from the very beginning. I saw over the years, as an administrator, the number of bright and talented boys and girls who, when they went on, and later on in adolescence, ended up dropping out of school. All of us sometimes hear the schools talking about the dropout problem. What we very often do not recognize is that dropping out is a process. The actual act out of school has begun many, many years in advance.

Under law in this Province right now, children are expected to remain in school until they are age sixteen. Well, I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, and the members of this House, and anyone who has been in the teaching profession, will know that very often the die is cast when the child walks through the door. I used to find very, very disbursing when teachers would say to me: A child arrived at school, in kindergarten - they could say to me and very often, with real accuracy: This child will never graduate from high school.

That is a real tragedy. It is the sort of thing, I think, that this legislation is trying to - and we have heard that there are certain areas where we perhaps should be going further. Personally, I am a strong advocate of early intervention of the preschool programs, and had occasion on the West Coast of the Province, and in my own district, in the district that I now have the privilege to represent, Port au Port, to have worked actively in developing preschool programs. Now in that area of the Province we have basically universal preschool, junior kindergarten, if you will, where children are beginning school a year earlier and hopefully through that early intervention their opportunities and their possibilities for success in later life are further enhanced.

Mr. Speaker, further under the Principles, subsection (f), "kinships ties are integral to a child's self-development and growth, and if a child's safety, health and well-being cannot be assured in the context of the family, the extended family shall be encouraged to care for the child provided that a director can be assured that the child's safety, health and well-being will not be at risk".

Mr. Speaker, again reflecting on my own personal experience, some of the most moving experiences that I ever saw as a school administration were situations where families were apprehended, were broken up, and where brothers and sisters were parcelled out very often in different areas of the Province, sometimes as much as 300 and 400 miles apart. I often thought how difficult it must be, having had the privilege of coming from a very close family, how difficult it must be as a small child not only be taken out of your family, away from your mom and dad, but also to be separated from your brothers and sisters and shipped off to live with strangers.

This is one of the things that our committee pushed strongly and really recommended that we should take a hard look at: wherever possible, trying to keep the children who do come into care, within the extended family, whether it is with aunts or uncles, grandparents or whatever, because Mr. Speaker and members of this House would be aware that under the previous legislation one of the very negative things was that if a child went into care with a member of the family, if it were with an aunt or uncle or whatever, then right away we would not provide or not be prepared to provide the same level of support. So, in fact, the legislation as it presently exists discourages this very sort of thing which by common sense I think is a given - that all of us would recognize as being an important thing to do - trying to keep the child within the extended family wherever possible. So that if, in fact, reconsolidation at some point in time is possible then that transition will be much easier. But beyond that we all recognize - and certainly in this Province more so than in many areas of this country and this world - that the family and the extended family is recognized as being so very important.

Under subsection (g) "the cultural heritage of a child shall be respected and connections with a child's cultural heritage shall be preserved". Mr. Speaker, this certainly strikes a cord for me, because I have the privilege to represent an area of the Province that is unique in many ways in the fact that it is the only bilingual district on the Island portion of the Province. It is an area of the Province where there is a large segment - a large number of my constituents, their heritage is a French heritage going back many hundreds of years.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind hon. members that it is unparliamentary to sit with their back to the Speaker.

The hon. the Member for Port au Port.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is an area of the Province where in recent years we have seen tremendous efforts on the part of the community generally to preserve and promote -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The reminder was for all hon. members, that it is unparliamentary to sit with their back to the Speaker.

The hon. the Member for Port au Port.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is an area of the Province where in recent years tremendous efforts have been made to try to promote and preserve the language and culture of these people. Now, in this legislation here, where instances arise where these children, children from these cultures and background, have to be taken into care, now, by legislation, we are directed to try to ensure that every opportunity is made to try and place these children in care within a home situation that is common to that from which they were taken; where the language and culture that is so much a part of them, also will remain part of them while they are in care.

Under section 7, subsection (h) "in the absence of evidence to the contrary, there shall be a presumption that a child 12 years of age or over is capable of forming and expressing an opinion regarding his or her care and custody." All of us who sit in this hon. House who are parents, will certainly know today, as the hon. member who preceded me mentioned, that children today are very, very mature. I am amazed, when I visit schools and I listen to children of twelve and thirteen years of age, with the kinds of knowledge that they have. In today's modern world, with their access to the Internet, the things that they know and talk about at age twelve and thirteen - when I was that age, certainly I have to say that my maturity would nowhere measure up to that. I would not dare to venture to say what was on my mind when I was twelve or thirteen years old, but certainly it would be a far cry from these young people.

What this legislation is pointing out, and rightly so, is that we do not ignore these people. If we are going to act in and on behalf of these young people, they have a right to speak for themselves. This again is something that we, on the select committee, heard repeatedly as we sat down and listened to young children who are in care, and these were the kinds of things they were saying to us: Don't decide for me. Give me an opportunity to speak for myself.

Mr. Speaker, these principles, as they are outlined here, certainly get to the crux of what this legislation is all about. Certainly, I guess, the test of time will ensure whether in fact the legislation that has been crafted here will in fact succeed in delivering and ensuring the principles that are outlined here are in fact the principles that will purvey this legislation and will be evident in every action on the part of this government and future governments down the road as they try to act on behalf of the young people of this Province.

Mr. Speaker, we have also heard reference over the last number of days in terms of the debate. There has been significant reference to the fact that the children's advocate - which was one of the centrepieces of the legislation, the Children's Interests Committee, the decision has been made to, at this point in time, not include this in the legislation. I think in reading through the legislation - and I understand the concerns that are expressed opposite, and I understand where people are coming from, and I am sure they are genuine in the sense of what they are saying -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Port au Port.

MR. SMITH: I am sure they are genuine in what they are saying in terms of the children's advocate, and the importance of it, but I do feel that the legislation has tried in some part to address - I recall our own discussions and debate, as members of the select committee, when we were trying to determine what would eventually be in the report. One of the concerns that we had - we saw the need for advocacy as being an important element. What we brought forward was a model, and just that. There is no doubt that it is a model that we borrowed from other areas of the Province, but the idea was that there would be someone or there would be a mechanism whereby there could be a second look.

In this legislation, under section 4.(1) "Each board shall appoint a director of child, youth and family services to exercise the powers and perform the duties given to a director under this Act."

I think, Mr. Speaker, this is an attempt to try to provide for that sort of support and that sort of recognition that we were calling for in our report when we referenced the office of the child advocate.

Mr. Speaker, further to that, the section of the act, Part X under Accountability Provisions, section 75, subsection (1), "The minister shall establish an advisory committee whose function is to review every 2 years the operation of this Act and to report to the minister concerning its operation and stating whether, in its opinion, the principles and purpose of the Act are being achieved."

That, Mr. Speaker, indicates to me the importance of this piece of legislation, that we will not again see a situation where we will be, in this Province, living under a piece of legislation that has been outdated for years, that we have not seen fit to move forward and deal with it. This ensures that this will not happen again, because as a part of this act it is clearly pointed out here that this review will take place.

Mr. Speaker, to my way of thinking, the way to look at this piece of legislation, as we should indeed look at any piece of legislation that is intended to protect the rights of any of the citizens of this Province, we should perceive it as a living document, a document that has the means to change and grow to respond to the needs as we see them develop in this Province. This accountability, that is outlined here as a living document, I feel will ensure that if in time, as we start to work with this piece of legislation, if experience suggests that it is falling short in certain areas, then this will be addressed.

Mr. Speaker, again in conclusion I have to say that this is a progressive piece of legislation. I think many of the things that we dealt with in our deliberations are reflected in this piece of legislation and indeed some of the action was initiated prior to this legislation. I think it certainly recognizes the needs of the children of this Province, and I am sure it is a piece of legislation that will be recognized by children, by their parents, by the school system, and by the citizens generally of this Province. They will recognize it for the effective and efficient piece of legislation that it is.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to join in the debate on second reading of Bill 37, An Act Respecting Child, Youth And Family Services. I want to say that I support the general thrust of the bill and the reform of the child welfare legislation in the Province. There has been a tremendous amount of work done on this bill by officials going back many years, and also in recent years through the assistance of the Committee on Children's Interests which looked at a lot of these issues. The former Speaker and the Member for Port au Port, of course, actively participated in that committee, along with others, including the Member for Waterford Valley and other members of the House. I don't need to name them all.

That committee had a very, very long and hard look at the policies, practices and legislation that was in existence, and made a whole series of recommendations which were designed to improve the welfare of children in this Province.

As other speakers have said, we had an old act, or the basis of the present act is quite old legislation. I had occasion a few years ago to go back into the legislative history, to go through the provisions of the act - the legislation - to see where they were weak and where they caused problems. Of course, also to examine the practices of the Director of Child Welfare, or several directors of child welfare in the department. That was, of course, in my representation of former residents of Mount Cashel.

In addition to their stay at Mount Cashel, many of these individuals had also been in foster care, sometimes previous to their stay at Mount Cashel, sometimes after their stay at Mount Cashel. As a result, of course, I had occasion to look at a lot of files and saw the kind of things that took place. We are talking, I suppose, mostly quite a few years ago, but to see the kind of things that took place; the centralized Director of Child Welfare role and the bureaucratic structure which allowed a tremendous number of individuals and circumstances to be ignored. Even when they were known of, the department did not respond appropriately and in some cases was unable to respond appropriately because they did not have the legislative authority to do so.

We have seen government, of course, take responsibility in that particular case not only for Mount Cashel but in some cases for the consequences to individuals who were in foster care and whose supervision of that foster care was badly managed and neglected by the government of this Province.

There have been a number of legal cases giving rise to close scrutiny of the available legislation. I am not going to go into the legal case, but suffice it to say that a lot of very difficult circumstances - whether they be in terms of whether a parent can withhold medical treatment for religious reasons, whether they be fight battles over custody, custody orders, whether they be over whether or not children can be taken from this Province to meet the family needs - a whole series of issues have been litigated in this Province and they have not been easy. They have not been easy for the courts to handle; they have not been easy for government to handle. This is not to suggest that the government minister may be at fault in a particular situation. It is just that these issues are highly divisive in some cases. The legislation was inadequate to give proper direction to the courts, and in some cases the courts themselves were uncertain as to what the common-law principals that applied would be.

The consensus certainly would have to be that the child welfare legislation of this Province had to be overhauled in a major way, and that is what has happened. We have had advice from outside. The Child Welfare League of America have some very qualified experts who have been here on a number of occasions writing reports, which in some cases were quite critical of government in terms of the amount of supports that were put in place to deal with particular issues.

To be fair to government, they invited the same people back to review changes that have been made and to suggest alternatives and to suggest ways of doing things. Certainly, I would have to agree that government has exposed the child welfare rules and regulations and legislation of this Province to a fairly high degree of scrutiny.

This is second reading, of course, and we are talking about approval in principle. I have not analyzed each and every section of the legislation in detail, but I want to say that there are some things that I think are quite useful that appear here, and having them spelled out will certainly be an improvement over what was there before in terms of what expectations people had of the child welfare legislation, of the family services, support services, and the relevant factors to be considered in determining a child's best interests. That is the first time that I have seen these spelled out in legislation in this Province. Obviously that is the "overriding and paramount consideration in any decision" - it says here - "made under this Act..." Obviously that is borrowed from the common law where the courts have said for many years now that the overriding and paramount consideration in any decision with respect to child welfare or child custody shall be the best interest of the child. If that means taking them away from the family unit, that that is in the best interest, then that is what a court will do.

I am very pleased to see it spelled out that the interpretation and administration of this act includes the principle that prevention activities are integral to the promotion of the safety, health and well-being of a child. I think that is a very important consideration. Obviously, we do not wait around until a child is seriously at risk before measures are taken. We have an obligation as a society to recognize that there are, for economic and social reasons, a lot of children in this Province who, without identification and support from government, whether it be in the school, whether it be in a school lunch program, whether it be in a supportive environment for the parents or family who are looking after the child, whether it be in economic terms, whether it be nutrition - that all of these things are vital to the promotion of the safety, health, and well-being of the child.

I have received on many occasions representations from people involved in the nutrition field who have told me that our Province is sadly lacking in appropriate policies to ensure that children receive an adequate diet in this Province, whether it be policies that ensure that proper food is served in the schools, or whether it be that proper advice is given to the parents and families as to what kind of foods are necessary to ensure the healthy growth and development of a child, or whether it be in policies for promotion and ensuring that people have enough to eat.

We have had legislation in this House in the last couple of years giving special consideration to the operators of food banks and those who donate to them, relieving them of liability for negligence, establishing two standards of care: one for families and individuals who buy their groceries in a grocery store or eat a meal in a restaurant, and another standard, a lesser standard, for those who have to go to food banks in order to survive. I think in principle that is a very backward step, and it sends out a very strong and wrong signal to people who are poor that reduced standards are good enough for them. I say that for people who are in those circumstances they need the value of higher standards, even higher than we have now, if opportunities for them are going to be anywhere equal to that of other children.

We have to make it sure that not only do children have an equal opportunity, but that we ensure as much as it is possible that those who have a lesser chance in life have an opportunity to achieve an equal outcome in terms of schooling and education. That being, of course, the basis for future life and opportunities to prosper in our society, support a family, and carry on and make a contribution to society.

In looking at the factors here to be determined in looking at the best interest of the child, obviously first and foremost here is the child's safety. I have just spoken about the child's developmental needs. The child's cultural heritage, I think that recognition is very important. I suspect that progressive judges have being finding creative ways of ensuring that the cultural heritage of individuals is a consideration. Sometimes there may have to be an evidentiary basis of that called by lawyers representing the child, or representing one party or the other, to ensure that these factors are put before the court properly, and a proper evidentiary basis for making a decision on the best interest of the child is made.

We have seen examples, time and again, where children from Aboriginal descent, for example, had been brought up in a culture that is totally foreign to their early childhood and foreign to their fellow Aboriginal group in Labrador, on the South Coast of Newfoundland, elsewhere in Newfoundland, or elsewhere of course in the country. We have seen that despite on the surface many things going along well, there comes a point in time when the cultural heritage of that individual and the Aboriginal heritage of that individual plays a very decisive role in that young person's adjustment to adolescence or young adulthood, or the challenges that young people face growing up. Obviously now we have some recognition of that in this act.

Obviously, as the Member for Port au Port has said, the cultural heritage is very important in his district and on the West Coast of Newfoundland where we have, in additional to an Aboriginal culture, a strong historic and important culture based on the French history and experience, and language and oral history, and all the other things that go with that. Clearly, if at all possible, that cultural heritage should be preserved and promoted in the best interests of the child so that that child has respect for his or her roots, and understands that coming out of that experience and heritage is something that is important to that person and can't be just ignored when taking into account other factors without weighing into the mix the value of the child's cultural heritage.

The child's views and wishes, I think that is a very interesting one. Because there is also a presumption here in the act, under section 7(h), that "there shall be a presumption that a child 12 years of age or over is capable of forming and expressing an opinion regarding his or her care and custody." That is in the absence of evidence to the contrary.

Of course, there may well be circumstances where the child has problems with mental or emotional capacity. There may be times where a child has been so subject to manipulation by a party that the child's wishes have been distorted by that manipulation, but where possible the child's views and wishes are an important factor. Because the child knows, himself or herself in many cases, which parent, or in some cases whether it isn't a parent but a grandparent, that person feels more comfortable with. Sometimes a very strong statement by a child can indicate that a child may not have come forward with any allegations of any problems or any difficulties with a particular parent, but this may be the key to understanding what is going on in the background that may be affecting that child's life. A strong statement of preference by a child could be a very important factor in saving that child from a continuation of abuse or other form of child neglect.

There are many, many issues that are raised in this legislation. It would be difficult for me to even try to summarize them and do justice to the individual issues. There are a couple of principles or practices that I think we are seeing here, one of which is good but it has an element of bad to it. The idea of having directors of youth and family services, several of them throughout the Province, on the surface looks like a positive thing. I think that one of the weaknesses of the previous circumstances was that there may not have been people in the regional offices or regional areas throughout the Province with a sufficient degree of authority and training to make decisions and be properly trained in the importance of family and child intervention and the things that may need to be done, and have the degree of consistency and continuity without that degree of authority and training. I think there is something positive about that. In the previous legislation there was a provincial Director of Child Welfare. There still is here, a provincial Director of Youth and Family Services, with the ultimate, overall responsibility.

I would say that there is a problem here too. That is, that these individuals who are directors - on a regional director - are responsible to a board so there may be divided responsibilities, I say. I have a concern about that because while formerly, despite the flaws in the legislation, when the present Minister of Fisheries was the Minister of Social Services, the buck stopped there. He had the authority and the power to make decisions in the interests of children and played an interventionist role himself in a couple of cases; but the Director of Child Welfare was there with provincial responsibilities, with the responsibility here in this House of Assembly to answer for the work of the officials and the social workers in the field.

Here we have a little bit more loosey-goosey. The responsibilities are divided. The regional Director of Family Services has a board that hires this person. He may provide reports to the provincial director who has responsibilities, but I have a grave concern that particularly in the area of provision of services, in the area of numbers, of caseloads and workloads of individual workers, and the ability of the system to respond to people, that there is not enough direct line of authority to the minister and to this House of Assembly.

I have talked to some social workers who agree with me, who have contacted me and said: You are right, the responsibility for child welfare and direct responsibility for child welfare is a governmental responsibility. The minister is responsible in the House, and as long as that responsibility is there then there is a better chance of having it exercised for reasons of bureaucracy, politics, and everything else.

When you have the spreading out of authority, the spreading out of responsibility, the spreading out of budgets, the spreading out of numbers, what I am afraid we are going to hear as an excuse, if a problem comes to the floor, that insufficient service has been provided and that has resulted in a disaster, that has resulted in children being harmed or left in neglect and abusive situations, and even worse: that the minister is going to stand in this House and not take responsibility for it, but say: We gave these health care boards a budget; it was up to them to determine the priorities for their region.

That is what I am concerned about. I have raised it in this House before on Ministerial Statements. I am concerned about it because I think there is a weak link here and that weak link is the relationship between the minister, the provincial Director of Child Welfare, and the regional directors who do not have a direct line of responsibility to this House and the minister herself.

Just as the Minister of Education tries to blame the school boards for problems that come up, `Well, it was their decision; it is not ours.' The Department of Health and Community Services, when the hospital board is not doing what the local people want, `Oh, that is the board's responsibility. That is not government. We are passing out money.' When the regional economic development boards get active and make decisions that people do not like, the Minister of Development and Rural Renewal is going to say, `Well, you know, they have their own plan, and they have their own autonomy. I am no longer responsible.' We have government again and again saying: We are getting out of responsibility for implementing decisions consistently crosses the Province. We are getting out of taking personal responsibility as ministers in the House. We are passing the buck to somebody else, saying: Government has no authority and power.

These boards - some of them are appointed, some of them are partially elected, some of them are elected - are going to be taking the heat and the government is going to be saying: Well, we have done our bit; we have no control over the situation.

I do not think that is good enough when it comes to the health and welfare of young children, any more than I think it is ultimately good for the health of people who are in health care facilities. At the end of the day there has to be a full responsibility of the minister here in this House to ensure that minister and that department has the authority to give directions to the Youth and Family Services Division, to make sure that children in this Province are not at risk and that children who have a need for, whether it be family support; whether it be protection; whether it be a custody decision that has to be made in their best interests; whether it be nutritional support; whether it be a school lunch program, or whether it be the things that are necessary to give them a chance in our education system, all of these things ultimately come back to provincial government responsibility, to the responsibility of the minister.

In saying that there are a lot of progressive things in this bill, I note the notion that family support is provided now in terms of dollars in a fostering situation where it was not before. I think that our government was a bit miserly with its policies when in fact the family could not necessarily look after an additional child without public support. That meant that the child was taken to a stranger or a strange family, in many cases a strange community, in order to receive the basics of life. That is wrong when there is an opportunity where a family member is available who is capable and who is a qualified caregiver. When that person is available, the same level of family support should be there for them. Indeed, we have seen situations over the years where young people, maybe adolescents in particular, are happier to be in care than with a parent because they get better treated in terms of monies available than they would on social assistance. I think that is a very wrong thing.

I know the Member for Port au Port has probably heard of circumstances where a young boy or young girl would do something to get themselves into care so that they would get an allowance for particular clothing or sneakers, or that sort of thing. That is obviously a very anecdotal experience, but these are the kinds of things that we want to avoid. We want to ensure that the family unit is preserved where possible, but that should not override the best interests of the child, which has to be ultimately paramount.

I support the legislation in principle, with those criticisms on the ultimate control over the department - the provincial and regional directors. I think there has been some debate about a child advocate in this Province. I think that is an idea that has great merit. It can provide a monitoring function, independent of government. I think it is something that members on both sides of the House certainly considered seriously. It has been adopted by the committee, and I think government should implement it. We are not talking about an enormous expenditure of public funds. If a child advocate can act to save the future lives of one or a dozen young people in this Province, it would be well worthwhile and well worth the expenditure. Also, it can provide a role to monitor the effectiveness of this new legislation.

We have new legislation, we have a new lot of changes, and we have a lot of new ways of doing things. I think that the monitoring function by someone independent of government, of the department, would be a very useful thing to try and alleviate some of the problems in the child welfare area.

Those are my comments that I make in support at second reading of An Act Respecting Child, Youth And Family Services, Bill 37.

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

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise this afternoon just to take a few minutes to comment on this particular bill. Might I say that it is time that such a bill came before this House. By and large, I guess most of this particular piece of legislation is good. The only difficulty that one might have would be with the fact that there is no child advocate.

I guess someday I will have the opportunity to find out exactly where we are going with this particular act, how far this act can go, what new, if any, services it provides for the young people of our Province.

I can talk first hand of a case where over the past year I have had conversations with the Minister of Human Resources and Employment, the Minister of Justice, and some staff in the Minister of Health and Community Services' office, concerning an constituent of mine who had a young daughter. They moved to Alberta hoping that she could certainly find some help for their child out there. The child was taking drugs and was into some other things. Very quickly this family came to learn that there were absolutely no services available in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador to suit their child.

There has been several problems, I guess, with that. Their child has been in remand at one point in time. It goes on. It is a real horror story of a young person in our Province who is about fourteen years of age. On having testing done, they found traces of various drugs in her system: cocaine, marijuana and so on. This is a very frightening situation for the family. To find out that where we live today in Newfoundland and Labrador there was no assistance available to help this young lady is criminal, as far as I am concerned.

I would like to have seen legislation such as this deal with people in our Province who are addicted to various drugs. That there is a policy in place besides family members having to go to court, sit in a witness box, and ask to have their own child sent to remand. That happened, thank goodness, I guess. At one particular point in time this young person was sent to remand. I do not know if the Minister of Justice can remember the telephone conversation that he and I had.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. FRENCH: We had a conversation on this. The child was running the streets of Alberta at fourteen years old. Nobody knew, family or anything else, where she was. The mother and father flew out there, and after several days were very fortunate in finding their daughter. She has been back in this Province. She has now moved to another province, in a lockdown facility, where she has been diagnosed as having a disorder. One of the doctors who is on staff or who attends to calls at this clinic is quite capable and very knowledgable in the disease that she has, and is very capable of treating her.

The most bothersome thing to me was that in our Province we did not have facilities to treat young people. What do we do with them, Mr. Speaker? At that young age, do we let them fall through the cracks? Is the only thing that is available to them in this Province remand? If it is, then I am not so sure that is the answer. I believe something should be done to help young people in our Province. There should be aid available to families that wish to avail of it, and right now there is not. I checked with my colleague, the critic in this area, and she tells me there is still no legislation that would benefit somebody whom I have spoken about. There is nothing in our Province that would allow for treatment.

I mention that today in the hope that something can be done, will be done, and should be done to help somebody who is involved in this particular situation. The problem that it has been for the mother and the father and other family members speaks for itself. It has created all kinds of problems for them and still continues to do so today. Hopefully now, in the situation that the child is in today, she will be able to receive some form of help.

I also hoped, when the legislation was introduced, that we would have been given a child advocate, somebody who can protect the rights of children in our Province. That hasn't happened, and I think the quicker we do that the better off we are going to be.

That is about all I have to say on this bill. I would like to have seen, as I said, a child advocate appointed immediately, sooner rather than later, in our Province, but unfortunately that did not happen. There are things in the bill that are certainly beneficial. I hope that the committees that are appointed and put in place are given the resources to do their jobs. Without the necessary resources, of course, we can't at the end of the day really end up with anything positive. I hope that the committees will be given the resources to do their work. Hopefully at the end of the day the young people of Newfoundland and Labrador will certainly benefit.

Having said those few words, Mr. Speaker, I will thank you and sit down.

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

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

I am pleased today to rise and have a few comments. I won't prolong it, but I certainly want to make a couple of comments on this piece of legislation. It is something that is very significant to this Legislature and also very significant to this Province.

AN HON. MEMBER: You weren't here for the first part.

MR. SHELLEY: I would tell the minister I was preparing to speak to this, Mr. Speaker. That is what I was doing today.

AN HON. MEMBER: Chatting on the phone?

MR. SHELLEY: Actually, I will tell the minister, I wasn't on a chopper coming from my district. I drove in today, Mr. Speaker. Actually I started in a snow storm this morning on the Baie Verte Peninsula, then through hail around the Springdale Junction, then I was in a rain storm in Central, and then it turned back into fog and rain again on the Avalon Peninsula.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SHELLEY: I did see a couple of trucks, Mr. Speaker, but I will tell the minister it was very slippery on the roads today. As a matter of fact, there was a lot of equipment. There were several vehicles off the road as I came in. With the weather conditions changing so fast -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SHELLEY: Yes, very bad today. It is something that you don't have a lot of control over, Mr. Speaker. Because you go from freezing to rain and hail and so on, but I did make it. I took my time and drove safely. You have to do that in this Province, especially with the weather conditions, especially once you hit the Avalon Peninsula. Because you don't know. You can go from a hail storm into fog and then into rain. You can get it all within half an hour.

Anyway, I want to talk to this particular bill today. It is a significant piece of legislation before this House. It is something we are all concerned with. Because the bottom line is that of all the topics we speak about in this Legislature - the cycle from being born, going to school, and then going into the work place - the most important, where we set our roots and develop our morals and values and so on, is of course as children. At a very young age we start to develop morals and values, and that takes us through life. That is why it is so important.

Even the most notorious prisoners in the world all started as innocent children. That is where it all starts. That is why the roots of our whole development start as a very early age. That is why it is so important that our children are protected and that our children start off on the right foot.

That is why we support generally the concept of the bill. It is much needed work that should have been done for a long time, as far as I am concerned. We are getting there. This is a step in the right direction. We raised concerns. I won't repeat all of them. Of course, one is the child advocate we have mentioned many times in this House, somebody who would be independent, who would be representing the child solely, not a part of appointed committees, select committees and so on, but would be directly with the child itself. That would be something we would support. I still think it is something the government will consider, hopefully in the not too distant future. It is something we should all think about.

As far as the entire concept of the changes and reform that are needed to the Child Welfare Act, we support it. We made clear our position on some of those.

I will use an analogy and comparison to the strategic plans we see in the Province. The strategic plan is where the people at the grass roots level developed a plan where they know it best. People in the smaller areas know how to deal with rural Newfoundland. That is why they should be a part of the process, and they can put the plans in place. They are the ones who know it best. The same holds true for this particular act. The people who are out there can put together the plan. The best plan on paper is absolutely worthless unless it can be implemented. That is what some of the people around the Province who have taken part in many debates and discussions with this particular act are waiting for. They have had their say. A lot of them feel very confident that they did get a chance to have a say, but now they all wait with baited breath to make sure these are implemented.

As we say, the best plan if it is not executed is not worth anything. What we are going to have to do, as with any plan, is wait and see if in the next year or so some of those plans are implemented.

When we talk around this Province, especially today and what we have seen happen in Davis Inlet, what we have seen happen in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, what many members on both sides of this House have seen every day - I know my colleague from St. John's West deals with it every day, especially in her portfolio - are the disparities around this Province with low income people, and how they have to get their children dressed, get them fed and get them to school every day. Hopefully they can learn something. Hopefully, and this is what it is all about, breaking a cycle.

We hope to see children from low income families go through school, hopefully finish high school, and hopefully get enough encouragement from teachers and their parents along the way, so that they make that decision that they are going to go on, that they are going to move into post-secondary. They are going to either go to university, or to some of the different colleges around, basically with an attitude that they are going to further themselves. They are not just going to finish high school, which is a big challenge in itself.

A lot of these low-income families who have children going to school - I know as a former teacher, and many teachers I know have talked to children who have come to school hungry. Everybody thinks that is a fallacy but, in fact, it is very true in this Province, that children come to school without enough to eat many days.

There is also that social aspect. I know from growing up too from a large family that when you go to school there are those extra things, like taking in extra-curricular activities where you travel on the weekend with different teams and so on. A lot of these low-income families are not able to do this. That all effects the development of the person, their confidence, and their self-esteem.

That is why, for the people on low-income with children going to school, it has to be recognized at a very early level that these people haven't such a easy life. They need help, they need encouragement, to keep on that track. The truth is, if we break that track or cycle, dependency on social programs and so on, at an early level, and they believe in themselves and have confidence and self-esteem, they too go on to do things in post-secondary that are going to make them go (inaudible).

It is a cycle that needs to be broken and it has to be started at a very early age. That is why it is so necessary for changes to this act, to make sure we focus on the child and the person who is going to be develop, and hopefully be somebody in society who is going to contribute, as opposed to somebody who is going to be looking for social hand-outs and depend on social programs.

Social safety nets, as in welfare and other social safety nets, EI and so on, are there for people who need it in desperate times. There are those people who need it in desperate times, who, through no fault of their own, have children. Let's take a simplified example from the community of Baie Verte, when the mines shut down. There were 650 jobs lost. A lot of people found themselves at the age of forty or forty-five without income, and so on, used to a car, used to giving their children the usual things all along. All of a sudden you find yourself without employment. Well, that child is going to go through a drastic period in his life, where all of sudden he can't go to his mom and dad and ask for money to do this and that and to travel, and to get the things that you do not always get when you are on low-income. That child has to go through a transition.

What we have to be careful of is that when we get parents, people with low-income, who have children, is to make sure that the child is focused on, to make sure that they develop socially and have self-esteem, and that they want to continue on with their education. So that hopefully, when they finish high school, they go into post-secondary education. So that at the end of the day, when that child turns into a twenty or twenty-one-year-old man or woman, they have the attitude that they are going to go and fend for themselves.

They are not going to be looking for EI, they are not going to be looking for welfare; and that is the key, to break the cycle without depending on people who found themselves in that situation. So you can take that child and bring it through a system and make sure that they have the right attitude so that at the end of the day they can go on and be contributors to society as opposed to having to depend on these social safety nets. That is what it is all about. That is why the focus must stay on the child. Any time we see drug abuse, alcohol abuse, within families -which happens for a number of reasons - we have to realize that, to acknowledge the problem and make sure that the children who are involved in that particular type of situation know that there is a way and know that there is help there for that particular person so they can move on in life and be a better person.

Mr. Speaker, although people find themselves in different circumstances because of economics, especially in Newfoundland and Labrador today where we find the jobless rate increasing - and of course the situation with parents with alcohol abuse, drug abuse and so on, which is still something that comes as a result of the economics, too, because when you have people losing their jobs and nowhere to turn, middle-aged, forty to forty-five years old, and cannot uplift and take three or four kids and go to Alberta or somewhere, they have to put up with the situation. A lot of them struggle through a very difficult, difficult time, but don't forget; as those parents are struggling through the economics of it and maybe turning to alcoholism, drugs, or whatever the situation, the children there in that situation have to be broken away from the cycle.

That is where our focus has to be. That is why the changes to this act are very necessary, so that we can keep the focus back on the child. That is why I really believe that our suggestion of the child advocate was something that would put the icing on the cake as far as the changes to this act, as far as we are concerned. We made our points straightforward on this whole policy development and we will make them even more clear as time goes by. I think it is something that could have been added, that everybody would have benefitted from, especially the child. It is a direct relationship.

Again, as a former teacher, I can remember days of teaching when children would come in and not go home to lunch because they knew they did not have any lunch to go home to. Maybe that wasn't the reason they didn't want to go home. Who knows? There are problems in homes around Newfoundland and Labrador as in all parts of North America and around the world, where there are problems at home that we never know anything about. That is why it is so necessary that children, especially young children, have some kind of outlet.

Also, I noticed some of the changes in the act were due to the status of youth, from sixteen to eighteen. I think some changes could be made in that part of the act where we could get at the things that contribute to a lot of problems in that age group, from sixteen to eighteen. Any person in here who has children knows that particular age group, from sixteen to eighteen, is when you really get all your questions. As a parent, that is where all the changes take place in their bodies, both physically and mentally, maturing and so on, a lot of big decisions are made.

A lot of problems come at that age, at the age of sixteen. My children are not of that age yet but I certainly have enough family to tell me about it. That particular age group in this act, sixteen to eighteen, is something that we should be more focused in on when they change over into mature young people.

Mr. Speaker, I just wanted to make a few notes on this and make my comments on this particular piece of legislation that is very significant for this Province and for the future of this Province because it is about the next generation that is going to come on line. Hopefully they will be the leaders of our Province and be contributing in a way that will be positive to our society. Maybe they will be the leaders and probably the next Members of the House of Assembly. They are the future, and they are the resource that we should be more focused on. That is why this act is a serious piece of legislation that needs to go through. It is a step in the right direction and we could certainly add on to that.

Mr. Speaker, those are my comments for today and I will certainly be speaking at the Committee stage.

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I, too, have a few comments on this particular bill. It is a significant piece of legislation. It is important, I think, that when we bring in significant legislation we certainly point out any particular parts of it that might be a little inadequate or could be improved upon, and to suggest ways that the minister could look at ensuring that the legislation is going to really have the effect that it is intended to have by ensuring that the necessary resources are going to be put there in the process.

There are areas of concern, no doubt. While the legislation itself under the Child, Youth and Family Services Act is important and progressive, as they indicated -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SULLIVAN: It is my first time speaking on this as critic. No, as critic, I have never spoken on it before, so I am going to have a few comments, probably ten minutes, to make the points I have to make here on this. Most of my colleagues have expressed some of the basic concerns there.

One of the concerns we have today is in child protection. Child protection today is under attack. It is unbelievable the problems and frustrations that are occurring out there today in child protection.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SULLIVAN: Yes, and all during that speech the great one never got interrupted once. Mine might be shorter if I do not get interrupted.

One of the particular concerns is that there are inadequate resources in child protection. The minister made an announcement a few weeks ago about hiring new social workers in child protection, and do you know what? They laid them off last week. There are 125 or 129 - in that ball park - workers under child protection. It is a difficult area in there. Anybody who works in there will tell you it is a very difficult area to deal with.

Now what we are doing with child protection - and there are concerns - I said at the beginning: taking this under the Department of Health and Community Services, under the minister's wing there, its attention could be lost by dealing with more acute health care issues and not dealing with issues of child protection. This act itself is putting in place legislation that requires considerable resources to be carried out to achieve its effectiveness. The minister is passing - it is a devolution of authority from the department out to different directors who are appointed around the Province to deal with child protection. That is a very difficult area and one that is going to allow the department to remove itself from responsibilities and from taking constructive action in dealing with it.

How are these boards going to be funded? Is it important that these boards be given the resources to be able to carry out the mandate that is given here in this legislation. That could be a very major problem. While the trust of the legislation is good - the minister made some statements and I made a particular note of one of these statements. She mentioned back some time ago that we have doubled the money. I think in the statement she made, she alluded to additional funding spent on children. In fact at one point she said that funding for child welfare was doubled. Now, that was not correct. In fact, the funding she was referring to was for children programs in general, not child welfare. In fact, child welfare is that which relates to the current Child Welfare Act or will be to the new act we are dealing with here today, the specific Child, Youth And Family Services Act, it has not been doubled.

In fact, two areas of expenditure under child welfare now - which is the current act - are those spent directly on children in care or those that who are apprehended from their families. The second part of the spending in child welfare is spent on the social workers, the people themselves, who carry the caseloads in child welfare. What the minister alluded to has nothing to do directly with expenditures in child welfare.

That is a concern, because they are cut to the bone. They hired them on one week in a hullabaloo, and all of a sudden quietly laid them off a little while after. That is what is happening out there in child welfare today. It is a problem, it is a major concern. What we have done here in this act too - and it is at least positive, I am not saying it is not positive. You have to put resources in the sixteen- to eighteen-year-old group now. It is a very difficult group to deal with. We need more child social workers to deal with this group and we need more resources. Because we are opening up a new group of people that need a considerable amount of direction, a considerable amount of resources too. If we are going to pass it off to the boards and let the boards chop it to death and we cannot carry out our function, it is going to render this act useless, unless the resources are put there to ensure it is carried out properly.

There are various aspects here, certain concerns overall here, in this particular act. One, as I mentioned, is we are going to let direct responsibility now move away from elected officials. The minister is going to appoint directors out there that are going to carry out certain responsibilities. This is moving away from what we called direct responsibilities there and is more of an indirect responsibility. In fact, Cabinet is really going to appoint the provincial directors now. The provincial director will be appointed by Cabinet and the minister of those specific directors.

What we really need too - and we won't move it as an amendment to this act, but it is some thing that should be separate. There should be another act coming in. If the minister was here - and hopefully she will hear it - she should bring in another act to accompany this act, a companion act. That is right, a companion act to accompany this called a child advocate act.

Like I say, we won't amend this act to do that because it would not do justice to it to include it under this. It should be something that stands on its own. Independent, one that runs with this, is a child advocate act, because the child is not going to get the attention. Just because we come in this House and pass legislation does not give the child the protection it needs.

We have a Child Welfare Act right now. We have overworked social workers with high case loads. We have a tremendous process. In the average day it is unbelievable the amount of time someone spends in child welfare. It is only a matter of months, not years, basically. I think it averaged two point something in total, overall, the amount of workers. There are about 129 of them, in that ballpark. I do not know what the number is now. They announced an increase here three weeks ago and they laid them off last week. They announced them a few weeks ago and they just quietly laid them off last week. That is what is happening in child welfare today.

The same minister who talks about helping children, her the department has frozen the special child welfare allowance that provides care for families in which there is a child that has a physical or developmental disability. That has enabled the family to cope with that. That is not the direction we should be going. We hear (inaudible), that it is fifty-four years now since we had legislation to care for the child. Every day is the day of the child. I wish they would stop paying lip service to what we are talking about. Words are cheap. The only proof is action, to take action to do something about it. They are some various, major concerns I have with this.

A ministerial advisory committee is going to be appointed by the minister to review this act every two years and its report will be tabled in the House. First of all, we have an appointed one. It is not independent. It has no remuneration at all. It is not granted any power or any authority to look at documents or various reports, its mandate is not spelled out. Therefore they can have a review that is brief or exhaustive, because there is no scope identified to this particular committee and so on. It is a committee that exists in name and really at the whim of a minister.

If we are going to put in legislation let's get something to make it more functional. Let's get more specific, more protective of the child and so on, have reporting and accountability measures in place. We have seen what has happened.

MR. SHELLEY: Are you saying the minister is a wimp?

MR. SULLIVAN: I thought about it. It crossed my mind, I say to the Member for Baie Verte. It crossed my mind what he said.

MR. J. BYRNE: What did he say?

MR. SULLIVAN: He asked me did I say the minister was a wimp. I said: No, I never said it, but I asked him to stop putting thoughts in my mind, because if I start getting those thoughts in my mind I just might say it.

I will call on the minister to follow through with some other specific things now to strengthen this, to give teeth to the legislation. That is right, to put teeth in the legislation here, something that can be monitored. An ad hoc committee they put in place with no powers, no authority, no scope of what it is supposed to do. I mean, we are giving the perception we are going to do something.

In fact, the definition of a child and a youth are different. A child is a person up to sixteen years and a youth is sixteen to eighteen years. Now, the main effect of this difference here is that there is no duty on the part of the public to report instances of neglect or abuse where a youth is concerned; there is no responsibility. That is a weakness there. There should be a responsibility. What is the difference in abuse of somebody sixteen and somebody seventeen? One year. Doesn't that person still have the right to have that protection, and the public a right to report that? We feel they should. We feel that is a weakness here in this legislation, that it can be improved by adding that to it.

Overall, in addition to the child welfare allowance, we have had day care subsidy basically frozen for young people. I did a news release on December 29 in which I addressed concerns of people in my district. Just in my district alone, a three-year-old and a two-year-old from two different families in two different parts of the district, their child has a developmental disability and needs assistance. They are low income and they are approved for it, but they are told: I am sorry, funds are frozen. How long? Frozen for the last number of months. One of the funds has been frozen for the last few years.

What happens when somebody moves into the school or moves out? Then the money is frozen and you cannot get the service. So you have to depend on the availability to get the service there. It is frozen and you cannot avail of it. We are told the program is available. Higher officials in the department are telling me: Look, it has been frozen for years. Another one was just frozen since June.

That is not the type of response we want to get from someone who espouses to be able to treat every day as The Day of the Child. I can tell you, here in Newfoundland and Labrador every day has not been The Day of the Child from a government perspective, because there are so many days that they have brought in, they have brought in regulations and they have prevented children from being able to get the necessary attention that they need.

The legislation here, while the thrust of it is good overall, it is not strong enough. It is lacking something fundamental. My colleague from Waterford Valley, I believe, indicated that six out of the other nine provinces in Canada have child advocate legislation. Who better to protect the child than somebody who is independent, who has the motives of those children, not somebody appointed by a minister of by a Cabinet to go out and carry out directives and policies of government? Monitoring and observing that is important.

That is why I am calling on the minister. We will make sure it won't take up any time to get it debated here; we will move it through really quickly. Hopefully she will come back tomorrow and stand in her place and ask for leave to give notice that she is going to introduce a new bill here in this House, the child advocate act, as six other provinces of this country have done, that has been proven to be more efficient, cost-effective and better protecting the rights of children of the Province than any legislation we have seen here in this Province to date, including what is here now.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. DECKER: I will close debate, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. DECKER: Mr. Speaker, the minister is unavoidably absent today. She quite rightly takes great pride in this bill and would like to have been here but she is unavoidably absent. She wishes to thank hon. members for the contribution that they have made in this debate.

On behalf of the minister, I would move second reading.

On motion, a bill, "An Act Respecting Child, Youth And Family Services", read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill No. 37)

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

MR. DECKER: Mr. Speaker, before I move adjournment I would like to advise hon. members that tomorrow I will be calling Order 15, which is Bill No. 18, "An Act To Amend The Economic Diversification And Growth Enterprises Act". From there I will be going to Order 17, which is Bill 39; to Order 18, which is Bill 43; to Order 19 which is Bill 42, and to Order 14, which is Bill No. 27.

Mr. Speaker, we devoted a lot of time to this bill which just went though because it was a very, very important bill, as all bills are, of course, but hopefully tomorrow we should be able to make better progress. If we don't, I will be asking hon. members if maybe they might like to stay for an hour or two beyond 5:00 p.m. if that is essential.


MR. DECKER: If hon. members want to stay this evening we can certainly do it.

I would move, Mr. Speaker, that this House on its rising would adjourn until tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 p.m.

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