The House met at 9:00 a.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Snow): Order, please!

Statements by Ministers


MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

The 1999 forest fire season in Newfoundland and Labrador was one of the busiest in recent memory. Exceptionally warm and dry weather conditions caused an above average number of fire starts resulting in increased hectares being burnt. Newfoundland Forest Service officials have recently compiled statistics from the 1999 forest fire season which I would like to share with the House today.

In 1999 the Province recorded 228 forest fires which burnt a total of 39,291.9 hectares of forested land. Of the 228 fires recorded, 176 were linked to human cause and fifty-two were caused by lightning.

The department employs 118 staff who are committed to fire suppression. This included ninety-three fire fighters and eighteen other seasonal workers. Seven are permanent staff such as conversation officers. In addition to the full time staff, fire suppression assistance was provided by Department of Forest Resources and Agrifoods casual staff, a number of volunteer fire departments, which did tremendous work this summer, and from firefighting services provided by Abitibi Consolidated.

In an effort to help reduce the forest fire risk, government declared a Forest Fire Ban on June 24 which remained in effect until July 24. Property loss resulting from forest fires in 1999 totaled $415,700. This included a number of cabins, as well as other personal property.

A number of “problem fires' occurred during the 1999 fire season. The most serious fire started in the Buchans area and quickly spread towards the town of Badger. In a move to protect citizens of Badger, an evacuation, which lasted six days, was declared. This forest fire was the most serious fire experienced in our Province in a number of year and it cost in excess of $2 million to deal with. We want to thank the Town Council in Badger and also the MHA for Grand Falls-Buchans for the excellent work that they did in the evacuation process, Mr. Speaker. They did a great job.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. K. AYLWARD: Everybody did a great job, as a matter of fact.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. K. AYLWARD: Thank you, you are very kind. It must be Friday morning.

Mr. Speaker, the total cost of fire suppression activity for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador was $12,583,800. Of this amount, approximately $4.5 million was used to lease and operate aircraft and approximately $8 million was spent on other operational fire fighting activities.

The level of water bombing activity was also significant. Aircraft activity consisted of six provincially owned CL-215 aircraft, one leased CL-215 aircraft, and two CL-215 aircraft on loan from Quebec through the agreement we have with them. We also had a number of helicopters involved.

Forest fire protection has and will continue to be a priority for this government. Accordingly, in 1999 my department has initiated and implemented a number of forest fire prevention initiatives including: equipment development and testing; upgrading the department's forest fire decision support system; a forest prevention awareness program targeting schools and youth organizations; and fire prevention advertising campaigns through the media. As part of government's ongoing effort to improve its forest firefighting capability, our officials are still busy analyzing the results of this summer, and will be providing further information for the coming season and an updated strategy.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is interesting to note that almost 40,000 hectares of land was burned this year and 176 fires were linked to humans. That is a very high per cent. Between 75 per cent and 80 per cent are linked to humans. I do not think we can underestimate the importance of fire prevention, of stressing very proactive programs to reduce that, and maybe some positive action taken with people where there is negligence there causing this amount of damage, almost $13 million. We could do a hell of a lot of promotion for $500,000, and maybe it could keep that cost down. It is something I'm sure the minister should look at, in getting proactive, not only in the prevention - I know there is a certain amount done - but also in looking at the cause of these, and where there is negligence, there are certain responsibilities that people have to accept, with the appropriate action taken.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Labrador West.

MR. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to thank the minister for an advance copy of his ministerial statement. I think we have to pay tribute also to the people who fight the fires, the water bomber pilots, their crews, and the ground crews who go in and fight fires, because anyone who has been close to one knows it is a very frightening experience once a forest fire is raging out of control.

I think also it is important for the minister to understand that this year we did have complaints. I don't know if they reached his level, but in Labrador West it was a great difficulty to light a fire, because it rained almost every day and night. Some of the small business people who owned parks were complaining about the fact that they were not allowed to have camp fires outside when they had visitors and tourists in from out of the Province, which is part of the camping scene.

I think it is important that when we put bans on, rather than the total ban across the Province -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. COLLINS: - to look at the regions where the ban should be in effect and release it in places where they can.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. LANGDON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to inform my hon. colleagues of the status of our two-year fish price settlement pilot project. This pilot project was proposed by a Task Force established by government in 1997 to review the Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act, following a number of labour disputes that occurred in the Province's fishing industry.

The collective bargaining project, which expires on December 31, 1999, has been very successful, resulting in early fishery openings, orderly fisheries, consistency of supply to the markets and improved quality products.

In light of the December 31 expiry date, government contracted a private consultant, Mr. Howard Noseworthy, to evaluate the new fish price mechanism. His report was submitted to government on November 3, 1999, and it has now been forwarded to the stakeholders for review. Mr. Noseworthy's report outlines the positive effect this pilot mechanism to negotiate fish prices has had on the fishing industry. The improved labour relations from this pilot project has had a stabilizing effect on our fishery, which in turn strengthens employment opportunities in both the harvesting and processing sectors. Today I will table copies of the consultant's report in the House of Assembly, and copies of the consultant's report can be obtained by contacting the Labour branch of my department.

I am pleased to report that all parties involved in this pilot project - the provincial government, Fisheries Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Fish, Food and Allied Workers Union - have agreed to a six-month extension, which will give everyone sufficient time to fully review the consultant's findings and prepare amendments to the Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act.

It is important to emphasize that the success of this pilot project is the result of government-industry cooperation, which I believe is the key to moving forward in all aspects of our revitalized fishing industry.

The Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister and I would like to commend everyone involved in the pilot project and acknowledge the support of all stakeholders for this new model of collective bargaining. It will play a major role in our ongoing efforts to create a more stable and viable fishing industry for the long term.


Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I do not know what is happening to the crowd on the other side. Only a short time ago we saw the Minister of Development and Rural Renewal snatch away the Fisheries Loan Board authority from the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture. Now we see the Minister of Environment and Labour standing up and reading ministerial statements affecting the minister's department. What are you doing to the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture over there?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. FITZGERALD: If you think you are going to stifle this man and give somebody else a leadership edge, then I can assure you that may not happen.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. FITZGERALD: Mr. Speaker, this is a positive piece of information. I say to you that since we are confined to the questions that we ask here in the House of Assembly, when there is a resolution or a piece of legislation brought forward in the House. Maybe we should restrict Ministerial Statements as well, because this Ministerial Statement is a direct reflection of what the piece of legislation, Bill 44, is. It is a complete reflection.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. FITZGERALD: I say to the minister, having said all of that, it is a good piece of legislation. Our fisheries now are operating in a very timely fashion. The boats are out fishing, rather than being tied up at the wharf, and I hope that will continue. We look forward of having another piece of legislation that will not only do away with six months or put a six-month period there, but have it enacted in legislation so it might happen every year.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Labrador West.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I remember a time when the minister was an expert on mining.

We support the extension. I think it is important, and the early opening of the fishing season is beneficial to everybody in the Province, particularly those in the industry. I also think that the three-way communication that has been involved and the consultations are important as well for anybody who works in the industry.

I am pleased to note that Mr. Howard Noseworthy, a consultant who was hired in this particular situation, is a person whom I have worked with for many years in the iron ore industry. I am certain that he contributed greatly towards the process being adopted.

I think this is a positive move, and I think the extension is a good thing to get people (inaudible).

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Education.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS FOOTE: Mr. Speaker, in 1995, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador agreed to match the private sector contributions to Memorial University's Opportunity Fund up to $25 million. The Opportunity Fund has met with tremendous success and private contributions have already surpassed the 25-million-dollar-mark.

Mr. Speaker, I pay tribute here to the University and in particular to the Chancellor, John Crosbie, for the very hard work in surpassing this goal.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS FOOTE: It gives me great pleasure to announce that we have extended the deadline for matching funds to the end of this year. We will go on matching the contributions of individuals, foundations and corporations until the end of 1999.

In addition, in endorsing the Opportunity Fund, we have not designated our matching contributions to any specific campaign objectives, providing the University with the flexibility to allocate the funds so that all of the campaign goals can be achieved.

The focus of the Opportunity Fund campaign is to lay a sound financial foundation to enhance Memorial's capacity to attract top students and provide for their needs as they study at MUN.

Fifteen million dollars is designated for scholarship and fellowship endowment; $25 million for facilities for health, fitness and recreation; and $10 million is earmarked to support innovation in teaching and research.

Mr. Speaker, as contributors donate funds, the University is able to undertake some campaign objectives even before the campaign is completed. By using the money as it is received, the University has been able to put contributions to work immediately for students. For example, the construction of new student centre at the St. John's campus and the Corner Brook campus are under way and plans are being made for the construction of a new Field House here in St. John's.

The Opportunity Fund Campaign will ensure enhancements to post-secondary education that will help our students as they prepare to take on the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HEDDERSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again, I guess, good news, and we join with the minister certainly in supporting the Opportunity Fund and the initiatives that have gone into it; be it that we have heard it now perhaps four or five times and it has been announced four or five times.

Again, to get back to the statement which talks about an Opportunity Fund, certainly there is plenty of opportunity in our post-secondary for infusing of funds. In this particular case, $15 million going for scholarships, the facilities, these are all positive things; plus, the flexibility on the part of the university to use these funds as they see fit. I guess, again, we look at this as a very positive thing and encourage more of it.

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Memorial University is the largest university in the Atlantic Provinces but it is behind many others in developing endowment funds to be able to support the activities of the University. Many people in Newfoundland and Labrador, including myself, owe a great deal to the existence of Memorial University and the Opportunity Fund, and encouraging alumni and others to contribute to the University through matching funds is a very positive thing and I support the extension to the end of 1999.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

Oral Questions

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Mr. Speaker, I am inclined to quote a former colleague of the Government House Leader this morning, Mr. Steve Neary, when on many occasions he stood in this House and said: Where are all the important ministers this morning? But I will not, Mr. Speaker. They are all going to stand up and say: We are here.

My questions today are for the Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods. Minister, three years ago -

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

MR. SPEAKER: On a point of order, the hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. TULK: Let me say to the Leader of the Opposition - and I would ask that this not be taken out of this time, actually, in Question Period - that normally we try to keep the -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. TULK: No, no. The minister is out of here on a...

I understand what it is to be in Opposition and I understand what my former colleague, Mr. Neary, was referring to. I can tell him that it was a far different situation than it is here today; because today the truth of the matter is that the Premier and the Minister of Mines and Energy were supposed to be here. They are on business, as far as I know, at meetings, traveling to and fro, but let me say to the hon. gentleman that the -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. TULK: I am trying to be nice to the hon. gentleman. Let me just say to him that I could have stood and said that the former member -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, if I could?

The former member who was in this House, my colleague, was out of order when he made that statement and I suggest to him that perhaps it is out of order to refer to people in this House (inaudible).

The truth of the matter is that the Minister of Mines and Energy and the Premier were supposed to be in their places this morning but, because of an event which all of us know about at this point in time in the media, those two ministers were called away. I explained that to the Leader of the Opposition yesterday afternoon when the House closed so that he could prepare himself adequately for Question Period this morning.

I understand what it is to be in Opposition and to have ministers out of the House. Let me say to the hon. gentleman, the point is that all of the questions that have been asked in this House this week have been answered.


MR. TULK: Oh, yes.


Notice was given of questions and they were answered the next day. If that is the wish - and that is a perfect parliamentary procedure. If they were asked, taken notice and answered, that is the way it should be.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Does the hon. member want to speak to the point of order?

MR. E. BYRNE: Yes, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Just quickly, please.

MR. E. BYRNE: We understand clearly that there are times when ministers must, when the House is open, leave and go on business of the Crown; but it is mindful of the fact - and it reminds us today - that, when the House is open, our primary business and our primary reason for being is to be in the House to the extent that we can.

I am not trying to politicize the issue, and I hope members understand that, but it is important, from all of our points of view, I think, that primarily our reason for existence as members is to serve our constituents and serve the public, and when the House is open to be here so that we can hold each other accountable; not just a one-way street but each other.

I did not mean to get the Government House Leader all upset by quoting a former leader, a former colleague of his, but I guess we can proceed with Question Period whenever you are ready, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair would just like to remind all hon. members that the absence of any member from this House, particularly ministers, is not the subject of debate and ought not to arise for discussion. I ask hon. members to keep that in mind.

The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. SULLIVAN: To that point, would Question Period start at 9:19 a.m? Would that be the intent of the Government House Leader?


The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

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

My questions today are for the Minister of Forestry and Agrifoods. Three years ago, when we privatized Farm Products, it was said that Farm Products would be privatized; it would be put into the private sector. My question for the minister today is: Why is Farm Products still an operating entity for the provincial government?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods.

MR. K. AYLWARD: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question.

The Farm Products entity is still operating because we have continued to monitor the investment of the government in the facility. We have had the board in operation for monitoring purposes mostly, and also for the once-in-awhile purchase of a grain boat which we recover 100 per cent of. Other than that, that is the reason - along with our officials who work within our department to ensure the monitoring of our investment over the last two years.

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

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

What the minister is actually saying is that Farm Products is now operating - which is supposed to be privatized - is still operating as a private feed company. It purchased grain, which was supposed to be privatized - while it is 100 per cent recoverable - is that the role that a privatized entity is supposed to be on behalf of the government? You privatized Farm Products; it is still in existence. It is operating as a private sector company, if it is in the business of purchasing grain for the industry. That was not supposed to happen. Am I correct, Minister?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Forestry Resources and Agrifoods.

MR. K. AYLWARD: Mr. Speaker, this must be the only private company, I suppose, that does not have an employee working; because we have it as an entity within the government to help monitor and we have used it as a financial vehicle to assist the other company in its effort to become stable, which I am starting to believe the Opposition does not care too much about because of the questions that they keep asking and the refusal to even bother to meet with the owners of the company to even talk about how they are doing.

At the end of the day, the entity that we have is still there. It does not employ anybody. It is an entity on our books. We have used it on occasion as a financial vehicle. It is not a Farm Products company. The impression he is trying to leave is that we have left it there; we are creating another business. We are not. We are out of the business but we are also, though - let's make it clear - we are trying to see this company become a viable entity after thirty-five years of losses as a Crown corporation. We are going to continue to do the best that we can to make that happen without going back into the business.

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

MR. E. BYRNE: Let me correct the minister, first of all. To my knowledge nobody has refused to meet on this side of the House with any company that wishes to meet with us. That has never happened.

Minister, you talk about Newfoundland Farm Products in terms of, it was not privatized, it is still a entity; there is still taxpayers' money going in. That is fair enough. You are the one who has to be held accountable for that on behalf of the taxpayer.

I would like to ask you this question. Over the last couple of weeks there have been a number of negotiations that you have personally been involved with, with respect to protecting the taxpayers' interests with respect to the money that we have put into the industry. I wonder if the minister could update us on the status of those negotiations and how they are going?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods.

MR. K. AYLWARD: Mr. Speaker, the IPL shareholders and company management have been attempting to lure investment to help this firm stabilize and to go forward. They have asked us to facilitate that. We are continuing to do so. We have indicated to them that we are open to a whole range of options that are possible to do. We are working with them very closely, as we have for the last two-and-a-half years, but I think it is better for the shareholders of the company to comment on the people they are talking to, because they are talking to them, and we are helping facilitate.

Again, we are hopeful that they will be able to find some further investment to help stabilize and to move forward, as they are continuing to do. Their performance has been decent in the last few months but again they have challenges, and they are working with that and we are working with them.

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

MR. E. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, I am not asking the minister to comment on the private company, IPL, on behalf of their shareholders. What I am asking the minister to do is to comment on behalf of his shareholders, the people of the Province. That is what I am asking the minister to do, to comment on behalf of his shareholders.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. E. BYRNE: Minister, you have been involved with negotiations - I understand that - with at least two different companies. I understand that there may be more investment required. Can the minister update us on what is on the table from the Province's point of view with extra or required investment that may be needed to ensure that the industry survives?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods.

MR. K. AYLWARD: Mr. Speaker, again he is asking us to talk about negotiations that are going on between a private company trying to become stable after thirty-five years of Crown corporation losses. They are trying to lure investment. They are trying to attract business people to invest in this, and he wants to have a public discussion in the House of Assembly about what we are prepared to do and what we are not prepared to do.

What I can say to him is this: On behalf of the shareholders of the company themselves - on behalf of our shareholders, all the taxpayers of Newfoundland and Labrador, we will do our best to protect the investment that we have made. Also, though, we will also do our best and are open to discussions - and we have told the company this - on our security, what we might do. We have already indicated that publicly over a year ago. We continue to do so, and we will continue to work with this company and its shareholders and its employees, to see whether or not - we want to make this a successful company. We want to see it become successful in this Province, despite the attempts to have a public discussion about a private negotiation.

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

MR. E. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, there is no attempt to have a public discussion about a private company. What we are attempting to do is to have a public discussion about public money. That is all we are attempting to do, to find out for sure -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. E. BYRNE: - to find out that over the last two weeks - the minister knows what I am talking about; I know he does - that there have been high level negotiations occurring with respect to government's involvement and government's investment as part of the chicken industry. What I am trying to get from the minister is: What is on the table from the provincial government's point of view in not only facilitating but in assisting the industry to move ahead and thrive? For example, does it require that government will have to give up some of its guarantees, for example? Will it require either the federal government or the provincial government, or both, to put in extra financial assistance to ensure in their facilitation process - to use his words - is this the type of thing that this minister is involved with on behalf of the taxpayers in trying to secure the investment on the one hand and then trying to move the industry ahead on the other? That is what we are attempting to find out, nothing more, nothing less.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods.

MR. K. AYLWARD: Mr. Speaker, he wants to know what we are willing to give up on behalf of the taxpayers. He wants us to publically discuss today. He wants to know what we are going to give up for a private negotiation that is going on and we are in here with public investment - we are a creditor, we are a major creditor - we are in discussions.

Let me see, maybe today we will give up - let me see; I don't know what figure we have this morning. I will toss out one. I don't know. Mr. Speaker, totally irresponsible, absolutely irresponsible. I will say this: This effort is jeopardizing the effort.


MR. K. AYLWARD: You don't have to believe me.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister now to complete his answer.

MR. K. AYLWARD: Mr. Speaker, ask anybody, ask the shareholders of that company what they think about this type of question.

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

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

Mr. Speaker, my question today is for the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs. On November 19, I asked the minister responsible for housing why government put so little money into the regular Home Repair Program, that he ran up six months into the year and he admitted there was a problem.

Having admitted that you put too little money into the program in the first place, what plans do you have to top up the program in the interim, with interim funding so repairs can proceed between now and the end of April?

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I don't recall ever admitting that we put too little money into the program. What I did say was that we have had, year over year over the past number of years, a budget of between $7 million and $8 million in the Provincial Home Repair Program, the successor to the former RRAP program. The $7.3 million, I believe it is, that went in this year is roughly divided at about $2 million for urgent repairs primarily for clients of the department of my colleague, the hon. Minister of Human Resources and Employment. The balance is put into repairs for individuals in their private homes essentially. It is a combination of grant and loan program with a grant of up to $5,000 available and loans beyond that.

I would be the first to acknowledge that because of an accumulated list of almost 13,000 people over the last seven years on the waiting list for some level of service, not all of whom admitted they are urgent but many of whom would like to have some repairs done and indeed need some repairs done.

The fact of the matter is that we only have a certain amount of resources year over year to put into all of our programs. That program, we have funded it very well over the last number of years. The fact that the money is allocated by the end of September does not mean that the work is necessarily done. Some of the work is exterior work and naturally we have to allocate it and get the work done during the better construction season. For that reason, we get the money out as early as we can -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. MATTHEWS: - against the most urgent needs that are there, keeping in mind also that we always have the ability to address the most critical needs of social services recipients as they emerge and as they come forward.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

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

For the record, the allotment for the Provincial Home Repair Program ran out in September. I say to the minister, there is still a little money in the Urgent Repair Program but the Opposition has discovered the department is using a definition of urgent so restrictive that the home has to be unfit for human habitation before the department will fix it. What is the minister going to do for families who do not meet this restrictive urgent criteria, who need repairs between now and April? Will he not commit more funds now for that purpose?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The program that the member refers to is a program that is delivered for us through the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation. I have not had representation to the effect that we are in a circumstance where we cannot address the most urgent and emergent needs. So on that basis, I would agree with the hon. member that we still have the ability to meet the most urgent and emergent needs, but that is in no way suggesting we have the ability to address, unfortunately, all of the names of all of the individuals that have accumulated on the waiting list. We will do the best we can. I can assure the hon. member that no member of our society will find themselves without a roof over their head as a result of funding not available to do what has to be done.

We have in the Province also, I would point out to the hon. member, a very good inventory of the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing stock inventory, in some places. As a matter of fact, we have units in excess of what we currently are in need of. So in the context of the program, plus with the flexibility we have -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the minister to now conclude his answer.

MR. MATTHEWS: - with the number of units we have in our inventory, we are at the moment meeting the need adequately.

MR. SPEAKER: Final supplementary, the hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

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

I say to the minister that we have stories and examples of seniors with buckets catching water and windows blown out.

In honor of the International Year of the Older Person, the Housing Minister ran an advertisement about how the regular Home Repair Program is there to help seniors, but he chose to run the ad at a time when the regular funding had run out, or had been exhausted. Will the minister either apologize for this false advertising, or else commit the funds to the program so seniors, who actually believed the ad to be true, can get some home repair work done as the government advertized? One eighty-one year old lady was told there was a eight year waiting list.

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Any advertising we did to recognize or congratulate or to promote the International Year of the Older Person was done appropriately, it was done for the right reasons. We as a government take pride, and I am sure my colleague the Minister of Health and Community Services takes pride, in the level of effort that this government has put into seniors' recognition this year. We make no apologies for that.

The fact of the matter is that in our ad that he refers to in the paper we did mention the Home Repair Program, and we will continue to make people aware that there is a Provincial Home Repair Program. It does not suggest that we will be able to meet every need that comes forward every day. It is done on the basis of assessed need, and we put those who are urgent and emergent to the top of the list. That is why people in those circumstances do get looked after and will continue to be so cared for.

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

MR. SHELLEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My questions this morning are for the Minister of Works, Services and Transportation.

After three weeks of the so-called public hearings, probably the best-kept secret in the Province, last night the people of Bell Island expressed their grave concern over the state of their ferry service. They, like many people of the Province, cannot believe the arrogance and hypocrisy of this government when it comes to operating its own provincial ferry service.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SHELLEY: People want to know why the Province deemed it so important to hold high-profile provincial hearings on the Gulf ferry, but has kept their own so quiet and low-key. Is the Province truly ashamed of their own provincial ferry service, Mr. Speaker?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. WOODFORD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

For some time now in the last week or so the member has been asking several questions pertaining to the hearings in the Province. Everywhere this committee went, notification was put in the local papers. It was put on the cable channels, it was put on the website. Everybody was notified: the users' committees, stakeholders and community leaders were notified. Not one place in the Province did I have a call from that said they never had notification. I had a call from one mayor in one community who said he was not notified. When I checked it out, I came to find out that he was. There is no difference with the committee on Bell Island last night. The Users' Committee went to the extent of even putting out a two-page notification last night about the meetings on Bell Island. I think the member should check his facts, go back and check with the people in the communities, and see how many communities have complained about this. At the end of the day, we will have a good ferry rate review.

The other thing you have to remember, as I said earlier, is the five communities on this Island when we went around on the forum with regards to the Gulf service. We will be going into the full sixteen centers that we run ferry services from in this Province.

The hon. member shouts about Labrador. In 1997, when we took that over from the federal government, we hired SGE to do a consultant's report on the whole coast of Labrador. We did it again in 1998, again in 1999, and we will do it again in the spring of 2000!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!


A supplementary, the hon. the Member for Baie Verte.

MR. SHELLEY: Mr. Speaker, isn't it so funny that the committee in Bell Island last night told me that they did not get any notification from this government? They read in on a website, put out their own public relations campaign, and they made sure that there was a packed hall on Bell Island last night! Many people, again last night, compared the many complaints of our own provincial ferry service to the Gulf ferry service.


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to get to his question. He is on a supplementary.

MR. SHELLEY: Mr. Speaker, many people last night compared the high profile forum around the Province with the Gulf ferry service with the provincial ferry consultations. Three ministers were on that high profile forum that went around this Province, and much public relations. There was no name attached to this one like there was with On Deck and Below -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member is on a supplementary. I ask him to get to his question.

MR. SHELLEY: The question that the people simply put forward last night, minister, was: Does this government agree that the provincial ferry service is as vital as the Gulf ferry service?

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

MR. WOODFORD: Mr. Speaker, any ferry service, no matter where it is, whether it is in this Province or anywhere else in the world, as far as I am concerned is a vital service, especially when it is a community service to people.

We make no apologies whatsoever for what we are doing on Bell Island or anywhere else in the Province. Granted, everywhere you go there is always room for improvement, but I will tell you, on the -


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Works, Services and Transportation.

MR. WOODFORD: Mr. Speaker, it is costing the Province approximately $13.5 million a year to run the ferry service on the Island itself, another $15 million on the Coast of Labrador, north and south. On Bell Island alone, we take in approximately $630,000 in revenues. The Bell Island service costs us around $4 million to operate. It costs $2 for a commuter and a vehicle to come across on the Bell Island run, the lowest in the Province. To get on a bus anywhere in St. John's it is $1.50, regardless of how far you go, and $1.50 to return. Three dollars, regardless of where you go in this city.

Having said that, I will say that we always consult with the Users' Committee on Bell Island for the last five or six years. There is nothing done without consulting with them. It is done in concert with their wishes. Mr. Speaker, the same thing will apply from now on.

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

MR. SHELLEY: Mr. Speaker, they need to apologize, I say to the minister.

Last night, some people on Bell Island suggested maybe we will title this particular consultation as: Hush and Below Deck. In 1991, there was a promise by this government, as reported last night by the presenters, on the ferry rates, that it would be the equivalent cost of road travel. You also, in your own recommendations, in On Deck And Below, suggested the same thing. I would like to ask the minister: Is he going to follow his own recommendations and fulfill that 1991 promise?

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

MR. WOODFORD: I do not know anything about 1991, but I do know a few things about today. The recommendations in On Deck and Below recommended a five-year freeze on the fares on the Gulf. We put a freeze last February on all rates in the Province. This is what this committee is doing. It is going around the Province to hear from all the stakeholders in the areas to see what we are going to do. That is not necessarily saying we are going to have an increase.

Last night, there were publications put out proposing that we are going to put a $15 rate on the ferry service, on the Bell Island fare. That is totally misleading. Fifteen dollars, they are saying, that government is going to put on it. We had nothing to do with that. When the hearings are held, at the end of the day -


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Bonavista South.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My question this morning is to the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture. A few weeks ago, the Assistant Deputy Minister of Fisheries and Oceans came and met with our provincial minister here. I heard the minister on the radio, beaming with excitement about the new-found understanding he had with the new Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the good relationship that he had with him. I would like to ask the minister, as the minister responsible for the fishermen in this Province, if he had brought forward the concerns to the deputy minister, or to the new minister, of 2,448 fishermen who now have to fish crab on a year-to-year basis by a permit rather than a license? The fishermen are asking to have a license so they might be able to plan their future in an orderly way.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. TULK: I am going to tell you, you just got a body blow.


Mr. Speaker, I brought every concern that I am aware of to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, to his executive staff, and to the new ADM in science. The one thing that I find a bit hilarious is that, if I were out there calling the minister down and criticizing him, you would be jumping all over me for that. The fact that I feel good about consultation, and that we have an open-door policy between here and Ottawa, I think is good news for the Province.

Have I brought to the attention about the 2,400 people who are operating on permits? The one thing I brought to the attention of the new minister, and all previous ministers, is conservation; a concern about how much crab, how much shrimp, how much fish we are harvesting on a year-over-year basis.

Everybody in Newfoundland and Labrador, I think, except three boats today - of the 5,000 boats, there are about three who do not have the opportunity to harvest crab. Yes, those small boats are operating on a permit. They can operate it year over year until the stocks become such that they would have to leave the fishery for a period of time.

Conservation is the key measure. The permits are for the small-boat fishermen, those who are grandfathered in with the larger boats and larger license there; but conservation is a key measure, and I am not going to be part of putting too much demand on the resource to go the way we did in 1992.

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

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I ask the minister, when he stands to respond, if he agrees that those small-boat fishermen should have a license?

The other part of it: I heard the new Minister of Fisheries and Oceans on the Fisheries Broadcast, I think it was, and one of the questions that was posed to him at that time was by one of those small-boat fishermen from the under 35-foot sector. The minister's reply was that he was afraid to issue licenses rather than permits because he was scared that those fishermen would come back looking for compensation in case we had to reduce the quota for crab catch around the Province. I ask the minister if he shares that concern, or is that a justifiable concern to not allow those people to fish with a license on a regular basis?

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

MR. EFFORD: Mr. Speaker, I think everybody in Newfoundland and Labrador will agree today that the fishing industry is doing very, very well. There are some disciplined management plans being put in place, unlike what was put in place when your former cousins were in Ottawa. Remember, everybody in this Province, including members opposite, blamed Ottawa for mis-managing the fishing industry.

Do you think, if anything happened to the fishing industry today, when everybody plays a role in making decisions - industry as a whole, fishermen, harvesters, processors, workers, unions, scientists, politicians, government executives, everybody sits at the table and makes a decision on what is best for the fishing industry - do you think there would ever be another TAGS program or NCARP program? I think not. So, we had better manage the fishing industry for the overall best interest of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador for the long term, not the short term.

Like the shrimp permits that were given out, what did the minister say? We will not give shrimp licenses to fishermen but we will give shrimp permits; because, if you are going to go in there and something happens to the resource, you would have to move one side for it.

Management is the key factor, long-term sustainability is the key factor, and making sure that every decision we make -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon minister to conclude his answer.

MR. EFFORD: - is made for the best interest of the fishermen, the people of this Province.

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

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I say to the minister, since you allowed the Fisheries Loan Board to be taken from your department over to the Department of Development and Rural Renewal, those small-boat fishermen now, who would normally go through that process with the new rules and regulations, find themselves now having to go to the bank, having to go to the merchants and become slave to the merchants in order to arrange financing for boats and supplies.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to get to his question.

MR. FITZGERALD: I say to the minister, since those fishermen now are only allowed to have permits, they find themselves unable to access loans through chartered banks; they find themselves having to go to the merchants and become slaves to the merchants again. I say to the minister: Would you, Minister, commit today to take their plight forward to Mr. Dhaliwal in Ottawa in order for those people to be issued licenses rather than permits?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. EFFORD: Mr. Speaker, the statement that the member just made about fishermen having to go and sell their souls to the industry, that is untrue.

The second thing I will say is that, while I am Minister of Fisheries, there will never be another Fisheries Loan Board like it was in the past; not while I am in this chair. It is wrong, Mr. Speaker. What did we do last year? We brought in a policy change last year that a fisherman can go to any bank of his or her choice and get a guaranteed loan from government from one dollar up to whatever it cost to refurbish their boats or buy gear or buy engines or buy equipment whatsoever. There is absolutely no need to go back to the past. We made enough mistakes in the past. We are going forward to the future; that makes good business sense. Today we are not putting one nickel into the fishing industry in any form whatsoever, no taxpayers' dollars into harvesting or processing, and we are -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. EFFORD: - $900 million with no taxpayers' dollars, and I am not going to change that!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. FITZGERALD: Mr. Speaker, the minister still has not answered the question. I refer back to his statement saying that the Fisheries Loan Board will never be like it was, while he is minister. Minister, you are not the minister over the Fisheries Loan Board any more. You allowed that to be taken from you and put in another department -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. FITZGERALD: - controlled by another department separate from the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture altogether.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to get to his question quickly.

MR. FITZGERALD: Minister, will you commit today to go to your cousin up in Ottawa, plead for them to give the 2,448 fishermen a licence so they might become independent, proud people in this Province again?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. EFFORD: What remains of the Fisheries Loan Board is under the responsibility of my good friend and colleague, the hon. Beaton Tulk. We are like two people joined at the hip. We work together on every issue, on every single issue in this Province!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Question Period has ended.

Presenting Reports by Standing and Special Committees

Notices of Motion

Answers to Questions for Which Notice has been Given

The hon. the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs.

MR. MATTHEWS: If I may, Mr. Speaker, just for the benefit of the hon. the Member for Waterford Valley, to advise him that the financial statements for the year 1998 for Marble Mountain were included in the public accounts statements for last year and have already been presented in the House.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair had called Answers to Questions for Which Notice had been Given, but the hon. minister, I think, was tabling a report there.

Answers to Questions for Which Notice has been Given


Orders of the Day

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

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, there are no questions outstanding so we cannot stand and give answers to nothing.

Mr. Speaker, I call Order 10, Bill 28, “An Act Respecting The Operation Of Mines And Mills In The Province”. The alternate minister, of course, will be ready to answer any and all questions, I am sure, when she clues up debate.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

This bill has been called for second reading. Has the hon. the Opposition House Leader adjourned debate on this one?

MR. SULLIVAN: Yes, he did.

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

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

Bill 28 is an important piece of legislation from a couple of points of view. We met recently - myself, the critic for Mines and Energy, the Member for St. John's East and the Member for Baie Verte - and had the opportunity to sit down with the mining industry earlier this to talk about the concerns within the mining industry, to talk about where they see and where they hope to see the mining industry going, and specifically then discuss to some detail the bill that is now before the Legislature.

The Minister of Mines and Energy, when he introduced the bill, took some time at length to talk about the positive initiatives that are taking place. Let me say first of all that the mining industry and the future and opportunities within the mining industry in this Province are very bright, but are dependent upon a number of factors. In any province in any part of the world, the opportunity to not only explore and the opportunity to create and build a sustainable long-term mining industry that are important for discoveries depends upon fundamental factors.

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to capital and capital investment, the mining industry is always - where investment is made, particularly in the junior mining industry, there is an opportunity by government, and government, from a regulatory point of view, opens up the opportunities for the junior mining industry. In the last year, for example - this time last year - we passed amendments to the Mining Act involving particularly two points - two serious amendments. At the time, everybody knows, this was aimed at - it was called the Inco piece of legislation or the Inco amendments, but it had detrimental impacts and it had detrimental effects on the industry from a couple of points of view.

Number one, this Legislature passed last year, giving the Cabinet the right, at any point in a mining operation, whether it is at the exploration phase or exploration discovery phase, whether it is at the production phase, that the Lieutenant-Governor in Council, meaning the Cabinet, could make changes to the terms and conditions of any mining lease at any time, thus impacting negatively in a very serious way on the ability of junior mining companies to get exploration money, to continue to get exploration money, to move on, because the environment was not stable. It was not perceived from the financial markets where capital is raised, where capital from junior mining companies is raised so they can continue exploration and move ahead in discoveries. That was a serious, serious drawback to them, and it was reflected in this year in the amount of exploration activity that took place in the Province.

The second amendment that we passed last year dealt with the independent right of appeal; that we eliminated, as a Legislature, the notion that a company could appeal independently to a third party or an independent group that would allow, if there was a difference of opinion that was significant - because it would have to be to even get to that stage - that the mining interests or exploration companies, whether they are just in exploration or in production of a mine, that fundamental right would be taken away from them.

Now the Legislature went a long way to ensure - and I know government did as well - to provide assurances to the mining community that this was not aimed at junior mining companies, that this was aimed directly at a situation and an impasse that was created with Inco. Even though those assurances were provided, it was enshrined in law and it was a negative impact. I guess the converse or the flip side of the coin, the government moved in another direction last year that was positive. They increased the amount of money provided to mining industries so that for every dollar a junior mining company could raise, government would match it. This was a very positive initiative. It was certainly reflected in the comments by both myself, and the critic and the Member for Baie Verte, in terms of what the industry needed.

Their suggestion is a valid one. They have requested of government that they increase that program in terms of dollars, because it is an investment. In increasing it, government has demanded that before they access that incentive program, junior mining companies must up front immediately indicate and show the provincial government and the Department of Mines that their money is already in place. What that has done is that it -


MR. E. BYRNE: That is correct. The fund last year was $2 million. My view is that it should be based upon the experience of the fund itself. It has provided not only incentive for capital to come but for junior mining companies, because they have been able to use it in terms of the financial marketplace where they raised capital. They have said: What we are talking about -


MR. E. BYRNE: Pardon? What it has done for them in raising capital is that they have been able to say: For every dollar you provide to us, we can turn around - the provincial government, through this fund, has put its money where its mouth is, in saying that we are talking about fifty cent dollars up to a maximum of $2 million because we have been able to access a program designed to stimulate the industry, a program designed to increase the level of exploration activity.

Newfoundland and Labrador is seen, I say to my colleague for Baie Verte, in many ways a virgin territory for exploration. There are significant finds yet unfound. That is what the belief of the industry is, and I agree with them. Having the right set of circumstances, the right conditions and the right environment for this industry to move into and direct is going to be very important.

Mr. Speaker, I would only hope that if we do reach an agreement with Inco, that if we see it next week - I anticipate seeing something next week; a tentative agreement, or framework, or an agreement in principle outlining where it is - that part and parcel of that agreement will see the amendments that we made last year brought back before the Legislature, to be revoked. It would be very important for that to be done.

I am not going to delay the bill, or we are not going to unduly hold up the bill. I will close my comments by saying this. This is a growth area. The industry has huge potential in terms of the opportunity not only to discover, but the opportunity to create jobs, the opportunity to create wealth, on a year over year basis. As one mine shuts down, if exploration is still continuing, that we may find others. It can be done, and must be done, in an environmentally sensitive way. The laws of the Province will certainly provide for that. Where they do not, obviously the public, who are interested in not only the exploration side and the production, will ensure that it is done in an environmentally sensitive way, that it proceeds along those lines.

I want to say for the public record as well that the individuals who we met with, the people who are the leaders within the mining industry in this Province, certainly provided to us a good insight of what this industry needs: the positive attitude that they demonstrated, the research that they provided to us, certainly showed, from our point of view, that this piece of legislation they support wholeheartedly. Based upon what they have indicated, based upon our own analysis of what this legislation will do, certainly we have no hesitation in supporting it. I know two other members for sure would like to make some comments, the Member for Baie Verte, and the critic for Mines and Energy the Member for St. John's East. They want to express their own thoughts on it. This certainly is a piece of legislation that is timely, that we can support as an Opposition. The debate on it has occurred in many other shapes and forms, because industry has been consulted. These are the important words here, that industry has been consulted. In my view, as a result of those consultations, their views are reflected in Bill 28 and thus reflected on the floor of the House.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, let me just say to the Opposition House Leader that I am not going to be making statements day after day in this House of what comes out of the consultation process that the government is now involved in when it comes to Jobs and Growth.

I can say to him that yesterday evening we heard from the mining chamber of mineral resources. I forget their exact name. The point that they made to us is that indeed the exploration by junior mining companies in the Province - and we all know how difficult it is for junior mining companies these days to raise cash on the stock market because of Bre-X and so on. Because of that shemozzle that went on, it stained the reputation of every junior mining company and, to some extent, the major mining companies in the country. Mr. Froude then went on to say that without the investment fund, the matching dollars that we put in last year, the $2 million, he did not know what kind of state, really, the mining industry would be in the Province but that it had basically saved their bacon. That as a result of that $2 million they were able to raise another $2 million of private investment; that drove up the amount of exploration in the Province to $4 million of exploration funds this year for junior mining companies, because they matched it dollar for dollar with private investment.

I think it is fair to say that the praise that was given to the government yesterday evening is something they deserve. I think it is also fair to say that the mining company is appreciative of that and they did, at that time, encourage us to carry on that program, and indeed carry on and add to that fund if it was at all possible within the fiscal capability of the Province. They did point out to us that there is great potential, as we all know, in Newfoundland and Labrador, particularly in the area of Labrador which is largely unexplored, largely unknown in terms of its mineral wealth for exploration for junior mining companies.

One other thing that I would like to say, and I think all members of the House should be aware of this, is that the mining or mineral chamber of Newfoundland and Labrador recently entered into a very good consultative process on the West Coast with Little Grand Lake. We were able to sit down with concerned environmentalists in the Province and foresters. Every concerned citizen in the Province was able to sit around the table and agree that both of them would live together, and still put together an habitant that would protect one of our endangered species, the pine marten.

I think it was also clear yesterday evening, in this gentleman's presentation, that the mining industry - and the place that this gentleman used to back up his point was Nugget Pond - has become very environmentally conscious. They believe that at this point in time they can go in and do mining without scarring the landscape, without destroying the natural vegetation, and without destroying the living creatures that are so dear to us all. He quoted Nugget Pond as an example. I sincerely believe that the gentleman is correct and stated a case that is real, that in the Nugget Pond area the mining that is being done there is being done with minimal, if any, damage to the environment. So there are some good things happening.

This act itself is an act that requires mining companies not just go in and haul out the mineral and leave our environment in a state that none of us wants to see, but that they put in place a plan of action that will see that the land is reclaimed. Reclamation is required, and for that reason we are proud as a government. We are proud to have the Minister of Mines and Energy bringing forward this very progressive legislation, as he did last spring when he put in the amendments to the minerals act or whatever act it was, to see that indeed we provide the incentive to the junior mining companies so that they can go out and raise private money on the various stock exchanges in the country.

I guess what I am saying is that I am reinforcing somewhat what the Leader of the Opposition said and what the consultations with the mining industry have been able to be produced by this government and by the mining industry generally in this Province. I think it is fair to say that the mining industry in this Province probably has a brighter future than any other Province in the country.

Thank you.

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

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.


I, too, would like to participate for a short while in this debate on the new mining legislation. Comments made by my colleague, the Leader of the Opposition, and by the Government House Leader, I think, are indicative of the fact that, generally speaking, there is widespread support and approval for this new mining legislation.

I guess perhaps one of the biggest reasons why the industry is supportive of this new act is because the mining industry and those individuals and those companies that are directly and daily involved in mining activities in our Province were part of the process. They gave input, they were active participants in the review of the draft legislation, and they felt a part of these changes that were going to be made which would affect their activities on a daily basis.

Therefore, when any government takes the time to invite those participants in a particular industry or activity to be a part of the growing process and if, in fact, those participants agree, it can only be legislation that is considered positive and a step in the right direction.

The Leader of the Opposition and the Member for Baie Verte - of course, which has a very rich history in mining in this Province - and myself, we had the opportunity to meet with representatives of the Newfoundland and Labrador Chamber of Mineral Resources Inc. on Wednesday past. It was clear, in the meeting with them, that they were fully supportive of the legislation which was now before the House in Bill 28.

What I would like to do is just refer for a few minutes to some of the features of this legislation, which I think are important for the public to understand and for members of this House to have some understanding of as well.

The bill obviously repeals the former Mines Act. When we look at both pieces of legislation, we see some relatively new and significant changes. We have new definitions that are added. We have safety regulations which were previously referred to in the old Mines Act now being transferred to the occupational health and safety legislation in the Province. The nature and type of development plans have been changed significantly. The penalties for contravention of the act have been increased, and the Cabinet may now exempt companies from the act. Also, there is a need under this new legislation for financial assurances to be given to government.

I guess really what the mining companies now have to provide is a form of security to this government, so that their activities may proceed without government left holding the bag, as it were, when companies no longer, due to their own financial circumstances, can continue to develop the work that was ongoing.

One concern that was raised during the meeting is with respect to section 15, which talks about the aspect of confidentiality. I will refer to that in more detail in a moment.

The new definitions that are being added in this legislation: one is a mill, which is now defined as “... a facility in which a substance containing minerals may be concentrated by a physical or chemical process or otherwise treated, except by simple washing or crushing”. This is a change from the previous legislation.

An operational plan is defined as “ annual plan filed with the minister in anticipation of the development of a project for the year following, containing the information that the minister may require”.

Then there is the whole section of the legislation that deals with rehabilitation and closure plans. This whole concept of rehabilitation or reclamation, as the act refers, is perhaps the major change and the major improvement found in this legislation in the fact that a mining company simply cannot leave the jurisdiction, leave the Province, and, once they have left, leave the residue of work that is done as a result of the mining activity. It is now clear that there must be strictly adhered to rehabilitation plans, and the whole concept of reclamation is addressed in detail. In fact, rehabilitation and closure plans means, “a plan as prescribed by the regulations acceptable to the minister which describes the process of rehabilitation of a project at any stage of that project up to and including closure, and includes information required by the minister”.

There are now relatively strict guidelines and we will not see examples as we have seen in the past in this Province where companies have left severe waste and have left an actual mess on the site, only for people in the community and people who live in the various residences to have to live amongst this debris indefinitely.

With respect to the safety regulations, Bill 28 not only removes the references to the safety of employees but section 24 of the bill transfers these regulations previously made under the Mines Act to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. It is therefore a position of the mining council, when we met with them the other day, that this ought to give move clout to the safety regulations and is now under the blanket legislation of occupational health and safety in the Province.

The bill requires, in addition, not only that development and plans be provided to the minister but it introduces, as we have just referred to, the rehabilitation and closure plans. Section 6 stipulates that, “Before commencing a project, a lessee shall submit a development plan to the minister for his or her approval...”, and there are some specific requirements. I will just mention some of them: Information with respect to the mode of development includes the measures the lessee will undertake to insure the product confirms to resource management and contains other information required by the minister.

It is clear that there is an effort in this legislation to point out and address obvious environmental concerns.

Section 6.(4) indicates, “...a lessee shall file with the minister annually an operational plan for the project containing information respecting the operation of the project in the coming year...”. Again, an attempt to keep the department informed and, in so doing, keeping the public informed.

Section 7 requires the lessee to produce an annual report with respect to the operations in the preceding year. So, it is not only record keeping of the past and the future, but also the present activities must be addressed and the minister and the department being kept up-to-date.

The contravention section is important because of the increase in fines. Under the act, the penalty for contravening certain sections of the act was a summary conviction - this is in the previous act - it was treated as a very minor offence to a fine not exceeding $200. This new legislation gives a penalty for contravention of not more than $10,000 and not more than $10,000 per day for a continuing offense. It is fair to say that this legislation has teeth and that this legislation is an attempt to show any person wanting to do business with the Province that it means business, and that a contravention of this legislation will be treated seriously.

Section 17 of the bill gives Cabinet the authority to define, by a regulation, a project as small scale, and section 3 then allows the minister to exempt these small scale projects from the application fo the bill.

The Leader of the Opposition, in his few words on this legislation, referred to the financial assurances and the fact that junior mining companies must now give the Province, and give the department, financial assurances and different forms of security before it can undertake mining activity in the Province. Section 10.(1) indicates that the lessee shall - so it is mandatory - provide financial assurance as part of the rehabilitation and closure plan, while subsection 10.(3) stipulates the amount of the financial assurance be equivalent to the amount stipulated in the rehabilitation and closure plan itself.

Again, there is an attempt in this legislation for financial certainty and to ensure that again the Province is not left simply having to deal with situations when defunct companies abandon their obligation and leave the jurisdiction completely.

One issue of concern that was addressed was with respect to subsection 15, and I just want to refer to the wording in the draft legislation. Section 15 reads, “Any information provided to the minister or an inspector acting under the authority of section 7, 9, 10, 11 or 12 shall be kept confidential unless an agreement for disclosure is made between the minister and the lessee”.

There are some concerns with respect to that particular provision, I would suggest, simply because again it may be an attempt by government not to release information that the public is entitled to. It is a shame, perhaps, that this legislation just does not go one step more and perhaps release some of the strength of this confidentiality provision; because, when one reads section 15 of the legislation, one may get the impression that there is a provision in this legislation - despite all the good work that has been done here, and despite the fact that it has support from the industry at large - that government may again, even in this act, be attempting to fail to disclose information that the public may be entitled to.

Subsection 15 indicates that the annual report of operations, the rehabilitation and closure plans, compliance with the plans, information regarding the financial assurance, information obtained by inspectors, geological logs, site boundary plans, underground level plans, surface plans, pit development plans, ultimate pit development plans, and site boundary plans may be kept confidential unless an agreement for disclosure is made between the minister and the lessee.

What could potentially happen with this simple section 15, referring to confidentiality, is that everything that is being attempted, and all the good work and revisions and the repealing of the former act, an attempt to bring this legislation into today's thinking, could potentially be revoked and reversed by the section on confidentiality.

It seems to me that is a shame, because the act suggests disclosure. The act suggests openness. The act suggests an equal playing field for junior mining companies and for government alike, and for the public to be a part of this process, but section 15 could have the potential of limiting what is being attempted to be done - a positive attempt, I may add - with respect to all the other sections and subsections and provisions of the new mining legislation.

It is a caution that certainly I would alert hon. members to, and it is perhaps a shame as well that the wording is to this point.

MR. McLEAN: (Inaudible).


MR. McLEAN: (Inaudible).

MR. OTTENHEIMER: The Minister of Government Services and Lands is wondering what could replace it. Perhaps wording in the section that makes it clear that in circumstances where it is absolutely essential, that confidentiality exist; wording of that nature which may define and limit examples of where confidentiality is essential and keeps the integrity of the project in the agreement between the company and government. At least it is not as wide open, I say to the Minister of Government Services and Lands. This wording is so broad and so vague that perhaps anything, if the parties agree, could be kept confidential.

Under the act, which this bill replaces, the only information to be kept confidential, as outlined in section 8, are copies of plans of the underground works existing on December 31 of the preceding year, and in the event of a suspension of work in a mine, a copy of the underground works existing at the date of cessation of the work. So again, we have perhaps in that section only - in section 15, referring to confidentiality - perhaps a step backwards, a step in the opposite direction, which really contravenes, I would suggest, the spirit of this new legislation.

Having said that, I am swayed by the fact that the industry at large is supportive of this legislation. In a very productive meeting that I referred to earlier, that was attended by my good friend the Member for Baie Verte and our leader, it was clear that the industry was supportive. In fact, a press release that was issued just a couple of days ago by the Newfoundland and Labrador Chamber of Mineral Resources Inc. states:

“The representatives of the mining industry as well as other interested parties have had an opportunity for input during the development of the Mining Act. The manner in which the Provincial Government and the Mining Industry cooperated during the development of this Act sends a strong signal that both parties will work together to build a strong, modern industry.

“A strong, modern mining industry will help in job creation and investment growth to help the people of the Province build a more secure future.”

The public can only be encouraged, I would suggest, when you have the individuals who are most directly affected reading and hearing these sorts of statements by this umbrella group. This is a group, this is not just one or two individuals. This is a group that has its own executive director. It has its own board of directors. It is made up of representation of the service industry and made up of representation of junior mining companies and consultants in the mining industry. It is an umbrella group for many individuals.


MR. OTTENHEIMER: Pardon? Yes, he was there. He is the executive director, I believe. It is an umbrella group that represents a variety of agencies and individuals involved in the mining industry, and one can only be swayed by their support.

In conclusion, I would just simply wish to repeat that the provision that is found pursuant to section 15 of the legislation is a concern. One would hope that information, when requested by the public at large, and when inquiries are made by private citizens, by Opposition members, even by competitors in the mining industry, if information is requested of government and if it is felt to be in the public interest that this information be released, that it would be offered freely and without any hesitation.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER (Smith): Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Labrador West.

MR. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to rise and say a few words on Bill 28 and talk about the Mining Act of the Province. Of course mining, as everybody in this House is aware, contributes greatly to the economic well-being of the Province and certainly employs a lot of people in a lot of different places around the Province.

Some sections of this bill that I want to comment on are positive. Certainly section 10, talking about rehabilitative plans in the event of a mine closure, is something that is a very positive step. Because it will ensure that in the future we will not have the eyesores in different areas where mining activity took place and the owners eventually walked away, such as in Hope Brook, for example, and other places in the Province, where you see the scars of the land, where people who reaped the economy benefit walked away once they no longer had any purpose for the mining they were conducting.

In addition, section 2(m) talks about progressive rehabilitation, which means “rehabilitation done continually and sequentially within a reasonable time during the entire period that a project continues.” I would say that this is a very important aspect of this bill. Because a lot of times when mines, particularly, are developed in close proximity to the communities there are a lot of hazards that are created in terms of waste being dumped, tailings, other areas that threaten the community, the well-being and the health of people who live there.

It is important that as the mine continues, rehabilitation work is taking place simultaneously so that at the end, when the mine life expires, it is not a rush to do things, but it also will offer protection for the communities on an ongoing basis, so that the seeding, or whatever is required, will protect people from dust or other chemicals coming into their community and exposing both them and their children. That is an important aspect of that bill.

However, I would like to say that I think there is an additive that should be made when it comes to mining, because there is an old saying that is quite true, that the day a mine opens is the day it begins to close. It is an non-renewable resource, and as such it should be given special consideration.

One of the things we would like to see in this bill is what we refer to in the mining industry as a depletion fund. That means that for every ton, pound, or ounce, depending on the mineral that is being mined, money would go into a fund that would eventually deal with the people. We talked about things in the bill that deal with the land and the environment, but we also have people in the mining industry who, when a mine closes, are left without any alternatives but to try and figure out what they are going to do with the rest of their lives.

In 1982 and 1983, in Labrador West for example, there was a severe downturn in the mining industry, thousands of people were displaced, and there was nothing in place whatsoever to help them deal with what was happening to them. At that time we approached both levels of government, provincial and federal, and the amount of financial assistance that came forwarded equated to about $2,000 for each person who left the area, far from what was required.

We believe and feel strongly that there should be a depletion fund where a certain amount of money goes into a fund depending on the amount mined that will eventually do a couple of things when the day comes when the mine cuts back, or when the day comes when it eventually closes. That money can be used for training, and it would be able to be used for relocation, it would be able to be used to create secondary industries or other industries in the region that would allow people to remain in their communities. I think a depletion fund from the royalties on the quantities of ore that is being removed would go a long way to helping people be able to deal with the problems that are created when a mine eventually closes down.

The other section that I would like to touch on is section 12. Section 12 talks about the record keeping that a holder of a lease must obtain and keep current. That is also an important aspect of this bill, because, again, in the mining industry we refer to high grading. where companies can come in, open a mine and just take the very cream of the crop. This does a couple of things. It enables them to make higher profits in a shorter period of time, but while doing that, they certainly cut short the life of the mine itself. That is not in the best interest of this Province, it is not in the best interest of the people who are employed in the mines, and it is not in the best interest of the communities in which they live.

I am glad to see that, while they have to report, I think it is important that the Department of Mines continually keep a vigil on the mining plans of companies and duly-required inspections to make sure that their activities are indeed keeping in line with the plans that have been submitted.

Section 24 talks about the regulations under the authority of the Mines Act shall be considered to have been made under the authority of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and may be amended, revised or repealed under the authority of that act.

We have a bill coming before this House on the occupational health and safety legislation in the Province, and from reading through that bill, when that is debated, we will certainly be expressing some serious concerns that we have with that particular piece of legislation.

While I do not have any disagreement with the regulations from the Mining Act coming under the occupational health and safety, it will be a factor in our discussions when the Occupational Health and Safety Act comes before the House.

One of the, I guess, most disturbing parts of this bill is section 16, “Notwithstanding another provision of this Act, where a lessee has been granted mining rights under (a) The Labrador Mining and Exploration Company Limited Act; and (b) The Nalco-Javelin (Mineral Lands) Act, 1957...”

The Javelin Act has been a point of contention, particularly in Wabush where this act applies, and far as I understand it is the only place in the Province where this act applies. What we have by virtue of recognition of Javelin Corporation, we have a company who is making in excess of $2 a ton in royalties, which is most years for Wabush that works out to $12 million or $14 million, that they do not do one thing to earn. They do not have any employees in this country. They have a fax machine and a bank account in Vancouver, and the only person who is in charge of that, of course, is the infamous John C. Doyle, who is living in Panama.

We have made representations to government over the years to do away with this piece of legislation. It is not necessary. In 1993 negotiations, Wabush Mines came close to being closed down because of their margin in operating. At that time, both the company, Wabush Mines, their shareholders Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. and the union, met with government to try to get them to do away with this, because that equated to $12 million or $14 million for nothing, absolutely nothing. Javelin Corporation does not contribute one thing to an community in this country, but they reap the benefits because of an agreement from years and years gone by, 1957. Both the union and the company wanted government to intervene and do away with this legislation because the money that was being paid in royalties to Javelin could have made the difference in Wabush Mines surviving or not.

I do not think it is fair, and I do not think it is right, not only to the workers in Wabush Mines but also to the people of this Province whose resource it is to have a company such as that with no employees, it does not contribute one thing, reaping off profits in the order of $12 million or $14 million a year and not giving anything in return. I think that is wrong and I would like to have seen that changed in this particular piece of legislation.

I think it is also important to realize that with the development of a mine - and this is a bit away from the legislation but I want to say, particularly in bordering areas and other provinces, that when a mine is being developed in our Province, that the suppliers and other developers who work in connection with that mine do work in this Province, will create jobs in this Province, good jobs, high-paying jobs, that will enable them and their communities to expand and grow.

Over the years we have made improvements in that area, particularly in Labrador West, with supplier development forums and other initiatives. I think we have come a long way in that. I think that this legislation or this bill, while we do not oppose anything of any magnitude in it, the couple of things that I have pointed out in terms of the depletion fund, the Javelin Act, are things we would like to have seen addressed in this piece of legislation and I think, as a Province, we would all be better off for that.

I conclude my remarks on that, Mr. Speaker, and I thank you for the opportunity to speak.

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

MR. SHELLEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased today to rise and speak to Bill 28. I am not going to go over all the same points that both my colleagues referred to in this piece of legislation, but I do want to make a few comments, first of all some general comments referring to some comments the Government House Leader made today. That is that exploration - and a few people have already alluded to this - is the key.

Coming from a part of the Province where mining has its ups and downs, it happens like that. There are cycles, but when the exploration picks up the activities pick up. To get to a practical point of this, anybody in the mining industry knows very well it is a high risk. When you have the surface of the Island of Newfoundland and Labrador, it is a large, large area. Usually a mine comes from a very small speck on that land surface, so the key is to find it. It is as simple as that; we have to find it. The only way to find it is to look more often. The more often you look, the more chances you have of finding it. That sounds simple. You can get down to the mining industry.

I remember it because I have experienced it. In 1986-1987, when we had the flow through shares and exploration activity was up, it was booming. In my own district, in the Green Bay and the White Bay area, there was activity all over these small towns. We talk today about rural Newfoundland and Labrador and how it needs a boost, and trying to find the right answers. This is definitely one of the answers. It provides the catalyst for other things to happen, the spinoffs from the mining industry, the people involved with the exploration program and so on.

I wanted to keep my focus today on just one point alone: exploration. That is how important I feel it is. I also want to make a comment to the Newfoundland and Labrador Chamber of Mineral Resources this year, and compliment them on the group of people they have involved with that Chamber this year. It is a well-rounded group of people who develop mines. There are people who represent exploration and right on through. Somebody from all over the industry is involved in this particular Chamber this year. It is headed up by Mr. Steve McAlpine who, as we know, runs the Nugget Pond on the Baie Verte Peninsula. I will get to that in a second. We feel that it is a well- rounded group of good representation from all over, for probably the first time in a long time.

I am looking forward to this year in exploration in mining in this Province. Every year we look forward to that. What we have to do, what the government needs to do, and I think they have already discussed this at length and we certainly did with the Chamber just a few days ago - that exploration will be the key this year. It is time that we can pick it up.

As we know, from 1983-1987, the mineral exploration depletion allowance and the flow through shares saw substantial increase in the activity, and therefore many discoveries. As a matter of fact, in my own district again, in Green Bay near King's Point, just a kilometer from King's Point, there was a significant discovery at that time. Nothing has been done with the discovery since, for many reasons I guess, but we are very hopeful that this year, this spring and into the new year 2000, that we will have another gold mine up and running in this Province - or the construction of another gold mine, I should say, in this Province - near King's Point on the Hammerdown property; a property that was discovered while there was increased exploration activity in this Province.

What is key, especially for rural parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, is that these are new jobs and new money. It is something that is so desperately needed in rural parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, especially these days. Exploration is the key. Last year there was some $2 million in the exploration grants for this Province and I think, I understand, that the request is for that to be doubled this year. We know that it was not just $2 million in exploration. That involves - they believe, in the industry - some $10 million in exploration because of the $2 million incentive by government for exploration.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SHELLEY: I have said it many times in this House also, and publicly, and I say it again to the minister: We agree with that. We also would like to see that activity take place again because we know - I hear it so often from geologists, world-known geologists, I would say to the minister - that the geological structure in Newfoundland and Labrador has some great, great potential. What is going to be the key, and I say it again, is that we can explore, that we increase that activity, so we will find new mines and new deposits and have more activity in this Province when it comes to our economic base. That is what is key for this industry. I believe it is what is going to push the industry forward.

It is incredible some of the statistics that come from mining in this country, not just this Province. There are some $45.2 billion worth of export mineral resources in this country. Can you imagine, $45.2 billion? Mine exploration is another example, again. In 1996 it was some $895 million; in 1998 it dropped to $601 million. We do not want to see it go down, we want to see it pick up. If those potential finds and ore bodies are there, we have to go looking for them. It has to be intense. The activity has to pick up if we are ever going to find them.

I believe that the mining industry in this Province has a great potential. I believe, also, that in the new millennium, in not too short a time either, we are going to see some significant discoveries in this Province, and some discoveries that are already there now hopefully go into mine development. That is what is going to mean jobs at the end of the day and it is what is so important to people in this Province.

We look forward to some positive things in the mining industry this year, especially with the new chamber that is now in place that reflects a broad variety of people involved in the industry. We look forward to the discoveries that have been discovered over the last eight or nine years coming into production. I guess, more importantly, probably even to find new major discoveries yet in this Province.

We look forward to this year with optimism. We hope that the new chamber will find that we have a more positive year than last year. It was not a good year in mining last year when it comes to exploration and discoveries, but we look forward to more of it this year, and we wish them every success for the coming year.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Before recognizing the hon. member, the Chair would like to acknowledge and recognize the presence in the public gallery of the Mayor of the Town of Stephenville, Mr. Cecil Stein, and the Town Manager, Mr. Barry Coates.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is my pleasure to rise today to speak on the bill before the House, An Act Respecting The Operation Of Mines And Mills In The Province. I'm not going to reiterate the comments of my colleague for Labrador West, who brings to this House his vast knowledge of the mining industry in the Province, in particular Labrador West, but mining in general. I say it is indeed a positive note to have someone with his experience, knowledge and range of ability to be able to bring his comments and views to the debate.

I think one of the important notions to recognize in this legislation is that what we are doing here is legislating and making things a matter of law that were formerly a matter of contract. Yes, it was required that people who would start a mine have a plan for reclamation, but a plan in a contract results in your ability to sue the company if they fail to comply with what they have agreed to do. A legislative requirement has other means of enforcement.

That is the same point that is being made by the New Democratic Party in this Province and in Nova Scotia with respect to the enforcement of regulations for offshore safety. We see a very different model when you have legislative requirements and the ability to enforce through prosecution as an alternative to a compliance model which involves negotiation, consultation, dealing and a whole host of issues to be bargained away at once in terms of operational matters.

I'm pleased to see that provisions with respect to a plan for reclamation of a mine site are included in the legislation, but I would be remiss if I did not point out the deficiency in terms of what ability a company might have to, in fact, carry out a plan of reclamation where there is no fund available or a bond or some financial means of enforcing the requirement of a company to in fact reclaim the land they have used to exercise the exploitation of mineral resources. If there is no bond, there is no financial ability, there is no reclamation fund, we have a much more difficult situation. The ability to enforce it may be a paper requirement.

Because if a corporation goes bankrupt, goes into receivership or is unable to meet its obligations to its debtors, to its employees, to its creditors in general, they are not going to be able to meet their obligations under this legislation to this government, to the people of this Province, for reclaiming the land that they have used to exploit the resource. We have seen that in the Hope Brook gold situation, where not only did they damage the land in a sense of disturbing the land that they could not put back in place as it was before - the reclamation aspect - they even went worse. Through the process of leaching the gold out of the minerals through a cyanide process, not only did they in fact do harm to the landscape by their mining activity, they left it in fact poisoned and damaged with toxic wastes and with mining effluent that has yet to be cleaned up. It is going to be left to the people of this Province, the taxpayers of this Province, to look after the damage done by the Hope Brook gold mine in the southwest coast of this Province.

While we support the effort of getting some of this into legislation, we want to be assured that the financial ability exists in order to ensure that a company is in fact in a position to carry out the reclamation plan. I do see some provision here in clause 10(3), showing the cost of completing the work set out in the plan, and also financial assurance in terms of cash or a letter of credit, a bond or, as it says in 10(3)(d), “an annual contribution to a financial assurance fund established for the project; or (e) another form of security acceptable to the minister.”

We have yet to see how well this particular aspect of it will work. There seems to be a fair degree of flexibility on the part of the minister as to how the financial assurance required would be obtained. It remains to be seen, as I say, how well this is going to work in ensuring that we don't have a Hope Brook gold type situation on our hands. I suppose we can ask fairly soon what provisions are being made for the Voisey's Bay situation, even though of course we know we are dealing with a company like Inco which is one of the wealthiest corporations in the mining industry in all of the world. We would expect that they would be able to meet financial obligations.

Obviously a bond or a contribution to a reclamation allowance or an actual fund in existence would be a better method of dealing with these problems.

I would like to say something generally about the mining industry because we have seen a real change in the last five years. Five years ago, the government brought in the amendments to the Mineral Tax Act. The then minister of the day, the then minister of mines and resources, a geologist himself, advised the House that it seemed like we had very little left in the way of mineral potential in this Province and that was why we were bringing in the Mineral Tax Act amendments. We were brining in the Mineral Tax Act amendments because there was a need for a tax holiday to encourage people to develop what little was left in this Province in terms of mineral developments, and we needed to give them a tax holiday in order for this to take place.

That obviously is not the case. It was not the case then. In fact, at that time, in December of 1994, the Voisey's Bay discovery had already been made and, in fact, it was known to many people what a wealthy discovery indeed it was.

It is time we reviewed that legislation and had it changed. It is not good enough for the Minister of Mines and Energy to say, as he said in the House yesterday, that there is no tax holiday for Inco. The legislation says there is one.

What about other developments? There is no cap, for example, on the amount of money the taxpayers of this Province would give away by way of a tax holiday. The intention of that legislation, as it was described at the time, was to allow for a set of uneconomic deposits to be mined which otherwise would not, in fact, be developed by mining companies because they would have to pay taxes and royalties that would make the project prohibitive.

This is an unlimited ten-year tax holiday built into that. I think it is time that we ended the rhetoric about whether or not there is a tax holiday for Voisey's Bay Nickel and Inco and talked about whether or not our legislation still provides for an unlimited tax holiday for any new mineral development in the Province. That is the law of the land today. It is still there, and I think mining companies expect it to stay there if they make a discovery under that legislation.

We had legislation brought in, as Your Honor will well remember, in December of 1995, just prior to the resignation of the Premier. The then Premier brought in this legislation some time in mid-December of 1995. In fact, it received second reading in this House. It provided for a special royalty regime and a new amendment to the Mineral Tax Act. It was never passed. It was put to a special committee. A select committee of this House was appointed in December, 1995. I believe Your Honor was on it, was a member of that committee, that was to look into the legislation after second reading, to hold hearings, to discuss the matter and report back to the House before it received full approval and Royal Assent. That committee never met. The Premier resigned. A new leader of the Liberal Party was selected - or coronated, perhaps, is a more appropriate word.

AN HON. MEMBER: A very good choice.

MR. HARRIS: A very good choice, the Member for Humber East says. I suppose he is reflecting the kind of comment that was made last night on CBC television that what we do in this Province, we do not have much respect for democracy; we elect someone who then becomes a dictator for four or five years. I guess that is what the Member for Humber East is reflecting when he says that.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

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

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member has not been recognized.

On a point of order, the hon. the Member for Twillingate & Fogo.

MR. REID: I think the hon. Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi just referred to the Premier as a dictator, and I think that is unparliamentary.

MR. SPEAKER: To the point of order, the hon. the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi.

MR. HARRIS: I think Your Honor would be well-advised to ask the member to read Hansard and understand what I said. What I said was that I thought the Member for Humber East was reflecting what was said last night on CBC, that what we do in this Province is we elect someone who is a dictator for four or five years. I don't think that is me calling anybody anything, so I suggest there is no point of order.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair distinctly heard the hon. member reference something that had been supposedly reported in the news last evening and was just commenting on that, so there is no point of order.

The hon. the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi.

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My point was that the legislation that was then before the House died on the Order Paper because an election was called and that General Assembly - the Forty-third General Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland - ended, and the legislation ended with it and has yet to be replaced. We have yet to bring forth legislation that puts an end or a cap on the ten-year tax holiday that was passed in December of 1994.

If we are going to be optimistic about the future of our mining industry, which I certainly am and I know that members opposite are - and we have every reason to be optimist about the future of our mining industry in the Province. The technology of exploration is ever changing; the knowledge that people have to bring to geological exploration is expanding; interest in Newfoundland and Labrador mining potential is expanding, and we have every reason to believe that we should have additional discoveries of great mineral potential in this Province. Before we do, we ought to make sure that our legislation in the area of royalties reflects the expectations and the legitimate expectations of the people of this Province, and do not maintain in place things like the Mineral Tax Act which gives that ten-year tax holiday to any development that might come forward.

It is a good indication of how things can change in such a very few years. When we are saying, in 1994 in this House of Assembly, by the Minister of Mines and Energy, that we really do not have much left in this Province in the way of mineral potential, to now everybody looking at the rosy future as a result of the discovery of the nickel deposit in Labrador and other potential deposits as well.


MR. HARRIS: It is nice to see that the members opposite are so easily amused by people on their own side of the House. They seem to have little appetite for the truth, however, when they heard about the fact that they have left in place the Mineral Tax Act which provides for a ten-year tax holiday of an unlimited nature for any new mineral development in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. I think that is wrong. I think, whenever it is raised, the Minister of Mines and Energy and the Premier always accuse the people on this side of the House of wanting to give Inco a ten-year tax holiday. The reality is that the legislation, as is written, gives everybody, every new mineral development in Newfoundland and Labrador, a tax holiday, and it ought to be changed.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. HARRIS: I think that is a serious point, I say to the Member for Topsail, and it ought to be responded to by the Member for Topsail, or somebody else over there in the ministry responsible for this important piece of legislation and this important industry in Newfoundland and Labrador which we, in this Party, want to see developed for the benefit of the people of this Province and not merely for those who seek to exploit our resources.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Placentia & St. Mary's.

MR. MANNING: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today and make a few comments on Bill 28, An Act Respecting The Operation Of Mines And Mills In The Province; indeed, an important piece of legislation.

The mining industry in Newfoundland and Labrador is something that, over the past decade for sure, has certainly taken on a new role. The mines are something that have been part of the Province for many years but indeed over the past decade have certainly taken on a new role in the Province. It is something that creates an immense amount of employment opportunities in many parts of the Province, and indeed it is something that needs some more rules and regulations. I guess, by bringing forward Bill 28, we will see some rules and regulations brought forward in regard to the mining industry in the Province, and hopefully through the discussion we are having, in putting new rules and regulations in place, something that is needed more and more in this Province, exploration.

Hopefully with a good, solid piece of legislation in place, companies throughout the Province - and not only throughout the Province but throughout the country and throughout the world - will look at Newfoundland having a mining industry that needs to be explored, therefore investing dollars in exploration and investing dollars in our economy that eventually will provide jobs and employment opportunities here.

Mr. Speaker, there is a major need for exploration. Newfoundland and Labrador is known far and wide for many, many different types of mines and minerals. When we look around, whether it is the Baie Verte Peninsula, whether it is down on the South Coast, or whether it is in Labrador itself, there are many mines and mills and opportunities here. They say that we are the home of almost every mineral that is known in the world. At the same time we have a job sometimes to get it right when it comes to putting the proper guidelines in place, that this Province receives full and fair benefit from any mining operation. When we look back at mines that have been developed in the past, and indeed even over the past few years, there are many times that we do not get full and fair benefits.

I listened with interest this morning to CBC Radio and other media where they mentioned that the Minister of Mines and Energy for the Province was en route to Toronto, and that the Premier was returning from his vacation and is going to join the Minister of Mines and Energy in Toronto for some high-level discussions this weekend. Hopefully at the end of these discussions we will get a firm handle on exactly what is being discussed and have something that will be known to the public in the Province over the next few days, and indeed known to the people who are asking the questions and raising the concerns about exactly what is going on in regard to the development of Voisey's Bay and in regard to a deal that may be forthcoming - hopefully will be forthcoming, I say, Mr. Speaker - over the next few days; and that we will get a chance then as a public and as a people here in the Province to sit back and have a look at exactly what the deal entails, and see if the benefits that the government tells us are going to be there for the people of the Province are indeed there.

It is very important that we have regulations, whether it is Bill 28, especially with a mine and mill operation that hopefully will be starting in Labrador with Voisey's Bay. Even though this bill is for all mines and mills in the Province, it is indeed, at the present time in Newfoundland's history now, when we are looking at the development of Voisey's Bay, that we have a piece of legislation that can be certainly looked upon as a progressive piece of legislation.

At the same time, I do have some concerns. When I look at the legislation I am very pleased to see one thing that is addressed here that is of vital importance. When we look around the Province once again and we see quarry sites and open pit mining that the companies have up and left - whether they had mined all the product that is there, whether through economic reasons or whatever the case may be that the mine had to close down - for whatever reason that the proponent has left the site and moved on, we see a lot of damage being done environmentally. We see a lot of long-term damage that we will have to put up with for years.

In this piece of legislation we see rehabilitation regulations and rehabilitation concerns raised, especially when it comes to the closure of a mine in the Province. There is legislation in place that will address the concerns many people have raised over the past number of years, that the site be brought back to its original purpose, as much as possible. We all know that through any type of mining there is always environmental damage that will occur, but at the same time it is important that we, as a people, do everything we can to make sure that the mines are rehabilitated and that the environment is certainly protected, not for only ourselves but indeed for years to come. I am glad to see that this is part of this legislation.

The only part that really concerns me is the part where it mentions in clause 3: “The minister may exempt from the application of this Act a small scale project fulfilling the criteria for exemption prescribed by the regulations made under section 17.” My only concern is when the minister would have the power to exempt from the act. That certainly concerns me, for the simple reason that we all know how some of these things work. A small scale project? I would like to know - certainly the Minister of Mines and Energy is not here today but I am sure in Committee we can ask some questions. Are you the acting minister?


MR. MANNING: No, the acting minister is up here. Nobody knows who. Oh, my gosh, she's in good hands, I say. Finally someone can fill the role. I thought it was the other Mr. Grimes but I'm very pleased to see that the Minister of Education is acting Minister of Mines and Energy. I know it is very tough to fill the shoes of the Minister of Mines and Energy but I am sure that the capable Minister of Education will do a fine job, Mr. Speaker.

I am not going to bother with questions. I just wanted to raise some of the concerns as it relates to the rehabilitation and closure plans as put forward in the bill. Indeed, the amount of leeway that the minister of the day - whoever he or she may be in any future government - in relation to a small scale project and exactly what will be entailed and what measures will be put in place to determine what a small scale project is versus a large scale project such as Voisey's Bay is certainly one of the concerns I have.

An annual report is something that certainly gives an opportunity, not only for the government, but indeed the public to have a look at the company's actions to see if the development plan that they put forward to government in order to start the mine is being lived up to. Definitely, an annual report is something that we all need so we can keep track of these companies and indeed the operations that they have. It is another positive part of the legislation as well and I am pleased to see it in place. I am sure we will get some more discussion on that when we get into Committee.

Another part of the legislation that concerns me once again is 11.1), where it says: “The minister may designate inspectors for the purpose of this Act.” I would not want to put an onus on the Minister of Education today, but the fact that the minister may designate inspectors, I am just wondering if this will become an opportunity to give some of the minister's friends some positions within the inspection department. I would not want to put forward that the Minister of Mines and Energy would do such a thing, I say to the Minister of Education. The only thing is he learns very fast, and with the actions of the Minister of Tourism over the past year he may catch on to some of the ways things are done. Knowing the Minister of Mines and Energy, he may not fall into that trap at the present time, but if the opportunity was given to him through this act he may think that there may be a fair amount of inspectors out around Central Newfoundland who could come in handy. I am sure that the Minister of Mines and Energy would not sit back and make sure that these inspectors were denied an opportunity to go to work. That is certainly another concern, the fact that the minister - whoever he or she may be - has a fair amount of say in what will go on in relation to inspections and, indeed, I guess, fulfilling the act as we see it here today. It gives a fair amount of power to the minister of the day. I am sure once again that we will get in to some of these concerns during Committee stage.

As I went through the act, a fair amount of the act certainly covers a lot of the concerns that have been raised with people that are involved in the mining industry, and indeed, with people who have been involved with the environmental concerns of the mining industry in the Province over the past number of years. Indeed, as we move forward we will get to discuss this in more detail, but the piece of legislation certainly is looking to at least control to some extent the concerns these people have raised. Hopefully, through Bill 28 we will see better operation of the mines and mills in the Province, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER (Oldford): The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. TULK: I just spoke to the Opposition House Leader. There are a couple of bills that is ready for distribution. I would like to get them in the hands of the Opposition as fast as I can so that they can study them and stand and praise the government like they did this morning.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) can't (inaudible).

MR. TULK: I know.

Mr. Speaker, I'm asking leave to revert to Notices of Motion and to ask that we do first reading on Motions 4 and 5 so that I can distribute the bills, so that the hon. gentleman can have a fine weekend of reading.


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Notices of Motion.

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Justice to introduce a bill, “An Act To Revise The Law Respecting The Law Society Of Newfoundland,” carried. (Bill 41)

On motion, Bill 41 read a first time, ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Finance to introduce a bill, “An Act To Amend The Teachers' Pensions Act,” carried. (Bill 40)

On motion, Bill 40 read a first time, ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

MR. SPEAKER: We now move back into Orders of the Day.

The hon. the Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods.

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

I want to just take a few minutes on this legislation that has been brought forward by the Minister of Mines and Energy, the best Minister of Mines and Energy in Canada today.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. K. AYLWARD: As the minister has often stated, the words are important. I agree with him, as a matter of fact. Some of the praise that we are hearing from the Opposition about this bill is welcome, and deserved, but about the minister also. Because the expansion -

MR. TULK: You should have heard the Newfoundland and Labrador Chamber of Mineral Resources Inc. praising him up last night. I blushed.

MR. K. AYLWARD: I can imagine.

Mr. Speaker, the reason we are bringing this legislation -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) the acting minister.

MR. K. AYLWARD: The acting minister is superb. I tell you, she can handle education with no problem. She is doing a great job on education. Anything else that was put forward, I am sure, is no problem at all.

Mr. Speaker, the reason we are bringing this legislation in is because we anticipate positive economic development in the mining sector and we are going to have that in the next while. I want to highlight, just for a few minutes, Bay St. George and Port au Port this morning, because we have a lot of the development going on out there. I want to welcome the Mayor and the Town Manager of Stephenville here this morning, a very progressive mayor and town manager. They are in the hub of a mineral development area in Bay St. George, Port au Port. This council has done a great job of promoting the region. I want to give some credit to them this morning.

Also, we have about thirteen different mineral deposits that are now under exploration permits out in Bay St. George. We also have oil and gas leases that are under exploration, Mr. Speaker.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) re-elected.

MR. K. AYLWARD: I am always looking to get re-elected, Mr. Speaker. What I wanted to leave on the record this morning is the active effort out there by the regional economic board. I want to thank the Minister of Development and Rural Renewal for coming out to Stephenville on Saturday last week and having some hearings about the economic potential of Bay St. George and Port au Port. The minister came out and did a good job as chairman of the committee. We heard from a number of local development groups about the opportunities in Bay St. George and Port au Port. What we are doing out there in that region is putting out a marketing effort about our minerals that we have. For many years we have had minerals in the region that not many companies have known about, and we are out now actively looking for companies, trying to get companies that have an interest in these minerals.

We were successful last year when Lafarge purchased the gypsum deposits in the Fischell's area of St. George's, and now we have seen the expansion of the Corner Brook plant. The Member for Humber East was involved in that. We have seen new job creation now, expanded job creation at the Corner Brook plant that Lafarge now owns. They are going year-round now in their operations. It is really tremendous. Those deposits are going to be developed even further in St. George's. Lafarge is the fifth largest gypsum company in the world with big financial resources, and they are going to be on the West Coast for a number of years to come.

We have three different salt deposits located on the edge of the water in Bay St. George and there are companies actively seeking now to develop a major salt deposit there. We are working with them, and with the Minister of Mines and Energy. That has been actively under consideration in the last few weeks and will be in the next few weeks. We will be working on that. As to the magnetite deposits that we have there that were developed four years ago, a $20 million contract was won by a company in the Province that developed the magnetite. The magnetite was used for the ballast for the GBS offshore. That GBS that is out there now has the ballast from the resource from this Province. It was a $20 million contract, employed almost one hundred people at the dock site in St. George's, and it employed people at the mine site. That mine site was not developed until that contract was let. Now we have a new operator looking at that deposit and continuing on with further job creation at the site. We also were able to help redevelop the St. George's dock site. That dock site now is rehabilitated and redeveloped and that is now seeing the shipments of minerals out of Bay St. George again for the first time in a number of years.

There are other deposits that are actively under evaluation at this point, including the salt deposits and gypsum deposits. The Lower Cove development over at the Ship Cove-Lower Cove area is a very successful comeback from a company that has taken it over. The company is now employing over one hundred people on the Port au Port Peninsula in the development of limestone deposits. With oil and gas, potentially, going to be developed onshore, we are now working with the RED board over there and the councils to look at what are the implications if natural gas can flow from the on land deposits. There is natural gas there. There is a flow rate of 4.9 million cubic meters. If that gas can be developed, we could have some further valued-added industry in the Bay St. George region.

This morning I just wanted to highlight that these minerals are under development, that they are under active consideration, that we are working with our councils which are working very hard to develop in the region, and that there is very good reason to be optimistic for the future in the Bay St. George-Port au Port region for economic development when you have these mineral resources. The policies of this government are there to promote economic development, and our Mineral Act is another example of progressive legislation, sustainable development legislation, and it is very positive to see this in the House of Assembly. We look forward to seeing these developments occur in the next number of months as we go forward.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your time.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I have a few comments on this particular bill. Maybe we should be moving an amendment to rehabilitate the minister, I would say probably.

AN HON. MEMBER: What minister?

MR. SULLIVAN: The Minister of Mines and Energy.

No, but on a serious note, I will speak to this bill. It is a cost today of doing business to protect the environment and it has to be factored in as a part of an operation of companies. Not only this act here, but the Quarry Materials Act, 1998. I know the Minister of Environment and Labour is quite well aware, and the former Minister of Mines and Energy is well aware, because I spoke with them about what a mess was made up in La Manche area in my district. They excavated to haul sand for government. They created ponds. Silt built up in rivers. It is an eyesore there. They even came out very close to the highway and it has made a pure mess, just less than a kilometer away from the entrance to a beautiful park. In fact, across the highway from the park. It is right across from park property. It is an eyesore.

This does not govern this in mines but the Quarry Materials Act, 1998, and enforcement is very important. Not only to put in legislation but to do something about it. I called with warnings and so on. Finally, the minister at the eleventh hour did go up and shut it down completely there. It should never have gotten to that point, I'm saying, because anybody doing business today, tearing up the environment, if they are going to reap profits from it, they have to be prepared to build in a certain amount to rehabilitate.

That is not after the project is over. There must be a progressive rehabilitation going on, I think, as it allows here the minister to be able to intervene and ensure there is a progressive rehabilitation of a site. In fact, when they move from an area where it is exhausted, if there are minerals in an area, they can start the rehabilitation process in that area as mining is going on in other areas. Because at times companies get into financial trouble. Sometimes it is pretty volatile, up and down in the mining industry. It could be boom or bust, and there have to be contingencies or reserves built to ensure that does not happen. We have seen examples in our Province. It is going to cost us what $8 million, I think, on Hope Brook to do clean ups there. We have seen not only this but other sites around this Province. They have to be restored, and it is very important that this be implemented.

We support this, it is important. Not only supporting a piece of paper here in the Legislature, but we have to support and ensure that the minister carries out all his duties and does not become delinquent in enforcing the provisions in this particular act. It does provide different methods, either cash or credit, or an annual contribution, any form of security acceptable to the minister. We have seen many instances in the past, too, where we have had legislation to protect and it was not done. I think my colleague for Placentia & St. Mary's knows this, just in the gas leakage there. While the provisions are there - normal checks and normal routine, inspections and so on - if they don't get done we get these problems arising, and it may cost millions of more dollars to clean them up than it would had the proper monitoring inspection happen.

What I am finding happening a lot these last number of years is that as resources become scarcer what they are doing - and all over; in the protection of wildlife for example, also - is they seem to be cutting back in officers and increasing fines. It is happening a lot, for example with the highways: less RCMP on patrol and increased fines. Our response today, overall, by the legislation has been to increase fines and reduce inspections, surveillance and monitoring, and those aspects there. While it might save dollars in the short term, it does not save dollars in the long term. That is very important. I certainly would say to the minister that the provisions in this act should be followed very rigidly by the minister.

There should not be leeway given. Because if companies are at the point where they cannot afford to look after the environment, they are not going to be around in business very long. If you cannot afford to build it in, if you are on that shaky financial grounds, the end point is going to come very soon - you might stave it off by giving them breaks for a short period - and you are going to be left with that mess.

We, as taxpayers, should not have to bear the burden for companies that cannot build it into their plan to be able to add a certain amount of their profits, or a certain amount of their activities, to restore sites and care for the environment. We have to live here. Hopefully there are people going to be around here for hundreds of generations to come, and we cannot consume the habitable areas in this planet in several generations. We want it to be there for the future, and today people are becoming more concerned about environmental aspects.

We hear in Seattle where people are getting proactive and saying: We want to be a part of the equation when we are doing various projects, whether it is around the world or in our own backyards. If it is in our own backyard we seem to be vocal, but when it is out of our backyard we do not seem to worry. That has to change. We have to have legislation with teeth in it. I see teeth in this legislation to do it, and now we have to see that it is going to be enforced to monitor it, because too often legislation gets put on a back burner and we do not pay much heed to it.

If there is a struggling company out there, we would say: They are struggling, we cannot do much on it. How often does a company struggle and eventually go bankrupt? Companies don't go bankrupt overnight. They struggle before they go bankrupt. We have to make sure it is built there. If they cannot put it up front, if there is a doubt there - the securities and insurances must be there. This gives the minister authority under this act to determine basically what type of securities they are going to accept in lieu of putting the environment in a form that is presentable, if not in the form that it was in the beginning - obviously that is not always possible - but in a presentable form that we can carry on and have an environment that is really conducive to the enjoyment of people here in our Province.

Mr. Speaker, in conclusion, do not just put legislation in. Make sure the inspectors, the enforcement, the monitoring, and the strict controls are put there so people will know up front that they are not going to be allowed to violate the laws of the Province. If they know they can do it, they will do it, and they will take it to the nth degree if they know they can get away with it.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: If the minister speaks now, she will close the debate.

The hon. the Minister of Education.

MS FOOTE: Mr. Speaker, just a few words to the bill, as Acting Minister of Mines and Energy, in recognition of the absence of my colleague who, in fact, is the best Minister of Mines and Energy this country has ever seen.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

AN HON. MEMBER: Better than Chuck? Better than Rex?

MS FOOTE: Better than Chuck and better than Rex.

This is probably one of the most progressive pieces of legislation that has been introduced in this House with respect to the impact on the industry as a whole, but as well with respect to the impact on the environment.

I am very familiar with the mining industry, given the situation in my own district with respect to St. Lawrence and the actions of past -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS FOOTE: Mr. Speaker, if we could be serious for a minute here. As far as I know there is only one declared candidate and that is Minister Efford, at this point in time, for the leadership.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

On a point of order, the hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. SULLIVAN: I would like caution the minister that there are more fish plants and fish in her district than there are mines, and she should be very cautious.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

There is no point of order.

The hon. the Minister of Education.

MS FOOTE: While I am at it, let me commend the Minister of Fisheries for the wonderful job that he has done. He is the best Minister of Fisheries that this Province has ever seen.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS FOOTE: Back to the issue of the day, and that is the Act Respecting The Operation Of Mines And Mills In The Province. I have noted the concerns that have been raised by the hon. members opposite, and I certainly will bring them to the attention of my colleague.

With respect to section 15 and the confidentiality aspect of the legislation, I know that it is not an attempt to hide anything but indeed to recognize that there are going to be occasions when it is important to respect the confidentiality of important information that is brought to the attention of the minister in question when dealing with the mining industry, and obviously because of the competitive nature of the industry and the information that they would have to provide to the department in terms of getting the minister's cooperation.

Mining is a very important industry for this Province, when you consider that there are over 3,000 direct jobs involved in mining in Newfoundland and Labrador today; and, of course, if you look at the spinoff effect of that, that is two and three times that, so clearly there are a great number of jobs impacted by this industry.

I think it is important that - this piece of legislation certainly speaks to the need to ensure that we have a responsible industry. The fact that Minister Grimes has worked very closely with the industry to come to a consensus in terms of the amendments to the act bodes well for the future of the industry, and again a recognition of how vital the industry is to the economy of this Province.

The intent of the act clearly is to meet the responsibilities of the government while at the same time recognizing that the mining industry is a significant economic contributor to the Province. The new act, as we have already talked about this morning, will focus on all aspects of mining operations, including closure plans, financial assurance, progressive rehabilitation, mine development proposal, operational reporting and milling licence.

The new legislation is well thought out, certainly having worked very closely with all of the key stakeholder groups. It provides a solid foundation for the future of the mining industry in Newfoundland and Labrador. We would like to recognize as well the input of the Provincial Chamber of Mineral Resources here today, because they have been instrumental in helping us come to this point where we have such a progressive piece of legislation.

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to close debate on this piece of legislation on behalf of my colleague, the hon. Roger Grimes, Minister of Mines and Energy.

On motion, a bill, “An Act Respecting The Operation Of Mines And Mills In The Province”, read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill 28)

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

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, Order 11, second reading of a bill, “An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act, (No. 2)”. (Bill 32)

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 32 entitled, “An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act” be now read a second time.

Motion, second reading of a bill, “An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act (No. 2). (Bill 32)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Is the minister going to introduce the bill?

MR. TULK: (Inaudible) second reading on it.

MR. SPEAKER: Oh, we are into second reading, okay.

MR. TULK: I think the Member for St. John's Centre adjourned the debate.

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

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Just a few words on Bill 32. Of course, this bill deals with the reduction of tax payable by citizens in this Province in the 2000 taxation year. Specifically, we have paragraph 4(8)(t) of the act being repealed, and 69 per cent in respect of the 1993 to 1999 taxation years and 62 per cent in respect of the 2000 taxation year.

There was much debate and much discussion when this House reopened as to changes with respect to the personal income tax legislation, but unfortunately it was followed by an unfortunate word, that word being surcharge or surtax. Of course, when you factor in the effect and the consequences of a surcharge or a surtax on individuals who might otherwise have derived a benefit - a meaningful benefit - as a result of the changes in Bill 32, what it did, it just simply minimized the positive changes that ordinarily would have been contemplated by this legislation.

It is unfortunate that what government did with respect to Bill 32 is give with one hand and simply take away with the other. That is what this legislation in effect does for citizens of this Province. It simply does not go far enough. It is spread out over a three-year period and does not really give the benefits to ordinary Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that otherwise would have been received had the changes been more significant, had the reduction been more severe, and had the implications of the surtax not been realized at this time.

There is another tax that I would like to speak about briefly. It has been discussed and has certainly been a factor, a very negative factor on many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in the last couple of weeks, and that is the gasoline tax. Driving here this morning around 8:30 or so, on one of the local radio stations there was a comparison made of the provincial assessment for gasoline taxes throughout this country, and they gave a few examples. Apparently in Labrador West, and I am sure the Member for Labrador West will be much more familiar with the impact that this would have on the citizens in his constituency, but today regular unleaded gasoline is selling for in excess of 82 cents a litre in Labrador West.

AN HON. MEMBER: What? How much?

MR. OTTENHEIMER: In excess of 82 cents a litre. Is that correct, 82 cents a litre? In this Province, in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, a litre of unleaded gasoline is in excess of 82 cents. In the City of St. John's, as we all know, it is some 75.9 cents a litre, and I believe in the constituency of my colleague, the Member for Conception Bay South, it is some 71.9 cents a litre.

What was interesting was the comparison that the Canadian average is approximately 65 cents a litre and, of course, nowhere in this Province is there any location, any site, any community, which is even close to the Canadian average. Then we hear these shocking figures of what citizens in Lab West, in Labrador City and in Wabush, are paying for a litre of gasoline.

When we closely analyze the taxes and how the taxes are assessed - I will just indicate what the taxation is on the various types of gasoline that can be purchased at our retail outlets. Government changed from ad valorem to a flat tax in the mid-1990s. Current rates are as follows: on unleaded gasoline, 16.5 cents a litre; on leaded gasoline 18.0 cents a litre; on diesel fuel, 16.5 cents a litre; propane, 7.0 cents a litre; aviation, 0.7 cents a litre; and marine 3.5 cents a litre.

Mr. Speaker, over one-half, almost 60 per cent, of the cost of a litre of gasoline in this Province is in the form of taxation - almost 60 per cent - and over one-half of that 60 per cent is in provincial government taxes. That is where the debate should be, I say to the Member for Twillingate & Fogo. That is where the debate should be on taxation in this Province, how Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are being gouged at the gas pump every single day of the week, every week of every month, every month of every year. When they buy gasoline they are being ripped off by this government because they are totally insensitive to the needs and the requirements of ordinary Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

What happens? Government is silent, I say. Government is totally, absolutely, silent on this issue of gasoline taxes. I will tell you why: because this government stands to gain every time gasoline goes up. When the oil companies say: We have no choice because of the increase in the price of crude, and when oil companies say - this government stands by silently, says absolutely nothing, because it stands to gain. It stands to gain with respect to the HST which is assessed to the price of a litre of gasoline. A portion of that amount goes to the federal government and a portion goes to the provincial government. It is on a percentage basis. It is not the ad valorem tax. It is not a fixed rate. If it were a fixed rate, government could say: Well, it makes no difference because we only get so much for gas consumed; but, when it is on a progressive rate, when it is on a percentage basis, this government gains. That is why this government is always silent - and I would say negligently silent - on the issue of the prices of gasoline in this Province. It says nothing. It tries to attribute blame to the oil companies in this Province when, in fact, the real villain is government's silence and its inability to deal with oil companies head on, to say something of meaning, to make a genuine plea on behalf of the people of this Province, and to do something with the outrageous level of taxation on petroleum products in Newfoundland and Labrador.

That is really what is wrong here. Government is silent and, every time a litre of gasoline goes up, government makes money. It is conspicuous in its silence but that is the reason why this government refuses and fails to look at itself in the mirror and to deal head on with the real crisis facing Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Here we are, three weeks or four weeks before Christmas, and we have Newfoundlanders paying, in certain parts of this Province, in excess of 82 cents a litre for unleaded gasoline. In this city, the capital City of St. John's, almost 76 cents a litre when the Canadian average is 65 cents a litre. Mr. Speaker, that is unacceptable and this government should be ashamed of the way it has conducted itself on this whole issue of gasoline taxation.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. MERCER: It is my pleasure to rise and have a few words to say in the -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. MERCER: A little louder now. I want to get my reservations in early for these tours of the wilderness area. I want to make sure I have this right.

Mr. Speaker, I just want to have a few words to say today about the amendments to the Income Tax Act because I do believe that this is really truly an historic day in this Province. For the first time in fifty years as a Province of the Dominion of Canada, a government has found it within its capacity to cut our personal income tax - the first time in fifty years.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

AN HON. MEMBER: It took a good Liberal government to do it.

MR. MERCER: Mr. Speaker, as some of my colleagues so properly and correctly inform me, it was a good Liberal government which was able to take this particular initiative and reduce our federal income taxes from 69 per cent down to 62 per cent in the first year.

That in itself is a very historic occasion in this Legislature, but just to remind some members opposite - as if they were needing any reminding - in the last few year, at least since I have been in this Legislature since 1996, the annual budget has been, shall be say, pretty well balanced. It has been a few dollars one way or the other, but for all intents and purposes it has been a balanced budget; a far cry from the days when I recall the Opposition Party was in power with annual deficits in the order of $150 million to $200 million a year, paying out to all kinds of individuals: an Ombudsman, a Sprung Greenhouse, or whatever the case might be. Mr. Speaker, we have come a long way since the days of Tory rule and Tory domination, used for foot-long cigars, stretch limos, $500-a-night hotel bills, and we can go on.

In addition to being able to get our financial house in order in our annual expenditures, we are also the first government since Confederation to start paying down on the debt as opposed to the deficit. Grant you, it has not been a major deficit reduction or decrease in the debt, but the fact of the matter is there has been a reduction in the total net debt to the Province.

In addition to that, one of the things that the members opposite have been wanting to talk about a great deal is a reduction in the payroll tax. Well, look at the record and you will find that the number of individuals and the number of companies who are today required to pay the payroll tax are declining. Why? Because, we have raised the threshold level by which you have to pay into that.

Mr. Speaker, in the few short years that I have been a member of this Legislature, it has been my pleasure to sit with a government that has reduced the total debt, has brought in a succession of balanced or near-balanced budgets, has reduced the number of individuals and companies who are paying into the payroll tax, and today it is my pleasure to stand in my place and have a few words to say on the reduction of the income tax levels in this Province from 69 per cent down to 62 per cent.

Mr. Speaker, while I am talking about tax cuts - because there are so many, it is so hard to remember them all - who can forget the major reduction in taxes introduced in this House just a few years ago when we harmonized the HST with the provincial retail sales tax, resulting in a reduction in taxes from 19.84 per cent, if memory serves me correct, down to15 per cent?

Mr. Speaker, it is a good day to be able to stand in one's place and talk about a reduction in the income tax. Now, some of the members opposite, particularly the Member for Waterford Valley, have had a lot to say about the fact that this is only a one year reduction in the tax from 69 per cent to 62 per cent. Yes, that is the way the world operates, and that is the way the legislation we are debating today will work. There is a commitment by this government, by the Minister of Finance and by the Premier, that there will be further reductions in years two and three, but of course, that is contingent upon a couple of very key facts. Number one, that the economy continues to perform in the way in which it has been performing. Number two, that this government keeps a tight rein on the expenditures. Now I can understand why the Member for Waterford Valley could not quite grasp that concept, because being able to keep one's expenses under control is a concept somewhat foreign to the members opposite. They had such great experience with it for seventeen years or so in power and they failed abysmally on that point.

The point I want to make to the Member for Waterford Valley is that yes, we are debating here today a one year tax reduction, from 69 per cent down to some 62 per cent, and that starting in the next year we will be down to 55 per cent, and by year 2002 we will be down to some 49 per cent. Forty-nine per cent, meaning a drop in total taxes of 20 per cent, twenty points on the federal tax scale. That is not a very difficult concept to understand, that you can only make tax cuts when you can have a buoyant economy, which is what we are having at this point in time, and when we can in fact keep our expenditures under control.

A second point which the members opposite are seeming to have a great difficulty getting their minds around is the concept of a surtax. This particular tax measure which this government is introducing calls for a surtax. The way it works is very simple. Simply by bringing in a surtax it means that those who can least afford to pay tax are given the greatest break. Those who are paying the greatest amount of tax can expect to receive less of a break than those in the lower class.

The members opposite keep saying we have ripped off their election promises. What these people opposite were talking about in the last election was a full reduction. If we had brought in the same types of reductions as they were proposing, at the same levels that we have, we would have been looking at a cut in the taxes of some $328 million, as opposed to the $175 million which we are looking at. This is the same group on the other side in last election who were out there talking about these massive tax cuts, and at the same time they were going to have the pickup trucks and the dump trucks roll up to the hospital corporations and dump off loads of money to solve all the problems we have in health care.

There is a bit of a problem with that. If you cut taxes, presumably you have less money going into the treasury. If you have less money going into the treasury, I do not know where you can get the money to fill up the trucks to take it to the hospitals and schools. There always comes a time at the end of the day when you have to put your money where your mouth is. This government, having looked at the records, and looking at its financial capabilities, has made the decision that it can at this time make, and give to our people in this Province, a tax break in the order of some seven basis points on the federal tax.

The other point which has been coming up from time to time is that this is not really helping the poor. We are not really helping the poor by giving a tax break. Again, I have a little bit of problem with understanding the concept. What we are doing here, as I understand it, is that those who pay taxes will have to pay less taxes. Consequently, when we hear members like the Leader of the Opposition, or the Leader of the New Democratic Party - who has aspirations to become Leader of the Official Opposition - saying that this particular tax break is of no value of the low-income tax earners, I have to scratch my head a little bit and tried to understand the point that he is making. Because if you don't pay taxes this certainly will not help you, because the whole premise of an income tax reduction is just that. Those who pay taxes get a tax break. If you do not pay taxes, then obviously the break that you will receive is nil to non-existent.

At the same time we hear people, like supporters of the New Democratic Party, Elaine Price, making the same comment that this is not going to help the poor. Again, if you do not pay taxes, this bill will not help you a great deal.

We also have members of the labour movement - I believe the new leader of NAPE is saying: We do not want a tax break. Where are our pay raises? We, in the public service, have been held down for the last - I don't know the number of years. I was in the public service so long without a pay increase, I really have forgotten the last time I got one when I was there. We do not want a tax break; we want a pay increase.

Again, that kind of thinking gives me a lot of problems because if, in fact, you are earning money and you are not getting a pay raise but you are getting a tax break, it seems to me that there is more money on your take home pay on your cheque. Whether you call that a pay increase or a tax break, I really don't care, as a spender and as a consumer. I look at my cheque and I find I have more money, disposable income, this year, this month, than I had last month.

All these comments which I am hearing out there in the public sector, particularly from the unions and those who are allying with the NDP, I do have some difficulty with those types of comments.

It is nice to see, however, that not all members of the New Democratic Party, or at least those who profess to be in adherence to that particular philosophy, are buying the line that the tax breaks are of little or no value to the general public.

Mr. Speaker, I refer simply to a recent column in The Telegram by a former Leader of the NDP, Mr. Peter Fenwick, in which he makes the point exactly. He makes the point that, for a single parent with one child, at an annual income of $10,000, no taxes are paid; at an annual income of $20,000, no income taxes are paid, because there is a corresponding amount being paid to that parent with a single child in terms of HST rebates and child tax credits and so forth. It is only when that individual starts making something in the order of $30,000 a year does that individual actually pay in more in income tax than that individual receives in various tax credits and so forth.

I am very pleased to be able to speak to this particular piece of legislation and to say that in large measure it is due to a buoyant economy; and if you want to see things really getting going in this Province, come out to my district. The member from Baie Verte, White Bay, last week had a lot to say about what I was saying about the City of St. John's and the great things that were happening in here. Well, I say, come to Corner Brook. Come and see the Lafarge plant. Come and see the 120 men who are working seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. Come up to Pasadena and see the new industries which are being set up.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and on that I will take my seat.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I have been listening with great intent, and I must say with much relish, to the voluminous levels of support that have been coming from the other side of the House for the measures laid out in this Bill 32. I can do no more, nor could I do any less, than to rise in place of the Minister of Finance and move second reading of this most historic piece of legislation, this most forward-looking measure, this second major tax initiative in terms of tax reductions that has happened over the last three or four years during the life of this Administration, the support that has come from the Party on the other side of the House. Indeed, the third group over there are supporting this to such an extent that we must move second reading today and get this measure through.

Thank you.

On motion, a bill, “An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act (No. 2)”, read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill 32)

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

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, after such an eloquent closing to a bill, I am going to give us at least three minutes off. He is not even listening to me. After such a closing to a bill, I have never heard the like before. I have never heard so much said in so few words.

Mr. Speaker, before I adjourn the House, I want to tell people in the House that on Monday we will do Order 12 - that is on today's Order Paper - Order 13, and just keep going down the list.

Mr. Speaker, I move that the House adjourn until Monday at 2:00 p.m.


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