April 9, 2008                HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS               Vol. XLVI   No. 8

The House met at 2:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order, please!

Admit strangers.

This afternoon the House of Assembly would like to welcome thirty-two students from the Grade 8 Social Studies class of John Burke High School in the District of Grand Bank. The students are accompanied by their teachers, Mr. Darrell LaFosse and Ms Donna Brushett, and their bus driver, Mr. Murdock Hiscock.

Welcome to the House of Assembly.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

Statements by Members

MR. SPEAKER: Members' statements today will be from: the hon. the Member for the District of Kilbride; the hon. the Member for the District of Burgeo & LaPoile; the hon. the Member for the District of St. John's East; the hon. the Member for the District of Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair; the hon. the Member for the District of Grand Bank; and, the hon. the Member for the District of Port de Grave.

The hon. the Member for the District of Kilbride.

MR. DINN: Mr. Speaker, for a long time Karate has been offered in this Province. Various clubs and associations have been teaching the art and skills to Newfoundlanders of many ages. These teachers have all been holders of at least a fourth-degree black belt in Karate.

Clubs and associations in this Province have always had to look off the Island for Karate Masters to conduct their grading and testing. There were no Karate Masters in this Province. This is not the case anymore.

In February of this year, five Newfoundlanders received their sixth-degree black belts in Karate earning them the lofty rank of Master. All of these men got their start in the 1960s and early 1970s at the Joe Gillies Karate School, and all have been dedicated to Karate ever since.

Wayne Lee, a resident of my Kilbride District, is one of these five new Karate Masters. Wayne, who is now in his fifties, has been teaching Karate in the Goulds and surrounding areas for years. Many young people, and some not so young, have trained under Wayne, one of the most dedicated and easy-going people you could ever run across.

Wayne is the oldest son of Angela and the late Dennis Lee of Petty Harbour Road, Goulds. He is a long-time employee of Newfoundland Power.

Wayne is married to Lucille Chafe. They have two children, Justin and Holly. Wayne has dedicated his life to his family, his work and Karate.

I ask all members of this hon. House to join me in congratulating Wayne and the other four new Newfoundland Karate Masters – Bruce Lee, Ernest Howell, Paul Bell and David Bell.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Burgeo and LaPoile.

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to pay tribute to and thank all those who were involved in the Hockeyville 2008 competition. Port aux Basques came in third -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. PARSONS: - in the contest with 956,000 votes. That represents nearly twice the population of our Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. PARSONS: This contest transcended hockey. It brought people together and it sparked an energy and community spirit which became contagious.

Port aux Basques and the surrounding area hockey enthusiasts worked tirelessly, the residents spent hours punching in their votes, and Newfoundlanders and Labradorians everywhere were supportive. To come third out of 1,100 applicants shows the level of hard work, pride and dedication of the community. Hats off to Andrew Parsons and the Port aux Basques Minor Hockey Association, the town council, and everyone involved. You have done your community proud.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this House to join with me in congratulating Port aux Basques on a job well done.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUCKINGHAM: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It gives me great pleasure to rise today to acknowledge the athletic success of young Teddy Purcell from St. John's. For those of us who follow local hockey, we have seen this young man excel at every level in which he has played. After a tremendous year of college hockey at the University of Maine, he was signed by the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL as an unrestricted free agent this past April.

He started the season with their AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs, where he quickly proved his skill by not only leading the league in scoring for periods of time, but also being selected MVP for the league's all-star game.

In a footnote to that, his stick has been included in the Hockey Hall of Fame as one of only four people who have ever scored a hat trick in that all-star game – I received that news last night. As of this morning, Teddy was third in league scoring for the AHL and has helped secure his team's spot in the playoffs.

He was called to play his first NHL game for Los Angeles on January 14. He played a total of ten NHL games this year, finishing with a goal and two assists.

Mr. Speaker, I can only assume that any week playing professional hockey is a good week, but last week had to be a dream week. On Wednesday, Teddy was named to the league's all rookie team. On Thursday, he was named to the first all-star team, and on Friday, he capped off his week by being named Rookie of the Year for the AHL. So, that is a good week.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BUCKINGHAM: I would like to note that both of Teddy's parents grew up in St. John's East, which I am so proud to represent.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members to join me today in congratulating Teddy on his success and wish him all the best in his future career.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to congratulate Murray Penney of Port Hope Simpson from the Coast of Labrador, who recently received an invitation to the 2009 United States Presidential Inauguration set for January in Washington, D.C.

Murray is a fourth-year student at Memorial University, but the history of him receiving this invitation dates back to when he was a Grade 11 student at D.C. Young School, in Port Hope Simpson. At that time he took part in a Global Young Leaders Conference in Washington and New York City.

Mr. Speaker, this conference was an explanation and simulation of the United Nations Security Council and the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Trade Dispute Board. They demonstrated how things work at the highest levels of organization within the world.

Murray was recognized at this conference for his leadership skills and later received an invitation to attend a similar conference about two years ago which was now followed by his most recent and most prestigious invitation to attend the Presidential Inauguration.

Mr. Speaker, Murray is a testament to the capability of our young people throughout Newfoundland and Labrador and how they are recognized on a global scale. He is to be commended for his efforts which led to this opportunity to participate in an historic event in American history.

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate Murray Penney on his achievements, and I ask the Members of the House of Assembly to join with me in extending our congratulations to him for receiving an invitation and being able to participate in the 2009 United States Presidential Inauguration.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Grand Bank.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to recognize a father and son who were recently honoured at the Sport Newfoundland and Labrador Stars and Legends Awards Gala.

Clem Edwards, or Junior as he is known, was inducted into the Provincial Sport Hall of Fame as a player and builder, while his son Sean was recognized as the Provincial Junior Male Athlete of the Year.

Mr. Speaker, Junior's achievements and contributions within soccer are equal to that of anybody in the history of the sport in this Province. With an amazing record of more than fifty championships, he ranks equally with the best players and the best coaches. This weekend, Junior was recognized for his significant contribution to soccer, not only to St. Lawrence and the Burin Peninsula, but indeed the entire Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Equally as important, at the age of sixteen, Sean played an important role for the Senior Laurentians Challenge Cup team that won the Provincial Challenge Cup and the bronze medal at the National Championships. Sean was also a member of the Provincial Boys Under Sixteen team, and a member of the Canadian Soccer Associations National Training Program.

Mr. Speaker, these awards are somewhat symbolic. At a point in time when Junior Edwards is recognized for the tremendous career he has had, his son Sean is recognized for the successful season he enjoyed at the commencement of his senior soccer career.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this House to join me in offering congratulations to both Junior and Sean Edwards from St. Lawrence on their recent achievements.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Port de Grave.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, on March 12, 2008, Mariner Resource Opportunities Network (MRON) held their second annual employers reception in the Trinity-Conception region.

This event is to honour employers who have made an outstanding contribution to the increased employment of citizens with development disabilities.

Mr. Speaker, appreciation awards were presented to a number of area employers involved in the program. Mr. Clyde Wells, Chairman of M-RON, presented this year's merit award to Wescal Department Store in Bay Roberts.

Ms Denise Dawe accepted the award on behalf of Wescal's, accompanied by their very important and famous young employee, Mr. Melvin Janes.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all hon. members to join me in congratulating Wescal Department Store and to extend thanks to Mariner Resource Opportunities Network for recognizing all employers involved.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Statements by Ministers.

Statements by Ministers

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, over the past month hundreds of Level 1 female students throughout Newfoundland and Labrador have participated in Skills Work for Women Conferences. Through this program, female students visit a College of the North Atlantic campus, meet a female working in a non-traditional skilled trade, and discuss the many opportunities skilled trades can offer. When this initiative concludes next month, more that 700 students will have been introduced to skilled trades opportunities.

Skills Work for Women Conferences are a partnership between Skills Canada – Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Department of Education. I am very pleased to announce, Mr. Speaker, that the provincial government is investing an additional $20,000 this year to support the conferences being held in Labrador West, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Stephenville, Corner Brook, Gander, Burin and St. John's.

Mr. Speaker, this is just the latest in a series of initiatives designed to open up the world of skilled trades to women. For example, we are introducing an $11 million skilled trades program in high school and plan to see a 50 per cent female participation rate. Just last fall, we launched a promotional campaign called Jump Start Your Life, which is designed to appeal to junior high students, encouraging them to consider a career in the skilled trades.

At the post-secondary level, we have earmarked 66 per cent of the Alberta Centennial Scholarships for women in apprenticeship training. We are in the second year of a contract with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to promote the electrical field to females. We have also been actively working with natural and energy resource-based companies to ensure that women's employment plans are created for all resource development in the Province.

Students and parents need to recognize the incredible potential for a successful career in the skilled trades. With numerous upcoming mega-projects on the horizon, the need for qualified skilled workers will only increase. Women can make their mark on these projects and others by pursuing training in one of 200 skilled trades career options.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the role models who form the backbone of the Skills Work for Women Conferences. The role models have become successful career women in their chosen fields. Following their example, today's young women can become the next generation of women who will change the status quo and make their mark in the skilled trades field.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Port de Grave.

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to thank the minister for an advance copy of her statement and to say that we, too, want to congratulate the young female students, numbering 700, who have taken part in this wonderful program.

Mr. Speaker, I have to say, I guess we have come full circle. Back many years ago it was more or less that you had to have other trades rather than the skilled trades that we refer to, but I am proud to say that there are quite a few females in my district today who are either electricians, carpenters or mechanics, and many others are in training in that profession.

I guess, being in the skilled trades profession myself before entering the political arena, I have to say it is wonderful to be involved in the skilled trades, and let it be said by this member, and on behalf of the Opposition, that if there is something that can be done, it can be done just as well or even better by a female.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I will not try to do it better than my colleague, but I will pay tribute to the people who are referred to in the minister's statement. I thank the minister for the advance copy of her statement.

I am actually quite interested in this, as many people know, because I was the Executive Director of Women in Resource Development. I am really honoured this year because I have been asked to take part in a couple of these conferences, and to go and act as a mentor. I am really looking forward to that, but I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute, actually, to women in resource development, because since 1997 they have been so active in working with government, both provincially and federally, working with industry, working with unions, to forward the work that is here, and they, too, are a partner in this because they work very closely with Skills Canada- Newfoundland and Labrador in organizing the conferences and getting the mentors for these conferences.


So, a tribute to Anne Marie Anonsen and to all her staff in the Province who are working on this as well.

Thank you.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SKINNER: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to inform my hon. colleagues of the excellent work being done on behalf of youth by the Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Advisory Committee, or the YAC.

The Youth Advisory Committee was established in 2001 as a forum for youth to voice their views and concerns on matters of public policy in this Province. The YAC advises government on youth-related programs and policies. Under the sponsorship of the Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment, the YAC is comprised of fifteen young people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-nine, and four adult mentors who are appointed to serve either a two or three year term.

The provincial government fully supports the vision of the YAC. We believe that all youth in the Province should enjoy the highest level of safety and security, that they have access to a high standard of education and health, and that they have the opportunity to become fully engaged in the economic and social life of our Province.

Mr. Speaker, the YAC is an active and engaged group that provides solid advice to government. It has identified strategic priorities for youth. These include health and wellness, education standards and supportive services. For example, the YAC has encouraged government to continue to support programs that better inform young people on tobacco, drug and gambling addictions issues. They have asked government to improve opportunities for distance education, and to further promote positive messages to youth about the benefits of living here in our Province.

Mr. Speaker, this government is listening to youth. For example, in the 2007 policy blueprint we outline the commitment to review the current youth smoking prevention programs that exist in our schools, as well as support for the expansion of distance education opportunities and the development of a comprehensive youth retention strategy.

Mr. Speaker, in my dealings with the YAC, I have had the opportunity to meet with some of the brightest and most enthusiastic young people in our Province. I am impressed with their level of commitment, their leadership, and the genuine interest shown in articulating the concerns of youth and advancing their interests. I am heartened by their continued confidence in the bright future ahead for our Province.

Together, the YAC demonstrates that government and young people can work in partnership to meet the changing needs of our youth.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Port de Grave.

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to thank the minister for the advance copy of the statement, and to say it is good to see that this Administration is continuing with a wonderful initiative that was started way back in the era of 2001.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the minister on this statement and to say, no doubt about it, this advisory committee provides an opportunity for many of our youth to get involved, and it is good to know, like the minister said, that government is listening to their needs and hopefully that the issues they put forward will become priorities with this government and we will see that they are implemented.

Mr. Speaker, we want to give thanks to the Committee and to all of those involved with them. We wish them every success in the future, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you.

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and thanks to the minister for his advanced copy.

Yes, I, too, am quite pleased with the minister standing and speaking to the Youth Advisory Committee. In their annual report of 2006 they did recommend that the government deal with the whole out-migration issue and with the loss of youth from the Province. So I am very happy to see the government's commitment to the development of a comprehensive youth retention strategy.

I would imagine that the minister and his office are dealing also with other organizations, along with the Youth Advisory Committee. It would be really good to bring their concerns into the Rural Secretariat and to have those groups working together. I look forward to the day when the minister can stand and tell us what that strategy is.

Keep up the work!

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: Further Statements by Ministers?

Oral Questions.

Oral Questions


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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My questions again today are for the Premier, and they are based around the faulty hormone testing and the information that is coming forward as part of the public inquiry.

Mr. Speaker, yesterday's testimony from the former Minister of Health, the current Member for St. John's South, at the Commission of Inquiry has certainly raised a few eyebrows. He felt that he was kept out of the loop on the hormone receptor issue and information was being directly sent to the Premier's office without him ever seeing it.

I ask the Premier: Did you, your staff or officials in Executive Council, give any directive that information be sent directly to your office without the knowledge of your former health minister?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Absolutely not, Mr. Speaker.

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, it seems rather strange that officials in a department would bypass their minister and just send information directly to the Premier's office, on any particular issue for that matter, unless there was some intervention to have that as a practice.

I ask the Premier: Is there any practice within your government where departmental officials are asked to oftentimes send information directly to your office and not directly to the minister?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: On the contrary, Mr. Speaker. There is a directive of two ministers that they be involved - particularly in briefing notes that are coming to my office. On this particular instance, I was absolutely flabbergasted when I found out that the minister was not aware. As a matter of fact, when it first came up we were in a Cabinet meeting and the minister had indicated that he had not seen the briefing note. My comment was, are you sure? How can you say that a briefing note came from your department, a three-page briefing note with detailed information in it, and you have not seen it? He said: Well, I have not seen it; I had not seen it. Now, that was beyond belief for me from that perspective. We met with the officials of the department and the officials confirmed that they had in fact sent it without giving the minister the courtesy and the responsibility, of course, of seeing it.

So, what happened in the department or how it happened or why it happened, I have no knowledge, but I can certainly tell you that from our perspective we would not instruct anybody in the department to circumvent the minister. On the contrary, we have asked that the ministers be directly involved in the briefing notes that come to my office.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Two former Ministers of Health have already stated that they left it to Eastern Health and the appropriate physicians to advise breast cancer patients of their testing results. As we now know, this process was a failure and the ministers did not follow up on how the process was proceeding.

I ask the Premier: Why did government not follow up with Eastern Health and monitor this process of how patients were being contacted and informed about information?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, I cannot speak for those ministers in how they performed their job and what information they had at the time and why they made the decisions they made. They are the only people who can answer those questions. So you have to walk a very, very fine line here in me putting my interpretation or expressing opinions and expressing conclusions on other testimony that occurs before the inquiry. If there is a follow up of questions at some point, I will ask the Minister of Justice to speak on that.

So, you know I cannot attribute any blame. I cannot pass my own personal opinion on it. What we have seen is we have seen instances where Eastern Health had omitted and deleted information from briefing notes that were being released under ATTIP requests, and that was done. They have gone off - they have actually had press conferences where, in fact, all of the information was not revealed. Those are actions that are beyond the control of the minister. The minister cannot be responsible for every single person all the way down the line in the health care system because they have no possible, tangible means of doing it.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. Premier to complete his answer.

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Fine, Mr. Speaker.

So, from my perspective, I cannot pass judgement on the circumstances that the ministers were in at the particular point and time and what information they had, because I do not know.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, the Member for St. John's South also made reference to the fact that if he had known about the briefing note that was submitted to the Premier's office and in the possession of the Premier in 2006, he would have gone public with the information.

I ask the Premier: Is there any particular reason, once you were given those updated numbers at that time, why you did not go public?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, when I was given the updated numbers in August, they were just that. It was an update of four pages long. It is headed up: An Update on Pathology Reports and Legal Action for Women Diagnosed with Breast Cancer.

The other briefing note that I had back in October of 2005 informed me, in that briefing note: Eastern Health is sending letters to the surgeons and other attending physicians on the sixteen to twenty individuals whose treatment could be impacted. When I received the August briefing note, the conclusion at the end of it said: Eastern Health advises twenty-two women were impacted. So, basically, it had gone from twenty to twenty-two in two briefing notes. This was an update that was provided for information purposes.

With regard to the minister's comment on, if he had it, he would have gone public. Well, I do not know what he had or what he did not have. He did not have that briefing note. The following month there was a press conference whereby Eastern Health disclosed information, even though they did not disclose all of it, and I have no control over that, that was in the public domain. Why the minister at that point did not decide to come to me or go public with it, he is the only one who can answer that.

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, we all know that it is only the Premier who can remove deputy ministers from departments within a government.

I have to ask the Premier today: Was John Abbott removed as the Deputy Minister of Health in 2007 directly related to this issue?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, the Department of Justice has informed me that when we are passing comments in the House of Assembly on Mr. Abbott or Mr. Tilley or Mr. Thompson, that these are people who are witnesses, who are testifying before the inquiry. When we cast aspersions or we pass comments or we try to attribute blames through the question, then we are affecting the creditability of their testimony. Is that correct?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

PREMIER WILLIAMS: So we have to be very, very, very careful what we are doing here. With regard to Mr. Abbott, Mr. Abbott was offered a transfer. Mr. Abbott was not fired. He was not kicked out. He was offered a transfer to another department which he decided not to accept.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, I understand the Premier's need to be careful in how he responds to some of these questions and certainly related to individuals who are testifying, but we are just simply asking his rationale as the Premier for removing certain individuals in positions within government out of those positions.

Now I understand, from your answer, that you did offer Mr. Abbott another position as a deputy minister in another department. Would the reason for wanting to move him out of health at that time have anything to do with what was happening with hormone receptor testing?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, I am responsible for the appointment of deputy ministers in this government. At that particular time I felt it was appropriate that a transfer take place, there were a lot of things happening in the Department of Health. From time to time I will change ministers, or I would change deputy ministers, basically, sometimes just to give them a new portfolio, to give them a breath of fresh air, to give them a change of position, and that was what was offered to Mr. Abbott.

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, I would also like to ask the Premier as well a similar question in relation to George Tilley, who we know was removed as the CEO of Eastern Health in the spring of 2007.

I ask you, Premier: Would the removal of Mr. Tilley as CEO of Eastern Health have any relation to what was happening with hormone receptor testing in this Province at the time?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Yesterday afternoon we spent quite some time discussing the role and nature of inquiries. Although I do not expect the Opposition to accept my version of events, what I termed Inquiries 101, I did offer the Opposition House Leader the opportunity to read the law. The purpose of an inquiry is to determine what happened, how it happened, who did what, and to make findings a fact.

What the Leader of the Opposition is asking here today is for the Premier to attribute blame, to make a finding of fact that is within the jurisdiction of the inquiry. I would suggest, Mr. Speaker, that this line of questioning is done for political gain and with an attempt to not only prejudice the fairness of the hearing but to prejudice the reputations of individuals, and it is inappropriate.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate the comments from the minister. We are, right now, two days and ten minutes into Question Periods on this issue. So far, other than a little bit of testiness from one side or the other, the questions have been above board, straightforward and for the most part the answers have been fairly forthcoming, no one denied that.

I can appreciate, if the Premier has any sensitivities to giving a comment that might impact or undermine anyone, that is his pejorative to say, I do not feel comfortable answering that and I am not going to answer it. That is his pejorative. There is nothing wrong with these questions being asked, nothing whatsoever. It is the Premier's prerogative or anyone's prerogative over there, if they do not want to answer them, not to answer.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the member to pose his question.

Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, my next question, again for the Premier, Robert Thompson was the Clerk of the Executive Council in 2005. The Clerk usually holds, I think, daily briefings with the Premier, or regular briefings with the Premier to discuss issues. We know that Mr. Thompson was advised of the problems related to the hormone receptor testing on July 19, 2005.

I ask the Premier: Did Mr. Thompson, as the Clerk of your Council, ever mention this issue to you in July of 2005, and if you cannot recall, have you asked Mr. Thompson regarding that issue?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, I cannot recall a conversation with Mr. Thompson on that particular issue. Mr. Thompson would brief me, not on a daily basis. It was sometimes on an extended basis, sometimes it could be as long as a month when we sat down for briefings. Mr. Thompson and his staff, I have not made a direct question to Mr. Thompson as to whether I did have it, but it has been requested as to whether there were any conversations with Mr. Thompson, and to my knowledge there were none.

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, the e-mail from Mr. Thompson to the Premier's office on July 19, 2005, has become a major piece of evidence in this commission of inquiry. Even though Mr. Thompson -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible.)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the member to continue with her question.

MS JONES: If he has a point of order, you can stand up.

Even though Mr. Thompson has been subpoenaed to testify, and even though he is directly involved in this matter, government refuses to admit there is any conflict of interest by him acting as the government liaison to the commission.

I ask the Premier: Do you acknowledge this conflict, and will you remove Mr. Thompson from the position as liaison officer to the commission for government?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: I answered that question yesterday, Mr. Speaker, and the same answer stands today. So you just read Hansard.

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to point out here that so far we have the Minister of Health, who was informed of this problem in July, the deputy minister, the assistant deputy minister, Communications Director in Health, the Clerk of the Executive Council, the Secretary of the Cabinet, the Premier's Chief of Staff and his Communications Director, and they all knew about the problem in July of 2005; yet, there is no recollection of any of these individuals informing the Premier.

Mr. Speaker, my question is: What changes, Premier, are you making in your office to ensure that you are going to be advised on important issues in the future that are facing the lives of people in this Province?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, all of the people who have just been named, and all of the other people who are involved in this inquiry who have anything to do with the government, I have said from day one, I will accept full responsibility for their actions at the end of the day. So, whether I was advised or whether I was not advised, I accept full responsibility as the head of the Province and Premier of the government.

With regard to the 125,000-plus communications that come to our office in the run of a year - and I would suggest it is probably, if you take the phone calls, it is probably 175,000, but a 125,000 estimate - with regard to those, if items come to our office or are suggested that no action is required then we will not take action on them, because we do not have the luxury of acting on and investigating and pursuing 125,000-plus contacts in the course of a year.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Yesterday my colleague, the Leader of the NDP, raised an issue regarding the October 2005 Cabinet paper that was tabled by the commission. In the document, communication strategies were outlined referencing the ER-PR testing, and how to deflect negative attention related to this issue.

I ask the Premier today: Was there any discussion on that issue in Cabinet in October or November of 2005, and, if not, how did your Cabinet know what the ER-PR issue was that was so strongly referenced in this Cabinet paper?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: We read the Independent, we watched NTV, and we listened to CBC on their reporting on it, the same as everybody else in the Province did.

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, the other part of my question was: Was it part of any Cabinet discussion during that time when this Cabinet paper came to the Cabinet table?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Absolutely not, Mr. Speaker. There was no discussion of ER-PR. This was an approval of the Herceptin drug, a very straightforward approval that comes, as a matter of fact, as hon. members opposite know, when they are in Cabinet. Drugs that are of urgency, or very important drugs that are very important to the people of this Province from a health care perspective, when they come to Cabinet, unless there is some major objection, someone is aware of some health deficiency or some health problem with a drug, they are virtually rubber-stamped. Now that may be a very loosey-goosey term to use but that is, in fact, the case.

The reference to ER-PR in this particular Cabinet paper was attached to a communications plan and it was never discussed.

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, we know that government had copies of the peer reviews that were completed at the laboratory of Eastern Health. We know that major problems were identified by the pathologist who did the review, and recommendations were made for improvements. The Premier has stated that the Commission of Inquiry was initiated to ensure that this system is improved. If this is the case, I ask the Premier: Why did government allow Eastern Health to go to court in an attempt to block the release of these peer reviews that were designed to help improve the laboratory?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, the parties to that particular action, some of the parties - I don't know whether other interested parties were there - were Eastern Health and the commission. Both sides were presented to the court. It was a matter before the courts. It was not our place to intervene.

Equally important, I was satisfied that the commissioner actually had those peer reviews. It was about using those peer reviews and making them public. It was not a question of those peer reviews not being available to Madam Justice Cameron. So I took some comfort in the fact that, even if the courts decided against her using them publicly, that she in fact had those reviews and could use those to come to conclusions to make findings at the end of the inquiry.

From government's perspective, we were not a party to that particular action and we just basically stood back and let the courts do what they had to do.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, at this stage the Premier must have realized that Eastern Health had not done a good job at informing patients about this issue, or at raising public awareness about it, or at managing it through this process. Here they are now attempting to file a case in the courts to have information withheld from the public.

I have to ask the Premier again - because of that action of Eastern Health, it delayed the process of this inquiry. Again, I have to ask: Why wasn't there some urgency at this stage within government to at least intervene and say: Listen, we want to make sure these documents are going to be available to the public. We are having a full, open process. We are not going to allow you to go to court and block the release of this information.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, this was more of a moot legal point. These documents were already in the hands of the inquiry. They already had the documents. I spoke with Mr. Coffey while I was being interviewed and he indicated that they had the benefit of the information already at the inquiry. This was a legal point about whether those documents could be referred to or made public. That is a matter between the inquiry and Eastern Health.

There is also another issue which is related here. There is the whole question of peer review and doctors, and how things are handled, and whether they are comfortable with the system.

If people who are going to do peer reviews and pass judgment on doctors' actions are going to be subject to exposure, then the Medical Association – not ourselves, but the Medical Association - are very concerned that can then all of a sudden become public. If that happens, then what situation do we have with doctors who need to be reviewed and need to be checked?

So, it is a medical ethical question as well; but, from our perspective, we were quite satisfied that that review and those documents, or those reviews and those documents, were clearly in the hands of the commission.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

A related question. In February 2006 the Department of Health received a letter from Dr. Banerjee, who had done one of the two reviews of the lab at Eastern Health. In his letter he expressed concern to the Department of Health regarding pathology shortages in the immediate future. In the past two years, I have to ask, what has government done to address this issue with regard to pathologists in Newfoundland and Labrador?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, the current Minister of Health is not here today because he is waiting to testify. I do not know if the Minister of Finance has information on this, but what I do have is three pages here of things that government has done to make improvements since August 2005 to September 2007. I can go through this list, if you want, and you can cut me off when my forty-five seconds are up, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

Before the hon. Premier goes down that route, I would like to ask the hon. Premier if he would make reference to the documents that he has there rather than reading from them. The Chair has already ruled on that in previous days.

The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, there is a list of improvements that government has done, that can be released through the Department of Health or through the Department of Finance, a number of things that we have done in order to make improvements over there. Of course, obviously, Herceptin is one of them, but there are three pages of things that have been done.

Whether there has been anything done specifically with regard to pathologists, I would have to defer to the Minister of Health. Perhaps we could come up with an answer tomorrow for you on that. At least I will have one of the other ministers come up with an answer. The Minister of Finance (inaudible)? Do you know that?

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

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS JONES: If you have some information that you want to contribute, because I have a letter here from the Department of Health that was written to this pathologist on April 18, 2006. Basically, it was the department taking some exception to the fact that shortages of pathologists may have contributed in some way to what was happening with regard to the breast cancer screening issue within the Province.

I would like to have some clarification from the minister on why this letter was sent, why the offence was taken, and what has been done to correct the problem with pathologists in the Province.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, I do not know the reason that instigated the letter that you are referring to, but I can advise that, with respect to dealing with the question of the shortage of pathologists, the government agreed to pay a stipend to the pathologists of between $50,000 and $60,000, similar to the stipend that is being paid to oncologists.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, my next questions are again indirectly related in that they concern the mammography equipment in the Province.

Right now we are aware that there are twelve analog mammography units that are located across the Province. Many of them are ten years or older, and this means that they are either at the end of their life or past the usage of what is effective for the kind of work that they do. Anyway, there is a requirement for newer digital mammography equipment throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, and I ask the minister if his government is prepared to commit to funding for new mammography equipment in our hospitals in Newfoundland and Labrador?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, I can inform the hon. member opposite that two months ago, back in February, we had already approved in the upcoming Budget – I don't want to scoop the minister, but it is important information - some considerable time ago we have already approved mammography units. The number I cannot tell you exactly but it has already been approved.

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to pose questions to the Premier to get clarification both from my question yesterday and the answer he gave to the Leader of the Opposition today.

The documents that were prepared for – at least in relation to – the Cabinet meeting that was held on November 4, 2005, to discuss the approval of drug therapies, including Herceptin for treating breast cancer, they amount to thirty pages. I guess what I want to know from the Premier is: Are you telling us that none of these documents were given to the Cabinet, were not part of the Cabinet's briefing documents for having that discussion? Is that what you are telling us?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: No, Mr. Speaker, what I have said is that – I have not said this, but what has happened is - these documents are part of the Cabinet documentation. What I have said is that they were not discussed. There was no discussion on ER-PR at the Cabinet table. We have already checked with the Clerk, checked with the minutes, and recollection – not all ministers, I haven't talked to all ministers on it – but recollection for myself is that there was absolutely no discussion, that this was a very, very straightforward approval and it just went through with an okay, basically.

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

MS MICHAEL: Well then, my question for the Premier is: May I assume that you read those briefing documents and that you would have an expectation that Cabinet would have read them, and was there anything in those documents that put up any red flags for you, for example the communications strategy, that you would have wanted to discuss, and if so, why didn't you?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, this is a communications plan that was attached. It has three paragraphs in it which reference ER/PR, and they basically talk about what was in the public domain as a result of the media that occurred on October 5. The date of draft of this document that I have before me is October 25, so this was some three weeks after it first appeared. It talks about the general preamble, exactly what happened with regard – not what happened with regard to the tests, it talks about the tests. Then it talks about Gerry Rogers and her comments in the Globe and Mail, and it talks about comments that are attributed to Mr. Peter Dawe. It also talks about the national media on this matter which is a CBC story on October 20th as well. It is an information package that basically indicates what has been there in the public domain.

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What concerns me, as I read these documents – and that is why I am asking the Premier – is that in the strategic considerations that are described in another part of those thirty documents we are told that the recent media coverage that the Premier has just referred to has caused a loss of confidence in the health system in the public, and that approving the drug would, in actual fact, help deal with that loss of confidence.

Doesn't it disturb the Premier that a decision around this drug would strategically be good, because the public will feel better, and number two, it will help us with negotiations with physicians who have been lobbying for these drugs? Both those things are in these papers. Doesn't that disturb the Premier, that kind of thinking?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: It doesn't disturb me, Mr. Speaker, that there are another fifty-odd, I am guessing, items of things that have been done as well to improve the health care system. I would suggest, if you go back over the last five years there are probably several hundreds or thousands of things that have been done by our government to improve the health care system, and we will do it again.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: And we will continue to do so.

From our perspective, one important piece of clarification that needs to be repeated here: The improper testing had stopped, new testing was being done at Mount Sinai, past testing was being checked and we were informed that patients were being notified. It was in good hands as far as we knew. What was in the public domain, we were certainly aware of, and we were doing whatever we could to improve the health care system in this Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, yesterday in Question Period the Premier made a comment someway through our questions back and forth, that he would seek the advice or have the Minister of Justice check with the Cameron Inquiry to decide if the line of question that was being pursued is indeed appropriate in the House. It was reported in the media as well this morning, that that actually transpired here, and Hansard will show it did.

I am just wondering if the Premier or the minister can advise us if they have made that inquiry of the Justice Cameron Inquiry and, if so, can we have a copy of that correspondence? If not, when do you intend to get it done, and would you provide us with a copy?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I can inform the Opposition House Leader that discussions have, in fact, ensued, that there has been no ruling by the commission, that the decision made by the government is that questions put to us will be asked, but there is a thin line that I, as Minister of Justice, have to be cognizant of.

I will specifically refer to the fact, yesterday the Opposition House Leader said: Well, I am not referring to evidence; I am referring to process and procedure. And all I have heard from the Leader of the Opposition is questions about evidence at the inquiry.

I will repeat what I said yesterday, your opinions are exactly that, opinions. Facts will be decided by the commissioner and the inquiry.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The time for questions and answers has expired.

Presenting Reports by Standing and Select Committees.

Tabling of Documents.

Notices of Motion.

Answers to Questions for which Notice has been Given.


Orders of the Day.

Orders of the Day


Private Members' Day

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

MR. RIDEOUT: Mr. Speaker, being that today is Wednesday, Private Members' Day, I believe that we automatically go at 3:00 o'clock to - I just checked the Order Paper. I do not believe there is anything else that we need to do other than go to - and there isn't, Mr. Speaker.

So, Wednesday being Private Members' Day, we will proceed to the order for business today of private members.

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to present the private member's motion, and it is for fair bargaining for nurses in our Province. Mr. Speaker, I would like to read the context of the motion into the record for Hansard.

WHEREAS nurses are currently in negotiations with the provincial government on a new contract; and

WHEREAS nurses in this Province are the lowest paid in the entire country; and

WHEREAS there is a nursing shortage in our Province and little success has been achieved in addressing recruitment and retention issues; and

WHEREAS previous nursing shortages were cyclical, the current shortage is structural in nature, characterized by such things as an aging nursing workforce and fierce market competition; and

WHEREAS job stress and dissatisfaction are driving nurses to leave the profession in record numbers;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that this House of Assembly call upon the provincial government to end the practice of pattern bargaining when dealing with specialized professions such as nursing that are faced with critical recruitment and retention issues.

Mr. Speaker, we wanted to introduce that motion in the House of Assembly today for debate, for a couple of reasons. One, it is what nurses out there have been asking for. They want to see some non-pattern bargaining as it relates to their profession and their union, and they are simply asking because of the critical situation they are finding themselves in, in the Province today. As you know, their request has been supported by the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association and we wanted to add our voice to what they are doing and to be able to support them in the Legislature in some way to try and achieve this.

What we do know, Mr. Speaker, is that there are over 5,000 nurses in our Province who are working in hospitals and long-term care, community and education centres, and research. We know that in the third quarter of this year there were a total of 133 vacancies in our Province, but in the fourth quarter these numbers rose to 440 vacancies, more than 300 more vacancies of nurses within our hospitals throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, the Eastern Health Authority had something like sixty-three external recruitment postings from the third quarter and there was an increase of 313 postings in the fourth quarter. That is magnificent numbers, when you are talking about the number of vacancies in our health care sector.

Mr. Speaker, we already heard this morning, as early as this morning, what the impact is on patients and in our health care sector whenever you have nursing shortages. For example, in response to a question I asked in the House yesterday about patients sleeping on stretchers in the ER at the Health Sciences Centre - I heard a lady on this morning, I think her name was Norma Baker, who was basically explaining that sometimes they do close beds at Eastern Health because they have a shortage of nurses and a shortage of staff and they are not always able to make all the beds available. Basically, what she was saying is that on any particular day there are times when beds are actually closed. It just so happens that as of yesterday they had every bed open that they could make available.

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, any time there are shortages of nurses in our health care sector it impacts upon the patients and the delivery of health care. We have seen that in hospitals all throughout this Province and in our own districts. In fact, recently I was in Gander and I visited the hospital there. At that particular time, there was a shortage of almost forty nurses in that particular hospital. In fact, there were nurses that were working in management positions, who were actually filling in on shift work throughout the hospital because there was such a shortage. They were also calling around to other hospitals in the region trying to get nurses to come and cover off shifts. That was the extremity of the problem that they were dealing with.

We all went through this piece last summer and now the numbers are higher. We had less vacancies of nurses in the Province during the summer than we actually do today. Last summer we know what happened. There were many nurses in this Province who could not take their holidays, could not go on vacation with their families, and were not allowed to even have a sick day because there was no one to replace them. They were going to work sick. They were pulling double shifts, working up to sixteen and eighteen hours a day without a break. This is what was happening throughout the summer in hospitals in this Province when we were on break from this Legislature.

Today, we have more nurses that are vacant. We have a bigger problem today than we had a few months ago. So, unless we move to make some correction to the problem, we are going to find ourselves in a worse situation come this summer. For example, I think it was last summer - and you can correct me because it may be Gander, but I think it was Grand Falls hospital that actually had to close down a lot of their day surgery operations. They could not do it because they did not have the staff to be able to it.

So, whenever you have procedures being cancelled, day surgeries being closed, beds being closed, management working on nursing shifts and nurses pulling double time, if that is not an indication that we have a huge problem when it comes to recruiting and retaining nurses in our health care sector, I don't know how much more obvious it can be.

Mr. Speaker, the gap between nurses across the country in wages is what stands out for me the most. The fact is that nurses in our Province are the lowest paid of any nurses across Canada, and that in itself should be a reason for government to seriously look at how they can at least bring these nurses to a level of parity with the other provinces of Canada or at least on par with the national average.

I think that government cannot ignore the fact that one of the major challenges that we have in recruiting nurses today in this Province is the fact that we pay the least money. As long as we pay the least money, we are going to be the last option for many of them when they come looking for a job. The only real advantage that we have is being able to keep our own people working in our own Province, and even in recent years that has become more of a challenge. We have seen a net out-migration of workers right across the board for the last number of years. We are seeing workers in every sector, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in every sector, working elsewhere in this country. All I am saying is that if we do not at least allow for nurses to work in this Province and to work at a wage that is on par with other provinces throughout Canada, then we are going to have a major problem with recruiting.

Mr. Speaker, I think that what the Nurses' Union is asking here, and being supported by the Medical Association, is a fair request. It is a fair request because, when you look at the magnitude of the problem that we are faced with right now in the nursing profession, how it is impacting every other sector of health care in this Province, you cannot ignore the issue any longer. It is not any more an issue about converting nurses from casual to full time. That is only part of it. It is no longer about trying to offer up some better benefit packages. That would help, but it is not the only issue.

Mr. Speaker, this is a major problem that deals with a major shortage, and I think the only real way that we are going to be competitive is that we have to have better working conditions for our nurses - that will come with adding more to the system - and also being able to pay them a wage that is a decent wage for the professional responsibilities and the job that they take on.

High levels of job dissatisfaction, Mr. Speaker, related to their scheduling, unrealistic workloads, mandatory overtime, and hospital administrators' lack of responsiveness to nurses' concerns, have all resulted in a high turnover. That, Mr. Speaker, combined with the fact that we are seeing a lot of nurses retiring from our system, we are into a section of the population now where many of our nurses are going into retirement, it is becoming more and more difficult to fill the positions.

Mr. Speaker, recruitment and retention strategies that focus on loan repayment programs and scholarships for nursing students, more public service announcements and advertising campaigns to encourage people to enter into the nursing profession, need to be done. We need to be ensuring that we are getting into the schools and we are promoting this. We need to ensure that there are going to be grants out there for nurses that ensure best practices within the health care system, and we also need to have training grants to develop and incorporate nurses into new curriculums that are being developed.

Mr. Speaker, New Brunswick introduced initiatives that allowed senior nurses to reduce their work hours without jeopardizing their pensions, and this could be an incentive for those who are finding the hours too gruelling to stay on any longer. That was just an innovative way that they were able to keep some of their nurses who were going to exit the profession and retire, to keep them working for longer periods of time. I do not know if the minister has looked at what they have done in New Brunswick, but it has certainly been a successful initiative for them, where they were able to retain more retired nurses at reduced workloads.

Mr. Speaker, we know from other studies that more health care workers retire early, before the age of sixty-five, than people in any other profession - about 49 per cent, compared to 43 per cent in other fields. RNs in particular tend to retire around the age of fifty-six or fifty-eight, and we know that RNs as a group are aging, so we can expect retirement to place increasing pressures on the nursing workforce. If we had effective retention strategies maybe we could make a difference within the profession, to be able to keep more people there longer.

Mr. Speaker, pattern bargaining is a process whereby the trade union would produce a new and advanced entitlement from one employer. It is used as a precedent in order to demand the same or superior from other employers. That simply means, Mr. Speaker, it is an opportunity for any particular union or group, such as nurses, to go into a bargaining process with their employer, in this case being government, to negotiate a selective deal that would apply only to them, that would not necessarily be the pattern or the standard that would be transformed throughout the system of all other employees within that particular company or entity, in this case being government.

Now, in the past in this Province we have had a long history of pattern bargaining, of whatever deal is struck with one union would apply to other unions. There may have been some little exceptions in terms of some benefits or some agreements, but for the most part when you deal with wages and the major pieces, like sick benefits and things like that, is has always been the standard. Well, Mr. Speaker, in order to raise the standards of the nursing profession you almost have to move outside that pattern bargaining, because there has to be – and I know this. The Minister of Finance, I am sure, knows it better than any of us. It has to be an affordability issue for government as well. If government sits down and they look at this and they say, we cannot afford to bring nurses up to parity with the rest of the country and then we able to go out and offer that to every other public sector union in the Province – and maybe that would be the case. Maybe they cannot do that. Maybe it is impossible financially for them to look at that.

What I am saying is, don't compromise the integrity of the health care system and don't compromise the ability to be able to attract nurses in this Province because we cannot afford to be able to do the same for every other single public service group or organization. I think we have reached a point where we have to look at different professions at different levels. I say that only because we are dealing with a profession today that finds itself in a crises position.

Mr. Speaker, it is a crisis. When you go from a shortage of nurses in September of about 140-odd nurses, I think it was, 133, to over 400 in December in a very few short months, it is indicative of a significant problem that has been developing. Mr. Speaker, we wanted to add our voice to this and to support the non-pattern bargaining for nurses in the Province. We certainly understand their concerns and the issues they are being faced with.

Mr. Speaker, we hear from nurses on a regular basis. In fact, there are members in this House of Assembly who I know have been getting e-mails from nurses on a regular basis with as much detail as telling them what their schedule is today, what their workload is today and what their expectation has been.

Mr. Speaker, the Member for Conception Bay South is looking at me and yes, I am talking about him. I have gotten a number of e-mails from nurses in his district as well, and I know he has. They are very detailed and explicit in terms of the challenges that they are faced with, the workloads that they are incurred with, the demands that are being placed on their time and the levels of frustration that they are feeling working within the health care system in this Province.

So, Mr. Speaker, there is lots of evidence of what these individuals are being faced with. We do not have to go back a year and find out what happened in the summer when we had surgeries cancelled in hospitals and nurses being refused vacation time. We only have to go back to the last few days and find out what nurses have been enduring within various hospitals across the Province and it is simply because there is a shortage of over 400 nurses in this Province today and something needs to be done to address that problem.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

The Minister of Health is, unfortunately, engaged elsewhere today. I know that he would have liked to have been here to take part in this debate and to talk about the resolution that the hon. the Leader of the Opposition has put forward, a resolution that talks about the nursing profession in this Province, a profession that is respected by, I am sure, every member in this House of Assembly.

I can assure you that our government, and I am sure every member of the House of Assembly, values very much the dedication and the commitment of our nursing workforce, which the Leader of the Opposition pointed out, numbers over 5,000 people in this Province. In fact, nurses represent the majority of the numbers in our health care workforce. I am pleased that our government has, in fact, taken steps over the past years and is committed to taking additional steps as outlined in our blueprint, to take additional steps to support our nurses in this Province.

In my first Budget, Budget 2007, it provided $1.6 million to complete the hiring of thirty-nine public health nursing positions approved last year. There was increased funding of $90,000 for the Rural Student Nursing Incentive Program. That was used to assist senior bachelor of nursing students to complete clinical placement in rural and remote communities.

I know, Mr. Speaker, when we talk about attracting medical professionals, how important it is to attract these professionals to the rural regions of the Province. That goes right across all professions, the medical profession, the health professions and indeed all professions, to attract workers to Labrador and to the great Northern Peninsula and to the Burin Peninsula. I have been told by senior health officials and I have been told by, for example, officials with the medical association, that the shortages in the medical profession and the shortages in the health profession, the issue is worldwide. Therefore, everyone is all over the world attempting to attract these additional health workers. So, it is not just here in Newfoundland and Labrador. I saw on the news the other day in Prince Edward Island, comments and concerns expressed by nurses in that province that are very similar to many of the concerns that our own nurses have here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Now, other initiatives we have taken is that $1 million was invested as a result of Budget 2007, to extend the duration of an orientation program for new nursing graduates in frontline practice with the program up and running up to eight weeks. Also, government insured the continued funding of $75,000 for nurse practitioners primary health care bursaries. Students receive a bursary of $5,000 in exchange for one year return service.

As I said earlier, I am very pleased that the blueprint - our commitments for the future are to further increase the number of nursing seats. We know that young people will always be attracted to travel and to see different parts of the world, but in this Province we do train nurses at two locations here in St. John's, at the university - and also at Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook nurses are trained. As a result of that, fortunately, we have been retaining, I understand, about 70 per cent to 72 per cent of the graduating nurses who do stay in this Province. I am glad that we have made a commitment in our blueprint to further increase the number of nursing seats in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In 2007, 187 new graduates secured full-time, permanent nursing positions in this Province, and the majority of them from the nursing schools in this Province. As of today, we have hired an additional 150 new graduates for this year. There were additional positions for others to have that opportunity as well, and that is significant and we are committed to building on that success.

This past year, Mr. Speaker, 101 bursaries and sign on bonuses were approved to provide incentives to recruit registered nurses to difficult-to-fill positions, totaling $579,000, and the majority of these resulted in two-year returning service commitments. So, that is an indication of some of the things we are doing, but, obviously, in future we have committed to do more.

Now, Mr. Speaker, it is very difficult for me in my capacity as President of Treasury Board in what I say here today in dealing with this motion and speaking to this resolution because at this point we are in bargaining with three unions. We have not reached a statement with either of them at this point and I certainly do not want to prejudge the outcomes of the discussions and negotiations that are going on. Hopefully, we will be able to reach a settlement that is satisfactory to all parties.

We are negotiating with the Nurses' Union at this point, with CUPE and with NAPE, and that affects approximately 35,000 employees. Negotiations will start later this year with other groups and in 2009 with the remaining groups. In total, our members will be interested in knowing, that there are thirty-four public sector collective agreements covering over 35,000 employees.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I guess when a minister takes over a new position you will always remember the first people you meet when you take over that position. I know when I first became Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the first person I met was the Mayor of Postville, who expressed to me in a very eloquent and sincere way the desire of his community to have RCMP Officers, and I have never forgotten that. I never forgot when I met with the Mayor of Gander about his concern for RCMP Officers and, fortunately, we were able to put additional RCMP Officers in Central Newfoundland and in the Town of Gander. I met with him today and he explained to me that all the vacant positions that previously existed with the RCMP are now filled, and how much they have appreciated the fact that government has, in fact, made the commitment to place additional police officers.

When I became President of the Treasury Board, one of the first groups I met with was with the President of the Nurses' Union, Ms Forward; and, of course, that was for the purposes of signing the previous collective agreement. Of course, I had no role whatsoever in the negotiation of that agreement, but that is where I met Ms Forward and John Vivian, the Executive Director of the Nurses' Union. I believe that was in January 2007 and I just had been appointed Minister of Finance in December 2006.

I think it was in September of that year I received a letter from Ms Forward expressing a number of concerns affecting the nursing profession, many of which the Leader of the Opposition outlined here today. These issues, of course, we have all received these e-mails - I have received them, and other members of this House have received them - and I want to assure the people who have sent those messages that they have been read and that the concerns we take very seriously.

I had a letter from Ms Forward, I think it was in September of that year, in which she expressed concerns and asked that we tear up the previous collective agreement or reopen - that is probably better wording – the collective agreement and negotiate a new one. I indicated that government was not prepared to do that - that an agreement had been negotiated, it had been accepted by all sides, it had been signed - but what government was prepared to do, we were prepared to start negotiations to the new collective agreement right away because of the concerns that she, as president of the union, had indicated both to me and she had said them publicly. Of course, although I have only been in politics for one term, I have followed comments made by Ms Forward in the past. She has been the president of that union for many years.

She was pleased with that, and we agreed that we would start the negotiations earlier. I think under the previous contract negotiations were not supposed to commence until some time around April of this month, but we agreed to start right away back in November. The Nurses' Union did indicate a desire to have - before we got into negotiations, they expressed a desire to have interest-based discussions, not only with the Public Service Secretariat but also with the Department of Health and also with the Regional Health Authorities. That process took place over two days . I think it was a good process, and I think it was well received by all concerned, to set the stage before we got into actual negotiation and bargaining.

Mr. Speaker, we are at the table with the nurses today. Negotiations are ongoing. I can tell you that the parties negotiated through last weekend. We will be in negotiations next week with CUPE, with the aid of a conciliator. We have exchanged proposals with NAPE, and we intend to expedite those negotiations with NAPE, so the process is ongoing. It is therefore important that, as President of Treasury Board, I not carry out negotiations, obviously, in this Chamber. The negotiations must take place at the table, and that is where they are taking place; and, as the Minister of Health always says, they are taking place as we speak.

We know the nurses have serious issues, and we take those issues seriously, and we are prepared and we are discussing those issues with the nurses where they should be discussed, which is at the bargaining table. We have issues as well, and we want to discuss those with the nurses; and, of course, we are and we will continue to discuss those issues with the Nurses' Union.

Collective bargaining, of course, is a process that requires the parties to mutually agree - to mutually agree on the terms and conditions of their employment. As I said, we are currently engaged in that process and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on pattern bargaining or any other aspect of negotiations with the Nurses' Union or any other group while the parties are at the bargaining table, so I will refrain from doing so and I would encourage all other members to refrain from that aspect of the discussion here today.

We respect this process, but once again it is very important that we do not interfere with negotiations by making inappropriate comments here in the House of Assembly. I will say, however, that it is this government's intention to negotiate agreements that recognize the contributions of our public sector workers. These agreements must be reasonable and they must be responsible, and they must be sustainable and in the long-term interests of the people of this Province.

Now, Mr. Speaker, accordingly, I would like to move an amendment to this resolution. I will just get my copy of the motion here. The motion talks about, nurses are currently in negotiations – which, of course, is true. It says the nurses are the lowest paid in the entire country - and that is true; that there is a nursing shortage in the Province and little success has been achieved – but there have been efforts, there certainly have been efforts, to address recruitment and retention issues. There is an aging workforce - and we have an aging workforce not only in the Nurses' Union but we see it in many other of our unions and our employees. We saw it with the RNC and we took steps to deal with the RNC through a new police recruiting program, which is graduating new recruits that are aiding the RNC, changing the whole culture of the RNC, a younger and a new police force. It has been so successful that it has encouraged some of the older RNC officers who are eligible to retire - in fact, a lot of them are postponing their retirements.

I would like to move an amendment to the motion because of the fact that the motion only speaks about specialized professions. I have to raise the question: What about other groups? They are important as well. I realize that there are certain groups that have certain specialized qualifications and specialized training but, of course, all our workers, all of our employees, are important to this government. I have met with many of the unions, and obviously each group feels that they are special in some way. I can only say that all of our workers and all of our employees are special to this government. We value the work of all public sector employees, and the contributions that they make every day to the people of this Province and in the service of the people of this Province.

I think one of the things that I have learned: when I first entered public life and became elected to this House of Assembly, I don't think I appreciated, before I got here, the valuable contribution that the public servants of this Province have made, and I have learned that this government is blessed to have working for it people with the highest qualifications and people who have dedicated their lives to the service of all the other citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, I will move an amendment to the motion. I hope it is in order, but I move that the resolution be amended by deleting the last paragraph of the resolution and substituting, therefore, the following, "Therefore be it resolved that this House of Assembly calls on the Provincial Government to continue to bargain fairly and equitably with specialized professions, such as nursing, as it does with all of its employees."

Mr. Speaker, I am moving that, seconded by the Government House Leader, for your consideration, Sir.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair has been handed the amendment as put forward by the hon. Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board. The House will now take a brief recess to consider if this amendment is in order.

This House now stands in recess.


MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order please!

The Chair will just take another minute in order to get the amendment copied. I understand that the amendment is not copied for all members to see, so if we just take another second, please.

[The Chair takes a minute to copy the amendment]

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

The amendment reads, "Therefore be it resolved that this House of Assembly calls on the Provincial Government to continue to bargain fairly and equitably with specialized professions, such as nursing, as it does with all of its employees."

The Chair deems this amendment to be in order.

The hon. the Member for the District of Port de Grave.

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

Thanks for the opportunity to be able to make a few comments with regard to the motion that was put forward by the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair, and also to mention the amendment put forward by the Minister of Finance.

Mr. Speaker, when I look at the motion put forward by the Opposition Leader where it states, therefore be it resolved that this House of Assembly calls on the provincial government to end the practice of pattern bargaining when dealing with specialized professions such as nursing, and when I go to the amendment that states, the provincial government to continue to bargain fairly and equitably with specialized professionals such as nurses, I want to say, for the record, that I will not be supporting the amendment. Because I believe, regardless of what process, whether it is pattern bargaining or not, you would think that government would be dealing fairly and equitably; regardless of what situation it is. By going with the hon. member's private motion, it does not mean that there is any unfairness or whatever to any other profession, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I just want to make a few comments with regard to the situation pertaining to the nurses. I do not think this motion intends to ignore other professionals regardless of what occupation they come from, but at this point in time in our Province we know the tremendous shortage that we have with nurses and the major job that they have to do for the people of our Province and the problems that we are encountering at the present time when it comes to health care.

It has been mentioned by previous speakers that no doubt nurses are the lowest paid people in this Province when it comes to nurses compared to other provinces. The figures have been released, in some cases, by as much as 30 per cent.

All we have to do is listen to the media from time to time and listen to the nurses themselves. Only recently, there were two or three incidents, and I heard one nurse reference how she has been in the profession for quite some time and due to the stress and strain of the job and the shortage of other people there, she even went to Boston, I think it was, for an interview. It was only due to illness to a family member here in this Province, only for that reason alone, that she had not moved.

She also went on to say how she was visiting relatives in Ontario last year, and while in the airport waiting for a flight back to this Province she happened to meet two or three or four nursing students who had graduated and were returning from down South in the US where they had interviews and had accepted the offers South of the Border.

Mr. Speaker, no doubt it comes down to the amount of salary they are being paid here. We know that governments of the past found it very difficult to come up with what some of those professions were looking for, but we find ourselves in a better financial position today than we did back then. It is like this lady said, with the stress and the strain and the workload that they have, this is why a lot of our young people are leaving the Province, even though the tremendous amount of benefits they receive by leaving this Province is compared to here, is also an indicator of why they would move on.

Mr. Speaker, the motion also referenced recruitment and retention. All too often we hear about the good programs we have in the Department of Education, and the minister is after referencing several this year, and last year in the session, about training our young people. I can relate to a story where two young individuals, two females from my district, over the past three or four years, who were recipients, I guess through the Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment, and thank God, they got into a program that was there to assist them to be retrained. Both of them went in to be trained as nurses, and I am sad today to say that not one of them stayed here in our Province. That is unfortunate when we have such wonderful programs to train our young people in the different professions, and when they get that training they think the grass is greener, I guess, on the other side and they move to other provinces, or outside of our country altogether. Two of those individuals today are working, one in Ontario and one in the United States. Even though we have those tremendous benefits to help train them, we have a problem of retaining them to stay here in our Province. I think it has to do with the tremendous burden that is placed on them.

I have had the opportunity to meet with nurses at the Carbonear General Hospital from time to time, as individuals who are constituents of mine. They tell me the workload that they have, and many of them are on shifts from ten to twelve hours, and they find it very difficult. By visiting constituents from time to time, I also know what their workload is like. They hardly have time to really go and have a sensible lunch for themselves during a break.

Mr. Speaker, we hear other individuals, nurses in the profession, who talk about job fairs that come here to our Province. All too often we see those job fairs and the thousands of people who line up, going for the various skilled trades in other parts of this country. One particular nurse, I heard the comment made that there was a fair here to help nurses leave this Province and go to other areas of Canada and the United States. She was disappointed that there was nothing set up by, I guess, the health care system in our Province to say: Look, why not stay here in our Province, here are benefits that we can offer you? But that was not there and she felt that was the reason why many of them are moving on. No doubt, I think the Minister of Finance stated that it is a fierce market. It is not only here in our Province, it is worldwide, and we have to realize that; even though, we have to still try and do something to retain them here.

The problems we are encountering is not only that our young people are being trained and they move on for the bigger bucks, but we also have an aging population when it comes to many trades, and our nurses are no different. The stress with the job and the dissatisfaction is playing a major part in where we are coming from when it talks about the nurses and the tremendous job that they do for us. I know, by speaking to one of the nurses at the Carbonear Hospital, within the next ten to twelve years they are going to have a tremendous shortage because of the aging population of the nurses in that facility and if we do not see other nurses coming on stream to help build those positions, we are going to find ourselves in a very difficult position.

Mr. Speaker, we know that - and I am not going to say anything - negotiations are ongoing with the nurses, and that is not the intent that I want to make. I believe we have to look very seriously at the way we negotiate, and this is the reason the member put this private member's motion forward, that the pattern bargaining, that when we come to the professionals - and we know each and every trade in this Province, one is as important as the other, but we find ourselves in a crisis situation when it comes to the nurses.

Mr. Speaker, on that note alone, I want to say that I will be supporting the motion, and will not be supporting the amended motion. I will just pass it along, to say that, hopefully, the system will look after it. The retention of our nurses will be completed and, hopefully, the day will come when we will not have to worry. We will have sufficient nurses here to carry out the jobs and duties that they have to do for the people of this Province.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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


MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I certainly want to speak on the motion today and, indeed, on the amendment. I guess it sort of disappoints me that the hon. member is not going to support it.

If I could just read the amendment, Mr. Speaker – it says, "Therefore be it resolved that this House of Assembly calls on the Provincial Government to continue to bargain fairly and equitably with specialized professions, such as nursing, as it does with all of its employees."

Now, Mr. Speaker, I find it very troubling to vote against a statement like that. It seems very straightforward. Today, as a matter of fact, the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board had a few words and told us, in this House and the listening public, that as we speak today negotiations are ongoing with the nurses. Not only with nurses, but there have been some movements with NAPE, with CUPE and with others, Mr. Speaker. I am excited by what is happening. I certainly want to congratulate all those involved for becoming involved in the bargaining process and I think we are headed in the right direction. With all hands to the table at this time, Mr. Speaker, it is certainly good to see.

If I could, Mr. Speaker, I would certainly like to talk about nurses, just briefly. We heard earlier from the Leader of the Official Opposition that, you know, I was getting a few e-mails that she had gotten as well, and she is right. Mr. Speaker, we all know nurses. They live in our districts. They are friends of mine. I have some very good friends who are nurses. Family members – many members of this House have family members who are in the nursing profession. Mr. Speaker, I think more importantly they are our first point of contact when there is an emergency.

I have had occasion to deal with nurses in the last few years. I have nothing but respect. I was never shown anything but utmost respect for me and my family when we have been through that, Mr. Speaker. One of them a happy moment, I guess, and one of them a sad moment, but nevertheless the nurses were by our side right from the beginning. We certainly value their work. There is no doubt, Mr. Speaker, that nursing is a significant wheel in our health care profession. Certainly, we couldn't do it without them. There is no doubt that nursing is indeed a noble profession, Mr. Speaker, but I am not so sure that it is not a calling as well. Because of the items that they deal with on a daily basis, as much as it is a profession I believe, certainly, that it is a calling.

Mr. Speaker, just before I go on: The Leader of the Opposition addressed something here today, and she asked a question about it yesterday. Basically her questions were on emergency room beds and if they were shut down because of closures, closures of beds or closures of units. Mr. Speaker, just let me say for the record that that is certainly not the case. It is unfortunate that we have seasonal fluctuations in emergencies for, I guess, a variety of reasons, many of which I cannot explain. When we come to a situation whereby we have busy emergency rooms, it is certainly not, right now, because of beds closed or units closed, Mr. Speaker. This House and the general public was left with that impression, and I certainly wanted to make that rather clear, that was simply not the case, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I want to go on and talk about the nurses. The nurses are currently in negotiations with the Province, as we speak. Negotiations are always a tough row to hoe. They are certainly never easy, as we have seen in any negotiation. Anyone who has ever been involved in a negotiation realizes it is a tough to-and-fro, and certainly any time that government negotiates with anyone it is always a challenge to come up with an agreement, but it does my heart good today to hear the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board enlighten us and say that negotiations are happening as we speak.

Mr. Speaker, we all, too, in this House - and I am sure I can speak for everyone in this government - certainly hopes for a speedy resolution; because, the quicker we get this behind us, the quicker we can go on to worry about other things, and I know the nurses as well would love a speedy recovery to this issue.

Mr. Speaker, part of the original resolution talks about a fierce market competition. Now, from my conversations with nurses - and I guess I am fortunate in that I have taken on the task as Parliamentary Secretary with the current minister and I work with nurses on a daily basis, many of them taking leadership roles within the Department of Health, Mr. Speaker, very qualified, knowledgeable, with a great deal of experience, and I must add they have taught me quite a bit in the Department of Health.

Mr. Speaker, one thing I have learned since I have been with the department is that there is fierce market competition. Not only is that within this Province of Newfoundland and Labrador; it is certainly within the whole country, and not only within the whole country. We heard the Member for Port de Grave talk about an issue in Boston, where he had a constituent of his who has had an interview in Boston. Mr. Speaker, in order to go to the United States you have to have a green card in order to get a job down there. In order to get a green card, they have to show a shortage of workers in order for you to qualify for a green card.

Mr. Speaker, again it just goes to show that nurses – there is not only a shortage of nurses in this Province. It is a national issue. It is a North American issue, Mr. Speaker. It is even an international issue. It is something we have to be cognizant of; and, you are right, there is fierce competition.

I recently read somewhere, and I can't remember the Province and I can't remember exactly what the bonus was. I don't know the bonus amount, but I know it was some kind of incentive to come to the province - I think it was a western province - that actually shocked me. One of our wealthier provinces, it actually shocked me, and it followed with - they had a big, huge, problem with a shortage of nurses. With all of the incentive programs that the Americans are having, with all of the incentives that other provinces are putting out there, Mr. Speaker, they still cannot fill the needs of the nursing shortage in this province.

Mr. Speaker, let me just say as a government, and I can say certainly with great forthright, that we are open to collaborating with the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses' Union, and certainly over the past four years we have made some important investments and commitments, Mr. Speaker, to support the nursing workforce in the Province.

First of all, Mr. Speaker, the department is engaged currently in a process with stakeholders to develop a workforce action plan. Mr. Speaker, that workforce action plan is certain to enhance recruitment and retention efforts for all health care professionals, Mr. Speaker, of which I am proud to say the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses' Union are a part of that process.

Mr. Speaker, all regional health authorities have embarked on recruitment initiatives within this Province and outside of our Province. The regional health authorities have provided bonuses to recent nurses to fill difficult positions, Mr. Speaker. Like I said, recruitment is always, in the nursing profession, unfortunately, a big issue.

Labrador Grenfell, for example, Mr. Speaker, continues today to advertise in national and international papers as well as local papers, of course, and national magazines to recruit, offering a variety of things from signing bonuses to bursaries to allowances.

Mr. Speaker, I should go on to say there are some good news stories within the nursing recruitment. Certainly, Mr. Speaker, Western Health has done a very good job. I guess, in fairness, it is because of the nursing school on the West Coast of the Province. They have done a remarkable job in recruiting nurses from this Province, Mr. Speaker, to stay and work here.

As well, Mr. Speaker, last month we introduced the Registered Nurses Act, that improves accountability, professionalism and transparency in the case of disciplinary actions. Mr. Speaker, this is supported, I might add again, by the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses' Union, to show again that this government is certainly willing and have worked with the Nurses' Union - and the Province, of course, have worked well together.

Basically, Mr. Speaker, this act, what it does is allow someone, a reporting nurse, to be protected from any repercussions when acting in good faith when reporting any kind of an incident within the health care profession. As well, Mr. Speaker, we have funded educational leave for registered nurses as part of the last collective agreement.

Certainly, Mr. Speaker, our government values the dedication and commitment of the nursing workforce which numbers, right now in this Province, in excess of 5,000 people, men and women in this Province, and certainly the nurses represent the majority of the health care workforce in our Province.

Of course, Mr. Speaker, we have taken steps to assist in the sustaining of this workforce. Some of these steps that we have taken: in Budget 2007 we provided $1.6 million to complete the hiring of some public health nurses across this Province.

Now, I have had occasion to deal with public health nurses of recent - certainly, they work in communities all throughout our Province – and we have added an additional thirty-nine.

Mr. Speaker, I don't know if many of you know what public health care nurses do, but in actual fact these are the men and women who deal with our newborn babies when lucky parents bring them home. The first point of contact is usually to go to the public health nurse. They do a variety of things like weigh them, and they know how to make them scream, too, because they always have to give them a needle it seems. I always remember nurse Avery, some years ago, who made me scream ever so much, too, but it is quite common that new babies - having a one-year old, I am certainly familiar with that process. As well, Mr. Speaker, public health nurses assess the needs of our elderly and our disabled clients to determine the supports they require within the community.

We have increased funding to the Rural Student Nursing Incentive Program to assist senior Bachelor of Nursing students to complete clinical placement in rural and remote areas. We have also invested $1 million to extend the duration of an orientation program for new nursing graduates in front line practice with the program running up to eight weeks. We have the nurse practitioner primary health care bursaries where students receive a bursary of $5,000 in exchange for a one-year return in service, a program that has taken off. We have had some success with that, and are certainly working diligently to keep nurses in this Province.

As well, in our latest blueprint, in our latest policy document as a government, we have made a commitment to further increase the number of nursing seats in our nursing school. In 2007 we had approximately 187 new graduates who secured full-time permanent nursing positions in this Province. The majority of them, I might add, I am proud to say, come from Newfoundland and Labrador nursing schools. Today, Mr. Speaker, up to today's date we have hired approximately an additional 115 new graduates this year. Now, let me follow it by saying there is work to be done, and we certainly do not have all the answers but we are working on it and willing to work with the Nurses' Union to strive to come up with ways to certainly retain and recruit these nursing professions.

Mr. Speaker, as well, in the past year we have had 101 bursaries, and sign-on bonuses were approved to provide incentives to recruit Registered Nurses to difficult to fill positions, totalling almost $600,000. The majority of these, I might add, resulted in a two-year return of service commitment.

Mr. Speaker, another interesting statistic we have, is that we have the highest rate of full time nurses employed in this country. Again, I am proud to say that almost 100 per cent of these were educated right here in this Province. We are increasing employment opportunities for nursing professionals in all regions of our Province, working on it and hoping that negotiations, as the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board alluded to today, are going on. We certainly hope for a speedy resolution and it continues down the right path. Of course, I certainly cannot end without commenting on the Province's chief nurse. It was a commitment we made as a government, a couple of elections ago, and we will continue to ensure that the Province's chief nurse - that the nursing perspective is reflected in all future health policy and planning initiatives.

Now, like I have said over the last few minutes, we certainly do not have all the answers. We are working with the Nurses' Union. We have worked with the Nurses' Union in the past, and believe me when I tell you that we are not, certainly as a government, blindsided by the issues of nurses. Like I said, we have family, we have friends. I have spoken with many of them in the last several months on a number of issues they are facing. Certainly, we all share their concerns, and we share them with each other again.

So, Mr. Speaker, without any further ado, I would just like to point out that I will certainly be supporting the amendment to the resolution.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the motion that has been put on the floor by the Official Opposition.

I was very pleased to speak to the motion as they presented it, and would have been voting for that motion. I have to say that I am not going to be able to vote for the amended motion, simply because the purpose of that amendment is to ignore a reality that I think they know is there, whether they want to admit it or not, and that a lot of other people know is there. It is the whole issue of pattern bargaining. Pattern bargaining, in my book, is not something that fits within the fair collective bargaining spirit and what fair collective bargaining is all about. There is a reason why there are different bargaining units in our society. One of the reasons, and this is a big one, is because the workers in different units very often have different needs and very often they have different requirements for their work. It is just not needs, personal needs, it is different requirements for their work. At the same time, there are also different requirements for the qualifications of people doing different work. So there are a number of things around the differences of workers that requires that you have different bargaining units and different unions, even within those unions and the differing bargaining units.

The other reason why we have different units and also different bargaining units within unions is the choice of workers, that workers have the choice to choose freely who represents them. So, we may look at workers inside of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public Employees and say: Oh, they are doing the same work as some of the workers inside the Canadian Union of Public Employees, but whether the workers are inside of CUPE or inside of NAPE, those workers chose freely to be where they are in terms of who represents them. So, the first thing, for me, that really causes concern is taking away the choice of workers and not recognizing the fair collective bargaining process.

Now, am I crazy? Are my colleagues in the Official Opposition crazy when we say that it is pattern bargaining? I do not think so. I think a lot of people agree with us. I certainly have heard CUPE express its concern about the bargaining process. Not very long ago, within the past week, we have had concerns expressed by CUPE. We have had concerns expressed by the Nurses' Union as well. Now, I would like to think that this week things may be going better in the negotiations for both of these groups but we cannot ignore the fact that these unions have publicly expressed concerns.

Somebody else who has expressed concern about pattern bargaining is the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, as recently as March 15 when the Executive Director of NLMA talked about pattern bargaining. He said: I think pattern bargaining is very dangerous. Pattern bargaining makes the assumption that everything is as it should be. He went on to say: Pattern bargaining is, whoever negotiates first will determine what circumstances are for everybody else, and if the government is not going to bother with the facts, then we are doomed. I think that was an extremely important point that the Executive Director of the NLMA made, that the government has to deal with facts. The government cannot go on ignoring what people are telling them. Whether those people are nurses, whether those people are working in other services in the health care system and the public sector, facts are facts.

That leads me, then, to go on and present some facts. The Leader of the Official Opposition made reference to e-mails that are coming in to the hon. Member for Conception Bay South, he made reference to the e-mails, but neither one of them talked about the content of some of those e-mails. I am going to talk about the content of some of them, because these are the facts. I don't have the permission from the person who has sent these e-mails to table them. I don't know who this person is. It is a female nurse and we have her name. If I get the permission, I will table these e-mails, if I get that written permission from her. For the moment I can't give her name, but she is a real person, she works in ICU.

What she is doing – and I notice that my hon. colleague, the Member for Conception Bay South, didn't bother to say what she is going – is that she is documenting every time she is being called back to work. Now, this is not a part-time worker, this is a full-time worker in ICU. That means she has her regular shift all the time and she is being called back. She has bee notifying the hon. Member for Conception Bay South, myself, the Leader of the Official Opposition, the Minister of Health and the Premier. She has been writing, I presume – and I am fairly sure about this, that the Member for Conception Bay South is her MHA. The e-mails are going to him but she is copying to the rest of us, the Premier, the Minister of Health, the Leader of the Official Opposition and myself. She is sending the e-mail every time she gets called back.

Now, the government talks about facts. I heard the Member for Conception Bay South talk about facts. Well, here are some facts. This woman, since March 26 up to April 7 which was twelve days, in twelve days she got desperate callbacks three times. Now, that is on top of having done her regular shifts, and we all know what the nurses shifts are like. On top of her regular shifts she has been called back three times. Sometimes she was able to take it and sometimes she was too tired or had family obligations and could not.

She says in her e-mail of March 26: I worked a callback on Good Friday and still my phone rang on Easter Sunday to request me to work yet another shift, a full one or a partial one or anything I would be will willing to do.

She goes on, on March 31, and said that she had just gotten a 6:00 a.m. callback from work. Again her supervisor, desperate, asking her: Can't you please come in? Can you come in for any period of time at all?

In her e-mail of April 7, when she had gotten another callback – as a matter of fact, it was her weekend off and she had two calls that weekend to work an overtime shift.

I am really interested in the fact that the Member for Conception Bay South acknowledged his e-mails but did not bother to share this nurse's story here on this floor, because that is why she is sending these e-mails, so that we will start paying attention to them and start doing something about it.

Let's listen to what happened on April 7. Again that weekend two calls to work an overtime shift.

She goes on to say - she is a very understanding person - I work full time and have indicated to my manager that I have no desire to work extra. She is attempting – and this is her understanding of what the manager is under – to staff a busy ICU without adequate resources and must resort to calling nurses who would go above and beyond to provide patient care. I have great respect for her and I know she is constantly trying to improve our situation. What is our government doing regarding this?

Well, I hope to goodness that this government, at the bargaining table, is listening to the nurses and is going to do something about this.

During our election campaign – I am embarrassed reading this stuff, to think this is going on, and we all know it is going on. Before I go on I want to mention - she is talking about ICU. Two or three weeks ago, I cannot remember exactly when, oh, it was the week just before Easter, I had a man come into my office directly from the Health Sciences where he was supposed to have surgery that morning and the surgery had to be postponed. The reason it had to be postponed – and he got notice shortly before being brought into the operating room. He was all prepped and everything and his doctor had to come in and tell him that the surgery could not happen, and it could not happen because they could not handle a patient up in ICU. Now, that day it was because the beds were all full, but we have had other situations where it was because they had inadequate staff and all the beds could not be used.

This woman is not dreaming, I am not dreaming, the head of the NLMA is not dreaming nor is the President of the Nurses' Union. There is a major problem there. When the government is sitting at the table and when the government is there with the Nurses' Union, it is going to have to remember these kinds of things and it is going to have to realize that the government has to recognize the special needs with regard to nurses in this Province today. We do not have enough nurses to do the work. I know that we are dealing with shortages everywhere, so what is this government doing about, not just recruiting at the end when the nurses graduate, but getting more nurses in?

I have been reading the external review that has been done of the Regional Health Authorities in Manitoba, something that this government does not like me to talk about. I think it would do all of you a world of good and would really educate you if you were to read what they are doing over in Manitoba with regard to the shortage of personnel in the health care system. This external review has done a wonderful job of pointing out what they are doing well and what can be done better.

We have to get more imagination going with regard to getting people here trained, and that is what they are trying to do in Manitoba, looking at communities and saying: What is lacking in this community and let's really do an all out search for people who are willing to come into the medical system and let's train them to work in their own communities and let's pay them well enough so that they will become trained and will continue to stay and work in their own communities. It is an amazing study that they have done, and that is something that I wish this government would do here. It is not wrong to say we need to have an evaluation done, we need to get help, because we do need to get help. We are obviously not dealing adequately with this situation.

Now I will go on to say what I was going to say a minute ago. During the general election the Nurses' Union held a large meeting. They were actually in meetings and they invited a representative. Well, they invited the three leaders actually to meet with them. I went and the Leader of the Opposition went and there was a representative from the Cabinet of government who went. The Leader of the Progressive Conservatives did not go.

I do not think any of it, for me, was new, but it was very important to sit there in that meeting with these nurses and to listen to what was really concerning them. One of the things that I heard loud and clear on that day was, number one, the overload. We all know that, we all know the over work, we know what they are dealing with. They said: We want a level of respect at the bargaining table. We want our voices to be heard. We know what we are talking about. Why they were so frustrated - and they were frustrated that day – was, they do not think anybody is listening to them, they do not think the government is listening to them. Government is not recognizing that they have the expertise.

That meeting became a public meeting. Originally, we were told it was going to be a private meeting, but the media were outside. Two leaders who were in the general election were there, so the union decided to let them in. I am glad they did because now I can talk about one of the things that happened and was picked up and on the news that night. What it was, was that Debbie Forward got so frustrated with what was being said from the representative from the party that had been government that she just got up at the mike and she just talked about how sick and tired they were of not being listened to, and she got a standing ovation from the people who were in that room.

I am not dreaming. I am not doing this because I just want to get up here and sound good and look like I care. I do care and you have to care. We have to make sure that in the bargaining with these nurses that is going on right now - and we are not in the room, and I know you cannot speak to it, but you have to listen to what they are saying. Unless you make a real difference as a government to what you are going to be offering them, unless you make a real difference to listening to them, sitting down and planning with them the kind of things that need to be done in the health care system, then we are going to continue to lose nurses.

The last thing I would like to refer to is, to again tell you -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind the hon. member that her time has expired.

MS MICHAEL: Just one minute, please, Mr. Speaker, by leave?

MR. SPEAKER: Has leave been granted?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, just one minute.

We are not just talking about those who are in nursing now, and people like me, and people like the Executive Director of the NLMA. On March 7, I got this letter from student, and this student talked about how excited she was about the fact that the Minister of Health had come to their nursing class in October and he spent an hour discussing nursing recruitment issues. He asked, what would they like after graduation? What would help them?

She says: Our answers were simple: bursaries during year three and four, payment for clinical blocks in year three and four, similar to engineering and business students, adequate pay, mentorship following graduation, quality workplaces, not expected to work vast amounts of overtime as we see nurses work in this Province, respect for the work we do.

She wants to stay here, but after having that meeting with the minister, after reaching out to some of the health authorities in the Province to see could they help her, this summer, get a job so that she could work this summer, what she has done is - she will be going to Alberta this summer. She has been offered work there as a student. They will pay her way in May, and back in September. Also, if she signs a contract, they will provide her with a bursary of $3,000.

Members of the government, that is what we have to start doing or else we will have more letters from young women like this, and from young men, who want to stay here but cannot. This letter is a sincere letter, just like the e-mails from this woman are sincere e-mails. You have to listen, and that is what I am pleading with you today. So, no, I cannot vote for this motion because it says to me that you are not seeing reality as it is.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the extension of time.

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

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate an opportunity to have a few words in regard to the private member's motion for today. We have, of course, the private member's motion which started out here today, put forward by the Leader of the Opposition, the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair, and the resolution part of that. There is always a preamble, and the resolution part of that said, "THEREFORE BE IT RSOLVED that this House of Assembly calls on the Provincial Government to end the practice of pattern bargaining when dealing with specialized professions such as nursing that are faced with critical recruitment and retention issues."

Now the government, of course, has proposed an amendment to that resolution piece, saying, take it out, scrap that, and replace it with the following resolution, "Therefore be it resolved that this House of Assembly calls on the Provincial Government to continue to bargain fairly and equitably with specialized professions, such as nursing, as it does with all of its employees."

Just for the record, and I want it to be clear, this member, of course, for example, will definitely be voting against the amendment and consequently I will also be voting against the amended resolution. I suspect that government, in some cases, like to call a thing called Division, where, once you do that, they try to get you to stand up, and you do stand up on Division and cast your vote. I have no problem or hesitation in casting my vote, either orally or in Division, if that is the case, on this matter.

I agree, by the way, with the Chair, that the amendment is in order. Whether the amendment is in order or not is a totally different question, and does not influence how you do or do not vote, and that is the purpose I would like to explain here.

For example, the resolution itself dealt specifically with a method of bargaining, a process for bargaining, with the public sector unions, and specifically picked out what we felt, as an Opposition, and this particular private member felt, should be done by government in this case, or not done. The resolution said, don't use private bargaining, basically, for everybody; there are some specialized cases sometimes when recruitment and retention may be an issue, and we are suggesting that you should not use pattern bargaining automatically. I think it is fair to say that the government is pretty well on record as saying that pattern bargaining will be the thing. I think there were press releases or news reports citing the Premier and the Minister of Finance - I do believe the Premier himself - saying that pattern bargaining would be the way to go.

The amendment put forward here by the government is absolutely a motherhood statement - absolutely a motherhood statement. It takes away totally and absolutely from the intent and the meaning of the original resolution.

I would suspect that if this government does not deal fairly and equitably with everybody, we have a big problem. I would think that is implicit. There ought to be an assumption in the public domain that government always, without exception, whether it is public bargaining unions or whether it is even dealing with people on any number of issues, that you do so fairly and equitably. Now, that is a pretty basic statement and I do not know if, by their amendment, they are suggesting, by the converse, that we do not always deal fairly and equitably. I do not think that is the case. I do not think government is trying to suggest that we are not fair and we are not equitable, so that is a pretty good motherhood statement, but government is glossing over here what the intent of the resolution was.

It is one thing to come up and say we want some alternative to what you are suggesting. That is not what they did here in this amendment. They did not come up and say, well, we have an alternative as opposed to pattern bargaining, some other process, or even get up and argue why we are going to vote against pattern bargaining, just suggesting let's be fair and equitable to everybody, a motherhood statement.

There are all kinds of processes that could be used in the bargaining process. There are all kinds of ways. For example, pattern bargaining is only one method or process that you might use in bargaining. You might agree, it might be an arbitration process that we are dealing with. It might be a binding arbitration process that we are dealing with. It might be, as we saw from this government back in 2004, I believe, back-to-work legislation and a mandated contract.

Again, that brings me to the point, I do not know if the people in the public sector felt that was necessarily fair and equitable either. There was certainly a lot of racket about that one back at the time when the government imposed the legislation and contract and legislated the unions of this Province back to work. I suggest that we have not had a lot of experience with this government actually exhibiting fairness and equity in all cases. The union certainly did not think so.

There are all kinds of ways that you might go about arriving at a contract, and I just cited some of them. All we are saying in our main resolution is, pattern bargaining need not be, and should not be in certain cases, such as nurses, that process. That was what was proposed.

Government had the option here today to say we either agree or disagree. If the Premier's position was, as publicly stated, that it is going to pattern bargaining, why wouldn't the government members be on their feet saying: Look, we understand where you are coming from. You have your right to stand up and propose what you want, but we as a government decided against that. We are not going to go pattern bargaining. We said that.

Why do you cat and mouse about, with amendments, trying to make motherhood statements? Why wouldn't the government have the gumption to stand up, if that is their position, and their stated public position, that we are against this resolution? Why wouldn't they just stand up and say: Who are we trying to fool here? Who are we trying to be too cute with, in putting amendments forward? Why wouldn't we just vote it down? Government's stated position is: We don't agree with pattern bargaining - instead of giving this amendment here, saying fair and equitable.

I would say, at the end of the day, if the government is going to do any kind of negotiation, and the implicit understanding of everybody when you go to negotiations is that you go in good faith - I think that is implicit in any kind of negotiation, that we are not going in there with any skullduggery in mind. We are not going in here that we are going to do anybody. We are going into here in good faith. So, that is fine to come up with this motherhood statement, but it begs the point.

This private member, the Leader of the Opposition, said where she stands on that patterning bargaining and made a good case as to why there may be cases when you should not use it. Instead of that, the government comes back, too cute by half, as some people said in this House many times – instead of saying where they stand, instead of having the gumption to stand up and say we disagree with it, and these are our reasons, sorry, we made that decision consciously and that is where we stand, they come back and say, we will get around it this way. We are going to say we are going to be fair and equitable to everybody.

Well, I would say, God forbid, if they are not fair and equitable to everybody and I would think there are some things that need not be stated. When the government got to be too cute by half in getting around straightforward resolutions by using stuff like saying we are going to be fair and equitable, I do not know who you have to sell on that and I do not know if there is any need for the government to sell anybody on that, because if you are fair and you are equitable, it should be obvious, and that applies no matter what the process is. Even if it is back-to-work legislation, I would think at the end of the day the government wants to be able to say we were fair and we were equitable. It might not have been everything we wanted to give you, but we were fair and equitable as best we could be under the circumstances. If it is arbitration, it is the same thing. You have to live with the award, no matter what it is. We are going to be fair and we are going to be equitable when we go into the arbitration process in putting forward our position and we have to live with the result if it is a binding arbitration.

So, that is why this member, for the record, will be voting against the amendment. I do not think there is any need for this type of cat and mouse stuff. If the resolution is clear, the government stands on a policy which is publicly stated by the Premier of this Province and the leader of this government that we are going to have pattern bargaining and the resolution says this member does not think it should be in all cases, such as nurses. If the government cannot stand up and say we disagree with you and vote it down as it is, I think we have a problem here. I think the public ought to see and understand - and the people do get an appreciation for that stuff.

I have had several speeches in this House since the House resumed this spring about openness and accountability, and the people are starting to see that thing. When people do not get a straightforward answer or reaction, they start to say: What is going on here? Why did they ask for this and the government is over there cat and mousing with this? The people are to the point now, I think, in the public domain where they are saying: Tell us like it is. Don't go coming up with all kinds of ways to do something. If you believe in what you are saying and you state what you believe, get to the point. You either agree or disagree with that crowd over there, the Opposition, and tell them so. We are voting it down, period. What would be the consequence of it? I am sure Ms Forward, the head of the Nurses' Union, is not going to be shocked with that revelation, that the government members voted against this resolution. I think she is quite aware that the Premier is on record as saying he does not agree with it. So why do we need this cat and mouse stuff?

For the record, that is why I will be voting against the amendment. I think it is an unnecessary motherhood statement, that rather than put anything constructive on the table here only makes one question, why would a government ever have to state such an obvious thing that we are going to be fair and equitable? Therefore I will vote against it. Again, because I think it is just a way to not address the issue in an upfront, forward manner. It is a way to gut the principle resolution without having the guts to say where you stand on it. That is why we will be voting against the amended resolution.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. RIDEOUT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I, too, would like to have a few words to say on this resolution today and on the amendment in particular. I must say, I was enthralled listening to the Opposition House Leader make his pronouncements. Maybe, like my friend, Ron Fitzgerald in Baie Verte would say, it might be better to say I was struck amazed to listen to the Opposition House Leader and his logic, or perhaps it was his lack of logic I am talking about. I will not go back too far in history. I will not go back to 1975 because the Opposition House Leader will say: Well, I was not here then. How old do you think I am? I cannot remember back that far. I will not go back that far.

Mr. Speaker, let me go back to 1999. I came back into this House as the Member for Lewisporte in 1999. I believe the Opposition House Leader was here then. In fact, he was a minister in a government over here - or shortly after became a minister in a government over here. You know, Mr. Speaker, I was letting my mind wonder over what has happened on private member's days during a number of those Parliaments from 1999 up to today in 2008. I cannot remember one - I am sure there probably was one, there might have been two or three. But I cannot, for the life of me - and I have a half decent memory - remember once when the Opposition of the day - us, in other words, when we were over there sitting where those hon. members are sitting now - proposed a motion, a private member's motion, about government policy that did not get gutted. Not once can I remember that the Government House Leader of the day used to take it upon himself, the member then - I believe he was Bonavista North, Mr. Beaton Tulk. We used to call him the incredible Tulk, Mr. Speaker, when we were over there. We used to call him the government bully when we were over there. As a matter of fact, I remember when I was over there telling the story about the government ram, that I said had a useful benefit out in rural Newfoundland, but here was this government Tulk over here who had no useful benefit to anybody. The point of the matter is, Mr. Speaker, in a kind of a lighthearted way, is simply this –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Poor old Beaton.

MR. RIDEOUT: Poor old Beaton, yes. I tell you, Mr. Speaker, I will never beat down Beaton in this House as often as he tried to beat me down. So, I am not concerned about that, Mr. Speaker, and I am sure he is not. I make the point for this reason, that it is quite common for Oppositions to propose private member's resolutions that do not exactly meet with the favour of a majority of the House. Now that is the penetrating insight into the obvious, I know, but nevertheless, that happens quite frequently and quite often in this place. So what did the incredible Tulk and others do over time, Mr. Speaker? As those resolutions came forward they were tinkered with, they were played with, they were amended to try to make them more acceptable to a larger majority in the House. A penetrating insight into the obvious, Mr. Speaker. That is what parliamentary debate is all about.

This resolution, Mr. Speaker, as proposed by the Opposition, was proposed to try to back the government into a corner. It would not be binding on the government anyway, but to back the government into a corner while we are negotiating with all of our employees.

Well, Mr. Speaker, I do not know how stunned you think we are, but we are not that stunned. We are going to propose an amendment, if it is acceptable to and ruled in order by the Speaker, that makes the resolution a little bit more acceptable to the majority of the House. I would say that despite the obvious coming from the Opposition House Leader, there is not a soul out there in rural Newfoundland, in his TV land that he talks about, there is not a soul out there who is enthralled by this debate today, who might be struck amazed by this debate today, who is surprised that the government would not try to modify, would not attempt, would not ask the House to pass a resolution that is more acceptable to a majority of the House. That is all we have done, and we are not against…. It is like Mackenzie King used to say: Pattern bargaining, if necessary, but not necessarily pattern bargaining.

It may be pattern bargaining, but it will be bargaining, and it is not going to be bargaining that is going to be dictated to the government by a resolution of the House that may or may not be appropriate. Who knows? We may very well be doing something special as a result of collective bargaining with our nurses, or with doctors, or with LPNs, or with teachers. There is a whole range of professional specialized people. Everybody who works for the public service is specialized in some way, and that has to be recognized.

To insist that the House be tied and bound, and the government be tied and bound, by a resolution - it would not be bound by it, but the Opposition would be holding it over our head, and the various unions in the Province, and rightly so, would be holding it over our heads: You voted for this; you supported this. How come you are not prepared to live by this?

Well, perhaps we shall, but what we have here, Mr. Speaker, and what we have proposed in the amendment, is something that does not throw out that particular option, does not say that cannot happen, but it leaves the collective bargaining to the collective bargaining process. It asks the government, as everybody in this Province can be sure, it asks the government to be fair, to be reasonable, and to deal with all of our employees equitably. That you can go to the bank with. We will do what we can afford to do to those people who work for the public service of this Province who, in the hard times, who, when times were tough, had to, either by being forced to do it because we had no other choice, or by doing it voluntarily through the collective bargaining position, put their shoulder to the wheel, who helped this Province out. We are not the type of government that goes out and bargains collectively 7 per cent, 8 per cent or 10 per cent just to get a collective agreement, and comes in and asks the House of Assembly to tear it up. We do not do that.

We did it the hard way back four years ago because that was the circumstance that we faced at that particular time. We offered, in our view, fair and reasonable wage increases after a period of a freeze to our employees and it did not get accepted so we did what we had to do at the end of the day. I hope there will be something different that will evolve from the collective bargaining process this time. I believe it will. I have no doubt that it will, under the capable leadership of the President of Treasury Board –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: - that we will be able to satisfy the legitimate needs and desires of the people who work for the public of Newfoundland and Labrador, but we are not about – sure, we could vote down the resolution as proposed by the Leader of the Opposition. What would that do? We would have the Leader of the Opposition and everybody else out accusing the government of wanting to get into a row with the unions. Well, Mr. Speaker, we happen to be bargaining at this moment. We happen to be at the bargaining table as we speak, as far as I know, with some of our bargaining agents, and we are not about to disrupt that in any way. We are not about to impede that in any way. We are not about to send any wrong messages. We are going to let that process happen.

This amendment allows for that process to happen, and it allows for it to happen without inflaming any situations. It allows for it to happen where cool heads prevail around the bargaining table. It does not tie anybody's hands. It just allows the process to take its place and, in the course of that process taking its place, there is one thing you can be sure: This government will be fair, it will be equitable, and it will treat our employees with the integrity and the honesty that they deserve. That, Mr. Speaker, you can go to the bank with.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition, to close the debate.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to have a few words in closing the debate on the motion today.

I was disappointed to see that government would make an amendment that really had very little relevance upon what the content or the purpose of the motion was in the first place. Anyway, we know and we expect in all cases that governments would have negotiations that are fair and equitable with all public service unions in this Province, and indeed with all individuals who come to government on a negotiating basis, regardless of whether they are an employee through a collective agreement process or not.

Mr. Speaker, the motion was not to ask government to be fair and equitable with all of these unions in their negotiations - it is a given on our part that they indeed will be - but, Mr. Speaker, we wanted to highlight the significant issues and problems that are facing nurses in our Province today. That was the idea of bringing forward this motion today. It was not only to highlight the significance of their issues and their problems, and at the critical stage that they now find themselves, but also to ask government to be aware and to be cognizant and to be creative in dealing with the nurses in this Province to ensure that they have agreements that are going to meet their needs and allow them to be able to recruit and retain for that profession to ensure that the integrity of our health care system is maintained throughout the Province.

Mr. Speaker, I still believe, in listening to these nurses and what they have to say, in listening to their leader, the head of the union, in listening to the Medical Association, in receiving and reading the e-mails that I have had from nurses over the last number of weeks in this Province, and in engaging in conversations with them, because I have visited a number of the hospitals in the Province and have met with nurses and talked to them about their workloads and their schedules and the expectations required of them in their daily jobs, Mr. Speaker, it is a major problem that is existing, and it cannot be underestimated.

Whether government chooses to deal with nurses in pattern bargaining, non-pattern bargaining mechanisms or not, they cannot ignore for much longer the problem that exists there, and that is a problem of a major shortage. When I talk about the fact that there are 440 nurses who are not working in our system today - we are short - I am only talking about the numbers of nurses who are being advertised for. I am not talking about the actual numbers of shortages that exist.

I want to explain that for a minute, because what happens is that oftentimes you have a nurse who is working in a hospital, applying for another position internally, being transferred into that position, and then their position is being left vacant and not filled. It may take months before those jobs ever reach the level of where they are being advertised or posted for new people to apply. So, the numbers that we are dealing with today are the numbers of postings, not the actual numbers of shortages that exists within our system. Actually, the shortages of nurses are even much higher than that and I would even guess, Mr. Speaker, that we are looking at probably adding another 150 to 200 nurses on top of the 440, if you want to get into what the actual numbers are, of vacancies in our hospital system.

Mr. Speaker, there has been some support regardless of the fact that government does not see this as something they need to be looking at in non-pattern negotiating, or looking at in some kind of a special way in negotiating with nurses. Irregardless of the fact that they do not see it from that particular perspective there are many others who do, and many others who are using our health care system today are realizing that these nurses are overworked and that the expectations that are placed on them is causing unnecessary stress and sickness in the workplace. You hear it all the time.

When have you ever heard a patient talk about their hospital stay and not compliment the nurses, the physicians and the staff that have taken care of them, Mr. Speaker? At the end of every compliment they say, but they are overworked, but there are so few of them, but they are doing the best that they can. That recognition is out there right across the board and anyone who does not see it is not wanting to see it. They are closing their eyes to it because it does exist.

We know today that there are surgeries being cancelled in hospitals because of shortages of nurses and we know, Mr. Speaker, that these nurses are doing everything that they possibly can.

I did not read from some of the e-mails that I had when I opened my comments, and I am going to read a couple of the quotes now because I think that they need to be read.

Mr. Speaker, this one lady who sent me an e-mail said the super human nurse is expected to work in highly stressful situations dealing with life and death.

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

I think the instructions have already been given in the House not to read from documents if you refer to them.

MS JONES: Okay, well I do apologize, Mr. Speaker, but let me just say that some of the comments –

MS MICHAEL: A point of order, Mr. Speaker.

I questioned the Speaker on (inaudible).

[The remainder of Ms Michael's comments were inaudible due to technical difficulties]

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

MR. RIDEOUT: To that point of order - I do not want to interrupt the hon. member and we can probably have a further discussion on it later, but if there is an exchange between the hon. Leader of the Third Party and the Speaker then we are not aware of that and perhaps Your Honour was not even aware of it. Whatever it was that happened that was not acceptable we would probably have to just park it for now and deal with it when the Speaker has an opportunity to deal with it.

In the meantime, we are not about to object to the Leader of the Opposition using a piece of information if that is what it was all about.

MR. SPEAKER: Given the consent of the hon. Government House Leader, the hon. Leader of the Opposition can carry on.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and certainly thank you to my colleagues for allowing leave for this.

These e-mails are from nurses in the Province and I just want to read some of the things that they have been saying. It is important to understand the position that they are faced with each and every day.

The super-human nurse is expected to work in highly stressful situations, dealing with life and death and still maintain critical thinking skills without any regular meals and no opportunity to relax or take a break for that full day. Mr. Speaker, that was sent just to get an understanding of the kind of stressful situation that they are often placed in.

This one nurse who wrote had worked 16 hours that day, had pulled a double shift, had not had any breaks, or very little, and had not had an opportunity to relax, but was dealing with life and death situations for that period of time.

Mr. Speaker we cannot allow people to be stressed to the max and in serious points of anxiety who are out there working in these particular fields. They only tell you this because they want to emphasize the fact that they need to have supports, they need to have changes and they need to have more staff.

Mr. Speaker, this particular e-mail in fact was sent to my colleague, the Member for Conception Bay South, I think it is one of his constituents, and it was copied to me. It says: As promised, I am e-mailing you regarding call backs to work. On March 24 and 25 I was scheduled to work night shifts. I received my second call on Easter Sunday, requesting me to work on Monday morning because the staffing situation was critical. Three nurses were short in a busy ICU, so at 10:40 p.m. Easter night, when I was looking forward to spending a day at home with my children on Easter Monday, I had to sacrifice my family again and agreed to go to work.

Now, Mr. Speaker, these are the situations that these nurses are being faced with, and I do not have to tell you that as the shortage of 440 nurses continues to climb, that these situations are going to become even more desperate for the people who work in that field.

This particular e-mail was from another nurse in another region of the Province. She says: In our region we are short over 70 nurses in the next couple of months, and I believe that these are desperate times. We have nurses that are not tied to any particular thing in this Province and they are leaving in droves. Why are they leaving? Because of the added stress, mentally and physically, that is being placed upon them as they work in this profession in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Now, Mr. Speaker, some of these things, I am sure, these e-mails are being received by other government members. I know most of them are being received by the minister because he has been copied on a lot of the ones that I have been copied on. He must realize by now that these nurses are not just out there making statements or wanting to have themselves heard, they are actually posing some very legitimate cases and some very legitimate situations that they are finding themselves in, in the workforce.

Nursing sick leave is up because of increased overtime that people are required to work in that profession. Some hospital units are run on overtime shifts alone. The study showed that nurses who work in excess of twelve-and-a-half hours in one shift were three times as likely to make a patient care mistake than nurses who work up to eight-and-a-half hours in a shift with the greatest number of mistakes being made being relative to medications. Mr. Speaker, I think we have heard that information here in the House of Assembly before. It is not uncommon for some nurses to work sixteen hours, and double shifts have become the routine for the nursing profession in Newfoundland and Labrador. That is what they have written.

Mr. Speaker, not only are the nurses themselves out there saying this and not only are the patients recognizing it as they are using the hospital system and also because of the cancellations that are ongoing, but there are others that are recognizing the problems as well. The Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association has certainly come out in support of these nurses and have said that they need to look at pattern bargaining with government if they are to be able to correct some of these problems that have faced them.

So, Mr. Speaker, we presented the motion today, not to call upon government to be fair and equitable with negotiations with unions in the Province, that was not what we asked at all, that we expect, that we assume to be a given of any government. What we asked for was that the issues of nurses be treated seriously, that non-pattern bargaining be looked at in addressing the problem that they are being faced with, and that government start realizing that this problem has escalated year over year over year to the problems that we have today. They are critically impacting the delivery of heath care in this Province, and all areas of the Province, but more importantly, the largest shortage of nurses we have is right here in the St. John's region, where all the critical care for this Province is being performed, where the major hospitals that are being used by people all over the Province are, and this is where we have the largest number of shortages right now, somewhere around 380 postings for nurses alone just in the St. John's area.

So, Mr. Speaker, on that note, I will conclude my comments and I certainly hope that members would support the motion not being amended but I guess that will not be the case.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order, please!

Is the House ready for the question?

Shall the amendment carry?

All those in favour, 'aye'.


MR. SPEAKER: All those against, 'nay'.

The amendment is carried.

On motion, amendment carried.

MR. SPEAKER: Shall the resolution as amended carry?

All those in favour, 'aye'.


MR. SPEAKER: All those against, 'nay'.

The resolution as amended is carried.

On motion, resolution as amended carried.

MR. SPEAKER: Being 4:52 in the afternoon - the hon. Government House Leader.

MR. RIDEOUT: Mr. Speaker, before you move the automatic adjournment - and I do realize that is the case, today is Wednesday, but with the concurrence of my colleagues, I wanted to come back to the matter involving the Committee on Elections and Privileges that was struck yesterday. I would like to move the addition of two members to that committee, my colleague, the Member for Placentia & St. Mary's, and the hon. the Member for Port de Grave. I so move that those two members be appointed to the Committee and I would ask that we vote on that at this moment, if we could, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Members have had an opportunity to hear the addition to the Privileges and Elections Committee.

All those in favour of the motion signify by saying ‘Aye'.


MR. SPEAKER: Against, if any?

The motion is carried.

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. RIDEOUT: Now, Mr. Speaker, being Wednesday, I think we can adjourn until tomorrow, Thursday at 1:30.

MR. SPEAKER: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 of the clock tomorrow, being Thursday.

This House is now adjourned.