May 1, 2008                HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS              Vol. XLVI   No. 20

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order please!

Admit strangers.

Today, the Speaker would like to welcome to the House of Assembly eighteen Level I and Level II students from St. James' Regional High School in the District of Burgeo & LaPoile. The students are accompanied by their Guidance Counsellor, Ms JoAnn O'Brien, Vice-Principal, Mr. Dave Clarke, and chaperone, Ms Eleanor Clarke.

Welcome to the House of Assembly.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Speaker would also like to recognize Mr. Jim Rourke, Dean of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical School, who is visiting the House of Assembly today.


SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

Statements by Members

MR. SPEAKER: Today, members' statements will be from: the hon. the Member for the District of Topsail; the hon. the Member for the District of Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi; the hon. the Member for the District of Port au Port; the hon. the Member for the District of Fortune Bay-Cape la Hune; the hon. the Member for the District of Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans; and, the hon. the Member for the District of Mount Pearl North.

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

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services, on a point of order.

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Yesterday in this House I was responding to a question from the Leader of the Opposition and I misunderstood her question, so I want to make a correction to my answer today.

I had indicated, in response to her question – I am just citing from Hansard, now - with respect to the $100 per month as a part of our progressive family growth benefit program. I think her example that she shared was someone who was on maternity leave prior to January 1, and whether they would be entitled to the $100 benefit.

MS JONES: (Inaudible).

MR. WISEMAN: I apologize, Mr. Speaker, but I misunderstood her question.

The benefits, the total benefit program, comes into effect January 1, so it applies to individuals who have a child from January 1, 2008 onward, both for the income piece together with the $1,000 per child.

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair appreciates the point of clarification.

There is no point of order, but the Chair appreciates the point of clarification as brought forward by the Minister of Health and Community Services.

The hon. the Member for the District of Topsail.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS E. MARSHALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the Queen Elizabeth Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corp 2562 has a long and proud history in the Towns of Conception Bay South and Paradise. Since its formation in 1955, 2562 has contributed to the development of hundreds of youth in the community. There are presently fifty-seven proud cadets who are members of this Cadet Corp.

Mr. Speaker, the 2562 Army Cadet Corp operates under the leadership of Captain Rod Priddle, who is supported by a staff of civilian volunteers, reservists and Cadet Instructor Cadre officers. They are sponsored by Branch 50 of the Royal Canadian Legion in Kelligrews.

Mr. Speaker, training at 2562 runs from September to May and includes, among other things, theoretical and practical instruction in drill, bushcraft, map and compass, marksmanship, citizenship, leadership and physical fitness.

Of particular interest and pride is the Scuba Diving Program, which has been very successful, earning 2562 national recognition with the receipt of the Gerard Buckley Cadet Fund Award. As part of this prestigious award, 2562 will receive a monetary contribution of $3,000 toward their Scuba Diving Program.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this House to join me in congratulating 2562 Queen Elizabeth Army Cadet Corp on this outstanding achievement of national recognition, and for the opportunities they provide for the development of our youth in the community.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to stand in the House today and recognize a wonderful young man in my District of Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi.

Jordan Keating is a fifteen-year-old Grade 9 student at Brother Rice Junior High. He was nominated by Rogers Television for a Volunteer of the Year Award which he received at a ceremony making Volunteer Week, this past Sunday night.

The staff at Rogers Television describe Jordan as "a very valuable volunteer, eager to learn all aspects of production. His commitment to the volunteer program and his willingness to fill in, in a pinch, is regarded with much appreciation."

As matter of fact, Krissy Holmes, one of the Out of the Fog hosts, jokes that "Jordan is one of those guys who pops up just about everywhere, volunteering his heart out. And if he is not careful, he is going to get a job one of these days." Not bad for a fifteen-year-old.

Everyone who knows Jordan is impressed by his enthusiasm, unflagging energy and desire to be around until all the work is done. He is a wonderful example of the many young people who are involved in volunteerism in our Province.

I ask all members of the House to congratulate Jordan on receiving the volunteer award and wish him luck in the future.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. CORNECT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, when Stephenville Theatre Festival opens on July 2, 2008, it will mark its thirtieth season of providing outstanding professional theatre to Newfoundland and Labrador. We in Stephenville are proud that it was Maxim Mazumdar and others in Stephenville – their vision - that created the first professional summer theatre festival in this Province, which led to the creation of so many more, like those at Trinity, Gros Morne and Grand Bank.

When Mazumdar founded this professional theatre company in Stephenville in April of 1979, there were many who thought he was totally crazy. Who would come? Better still, who would work there?

Well, Mr. Speaker, we are very proud that twenty years after Maxim's untimely passing, we are about to celebrate the thirtieth season of this amazing, internationally known company. Stephenville's production of Heave Away, a newly created work celebrating traditional and contemporary music of Newfoundland and Labrador, represented our Province in Yakumo, Japan, in November of 2007, and received excellent notice by the staff of the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo.

Stephenville Theatre Festival has survived for many reasons, but mainly because it is a community project – created by, for and with the people at home. With the help of our government, and our citizens, and the artists who make it happen, Stephenville Theatre Festival remains, surviving and thriving in its thirtieth season.

So, Mr. Speaker, I ask all hon. members of this hon. House to join me in congratulating the Stephenville Theatre Festival on its thirtieth season, and I take this opportunity to invite you to Stephenville to take in a show or two.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Fortune Bay and Cape la Hune.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS PERRY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise in this hon. House today to commend the Lions Clubs in the District of Fortune Bay-Cape la Hune for their dedication to helping our youth develop leadership skills, in particular, for the time they devote to holding annual Lions Clubs Speak Outs.

This forum provides young people with the opportunity to learn about important topics of relevance in today's society, develop public speaking skills, and build self-confidence that they can use throughout their entire lives as they pursue various career paths and make their own volunteer contributions in the years to come.

In the district this year, the first place winners at the local clubs were Andrew Bullen of English Harbour West, Shelby Parsons of Bay d'Espoir, Samantha Lambert of Harbour Breton, and Raman Sohi of Hermitage.

Ms Sohi went on to win the zone speak out, and I am delighted to report that she was also the winner of the Lions 41-S1 district competition in Grand Falls-Windsor on April 4. She spoke about the importance of vaccination for the human papilloma virus, seeking to increase awareness of the virus and the vaccination – and she has indeed succeeded! Raman will be representing the Province at the next round of competition in Prince Edward Island in May, where she will compete with contenders from all across Atlantic Canada and the State of Maine.

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all members of this House join me and my constituents in thanking the many Lions Club Volunteers for the invaluable contributions they make to members of our communities, and to congratulate Raman Sohi for her remarkable success in both public speaking and raising awareness about a topic of significant importance to the young females of our great Province. Well done!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In early March of this year, the best and the brightest from business schools in Eastern Canadian colleges and universities gathered in Halifax to compete for the ACE (Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship) regional titles.

I am particularly pleased to report that one team from the Grand Falls-Windsor campus of the College of the North Atlantic competed in the Students in Free Enterprise Financial Educational Challenge and succeeded in achieving second place honours and a cash prize of $500. Team members were: Herman Calderon, Melinda Hemeon, and Kyne Lynn Williams. On behalf of this House, I extend congratulations to them on a job well done.

A second team from the Grand Falls-Windsor campus of CNA competed in the TD Entrepreneurship Challenge and, Mr. Speaker, they were declared the champions for all of Eastern Canada and awarded a cash prize of $1,500. This team consisted of: Tammie Greening, Sarah Kelly, and Kenneth Williams. Coaches for both teams were Suzanne Ivey and Teri Lynn Oldford.

As ACE champions, this team from Grand Falls-Windsor will now represent Eastern Canada in the final round of competition in Toronto from May 12 to May 14. The Grand Falls-Windsor campus of the College of the North Atlantic will be recognized as one of the top six schools in Canada in competing for this prestigious award.

No doubt, Mr. Speaker, our schools are doing an excellent job in preparing the next generations of business leaders and entrepreneurs to play a profound role in the shaping of future economies.

I ask all hon. members of this House to join me in offering congratulations to both teams from Grand Falls-Windsor and their coaches, and in wishing Tammie, Sarah, and Kenneth the very best of luck as they compete for the national title.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Mount Pearl North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise in this hon. House today to congratulate the Town of Paradise on a successful winter carnival, Snow & Ice in Paradise. This event took place back in February.

This was my first year attending the Paradise winter carnival, and I was very impressed with the variety of events organized by the carnival committee. Winter can be a down time for many people. I think it is wonderful to engage the community and have them participate in various events and activities. Regardless of age, the Snow & Ice in Paradise winter carnival had something for everyone. Special thanks to the Paradise Town Council, and in particular to Steve Hobbs, the town's events coordinator. I look forward to attending Snow & Ice in Paradise again next year, and invite all of the residents to join me. There truly is something for everyone!

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this House to join me in congratulating the Town of Paradise, as well as the organizing committee of the Snow & Ice in Paradise winter carnival in hosting a truly wonderful winter event.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Statements by Ministers.

Statements by Ministers

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise in this House today to congratulate Memorial University of Newfoundland's Faculty of Medicine on its Rural Education Award from the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada.

The award is designated to the Canadian medical school which matches the most graduates to a rural family practice program for their residency. I am proud to say that in 2007, Memorial University placed 26 per cent of its graduates in a rural family medicine practice. This is a significant achievement, especially given the national average for rural placement is only 7 per cent and the next highest medical school match was only 13 per cent of its graduates, half as much as Memorial University.

Mr. Speaker, this accomplishment acknowledges the excellent opportunities that the medical school offers students to experience practice in rural communities during each of the three years of the program. As well, 40 per cent of our medical school students are originally from rural communities and we know that medical graduates with a rural background are more likely to choose a medical career right here in Newfoundland and Labrador. Furthermore, initiatives by our government are working to enhance physician recruitment and retention, especially in rural areas.

Our government knows very well the value in training more of our own people to build upon our workforce of physicians. Budget 2008 includes $4 million to expand Memorial University's medical school to increase the number of spaces for students – another Blueprint commitment fulfilled.

Mr. Speaker, improving access to health care services is one of the top priorities of our government and we invest over $6 million annually in physician recruitment and retention initiatives. Over the last three years, we have awarded 117 bursaries to seventy-nine post-graduate residents who have committed to provide medical services in areas of need in the Province upon graduation, including twenty-seven family practice bursaries.

We have acted and have been successful in recruiting more physicians to Newfoundland and Labrador. The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador currently has the most physicians in practice in its history. It is our promise to continue building on this number to improve access to physician services for the people of our Province.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am certainly pleased today to congratulate Memorial University and the faculty of medicine for the work that they are doing in trying to recruit rural graduates in Newfoundland and Labrador to stay and practice in our Province.

Mr. Speaker, I know that this is not an easy task for them, even at the best of times, even when you have a 40 per cent occupancy rate of our own graduates from rural regions going into that particular faculty because we do have to be competitive with the rest of the country. I also realize that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, while we may be deeply rooted in our community and in our Province, that sometimes even that devotion is often marred by the tremendous workloads that we have with those particular occupations; sometimes the remunerations, the benefits that are offered to us in relation to other opportunities that exist across the country. So you do have to be competitive.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, I am proud to say that there are a number of people from my own district who I know have graduated medical school here in this Province. One, I made a statement on last week, who is now practicing here at St. Clare's, but I also have family members who graduated from the Faculty of Medicine here, who are working today in Western Canada - actually, a couple of them – simply because they are able to get a better quality of work, less workload, and more remuneration.

So, we cannot ignore the fact that we still have shortages of physicians in this Province, that we still have to maintain a competitive edge, and we have to give the supports that are needed to that faculty to ensure that we continue to place and fill physicians in family practice in this Province.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

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

I am sure the hon. minister will get his chance in a minute to make his statement.

I thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement – the Minister of Health, that is – and I am also pleased to have the opportunity to congratulate the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial University on receiving the Rural Education Award for their work on securing twenty-six of its graduates residencies in rural practice. This is a wonderful achievement by the Faculty of Medicine.

I know that they are working very diligently to recruit students from our Province to stay, and this achievement, with regard to residencies, I hope, will soon become stronger when it comes to retention. It is one thing to have the students choosing residencies, but we also have to retain our physicians.

As we know, we still do have a major problem with regard to adequate family physicians in rural Newfoundland. It is in some of the urban centres, too, but especially in rural. The fact that we have communities like Labrador City, Wabush and Gander – just to name three – who are looking at how they, as municipalities, can put incentives in to have family physicians come to where they are is a sign of how much work still has to be done, and I would like to see the Province doing more with regard to retention so that municipalities do not have to fight with one another in looking for physicians.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further statements by ministers.

The hon. the Minister of Labrador Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HICKEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise to inform all hon. members of this government's ongoing efforts in Labrador to support healthy living through the Air Foodlift Subsidy program administered by the Department of Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs.

As the members opposite are well aware, on Tuesday this government delivered an historic Budget that will see Newfoundland and Labrador soon cast off our have-not status. Mr. Speaker, the Williams government has delivered a fiscal plan for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that is meeting today's challenges, with a view for long-term prosperity.

As the Minister of Labrador Affairs, I was especially pleased to see in Budget 2008 unprecedented spending through the Northern Strategic Plan for Labrador. Part of the goal of this plan is to address the challenges faced by the people of Labrador. This includes making sure that they have access to nutritious foods that are affordable, particularly in winter months when transportation routes are especially challenged. We do this through the Air Foodlift Subsidy Program. In Budget 2008, Mr. Speaker, the annual budget for the program has been increased from $400,000 to $600,000.

Mr. Speaker, the Air Foodlift Subsidy Program is providing the people of Coastal Labrador access to nutritious perishable foods during the winter months at reasonable prices. Extensive community consultations have resulted in positive enhancements to the Air Foodlift Subsidy program, such as beginning the program earlier in the season and providing a healthier food item list. The ongoing improvements and increased investments in the program, based on community consultations, are a testament to this government's firm commitment to the coastal people of Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, the standard of living on the Coast of Labrador is continuing to improve year after year. According to a recent federal survey, in 2007 a family of four living on the North Coast of Labrador had the lowest weekly food cost of all of the northern isolated communities surveyed.

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador remains firmly and deeply committed to the Air Foodlift Subsidy program. We will continue to monitor the program closely and value all public input as we work to further improve this vital service.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I say to the minister that we are always pleased to see more money being put into programs to help offset the cost of living of people in this Province, and I think it is only appropriate.

This is a program that we started when we were in government, recognizing that there was a huge discrepancy between what it was costing a family to live in northern regions of our Province compared to other regions.

What I am not clear of today, Mr. Speaker, is if this extra money will go to expand upon the list of eligible products that will now be available to be subsidized going into the communities or if it will increase the amount of subsidy that is paid out on goods. As it is right now, we are paying about seventy or eighty cents, I think, in freight but we are being reimbursed at about thirteen cents, I say to the minister, and I think he knows that. Some changes in the program last year - whether he did consultation or not, I am unaware - changes in the program such as the dairy program, in which the wholesalers were not claiming the rebate now but the retailers were, caused a tremendous increase in the price of milk products on the Coast. In fact, back in the spring I was paying $5.80 for a 2-litre carton of milk which was up about seventy cents more than it was the year before simply because of changes that were made in the program.

I say, if you are going to make changes, if you are going to enhance it, do it so that the benefits are accruing to the people who need the program. Increase the rate from thirteen cents and ensure that things like milk products are not measured in terms of the costs with Iqaluit and Kuujjuaq but rather it is measured in costs with Goose Bay and St. Anthony and those areas next to these Labrador communities that are having their freight brought in by road.

We welcome the extra money, but I hope that the program will be revamped so that we can see the subsidy better put to use and reach the consumers in a much more positive way than we did with the change in the spring.

Thank you.

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

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

I thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement.

I am very happy to see the increase in the aid that is being given to the air foodlift that has to happen for people in Coastal Labrador. Obviously, one of the factors is the price of fuel and therefore transportation going up, therefore making the cost of food that much more prohibitive on the Coast and making the cost of the airlift more expensive. I suspect that is one of the reasons for the increase.

It is absolutely essential that we subsidize, and the subsidization of the airlift every winter is extremely important. I do encourage the minister to also look at how food production can be increased in Labrador. I am sure that those discussions are ongoing and would have been part of the consultation that happened with the agricultural sector. I think so much more could be done with regard to food production in Labrador that could also be lengthened with the use of greenhouses, et cetera.

I would like to see more money being invested by the government in its program for Labrador around food production. It doesn't take care of the perishable foods in the winter but it does really encourage the desire to have more nutritional food available to people in Labrador.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further Statements by Ministers.

The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I – I am sorry, there are no other statements.

MR. SPEAKER: Statements by Ministers?

AN HON. MEMBER: No, a point of order.

PREMIER WILLIAMS: A point of order.

MR. SPEAKER: A point of order, the hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise on a point of order for clarification.

In recent decisions by the Chair, there has been an indication that we can't refer to certain documents. I think this works for both sides at Question Period, from a question perspective and an answer perspective. For example, yesterday I referred to the Budget document and it was indicated that we were not to refer to documents.

I don't pretend to be an expert in parliamentary procedure by any means but it is my understanding of previous rulings that casual references to telegrams, newspaper articles, or commentaries, I guess, for want of a better term, commentaries or hearsay type of documents were not allowed to be referred to.

I am just wondering, for purposes of convenience to both sides and with the approval of the Chair, if we can refer to documents or reports that are within the House or tabled within the House, would that be satisfactory, or is it the intent just to make Question Period expeditious and to prevent long preambles and long statements? However, I think we are both kind of hampered in some respects - both sides are hampered in some respects by not being able to refer to tabled documentation that is official, House documentation. Otherwise, we are actually deemed to have knowledge of everything that is in them without even being able to refer to them.

Just a point of clarification, Mr. Speaker, and I just raise it for that purpose.

MR. SPEAKER: Is the hon. the Opposition House Leader going to have some commentary to that point of order?

The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. PARSONS: Thank you.

Yes, Mr. Speaker, we have certainly been confused, I guess, by some of the rulings. I guess the confusion might result from whether your ruling applies only to Question Period or applies to other debates in the House. It has been our understanding in the past that in Question Period you probably would be restricted and you should refer to a document but not read from it, whereas in the debates in the House you certainly can.

For example, this afternoon, if I am going to reply to the Budget Speech I would think that is going to be virtually impossible to do if I am not allowed to reference the Budget itself and certain other supporting documents that go with it.

That was my understanding of how you have been ruling, but I am not sure if we have been consistent in that. So your guidance would be certainly appreciated.

MR. SPEAKER: The ruling that has been put forward by the Chair does not make reference to members not being able to reference documents; it is strictly the reading of documents. The Chair said in other rulings here that members can refer to documents, they can paraphrase, and they can use documents as references but not to read from. That is strictly for Oral Questions and it does not include debate. Members can read from documents, read from letters and telegrams in taking part in debate. That is certainly allowed.

When the Chair ruled on referring to the reading of letters and telegrams it also extends to the reading of Hansard, even though it is a document produced right here in this House. That is not only in this Parliament but in all other Parliaments. Precedence has been set that the reading from documents in Oral Question Period is unparliamentarily.

Any further clarification for that particular ruling?

If not, before the Chair moves to Oral Questions, the Chair would also like to ask members again for their co-operation in referring to members by their names. When members refer to other members by their name it personalizes things and that is certainly unparliamentarily. I ask all members, once again, to refer to members either by the district they represent or by the executive position that they hold. I ask for your co-operation.

Oral Questions.

Oral Questions

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My questions today are the Minister of Health and Community Services.

Mr. Speaker, yesterday, we learned that another pathologist will be leaving Eastern Health. Dr. Dan Fontaine was a cervical cancer specialist and also did testing on samples from across the Province. He also does pathology work for patients suffering from lung cancer, thyroid and other cancers.

I ask the minister: What will be the service impact on patients as a result of his resignation?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Yes, we are aware that we have had another resignation. He will be leaving, I understand, sometime in the latter part of June, as I understand it now. We met with Eastern Health last week to have a discussion around what might be the impact, because we had some sense that might happen.

We had a discussion with Eastern Health last week about what might happen with respect to services. They are now evaluating what impact that might have. They have made some initial contacts with a couple of labs outside the Province to be able to assist them during an interim period of time while they are continuing to recruit. We are hopeful then, in the immediate term, there will not be any interruption in service to pathology services within Eastern Health or for the people of the Province as a result of that resignation. Obviously, Eastern Health, together with the department, is anxious to ensure that they are restored to a full complement of pathologists.

The Premier and I met with the medical association last week to have a discussion around the issue of pathology service for the Province. There is a follow-up meeting tomorrow with myself and the medical association and representatives from Eastern Health to continue some dialogue as to what might be, both the short-term strategy to deal with the workload today, but more importantly, Mr. Speaker -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to conclude his answer.

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you.

More importantly, to look at what are some of the long-term solutions to ensure that we have an adequate complement of pathologists for the Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, Dr. Fontaine's resignation now brings it to eight vacancies in pathology at Eastern Health. The head of laboratory services have told us that this resignation will no doubt lead to longer wait times.

I ask the minister: How much of the new testing will now have to be done outside the Province? Wait times that would have normally been a few weeks, how much longer will they be extended for those patients waiting to hear what their treatments and diagnosis will be?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: With respect to the workload, I just want to comment about the reference to the eight positions. There are eight positions that have been referenced in the media and in this House on several occasions, but I just want to create some understanding of that. There are two people who have resigned but have not yet left. So, those resignations have not yet had an impact. There are two other people, who - one is on maternity leave, returning early in the summer. There is another person on an education leave, I believe, and they are returning early in the summer. There are two vacancies where replacements have already been recruited, and they are starting early in the summer. So when you look at trying to figure out what impact it will have on the departure of those two people who recently resigned, their resignation effective dates are coinciding with recruitment of a couple of other pathologists.

Eastern Health are trying to determine the exact impact, in terms of workload, but clearly, as I said a moment ago, they have made arrangements with two outside labs to be able to assist them in the interim.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, if you listen to the minister, you would think that we do not have a problem here, yet the people who work in those labs are telling us that we are into a crisis position. The minister knows that if you cannot retain the professional pathologists that we have here, our efforts in recruitment have not been that great in this Province.

Mr. Speaker, the minister has already said he has met with these pathologists, and I think he is due to meet with them again. They have outlined five particular things that they need in order to be able address the shortage and to deal with the recruitment. We did not see any of those pieces funded in the Budget.

I ask the minister, why there have been some gaps in dealing with this issue?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: First of all, I want to correct something the member opposite has said.

I clearly - any comments I have made in the House in response to questions, is to be able to answer your questions in a factual way. My answers in no way should indicate, should have indicated, nor do they indicate, that we are not concerned any time that there is a vacancy. Obviously, the recruitment of physicians and the retention of physicians in this Province is a big priority for our government. My statement a moment ago talked about some of the successes and some of the work we are doing with the medical school to enhance those efforts.

So, I say, Mr. Speaker, any time we have resignations, or multiple resignations in any discipline, it gives reason for concern, and that is why we are moving quickly to work with the medical association and Eastern Health to be able to address the issue.

Issues around the strategy, what we will be doing in the short term and the long term, as I have said a moment ago, we are working very quickly with the medical association and Eastern Health to be able to address the issue.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I say to the minister, we certainly applaud the efforts that you are making with the medical school, to have more recruits and to encourage more people to stay and work in the Province, but according to those in the profession there has not been a Canadian pathologist graduate in this Province in years. Mr. Speaker, we see that as being a longer-term solution, not a shorter-term solution.

So, I ask the minister: Will he admit today that the salary benefits and remunerations paid to pathologists in this Province is inadequate and hampering our efforts to recruit more people to this profession?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, I stood in this House last year, about this time, around the middle of May last year, in 2007, and I announced to the House and to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador that we as a government were announcing an increase in the compensation paid to pathologists, adding to the stipend that was provided to oncologists, extending that to the pathologists in this Province, which was a reflection of our government's commitment to ensure that our salaries for physicians and other help disciplines in this Province are competitive, and puts us in a position where we are able to recruit capable, competent people and to retain them. Looking at other issues, such as the full package of benefits and working conditions, are all a part of our retention efforts.

We are not suggesting, I say, Mr. Speaker, we are not suggesting at all that we should not be continuing to try to build on what we are doing, and improve what we are doing. That is why we are taking the efforts that we are taking now, and making the movement and putting some investment of interest and time and energy into ensuring that we work with all of the affected parties, the Medical Association and our health authorities, to ensure that we are successful in continuing the recruitment.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, the compensation or the stipend that the minister keeps referring to has allowed the pathologists in this Province to move from dead last in terms of salary benefits in North America to the bottom of the scale in Canada, I say to you, Minister. We know today that retention of these pathologists is hampered by the workload that they have, and because of the shortage. Minister, I cannot say it any clearer than I have.

What are you going to do immediately to address this problem, to deal with the benefits, to deal with the remunerations, so that we can get on with recruiting pathologists and ensuring that we have a stable and first-class health care system to the people in this Province?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Like the member opposite, the Leader of the Opposition, I, too, cannot be any clearer when I say that we are, in fact, working with the Medical Association. We are working with the pathologists at Eastern Health. We are working with our four authorities to actually address the issue that she is raising here today. We met last week, we are meeting again tomorrow. I cannot tell you today what will come out of tomorrow's meeting, but I can clearly tell you that we are bringing a great deal of energy to bear. We are bringing all of the affected parties to the table, to try to work through a solution collectively.

For me to stand here today and prejudge what might come out of tomorrow's meeting would undermine the intent and the spirit of co-operation we have with these interested parties. I will not do that, Mr. Speaker.

What I will do, I will commit on behalf of this government, to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, that we will continue with our diligent efforts to make sure that we have an adequate supply of physicians for this Province and will do our best to work with them to ensure that we are able to keep them in this Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The minister had a proposal on his desk. He has met with them. We had a Budget, and the critical matter that we are dealing with in the Province today was not addressed, was not even spoken to in the Budget, but this is an issue that was. Let me ask him about this.

There were about 4,400 people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders – COPD - in this Province. A life with lung disease means being condemned to a life of minimal activity, unless assisted with oxygen. I know the minister knows that, because he brought in some money in this Budget for a portable oxygen program, but it applies to those who are on the Special Assistance Program.

I say to you, Minister, there are thousands of people out there who need this portable oxygen program, who do not fall in that program. Can you tell me what will be provided to those people?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

MR. WISEMAN: I am glad the member opposite has acknowledged the investment we made in yesterday's Budget.

We have met with the Lung Association to talk about the issues that they have concerns about with respect to those individuals who need oxygen to have a quality of life. I say, Mr. Speaker, this program, together with many others, has been enriched in recent years as a result of our government's Budget.

Last year, we made some major investments in our Prescription Drug Program. This year, we have made some enhancements in other programs and we will continue to do that, I say, Mr. Speaker, all within the fiscal capacity of the Province, making sure that it is sustainable for the long term.

Many of these programs, though, do have a means-testing process. There are many people in the Province who have the fiscal capacity themselves, or have group insurance programs, where they are able to cover the cost of those, which frees up the money for us, as a government, to be able to put money into things like poverty reduction, or things for other people who are socially disadvantaged.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister to conclude his answer.

MR. WISEMAN: I say, Mr. Speaker, having programs such as that one, that are universally available, sometimes may be challenged, and sometimes we are better off making some decisions to have it (inaudible) so money can be freed up (inaudible) programs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, portable oxygen is only one of the expenditures that these people have to deal with. They have to deal with home oxygen programs as well. All provinces right now, except for Newfoundland and Labrador, have programs for funding home oxygen to the general public, outside of those special assistance plans.

I ask the minister: Now that you understand the issue and you know the numbers of people impacted, why is it that you and your government were not prepared to bring in a similar program for people who require home oxygen as that being offered in other provinces across Canada?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I always find it interesting, Mr. Speaker, in the House where members opposite will cherry-pick an issue and compare us to the rest of the country. You can take any range of services, live in any province in this country, you can scan the environment and you will find something that is being done in other provinces that is not being done where you are living today, whether you live in Newfoundland and Labrador or you live in B.C. or in Ontario.

If you are going to use that, if that is what you want to do with Question Period, my colleague will stand up in a few moments and he will talk about the great work we are doing with poverty reduction. We are the leaders in the country. With the investment we are making this year, we will be up to about $100 million annually that we are putting into poverty reduction - the leaders in the country. We can get up in Question Period and make all kinds of comparisons, Mr. Speaker, around this country about programs we are doing.

Again, as I said a moment ago, we made a commitment this year to enhance the program. Programs such as this are always under review and evaluation, and in next year's budgetary process we will reconsider it again, look at opportunities for –

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I say, cherry-picked or not, it is hard to get an answer out of that minister.

Mr. Speaker, many seniors in this Province rely on Old Age Security benefits as their only source of income, and home oxygen can range from a bare minimum of $150 a month up to $600 a month depending on what their requirement is. The average cost right now in this Province is about $300 a month for those particular people. There are about 1,500 seniors in the Province who require home oxygen, and I ask the minister if he will now review it to see if these particular people can be added to the prescription drug formulary so that they can get some subsidization on this vital medical treatment.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: I am baffled by the member's questions, because yesterday we went through a line of questions where she was zeroing in on very specific examples in the context of a broader program. We are having the same thing happen here today.

I say, Mr. Speaker, as a government, and through our regional health authorities who administer these programs on our behalf, sometimes individuals who find themselves maybe not quite within the parameters of the program but have some unique circumstance have an ability, through the Special Assistance Program, to have their circumstance reviewed.

I say, Mr. Speaker, that happens each and every day. If you want to take one individual or some in a group of individuals who are in an extreme set of circumstances, there are many opportunities, through the existing program and in the construct of existing programs, to have those individual circumstances evaluated. So if there are people that she has some knowledge of like that, I suggest that she refer them to her respective regional health authority.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My next questions are for the Premier. The Premier indicated yesterday that public sector pensioners will not be getting any indexing or any further benefits on their pensions in the foreseeable future under his mandate.

I ask the Premier: Why is public sector pension indexing not an option for your government?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, I have said in this House on many occasions that this government is very concerned about the impact of high energy costs, for example, that are having on the seniors of the Province. We feel an obligation that we have to look after all of our seniors in Newfoundland and Labrador.

All seniors have the benefit of federal government programs, such as the Old Age Security Program, the Guaranteed Income Supplement, the Canada Pension Plan, which are all indexed. Some of our retirees have had the benefits of being part of a Defined Benefit Pension Plan, but the majority of citizens in this Province have not.

What this government has said that it will do, what we did in last year's Budget, what we have done in this year's Budget and what we will continue to do is to proceed with more and more initiatives, like lower income tax benefits. We have doubled the seniors' tax benefit this year. We improved the Seniors' Benefit last year. We have lowered income taxes. We have improved the drug program. We have improved the home heating program to put more money in seniors' pockets to help them cope with the cost of living.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Today, as the Minister of Finance knows better than all of us, we have a tremendous amount of money in surplus budgets and more predicted because of soaring oil prices. Even when previous governments had little money available, in 2001 there were small increases provided to index these pensions.

I ask the minister today: With such a significant Budget surplus and the rising cost of living, why was there not some recognition of the struggle of these public servants in your Budget and some kind of inflationary measures incurred to provide some alternative subsidization for them?

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.

This government certainly recognizes the contribution that senior pensioners who worked for the government have done for the people of this Province. In over just a few years, our government has invested $3 billion into the pension plans of our former employees and our teachers.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, that is $2 billion into the teachers' pension fund; that is $982 million that was invested in the public sector pension fund. Obviously, it is very important that if any further benefits were to come out of the fund - we cannot have the Unfunded Pension Liability increased because that will totally undermine the advantages of the $3 billion. Again, Mr. Speaker, we will continue to look after the needs of all seniors and we will continue to bring forward initiatives that will help all seniors in the Province, just not one particular group.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, the piece to this that I do not understand is when the members opposite where in Opposition they were out talking about how they were standing shoulder to shoulder with pensioners in this Province and supporting this indexing. In fact, Mr. Speaker, the Member for St. John's Centre was quoted at one point in the paper saying how he supported this.

What I do not understand is why there is such a change of heart on this particular issue at a time when we are resourced well enough to be able to tackle it and do something about it?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, most people do not have the benefit of having been part of the Defined Benefit Pension Plan, but those who have the advantage of being in that - a Defined Benefit Pension Plan is a plan where the benefits are actually determined beforehand and an actuary is hired to calculate what investments have to be made into the plan and then the employer and the employees make contributions to the plan to fund those benefits that have been agreed upon.

In the case of our pensioners, the promise contained in the pension plan has, in fact, been met. Even though there is not enough money in the plan, the plan still remains unfunded but the pension benefits have continued to be paid.

Mr. Speaker, there are many people in this Province, as I have said, who do not have the benefit of such a plan and we have to look after them, we have to look after those people that have been - like people who worked for Kruger who have plans that they are not in as well. So we have to ensure that all seniors in the Province are protected.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, there are a number of public sector workers today who have raised a concern with us and it is regarding the increases that they are paying on their insurance benefits. Many workers with family medical plans have seen an increase of up to 25 per cent in their premiums.

I ask the minister: Why do the employees of the government now have to pay such a significant increase?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, if I recall correctly, the increase in the premiums under the insurance program was caused by - well, there was an increase in the premium and that cost had to be paid by all. Generally, under the plan, I believe that the employer pays 50 per cent of any increases and the employees pay 50 per cent of the increases. What I will do, my memory of that is a bit hazy, but what I will undertake to do is get more information and come back to the House and respond in more detail to the question the hon. member has put.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I remember when government made the shift from Blue Cross to Desjardins, that they were saying at the time that there would be some savings for government. Now, I do not know if government's rates have increased as well, or if they have maintained the same levels. Maybe the minister could tell me that?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, there is a committee, consisting of government representatives and employee representatives on the committee that make the decisions relating to the government's group insurance and what not, and the medical protection and the health protection and the insurance. They made this decision, and again, I will certainly undertake to check and get more information and report back to the House.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the minister for his answer.

Mr. Speaker, my questions now are for the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

There has been an ongoing debate around the protocols and processes for the fire commissioner's office, but one thing we are sure of is that if has been indicated that the fire commissioner will require more funding in order to carry out proper inspections on a routine basis in public buildings throughout the Province. We did not see any funding allocated in the Budget for this particular initiative.

I ask if the minister could explain to me what resources will be provided to him, in addition to what he already has, and what new mandate of responsibilities they will be given?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DENINE: Mr. Speaker, I said time and time again, since the deficiencies were noted in the facilities in Newfoundland and Labrador, I came back and I was going to look at the protocol; our staff now are looking at the issues there. They are looking at the volunteer fire sector. They are looking at all the stakeholders. When they get the report done, Mr. Speaker, then I will be in a position to say what is going to happen, but for me to prejudge what is going to come out of that, it is sort of unfair for me to do that. I cannot do that. I want to see those people come back with the recommendations to me, as minister, and then I can look at the recommendations and make some recommendations to government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, the minister was aware of, and I understand requests were made for a fire protection officer for the Labrador region. Currently they have no presence there when it comes to fire and emergency services. All the investigations, inspections and so on are being done by offices on the Island.

I ask the minister: Why was this particular position not funded?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DENINE: Mr. Speaker, we have fire protection officers across the Province, the Labrador member is right, but the thing is that we have two on the West Coast in Deer Lake. At the time with the amount of inspection that can be done, the person on the West Coast can alternate back and forth from Labrador to the Province. That is the reason why it was not done.


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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In fact, as we speak today there are officials of the Fire Commissioner's Office who are traveling by helicopter in Labrador, from Mary's Harbour to Nain, doing inspections on Coastal clinics.

I ask the minister: Why was their office not instructed to do the inspections on the schools on the Labrador Coast at the same time as they were making this trip?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DENINE: Mr. Speaker, when the decision was made to send the fire protection officer to the Coast of Labrador, at no time did the schools become an issue with me, and it hasn't become an issue with me in terms of the Fire Commissioner's Office. What we did was, we sent the fire protection officer to the Coast to look at the community clinics. That was the issue at the time.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

My first question is for the Minister of Health and Community Services.

In light of the impending loss of pathologists – and I say impending because I realize some have put in resignations and are still there – in the Province, we have heard many concerns expressed by the Canadian Cancer Society, most particularly the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association, individual pathologists and the Director of the lab, with regard to the morale of the staff who remain.

I am wondering: In the discussions that the minister will be having with Eastern Health tomorrow, will you be dealing with the issue of helping this current staff with their morale?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Yes, Mr. Speaker, we will.

Obviously, with the discussion we are talking about here, as I said earlier, looking at the issues before us, issues around the supply, retention and recruitment efforts, working conditions become a piece of that. The morale and working conditions will be a part of our discussions. In fact, the Premier and I will be meeting I think it is next week - next week or the week after we are going to have a meeting directly with the pathologists and oncologists themselves to continue the discussions we started last week with the Medical Association.

I say, Mr. Speaker, all aspects of working conditions, issues that impact our ability to recruit and issues that impact our ability to retain the pathologists, are all topics of discussion.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Just one more question on that, then, to the minister.

If things that you come up with in your discussions tomorrow, and your ongoing discussions, are going to involve money, are you going to be prepared to have that discussion if more money becomes part of what needs to be done, whatever that money would be for?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: As I said in response to an earlier question from the Leader of the Opposition, as a government we are interested in working with the individuals who are impacted, like the Medical Association, health authorities, and pathologists in this particular instance here. We need to better understand, what are the issues we need to be dealing with, and what are some of the strategies in and around that?

One of the things that I am committed to, I say, Mr. Speaker, and government is committed to – and I acknowledged earlier our commitment to do it – we are committed to ensuring that we have an adequate supply of capable, competent physicians in this Province, and we will work with all parties to ensure that we have strategies in place to not only help us recruit them but to help us retain them in the Province for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

That answer from the minister actually leads me into another question that I had hoped to ask today. It has to do with the recruitment and retention of nurses, because the Budget talked about the recruitment and retention of nurses; however, all of the incentives that I could see in the Budget, bonuses for students, cost of moving, signing bonuses, all have to do with recruitment only. I really could not find anything that could be identified as a retention strategy for nurses who are already working in the Province.

I ask the government: Why did it not see fit to invest in more full-time positions for nurses, to help with retention?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, we could arrange to have officials provide a more detailed briefing of yesterday's Budget, because there was information in there with respect to creating new positions.

If you look under the community health support system, we are creating new nurses in public health. We are creating new nurse practitioner positions, I say, Mr. Speaker, all with a view of expanding opportunities for career enhancement, expanding new opportunities for nurses in this Province.

We already had, last year, announced in our last year's Budget, initiatives with respect to quality workplace initiatives that are carrying over. They just were not in last year's Budget and they stopped at the end of twelve months; they are continuing into this year, I say, Mr. Speaker.

Money has been provided in the previous year's Budget. Annualize that money; we do have money in this year's Budget to deal with those issues. Some of it may be contained in the allocations reached for our regional health authorities, but very clearly, I say, Mr. Speaker, very clearly we are committed to – as I said with respect to the physicians, not only do we want to have the ability to recruit but we need an ability to retain nurses.

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

I ask the minister to complete his answer.

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, that is why we have created more permanent positions by converting casual positions to permanent positions in this year's Budget.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The time allotted for questions and answers has expired.

Presenting Reports by Standing and Special Committees.

Tabling of Documents.

Notices of Motion.

Answers to Questions for which Notice has been Given.



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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

I want to present a petition today on behalf of residents with regard to the road maintenance program and the closing of depots in various areas of the Province. I want to make it very clear from the outset, this has nothing to do with the wonderful capital funding that came down for all of our districts, but just some concerns that people have with the maintenance and with the closure of those depots.

I know for a fact, I have spoken to some of those individuals who work in the various depots in Avondale and different areas, they are on in the wintertime as operators and now they have to take a reduction in pay and they are classified as labourers. I know, last year, many of them decided that they would stay around and take the lower paid position, but this year some of them are saying that they are going to more on and look for work outside the Province, and that is unfortunate.

When it comes to the maintenance program that I am referring to, I know in my own area - and I just referenced some of the areas there - there is an awful lot of rutting and maintenance problems that have to be done with the roads. If it is not taken care of this year or next year, there is going to have to be major repair work done. I guess it is better to try to take care of that now than in the future.

The other thing I would like to mention is with regard to the class 4 roads. I know I spoke to the minister and her officials and they are looking at that. What we are after is not a full maintenance program on the class 4 roads; it is just that maybe they can be graded in the spring and again in the fall of the year, and hopefully that will be taken care of.

I know maintenance will be done on those roads, but I just want to impress upon the minister that she would consider hopefully keeping those depots open, and then more work can be done over a larger area; because, when they are only operating out of the Bay Roberts depot, they have to travel quite a distance to get to the areas.

I call upon the minister to consider that, and hopefully that would be adhered to this year, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: Further petitions.

Orders of the Day.

Orders of the Day

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

MR. RIDEOUT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to move first reading of Bill 26, An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act, 2000.

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the hon. the Minister of Government Services shall have leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act, 2000, Bill 26, and that the said bill be now read a first time.

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

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. RIDEOUT: Mr. Speaker, I think there has been a misprint on the Order Paper from yesterday. All of those bills were given notice of by the Minister of Finance, and they ought to be standing in the name of the Minister of Finance. I see that all three of them that I intended to give first reading of today, or ask for leave to do first reading, are standing in the name of the Minister of Government Services.

I think everybody knows that the Minister of Finance gave notice of those bills in his own right yesterday. Excuse me, not yesterday, Tuesday.

If it is a problem we can leave it over and fix it, but if everybody recognizes that then I would still like to do first readings and the Order Paper tomorrow could notice that these bills stand in the name of the Minister of Finance, if that is okay with the House.

MR. SPEAKER: The Opposition House Leader gives indication that is quite okay; it is just a misprint on the Order Paper.

It is moved and seconded that the hon. the Minister of Finance shall have leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act, 2000, Bill 26, and that the said bill be now read a first time.

Is it the pleasure of the House that the hon. the Minister of Finance shall have leave to introduce Bill 26, and that the said bill be now read a first time?

All those in favour, 'aye'.


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

The motion is carried.

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Finance to introduce a bill, "An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act, 2000," carried. (Bill 26)

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Income Tax Act, 2000. (Bill 26)

On motion, Bill 26 read a first time.

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

MR. RIDEOUT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to move first reading of Bill 27, An Act To Amend The Health and Post-Secondary Education Tax Act.

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the hon. the Minister of Finance shall have leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Amend The Health And Post-Secondary Education Tax Act, Bill 27, and that the said bill be now read a first time.

Is it the pleasure of the House that the hon. the Minister of Finance shall have leave to introduce Bill 27, and that the said bill be now read a first time?

All those in favour, 'aye'.


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

The motion is carried.

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Finance to introduce a bill, "An Act To Amend The Health And Post-Secondary Education Tax Act," carried. (Bill 27)

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Health And Post-Secondary Education Tax Act. (Bill 27)

On motion, Bill 27 read a first time.

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

MR. RIDEOUT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to move first reading of Bill 28, An Act To Amend The Retail Sales Tax Act And The Tax Agreement Act.

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the hon. the Minister of Finance shall have leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Amend The Retail Sales Tax Act And The Tax Agreement Act, Bill 28, and that the said bill be now read a first time.

Is it the pleasure of the House that the hon. the Minister of Finance shall have leave to introduce Bill 28, and that the said bill be now read a first time?

All those in favour, 'aye'.


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

The motion is carried.

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Finance to introduce a bill, "An Act To Amend The Retail Sales Tax Act And The Tax Agreement Act," carried. (Bill 28)

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Retail Sales Tax Act And The Tax Agreement Act. (Bill 28)

On motion, Bill 28 read a first time.

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

MR. RIDEOUT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to call Motion 1, standing in the name of the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board. The motion is that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government. In other words, a debate known as the Budget Debate, and we await in eager anticipation of the gems of knowledge and wisdom to come from the official critic for the Opposition.

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

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I guess this is one occasion where I can say I have more than an opportunity for a few comments, given that the normal talking times in the House are usually restricted to twenty minute sessions, or fifteen minute sessions. We are dealing with a special motion here today, commonly referenced as the Budget Speech. Under the rules, of course, the person in the Opposition who is the critic for the Department of Finance normally has, under rule 46.(4) - and does have, actually - twice the amount of time that the Minister of Finance took to deliver the Budget on Tuesday, or three hours, or the greater of.

I, of course, had my stopwatch going on Tuesday when the Minister of Finance was delivering his Budget so I could be sure of exactly how much time I was going to have to speak. I think, according to the clock in the House here - probably not visible on the cameras I am sure, at home viewers - I have three hours, seven minutes and four seconds, as of now, to respond to the Budget Speech. Now, I am not quite sure if I am going to be able to last three hours and six minutes and fifty-five seconds because part of the rules also states that you are not to take a break. So, if this member has to go to the washroom or whatever, I am out of luck. I have just lost my speaking time. Hopefully, we will be able to have a few comments before that necessity overtakes me.

Again, if I do not need the full three hours and six minutes I certainly will not take them. I will not, by any stretch of the imagination, be competing with the person who has the record in this House for responses to the Budget Speech. That distinction belongs to the former Member for Grand Falls-Buchans, who spoke in this House thirteen hours and fifteen minutes and set the record.

I do believe the former member for the district known as Waterford Valley set the record at one time, but he was eclipsed, as did the Member for Ferryland at one time, and he was eclipsed by the former Member for Grand Falls-Buchans and she, to this day - in fact, she was the reason that the rule got changed. She did such a good job and she intimidated the government so much, as a result of her thirteen hours and fifteen minutes, that the government used their majority and changed the rules and implemented this new rule, 46.(4). In fact, I do not know, if truth be known, if the government had to use the majority to do it. I think it might have even been done by consent. With all due respect to the former Member for Grand Falls-Buchans, I think that was a consensual motion. In any case, before that it was an unlimited period of time that a person had when you were responding to the Budget Speech. We do not need unlimited time. It is a matter of making your comments, I would think, and move on.

One other thing I would say in preliminary comments, I guess. People sitting at home might wish to understand the process a little bit about the Budget. It is different than a bill. In the case of a bill you have a first reading, a second reading, a committee stage and a third reading, whereas in the Budget Speech here, it is different. For the next two or three weeks, for those people who are avid viewers of the Budget process, and just to make sure that they understand what is happening, not everybody who stands up in the Opposition is going to get three hours and seven minutes. It is only the person who is the critic who gets the three hours and seven minutes, in this case.

There has to be seventy-five hours dedicated to the process of passing the Budget, and that is broken down into a number of sectors. For example, we have - according to the Government House Leader's list that was provided here in the House a few days ago - nineteen different heads or departments of government: the Department of Finance, Justice, the Department of Human Resources, the Department of Tourism, Culture. We have nineteen different heads of government and each of these is farmed out to three committees of government called Estimates Committees. There are three different Estimates Committees.

So, you people who watch this on TV, you will not see any work that is going on in those Estimates Committees because they are not televised, but each of those Estimates Committees takes three hours. They are usually conducted either in the morning or in the evening, and that will add up to - three times nineteen is fifty-seven. Then we get so many hours for what they call Concurrence Debate, which is nine. The time we spent on Interim Supply, which was somewhere like six hours and twenty-seven minutes, I believe, that will be added in there.

At the end of the day, this Budget and all the pieces of it, through this House and through the various Estimates Committees, is going to get seventy-five hours of drill down, serious, tear apart work. It is not a case where the Minister of Finance just read it and it gets passed here through the House. It actually gets seventy-five hours of detailed inspection, shall we say, before it comes to a vote. That is what we are going to be doing over the course of the next two or three weeks. Sometimes, of course, as also part of that process, the Opposition are not satisfied with what is in the Budget. Traditionally, that is the case. I do not know if there has ever been a case in the history of this Province where the Opposition has voted for the Budget. I think it is a tradition that Oppositions vote against budgets.

Now, I am sure there are going to be all kinds of calls from the government as we are speaking and saying: Well, surely you are not going to vote against this Budget. Surely, this Budget is so good that you cannot possibly, even in Opposition, vote against it. I would suspect that some speakers over there, in the next two or three weeks, are going to put that point forward and say what an irresponsible Opposition if they vote against this. My God, there are so many goodies in here they are irresponsible if they vote against this. It is such a good Budget that they cannot do anything but vote for it.

There is always something, of course, that you can find wrong with a budget. Now, I don't think the vote takes place on the basis of, I liked more of it than I didn't like and therefore I am going to vote for it. I don't usually assess where I stand on a voting process. You look at the principle of the thing overall, you look at some of the details, and if you find on balance that, no, I am really not prepared to say that this is going in the right direction, albeit there are some pieces of it I like, that makes you determine in the end how you are going to vote for a document.

There is no doubt that there are going to be lots of things, and there are lots of things, in the document that the Minister of Finance read the other day that you would be foolhardy if you said you didn't like them. I will get into some of those details as we move further on.

By the way, this is going to be broad ranging as opposed to most topics where you might be able to say, there is the topic, this is my introduction and there is my commentary on it and there is my conclusion. I will have those broad parameters in my three hours of talking but, of course, the document is such a massive complex document that the only thing general about it is the word budget itself. There are literally millions of figures within it. There are dozens and dozens of different strategies and programs that are talked about in a budget, so it is not like you can take a certain subject and talk about it. It is not like I am going to be able to just pick out, for example, an issue in the Department of Justice and talk about it. You can't do that, because the Budget is so far ranging it affects everybody and every activity virtually in this Province. By its very nature, your commentary has to be broad ranging as well.

If from time to time in the next couple of hours, three hours, I might seem like I am all over the place it is not because I intentionally am taking you all over the place but it is because it is necessitated because there are no many pieces to this document that was delivered. I am sure if I were to stay here for twenty-five hours I would never get into all the details that are in this document. It just didn't materialize on Tuesday when the Minister of Finance walked in here. This document is the end result of a process that took months and months of putting together.

Actually, the consultations start in departments – as soon as the Budget is delivered you almost start the process for next year. That is how complicated it is. As you get closer to next year, of course, in the fall of this year, things speed up, where you are so far this year and where you are going to go next year. Those things get started in the consultation process. There are all kinds of government departments that have to go to work to drill down and prepare the documents to give to their ministers. The ministers have to take them to various government committees, social policy, economic policy, and get them fleshed out and deal with and they go off.

Then in January or so, normally, you are into serious stuff. You are up in the Cabinet level by now and you are starting to put your document together and get down to the nitty-gritty details – in January or February, usually. Then there are pre-Budget consultations, and that has usually been the system. I believe that started under the Tobin Administration when government said, okay, we have our big picture drawn, where we want to go, we have the financial details that we need, but just so we are certain that we do not overlook anybody, let's do a consultation out in the public so that anybody who has a particular concern that we may have missed, we can go and hear about it.

The process started whereby they would hold meetings in various places around the Province, like in Labrador, in Corner Brook, St. Anthony, Port aux Basques and so on. You give the people an opportunity to come forward and make their case known. Hopefully, some of that has been listened to by the minister and he has tweaked this Budget, in the last minute sometimes, he has tweaked it so that he could put that information in the Budget. That is usually why we have the pre-Budget consultations.

The big thing we had this year, of course, which was different, the Minister of Finance, wherever he went this year in his pre-Budget, he had the famous debt clock. For those who did not hear about it, what it was, as you were sitting down to tell the minister and his officials what it was you thought should go in the Budget, he had a clock there that was ticking, telling you, every minute you were talking, what it was costing this Province in interest on the debt. He was trying to make the point, of course, that we need to pay down our debt and therefore we would save some of that money in interest charges.

It was very effective, I guess, in the sense that, from conversations I have had with different groups, it intimidated a lot of people. Some people were intimidated. It was almost like: Here I was, for my particular group or organization, looking for some funding, and the minister was showing me that maybe I was being a little bit greedy and selfish because all the while I was talking to him I was finding out how much the Province was paying in debt and charges. So it was intimidating.

He made the point, I guess, but the question is if it was the best way to make the point. The feedback that I had from some people was: Yes, you could make your point. You could explain to people the consequences of having a debt load, and the need to pay them down, but you didn't necessarily need to have that in-your-face type of reminder to people, because some of them were put off by it and felt, well, maybe I shouldn't be here asking for anything; I should consider myself lucky and put up with what we have here.

Now, there are a few general themes I would like to touch upon first when we get into the Budget. Everybody who has heard of it so far, the word surplus has been talked about. We had a surplus a few years ago, and now this year we had a massive surplus, and a Budget - by the way, everybody has a budget. It does not have to be a complicated document like we are dealing with here. Most people have a budget for their household, and the same analogy applies to a government. It is a matter of: How much money do I have coming in - or revenue? How am I going to spend that money? What am I going to spend it on?

In most cases you usually do not have all of the money you need so you sometimes, in a household, go out and borrow. For example, you get your month-to-month income that you buy your groceries with, or pay your light bill with, but you have to have a home to live in so you might have need of a mortgage. We find ourselves in the same situation in the Province.

The Province could not buy or afford everything that it needed at one time, so over the years they invested or borrowed monies so that they could do things they needed to do. It wasn't always to buy a house. It might have been sometimes because we were short of cash and could not pay our employees, so we had to go and borrow. There were times when we needed money to put into roads and schools and we never had it, but it needed to be done, so it was borrowed.

As you can see, after a while that debt built up. In our Province, we ended up somewhere about $11.8 billion in debt. That is a pretty hefty bill, a pretty high-paying credit card debt you have; you have to pay off $11.8 billion. In fact, according to the information we have been provided with, on a per person basis - there are about half a million of us in the Province - according to the information we have, we have the highest per person or per capita debt load of any province in this country. Somewhere in the tune of $22,000 a person, I believe. They are saying obviously there comes a time when you have to say: Whoa, we can't afford having all of those debt charges. We have to get our credit card in order.

So, that is where the Minister of Finance has been coming from, in most of his talks this year. He is saying, yeah, we have to get our debt in order.

I will get into and drill down through some of the details here, because once we know where the money came from, and it goes in, and we know what our debt load is, and we know what we definitely have to pay anyway on our credit cards - there is so much, a minimal balance, that you have to pay - the question is: Are we going to have any left over to pay for the other things? Once we pay for the basics and then we have that surplus left over, what are we going to do with it?

That is the dilemma - a nice dilemma, by the way - that the Province had this year, to the tune of $1.4 billion: What are we going to do with that extra cash? Are we going to put it in a sock? We have a couple of options. We can pay down some of the debt. We can create some new programs that we know we have needed for a long time but we have not been able to afford. We can say to people who work for government: Look, you people took some trouncing in the past, shall we say, in terms of not getting the wage increases that you would have liked or that we would have liked to have given you, so therefore maybe we should reward you and give you a few extra dollars on your paycheque. That was an option that the government had. Those are the kinds of things they had to size up. At the end of the day, and once you get beyond that big picture of what goes in and what goes out and what you spend it on, then you drill down into the details. Then it is the nitty-gritty.

On Budget Day, of course, you see people outside and they will ask the NLTA: Was there anything in the Budget for you? They will look at it and say: Oh, yes, we got this or we got that, but we never got such-and-such that we wanted; but, yes, we did okay on this. They will ask different groups, hospital people: Did you get what you needed? Schools: Did you get what you needed?

People have their opinions. Some people are very pleased with what happened, and some people are displeased because they wanted something to happen and it did not, and this Budget is no different than any other in that regard.

I guess, like the old saying, you can't please everybody. What government has tried to do here is, they have a certain theory, shall we say, or a philosophy, of how they wanted to handle things, and that supposedly is reflected in this Budget document.

The question, of course, from an Opposition point of view is: Is what the government said they did – do the facts bear it out? Because it is fine to say that we did this and we did that, but our job as an Opposition is to drill down and say: Okay, did they actually do what they said they were going to do? If so, where is it?

Part of the process of this member speaking to the Budget is to find out, or ask some questions, because the Minister of Finance is listening to what I am saying and he will get an opportunity some time, and hopefully he will take the opportunity, to respond to legitimate questions, because you don't get the opportunity to ask him any questions when he stands up on Budget Day and he took his one hour and thirty-four minutes to read it all off.

He mentioned a whole pile of figures, and he gave a whole pile of documents called Budget documents out to everybody, but people do not sit down and read that level of detail - except some of us do, or we try to - and it raises certain questions. This is an opportunity as well for this member and the Opposition, or anyone in the public, to say, well, what about this or what did you mean by this, because it is not always clear in the documents when you read them. Even when it is black on white, sometimes it is not clear. It does not make sense. Sometimes it makes sense but you just cannot figure it out without somebody helping you. So that is part of this process, and I will be posing some questions as we go through, as well.

There is no doubt that the government here, I guess in a nutshell, when they put out a little summary called - in a little booklet form, Budget Highlights. It is very helpful, actually. Very helpful in the sense of if you take a look at the pie charts that they have, it tells you a lot. Like the first big question I asked in preparing their budget was: Where does it come from? Where does the money or the revenues come from? That little pie chart is pretty good. It tells you pretty well everything you need to know.

First of all, we know from this that the government is going to have a budget of this year, in terms of coming in, they are going to have six, roughly - and I will speak in round figures, even though it is big figures and rounding them off might slip a few millions here and there, but that is the kind of magnitude of dollars you are talking about here. They are looking at $6.8 billion of money going in the pot. That is in that little pie chart.

So, the question is: Where does the $6.8 billion come from? It comes from a number of sources. For example, people who pay fines, or pay fees in the Province - you go get your drivers' licence, you go get a moose licence, you get a marriage certificate, or you get a death certificate. The fees that you pay on that - or if you got a speeding ticket or whatever, if you were a poacher and you were fined in court, those fees and fines add up to about $219 million; about 3.2 per cent of the money that went in the pot - fees and fines.

Now there is also, it says here, $205 million came from investments, because the government does have investments in certain stakes, in certain businesses, and those interests, those business interests, those investment interests give back to the Province somewhere around $205 million a year. So that gets added in there, that is 3 per cent.

Then, it says, other provincial sources. It does not detail here what it is, but it is $341 million, or 5 per cent of the Budget. They talk about Atlantic Accord, $898 million, a fairly substantial chunk, 13.3 per cent. They talk about health and social transfers - and this is federal, by the way. This is what comes from the federal government. It is not being paid or collected from people in the Province. This is what is coming from outside the Province, coming in. From the federal sources, this is what the feds pay into the Province under the Atlantic Accord, this 13.3 per cent or a whopping $898 million; health and social transfers, $531 million, another 7.8 per cent. Equalization - this is a complex formula that exists in our Canadian federation whereby if provinces are what they call have provinces, you contribute in, and if you are a have not province, there is a formula they use, very complex, where they give each province back so much money. So far, for many, many years, we have been a recipient of money. We have been in equalization. We have been a have not Province and getting money back.

For this year, on a go-forward for 2008-2009, we are just going to get $18 million. That is the lowest it has ever been, I guess, since we have been getting equalization payments. The prediction from the Finance Minister is that after this year, 2008-2009, we will not get any more equalization because we will not need it. We will not be a have not Province; we will be a have Province.

If you total all that up, the federal share - if you take the full pot - 27 per cent of that pot comes from federal sources. Taxation is a big one, $4,184,000,000 or 62 per cent, roughly, of the Budget comes from taxation. That is where every man, woman or person in this Province who works pays some kind of tax. It is my understanding, I could be wrong - and that is why I pose some questions to the Minister of Finance in the course of this talk. I am assuming that includes the royalty revenues and everything that come from the offshore as well, $4.184 billion, a whopping 62 per cent. So, it comes from different sources.

Then of course, on the other chart it says, where do you put it? That is a pretty educational pie as well. It says in the Province we are going to spend, on health care alone in the Province we are going to put out 37 per cent of our full budget. Of that money we have coming in, $6,776,000,000 we are going to take 37 per cent of that and put it into health care and all the different programming in health care; hospitals, the equipment for hospitals, the staff and employees who work in hospitals. Everything related to health care in the Province, 37 per cent.

The next one is education; 20.1 per cent is going to go into educational needs, universities, teachers, schools, equipment in schools, 20 per cent. Then there is going to be 25 per cent going to general government and the legislative sector. That takes in a broad range as well, paying MHAs, paying all the public sector people, anybody who works with NAPE who is a government employee, or CUPE. All of that gets included in here, the public sector wages, operations of your highway departments and so on, transportation, highways, the ferry service. Everything that government operates as a government, the infrastructure and the equipment needs associated with it, that cost goes in there. It is a big chunk, 25 per cent of it, is what government has to expend.

Then there is 5.2 per cent that goes out to the resource sector, some $337 million. There is so much comes in, so much goes out. It looks like the difference between what is going to come in in this year and what is going to go out is going to leave another surplus for next year, somewhere to the tune of $544 million, I think is the figure. That is what is projected. If you count all the money coming in this year and what is going to go out, we are still going to left, at the end of the day, next March 31, because the government calendar year runs from April 1 to March 31 - at the end of the year next year, we are still going to have, based on government's figures right now and what the minister delivered on Wednesday, a surplus in excess of another half a billion dollars. We just had $1.4 billion in the year gone that we did not spend and we are going to have another half a billion-plus next year that we do not have outlined here where we are going to spend it yet. There is going to be a surplus that government will have to decide where it is going to go.

On the surface, that looks like a pretty good situation when you account for all of your expenditures and then you know you are going to end up with half a billion-plus still in your pot. That gives you some leeway in deciding: Well, what am I going to do with that? That is like having your paycheque, you have all of your bills paid, and you look - well, you still have a few bucks in your bank account and you have some options as to what you want to do with it; maybe refurnish your house, maybe you need a new car, whatever. It is the same thing in government: What are they going to do with the money? The government is destined and determined to put so much of that money - each surplus down on that big debt I was talking about, that $11.8 billion. That is where the money is going to go and that is the kind of dollar figures that we are talking about.

As anyone is aware who has been following the news in this Province as well, there were a lot of interest groups and special stakeholders who wanted a share of the surplus. I am sure the minister heard this when he went around the Province with his debt clock for his pre-Budget consultations, a lot of people said: We have needs; we want you to help us. – and it appears, to my reading of the Budget, what has happened here is, government has said: Yes, we are going to look after some of them.

We saw, from Question Period today, they obviously never looked after them all, because in just the case of the oxygen, for example, the minister stands up and says we are going to put so much money into mobile oxygen for people. Now, on the surface, that is great stuff; you help somebody. You are going to let somebody who needs oxygen, get oxygen. You are going to subsidize it for them, and that is good. So, on the surface, someone is out saying: That is great; they helped our association because we got our people looked after who need oxygen - but, when you drill down a little bit deeper, you say: Just a minute now. Just a minute; how many people who need oxygen in this Province actually benefited from this Budget, with that announcement?

According to the information that we have received, there are about 4,400 people in the Province who have oxygen needs, and this new program is not going to help 4,400 people, nowhere near 4,400 people. It is our understanding, from the people we have talked to, it is a very limited number of people. Only people who currently receive social assistance and income support are going to benefit from the oxygen program. Our question of government, of course, is: Why did you go halfway? Sometimes just helping a few and leaving the rest in a lurch, that looks bad too. So, how did you make a determination as to what sector of the oxygen group you were going to help?

It is fine to say we helped somebody, but why did you help that group and not the rest of the people in the same group who had the same needs? Those are the kinds of questions that get raised. Nobody is saying that you should not help the ones who are being helped, but that does not take away from the responsibility to say, why didn't you help the others?

Now, your answer to that might be, well, we couldn't help everybody so we picked out a few and we helped them. Well, maybe that is doable; maybe that is sellable. Maybe people will accept that. I am sure the people out of the other 4,400 who were not helped are not going to accept that.

As long as there is an appreciation that there are usually at least two sides to every story; it is one thing to say it is positive because we helped some people, but realize that you did not help them all. Maybe you could not help them all. Maybe that is your explanation.

Some of the parties who have contacted me, for example, said it looked like you had a whole wish list and you threw a little bit of money at a lot of things. Whereas other people would have said, well, wouldn't the better approach be to take certain specific things and deal with them all in total rather than just throwing little pots of money at everybody? I guess it is a matter of how you want to approach it.

The general comment that I heard again to the overall Budget, one person told me it was a banker's budget. I said: What do you mean, you call it a banker's budget? He said: Well, a banker's budget versus an accountant's budget. I said: Well, you are going to have to explain that one to me because, by the way, I don't come from a financial accounting background. I can't look at detailed financial statements and pick them inside out like some people. I usually have to get some assistance in doing that, and I apologize if I don't know the full details. I am sure the minister has the staff – he doesn't come from a financial background either, but he has the staff - to be able to find any of the answers that I do not have, that he needs to give an explanation on, and that is part of this process as well.

Anyway, this person said to me: That is a banker's budget, not an accountant's budget. I asked him to proceed to explain it to me, what he meant. He said: Well, it is like this; accountants are like bean counters. Accountants want to know where every penny is coming from, and accountants want to know where every penny is going to go out. It is a very explicit find-the-money type of approach, and manage it very closely and see what is going to happen. Usually, particularly if there is not enough money - some people call them Scotchie - they are very particular and specific about what you are going to put money on, and they don't want to spend the money.

We had a lot of years in this Province where we had accountants' budgets because there were a lot of years when we never had the money in the coffers to decide what you wanted to do and where you were going to put your money, and there was never enough money to go around. Whereas today we find ourselves in a situation where we have a banker's budget, not a case of where your money is coming from. Your money is in the bank account and it is a question of managing it, and where we are going to put it - not that we do not have it, or we have to go find it, the same as an accountant might have to do, but it is a case of we are sitting flush with cash and what are we going to use it for? That is a pretty envious situation.

Now there are some concerns, of course; the minister says we must pay down the debt. I do not think any right-thinking person in this Province is going to disagree with that. I think every person in this Province who says we have to pay down our debt because it is way too high on a national basis would agree, and we certainly agree that you have to do that. The question is in the balance act that you have to do in terms of paying down your debt and putting needed services into your Province. For example, we have need for new health care facilities, equipment in health care facilities, schools, people want raises, so you have to do that fine-tuning act of where do we put most of our money? That is what the minister has tried to do here.

Now, some people are going to disagree with him. Some people are going to say: No, you put too much on the debt. You didn't put enough into the services that we need, the infrastructure pot; you didn't put enough into it. That will be debated as we go on, of course.

Now, there are certainly some nice things here and I don't mind pointing out a few of them. For example, we see the tax on insurance. That was a tax grab that has been on the go for many, many years, and finally we see now that the 15 per cent tax on your insurance is going to be gone. Whether you have car insurance or whether you bought life insurance or you bought boat insurance or fire insurance, you do not have to pay that 15 per cent. It helps a lot of people. It doesn't only help a few people, I would agree it is a good move, because it helps a lot of people and you end up with more money - I think thirty-three point something million dollars this year, the minister said - that he is going to put into new hospital equipment. God knows, it is needed. God knows that we need it.

There are a whole pile of new studies being done. I did not calculate the actual totals, and I guess that is part of the planning process, you have to figure out a plan and then come up with a strategy before you decide where you are going to go, and we certainly got a lot of that in the Budget. For example, I think I counted sixteen different references to sixteen different strategies in this Budget – and the continuation of some: Poverty Reduction Strategy, Youth Retention and Attraction Strategy, Immigration Strategy, Research and Development Strategy, Ocean Technology Sector Strategy, municipal infrastructure investment strategy, Fishing Industry Renewal Strategy, Northern Strategic Plan for Labrador, Intangible Cultural Heritage Strategy for Aboriginal Peoples, Caribou Strategy, Strategic Cultural Plan, Recreation and Sport Strategy, Healthy Aging Strategy, even an - and I couldn't believe this word – (inaudible) reduction strategy, and a fiscal dragon wrestling strategy. So we have all kinds of strategies coming out of this Budget and every one of these strategies, of course, costs money. We just hope that putting this money into the plans and putting it into the strategies will materialize into something productive.

Looking at the global picture on the Budget again, people say, yes, you've got a surplus and you are going to pay down on the debt. One of the big pieces that I think is missing from the Budget is actual ideas of economic development. I think we are missing some things there. Yes, there were a few things there but if you take away the funds that come into this Province from oil and mining – and God forbid if the prices don't stay up where they are. In fact, all of the documents talk about securing a sustainable future. That is the big operative word about all of this planning; sustainability. Right now there is no question about it, for anybody who doesn't know, we are enjoying the benefits of these surpluses because of the oil and because we are doing so well in the mining sector. Those are the two biggest ones.

MR. T. MARSHALL: (Inaudible).

MR. PARSONS: Well, the Minister of Finance says, that is Danny Williams. I beg to differ. I think there are few other issues involved there other than Danny Williams. I think somebody years and years ago, back in the 1970s, started the first explorations here in this Province when it comes to the oil. I do believe, as well, that some former administrations had something to do with it.

For example, right now, as I understand it, we have White Rose. All of this money that is coming is coming from White Rose, Hibernia and Terra Nova, and we hope if we get a deal that in the future some time - I think 2015 is the first oil that we hope to get from Hebron. We don't have a deal inked yet, we have an MOU as I understand it. We are looking forward to some announcements on the deal, but that is eight or nine years out. There is no money in this pot right here now that we are talking about. These Budget surpluses have nothing to do with Hebron. There is no money coming out of that.

By the way, White Rose didn't start on this government's watch. Terra Nova didn't start on this government's watch. I am just getting into the facts. This government has the very good fortune of being in the position to decide how they are going to spend the money, no doubts about that, but there has to be the recognition that the money going into this pot wasn't created on this government's watch. Now, that is a fair statement, that is a true statement. The money going into the pot would never be here today if there wasn't a culmination of events that happened to make it possible. We wouldn't be talking of surpluses if we didn't have somebody do the exploration back in the 1970s and make the deals in the 1980s and actually get into the development phases in the 1990s. It was a combination of things.

Now, you can argue for days about: Did we do it right back then? Did we cut the right deals? We never had the right deals but the bottom line is, the developments themselves, the exploration, was done. The developments were started back then and it takes years and years as we can see. We have been twenty-five years, I think, knowing what oil was in the ground out there for Hebron. I think that was discovered twenty-five years ago. We still do not have a deal on Hebron, but it was discovered and known about twenty-five years ago.

Personally, I do not think there is any government that can take credit - any government! - for where the offshore oil industry is in this Province today single-handedly. It was a consequence of a lot of actions by a lot of different governments. I do believe we had exploration in the 1970s under the Moore's government. We had more under the Peckford government in the 1980s. We had the Atlantic Accord first back in 1985 under the Peckford Administration. I do believe we had even more exploration during the Wells' Administration from 1989 to 1996. Thanks to Mr. Crosbie, who was a federal cabinet minister at the time, when Hibernia came on some very tough times the federal government stepped in there through Mr. Crosbie and played a major role in helping out Hibernia which was in a crunch at one point and might not have happened. We had the governments, for example, who started the White Rose thing. Right or wrong it was started under the Grimes' Administration. We had Terra Nova, the same thing. The projects were started then. We are only in the position today where we say we have the money in the pot because they were started back then. Now it so happens that this Administration is in the position to administer the funds that are coming from those projects.

By the way, I think it would be pretty small minded too or convenient if you forgot the fact of the Atlantic Accord. This member is not overshadowing the events of the Accord. If this Administration has given us a better deal and a better piece of what we are getting, that is good, kudos to them. But let's not shade the whole process by saying, because we have the Atlantic Accord we are responsible for all of the good things that we have now. That is going too far the other way. That is not recognition of the contribution that former administrations made. I am sure in the future, if it lasts long enough and we can keep finding discoveries whether it be oil or gas or more minerals, I am sure that twenty years out or thirty years out somebody is going to improve upon the deals we currently have. What do we say then? Do we look up then and say this Administration was a failure because somebody improved upon what was done now? I do not think so. I think you have give credit for what happens today but also recognize and give credit for those who helped put things in place previously. Albeit, it might not have been everywhere you wanted to go – maybe the circumstances were not the same.

It was very fortuitous, for example - very fortuitous! - that the Premier found himself in a situation where he was dealing with a federal minority government and he squeezed a commitment out of them. He played poker and played it great, holding a full house, against a guy across the table name Martin, who only had two pair at best, and he did it. Congratulations! But that set of circumstances was not again created by him. He handled the situation, but he did not create the situation that Paul Martin found himself in. Some people say he exploited – I am sure Martin might say he exploited it. I think he took advantage of it for Newfoundlanders. I would put a more positive spin on it. A lot of people sort of give credit for the moment and do not think about who put the overall contributions in over the course of time.

The other thing is, the dollar value of what we are exploiting. We are sitting here today as we speak – I think I saw it last night on the NTV News, that a barrel of oil was trading at about $118; $118 a barrel. When we first started taking oil, or talked about taking oil out of Hibernia – and I believe Hibernia came on-stream, maybe the first oil, in 1997-1998, around then. I remember back years ago when we were talking about Hibernia, we said, we do not know if it is viable, if we can make it work, because we need $18 a barrel. Imagine! We had to have $18 for a barrel of oil in order to make any money off of Hibernia. Today we are at $118 a barrel. Since production started in 1997-1998 – we did not start at $18, but even in four years, and the minister can correct me on this if I am wrong, I think in four years, from 2004 to now, oil was trading at about $35 a barrel in 2004. Even in the four-year period that this government has been in power and on watch, the price of a barrel of oil has gone up from $35 to $118. Now, with all due respect, the Premier had nothing to do with that. With all due respect, the Premier had nothing to do with that, folks. We can put whatever spin we want on that.

The point I am trying to make is we have found ourselves in a situation where two things have come together. We happen to have gotten certain oil projects to a point where they are developing; Hibernia, White Rose and Terra Nova. At the same time they are producing a commodity that has become very much needed in the world market, oil, for example, places like China that are just expanding at amazing growth rates. You put that combination together when there is a massive demand in the world and we happen to have a product and a commodity that is very good and that has driven the price through the roof.

The money is there not because this government - and I mean this government, i.e. 2004, post-2004 - this government did not create these three ventures. They were there. This government did not create $118 a barrel. They were there. Give credit for the fact that we might get more out of it because of the Accord, but that does not take away the fact that the price you are getting, and the fact that we even had it in the first place was not created by this government.

Take credit if you are going to in how you manage what you have. You had the good fortune to be in a situation where there is lots of money in the pot. The history of this administration is going to be, at the end of the day, when the assessment is going to be done and the report card is going to come in, to say: What did you do with the money that you had. How did you manage the money that you got? That is where the report card is going to come in.

AN HON. MEMBER: The report card came in last October.

MR. PARSONS: Someone said the report card came in last October. There is no question about it. The people of the Province felt, at that point in time, that this administration was managing the economy well. The question is going to be, at the end of the day, because you do not measure your success as a Province, I would not think - we think in four-year increments. I would like to think in this Province that twenty years out, thirty years out, forty years out, as we keep saying about looking after our children and our grandchildren we are going to be in a position then to say, not what we did in October, 2003 but do we still have anybody here in 2053 or are we turning the lights out. That is where the challenge is going to come in and that is what comes back to the minister's statement about sustainability.

We are very fortunate that we have a lot of money coming in. By the way, there is going to be a lot more of it coming in in the next few years. I happened to attend a session at the Harris Centre back, oh I guess more than a year ago now, and Professor Wade Locke was there. He had some great overhead slides and showed us where we are going with our offshore industry. There is no question that the current return from our oil industry, albeit it is good now, is going to dip in 2012. If we do not do things like Hebron, and if we do not do the Hibernia South expansion and if we do not do the White Rose expansion, we are going to have a serious problem down the road.

We have been doing well the last few years, exceptionally well last year and we are going to do good next year, but the question is, after 2012 when that starts to run out, where is your money going to come from? That is the whole question. We use this great big word, sustainability, and people say: Well, what does that mean? What do you mean by being sustainable? Quite frankly, folks, there are a lot of people who do not understand it. We throw around words like strategies and sustainability and they all sound nice but a lot of people do not understand it. How do we get there, in particular? All it means, quite simply, is if we achieve a certain level of standard of living and we want to stay there, what do we have to do to stay there? It is no good to build up an expense every year of $6.5 billion, knowing that we need $6.5 billion every year to pay for it, only to find out, five years out, that we do not have $6.5 billion any more. We do not have any surpluses any more. We only got $5 billion now. So then the question becomes: Well, what do you do? Now you have a situation where we have ratcheted up the cost, but we are not going to get the money any more to do it.

If the price of oil stays up where it is, we should be in pretty good shape. That sustainability should not be an issue for a few years, particularly if Hebron comes on, gets producing around 2015. The biggest catch here is obvious, the price of the barrel of oil. I hope the government is right. I hope the Minister of Finance is correct in his projections, because he told us the other day - I asked him a question in Question Period and he said he has two reports sitting on his desk from two different sources. One of them says the barrel of oil was going to go to $65 and another one says it is going to go to $150. He said it here in the House.

That itself shows how volatile or how fluid that is. The big fear here and I am sure the government has this - I do not know about fear, but apprehension of: What if we build a house of cards and it all comes tumbling down because something happens again that we had no control over, i.e., the price of oil? That is the concern. That is where you have to hedge your bets, I guess, and make sure that we cannot ratchet up our expenses to the point that if something happens, my God, we would never be able to sustain it or keep it. Then we have to look at cutting stuff back, and it is far more difficult to cut that back than it is to talk about spending. This government had the enviable task, back in the 2004 Budget, of making all kinds of cuts because the money was not in the cupboard. Now we have the money in the cupboard and we will see how they handle it.

It is pretty scary when you think about it, that all this money that is coming in from the oil and gas - well not the gas, but the oil, and the mining - might just evaporate. I hope the minister's projection that he got saying $65 a barrel is not the one that comes to be. I hope it is up to $150. Albeit, there are consequences to that too, in terms of high heating costs and high gas prices and so on, but it is better to be in that position, I would think, than to have your expenses built up and then the bottom fall out of the price of a barrel of oil.

The other thing that has put a substantial amount of money into the Province so far - again, this government cannot take credit and would not, I am sure, try to take credit for it - and that is the Voisey's Bay deal. I believe next to the oil, the money, again, is coming from mining interests - and Voisey's Bay, in particular. We are only seeing the beginnings of it yet. We still do not have the massive construction facility that is going to go down in Long Harbour. So, that piece and the employment that goes with it, is going to be good.

Again, it was not this Administration that created Voisey's Bay. I do believe, in fact, it was this Premier who said - because I was here seated over on the other side of the House in 2002 and the Premier was over here at the time as Opposition House Leader, and I was the Minister of Justice, and I remember him saying: You could drive a Mack truck through that. He said there are so many loopholes in that and off-ramps. So many off-ramps, he said, and loop-holes in that you could drive a Mack truck through it. So I said, well, the Leader of the Opposition, he was a lawyer - we gave it out to everybody, days before we came in here for a debate. We actually sat here, I think it was for three days, in June of 2002. Everybody had - by the way, it was not just a little one-page MOU, or a two-page MOU like we saw - we have not seen anything, by the way, on Hebron. I do not think we have seen anything. We are told that an MOU was signed. We are told that there are certain equity stakes in it, but we have not seen anything else at all.

Back then, the government of the day took the statement of principles - it was what, thirty, forty pages long - gave it to everybody and anybody in the Province, publicly put it out there and said: This is the deal. This is the deal we are going to do on Voisey's Bay. Everybody had a chance to speak. We had a special session. I believe everybody in the House, other than the two leaders, could take twenty minutes and get up and say what you wanted. Just about everybody did, but you know throughout that whole exercise I listened over there as the Minister of Justice to forty-five people speak, the only ones who had not spoken - the Premier had spoken and the Leader of the Opposition had spoken. The current Member for Humber Valley or Humber West had spoken. My question at the end of the day was: Show me the off-ramps. A simple question. You made the statement that it is full of holes; you could drive a Mack truck through it, and all kinds of off-ramps. I just posed a question, and we even gave time for him to answer at his leisure: Where are the off-ramps in the Voisey's Bay deal? You know, folks, to this day we have never had one suggestion of an off-ramp or a loophole in the Voisey's Bay deal, not one.

We had a same situation back some months ago, I believe, they were going to put it originally down in - put the facility down in one location and it came up there was some environmental concerns. Therefore, they might have to put it somewhere else. They have done some environmental work now and they have decided, yes, they are going to reassess it. They are going to move it a bit of a distance. That was all in the agreement. At the time that exploded, that issue, a year ago saying: Oh, my God, they are not going to do it down in one location; not going to do that now. Voisey's Bay was full of holes again. The Premier was out again saying: full of holes. So, again I asked, where is the holes in the agreement? I could not figure it out, and nobody was telling us where the holes were.

The deal we made on Voisey's Bay was that besides what they do up in the mine part, that they put a demonstrator plant down in Argentia and then they would have a full-fledged facility down there. If they could not do one type of facility, the modern one that we wanted, as a worst case scenario they were going to put the old fashioned one there. That was the deal. We did not want it being shipped off to Sudbury. We did not want it being built anywhere else in Canada. We wanted and insisted that it be built here in Newfoundland so that it would create jobs for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. That is happening.

If you look at today's Budget and where I have pointed where the revenues are coming from, the second biggest income, as I see it from a resource, behind the oil, is Voisey's Bay; the second biggest one. Now that is not bad for all kinds of off-ramps. Somebody in this government, somebody in this Administration, is today divvying up and spending in a budget and taking credit for millions and millions and millions of dollars as a result of Voisey's Bay, that they had no part in, never played a part in it at all, not the one. All they did was, criticize it at the time, said it was a bad deal, you can drive trucks through that - Mack trucks. Today, they are sitting over there saying: Pat us on the back because we got this money from Voisey's Bay that we are spending here. That is pretty cute.

I only point this out, by the way, again to show that there are two sides to every story. The current government would have you believe that they started Terra Nova, that they started White Rose, that they started Hibernia, that they did the deal on Voisey's Bay. I almost believed it myself, I saw so many press releases coming out. I thought for a while I must have slept through that phase. I thought that this current Premier and Administration had done that. Anyway, somebody brought me back to reality and I went and checked my books again and read it; and, sure enough, it was the former Administration of Grimes that did the Voisey's Bay deal.

That is where the money came from. The current government is in a position to decide how they spend it. The bigger challenge for this government is: How are we going to spend it in such a way that we are going to have something to talk about ten years out, twenty years out, and thirty years out? That is where you look, in terms of developments, around the Province, outside of the Northeast Avalon, and it can cause you great concern. It causes me great concern, and that is in the rural Newfoundland piece, because, if you look at the other industries, the renewable industries that we have, let's take an inventory of what we have and where they are going, and what the state of them is today.

By the way, I am not being critical here, because again the state of a lot of those industries is beyond the control of this Administration. I point it out just to show that we are in a very precarious position that sometimes none of us can control but we have to recognize exists. For example, the forest industry, we have seen some massive changes take place in the forest industry globally – globally - in the last two years. If you look at the impact that has had on this Province, it is phenomenal.

Start out on the West Coast, Stephenville. This government has had to wrestle now for the last two years with trying to find things - the Member for Stephenville East is here, and the Member for Port au Port sits in this House. They have had to wrestle tough times in the last two or three years to put back into that area to keep that economy afloat for something that happened. The mill closed, folks. The mill closed. That was one of our renewable industries. It is not like oil, that you pump it out and it is gone forever and a day. This was one, the forest industry, that, if you managed it properly and you had your silviculture programs and everything, if you managed it properly, it was renewable, it could be there for years and years, but things happened both inside and outside the Province that ended up with Stephenville gone. That should cause concern.

We saw the same thing in Corner Brook. We had one of the mills go down, the Kruger mill. We had one of the production centres in the mill close, a paper machine - close. Number seven, I believe, was the number. That is coming a bit west. So we had Stephenville smacked in the forest industry. We had Corner Brook taking a smack in the forest industry. Come a little further west, to the Exploits area. It doesn't look so hot in there right now, in Grand Falls–Windsor, I understand. We saw, I think, thirteen layoffs in management last week. That is only the beginning. Anyone who watched CBC news this morning, talking again about the forest industry, how they expect in Central Newfoundland, at Abitibi, there is going to be another substantial layoff in the workforce.

That is that sector, oil and gas - oil, rather, and Voisey's Bay, great revenues and whatever, but you look at the renewable stuff and we have some serious concerns. That is just one of them in the forest industry.

You look at the fishing industry. The Government House Leader is the minister responsible. It is not a department that is very easy to grapple with, or an industry that is very easy to deal with. Certainly, it has had challenges over the years: the moratorium of 1992, to the excessive number of plants, to the excessive number of licences, and the management of it. Half the time it is outside of our control, controlled by the federal government, and we cannot get a handle on it and cannot bring any power or influence to bear on it.

We are starting to see some investments in the aquaculture industry. For example, we have the Cooke Aquaculture group come in here from New Brunswick, world-recognized in the aquaculture industry, but we have a long ways to go, to get to where we need to go when it comes to aquaculture replacing what we had in an industry in terms of keeping employment and sustainable employment in rural Newfoundland. We have a ways to go. It is good to see things happening, but again - and here, I guess, fortunately the government has not had to put the substantial dollars into it. From what I understand, this government put about $10 million in and it is the federal government that dumped in about $40 million, into the aquaculture piece, and thank God we have people like Cooke who are prepared to take their money out of their pocket and put into an aquaculture industry in our Province. So it had to be a partnership, there is no doubt about it – and, albeit you see those bright spots, there are a few little dark spots out there, a few sunspots.

I give you an example in just my district only, Burgeo & La Poile. There used to be a plant in Burgeo; it does not exist any more. There used to be a plant in Ramea; it does not exist any more. There used to be a plant in Rose Blanche; it does not exist any more. There used to be a plant in Port aux Basques. As of last summer, it does not exist any more.

So, albeit, we have a few good things on the go in non-renewable industries - oil, mining activities – the renewable ones which truly give you sustainability, that is what we have some major issues with. As I say, in the forestry I just described, and in the fishing industry I just described, we have some major industries.

We see some efforts in terms of – like the cranberry initiatives in this Budget, to try to pump money into our agrifoods industry and so on. The question that is on everybody's mind, of course, is: How many of these smaller type initiatives do we have to do, at the end of the day, to ever replace or be equivalent to what we are currently seeing in terms of returns from the non-renewable industries? That is the challenge that this government has. That is the challenge, and it is not easy, and nobody is saying it is going to be easy for the government.

I talked, for example, to the Minister of Business recently. I said, is it ever true, when I looked at the budget for this year, that out of $29 million you had in your budget, you did not give away $27 million of it last year? You actually had it there and did not use it? He said, yes.

That raises a question: Why would a department that has $29 million to attract business to the Province not have spent $27 million of it? Is that because nobody can be attracted here? If that is the question, then you ask yourself: Why? Why can't they be attracted here?

So, it is fine to talk about sustainability, and it is fine to talk about economic development, but when you look at the kinds of money we are currently seeing as surpluses, and what we are going to see in the next five or ten years as surpluses, what does that translate into? How much economic development do we need? How much diversification do we need, and to what extent, in order to come anywhere near - near - the returns that those current non-renewable resources provide?

The other issue: I had some notes here I wanted to reference. You talk about what you spend. Now, we all know that when this government came into office back in 2003 and they had their first Budget in 2004, there was a lot of cutting and a lot of fee raising that went on in that particular Budget that caused a lot of consternation and problems and actually hurt in the Province. The government has been saying of late that, well, we are trying to make up for some of that. We have a few extra dollars so we are trying to put some money back in people's pockets and make up for that, lesson the burden on them, make them keep more money in their pockets are the Minister of Finance's famous words. We are leaving more money in their pockets. We had a 1 per cent tax reduction again this year. We had the insurance tax thing, nice and positive, put a few dollars in everybody's pockets.

The other thing I notice from looking at this Administration - and if the minister gets a chance maybe he would like to explain. I am not being critical here, I am just looking for an explanation if I could on how it fits into your whole sustainability piece. According to the figures that I see, back in 2004 the program expenses of this government were $4,057,000,000. Now that is, for example, the cost of paying all the employees of government, the cost of maintaining government buildings, the cost of all the health care and social service programming that we might have, the cost of our justice system, the cost of our policing and public protection. Everything that the government would pay for and programming that we had was to the tune, in 2004, of $4,057,000,000.

According to the figures I have seen - I think they came actually from the minister's own programs and books - this year, 2008, the program expenses will be $5,299,000,000. That is over a billion point two in program expenses in four years. I do not think I am talking here about one-offs where you did this or you did that, like infrastructure money. That is not capital cost type stuff. This is strict programming in the Province, that in four years we went from that figure of $4,057,000,000 in 2004 up to $5,299,000,000 this year, 2008. That, to me, from what I am seeing, shows about a 25 per cent increase in program costs in the course of four years. I also see from the figures that by 2010 that is going to go up to $5,883,000,000. We are going to go up in the next two years another 10 per cent it looks like.


If you use the example of putting this in the context of sustainability again, you have a pot of money, you are trying to pay down some debt now, you are putting it into services and you are trying to catch up on infrastructure stuff that has worn off and worn down over the years that you have to try to rebuild; schools, highways, hospitals, equipment and so on. You are trying to do that with the pot of money you have now, but you already know from your own projections, your facts actually when you go back to 2004 and your projections up to 2010, we know that we are going to have $1.9 billion of fixed increases in programming. That would have been in six years. In six years we are going to have $1.9 billion in an increase in fixed program costs. Tying that to sustainability my question is: What happens if something goes wrong with the price of oil? We have all of this built up on the fact that we are going to get – the minister estimated this year a barrel of oil being $85 a barrel.

I am not even talking about in these few years. If that is the increase that we have seen in six years and if that continues, what are we likely to see in fifteen years? We know in fifteen years where we are going to stand with our non-renewable resources. Given the current situation of exploration and development we are talking about putting Hebron into that deal, fifteen years. We are going to get Hebron producing by 2015, we will say. By that time White Rose is depleted, or you might still have some left in the White Rose extension according to the information I saw from Professor Locke, but even putting the Hibernia expansion in, putting in the White Rose expansion and putting in the Hebron, if you extrapolate those figures of program costs out fifteen years, can you imagine where we are going to be with program costs by the time the oil money runs out? What do we do then? You talk about looking after your children and your grandchildren.

I agree, too, you can only manage it based on the factors and the information you have today, but when you look at that big picture it is pretty scary. We do not know the price of a barrel of oil no more than we knew in 2004. The minister confirmed for me, the barrel of oil was $35, four short years ago, and now we are talking $118 a barrel. God forbid, if that reversal takes place just as fast in the other direction as it did coming up. If we find ourselves ten years out, fifteen years out, that we did not have any more resources, we did our exploration and we did whatever and we do not have it, how are we ever going to face the people then and say, whoa, we thought we made the best deals we could, we thought we diversified as much as we could, but for whatever reason we just did not attract it or could not do it. Here we are now, you have to face people and say you have to roll back their services again. That is the concern I have and that is where I do not see any assurance, and maybe the minister cannot give any assurance. Maybe it not a case where the government can assure that it is sustainable. They used the word sustainable in their documentation and said, we are securing a sustainable future. Now the implication in that, securing a sustainable future, that implies to me that we have taken moves to make sure that what we are doing is going to be sustainable, we are going to secure it.

I saw a lot of stuff in here as to putting money into infrastructure. That is not a problem. I have no problem with that. It is very positive stuff. I even like the piece about putting money down on the debt. But, there is not enough in here, and I do not see and I am not hearing evidence from the government, the Premier and the Minister of Finance as to, is there anything more concrete you can tell us to give us a level of confidence that it is going to be sustainable.

I am hearing all kinds of things about planning and about strategies and that, yes, we have to diversify. We have seen pots of money going, some at aquaculture, some at this and some at that but we know how flighting that is. I will use an example where a former administration thought that we might have been on the cusp of a great thing for rural Newfoundland to provide jobs for all of these people who were displaced in the fishery crisis. I refer, of course, to the call centre phenomenon. I was a part of that when it started. We hooked the call center and we said: We got her made. People all over the world need these services with the modern technologies and whatever, and we started bringing in the first call centres. The first problem we ran into was they did not want to go outside the overpass. They did not want to go outside the overpass. They said, thank you very much for your wage subsidy programs – yes, we are going to come there because we can get low labour - but we do not want to go outside of the overpass, thank you very much.

So, we were left - what do you do? Do you say, well you do not want them at all – because you still had an unemployment rate on the Northeast Avalon for a certain sector of the population who did not have certain skills. So, no, you went with it; and, lo and behold, we have some pretty good businesses here now in the city, call centres, pretty firm grounding, hiring people all the time. I think there is one particular company here that ratcheted up to 2,500 people or more.

Anyway, we said that does not help rural Newfoundland - talking about the diversification piece again – what can we do? So we said, tell you what, we will give you a tax break. If you are prepared to go outside the overpass, we will give you a little bit more on your wage subsidy, and we will give you an even better deal on your tax base, because we need to get the employment where it is most needed, which is in rural Newfoundland.

So, you see a place go to Corner Brook. You see a place go to, I believe, the EXCITE Centre in Grand Falls, in Central. We saw one go to Carbonear. Now there are some serious concerns starting to arise. It was only what, a month ago, I believe, in the local newspaper, the one in Carbonear is gone. You only need read the Globe and Mail, or listen to any of the newscasts on TV, that there is somebody else getting into this market now, somebody else who has the bucks and who has the population, who can do this much cheaper than us, and that is a place called China. They are starting to compete in that industry, what we thought was our own little niche that we were going to have. Now, there were no bad intentions about that. I thought it was a pretty sensible, reasonable thing to do: give them some incentives and bring them here and employ some people.

So, that is one case where you use your best intentions and your best sentiments and your best brains and try to pull it together, and yet you find out that there are events beyond your control again that stymie your best efforts and your best intents – and I do not think we are out of the woods, by the way, on this one. Call if fearmongering, call it what you want, I am not creating this. I mean, I am only relaying here what I have heard and read in the media. One has gone down, and there are others that are precarious.

Now, if you add all that up - and our sustainability is only going to be long-term sustainability if we can create industries that are sustainable. That is, renewable industries. I just outlined what is wrong in the forestry, and where we are headed. I just outlined where we are in the fishery, and I just outlined now where our little – little, comparable to those – call centre industry is, or might be in the near future.

The issue here is simple, fairly simple. You might have 100 items in your shopping bag that the minister had when he went around on his Budget consultations. He had 100 things, 100 letters to Santa, we will say, and he had to pick out. He said, I can't do them all. So he picked out fifty or sixty and said, I will look after them.

Obviously he has a problem with the other ones that he did not pick out, that he left in the bag until some other time. He has a problem with those, but, more importantly, we have an issue with the sustainability of it, once you give it out. Not on the infrastructure piece, where he decided he was going to build a new school in Placentia, for example, or a new school in Cartwright, or a new school in Stephenville, but on the side where he put money in now, into jobs.

My understanding is that we are right back – and, again, maybe the minister can confirm this when he gets an opportunity in the House, because I could not find the facts, but - it is my understanding from what I have heard and read, but I do not have it on good authority, that the number of employees of the provincial government is now back or exceeded what they were in 2003. That is my understanding, back more than it was then. That is my understanding. So, we had a situation where the government, this government, took over in 2003, and one of the first things that they did in 2004 was, in order to get a handle on the money, they never had the money, was to cut certain jobs in the government, and cut a lot, close a lot of offices, raise the fees and lay people off. My understanding is that, four short years later, we have more people employed now than we did back then, in 2003. So we have not only taken back the numbers to match what were laid off; we have more back.

Now, that is a good thing in terms of employment, nothing wrong with that. Nobody is going to complain about that, that you took them back and they have a job and it is income, and people are staying in this Province because they are working here; but, when you put it in the context of sustainable, what do we do ten years out or fifteen years out – and, by the way, time flies they say. Time flies.

AN HON. MEMBER: When you're having fun.

MR. PARSONS: Maybe, as one member said, when you're having fun. Maybe it is fun; but, like they say, at the end of the day you paid the piper and you got your tune. Let's hope, after that, there is something to crow about.

That is the problem, and that is why I point out these figures, that if you are going to have - in six short years this government has increased the program expenses of this Province by almost $2 billion: $1,883,000,000. Maybe people do not see that one. It is fine to talk about a $1.4 billion surplus you have this year and half a billion next year, but that is $2 billion that got tacked onto your bill. Down the road when you do not have a surplus, you still have your $2 billion program cost there. Who is going to pay it then?

A couple of specific questions I had for the minister, too. I was asking the Premier yesterday, the Minister of Finance was not here but I asked the Premier a few questions yesterday and I will direct them again to the minister and perhaps he might be able to get some information for me. That is if he could point out in the Budget where he actually paid down on debt, because I have heard general statements like we are taking part of the surplus to pay down the debt. Again, I am not an accountant by trade but I think it is a legitimate question. I went to the lock up, and I asked the question when they did the Budget lockup and I still never got a satisfactory answer. So, I ask the minister again. I think, in fact, that this Minister of Finance can explain this to the people of the Province. It would give us at least a better understanding, and my question is pretty simple.

We know we had a $1.4 billion surplus. We know you wanted to take the surplus and do certain things with it, like put so much in infrastructure and so much to pay down on the debt. My question is: Can you show me specifically in the Budget documents where you paid down the debt? Because, again, tied into that piece is my understanding, for example, that we as a Province - I said we got, I think it was an $11.8 billion debt. That is the one the Premier said yesterday we have to wrestle to the ground and the minister is talking about we have to slay that dragon of the debt. We are going to get it down next year, I do believe, below the eleven mark and then hopefully a year out, down to ten. That is the plan. I was wondering, I cannot equate - maybe it is my naivety or I am blind but I cannot see it in the documents exactly how you paid down that debt. I do not see it there. Maybe you did it in some fancy accounting ways, I do not know, you might have took it out of one place and put it in another and it all works out that it is a reduction in the debt but I would like to have some explanation, if you might, as to how you actually did it.

For example, it is my understanding that that $11.8 billion came about over a number of years -and all this did not happen in one year. That debt was built up over years and years and years. Fifty-nine years, since 1949 we joined Confederation, we have been borrowing. I also understand that it is almost like when you buy a house. You want your money, you go in, the banker gives you the money and you have to give him back some kind of a security or a deal. You tell him, I will pay that money back to you over a number of years at a certain rate of interest.

So, if that is the case, and we owe $11.8 billion and we borrowed it all at different times, at different interest rates from different banks and now we are saying we are going to pay it down. It is my understanding that we can only pay off so much in any given year. Like, even though I might owe bank A, for example, $100 million, I just cannot run out tomorrow with my surplus and say I am going to take $100 million and pay off that, because that does not work with the bank. The bank is saying: Whoa, just a minute. You can give me back the principal, the chunk of money that I leant you, but I am making my money on the interest. You are not allowed to pay that back. Instead of giving me $100 million, you are only allowed to give me $10 million a year for ten years, and at the rate of whatever, 8 per cent, 6 per cent, 10 per cent, whatever you negotiated.

If the minister can only pay down the set debt, the debt that is already fixed and has been fixed after fifty-nine years at prescribed, set, terms and conditions and interest rates, if that is the only way he can pay it off - if we know in 2008-2009, whatever the figure is, say it is $200 million that he can pay off, how can he pay off any more than that on the net debt without incurring some kind of penalty? I know if I go into my bank and say I want to pay off my loan that I had out with you, I had it for five and I happened to come across a few bucks now so I want to pay it off in three, the bank is going to say: Whoa, what is in it for me? We are going to make interest off you for five years so why am I going to let you pay it off this year, all of it? - unless you give me some kind of premium or something to do that, to justify that, a reward. So, maybe it is my naivety and my lack of understanding. If the Province could not have taken any of the $1.4 billion to pay down the debt, other than what they were allowed to pay under the deals, how are they paying down the debt?

Now, it looks to me that they have found some other ways to do it. I think I am onto a couple of them but I do not know if I am on the right trail or not, and that is where I am hoping the Minister of Finance can help me and educate me. Because I see, for example, there is about $300 million-plus went off to the energy sector, I will call it. For example, there is reference here in the documents that we took $100 million and put into Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro to fix or improve their debt-equity ratio. Now, I am assuming that in that $11.8 billion, the debt that Hydro has is in there anyway because everything is thrown in there now, all the agencies, the school boards, the hospital boards and government debt. It is all in that $11.8 billion. That would include the Hydro debt. So, even though we couldn't go over and pay down the straight $11.8 billion, my understanding is that we have found a way to take $100 million and put it into Hydro. If we improve Hydro's balance book debt equity ratio by $100 million, I guess that $100 million comes off the $11.8 billion. Have we found some creative way to do it that way? Maybe an explanation of how you did it would be helpful.

The other $200 million: I asked the Premier yesterday, and again it is not that you are being nosy, you are asking legitimate questions. I read the press release that came out when it was announced last year about the equity purchase in Hebron, and it said $110 million. I read the subsequent one where they did the White Rose expansion and it said $44 million. I was here in this House when we did the legislation on the energy corp. that I understand was to be a sort of a new umbrella super corp. for energy thing, that was going to have different divisions under it. You would have Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, the regulation piece of it, you would have a development piece of Hydro, you would have a Windco, you would have a Lower Churchill and you would have certain different sectors all set up under this super energy company.

According to this minister's budget, we have put $200 million into that budget this time around, $210 million, $215 million from the Province, from the surplus, into the energy company which doesn't have a name yet.

My question of the Premier was: If it cost $110 for the equity in Hebron and it cost $44 million for the equity in White Rose and that totals $154 million, what is the other $60 million that went into the energy corp. for? All the documents say, as far as I can determine, that it went in to purchase the equity in White Rose and Hebron. I just thought it was a legitimate question: Why are we putting another $60 million over there? Is that in some way reducing our debt too? I just don't know the answers to these questions, but I guess it is because of my lack of financial or accounting skills.

Tracing through this maze of how the dollars are moving, sometimes we ask questions not because we disagree with what government did but because we are trying to understand what government did. Maybe when we understand it and get an explanation of it, it is clear. Right now it is not clear. That is why I posed those questions to the minister, and I think they are legitimate questions. People want to know.

That raises the further question: If we have put $60 million over in energy co., the new energy corporation, above and beyond what we needed to purchase the equity - and that is a whole new ball game, whether we agree or not that the Province should be taking equity stakes in oil projects. That is a different ball game. Assuming that is right and it is being done anyway, the question becomes: That $60 million extra that went over into the Energy Corporation, could that have been used for something else?

It is fine to say we are not going to put it into more oxygen, people, we are not going to put it more into the public. We could have given a 2 per cent tax break rather than a 1 per cent. Explanations of this stuff - and quite frankly, at the lockup we never got some of the explanations to some of these things and I am hoping the minister can help us straighten out some of that.

Back to the question of the debt again, other than that $300 million that I just referenced that went into the energy piece, I am wondering if there is anybody who can explain how the debt was paid down by the surplus in this year. I cannot find it, I do not know it, and to be able to explain it to somebody else I would like to be educated so that I can do that. I do not know if anybody over on that side, the government side, has taken the time or the interest to find out what this is about but I think it is pretty important. If somebody is telling us that we are paying down the debt I would like to see where and how we are paying down the debt.

That brings me to the piece again about what you use the surplus for. For example, some of it has been used to put a fairly substantial template in place for the public service sector in terms of wages. I guess it is probably a subject that we are not supposed to talk about, or according to certain people in the labour industry we are not supposed to talk about it, but without encroaching upon anyone's turf I think it is legit to comment on it, and that is the fact that it is pretty obvious now why the Budget did not come down in the normal time period. We normally see a budget in this Province a few weeks after the federal government have dropped their budget, which was, I do believe, in February. Normally, in the scheme of things, you would see this Province doing its budget in March. What did we see here? Of course it was delayed until Tuesday past, which was the 29th, some month and a half delayed.

It is quite obvious that the reason the Budget was delayed is because the government knew public sector bargaining was ongoing. By the way, I make these comments, not because I am interfering in the public sector piece but because as an MHA and as a person I am certainly entitled to comment on anything that we feel we need or want to comment on. Despite the comments of some people in the labour industry, I will not be muzzled and be told that I cannot even comment on it, with all due respect. If that was the case, there would not be too much we would be talking about in this House, because if any particular group or stakeholders said, shut your face and do not talk about, I do not think we would play much of a role as an MHA, if you cannot even discuss and raise questions about it. That in no way encroaches upon their obligations and duties to do their job to negotiate at those collective bargaining sessions. That is where I stand on the issue of talking about it, and that, of course, is the pattern bargaining versus the specific bargaining.

We were in this House a few weeks ago, and the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair, the Leader of the Opposition, raised the issue: Should there be a special deal for nurses? Some people went crazy and said, well, what are you doing talking about that? We are down negotiating all of this stuff. Well, the fact that you are negotiating does not tell me that I have to be muzzled and shut up, and I am not allowed to talk about it. What is wrong if we are never allowed to discuss something and what the options are? How are we ever going to learn and find out what the details of it are and what your options are?

Anyway, it was obvious– the Premier's position laid out before that motion ever came, by the way. Before the Private Member's Motion was ever brought into this House, the Premier had said that he was in favour of pattern bargaining. I do not think that is any secret. He was hoping to reward the public sector, and it was understood that what is good for one is good for all; what they call pattern bargaining. If you are going to give one group ten, you give another group ten, or one group five, you give the other group five. I do not think there is any rocket science about that, and that is no great revelation that anybody did not know about. He was on record publicly as saying that.

Anyway, we did not know what the figure was going to be, but the Finance Minister had a pretty good idea of what he was going to have to deal with, in terms of a surplus. He came out and told us last November that he was looking at at least $844 million surplus. We know that he had five more months to go, and lo and behold it worked out to be just about $1.4 billion at the end of the day when he got it all calculated. He knew he had a substantial surplus to deal with. The question was, how was he going to draft the Budget so that he decided what he was going to do with some of that surplus. He knew a piece of the surplus had to go into the public sector bargaining. He did not know how much so he was looking for a figure. If that was 2 per cent, it was one thing, if it was 6 per cent, it was something else, or 12 per cent, it was something else. The government needed or wanted to have a figure to plug in and that is why it got delayed.

Lo and behold, they got a figure to plug in last Thursday. I left the Chamber here and I noticed the Minister of Finance left the Chamber here about 1:45 p.m. last Thursday, and when I walked out through the door here at 5:10 p.m. on Thursday I met the NTV camera, the CBC and the Minister of Finance walking back in to do a scrum. Lo and behold, the announcement was that they had a tentative deal with CUPE, which everybody in the Province knows now was eight, four, four and four over fours years. Lo and behold, that announcement was made at about 5:15 p.m. outside the Chamber here and within twenty-four hours we had a Budget date. I do not think it is rocket science to figure out that the Minister of Finance was waiting for a figure to plug in. He got his figure once he had the tentative CUPE deal so he plugged it in, everything was ready to go.

In fact, I think if you look at the Budget documents it seems to me - and I believe I heard the minister say himself, now I could be wrong on this but I believe the minister had said, that each point you increase the public sector, each percentage of raise that you give them, it works out to be $25 million. I do believe that was the figure, $24 million or $25 million. I think that is the minister's statement, and he confirms that it is.

He just did the math. They got 8 per cent. They are going to offer CUPE eight times twenty-five, $200 million. That is what it is going to cost the Province this year with that offer that they have given CUPE, $200 million. It is plugged in. Then we know if that happens and it is accepted, he does year two, four times twenty-five. Another $100 million gets offered and gets tagged on the next year, another $100 million the next year and $100 million in the fourth year. If you add all of that up, according to my calculations, you have about $500 million added to the cost, the program expense of this Province, by the time that four-year contract would have expired.

I figured out where $200 million then of that surplus was going to go. I still did not know the surplus amount until the other day when he announced it, but I said, well, there goes $200 million, because they have offered the public sector that much with an eight per cent raise in one year. That is what he minister was doing. There is nothing wrong with that, I suppose, he needed a figure to plug in. That is the Province's position, where they stand, of course. That is their right as a government to decide whether they want pattern bargaining or specific bargaining. This member has been on record for some time as saying I don't think you necessarily have to have one to the exclusion of the other. That was a position I made when I debated it before, and discussed it. I do that whether I am private, or whether I am out in somebody's home, or whether I am in a public forum, whenever I was ever asked. I said, and maintain, that there are still circumstances where, albeit you might have a pattern or a template, there is no reason why certain circumstances justify having to do certain things for certain groups in order to look after a need. A lot of things in our society are needs based, as the Minister of Finance is saying all the time, needs based.

If we treat everybody in this Province alike, and say here is the basic reward, that is what everybody in this Province is getting, 8 per cent, that is for everybody, but you find out there is a need in a certain sector of a bargaining unit, or the total union, that you have to deal with, and you have to address it. I think it is foolhardy if we are going to say that we are going to use pattern bargaining to the extent that it keeps us from fixing our problems.

Just take the pathologists, for example - which I don't even think they are unionized but they are certainly paid by government - what if we find ourselves, as it appears, to be heading to a crisis situation with the pathologists? We only have so many. They are highly needed and you cannot get them.

I understand the lady who left last week, or announced that she was leaving last week, was a specialist in breast cancer screening. The gentleman who announced today that he is leaving to go to Alberta is a specialist in cervical cancer. We cannot get them.

I find it hard to believe that albeit we might have had a template for a raise for our public sector, that we are going to say to those specialists who cannot be gotten probably anywhere in the country, that we are not going to give you a few bucks extra if we need to, to keep you here.

To me, that is cutting off your nose to spite your face. What are we going to do? Allow the women of this Province, in those two particular cases, and say: Sorry, ladies, we cannot fix that - if that is all it takes. I am sure it is more complicated than that. I am sure it is more than just a monetary issue, but I just use it as an example: that if the monetary piece if what needs to be fixed, you cannot have a life safety issue if it takes a few bucks to correct it. I am sorry; I don't mean to offend anybody who doesn't have the same life safety issue that needs to be fixed. So, yes, I think we need to sometimes treat people differently, if there are certain circumstances that can be justified.

That is like equipment. If we have certain equipment, for example - I understand, and again I guess you.… I met with the lady, the head of the NAPE union, and had a discussion. I told her what my opinions were on this issue, so I am not saying anything here I would not have already told her. I told her what my opinion was, and I can appreciate her situation. She is saying that she is in a union that has numerous sectors representing different groups, and it is her view that everybody in her group should be treated alike. That is her view, and I respect her view, her right to have that view.

She also explained to me that, for example, say diesel mechanics are one little group included in that, her particular bargaining unit, included amongst all those. What if this Province could never get a diesel mechanic? What if the diesel mechanics within her bargaining unit said, thank you very much but we are not working here for $25 an hour. We are all going to Alberta for $50 an hour.

Do we as a Province throw our hands up and say, well, we can't make a special deal; we can't do it, even though it is an emergency situation, that we cannot operate our diesel-generated facilities or whatever, that we are not going to find some way around it?

So, I don't think, whether you use these pat phrases like pattern bargaining or specific bargaining, that one needs to be to the exclusion of others. There are certainly circumstances which might justify it.

Back to that issue of the debt again, the Minister of Finance, of course, had an hour and thirty-four minutes when he gave his Budget, and I am looking forward to the part of the process that we call Estimates. It is unfortunate that the Estimates are not broadcast. In fact, I am going to request of the House that maybe at least the ones that are conducted here in the House should be broadcast, because that is a big piece of the Budget.

Just for those who do not know, what happens in an Estimates Committee, for example, if the Minister of Finance - we set a date and there are a bunch of MHAs, there are Opposition MHAs and there are government MHAs, who form that committee. The minister has to come in. There is a book called an Estimates book, which was part of the Budget, and the minister and all of his officials will come into the House and they will sit over there, and the members of that committee over here are allowed to ask them questions and drill down into the details. What does this mean on page 129, line fifty-seven, Minister?

If he doesn't know, he has all of his officials with him, or she has all of her officials with her, to be able to explain the nitty-gritty details of what you are asking. I do not believe, in the history of this Province, that an Estimates Committee has ever been televised. Now, if we want true openness and we want true accountability that is where we get into the nitty-gritty.

This is not a case where we come in here for Question Period - by the way, there is no mistake about it, it is a Question Period. It is not an answer period, because I have been here just about ten years and I have asked all kinds of questions, but I do not know if I ever gotten an answer. In Question Period, if I ask a question of a minister I only have so many seconds to ask it, number one, and he or she only has so many seconds to answer. A lot of these questions are such that they cannot be answered, and they cannot even be asked properly in a forty-five second clip. Quite often, you do not even get half an answer, if you get anywhere near an answer.

That is why I believe, on this openness and accountability piece, that this government, if we are truly open and we are truly accountable and we are truly transparent, another important piece of the puzzle to show those things is to let us have televised Estimates Committees. Now that would be an interesting exercise, and we will see just where the government is prepared to go on that one. When the minister comes in with his or her officials, and a committee gets over here, and you can drill down into the details - you have three hours. There is no such thing as I asked the minister a question and he does not want to answer it, or he does not know the answer. He has his officials with him. He does not have to take it under advisement anymore. They are all briefed. There is a briefing book prepared, no delay at all. The explanations are given right then, right there, on the spot, true openness and accountability.

We, the Opposition, are going to make a formal request that we have televised Estimates Committees, because it is interesting to see, too, at these meetings - I will not reveal any secrets, I am sure, not that they should not be because they are transcribed and recorded. It would be interesting to see that these committees made up of both sides of the House - in fact, the government has a majority on there. It would be interesting to see how many questions are asked of the ministers, the nature of the questions asked, and who asked the questions. Because you might be part of a government, but surely you still have questions that you would like to ask. It might concern something in your district. It might concern something provincially that you are concerned about. It is interesting to see at these committee meetings how often and the nature and type of questions that the government members would ask of the ministers so that we can see again, the true openness piece of it.

Just to comment on a few general issues now of where government did or did not put money in certain departments and so on - fire departments and the fire commissioner's office. We had a motion here in this House, I believe the Member for Mount Pearl North, two days ago made a private member's motion about volunteers. The Province should recognize and continue to support the good work of volunteers. I believe it was unanimously passed that we should continue to do that.

Of course, there has been a bigger issue raised about the fire departments in recent weeks, and that ties in specifically not just to the departments, but to the fire commissioner's office. We even had questions here in the House today.

We know now from our experience and having found out in the last few months that there were no proper inspections done on some hospitals. We were told that there were certain conditions that existed and everything was hunky-dory. All of a sudden the government went out and threatened to shut down a lot of personal care homes because they did not have sprinkler systems. That, of course, got some people's backs up and said: Just a minute now, maybe I do not have them for my personal care home but what about the hospitals? You did not check them out. Sure enough, when they sent out the fire commissioner they found that there were a lot of mistakes, a lot of needs in health care facilities that had to be addressed. Then the government had to react of course, so they said they would put a few dollars into it.

Then it went a bit further. The obvious question was, if you checked out the hospitals, after you said there was no problem and the fire commissioner checked them out now and we found a multitude of problems that is going to cost substantial dollars to fix, what about the other public buildings? What about the other ones? First of all, the Minister of Municipal Affairs said: Well, first of all, I will take all the questions on that and I will give all the answers on that. I am not going to let you ask the fire commissioner of this Province, the trained professional person in this Province who has dealt with every fire safety emergency issue in this Province as long as I have known the gentleman, for the last ten years that I have been around. He is the face of health and safety and fire codes and emergency measures in this Province, whether it is about the Buchan's catastrophe or the Stephenville floods, you name it, and he was out front. He was the face of government in dealing with it. Yet, all of a sudden we find out this in the hospitals and we say: Well, why not send him to the other public buildings, including the schools? It is whoa, down comes the dark curtain; down comes the curtain. No, he shall not do it. No, we are not going to put any money into his office to do it. No, he is not going to be able to come out and talk to you. We will talk to you about anything that is going on.

Now this ties into this openness and accountability piece and transparency. Why would a government that is so open, so transparent, so accountable that they pass a law back in 2005 saying exactly that, why would they all of a sudden say whoa, we are not going to let the person who has done that credibly, with integrity and professionalism for the last ten years, twelve years, we are not going to let him do that any more? We are going to guard that. We are going to keep a watch on that and tell you what we want to tell you, when we want to tell you. I notice that is not in the Budget.

There was nothing there to improve the services of the fire commissioner. If we are sitting around folks with millions and millions of dollars in a surplus, isn't it an admirable goal to say let's give this person a few staff members? By the way, it has already been confirmed. I asked a question earlier. I said where are we in terms of the public sector employees, the numbers versus what we had in 2004 versus what we have now? We already, according to my understanding, have more now than we had then. So, we obviously saw a need in the last four years to rehire back more than we even had before in 2004. We already know that. So there is no question about hiring. That is going on. We do not have a hiring freeze on. Yet, we find that there is an inspections need to be done and the government will not give a few bucks to the fire commissioner to improve his office so that he can do the necessary public safety checks. No, not going to do it. What are we going to do instead? We are going to say let the volunteer fire departments continue to do what they have always done.

Now, you talk about sustainability. I do not know how wise and prudent and sustainable that kind of system is. That is some common sense stuff, that despite many good things the government does or tries to do that you get lost in, and the good things get lost because people see that and say, I cannot figure that out. On the one hand, you look at them and they say they have done all of this good stuff for me, they gave me a little tax break, they knocked the tax off the insurance, they did that stuff, but yet something as basic as where I send my kids to go to school they are not prepared to give the fellow the resources to check out to see if the school is safe. People have problems trying to figure that out.

It is like the Cameron Inquiry going on into the healthcare right now. The Province notices too, the people in the Province have been noticing their nightly fix of what happened at the Cameron Inquiry. It is pretty obvious that it reached a point down there between Eastern Health and the government that the people at Eastern Health could not send out any kind of media thing without having it vetted by government. That was a statement. That is not a lie. That is true. The man who runs the show said that, formerly ran the show. He said it got to the point that we could not put out a press release as to what was going on if we wanted to, because we had to get it run by government. Now, that is open and that is transparent, when you have a so-called arms-length health authority in the Province and they cannot send out a press release or advise somebody without having it vetted and approved by the government! People wonder about those things and they say: What is going on, if we are not allowed to know about it?

It is like the waste management thing again. You look at another piece when you talk about putting money in the right places. I said earlier, and I will say again, I give full credit where credit is deserved. There are some things in this Budget for which credit is deserved, no question, no question about it. Then you look at some things and you wonder - because part of sustainability, by the way, has to do with not only having jobs where you have money in your pocket, you have a livelihood and whatever, there is more to sustaining the Province and sustaining communities then just the financial fiscal piece of it. I am talking here, of course, about the waste management piece. You talk about a mess in waste management!

I know it is not an easy issue because I do recall that started back on a watch of which I was a member of the government, 2000 I do believe. We started with it, starting drafting the plans, decided how we might dispose of our waste. We are eight years out and I would venture to say we are hardly any further ahead with it now than we were then, other than a lot of studies have gone into it, a lot of consultation and a whole pile of money paid to consultants. We got a couple of waste management authorities set up and appointments made to the boards, but where it goes beyond that is anybody's guess.

I do not hear anybody out shouting and bawling and taking credit for that, what a good situation we have with waste management. The people on the West Coast and the South Coast will understand, of course, when I am talking about this, but you talk about the heights of foolishness sometimes and not thought out. I will give you an example of the waste management strategy for South Western Newfoundland. People who are familiar with the geography will certainly appreciate it. You take a person in Grey River, a population of about 130 people, accessible only by a ferry boat or chopper. They are going to have to ship their waste to a place called Wild Cove in the Bay of Islands. Now, those 130 people, they do not pay any taxes. They do not pay any taxes in Grey River. They are a local service district. They have been burning their garbage out in an incinerator for years. So they get told in February of this year - bang! - as of December 31st, you cannot burn your garbage any more. The head of the local service district there, whose brother happens to be the MHA for Bellevue - nice fellow, fine fellow, both of them - he comes to me and he says: I got this letter. We have got to shut down the tepee, the end of December. I said, yes. He said, well, there is only one problem. Nobody is telling me how I am going to get the garbage up to Wild Cove and they also have not told me what it is going to cost and they have not told me if they are going to help me. But we still have got to shut down the incinerator come December 31st.

I, of course, said, well, that does not make sense. Why would you tell somebody to shut down one thing and you do not have the alternate in place to deal with it? You plan to. You have a committee struck out there. There is a gentleman who heads it up, certain representatives on it, but nobody has fleshed it out and certainly not to a point where it is going to be implemented by December 31st or January 1st. So, I did some checking around and one community I called said: Oh, do not worry about that. We got an exemption on that. We are exempt from doing that. We do not have to shut them down on December 31st either. I said, oh, well, how did you get that? Oh, we got that because our MHA checked it out and we were told not to worry about it, we got an exemption. That is what we were told.

I said, oh, well, that is fine. They have obviously seen now that maybe the two departments did not have their plans together and had it implemented so that we would have an alternative and then we would shut it down, that it was not thought out or whatever. I said that makes sense. So I asked the Minister of Environment in this House, is that correct, that there are going to be exemptions? No, she said, no exemptions, come the 31st of December you are shut down. So, now I am at a loss; no exemptions. Some communities were told there were, operating as if they had an exemption. They were told by the Minister of Municipal Affairs' office. One hand did not know what the other one was doing.

The bottom line is it is easy under those circumstances to suggest that somebody is trying to embarrass government, that it was easy to come in here and try to put the Minister of Environment on the spot, by asking if there is going to be an exemption, and say I was told such came from the Minister of Municipal Affairs' office. Aside from all that, the question was asked before by the gentleman who heads the Local Service District: What is the alternative? Not that I disagree with you, not that I disagree that we should shut down the incinerator come December 31st – it is a good move to shut down teepee incinerators in this Province. That is not the issue. The question was: If you have given that directive to shut it down, what do I do with my garbage? That is all. When you go to one department and they tell you one thing, and you go to another department and they say, well – and Municipal Affairs, by the way, said: We have not worked out that piece. We are not to that point where we can tell these communities on the West Coast what to do with their garbage. We are working on it.

That is pretty confusing. All these people wanted was an answer, and yet you get the run-around: we cannot tell you, we have not decided yet. Some communities out there got so frustrated, one being the Town of Port aux Basques, for example – because this has been ongoing about the waste management thing, folks, for years as I say, six or eight years. They got so frustrated they said, look, rather than making calls all the time and trying to find out what is going on, can you put one of us on your committee so that we know what is going on, and any contribution that we can make we can do it?

For example, the Town of Port aux Basques takes all the garbage right now from Rose Blanche, Bird Islands, Isle aux Morts, Cape Ray, Margaree, and its own garbage, Port aux Basques. They said, well, boys, if we are one of the big movers out here and involved in terms of the garbage, and it is all being done through our teepee, we should get involved in this, because we are going to be impacted by it, as are all these other communities. We are the big fish here, so why shouldn't we be on board? Sent a letter to the minister, had a meeting with him. The mayor comes out of the meeting and figures no problem. The minister said: Heard you, got you -looked after. That is the mayor. He said such on open line again last week. Yet, the announcement gets made last week saying: Sorry, we picked some from three communities, never picked one from there.

Now, that is not a case of somebody who is whining because they want to be on a committee for the sake of being on a committee. They want to be on the committee because they know your decision is going to impact them, number one. They want to help if they can, in any way, number one, in understanding what is going on; and, number two, so they can work through it with you. They do not want to be disruptive.

The answer we get back is: We can't have an eleven person committee; it is a ten person committee. I said: Well, just a minute now. What is the magic in a ten person committee versus an eleven person committee? Maybe I think wrong or something, but what is the difference? Is an eleventh person trying to solve a problem, and an extra head to help you, going to be so problematic that you cannot do it and you end up with 4,500 people in that community upset about it? It is not like the government was going to pick up any expenses to let them come to the meetings.

The government turned around the same day that I was here asking the minister questions about, why do things happen that way? - because that is nonsensical - the same day the minister says that we can't have you on the committee because it is a ten person committee, they hold a meeting in Burnt Islands the same night, last Wednesday night, had all of the communities together and they said: By the way, Port aux Basques, we haven't figured out the details yet on the waste management piece, and albeit we don't want you on the committee because it is only a ten person committee so we can't put you on that because eleven would destroy that committee, we have a consultant hired and we need to get some more work done in order to figure out the waste management, so could you take the lead on that please?

The town, of course, said: No problem, we will take the lead on it. By the way, because you thought we are good enough to take the lead on this, and it is all tied into the same bundle, waste management, is there any chance of getting on the committee? Nope. Sorry. So the logic sometimes gets lost on people who are dealing with their government. The secrecy, the reasons or the lack of reasons for why you cannot play a role or try to play a role to help the government deliver their mandate is amazing.

The assumption is almost as if: if we tell them, they are going to work against us instead of work with us. I think if a government deals with the people with that mindset, that we tell you what we want, when we want, that is trouble. That is trouble. I thought it was all about co-operation. You only get co-operation if you include people, not exclude people.

The Minister of Human Resources, Labour and Employment was up here just last week talking about including people. You know, our new immigration policy and everything, our new policies that we have for disabled people, is where it is. That is where it is; but, no, those are not the actions that we get from certain sections of the government.

Another issue, you talk about the openness piece. That is why I think at the end of the day people are starting to question that now. I have seen more editorials from our media in the last - since the last election in October 2003, from the 2003 to the 2007 election, excuse me, pretty quiet. People said, okay, they are a new government; they just took over. They have to get their heads around what they want to do, and it takes time to implement it, and for everybody to learn their job and find out what is going on, and get a plan in place and a strategy and see where they are going to go. We never heard hardly a peep from any media source from a questioning, even, let alone critical, from a questioning point of view of the government.

I am willing to say that if you go back now and do an assessment of the media, all sources of media in this Province, since October 2007 up to today, there is more critical questioning commentaries and questions put to this government than there all was in that four years previous. I would think that came from one reason, and only one reason. It came about because of the government's insistence that they have to control the message.

It is like the minister of industry, a few weeks ago here in the House we got a book that comes out and says, amongst other things, we gave a million dollars to three companies in the Province. The Auditor General pointed it out. He called them A, B and C. We gave them a million dollars. So, I called over to the minister's office and said - because I am the critic for industry and trade – who are the three companies? I can't tell you that. Well, why not? Well, commercial information, it might hurt their performance.

Now, if the Auditor General had it wrote up because he was after saying that the money was put into the companies without proper due diligence in the recording of it, and there were issues there about whether it was all done properly, he had concerns. Otherwise, he would not have written it up.

This, by way, was two years after. I am asking these questions about two years from the time that the Auditor General looked into these companies and the time when I am asking the questions, so I would think any impact that it had on them was going to be pretty negligible by this time. Even better than that, when they got the money from government they signed a statement saying that it would all be public knowledge. I saw that. I saw that document. I saw that form, where these three companies - it is right on the government Web site. You fill out an application for funding and it says right there, you borrow government money and we disclose who you are and what we gave you. That is there.

So, I thought my question was pretty straightforward to the minister: Who got the money, and where is the money now? The answer I got back was: I can't tell you. Whoa, that is pretty good. He made statements, the minister did in the paper, saying, yes – talking about another fourth company – we make some pretty high-risk ventures. Not everything is going to work. You have to fly with some.

Now, that is well thought out. That is diversification on the fly. To make it a shade worse, the minister says – and it is recorded in Hansard – I won't tell you, but you come up behind the Speaker's Chair and I will tell you. That is pretty good, come up behind the Speaker's Chair and I will tell you.

I don't know if the minister thought I was asking that question because I was personally nosey and wanted to know the names of the three companies who got the million dollars. I asked the question because the Auditor General had raised it; it was in the Comptroller General's report. In fact, the Comptroller General had a sheet in his book and he named all of the companies, all of the amounts they got, the types of loans that they were, the conditions and everything. All you had to do, actually, was compare what the Auditor General said to what the Comptroller General said, and the details should be fairly obvious. The companies' names should be fairly obvious.

My question was: If it is so obvious, why can't the minister tell me? Is there some reason he will not tell me? He had authority to tell me in their application that they signed. It is obvious the Comptroller General released it. The only reason the AG did not name them is because that is his policy; he will not name them. There is no reason the minister cannot name them. I certainly did not want to be lugged up back of the wall so that the minister could whisper it to me, who they were. What was I supposed to do with it, once I found it out, in confidence and behind the wall? That is hardly an open, transparent process.

Anyway, I kept digging. I kept asking the minister. I didn't understand why we were (inaudible) like that, because that was just beyond belief for me. I will tell you behind the wall but I cannot tell you publicly. They got $1 million of taxpayers' money, over $1 million. We are not talking here about somebody who went off with a pen or a piece of paper. We are talking about three companies that walked off with $1 million. It is my understanding that as a government - I mean, surely MHAs went through all kinds of scrutiny, as they should have with the Auditor General, and if everybody is going to be totally scrutinized, why should not anybody else who walks off with government taxpayers' dollars? If you are not prepared to have your name out there, you should not have come to government in the first place. Then again, you were prepared because you signed a form saying you were prepared for that.

So, it is the minister who is putting that condition in place: that thou shalt not know. To make the best of it, I came back in about three or four days later and the minister sends me over a little note, a scrap of paper, and on it was written the three names of the three companies. It happened to be, by the way, the same three that I had figured out from the comptroller's sheet. That is the ones that I had figured out. That is who they were. Anyway, I took the note and sent it back to the minister again. I said: Minister, are you giving this to me in confidence, because you are not saying on the note that it is in confidence? He wrote me back again, he said: Yes, this is given to you in confidence. So I said: Well, that puts me farther ahead. Here I am now, sitting - I got a file folder here, the Comptroller General of the Province knows all the details on it, the Auditor General of the Province knows all the details on it, I know who the three companies are, and there are three companies in this Province that have gotten $1 million in loans from this Province and the Minister of Industry and Trade will not stand up and say who they are. This is a government that pats itself on the back for being open and transparent and accountable.

Now, I always talk about my friend Joe who watches the TV and tries to figure out what is going on. Well, I am telling you, Joe told me he has a hard problem figuring that one out. He cannot figure that out either. Joe cannot figure that one out.

In fairness to the minister - and that is just the way I operate - I am not going to publicly disclose who these three companies are because I do not think it is incumbent upon me to do that. Albeit, there was no, you got this in confidence, written on the note when he sent it over to me. I am not going to reveal those three companies names. I think it is incumbent upon him to do it. They gave him the authority to do it. The Auditor General pointed out the problems that were with it. They, like anybody else who borrow public funding, should have it out there and deal with it. It is when you do not put it out there that it makes the matter worse and people say: Why not? What is it about these three companies that we are not supposed to know their names? That is where the problems come in.

It is like the issue on the Cameron Inquiry. We sat here in May of last year - and I have it again in Hansard. I said: Can we have a judicial inquiry into this? The former Minister of Justice stood up and said: No, we cannot have a judicial inquiry. I cannot talk about it. I cannot tell you anything about it and we are not going to have a judicial inquiry into what is going on down in Eastern Health about the breast cancer screening piece.

Now that is truly open and that is accountable again, but at the end of the day the government again reacted to the pressure. It was about four days later that the Premier came back in and said: Yes, we are going to have a judicial inquiry. I asked the question: Why do you have to drag this government and ministers in this government screaming and kicking before they give out what is obvious permissible information? They do things that are sometimes obviously right, like it was right to do a judicial inquiry, the Cameron Inquiry. It was right.

A self thinking government does not need an Opposition - and we get criticized because we are negative. You stand up and ask a question and you are either told the question was stupid or you are stupid, you should not have asked it, but they turn around four days later and say: we are going to do a judicial inquiry now. The next day you stand up, you ask a question about something, you are back on the same old track, we cannot tell you.

Another famous example from industry trade and that is the fibre optic deal; the famous fibre optic deal. I probably occupied, along with the Minister of Industry, more time in this House last year or the year before last on the fibre optic deal than anyone else. It all started because we asked a few simple questions like: What are the circumstances in the deal concerning the $15 million you are going to put into this company on the fibre optic? Instead of somebody saying: Well, come on, let's go down for a briefing now. We will tell you everything that there is about how this happened, how it came about, who is involved, how the money is going in, what it is going to accomplish and so on, instead of being upfront and dealing with it. Boys oh boys, did we ever have a problem! Did we ever have a problem trying to pull them teeth!

We ended up on the last of it, about four weeks out, the Premier came in here and the Minister of Finance lugging cardboard boxes full of stuff. They popped them up on the desk. I think there were four big boxes of stuff that he popped up over there. The Government House Leader and the Minister of Finance, they were about five minutes yanking out the boxes and piling them up.

AN HON. MEMBER: Six boxes.

MR. PARSONS: Six boxes - saying that we could have them. The tugging and the screeching and the clawing that you had to go through to get it, and all for what? In the whole process, all while that was going on, people were out in the public saying: What is the government hiding? What is the government hiding? Those fellows are in there asking for that stuff and they will not give it to them; no, sir. They tell them everyday fifteen new reasons why they do not need it and why they cannot have it. There must be something fishy there.

By the way, it is taxpayer's money again. I was not asking the Premier what he was doing with his money. That is none of my business. I did not ask the Minister of Innovation, Trade what he was doing with his money. That is none of my business. I was asking them what they did with $15 million of the taxpayers' money and I did not think that was unreasonable.

It is like the Access to Information piece- I have forty-seven minutes left to go but I understand from the Government House Leader that we are going to wind it up for today and we will adjourn debate and take it up again on Monday, I guess.

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

MR. RIDEOUT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I note for the record that the Opposition House Leader has adjourned the debate and he has some time left in his speaking time which I assume he will pick up on Monday.

Mr. Speaker, I move now that the House adjourn until tomorrow, Monday, at 1:30 and that this House do now adjourn.

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the House do now adjourn.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

All those in favour, 'aye'.


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


The House stands adjourned until Monday at 1:30 in the afternoon.

On motion, the House at its rising adjourned until tomorrow, Monday, at 1:30 p.m.