March 23, 2009            HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS            Vol. XLVI   No. 53

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order, please!

Admit strangers.

The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, on Thursday, March 12 of this year, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, and indeed all of Canada, suffered a profound and unimaginable loss. Cougar Flight 491 tragically went down off our shores, taking with it seventeen lives. Lost that day were fathers, sons and a daughter, brothers and a sister, uncles, friends and colleagues; and, while we may have lost them physically from this earth on that day, they will never, ever, be lost in our memories, in our hearts, and in our prayers.

On that final day, these individuals were doing what they did every other day: going to work, performing their jobs, and providing for their families. It was, I am sure, a day like most others. For one man it marked the beginning of a new and exciting career. For others it was an unremarkable morning, and commonplace after years of devotion to an industry they all loved. Little did they know as they took off on that fateful flight that they were leaving behind families and friends who would be left to mourn lives that were taken much, much, too soon.

I cannot bear to think of the devastation and aguish of those who are left behind. I cannot bear to think of their sadness and their pain. Yet, I know that eventually, as time begins to heal those aching hearts, there will be left behind a legacy of love from each of those seventeen precious individuals.

The people of our Province know all too well the dangers and the perils of living from the sea. For centuries we have mourned the loss of our fishers who were the pioneers of working from home in the most inhospitable of natural environments. They know the hazards and the risks, and there are many families of fishers who can relate all too well with the heartache of this tragedy.

Like true Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, those seventeen individuals thought not of themselves when they went to work on March 12. They did not dwell on the inherent dangers of earning a living from the unforgiving seas that surround us. They were brave, they were courageous, and they will forever be remembered in our hearts as heroes.

We will never forget them, and we will always keep in our thoughts and prayers those who have been left behind.

And they left behind one miracle: one amazing individual who will be remembered as the lone survivor in one of our most tragic offshore accidents. Rob Decker remains to remind us of those we have lost, and to represent some hope for the future in the most dismal of times. We wish him good health and a complete and a fast recovery.

We also honour those selfless individuals who participated in the search and rescue and recovery efforts, and pay tribute to their outstanding work under the most trying of circumstances.

As we remember these brave souls who found their resting place in our seas, I would quote portions of the famous poem Sea Fever by John Masefield: "I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky; and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by"… "I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life, to the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife; and all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover, and quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over."

Those lost on March 12, 2009 were: Thomas Anwyll, Langley, British Columbia; Peter Breen, St. John's; Gary Corbett, Conception Bay South; Captain Matthew Davis, Holyrood; Wade Drake, Fortune; Wade Duggan, Witless Bay; Corey Eddy, Sibley's Cove; Keith Escott, Goulds; Colin Henley, St. John's; First Officer Tim Lanouette, Comox, British Columbia; Ken MacRae, Kingston, Nova Scotia; Allison Maher, Aquaforte; Greg Morris, Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove; Derek Mullowney, Bay Bulls; Burch Nash, Fortune; John Pelley, Deer Lake; and Paul Pike, Shearstown.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask all hon. colleagues and all present in the public galleries to rise today to join us for a moment of silence in honour of our fallen heroes.

[Moment of silence]

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I certainly thank the Premier for his statement and for the beautiful words he uses today to describe and offer condolences in the midst of such a tragedy in our Province.

Mr. Speaker, all people in the Province remember in their thoughts and prayers those men and women of the Cougar helicopter crash of 491, and their families and loved ones who are left to mourn.

We, too, join with the many people who have offered their condolences in a time of extreme heartbreak and devastation. We also offer our best wishes to Robert Decker, that he may overcome the injuries he now suffers and move forward to a full recovery.

This tragedy has touched all people of the Province and around the country. Its impact has been felt in all regions of Newfoundland and Labrador as families continue to pay personal and lasting tributes to those they have loved and lost.

It is also a reminder to many more families of the loved ones they have lost to the sea. Whether it be the Ocean Ranger disaster, the Ryan's Commander sinking, or many of the other tragic events that mark our history on the ocean, Newfoundland and Labrador has paid the ultimate price for the rewards that we reap as an island province rich in fish and oil. It is the irony of our homeland, a place that can give so generously but claim so much more in return.

Today, Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge and commend the professional men and women who participated in the search and rescue operations and recovery operations. For many of them, this could not have been easy, as they searched for coworkers and comrades. However, their work and their efforts are a source of pride to us in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I want to acknowledge the support that was provided by the companies in the aftermath of this tragedy. The extending of a hand and the comforting of family did not go unnoticed or unappreciated by those that were impacted.

I acknowledge the religious leaders of the Province for the spiritual healing that they have provided to the people at a time when it is greatly needed and I am sure that they will continue to provide to those families for the many months to come.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, I offer my deepest sympathy to all of the families and commend each of them for the courage that they have shown in dealing with their loss in what has become a very public issue. They themselves have been the greatest support to each other. I admire them for the love and support that they so readily gave at a time when their own pain was immeasurable. I have talked with some of them and I do know that they are so appreciative of the kind words and actions of the many people of our Province during this time of sadness and grief. As we move forward, Mr. Speaker, I ask government to consult with these families, to establish a proper memorial to remember the sixteen men and one woman who lost their lives on Cougar Helicopter Flight 491.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the member for the District of Signal Hill–Quidi Vidi.

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

I thank the Premier and the Leader of the Official Opposition for their sincere statements. It is an honour to rise with them and to bring my condolences to the families affected by the crash of Flight 491.

Our thoughts for the past almost two weeks have been with the families of the seventeen workers who were killed in the accident, as well as with Robert Decker, the lone survivor. They will continue to need all the support that we and the community can offer them in this terrible time.

Many of us in the House have attended wakes and funerals of the deceased. It was heart-rending to see the pain and sorrow expressed by families and friends. It is very sad and tragic to have had another major accident related to our offshore. We now owe it to the passengers and crew of everyone on that flight to ensure that we find out what caused the failure of the helicopter. We also owe it to their coworkers and to the many people either working in or supporting the offshore oil industry in our Province. We have to be able to assure them and their families that everything about their workplace is as safe as it can possibly be.

The offshore workers and their loved ones need to know that continuing to make the choice for the offshore will be something that they will not regret down the road. We also need to offer some comfort to those left behind from the crash of Flight 491, that the death of their loved ones is not in vain, that we never take for granted that everything is safe and under control, and that the crash of Flight 491 will teach us many lessons that will make the future of safety in the offshore the number one priority of all who have responsibility for this industry: government and regulators, and those who run the operations. I feel confident that all of us will be ready to work together towards this goal as we all move forward from this disaster.

I would like to say one thing, I think, very personally: the fact that there was actually a family for whom the loss was a second person, because there was one man whose brother was on the Ocean Ranger, and we never want this to happen again - none of us - I know that.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

Statements by Members

MR. SPEAKER: The following members' statements will be heard: the hon. the Member for the District of Port de Grave; the hon. the Member for the District of Bay of Islands; the hon. the Member for the District of Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair; the hon. the Member for the District of Mount Pearl North; and, the hon. the Member for the District of Bellevue.

Before I recognize the hon. the Member for the District of Port de Grave, I ask all members to join with me in welcoming a new Page to the House of Assembly; Ms Rebekkah Sheppard will be joining us for this session of the House of Assembly.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute and extend condolences on the passing of a former MP and a Member of the House of Assembly. Born at Upper Island Cove, the late John H. Lundrigan was truly a colourful politician at both the provincial and federal levels of government.

John Lundrigan was the Member of Parliament for the riding of Gander-Twillingate between 1968 and 1974. While in Ottawa, he served as the critic for Employment and Immigration. One year after exiting from federal politics, he represented the District of Grand Falls-Buchans. He served as Minister of Industrial Development, Rural Development, and Public Works and Services in the government of former Premier Frank Moores. He retired from provincial politics in 1979. In private life he was a businessman and a teacher.

He was a dedicated and committed worker, not only to the people he represented but the Province as a whole. He was a very colourful and vocal individual. I remember the day, Mr. Speaker, his persistence brought on the infamous "fuddle-duddle" comments.

I had the opportunity to work with Mr. Lundrigan in construction, and I can honestly say he was truly a man of his word.

On Sunday, March 8, 2009, I was honoured to join with Premier Williams, Mr. French, the MHA for Conception Bay South, and yourself, Mr. Speaker, as well as hundreds of others, in a service of thanksgiving.
I will end with this quote from former MHA Mr. Bill Callahan, when he stated, "It takes skill and work to be a good MHA; John Lundrigan had that in great measures."

Mr. Speaker, I ask all hon. members to join me in expressing deepest sympathy to the family of the late John Lundrigan, truly a credit to this hon. House of Assembly.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Bay of Islands.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. LODER: Mr. Speaker, I rise today in this great House to recognize a young lady by the name of Melissa Taylor, a resident of Summerside, Bay of Islands.

Melissa is a Grade 6 student attending Templeton Academy at Meadows. This talented young lady entered the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador 2009 Heritage Day Poster contest with her painting entitled, Blanchard Fishing Premises in McIvers. There were 450 students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 from thirty-four schools competing.

Mr. Speaker, on February 16, 2009, I had the honour of participating in the Heritage Day Awards celebration here in St. John's, at which time it was announced Melissa was the overall winner of the poster contest. This was a proud day for Melissa, her parents, and in fact the entire school.

I would ask all members here today to acknowledge the success and talent of this young lady, Melissa Taylor.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise in this House today to pay tribute to the amazing feat of Michel Andrew of Sheshatshiu, Labrador, who just spent five weeks in the Labrador wilderness walking to raise awareness around diabetes.

Mr. Speaker, for Michel Andrew, known as Giant, his 300 kilometre walk through Sheshatshiu to Natuashish began with a dream involving his grandfather, who was known to help others. In his dream he was walking with his grandfather, breaking trails for others, and he knew that his dream had a message. His reaction was immediate, "I want to walk to create awareness about diabetes," he said, and so began the planning of his personal journey.

Mr. Speaker, his journey continued for five gruelling weeks through storms and rugged terrain, and as he made it further north his fan base grew. Giant has received attention across the Province and country for his walk. He has met diabetes survivors and sufferers along the way. He became not only an inspiration for those suffering from diabetes but also to his fellow Innu, as he set out to complete a journey once familiar to their own ancestors and grandparents.

He was met by many supporters in the communities along the way and attended a supper held in his honour in Hopedale. His journey ended in Natuashish with nearly 400 people on hand to greet him.

Mr. Speaker, I had hoped to be in Natuashish but unfortunately due to circumstances I could not attend, but his hometown of Sheshatshiu also held a day and night of events to honour Michel's Giant accomplishment.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this House to join with me in recognizing Michel Andrew and his extraordinary journey to raise awareness around diabetes, especially diabetes in our aboriginal people, and to connect to his ancestral history of the Innu people of Labrador.

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 recognize the Mount Pearl Sports Alliance and those athletes and sports organizations recognized at the recent Recognition and Achievement Awards Ceremony held at the Mount Peal Glacier.

Mr. Speaker, it is very important that we encourage our young people to participate in sport. Not only are good habits of exercise and fitness important and essential for overall good health, but the benefits from the socialization for youth who participate in team sport and athletic organizations are significant as well. Organizations such as the Mount Pearl Sports Alliance assist in ensuring that children are given the opportunity to be active, and are recognized for their achievements in sport. This recognition is oftentimes the driving force behind keeping kids interested in athletics and physical activity.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this House to join me in congratulating the Mount Pearl Sports Alliance in recognizing the hard work of these individuals. I would also like to congratulate specifically, as achievement award winners - Campia Gymnastics and the Mount Pearl South Summer Games Swim Team, Daniel Kelloway, Keely Whitelaw, and Krista Burton. Recognition Award recipients include Sarah Slaney, Shawn Morrissey, Nicole Chan, and Sarah Squires. Congratulations once again to all award recipients.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Bellevue.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. PEACH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I stand here in this hon. House today to express the gratitude of the Town of Southern Harbour for the new addition to their fire fighting services, a brand new fire emergency truck.

The Fire Chief of Southern Harbour was presented with their new truck on February 13 of this year. The new ride replaces a 1974 Chevy pick-up truck they were using.

The Southern Harbour Fire Department currently has twenty-three members who are very active, and they are still recruiting new members. This department actively responds to regional calls from Little Harbour to Arnold's Cove, including calls of the Trans-Canada Highway, along with dealing with emergency calls from their own hometown of Southern Harbour.

I ask that this hon. House join me in congratulating the Fire Department of the Town of Southern Harbour in their hard work and dedication in attaining this new fire truck.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Statements by Ministers.

Statements by Ministers

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS SULLIVAN: I rise today to inform this hon. House that the provincial government has officially proclaimed March 21-27 as Multiculturalism Week for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

March 21 was chosen, Mr. Speaker, because it is designated by the United Nations as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. March 21, 2009, also marks the second anniversary of the launch of our provincial immigration strategy.

Mr. Speaker, the provincial government views increased immigration as a partial solution to the skill shortages and demographic challenges faced by our Province. That is why we announced an immigration strategy and committed $6 million over three years.

Considerable progress has been made in the implementation of our immigration strategy since its launch in March of 2007. Most notably, the Office of Immigration and Multiculturalism has been established with thirteen permanent staff, including a Settlement and Integration Consultant on the West Coast. In June 2008, the Province launched its Policy on Multiculturalism, which recognizes that diversity leads to creativity, innovation and economic growth.

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is committed to the promotion of inclusive citizenship, welcoming communities, and a society where the cultural diversity of all people is valued, supported and enhanced.

This is why we proclaimed a week of celebration that fosters a greater understanding and respect for the contributions of all of our cultures. Mr. Speaker, it is our hope that Multiculturalism Week will further establish cultural diversity as a key strength of Newfoundland and Labrador, and I am glad to recognize a number of people present in our gallery today who have enriched our Province by making it their chosen home.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS SULLIVAN: To make our first Multiculturalism Week even more special, our Office of Immigration and Multiculturalism, through its various partnerships, has organized a series of special events called Together, We Rock: Celebrating Multiculturalism Across the Province.

I encourage everyone to attend the many potlucks, cultural nights, meets and greets, and other events organized by community groups throughout the Province as part of the Together, We Rock festivities.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to conclude by congratulating our Office of Immigration and Multiculturalism, and all of their partners for organizing such a wonderful tribute to the people who have chosen to build new lives, new homes and new futures here in the great Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to thank the minister for an advanced copy of her statement and to say we, too, want to join each and every individual in this Province in taking part from March 21–27 in Multiculturalism Week here in our Province.

Mr. Speaker, we all know the benefits by having people come to our Province. I can speak very freely on individuals that I know who have moved to the district that I represent, Mr. Speaker. I understand - it is wonderful for each and every one of us to be able to come together with those people and to make this place a better place for us all here in the Province.

I was very intrigued by the slogan, I guess, Together, We Rock: Celebrating Multiculturalism Across the Province. Yesterday, I did not get an opportunity to get to it but I understand there was a wonderful event at The Rooms. One of our staff members was in attendance. It was a wonderful occasion to see immigrants becoming Canadians, and the wonderful displays and the dancing that took place. I understand that one of the unique things was to see Newfoundlanders join Asians, South Americans and people from all around the world to take part in a dance – I think it is from the movie Slumdog Millionaire.

I want to say to them, I welcome them here to the hon. House and it is truly wonderful to see those people coming to our Province to help make this place a better place to live. Together, we can all come together and bring an end to racial discrimination.

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 very much, Mr. Speaker.

I, too, thank the minister for the advanced copy of her statement. I am really pleased to respond, especially as the granddaughter of a family of first-generation Newfoundlanders - they were Newfoundlanders by the way, they came at the turn of the twentieth century.

What the ministry is doing now for the new people coming to our shores is a far cry from what my grandparents and their children received when they came. It is wonderful that we are at a point in our life in this Province that we are putting more financial support and practical support into services for immigrants who are choosing to come here.

Last year, the Multicultural Women's Organization attended a diversity conference, it was in the fall actually, and there were some things that they pointed out at that conference, and I just say it here now because we heard it from them. While we are doing well, they would like to see more money going into English as a second language, both for adults and children. They feel we have more to do that way. They also would like to see more assistance to professionals to practice their profession in this Province and ensuring that they remain here in this Province and not find opportunities outside of the Province. The third thing we have heard from them is that there is a level of violence against women and children, immigrant, newcomer women and children, and they need support and increased programming for that area. I know the minister will take these things seriously from the Multicultural Women's Organization.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: Further statements by ministers?

The hon. the Minister of Labrador Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HICKEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to congratulate the competitors of the annual Cain's Quest snowmobile endurance race that took place in Labrador from March 14 to March 21.

The race is a two-person snowmobile competition where entrants negotiate a 2,300 kilometre off-trail, ungroomed areas of Labrador wilderness. I was pleased to see that this year, of course, the course went into Northern Labrador Inuit communities of Postville, Makkovik and Rigolet, truly making this a pan-Labrador event. As well, I am pleased to note that the Nunatsiavut government was also a sponsor in this year's event, and we look forward to their future participation.

Mr. Speaker, this race, with its international cast of players, could not run by itself. The Williams government, on March 13, announced a substantial investment of some $90,000 for the event, which we are proud to support both as a tool for economic development and a celebration of the Labrador culture and lifestyle.

Now in its third year, Cain's Quest is garnering a reputation as the most challenging snowmobile race in North America. Through rugged and relentless deep snow, thick forests, and over treacherous moving waterways, teams travel for one goal: to be the fastest across the finish line.

This is a race that draws international attention. This year observes from as far away as Norway looked on as racers from Canada and the United States took part. I was particularly pleased to see so many teams from Newfoundland and Labrador, including two teams from Natuashish, with Mark Nui, Grand Chief of the Innu Nation, taking part.

Mr. Speaker, it was Jacques Cartier who is said to have described Labrador as "the land God gave to Cain." He could not have been more wrong. Labrador is a beautiful, rugged and vast expanse. Geographically, it is larger than Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the Island of Newfoundland combined. Even today, much of the land and waterways of Labrador has been seldom touched by humanity.

Mr. Speaker, it takes tremendous courage and dedication to organize and compete in Cain's Quest. The entire organizing team of officials and volunteers, including the White Wolf Snowmobile Club and the Grand River Snowmobile Club, and the racing teams, should be commended for once again pulling off an exciting world-class event.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all hon. colleagues to join me and congratulate the first-place team of Tim Lessard and Eric Hall, Cain's Quest champions for 2009.

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 certainly want to acknowledge Cain's Quest, which has become a very prominent event affiliated with tourism and culture in Labrador, and which has grown to be probably one of the most challenging snowmobile races to exist in the eastern seaboard, and we have been able to draw attention not just from around the Province but across the country and from the United States.

Mr. Speaker, we are pleased that government continues to support such events like this in our Province. Not only does it promote the culture and heritage, and draw awareness to our Province and the communities in it, but it also gives us an opportunity to promote ourselves in ways and to people to whom we would not normally have access.

There were sixty competitors in this particular event that competed for over $62,000; and it was not any cakewalk, or I should say any pleasure ride. When you are talking about going through 2,300 kilometres of wilderness in Labrador, battling against the climate, such as snow and wind and storms, over ungroomed, rugged terrain, it cannot be easy, and I am sure that many of these riders will tell you that.

Of the sixty participants, Mr. Speaker, I think they all had a good showing. There are always going to be factors that will cause you to have interruptions and have to back out of the race, because safety has to be first and foremost, but I certainly want to commend the organizers of the event, the people in the local area and throughout Labrador, and also to commend the people who won from the State of Maine: Tim Lessard and Eric Hall. Mr. Speaker, they –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to conclude her remarks.

MS JONES: I will, Mr. Speaker. Thank you.

They outran three other teams that were very near competitors of them, to be able to win the race.

I remember one of the quotes that Mr. Lessard made after the race was over. He said he had been on snowmobile then for about sixteen hours; they were hoping to get into Postville, and he never thought they were going to make it.

I think these are the kinds of things that will give you a good feeling for what these snowmobilers went through, to take on this endurance. Certainly, congratulations to all of them involved.

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

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

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

I, along with the minister, actually, and the Leader of the Official Opposition, were all at the Combined Councils of Labrador when Cain's Quest was on the go in Labrador last week, a whole week ago. It is the second time I was in Labrador. Two years ago I was there also when Cain's Quest was on, so I am aware of the great excitement surrounding this race in Labrador, and the fact that these teams will take on 2,300 kilometres in Labrador, in some of the harshest weather and environment.

I remember the first year I was in Labrador and I was speaking to one of the mothers of a team and she was not that excited about it, but the community is. I do want to congratulate all of those who participated, as well as the team that came first: Tim Lessard and Eric Hall.

I think Cain's Quest is a tremendous example of the great spirit that exists in Labrador - spirit in the community. I have been lucky enough over twenty years now to be going back and forth to Labrador for various reasons, so I would like to use this as an opportunity to say to people out there on the Island: If you have not been to Labrador and you want to find a good place to go for a holiday, think about going to Labrador. There is a lot to learn when you go there.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further statements by ministers?

Oral Questions.

Oral Questions

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My questions are for the Premier today.

Mr. Speaker, Justice Margaret Cameron recently delivered a report into the faulty breast cancer scandal that has been ongoing in the Province. It was a damning overview of the problems that can occur when the appropriate leadership and accountability are not present in our health care system. There were sixty recommendations made by Justice Cameron.

I ask the Premier today: Has government developed an action plan with timelines as to when the entire report will be implemented? If so, can that information be tabled in the House of Assembly so the public is made aware of it?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: For the member's benefit as well, Mr. Speaker, I want to acknowledge that government already released that report back the first part of March. In fact, I have a copy to be tabled in the House for members present today.

There are, as she has indicated, sixty recommendations in that report. In fact, many of them, Mr. Speaker, have already been actioned. We have, over the last two years, made some significant investments in our health system, and many of them are targeted towards the issues that are identified in those recommendations.

I can tell the member opposite, and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, that the government has already made significant investment towards those sixty recommendations, so many of them are well underway.

With respect specifically to the question she asked with respect to an action plan, I should be in a position, before this session is concluded, to table in this House the action plan that she has referenced. Many of the initiatives identified in that recommendation have not only been actioned prior to that, but some of the new ones we have already started to work on in the last couple of weeks.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: I thank the minister for that response.

Mr. Speaker, government has also had a number of weeks to review the report since it has been release to the public, and I ask the Premier: Has government costed these recommendations? If so, can you table that information as well, so that we have an idea of what the cost factors are to implementing all of those recommendations?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Some of those recommendations in there, as I have said, because we have already actioned them, we have some costs pretty well nailed down. Some of the other ones, we have some tentative figures and some order of magnitude of what it would be, and we would be only too glad to share those with members of the House, but the ball park we are talking about is around $100 million.

I think the figures that we worked up are some $98 million, as a preliminary estimate of what some of those costs might be. There are a couple of areas where those figures may be a bit soft because they are forecasts – because we need to get some additional information.

The member opposite might recall that some of the recommendations call for an independent review to come in and look at a couple of aspects of the operation. Until that review is concluded we will not know for certain what might come out of those, but that is the order of magnitude that we are talking about and I would be only too glad to share it with members of this House.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Justice Cameron also identified the need for more staffing positions within Eastern Health and in the other four health authorities.

I ask the Premier: In total, how many new staffing positions will need to be added at Eastern Health and in the other health authorities, and when can we see the recruitment of those positions starting?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

That is one area where I am very pleased to be able to say that we have already taken some action.

Over the last two budgets, Mr. Speaker, we have made significant investments in our lab services, not only in Eastern but throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, and I will be only too glad to table those new positions that have been created in the labs and the associated costs with them.

In terms of the recommendations of what it might mean for additional staff in the future, some of those adjustments have already been made and we forecasted what new ones we will need to add for this year. Some of the other pieces growing out of - the implementation, for example, of the new accreditation process, until we get further advanced in that process we will not be able to tell you exactly how many people we will need but again, we have an order of magnitude. I will be only too glad to share with her those numbers that we have already created and those that we are forecasting to create over the course of the next year or two.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Justice Cameron also outlined the need for a crisis management plan to be developed that will help staff deal with and address the problems in our health care system. She asked that this be one of the first items of priority.

So I ask the government today, have you developed a crisis management plan or is one in the process of being implemented or developed by the department?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: The member opposite might recall that in addition to calling for this inquiry in the first place, our government commissioned a task force, put in place a task force to look at adverse events, and as a result of the work of that task force, we received a report late in 2008 that outlined for us how health authorities would react in the event, if there is an adverse event or critical incident within their organizations and what might be their response, how might they communicate that, how might they report it and document it. That will form a piece of the crisis management recommendation that Justice Cameron has included in her report and it is a piece of work in progress.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The problems that were outlined in this report were meant to deal with breast cancer testing in particular, but we all know that this is just a tip of the iceberg in terms of looking at some of the challenges that exist within our health care system. However, we all know that there are many problems that were discussed in this report that can be expanded to those other sectors of the health care system.

I ask the government today: Will you be expanding the findings of this report to look at how you address problems in other areas of the health care system as well?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: One of the underpinnings of this report, if you look at the inquiry itself and all the testimony that we heard throughout that period of time, and pretty well anybody who testified during that period and the recommendations themselves imbedded in the body of the report, the whole theme that runs through is quality; quality improvement initiatives, focusing on quality, focusing on monitoring progress, reporting progress, picking up on adverse events that may occur and putting in place corrective action.

I think I can say to the member opposite, the general thrust of that Commission's report and some of the commentary we heard which focuses on quality, I would agree that is a belief, a philosophy, a mindset and an attitude that needs to be entrenched throughout our entire system, not just in our labs, but our health system overall.

I can assure the member opposite and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, that focus on quality improvement will continue to be our primary consideration as we move forward to continue to invest, enhance and improve our Province's health system.

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Patients are still waiting to be compensated for the problems that they have faced as a result of this scandal in our health care system. We know that HIROC, Eastern Health's insurance company, is willing to compensate some but not all. Patients have argued that their mental anguish alone should include them in any settlement.

I ask the Premier today: What is government doing now, or will do in the future to look after the patients who HIROC is trying to exclude from any potential settlements?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

The court action is against Eastern Health, which is a separate corporation and has its own legal counsel, but obviously, the Department of Justice would be available to join in a review of the liability issues and any potential settlement that might be involved.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, the Premier has continuously stated that patients should be compensated, but I have to ask: What is government willing to do about it?

As you know, there is a precedent to deal with situations such as this. Under the Tobin government, in 1996, they did move forward to compensate victims of Mount Cashel and to alleviate further pain and suffering for them and their families.

I ask the Premier today: Will government commit here to compensate any patients and families who may be excluded from compensation by Eastern Health and by HIROC?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, I am very familiar with the Tobin compensation that took place. I was actually involved in a law firm that was involved in that particular process. I cannot give you the exact timeframe or the duration of that process but that took several years. It may have taken – I could be off - as much as five to seven years. It was a lengthy inquiry that took place, then after that there was a legal process. Court actions were issued. The questions of liability had to be determined and then subsequent to that, there was a whole question of a portion of damages.

So there is a fairly complicated process that has to take place. As a government, we need to allow that to take place. There is a question here of the liability of HIROC, there is a question of the liability of insurers for some of the doctors and then there is a question of degree of damages for people that have been harmed by somebody's wrongful action or negatives. So we have to allow that to take place in order that damages can be ascertained, and that is a process that we would allow to happen and be observers in that process. If we can be facilitators by providing information in any way possible, we would only be too delighted to do so.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Madam Justice Cameron also made recommendations suggesting that legislative changes ought to be made, changes involving apology legislation, regulation and licensing of medical laboratory technologists and the Evidence Act.

I ask the Premier: Will we see any of that legislation during this session of the House of Assembly?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

As the hon. member mentioned, Madam Justice Cameron, the Cameron Report did recommend – I think it was recommendation 56 – that there be apology legislation passed and the Task Force on Adverse Health Events also, in one of its recommendations, recommended the same thing.

Our government has been looking at the legislation of the six jurisdictions in the country that do, in fact, have that legislation, as well as jurisdictions in the United States and Australia, and those consultations and that investigation will help inform the government as it makes a decision on how to move forward.

I can tell hon. members that that legislation is under very accurate review by government at the present time.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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


I wonder if the minister could be more specific. It is suggested that we should be able to do this in a timely fashion and we did, after all, take Abitibi Bowater in an afternoon. I do not think it is rocket science to think that we might get these changes made, which are fairly straightforward, by the end of this session, which is May 24.

Can the minister commit to having something done in that time frame?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

I have been in this House long enough to know that you do not commit to anything until you know you can exactly do it. I can assure the hon. member that we are working –

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. T. MARSHALL: - that we are certainly working on this. We are examining quite carefully the proposed or the recommended legislation of the Uniform Conference of Law Commissioners. We are aware that the purpose of the legislation is to help some of these disputes be settled on a timely basis. I know a number of people who have talked about this have indicated that it encourages also the number of settlements as well as the time it takes to get a settlement.

The whole idea of the legislation is to say to someone to take responsibility for what they have done, to express remorse, to express contrition, and the legislation will ensure that such an apology will not be an admission of liability, that it cannot be used in a legal proceeding to prove liability, and also to ensure that the apology cannot be used to void an insurance policy even if the terms of the insurance policy or legislation provide that.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the minister for his non-answer again. It is a pretty straightforward question: Can we get it now or not? You have just indicated that there are lots of templates in the country you can use. It is not rocket science to take one of those and adapt it to our situation, I would suggest.

My next question talks about delivering on commitments. We have certainly gotten lots of indications from this administration that they have made some commitments they have not delivered upon.

Mr. Speaker, there remains a culture of secrecy within the health care system. People are afraid to speak out because of punishments they may receive from administrators. We haven't seen the promised whistleblower legislation which was promised some two years ago.

I ask the Premier: What is government going to do to protect the people who want to bring attention to issues in our health care system and other parts of government? When will we see the whistleblower legislation?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

In our party's blueprint in the last election we did indicate that in our second term we would develop whistleblower legislation, and we are in the process of doing that. Of course, we already have a form of whistleblower legislation. All members of this House joined in the passing of what I call the Green act which is the House of Assembly Accountability, Integrity and Administration Act which provides for protection for those public servants who might disclose information about wrongful activity on the part of a member of this House, an officer of the House, or an employee of the House.

The next step is to move to extend that protection to those who disclose information, who see any wrongdoing about general civil servants.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister to conclude his answer.

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

Officials in the Department of Justice had been engaged in consultation at the time of the last session. There were meetings planned with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, with their information commissioner or with their Citizens' Representative, and we anticipate that close consultation to be concluded –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, they have pulled the switch on us. This was the Minister of Health who would get on with this kind of non-answer.

Surely again, Minister, I say, you have lots of templates for whistleblower and you know that the act you referred to only applies to members of the House and not to other government agencies and bureaucrats.

Mr. Speaker, a task force was developed to look at and address adverse health events, and the Minister of Health alluded to it earlier today in response to one of his questions. That report was delivered to government some time ago. Again, it was identified by Justice Cameron as one of the issues relating to adverse events.

I ask the Premier again: What is the status of those recommendations? We are hearing a lot about things we are going to do, going to do. What is the status of those recommendations? When will we see a government response to those? Will the costing associated with it be in this budget?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The member opposite might recall during the time we released that report back in December, I had indicated publicly that those recommendations, and as much as we, as a government, concurred that they were solid recommendations, we wanted to wait until Justice Cameron finished her piece of work to make sure that if there were some issues that were addressed in that task force and they could also potentially be addressed in the Cameron Report - and in some cases, they actually were. We wanted to make sure that we had the value of that report as well before we started to move forward with the full implementation.

One thing I can say though, Mr. Speaker, one of the foundation pieces in that task force report was to ensure that we had an electronic recording system for adverse events in the Province and we have moved on that. Eastern Health has actually acquired the necessary software and we are in the process of rolling that out to the other authorities as well. So that was a significant foundation piece.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister to conclude his answer.

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Last fall we asked government several questions regarding pension and severance programs to workers at the Abitibi mill in Grand Falls-Windsor, should the company go into bankruptcy. Government said at that time that they were looking at options and they would not speculate. Well, it is four months later and it appears the company is in further financial difficulty.

I ask the Premier: Have you had any discussions with Abitibi as to what will happen to severance and pension plans for workers? Has government developed any plans to help these workers financially should a bankruptcy be inevitable?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Yes, Mr. Speaker, we have been in talks with Abitibi and that is with regard to our expropriation of their assets. At the time that those assets were expropriated, the Premier said that we would compensate them for the bricks and mortar for the hydro assets. So talks were ongoing with regard to that issue. As part of that discussion, Mr. Speaker, severance for the loggers was put on the table for Abitibi and a request that they do the same for the loggers in that region of the Province as they did when they closed their mill in Stephenville.

In terms of the bankruptcy, Mr. Speaker, we are still not clear where the company is going. We are watching it very carefully and we are not going to speculate at this point in time. We understand where severance will fall and we understand the implications on pension but we will not be dealing with hypothetical situations here in the House or publicly, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

But the minister should be aware that these people are impacted and speculation or not, they expect that government will have some solution or some answer for them if they find themselves in a position where they can no longer draw down their severance packages or their pensions. Mr. Speaker, the minister talks about loggers, and it is my understanding that there was nothing forthcoming for severance or pension for the loggers that were impacted at the Grand Falls-Bowater operation.

I ask the minister: Is government prepared to respond to that particular group in terms of looking at early retirement programs, looking at some kind of pension or severance packages that could be implemented for those workers?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In my answer that I gave to the Leader of the Opposition's first question I clearly stated that as part of the talks that we had with Abitibi, we clearly put on the table severance for loggers who are not eligible for such payments now under their contractual arrangements with Abitibi Bowater. That was squarely on the table.

In terms of pensions, Mr. Speaker, that is not somewhere that this government has gone before. We have looked at it from all sides. We have taken a position that it is not something that we are going to engage in at this point in time. However, the union has asked that the government, on their behalf, put forward several proposals to Abitibi Bowater with regard to pensions and we are in the process of doing that, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, the fact that the minister put the issue on the table does not give me any comfort. Maybe you would like to tell me what you have achieved in terms of results?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

At this point in time, talks have broken off between the government and Abitibi.

We have to come to a fair evaluation of what the assets are worth, and what AbitibiBowater's responsibilities are in Newfoundland and Labrador, and we will continue to press those matters when the opportunity arises, Mr. Speaker; and the opportunity hopefully will arise again.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I ask the minister if they are prepared to take any of the money from the Community Development Trust fund – an agreement which they signed with the federal government for well over $20 million – and use it to fund worker adjustment programs in this Province like have been used in other provinces in Canada, primarily in British Columbia?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Five million dollars of the Community Development Trust fund has been set aside for economic diversification and development in the Grand Falls-Windsor region, and that money will be used, but it will not be used for pensions, Mr. Speaker.

The Community Development Trust fund is designed for the whole manufacturing area, sector, which includes the fishery, and there are not enough funds in there for us to deal with anything with regard to pensions so it is not sensible for us even to contemplate going there; but it is designed for situations that we are facing in central right now and, as I said, we have earmarked $5 million of that fund to be spent directly in that region.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We know that government provided for up to $700,000 in tax grants to the Town of Stephenville when the mill closed in that town, to make up for the tax shortfall that the company used to contribute.

I ask the government today what their plan is to do a similar investment for the Towns of Grand Falls-Windsor, Bishop's Falls and Botwood, to help them deal with the tax shortfall that they are going to be facing as a result of losing the business of Abitibi-Consolidated.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

As the chair of the task force, we have identified a number of issues that we need to do some review on. One of them is the issue of grants in lieu of taxes, payments that would be made to municipalities that were made by AbitibiBowater in the past.

We have some work that is being done in terms of bringing information together for task force consideration, and as soon as that information is completed, that review is completed, we will look at that and make a determination as to what we will be doing as a government relative to grants in lieu of taxes.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the minister for his response. I am glad to hear that you are having a look at that particular piece of compensation.

Mr. Speaker, we know that Abitibi has valued the assets that the government expropriated, at $300 million, and that will be the amount that the company is seeking to take the provincial government to court for. I understand from the minister today that any discussions around the value of the expropriated assets, those talks have broken off. I would like to ask the minister today where that situation is. Is it going to be left for the courts to resolve, or are there other actions with which government will proceed?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. David Paterson, the CEO of AbitibiBowater, in public statements, assigned a value of $300 million to the assets of AbitibiBowater. We have a view that the assets are worth less than that, and we have been engaged in talks for some time with regard to that issue.

As I said earlier, Mr. Speaker, those talks have broken off for the moment. Events are unfolding on a daily, if not hourly, basis and we will have to see where they take us in the next few days. That will determine our next actions.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Earlier in our session we recognized that on March 12, 2009, this Province suffered a great tragedy in the offshore that took the lives of seventeen people and left one critically injured.

Mr. Speaker, although the questions as to why are as yet unanswered, there are sure to be recommendations from the investigating organizations. We shall probably find that there is still much to learn about offshore safety.

Mr. Speaker, Norway, a leader in the offshore oil industry for many years, decided it needed an offshore safety authority independent from the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate. The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway was created in January 2004.

Mr. Speaker, I respectfully ask the Premier: Would this government please take on investigating why the Norwegian government found it necessary to set up an independent safety authority?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: As the members of the Opposition clearly understand, we all take this as an extremely serious matter. We are monitoring this to the very best of our ability. As information comes to us we are disclosing it as we did last week with regard to the suits, the transportation suits.

There are also other issues that have been raised with regard to underwater breathing apparatus, the issues of the Coast Guard - I am aware of the Norwegian situation - so I think we need to let the process take its course.

We are in sort of an awkward, for want of a better term, position on this. The National Transportation Safety Board are now conducting the investigation. The RCMP are involved from their perspective and we have to stand by as observers, but we are very interested observers. We actually insisted that we have an observing presence, for example, on the Osprey recently. So this and other issues will certainly be taken under consideration when we feel that the investigation has concluded and firm findings have been reached at the end of the day.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I am glad to hear the Premier mention that he does know about the authority – which, of course, I would expect he would - and his openness to whatever comes out of the various investigations that have to happen.

Mr. Speaker, since the tragedy we have all heard people in the Province speaking up about the concerns with regard to the safety of offshore workers. Of course, the Premier and the minister have also done that, and he has just referred to them, but many people feel they do not know what is going on around safety issues in the offshore.

It appears that while the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board does conduct regular safety audits - I think it is three times a year on each facility - it does not publish the reports; however, Norway's Petroleum Safety Authority does report on what it finds, good and bad.

In that spirit, Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: Would the Premier be open to working with the federal government to ensure that all past and future safety audits conducted by the C-NLOPB would become public?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As my colleague across the House has said, the C-NLOPB has complete responsibility for operational and occupational health and safety in the offshore. The board has been given that responsibility under the Accord Acts. There are very stringent requirements that have to be received by companies who are doing any kind of exploration, seismic exploration or development work in the offshore. There is a safety officer who does regular audits, and certainly her question with regard to having those audits published is certainly something we can take under advisement, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The time allotted for Oral Questions has expired.

Presenting Reports by Standing and Select Committees.

Tabling of Documents.

Tabling of Documents

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

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, I am not certain if this is Tabling of Documents or Reports. I have the Cameron Inquiry report here that I want to table today. Am I in the right section or do I wait until the next one?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. minister can table it now.

MR. WISEMAN: All right, sir.

As I said in the House earlier, Mr. Speaker, we received the report in the early part of March and we made it public at that time, but this is the first opportunity we have had to introduce it in the House. So I now table it for members for their benefit.

MR. SPEAKER: Further tabling of documents?

Notices of motion.

The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, if you deem it appropriate, perhaps it would be in order for letters of condolences be sent out on behalf of all members to the families of the crew and the passengers of Flight 491 on behalf of all members of the House of Assembly under your signature, if that is appropriate.

MR. SPEAKER: It is certainly appropriate and the Speaker will take your suggestion under advisement and do as you directed.

Further comments?

Notices of Motion.

Notices of Motion

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

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I give notice that I will move that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole on Supply to consider a Resolution for the granting of Interim Supply to Her Majesty, Bill 76.

MR. SPEAKER: Further notices of motion?

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I give notice that under Standing Order 11, I shall move that the House not adjourn at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, 2009.

Further, I give notice that under Standing Order 11, I shall move that the House not adjourn at 10:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, 2009.

MR. SPEAKER: Further notices of motion?

Answers to Questions for which Notice has been Given.



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

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Knowing that Budget Day is coming up on Thursday, I said I will give it one last kick at the cat. I will not have a petition tomorrow.

Mr. Speaker, to begin again, I was not going to have a petition today but seeing the Budget is coming up on Thursday - and I was very gracious to the minister, he responded when he got my presentation during the consultations on the budget process, and I want to thank him for that.

This will be my last petition now until after the Budget, and hopefully, I will not have to get up anymore. It is in reference to the long-term care facility. I keep saying in the Conception Bay North area, but in actual fact, those two facilities that we are looking at replacing are right in the town of Carbonear and I have no problem where this goes ahead, in whose district it is in is not the issue.

Mr. Speaker, everyone would love to see it in their district, but that is not my issue here today. I just want the government to have a look at it because this has been on the go for a while. In 2007 it was recommended that a long-term care facility be built in the Conception Bay North area. I know the minister put forward in last year's Budget $1 million, and hopefully it is there this year and hopefully Cabinet will look graciously upon it and we will hear an announcement in this year's budget. Since we last sat I have heard from many people, various groups and organizations and I know the minister heard various comments about it during his budget consultations in his area.

Mr. Speaker, I just want to say that hopefully government will look favourable upon this facility. We are very gracious for all the other areas that have a facility that came on stream after the one was recommended for the Conception Bay North area. All I say, Mr. Speaker, is I hope government and the minister in their wisdom will see to it that this week when the Budget is announced, that there will be some announcement for the long-term care facility for the Conception Bay North area.

Thank you very much.

MR. SPEAKER: Further petitions?

Orders of the Day.

Orders of the Day

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, by leave and agreement with the Opposition, I give notice and move that the House not adjourn at 5:30 p.m. or at 10:00 p.m. today, Monday, March 23, 2009.

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


MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

All those in favour of the motion?


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

The motion is carried.

On motion, the House do not adjourn at 5:30 p.m. or at 10:00 p.m., March 23, 2009.

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, for Orders of the Day, by leave, we would like to introduce Interim Supply, Bill 76.

MR. SPEAKER: Again, by leave, does the hon. member have leave to introduce Bill 76 and the resolution accompanied by that bill?

All those in favour, 'aye'.


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

The motion is carried.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I wish to inform the House that I received a message from His Honour the Lieutenant Governor.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

All rise.

The message is dated19 March 2009, and reads: As Lieutenant Governor of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, I transmit a request to appropriate sums required for the Public Service of the Province for the year ending 31 March 2010, by way of interim supply. In accordance with the provisions of Sections 54 and 90 of the Constitution Act, 1867, I recommend this request to the House of Assembly.

Sgd.: _______________________________

John C. Crosbie, Lieutenant-Governor

The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I move, seconded by the Minister of Health and Community Services that the message, together with a bill, be referred to the Committee of Supply.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is that the message, together with a bill, be referred to a Committee of Supply and that I do now leave the Chair.

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

All those in favour, 'aye'.


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

The motion is carried.

On motion, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole, Mr. Speaker left the Chair.

Committee of the Whole

CHAIR (T. Osborne): Order, please!

We are considering the related resolution and Bill 76, An Act For Granting To Her Majesty Certain Sums Of Money For Defraying Certain Expenses Of The Public Service For The Financial Year Ending March 31, 2010 And For Other Purposes Relating To The Public Service.


"That it is expedient to introduce a measure to provide for the granting to Her Majesty for defraying certain expenses of the public service for the financial year ending March 31, 2010 the sum of $2,235,248,800."

CHAIR: Shall the resolution carry?

The hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board.

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Mr. Chair, the Interim Supply Bill is required to be passed by the House of Assembly during the spring session in order to allow for routine and ongoing operations during the period while Budget 2009 is being introduced, debated and approved by the Legislature.

When we bring in the Budget, Mr. Speaker, we will be seeking approval for funding to spend for the entire fiscal year, but it takes time to allow for debate and approval of the Budget. During the interim period it is necessary to provide funding for the government to pay its bills, which is the purpose of Interim Supply.

Mr. Speaker, we are seeking approval in Interim Supply for a sum of approximately $2.2 billion, representing approximately 34.5 per cent of the 2008-2009 budgeted current and capital account gross expenditures. This will provide departments and public bodies with sufficient cash flow dollars to manage expenditures for the period from April 1, 2009 to June 30, 2009 which is the first quarter of the fiscal year.

Mr. Speaker, in some accounts more than one-quarter of the Budget is required for those items which will need to be expended early in the year, as well as to provide for the calling and awarding of tenders and the encumbering of funds.

Mr. Speaker, an increase of $333 million, or 18 per cent, to Interim Supply is being requested this year. This increase includes provision for increased infrastructure spending, annualization of 2008-2009 Budget decisions, salary increases, and other program growth.

Interim Supply, Mr. Speaker, is basically intended to provide for the continuation of ongoing government programs and projects. Included in the 2009 Interim Supply Bill are ongoing housekeeping expenditures, including funding for seven pay periods and ongoing project and funding requirements applicable to the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

The legislation will need to be passed by March 25, 2009, Mr. Speaker, in order to allow sufficient time to meet payroll, social assistance and other expenditures effective April 1, 2009.

Mr. Speaker, before we begin debating Interim Supply, I would like to take a few minutes to give a brief overview and discuss the pre-Budget consultations which I had the privilege of attending this year. This was the first time that I had attended pre-Budget consultations, having been appointed Minister of Finance on November 1, I think it was, 2008, and I have to acknowledge, Mr. Speaker, that it was a very interesting and valuable experience.

This year, Mr. Speaker, pre-Budget consultations commenced on January 16 in St. John's. In St. John's, if I remember correctly, there were something like 48 groups that presented over a period of a full day, in the morning and afternoon. They were broken down into two sessions. They concluded on February 23 in St. Anthony, and I had the pleasure of being snowed in at St. Anthony overnight, so we got to spend an extra night in that town.

Sessions were also held in Grand Falls-Windsor, Gander, Carbonear, Labrador City, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Corner Brook, Stephenville, Marystown, Clarenville, and three new locations this year, Mr. Chairman: Grand Bank, Old Perlican and Twillingate.

I am pleased to say that we had a great turnout for these sessions and I was pleased to have representations from local MHAs. In one session in Grand Falls-Windsor there were four MHAs in attendance, giving recognition to the serious situation that exists in that area, and government's commitment to deal with that situation as best we can.

We had approximately two hours scheduled for that session, Mr. Chairman, but it went into three-and-a-half hours and there were a lot of good ideas. I was very impressed by the attitude of the presenters in Grand Falls-Windsor, the positive attitude. I remember specifically the comment of one individual: that we had to look to the future and not to the past.

We use the past, Mr. Chairman, to form our present decisions and future decisions, but we cannot dwell there. What we have to do as a government is to take into account what we heard at these various sessions, see what we can do in these challenging economic times, maintain social spending but always be aware of the need to be fiscally conservative and to practice fiscal restraint.

The question has been raised, Mr. Chairman - I think it was a question of the day one day on VOCM - whether or not the pre-Budget consultations were a worthwhile experience. Let me say, Mr. Chairman, to all of those naysayers out there, that from my perspective the pre-Budget consultations were an opportunity to meet with people on the ground, to hear what they had to say, and to take into consideration their concerns.

I can remember vividly, Mr. Chairman, each session, from hearing, in relation to the foster families - and I note there was an announcement today on foster families' increase in St. John's, a very emotional plea from a lady in St. John's. We heard from various sports organizations, the Special Olympics, various women's groups, the women's multicultural office - I see they were well represented here today - we heard from various women's groups throughout the Province.

Mr. Chairman, as I moved throughout the Province, the new sessions were ones that were really interesting. Old Perlican - the Minister of Environment was there with me – we had a very interesting session in Old Perlican. We went to Twillingate, where the MHA for The Isles of Notre Dame was present, and had another very interesting session. These people, Mr. Chairman, I will say they were very glad to see that our government is willing to come out and listen to what people have to say, because that is what it is about.

What I would say, Mr. Chairman, despite the comments by the Opposition House Leader, there is no culture of secrecy. What we are doing is that we are out there talking to people, saying: How can we help you? What is it you would like to know about the way government operates? That is what these pre-Budget consultations allowed us to do, Mr. Chairman. More importantly, Mr. Chairman, or perhaps most importantly, what these pre-Budget consultations allowed was for a human face to be given to the needs and requests of various people.

As I said on a number of occasions, Mr. Chairman, it is easy, when you have a piece of paper in front of you, to say, well, we cannot do that this year; but when you hear from people, Mr. Chairman - and I have, as I have indicated, some vivid memories. I think of when the MHA for Notre Dame, we were looking at, I think it was Change Islands - was it the Change Islands co-op fishery? - how the community had no unemployment, no need for community enhancement programs this year.

When we moved to Labrador, the Leader of the Opposition showed up in Labrador, in Happy Valley–Goose Bay, and made a very good presentation. I had the opportunity to meet with a group from her district after that, and I have to say I was very impressed. They came to St. John's because they could not make it to the St. Anthony session. We had a very informative and co-operative session with the representatives from that part of the Province there.

What the pre-Budget consultations allow us to do is to inform the budget process, but it allows for us to get out there and meet the people and hear what they have to say. So, Mr. Chairman, people throughout our Province – and this is the message that I heard and it is the message that we hear on the ground. I am sure MHAs from all parties, when you are in your districts, hear the same thing; it is the pride that the people of this Province take in this Province, the pride that people have in where we stand as a Province.

Mr. Chairman, over the last number of years this government has taken enormous steps to build a strong economic foundation. Later this week we will hear more of it, Mr. Chairman, but what we have tried to do is to lay a groundwork, to create surpluses while still spending on social programs, so that when the economic storm which has hit us now in this country and in this world, when it hits we will be ready. We are ready, Mr. Chairman, as we outlined in the economic update. We have done the things that other people are only starting now to do. Mr. Chairman, we have spent on infrastructure. We have reduced debt. We have created employment, and we have reduced taxes. So, as the rest of the world struggles to catch up, we are dealing with the problems.

Now, there is no question that there is an economic reality to this world that continues to worsen. What we will hear later on this week, I would suggest, is an acceptance of the reality that exists in this economic world today. As I have said, we have spent four or five years now building a strong foundation and what we will continue to do is to build on that strong foundation to make for a strong and proud Newfoundland and Labrador.

I was very pleased today to hear the Minister of Labrador Affairs. Although I have no great desire myself to be involved in Cain's Quest, I can only imagine what a challenge it was to drive 2,300 kilometres on a snowmobile - it is just absolutely amazing - across that rugged and beautiful part of the Province.

As the Leader of the NDP stated, I have also had the opportunity over the years to travel throughout Labrador. I am always fascinated, as I travel the Coast of Labrador in a small plane and look out at that beautiful coastline and those beautiful mountains and forests, to realize that this is part of this great Province.

Mr. Chairman, as I travelled throughout the Province getting ready for the Budget process, I also heard that people have concerns: concerns that surprise no one here in relation to health care, in relation to education, concerns in relation to the survival and continued existence of rural Newfoundland and Labrador. Because, as the Premier said today in his tribute to the crash victims, the sea is so much a part of us, as a people, and it is so important that we remember where we came from.

Mr. Chairman, it is true that oil plays a great part in our economy today, and it is true that minerals and gas and everything else play a great part in our economy, but this Province was founded on the sea, it will continue to exist based on the sea, and it is important that we always be cognizant that rural Newfoundland and Labrador is the heart of this great Province.

This time next year we will be preparing, in the district of the Minister of Fisheries, for the four hundredth anniversary of Cupids, in Cuper's Cove, in 1610. Just imagine what it was like when John Guy showed up in that area, and what he found there. Look how far we have come.

Mr. Chairman, there are exciting things happening in this Province. We have had the ECMAs, we have the Junos coming. We are involved in the Olympics. What we are doing is we are out there as a government promoting this Province.

I did a little test this weekend with my thirteen-year-old daughter. I held out the back of the Globe and Mail, the last page of the Globe and Mail, there was a full-page ad. I covered over our logo for Newfoundland and Labrador. I said Julia, where do you think this place is? Does that picture want to make you go there? She caught on very quickly because it was so unique that it was Newfoundland and Labrador, but it was such a great picture of this Province. When you look at those ads that we have on TV right now it has to make you want to visit this great Province because that is, again, so much a part of who we are and what we are. That is why, with everything that has happened in the last two weeks, people have drawn together as they always have in this great Province and we will continue to do so.

Mr. Chairman, I just wanted to outline what I heard from the people as we went through the pre-budget consultations. What I have heard is an overwhelming positive attitude towards what is taking place in this Province. Mr. Chairman, the other thing that I did, I encouraged people who had criticism to express their comments because we wanted to hear them. It is by hearing the criticisms that we can determine if improvements need to be made.

I heard continued support for government's Poverty Reduction Strategy; a strategy of which we are so proud of and which we are leading this country in our approach. We heard support for our cultural strategy and we heard continued support for the tourism sector. These are just some of the many issues which arose during these pre-budget consultations.

As I said to the people, Mr. Chairman, on a continuing basis, government cannot be all things to all people. The easiest thing for me to do as a politician, or any politician to do, is give everyone everything they want, but as a government we have built a foundation on fiscal restraint, on paying down debt, on ensuring our children's future, and, Mr. Chairman, that is what we will continue to do.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Mr. Chairman, later this week I will release a budget that I feel will reflect our governments continued commitment to important social programs while making strategic investments to grow the economy during this current economic global downturn.

Mr. Chairman, I look forward to the debate on Interim Supply.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I appreciate an opportunity to have a few words in debate today concerning Bill 76, which, as the minister said, is dealing with Interim Supply.

To put it in a nutshell, I guess, for those who might be watching and do not understand the process, there is going to be a Budget that is going to run from April 1 this year, 2009, until March 31 next year. In the meantime, it takes weeks, sometimes months, to get that Budget in and approved by the House. We are usually in May, sometimes June before that is done. Of course, you need money to operate on and pay the bills in the Province in the meantime. You have people who receive cheques for various purposes in this Province and the government needs to pay the bills. So that is what Interim Supply is, it is basically a bill which comes into the House and we get it passed before the end of March so the government can have money and authority to spend a certain amount of money.

The general rule has been, and I allude to this here because the minister might want to correct me if I am wrong on this information, but the history has been that it is typically about one-third of the annual Budget that gets put out into the Interim Supply. Whatever the annual Budget would be, generally we get a bill here, in this case Bill 76, and it says here are different headings that we are going to spend it under, all of the government departments are outlined in there, Executive Council as well, and I do believe Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation and so on. It says, roughly, this is what we would spend; this is one-third of what we are going to spend.

So you can usually look at the Interim Supply Bill and get some kind of indication of what the total Budget is going to be when it comes down on Thursday, and you can get some idea as to which departments are going to have increases and which departments may even have decreases. You can get that – for example, I just simply took the bill, I took last year's figures of 2008, which was attached to that bill last year of Interim Supply, I took the figures that we have now for 2009, I plug them all in. So I get a comparison very quickly of what we had last year, what is going on this year on our Interim Supply, and it can tell me virtually every department that is looking at an increase or a decrease.

Now, I could be wrong of course if the government does not follow the usual pattern of the Interim Supply Bill being one-third of the Budget, but I think that is a fairly safe assumption. I noticed the former Minister of Justice nodding his head when I said that so I am assuming I am on the right path here, that that is in fact correct and the current Minister of Finance has not pulled any fast ones and only given us a certain different proportion or percentage.

I will get into this, because we will have, over the next couple of days, of course, an opportunity to look at what apparently is going to be increased and what is going to be reduced. Just off the cuff, for example, my quick read of it, it looks like it is roughly a $333 million increase in this year's Interim Supply Bill. If one were to extrapolate that and say, well, if you take that to the full bill, we are looking at about a billion-dollar increase in what the government is going to spend next year. That is the overall piece.

Of course that raises questions and concerns of, where are they going to spend the extra billion dollars? What is it going to be spent on? What departments are going to have it? Of course, we will get all the answers to that on Thursday when the good minister delivers his Budget here this Thursday. That does not, of course, quash people's need to know. Everybody is curious. The minister alluded to going around the Province and having his consultations and a lot of people are wondering: is he going to be Santa Claus to me, or is he going to be the Grinch this year? That will be interesting to see. Now, I will get into some of those details.

The other thing about Interim Supply and throughout the whole Budget debate we are going to be having is, there is pretty wide latitude in the debate itself. Unlike a piece of legislation whereby what you say or cannot say is usually tempered and restricted as to what is in that particular bill, when you are talking about a money bill, which Interim Supply is, you have a pretty wide latitude here. It will be interesting to see where the government members, for example, are going to go when it comes to their speeches on Interim Supply.

We sat here last year and, in fact, I must have had about a hundred emails from people around the Province who said: do the crowd in the government benches do anything other than be a cheerleader for the Premier? I said: well, I do not know, maybe you should wire your member and tell him or her exactly what your concerns are and maybe they will bring it up in the House for you. I mean, we cannot dictate, as an Opposition, what the government backbenchers get up and talk about. If they choose to get up and be cheerleaders for the Premier, well that is all we can do.

Anyway, it will give us an opportunity to talk about a lot of issues here in the next couple of months and, in particular, even during Interim Supply. I will get into some of those details as the day goes on. Just a few points on it right off the cuff: in my comparison sheet here, I notice, for example, that there are twenty heads in Schedule A of this Bill 76. Of the twenty heads that are referred to here, there are going to be reductions in six of them, from my read. That appears to be Consolidated Fund Services, Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs, the legislative budget for the Legislature, the Department of Business, Fisheries and Aquaculture, and Innovation and Trade. According to my read on it, actually – now, maybe I am wrong and I would like to be corrected if I am. Again I am using the assumption that this is one-third of the overall budget. According to what I am looking at here, if you take the Department of Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs, for example, it says here that – I know in 2008, for example, it was $2,188,200. In 2009, in this bill here, it talks about $1,903,200 which mathematically works out to be a reduction of $285,000. That is based on Interim Supply.

Now, if one were to extrapolate that - that is only one-third of the Budget - we are looking at somewhere in the vicinity of almost a $900,000 reduction. In fact, it is a 13 per cent reduction in the Department of Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs in the forthcoming year.

We all heard lots of questions in this House last year. Some suggested that there was a small budget in Labrador Affairs because the minister only had three files anyway. I guess next year, according to this, he is only going to have two files.

Anyway, that is what we are looking at. It is interesting. It would be nice to know now, when the minister gets up and gives us some comments on the Budget, and maybe gives us a little peek-a-boo, about where he thinks there is going to be a reduction in Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs next year. We have a pretty good hint right now that there is going to be a 13 per cent reduction. Maybe he will be able to give us some enlightenment without giving us any berries from the budget as to where that might be heading.

The Legislative budget, down by 3 per cent: not a great deal actually on an overall estimate of $6.4 million.

Then we move on to the Department of Business. Now, according to calculations again - and I stand to be corrected - there is going to be a 16 per cent reduction in the funding for the Department of Business for the next year. In fact, according to the figures here in Interim Supply from 2008 to 2009 they are going to be down by $1,950,100. If you do the math we are down about $6 million in the Business Department next year; 16 per cent. It will be interesting to see if the minister is prepared again to give us any insight as to what we would think would be a very crucial and important budget in this economic meltdown time, where we are going to be going with $6 million less than we had. I would have thought that would have been one of the departments we would be looking at for stimulus as opposed to retraction. It will be interesting to see where that pans out.

I am just throwing it out now because government members and ministers will have an opportunity to respond in Interim Supply. Rather than just be cheerleaders, maybe they might actually like to be able to comment and give us some insight into these areas, because we will be back, of course, after Thursday. Once the Budget is dropped Thursday we will know then if these figures are correct or not for sure. If they are indeed correct, then we will have more to go on too. We can poke a little bit further then, because we will see it actually in the line by line items of the department, and be able to ask the questions. In fact, another part of the budgetary process is the Estimates Committees when you get to, shall we say, put the minister in the hot seat and get into the nitty-gritty details of the Budget, as to what you did last year, what is in there this year, and where you are going to; not only specifics but some general policy type pieces as well, and so on.

Fisheries and Aquaculture, for example: It looks like there is going to be a 6 per cent decline, decrease, in the amount of money in the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture in the forthcoming year. Again, I would have thought that is a department we would be looking forward to probably an increase in. Surely there is infrastructure or program and servicing needs in Fisheries and Aquaculture that would warrant probably a consideration of more funding as opposed to less funding in 2009-2010. Here it looks like it is somewhere to the tune of about a $950,000 decrease. That is just on this. You are looking at maybe a $3 million decrease next year in Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Next one - a very, very crucial one, I notice, and I found it very crucial – Innovation, Trade and Rural Development. According to the figures here it is down on an Interim Supply basis to the tune of $5.6 million. That is a 28 per cent reduction – 28 per cent! Now, a $5.6 million reduction, if you take that over the full Budget you are looking at somewhere like $16.8 million. Again I ask: How does this impact, or will it impact, the economy again? I would have thought the department, by the very name itself, Innovation, Trade and Rural Development, that we would be seeing increases in those areas rather than a decrease.

We all know and are aware of the unfortunate, yet catastrophic, situation that we have in central. I am just wondering if we are looking at a department - that minister, for example, spearheads the oversight committee to help out in that particular region. Yet, it appears on the surface right here - now maybe I am wrong, and again I would love to be corrected - it appears that his particular department is going to be down to the tune of $16.6 million, 28 per cent.

I am not an economist, nor do I claim to be, but one would think in the situations of economic meltdown that we have heard about - and anybody who watches what is happening in Canada, the various institutional reports, the economic institutions, the various banks in Canada, as to where we are or where we should go, everybody is talking stimulus. I would have thought stimulus came in other forms, other than simply through infrastructure in municipal affairs. Now, there is no doubt there have been some significant increases - no doubt - and I will not just concentrate on the negatives.

For example, it does appear that Tourism, Culture and Recreation has a 27 per cent increase. That is pretty hefty. Justice, for example, it looks like Justice is going to have a 37 per cent increase. It looks like Municipal Affairs is going to have a 41 per cent increase. Natural Resources, a 15 per cent increase. The Public Service Commission, a 27 per cent increase. Education, a 14 per cent increase. Health and Community Services, an 18 per cent increase. Some pretty hefty increases in some of those departments, no doubt. That is because, as we say, it looks like there is going to be at least $1 billion increase in budget over last year. I do believe the figures last year were - total budget - $6.6-odd million in the Budget. So it looks like we are looking at somewhere around a $7.6 million budget this year, given just these figures here.

That is just, as we say, the tip of the iceberg right now to get things started on Interim Supply. We will be back throughout the afternoon. Everybody gets an opportunity to speak. There are certainly a lot of issues, and I have not even scratched the surface yet in terms of the economic issues or the provincial issues that are of concern here. We will all get an opportunity and put some of these things on the radar, as I like to say. Let's put some things on the radar. So, instead of just - when the House is closed it tends to be the government information machine that is in operation. We are going to have an opportunity now to get out some information, to question some of these things as to what the merits of them are, and are they all justifiable, and show some of the shortcomings that exist in some of the government programs and services, and some of their ways with dealing with some of these issues.

Mr. Chair, I appreciate the opportunity to have opening remarks and we look forward to continuing debate as the afternoon goes on.

Thank you.

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Labrador Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HICKEY: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

It is indeed a great pleasure to sit in this hon. House and start off our next session of the House of Assembly, and certainly, from my perspective, to represent the good people of the District of Lake Melville, Churchill Falls, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Mud Lake, Northwest River, and the beautiful community of Sheshatshiu.

Mr. Chairman, I smiled and I chuckled just a minute ago as I listened to my colleague opposite when he talked about the Department of Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs. It shows once again, Mr. Chairman, that my hon. colleague across the way just has no idea, no concept, no idea, what happens with that department and what we do.

Mr. Chairman, it is not how much money in the department that I am concerned about. I can tell you, it is about how much money - we are putting unprecedented monies into Labrador on a bunch of difference initiatives.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HICKEY: I can tell you, Mr. Chairman, it is because of the work of the Department of Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs, working with our colleagues and with our fellow ministers and department heads, with the support, certainly, of Premier Williams and the Premier's Office, that we have been able to accomplish much in Labrador since 2003 when our government took office.

Mr. Chairman, when we talk about Labrador, and when I talk about Labrador, I always talk with a great passion for it. One of the pillars as we move forward is our Northern Strategic Plan for Labrador which will see over $800 million of new investment over the course of the next number of years as we spend monies in Labrador to improve the infrastructure. Infrastructure, I add, that never got put there while the hon. crowd on the other side was in government. I can tell you, Mr. Chairman, while they were trying to find ways and means to take money out of the Transportation Initiative Fund and put it into general revenue, while they were trying to find excuses not to improve infrastructures, like the new hospital in Labrador West, like the new school in Port Hope Simpson and L'Anse-au-Loup, like these new pieces of infrastructure that our government, right now, today, certainly has on the drawing books and is working toward, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Chairman, the Northern Strategic Plan was announced in April 2007. It is a five year plan, and this plan will be used to improve the health and well-being of all Labradorians through the development and enhancement of infrastructure programs and services throughout Labrador.

In February of this year, this government was pleased to announce another $130 million to increase economic activity and to improve infrastructure in Labrador. This investment, as I said earlier, is to do certainly with some $800 million of new and ongoing infrastructure projects in Newfoundland and Labrador for the upcoming 2009-2010 fiscal year, and over $4 billion over the course of the next several years, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Chairman, when this government took office back in 2003, as I mentioned earlier, there were a number of deficits when it came to infrastructure in Labrador. I will say, I am happy that my colleague here, the Member for Labrador West, together with the Member for Torngat Mountains, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, we have been able to certainly work with our colleagues in different departments as we look now at the new construction this year of the College of the North Atlantic campus in Labrador West, which will see an investment of some $9.5 million. As well, $19 million has been allocated for the new Francophone school in Happy Valley–Goose Bay, along with the two schools, one in Port Hope Simpson and one in L'Anse-au-Loup, which I understand are to be tendered in the very near future and work is to commence this year, Mr. Chairman.

The Trans-Labrador Highway, as I have said many times as I stand in my place in this House, is the number one transportation initiative for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador for our government; but, while we have made great strides over the course of the last number of years to improve the road infrastructure of the Trans-Labrador Highway, I want to say that this year will mean a milestone for us in Labrador, as the Department of Transportation and Works has plans for us to complete the last forty-eight kilometres between Cartwright and Happy Valley–Goose Bay.

This is a significant milestone, Mr. Chairman, from back in 1989 when I remember coming out here, and I have told this story many times, and meeting with the Department of Transportation and Works, as a town councillor for the Town of Happy Valley–Goose Bay, and at that time officials told us that if you think this government or any government will build a road across Labrador you are all living in dreamland. That was 1989, Mr. Chairman. This is 2009, and I can tell you it feels good to be part of a government with a vision that transportation in Labrador is a very important and vital link for the economic growth of our communities and for the region, and for the Province as a whole.

Mr. Chairman, this year we will see some $58 million in provincial funding, in addition to the federal investment of some $26.5 million continued on Phase I and Phase III of the Trans-Labrador Highway.

Mr. Chairman, this is going to change the way we, certainly in Labrador, live. It will connect the Island portion of the Province to Labrador closer than ever we have been before. Certainly, we look forward - our students, I can tell you, in Happy Valley-Goose Bay look forward to when we can get up in the morning and be in Corner Brook that night and they are able to attend the campus there.

This is going to mean so much opportunity for tourism development and other economic development when it comes to the forestry. Certainly, as we look at the Lower Churchill project and the hydro development in Labrador, this particular piece of infrastructure – and I was happy to note today, Mr. Chairman, just a few minutes ago I received word from my communications people that the Government of Quebec has announced some $480 million to upgrade Route 389 from Vermont to the Quebec-Labrador border to Baie-Comeau and the work is starting on that this year. So that is very good news for us living in Labrador. This is very good news certainly for the people who live on the Quebec side as well.

This is a vital link, Mr. Chairman. Transportation has always been, certainly one of the things that we have seen some great challenges in. I was very disappointed this morning when I heard of the withdrawal of services, Dash 8 services by Air Labrador, but I do hope that the opportunities are there for other airlines to move in and pick up some of the void. Certainly, I was happy to hear that Provincial Airlines will be filling up that void as best they can to ensure that we get a good air transportation system and network ideally between Labrador and the Island portion of the Province, and indeed, from Labrador to Montreal and to our Quebec locations.

Mr. Chairman, when we talk about the Northern Strategic Plan, there are many different aspects of it. One of the opportunities I have, as the Minister of Labrador Affairs, is I get to see and to view each and every Cabinet paper from all departments before it goes to Cabinet so that what we can, through my staff and my deputies and assistant deputies, directors and our analysts, we can look at the different policies that are being created by government. As we put what we call the Labrador lens on those policies, that has been a great opportunity for us to ensure that we in Labrador get our input into policies as made by different departments of government.

I can tell you, Mr. Chairman, Labrador has certainly come into its own over the past number of years. While we still have many challenges, I am happy that when it comes to infrastructure we are making great strides. Many of you may recall, back in 2003 there was a great issue in my hometown of Happy Valley-Goose Bay regarding a performing arts centre. While most places in the Province had arts and culture centres, we in Central Labrador had no place for the performing arts. Well, Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to announce today and to report to the Province and to this hon. House that we are near the very end of the completion, with the opening coming very soon of the new performing arts space in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, some $7 million that we will be seeing move into place in the next couple of months.

CHAIR: Order, please!

I remind the hon. member that his time for speaking has expired.

MR. HICKEY: I was just getting started, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Chairman, just to clue up for a few minutes. One of the other programs that I like at every opportunity to champion and that is the enhancements that we have made to the Air Foodlift Subsidy Program on the Coast of Labrador. Basically, we extend the air freight subsidy during the marine shipping season to the north coast and to the communities of Black Tickle, Norman's Bay, Williams Harbour. This increase in subsidy has been increased to 80 per cent, Mr. Chairman. I just want to say this has meant a great deal to the communities on the Coast of Labrador and we have also seen the subsidy reflected on fresh milk to those communities.

Mr. Chairman, with that said, I will get an opportunity to read off a bunch more of our great initiatives that we are doing in Labrador before we end our debate here in the House.

Thanks very much for the opportunity, Mr. Chairman.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for Port de Grave.

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

It is a pleasure to be able to stand today and have a few comments with regard to Bill 76, Interim Supply. Like my previous colleagues, I, too, want to say it is a pleasure to be back in the House to represent not only the people of your own district but the people in the Province in general.

I have to say, my district, over the past number of weeks since we last met, has not gone unscathed from tragedy. We were involved, unfortunately, with the incident when it came to the accident just last week, as well as an unfortunate incident in Upper Island Cove when two young people lost their lives.

I want to take this opportunity to thank various divisions in some of the departments of government who helped provide equipment from time to time during that search. Unfortunately, we have had three other serious incidents as well. Mr. Chairman, even though they are going through very trying times, I have to say the people in that district are very proud of the area where they live and the Province that they live in.

Today, when we were talking about the multiculturalism and welcoming immigrants to our Province, I think it just goes to show that we are willing to accept people from other countries to help enrich our Province and make this a better place to live, and that they can call home.

I have to say, after listening to my colleague and the Minister for Labrador Affairs explain to us all the wonderful things that are happening in his district, that is wonderful, but unfortunately he had to go back to the past. There are a couple of quotes I want to use. One was used by our Premier of today when he was in Opposition back in 2003, when he was responding to the Throne Speech. The quote, I think, was used once before by Winston Churchill. He said: If the present tries to sit in judgement of the past, it will lose the future. We must look to the future and not the past.

I read the other day, with great interest, a comment – and I hope I am going to quote this properly – that was made by our Minister of Finance and Treasury Board during a news article in the paper when he said: We sat for about three or three-and-a-half hours and we heard from all the union members, and I have to say their attitude is so positive in terms of trying to look to the future instead of dwelling on the past.

I have to say to my hon. colleague from Lake Melville, the Minister of Labrador Affairs: Yes, it is good to look back, but I am proud to be able to stand here today and hopefully look to the future rather than go back to the past, regardless of who the Administrations were, or what time and era this took place.

Mr. Chairman, we talk about Bill 76, and my hon. colleague from Burgeo & LaPoile looked at some of the departments and used the figures from this particular Interim Supply bill to the previous year, and he looked at some of the departments where there will be a reduction in the amount of funding, based on the figures that we see today, but I am going to look at it in the light of the other departments where we see a tremendous increase. As we look forward to Wednesday coming, the Throne Speech, and then on Thursday the Budget, I hope that we will be able to see some of the things that the people of this Province are looking forward to.

I will be honest with you, as I stated to the Minister of Finance in my presentation to him on the long-term care facility, we do not expect to see everything happen overnight, but I want to just touch on some issues that are very important and they keep surfacing from time to time.

As my colleague mentioned, in the Department of Education, based on the figures that we see now, a 14 per cent increase, $51 million. I read recently that the Minister of Education received a petition, and I think there were 12,000 names on it from students not only in this Province but students throughout the country who were supporting them, asking government to look at the possibility of eliminating the interest on the provincial portion of their student loans. In that article, the students also went on to say they appreciate how their student loans have been frozen over a number of years. Hopefully, when we look at this $51 million, something can be done to answer the concerns of those young people. Because, like they said, many of them, I think, would be staying here in our Province only they are burdened with their student loans, and many of them head outside the Province where they hope the grass is greener on the other side, and that they can end up getting better paying jobs so they can pay off their student loans.

Mr. Chairman, another thing I want to note through the Department of Education, in my district over the past two or three years, two or three projects have gone ahead. I am very appreciative of that, and the people in the district are. I remember the repairs that were done to St. Peter's School in Upper Island Cove, when it had to close and the roof had to be repaired. I remember the extension that at the present time is going ahead at Amalgamated Academy, where they are joining on so many classrooms to take the children from Coley's Point Primary to go to that school. I remember also the work that was done at Ascension Collegiate, but I am hoping in this $51 million this year that I will see an announcement. I know a new school cannot be built this year, but hopefully there is something there for Coley's Point Primary School.

I remember, back three or four years ago, a consultation took place where they were referencing that particular school, and when the report came in I know full well that the Minister of Education said at that time that the full report should be shredded. Unfortunately, there were things in that report that should have been shredded, but that school went down along with all the other work.

That is an older school, it is a wooden structure, and the people there have been very patient. Even if you went there today, just the grounds around the school and the parking lot where the parents and the students and the teachers, the staff, have to park – hopefully an announcement will be made, whether it is going to say they are going to build it this year. I know that schools have been announced, and that is wonderful, everybody needs new schools, but hopefully an announcement will be made that at least the preliminary work will get started.

The other thing I will just touch on, the Department of Health and Community Services: a $131 million increase, if you base it on the figures we heard today, that we were presented with. We also heard the minister say, coming out of the Cameron Inquiry, that the cost of implementing that is probably going to be up around $100 million. There are many other issues. We all hear about the shortage with the nurses and doctors that we have in this Province, and I know we are not going to be able to hire them all at the one time, but I look forward that maybe there is something in this Budget, a plan in place, where we can help to attract more nurses so that the workload that is being carried out in our Province today can be increased upon.

I know, and I have heard over recent days, of incidents that are happening. You can't blame the people who are working in the hospitals, the nurses, the technicians, or the staff there, but I know for a fact in Carbonear hospital – and I don't know if it was Christmas eve or New Year's eve this year- that a nurse who was working in the emergency unit was supposed to be replaced after a twelve-hour shift, and the other people who would come in to replace her were so tired and had been working such long hours they didn't show up. This lady worked twenty-four hours in an emergency unit. If you went there yourself to have something done or something checked out, on her twenty-third hour you can imagine what that lady was going through.

All we have to do is just judge by the people who drive our transport trucks. They have to log in and take rest spells, but here was a lady who was working at that emergency unit for a total of twenty-four hours before she got off to go home.

I am hoping, as I announced today during my petition – and I will just briefly touch on this one as time is running out. I am hoping that the facilities that are already there in Carbonear – the minister knows himself that those facilities have served their purpose. The staff that are working there can speak up and tell anyone what the facilities are like.

We are definitely due a new long-term care facility in the Conception Bay North area. Those two buildings are in the district of Carbonear-Harbour Grace. It is like I said earlier, I do not care where this facility is built but I honestly believe the time has come in this budget, that the $1 million that the Minister of Health recommended last year to Cabinet to get the work started on this facility should definitely come to the forefront this year. I am not against the $1 million last year when it came to look at work to be done on two long-term care facilities here in St. John's. We know the need is here as well, but I have to say that I look forward, hopefully, either in the Throne Speech or in Budget, knowing that there is $131 million, at least there could be some work done on that facility for the Conception Bay North area.

Mr. Chair, I thank you for your time and I am sure I will return later.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I am pleased today to be able to offer some comments on Bill 76. Pursuant to the Opposition House Leader's remarks earlier, I do so, I am afraid, in the position of cheerleader.

Bill 76, Interim Supply is usually a routine process of this part of the session. I understand this bill has to be passed by March 25. Government has to pay its bills and continue the administration and governance of this Province. It needs funds to look after its ongoing and continuing operations until the Budget is approved. I certainly want to offer my support to that bill. Given the fiscal record and the fiscal policies of this government in the past five years, then it is a very great pleasure, indeed, to do so.

When we consider, Mr. Chairman, where we have come from in five years, where we are today fiscally in this Province, where we were five years ago, where we came from, considered in the successive deficits and then the consecutive surpluses, I understand it is quite possible in this coming year there might be some glitch in that, but given our record of the past few years, the prudent spending and wise investments of this Province, with the emphasis on infrastructure spending, tax reduction and paying down debt, this Province is well positioned to navigate the global economic downturn that we are facing. In fact, we are very fortunate to be in that position and we attribute that to the very wise, prudent, fiscal policies of this Province.

Mr. Chairman, it is because of those fiscal policies that this government very recently announced an $800 million economic stimulus program. This was a 50 per cent increase over previous years and new infrastructure investments, including several new projects. It demonstrates and confirms this government's path of infrastructure investment and staying the course of significant infrastructure investment in this Province. It is a level of spending never seen before in this Province's history. It will create 5,400 person years of employment this year and it builds on the $1.5 billion that we spent on our provincial infrastructure programs over the last five years.

So, Mr. Chairman, with this announcement, combined with the mega projects of Long Harbour, White Rose, Hebron, this Province is very well positioned and in the envious position in comparison with a lot of other provinces to deal with the economic downturn.

Mr. Chairman, I want to relay a little story if I could. A couple of days ago I had the opportunity - I was parked in front of a certain business establishment in Mount Pearl and rather than go into the parking lot I parked out by the curb, and my wife went inside to pick up some purchases. While I was waiting I realized that I was probably not parked in a proper location. I went to back up a little bit to get out of the way of the crosswalk to accommodate the people going back and forth into that establishment. I was driving a SUV machine. So I looked through the back window and did not see anything behind me and I backed up. I only backed up a foot or so and I smacked into something. I thought I had hit the curb. I got out and I looked, there was a little car right behind me that I could not see through my back window. The guy was getting out, I had never seen him before, and I said: Gee, I am sorry Sir, I never saw you. I did not know you were there. That's all right, he said, do not worry about it, you fellows are doing a great job in there.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. COLLINS: He said you fellows are doing a great job, keep it up. He never even looked at his bumper and he never looked at mine. So, you find that reaction all over, Mr. Chairman, and I thought it was very appropriate. I was delighted of course as well that he was preoccupied with the work of this government.

In this infrastructure agreement, Mr. Chairman, there is $800 million, and I am not going to go into the details of that. You have heard that. We have heard it many times over the last few weeks, but a total of $800 million with tremendous improvements in transportation infrastructure, education facilities, health care facilities and equipment, municipal infrastructure, Newfoundland and Labrador Housing infrastructure, justice infrastructure, along with the $48 million that Nalcor will be putting into several projects. That is unprecedented spending in this Province and a testimony – in fact, at this particular point in our history when we are experiencing such an economic downturn, that we are in the position to do this. It is nothing short of meriting what superlatives we can find to describe the fiscal policy of this government over the last five years. Combine that, Mr. Chairman, with the fact that we have just lost $1.5 billion because of the axe of the federal government, imagine what a position we could be in.

Mr. Chairman, to relate that to my own district, with respect to my own district, we are very pleased in Placentia & St. Mary's with these announcements and with the implication of these announcements for our district.

Now I referenced the amount spent on education. I think the amount spent on education was $156 million on education facilities. We are very pleased that just a couple of weeks ago tenders were called for a brand new high school in Placentia, state-of-the-art, seven to eleven high school. That will be a tremendous boost for that region. It will replace the old Laval High School, a school that was announced two years ago by the Minister of Education and the Minister of Natural Resources out in my district.

Now you might wonder why the Minister of Natural Resources was out in my district announcing a school. Well this school was unique, in a sense that Inco, when it departed Argentia and as part of the negotiating concessions with the town, agreed to put $1.8 million towards the construction of that school. That $1.8 million had to be incorporated into the footprint and design of the new school in Placentia. With the tremendous enhancement that that will have, especially for recreation facilities in that school, this school is going to be a tremendous signature building and asset to the whole Placentia region because that services all of the communities from Ship Harbour to Barasway.

Hopefully, construction will start late spring, early summer, and that will coincide with the start of the Inco project. So it is going to be very exciting times in our region during the coming summer. We needed that because Placentia has had its sort of a Grand Falls effect and a Stephenville effect over the last twenty years. They lost the base. They lost the ERCO and Albright and Wilson industries. It went downhill in a hurry and had the reputation of being one of the most quickly deteriorating communities in this Province. So it needed that stimulus.

We look forward to the coming summer, Mr. Chairman, with the development of the school and with the development of the Inco project. The Inco project is a story in itself and we will talk about that another time.

One other aspect of the announcement that was made a few days ago was the $103 million in municipal projects this year. Of all the initiatives that came out in last year's budget, for me that was the highlight of that budget, especially the new formula where most of my communities are under 3,000 people and now benefit from the 90-10 formula. My district has already profited from many projects under that formula, and have applications in this year for several million dollars more. There are applications in from my district, I think ten or twelve applications, from municipalities, for anywhere from $50,000 to over $3 million dollars. Now, I am sure the good minister is not going to approve them all but, you know, she is a very good minister and a very fine lady, doing a great job, and I am sure she will give us every consideration. I look forward to the approval of a number of these projects. It is a great boost for rural communities and a great boost to the commitment of this government to rural Newfoundland.

A lot of people ask, the naysayers ask: what is this government doing for rural Newfoundland? One of the things that this government has done for rural Newfoundland is bring in this formula, because this has been a tremendous boost to the small communities in this Province. It is very significant now, Mr. Chair, because coming up soon, this fall, you will have municipal elections and we need every reason to entice candidates to come out for municipal elections. This should be one of them. This program should be one of them, because municipalities, small municipalities, now have the opportunity to do something to improve their infrastructure, which is sorely in need of development in a lot of cases.

I also want, at this time, Mr. Chair, to give accolades to the people in Municipal Affairs who are dealing with these projects and dealing with them very well and very positively. I must say, the relationship between Municipal Affairs and the communities is very positive with regard to dealing with these applications. I do not say that in any way to entice the minister, I say it because it is true.

Mr. Chair, my time is up. We can speak for a long time on this bill and there are a lot of exciting things happening, but that is just touching the surface. Given the fiscal policies of this government over the last five years, I am delighted to be able to support Bill 76.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Chair, I notice today that the Minister of Finance got a new haircut. I notice that he got the hair out of his eyes, so I certainly hope we can look forward to a great budget coming up. There should be no doubt about it, he should see clearly today in the Province what needs to be done and act accordingly to ensure that it happens.

Mr. Chair, I want to speak today, first of all, on the situation with AbitibiBowater and what the impact will be on workers in that particular area. We raised issues today in the House of Assembly, that if this particular company was to go into receivership and have to declare bankruptcy, what would it mean to those employees and people that depend upon this company to yet receive severance packages and to receive pensionable benefits? Mr. Chair, we did not get any answers from the government, other than that they would not be prepared to participate in that kind of a funding program. We did not get any answers as to whether they have been able to secure any kind of a commitment for those workers who are impacted.

In fact, the minister said, I do not want to get into hypothetical situations, in terms of whether the company will go bankrupt or not. Mr. Chair, if you look in papers all around the world in the last week, all you can see are headlines about how the shares in AbitibiBowater have been just plummeting in the international marketplace. All we have consistently seen, Mr. Chair, are headlines that tell us that bankruptcy looms for this company.

Now we know that they have been in intense negotiations with the US banks to try and secure the credit that they need to cover off their $1.8 billion in debt and interest, so that they can escape bankruptcy, but we also know that they have not been very successful to date. In fact, Mr. Chair, it was only a few days ago that the banks reported that they were not happy with the terms of the plan that was put forward for a restructuring by AbitibiBowater. That was the plan that would trim the interest rate and extend their involvement for another two years. If the US banks are already saying, Mr. Chair, that they are not happy with the situation, and the plan that was put forward, I think it is time for the minister and the government to start to worry, because I can tell you that the people out there in the communities are worried.

I have letters here, letters from a number of workers, from unions, and from people who are depending upon this, in terms of their pensions and their severance. Do you know what they are telling me in these letters? That they are faced with the task of settling their futures, but they do not know what that future is. They have no guarantees at this stage, in terms of what these things are going to look like for them. Mr. Chair, these are workers who have given thirty and forty years of their lives in this industry and to this company.

I think that government needs to be more proactive and not just sit back and say, this is all hypothetical and we do not need to be dealing with it. The reality is, what is hypothetical today based on the news that is making its way around the world, I say to government members, could realistically be the situation that you are going to wake up to, to have to deal with in the morning.

I am going to say this, Mr. Chairman, these people have been failed once. They were failed when AbitibiBowater closed the mill in Grand Falls, and it closed on this government's watch. I would caution you to not fail these people the second time around by allowing a company to go into receivership and elude the obligations of having to pay out severances and pension plans to all of these workers.

Mr. Chairman, when you look at the number of workers we are dealing with here, the number of workers over the age of fifty-five, I guess, who were impacted by all of this, it is about 153 workers. Those were the workers who were directly employed in the mill. The workers between the ages of forty-five and fifty-five who were impacted, there were nearly 400 of those. Altogether, if you are looking at over the age of forty-five, you are looking at close to 500 employees who would be directly impacted by the mill alone. That does not include the workers who worked in other areas such as the silviculture industry, the foresters and loggers, the people who were employed by the private companies or contracted companies that were serving the mill. There are hundreds and hundreds of other workers who are impacted as well.

Mr. Chairman, while government might want to refer to this and say, oh well, it is all hypothetical and there is no reason to be concerned, I think there are lots of reasons to be concerned. I think, Mr. Chairman, these issues are being raised on the ground in Grand Falls-Windsor, in Bishop's Falls, in Botwood, but they are not getting the answers that they are looking for.

In fact, Mr. Chairman, I refer to a letter that was written by Mark Griffin on February 13. It was written to the Minister of Human Resources, Labour and Employment, who happens to be the MHA for that particular area. Mr. Griffin, whom I have never met in my life, whom I have never had a phone conversation with in my life, I sat down and I read his letter. I read it, first of all, in a newspaper because it was printed as a letter to the editor. Then I read columns about it in The Globe and Mail, and then I received a copy of it because it was copied. Mr. Chairman, he asked some very significant questions in his letter. Do you know what the answer was that he received from the government? Do you know what the answer was from the Premier when this individual who lives in a town where the entire industry has been shut down, where there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty over the hundreds and hundreds of workers that have been displaced from their jobs, and in terms of what new industry will be available in that town? He was told: You are a traitor. You are a traitor. Why? Because you dare to ask questions and dare to ask them publicly?

Mr. Chairman, this is ridiculous. I do not know this gentleman, but I do know one thing: from reading his letter alone he is able to articulate a very intellectual viewpoint and a tremendous understanding for what is happening out there in that particular region on the ground. After visiting Grand Falls-Windsor - I was out there and I spent two days in the community - I met with leaders in the communities, and union officials, companies, the Chamber of Commerce and others, Mr. Chairman, individual citizens who had requested a meeting to talk about their own personal situations, and I can tell you that I have learned a lot. I leaned a lot on that visit. One of the things I did learn is that Mark Griffin was not expressing an opinion that was entirely his own. He was expressing an opinion that was being expressed by many people in that particular area. It is a position, Mr. Chairman, of fear in terms of what the future will hold, in terms of what resources will be secured for the people of our area, in terms of what will be the fallout for those hundreds of people who have lost their jobs.

When a person takes it upon themselves to be interested enough in this Province to ask questions, the common courtesy should be shown to at least provide them with an answer. Well, that was not the case for Mr. Griffin when he was told very publicly by the leader of the government and the Premier of the Province that you are a traitor, a traitor to the people of the Province, because you dare to ask a question that affects your area and your community.

Well, Mr. Chairman, let me tell you this: We will ask the questions. We may not get the answers, either, but we will certainly ask them; and we are not traitors to this Province because we do so. There is nothing wrong with people looking to get answers in a time when there is uncertainty, when they have fear about what the future and the circumstances hold. A little common courtesy to these people sometimes would go a long way.

The reality is, today in Grand Falls-Windsor and Bishop's Falls and Botwood you have towns that are going to lose tax dollars and they do not know where they are going to make up for that shortfall. Because, unlike what happened in Stephenville, this government has not run out with a cheque to give them in lieu of taxes, to compensate their towns for the money that they are going to lose as a result of the closure of Abitibi-Consolidated.

We have hundreds of workers that still today do not know what fate will hold for them if AbitibiBowater goes bankrupt, and this government can provide them no sense of security around that, which is unfortunate - no sense of security, because they are not even at the table. They are not even in discussions with AbitibiBowater at this stage, Mr. Chairman. The minister said today, the talks have broken off. They do not know what the expropriation of resources will actually mean at the end of the day for their communities, if it will mean that they will have a reserve of hydro power that they will be able to use for industrial development or to attract new industry. They do not know who will hold the allocations for wood supply in that area, and what the utilization of that wood will be on a go-forward basis.

These are all the kinds of questions that are left out there and left up in the air, and are you a traitor because you ask those kinds of questions? I think, Mr. Chairman, it is an expectation that government oftentimes would have the answers, or at least make an effort to find those answers, especially in a circumstance like this.

Mr. Chairman, I understand that my time has expired and I have to sit down and wait for ten more minutes, is it?

CHAIR (Collins): The hon. the Minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SKINNER: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Chair, I appreciate the opportunity to get up on Interim Supply and have an opportunity to discuss some of the expenditures of the government, and some of the work that government is doing.

Let me just follow along the vein of what the Leader of the Opposition was just talking about in relation to the closure of the AbitibiBowater mill in Grand Falls-Windsor, and some of the work that is being done out there.

If you listen to the comments coming from the Opposition Leader, you would think that there is not a whole lot happening – a very doom and gloom type of a situation. In actual fact, Mr. Chairman, what you will find is that there is a lot happening in Grand Falls-Windsor. There are a lot of things that are now happening out there.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SKINNER: Since the mill was announced to be closed back in December – it actually will take effect this weekend – since the closure was announced back in December there has been a fair bit of work done by that community, and done by the government working with the community, to ensure that a transition period is taking place, to try and adjust the mill and the people working in the mill and the people who worked in the woods from what they were doing to what they could potentially be doing on a go-forward basis.

There are a number of issues that need to be addressed around that, and some of those issues, Mr. Chair, can be addressed and answered very quickly, and some of those require ongoing research, ongoing dialogue and ongoing investigation of people's personal circumstances.

To try and give you some sense, Mr. Chair, of what it is we are doing out there, there are really two prongs to the committee that I chaired - the task force as it is referred to - there are really two prongs of activity that we are moving forward with.

The first prong of activity has to do with, really, an employee-human resource transition type of work, and there are some 750 people who are impacted by the closure of the AbitibiBowater mill. Some of them work in the mill; some of them work in the woods; some of them work in the ports; some of them work in power plants, hydro facilities. There are all kinds of various situations. They all work with different collective agreements. They are all under different unions. Not all of their situations are the same, so one solution does not fit all. One answer does not answer all questions. One question that comes in for Person A, who is employed in a certain area doing a certain job, the answer you may give there does not necessarily mean that the same answer would apply to somebody else somewhere differently. So it is very important, when we are dealing with people's issues, that we understand that we cannot give a one-size-fits-all answer. It is very important that people understand that when we respond to questions that come forward, we respond to the questions relative to the situation that is being asked about and relative to the individual that is being asked about.

There has been some comment about what happened in Stephenville, and what is or isn't happening in Grand Falls–Windsor. Again, I will say that what happened in Stephenville happened over a period of time. It was a transitionary thing, it was an evolutionary thing, and the same will happen in Grand Falls–Windsor and the Exploits region. The same kind of a thing will happen.

We do have a ministerial committee. As I indicated, I sit as chair of the task force. We do have an interdepartmental officials' committee. We have a transition team that is working on the expropriation issues; it was alluded to earlier today in Question Period, some of the negotiations that have gone on, some of the negotiations that I am sure will continue to go on, and we also have just recently a Community Development Committee that was announced. We have a chair of that Community Development Committee, which consists of fifteen people from the Central Region, who have given of their time as volunteers to work with government, to try and manage our way through and find solutions for the people out there who are looking for some answers.

There is a human resource piece that needs to be done. Some of that human resource piece may involve people going into retirement and taking a pension. Some of it may mean that they take a severance and they go off somewhere else and do something different. Some of it may mean that they want to upgrade their own skill sets. They have a lot of skills sets out there, some of those individuals. They may need to go back and do a little bit of upgrading to be able to get certain certificates or standards or whatever it may be so that they can go out and offer themselves in the industry. Some of those people may want to change careers. They may want to transition to something different and there would be a different plan put in place for them.

There are no simple answers here, is the point I am trying to make, and there is no one answer that fits everybody. So when we talk about the situation happening in the Central region and in Exploits, we need to understand that we cannot throw a blanket over it and everybody be covered by that blanket. We are going to need to be doing a lot of different things because there are a lot of different people impacted by that.

The second thing that we are working on - and these are all things that are happening concurrently, they are not things that are happening in isolation of each other. The second thing that we are working on is the economic diversification piece, and that is really the piece that the Community Development Committee will help us with a lot. We recognize, as we recognized in Stephenville, as we have recognized when fish plants have closed, as we have recognized when other one industry towns have had things happen to them. We recognize that the strength of the region, to build that strength back up, is being able to build back into it a diversification plan from an economic development point of view. So we are going to be working on that.

It was mentioned earlier today in Question Period about the Community Development Trust, and some monies that are available through the Community Development Trust for economic diversification. We, as government departments, my colleagues here who sit in the front couple of rows with me, a lot of us have various programs that can be accessed, myself in Innovation, Trade and Rural Development, programs that can be accessed by businesses and people in Grand Falls-Windsor to help with the economic diversification that will happen out there. We will regrow that economy. That is what we are going to do.

We had one major employer who did a lot for that region, 100 years of investment that people made into that company and that company made into the region. That now is gone. That now is in the past. We need to be looking forward. We need to be looking at what it is we want to do on a go-forward basis to continue to have a vibrant, productive economy out there that people want to stay in that region, want to live in that region and work and grow in that region. We are going to do that by diversifying the economy.

One of the things, for instance, just as a small example, that my department is doing, is we have had some meetings out there with small businesses, over seventy small businesses we are going to be in touch with, to try and do an analysis of the kinds of things that we can do for each of those small businesses to help them solidify their businesses, help them grow their businesses and help them find other markets for the products that they may have. That work is ongoing and that work will show dividends, but it will take some time for it to show dividends. That work will allow these companies and these businesses to hire more people. Again, it will take some time, but we are committed to the task, we are working towards a goal, we know what we want to do and we have the support of the people in the region to do it.

The reason I say we have the support of the people in the region is because the people who agreed to serve on the Community Development Committee, there was a whole bunch of people who wanted to serve. I am still getting calls, as recently as today, from people who feel they should be a part of that committee, but you can only have so many people who can be on that because you have to have a group that you can work with. You cannot have forty or fifty people on a committee. We have fifteen, which is even maybe a little bit large, but it is a workable group. It has a great skill mix and it has a great representation of all of the regions there. It has community leaders; it has people who are involved in economic development; it has educators; it has municipal people; it has economic development officers; it has people who are interested in the social welfare of what is happening in the Exploits region. So there are all kinds of people who have their shoulder to the wheel with us to continue to move forward the agenda of growing and diversifying the economy in the Central region. It is going to take time. There will be some rough days ahead of us but we are moving forward and working on trying to make sure that we answer any of the issues that come forward from people.

Some of the questions that people are asking us - as I indicated earlier today in Question Period, we are doing some research and gathering some information to be able to give an informed answer to people who are asking us questions. Some of that will become clearer as time goes on. As I said, things need to sort of evolve a little bit here and move along a little bit before we are able to give all the answers that people have.

I would expect, Mr. Chairman, and I think it is important that people understand this, that the work that we have started in the Exploits region is going to continue on for maybe two or three more years, maybe longer, I do not know, but certainly I expect it will be at least that long. This is not something that is going to be short-term commitment by government. This is something that is long-term commitment, and by long term I mean years. We expect it will take a period of time for us to be able to build a base out there and diversify that economy to the point where we can walk away from it, but there are a number of departments that are doing targeted interventions.

The Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment has eighteen extra people out there on the ground doing all kinds of interventions with employees. We are finding great success with that. We are getting good feedback from the employees on that. The Department of Government Services has people out there doing interventions relative to pensions and the pension plan and all that kind of stuff. There are all kinds of people who are helping out here, and we are all coming together. We all recognize the challenges and the hurdles that we have to face, but we are working on them and we are making progress.

I see, Mr. Chairman, that my time is running short. I look forward to the opportunity to get up and continue this dialogue.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: The hon. Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi.

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

I am very pleased to be able to get up and speak this afternoon to Bill 76, our Interim Supply Bill. A good thing about this, of course, is the Interim Supply Bill is necessary because we are coming to the end of the year and we are expecting our Budget in a couple of day's time. Usually one has hope with a new budget in areas that one has been concerned. So, I am going to start off hopefully this afternoon with some of the comments that I want to make here in committee.

It has been three months since we have been here in the House and I would like to think that things are a lot different from when we were here three months ago but unfortunately such is not the case with regard to a lot of issues. I did have a look at the letter that I wrote to the Minister of Finance in January raising concerns that I hoped the minister would look at in the Budget for 2009-2010. I chose very deliberately in the letter to the minister to focus on three particular areas, not so much because that is all that was important to me, there were a number of things that were important to me, but I did it because the three areas that I was focusing on were social and environmental but at the same time each one of them had a strong economic benefit attached to the area. The three areas I spoke about in the letter was child care, home care, and energy retrofits. So, I thought that I would use time in speaking to the bill in elaborating on what I had in the letter to the minister. So this afternoon I would like to do that, particularly with regard to home care.

My reason for choosing that as the first one I think is because of the fact that I am continually having phone calls from people who are very concerned about their inability to access home care. Some of the phone calls are from the caregivers. As a matter of fact, most of them are from the caregivers themselves, the family members who are caregivers. I get disturbed with every phone call that I get. Sometimes it is just somebody calling and saying we are desperate, we cannot find anybody. We can afford to pay. Do you have any idea of anybody out there? Do you have any recommendations? Can you refer somebody to us? I have to say, because of my own personal experience of care giving, I actually am able to say: Well, there are some people I know who are good. I can give you their names. I do not know if you can take them or not, or you can get them but at least you can phone these people and find out.

The thing that is more disturbing is when I get phone calls from people who are in dire straits, either because it is them, themselves, who need the care or because, as a home caregiver, the caregiver, him or herself, is not in a great health situation and yet still cannot get home care.

I do want to refer specifically to Mr. and Mrs. Connors, who have been spoken about here in this House of Assembly and have been in the news. I feel that I really owe it to Mr. Connors, after a whole year of his trying to get home care, to raise this as a practical example of the situation that many people are facing. I have had people, over the past year, in my office with similar situations. They have not gone public, but Mr. Connors has gone public.

Mr. Connors is more ill than he was a year ago. He has had surgery. His wife, of course, her condition continues to worsen, and they continue to be told that they have to pay for home care, or part of it. They have an income of $2,100 a month, and if they were to put money into home care – what is being told them by Health and Community Services – they would have to give up half their monthly income of $2,100. That is a fact. There is something seriously wrong with our system.

I began asking the Minister of Health and Community Services, over a year ago, specific questions with regard to our system and what is going to be done to make the system better. The minister has admitted, both in the media and here in the House, that the system needs a revamp. As early as February 2008 he said that change was needed, and the assessment tool needed to change, but there had to be the development of a long-term care and community support strategy.

Now, the minister has been talking about that strategy since February 2008. I have asked him in the House a number of times about the status of the strategy. I asked him in an Estimates Committee on May 14 about this strategy, and at that time the minister said in the Estimates Committee that he would not give me a date but he wanted the strategy to be ready for the budgetary process in the fall. In the fall I asked him about the strategy and he told me that I had to be patient because the fall was not over. Well, we are now into March 23 and guess what? It is spring - if we can believe it is spring - of 2009 and I still have no idea if the strategy was completed, if the minister spoke with the Minister of Finance about the strategy.

I would assume that if it had been completed he would have been ready to table it maybe today and tell us that he does have this strategy completed, that they were ready to put this strategy forth in the budgetary process. I have to say, I do not simply have much faith in the fact that that happened. When I asked the question of the minister in the early fall, he told me to put the question to him again in November - that was last November. When I did that, in November, he still could not give me an answer.

It is very disturbing to know that we have massive needs out there among elderly people. It is not just elderly people, because we also have families who are taking care of children who are completely disabled and have no hope of getting better, who are chronically ill. The largest group, I think, is the group of senior citizens who cannot access home care.

One of the things that have been disturbing for me is the fact that all the minister has spoken about in the past has been revamping the assessment tool. Now, I am on record as letting the minister know that revamping the assessment tool is not what I am looking for, because I do not think we should have an assessment tool. I think that we should be like other provinces in this country and home care is given as needed. If you need home care, the only assessment is: How much home care do you need? How many hours a day? How many hours a week. Do you need it at night? Do you not? You need it; how much do you need? Not an assessment tool to figure out financially how much money you might be able to put into it.

I would like to think that the delay in the strategy might be that some of these things are being discussed, but I am not happy about the delay considering that somebody like Mr. Patrick Connors and his wife have been a whole year now living in very dire circumstances with Mr. Connors, who is a very sick, elderly man, trying to take care of his wife who is a very sick, elderly woman.

The condition of people who are waiting is one of the issues. Of course, another issue is the situation of the workers in home care. I would love to think that we are going to see a massive change in the wages for people in home care and that some of the money we are approving is going to be money for that; that it is not adequate that home care workers are being guided, and the people who pay them are being guided, by the minimum wage. There needs to be a major change in the attitude towards the work that is done by home care workers.

Maybe some of the members of the House have seen some of the ads, and heard them also on the radio, where they are promoting the work that is done by home care workers: home care workers who are the friends of the people they work for, who are their confidants, who are the ones who take care of their every need, and the value of that person to the person who is being cared for, and asking why do the people who pay them, why does their employer, not understand their value as well? If we do not do that, if we do not start valuing the work of home care workers, and start paying them adequately for the work that they do -

CHAIR: Order, please!

I remind the hon. member that her time –

MS MICHAEL: Could I just wrap up this thought, Mr. Chairman, please?

CHAIR: Does the member have leave to clue up?


CHAIR: By leave.

MS MICHAEL: Thank you.

If we do not start valuing the workers, and start paying them for the work that they are doing, the value of that work, we are going to start losing more and more. I am aware of many workers who have left the home care because they cannot take it any more.

I will leave it at that point and I look forward to being able to speak at another time on this, to say more things I have to say on this point.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

CHAIR: The hon. the Minister of Government Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. O'BRIEN: Mr. Chair, it is a pleasure to get up in this hon. House today and speak to Bill 76, that could be referred to as Interim Supply in short order but it is An Act Granting To Her Majesty Certain Sums of Money. It is certainly Interim Supply to get us to after the Budget is done - which is coming this Thursday. I have been in the House now for five years, and certainly we do this each and every session of this hon. House in the spring.

First off, before I get into actually speaking to the bill itself, I would like to make some comments in regard to some of the comments by hon. members across the House. It is so good to hear an hon. member - I think it was the hon. Member for Port de Grave - mention and compliment some of the departments in regard to the way they transact their business, and the support mechanisms that they put in place and provide to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is so good to hear him thank those departments for doing just that.

As well, in regard to the hon. Opposition House Leader, he was talking when he first got up about the hon. members on this side of the House and what he is going to hear in regard to what we talk about when we get up to talk about Bill 76. He mentioned, you know, that all he heard was the people up here cheerleading the Premier, what he has done, and what this government has done in regards to the past number of years. He mentioned that somebody contacted him and certainly referred to that, and he went back and said, call your member, or I think he said, fax you member or e-mail your member and tell them to get on with it and start talking about the things that have to happen in this Province.

First, what I say to that is, that certainly, yes, we have everything to cheerlead about, but we do not have to do that, because, certainly, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador are doing that for us. We are showing 80 per cent in the polls, the highest approval rating that any government has seen and any Premier has seen since 1949. Certainly that reflects on the leadership and it certainly reflects on the great programs that this particular government has brought in. So, we have everything to cheerlead.

Another thing I would say as well, is that to reflect back on history before this government took office in 2003, they did not have anything to cheerlead, because they had poor leadership, they had no fiscal responsibility, and the money that they spent in the past was spent unwisely. They just did not know what they were doing, and that is the reason why we are here and they are there. That is the way it happens. That is history. I wanted to comment on that one as well.

I also want to comment in regards to the Leader of the Opposition. She mentioned our hon. member, the Minister of Finance, in regards to his new hairstyle. I will compliment the minister in regards to that and in regards to the worthy cause he supported, and also in the amount of money that he raised. I think it was up around $18,000 or so, the last count I had or the last number that I had. That is a lot of money to raise just to get a haircut. I would not need that much to get a haircut myself, because I am losing my hair very fast, and I would not exactly need that. In the meantime, I compliment that minister and what he has done.

She mentioned that she hopes this is going to be a great budget. Well, yeah, absolutely, it is going to be a great budget, but it is also going to reflect the global recession, the economic times that we find ourselves in, and certainly it will be, as in the past, a prudent, fiscal budget reflecting where we think the Province should go, but also keeping in mind that we have to think about the future. We cannot spend everything now. We have to do things prudently and develop programs that are going to last us well into the future.

I was reading The Globe and Mail today, and I reflect on where we find ourselves in the Province and being able to address the economic situation that we find ourselves in. In The Globe and Mail today, I believe that they mentioned that the London financial district in England was one of the hardest hit in regards to the financial districts around the world, and certainly an economic pitfall is what they found themselves in. They also reflected on, I think there were 130,000 lost jobs in London in over just a couple of months, and that is about all. Do not quote me on that because I just cannot remember. I read it this morning, but it was significant numbers, 130,000 people lost jobs.

Yes, we find ourselves, as well, in that situation, that people are transitioning and they lose their jobs and what not, but with all of the programs that this government has put in place we certainly find ourselves in a position to address these problems and move forward.

Then when you go to the Leader of the NDP - I certainly respect where she is coming from in regards to the social programs and the various needs for home care, et cetera, that we find ourselves in, and the need that the people have, but we have to reflect reality in regards to our finances, the debt load that we have in the Province that we inherited back in 2003. Certainly, we have seen significant gains in that regard over the past number of years. Again, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador need, and they will always need - even if we found ourselves in the perfect world and flushed with cash like Alberta used to be, they cannot provide everybody on any given day. Certainly, we take into consideration the social needs and the problems that people have and try to make sure that we help as many, or all, as we possibly can. Certainly, as we develop programs over the next number of years - I think we have another three years left in this term - we will see some significant programs come into place and be developed over that period of time that will reflect some of these problems.

One of the areas that we already have, the Member for Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans, the Minister of Human Resources, Labour and Employment, the Poverty Reduction Strategy, is hailed as probably one of the best across this country of ours and also across North America and the world. Certainly, she is doing some great work in that department and great work on that file as we move forward.

My department, in regards to Bill 76, you will see that there is about $12,842,000 that is reflected in regards to this bill for my department. My department is employee-driven, wage-driven, it is a service department. It provides many services across Newfoundland and Labrador to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Certainly, it is very important that this bill be passed, where we can carry out and continue to carry out that service to the people. Seventy-five percent of my budget goes to employee wages, because that is exactly what we do. So you do the math and you have exactly what it is, about $9 million as reflected here in this bill that is going to wages to the people that work and provide those services, which are very, very important. Certainly they provide some very professional services.

Also reflected in this bill is continuing education and seminars that are needed for our professionals, such as our environmental health officers, our occupational health and safety officers, et cetera, that do some great work across the Province. In the past, in the last budget - I cannot get up and not mention that we have expanded those services in Newfoundland and Labrador with the expansion of Motor Registration services recently in Happy Valley–Goose Bay, which was well received by the people and the minister responsible and the member, and also well received by the particular stakeholders in regards to the mayor and all those types of people up there, to see that as an absolute benefit that they had lobbied for, for a long, long time and this government delivered on it.

I also saw the expansion of Motor Registration in my own district, in Gander, which was lobbied for, for over twenty-odd years and certainly never came to be in past governments but certainly it came to be in this government because they see the absolute need for that service to be provided in that part of the district.

As the Minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development mentioned in regards to Grand Falls–Windsor, yes, we are very concerned about Grand Falls–Windsor. Certainly, if anybody out there thinks that we do not have a plan and we are not including the people out there, they are sadly mistaken. He mentioned too, as well, that my department is on the ground out there as well, providing expert advice in regards to pensions and securities and other things that people are asking questions about, and we move forward. He also mentioned, too, as well, that you cannot – one answer is not the same answer for everybody. So we will work ourselves through that in time. It will all take time and certainly we are working towards that.

In my own district, this government has certainly made significant investments in the James Paton Memorial Hospital, new dialysis, new cancer treatment centre, et cetera. It was only recently that I was asked by the Chamber of Commerce for a list of accomplishments and investments by this government in my district over the last years that I was elected since 2003. Just to reflect one, and then I will finish up because I think my time has expired and I will not go any further. Just to reflect one, in regards to roads and road improvements, which includes the Trans-Canada Highway and the Gander Bay road and such and Cooper Boulevard at the time as well, there was over $15 million in roads put into my district. Some of it down in the Gander Bay road, which stretched into my hon. member and colleague from Bonavista North's district too as well. Certainly, that was a significant dollar value that was put into my district by this government which was never put in, in the past, in regards to other governments in the past. I thank this government for that. That is why this bill is so important with regards to getting things done in the Province and being able to move ourselves forward.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I certainly want to speak about another important issue today. There is a lot that I could talk about on the Abitibi issue but I want to talk a little bit about the Cameron report. This was a report, and I guess it was one that was commissioned and done by Justice Cameron in the Province into the faulty breast cancer scandal that existed in Newfoundland and Labrador that affected the lives of hundreds of people in our Province and draw their attention in the saddest way possible to the fact that there were tremendous inefficiencies within the health care system.

The report that was undertaken by Justice Cameron was very intense and it was very investigative, I suppose, in terms of looking at all aspects of the system, from the laboratories to the human resource sector, to the way information was gathered and managed, to the way test results were analysed and reported back to patients. It also looked at what the pain and suffering, to a certain degree, was upon families who had lost loved ones and to those who continue to deal with the illness and the misdiagnosis that they have been given.

So the report, Mr. Chairman, gave a damning overview of the problems that can occur within any system, but in this case in our health care system, when there is inappropriate leadership and not appropriate oversight and accountability that are present. While the report does outline a number of the things that went wrong and the faults that need to be corrected, it also provides an opportunity for change. It provides an opportunity to be able to restore confidence in the health care system in this Province and to ensure that we have a better system of health care delivery, one on which people can have some comfort in, in knowing that the findings that are given, the treatments that they are administered are appropriate for them.

Mr. Chairman, this was a very intense report as was tabled in the House of Assembly today by the minister. It covers 465 pages that contain sixty recommendations on everything from accountability, technology, training, staffing and succession planning, including communications and protocols with patients.

Mr. Chairman, it talks about technology and training and how it needs to be improved, how labs need to be upgraded and training provided. Quality assurance measures need to be implemented and appropriate oversight established to pick up on problems and errors.

I asked the minister questions with regard to staffing today in the House of Assembly and he was very quick to point out that we are already making changes in our labs and that we are adding new staff. This concerns me because if we are already in the midst of implementing the solutions and the corrections here, why are we still having people that are falling through the cracks?

I refer to a couple of cases. One, the case of Colleen Whitehorne, a lady from Happy Valley-Goose Bay who was tested for cancer and waited for seven months to get her results. Her results sat in the offices of people in the health care system for up to seven months before she was ever contacted by the authorities and told what her diagnosis was. Well that really concerns me, because if we were making the investments in the labs and the investments in staff and changing the protocols and ensuring that the management of information is being handled differently, why is there still Colleen Whitehornes falling through the cracks in our Province today? While there may be a little work done, I say to the minister, it is quite obvious that a lot more needs to be done.

Any person who is waiting up to seven months to get that one phone call to tell them that yes, you have been diagnosed with cancer and that you need to have treatment. Well today when I stand here in the House of Assembly, Colleen Whitehorne is in Edmonton, in the Province of Alberta getting the treatments that she should have been told that she needed eight months ago now, not seven anymore but eight. As soon as her results were communicated to her, all of a sudden there was a tremendous amount of effort to ensure that Ms Whitehorn got the treatment that she needed. I hope it was not because her issue became a public issue, because if we are going to have a health care system that triggers results based on those who make the most noise and put up the strongest fight then we have a problem.

So today Ms Whitehorn, who eight months after her diagnosis was discovered but not reported to her, is in Edmonton, Alberta, on her own dime because we do not provide for the service that she requires in our Province, on her own financial resources she has to travel outside of the Province to seek those services.

Mr. Chairman, I know I have a limited amount of time but there are a lot of issues in those recommendations that I would like to bring out and discuss in the House of Assembly. I am sure that as time goes on and we get into the Budget Debate we will have more opportunity to do so, but some of these recommendations deal with things like patient advocates and it is a necessary thing in our health care system today - not just at Eastern Health but in all of our health authorities.

I know, Mr. Chairman, just in dealing with the health care system in my own district, how difficult it is for patients who oftentimes fly out to St. Anthony or to Goose Bay and they have to depend upon a family member or a friend they may know who lives in that area to help them make their way around the hospital, to help them get to their appointments, to help them understand the information that is being communicated to them, to help them with their transportation, to help them with lodging and, Mr. Chairman, just to give them direction as to where to go, who to see, and how to resolve. Sometimes what may seem like simple issues to some of us are very complicated to those who are not familiar with using the system. I think that patient advocates are good, a good addition to our system - people who a patient can call up when they do not get a test result, and ask for direction as to where we can go in the health care system to get that direction, who we need to see. Where can we turn to get the answers that we require?

Mr. Chairman, there are fifty-nine more recommendations like that in this report that deserve individual attention, that deserve individual explanations and requests on behalf of the government.

Mr. Chairman, when you look at the fact that this report uncovered a tremendous deficiency in our human resources within Eastern Health and other health boards, a number of new positions that need to be created in pathology and laboratory services, that there be quality assurance officers to manage and control quality assurance issues, that there was a complete and other deficiency when it came to education and training programs. For everyone from pathologists and oncologists to laboratory technicians, Mr. Chairman, there was no real training and education planning done within the system for a lot of these people.

One would think that would be the job of health authorities, to ensure that has happened, but you have to realize that the health authorities in this Province had been going through some significant transitional issues themselves. We have taken a massive amount of health boards in this Province and thrown them under one umbrella structure, but never once did we put in place a transition plan to be able to allow them to put forward the proper succession programs that were required. We threw them into a job of amalgamating huge boards with huge responsibilities, Mr. Chairman, which left them very little time to focus on the accountability issues, the succession planning that was required for vacancies in professional physicians, to look at in-servicing and proper in-servicing on equipment for staff as they moved along, to look at proper training in education programs for those that were in the system. This is where the real failures were being seen as a result of reorganizing our health care system, because no one paid attention to those details.

We had one board taking over a multitude of facets in health care. They were doing it under the same governance body when they were responsible for one or two health care facilities. Now they are responsible for twenty or twenty-five. That is the difference, Mr. Chairman, and we failed to give them the tools that they needed to be able to make that transition appropriately and to do what needed to be done.

Mr. Chairman, Justice Cameron certainly is not shy in the recommendations that she makes, but that is only one part of our health care system that has certainly been outlined and has a huge amount of deficiencies.

I want to talk about home care for a minute.

CHAIR: Order, please!

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

MS JONES: Just by leave for a minute, Mr. Chairman?

CHAIR: Does the member have leave to clue up?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

CHAIR: By leave.

MS JONES: Mr. Chairman, home care is one of the issues that we have raised in the House of Assembly in the last two years successively with this government. You may remember the stories of the Connors family, an elderly couple in this Province who needed the services of home care and were asked to give up nearly 50 per cent of their old age pension benefits and supplementary benefits in order to access that home care, leaving them to live on less than $13,000 a year, which was below the poverty wage in Newfoundland and Labrador. Those are the kinds of programs that we have, that are forcing people into poverty situations to try and access the services that they require.

Well, Mr. Chairman, going back to the fall, the minister said that they were assessing the financial tools that were used to grant home care services to people. You know, Mr. Chairman, that home care services include everything from palliative care to routine household tasks to civic support services and helping people inside and outside their home for rehabilitative care and nursing care, so it is not something that is taken lightly. They are very important services that are being provided, and people who need these services also need to be able to afford to access them, so we hope that in this Budget government will come forward with a set of new financial tools to allow these people to qualify for more services and to have to pay less of their income in order to do it.

Mr. Chairman, what about the people who provide for those services in the Province, the thousands of home care workers out there who work from home to home? I know many of these people, Mr. Chairman, who work for a lot less than $10 an hour, who sometimes move to as many as three homes in one day to provide services to people - two hours at one home, two hours at another home, two hours at another home, and probably two hours back at the home they left that morning. That is the kind of commitment that these home care workers are showing to their clients, but they really feel that they are being underpaid in this Province; and government, for some reason, feels that they do not have an obligation when it comes to supporting the home care worker because they are not a government employee, but they are delivering a government service.

If we were not providing for home care services for elderly people in their homes, for disabled people in their homes, they would have to move into government-owned and operated institutions. That would cost us a great deal more money. If they were not moving into long-term care institutions, Mr. Chairman, they would be using acute care facilities in this Province. We see it today. We see case after case of people in our hospitals who are not moving out simply because they have no one to take care of them at home; and, because they can stay there for free, they try to stay there as long as they can. That is not acceptable, Mr. Chairman.

If we were able to move these people out of our acute care system, and not into our long-term care homes but be able to retain them in their own homes and provide them with good services, it would be a cost savings to the government at the end of the day. Whether we provide the service through long-term care or through our hospitals or whether we provide it through home care workers, we have a responsibility as a government to look after and to provide for the delivery of this service. Why should home care workers today, in places like on the West Coast of Newfoundland, where I have heard of workers who left the home care profession to go to work at Tim Hortons, several of them at one time, Mr. Chair - because they could go to Tim Hortons and still make over $8.50 or $9.00 an hour and they would get their tips. They did not have to rush between two and three houses in a day to provide services and, Mr. Chair, they were not doing backbreaking work. They were not lifting and carrying and mobilizing people like they have to do as home care workers.

I think that needs to be looked at. It needs to be looked at, because if we continue to ignore it and see it as not being our problem and our responsibility we are going to end up paying more money to keep people in long-term care and in acute care facilities.

I hope that the minister has his financial tools in order to ensure that those who need the service can afford it and are eligible for it, but I also hope that he is looking at making a serious commitment to home care workers in this Budget, to ensure that our elderly and our disabled people can live in their own homes, maintain a quality of life for themselves, and get the care that they require without having to go into government-funded long-term care facilities.

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for Baie Verte – Springdale.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. POLLARD: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Let me start by posing a couple of questions.

What makes a community tick, communities such as Springdale, Baie Verte, Seal Cove, Burlington, LaScie, and Beachside? I could go on; every town in my district. I am sure every MHA could do the same thing in every part of your district, about your town, about your community, the same thing.

Who is the driving force behind our successful towns? Who makes our communities run on all cylinders so to speak? Who makes our communities run as smooth as possible, to make them functional? Have you often wondered? I did. It just does not happen automatically, for sure, as you know. Does it happen by chance? Absolutely not! Who is putting their shoulder to the wheel in each town, in each community, in this great Province of ours? Who is the driving force behind our successful communities, offering a real good quality of life for our citizens, and bringing our cities and towns of age, to maturity?

Look no further, I say to you, dig no deeper, dig no further. They are right in front of our eyes. They are on the frontlines day in and day out. It is the unsung heroes. You might ask: Who are these unsung heroes? Is it our volunteer firefighters, you might ask? Is it our service groups? As much as we value and appreciate and commend and salute and applaud these service groups and the firefighters - every citizen in our community, every government member, acknowledges the contributions of our firefighters, of our service groups, like the lions and kinsmen – well, that is not the group that I want to talk about today. I prefer to focus on another group. Again, not to offend them, we all realize the value of our firefighters and service groups, it is impossible to measure their contribution to our cities, towns and communities. Over the years, our firefighters and volunteer service groups probably have been recognized, received their due recognition, and they continue to be recognized, I might add. They are indeed an integral part of our Province, of our town, of our community. Without them, well, I shudder at the thought, without our firefighters and without our service groups. At no time, I might add, should they be taken for granted. Let that be very clear this afternoon.

Having said all of that, Mr. Chair, there is another group I would like to zero in on, to bring our attention to, to bring in and focus the efforts that they make day in and day out, the contribution that they make. They are the unsung heroes. They are part of that team. Why are they so important, you might ask? Because they serve with great pride and with great passion. They go about their work with every ounce of energy. They sacrifice huge amounts of time and energy to serve you and me and to serve each citizen in their towns. They make sure that we have adequate infrastructure. They make sure that we have all of the amenities to attract young professionals to our towns and to our communities; not only to attract, but they make sure that they try to retain families in our towns and communities by their efforts and by their contributions that they make on a daily basis.

In fact, this group of people does not even know the meaning of the word quit. It is not even part of their vocabulary. They are not quitters. They stick to the task. They work tirelessly. They refuse to be denied. They are doers. This group of volunteers are visionary people, they are visionary leaders. They have a dream. They see something that wants to be done and they go ahead and do it. They do not like the status quo. They like to see their towns move forward in a positive way. They see what needs to be done, they put their shoulder to the wheel and go ahead and make sure it is done. They go after it. Every town, I might add, every community without exception in this great Province of ours, can brag about such a group. There is not one MHA here in this hon. House who cannot brag about this group. Every town, every community, has this group; every local service district, every municipality.

Today is their day. I want us to single them out. Today is their day when we all recognize and acknowledge the superb, outstanding leadership efforts and contributions that this team of unsung heroes make day in and day out - day in and day out! - without any fanfare, without much glitz and recognition, but they do their job.

This government, our government, your government, my government, says a great big, humungous thank you to this extraordinary commitment by these people who make a contribution to our towns day in and day out; for keeping our communities alive, for fostering a sense of community pride, for fostering a sense of community spirit, and for fostering a sense of family. We are known, in fact, for that sense of closeness world wide, especially when the chips are down, Mr. Chair. When we face a crisis, when we face a tragedy, our towns, our citizens, our communities come together. They support one another. This was evidenced on March 12 of the great loss of life that causes great pain, severe pain, of the helicopter crash, Flight 491. We are still mourning at this very moment.

Mr. Chairman, in the past few years our government has taken many steps, many initiatives and instituted various programs so that we could just ease the burden a little bit, slightly, that this group carry out day-in and day-out. We have taken measures to reduce the stress and the overload and the pressure of this group. Don't we all recognize, as government members, that the task is monumental? The task at hand that this group is confronted with on a daily basis is overwhelming. Serious issues, serious challenges seem to overwhelm this group, but this group do not quit. They keep going and going and going. Why do they keep going, you might ask? Because they believe in their community. They believe in their citizens. This group, they keep working with our government. They keep forming partnerships. They keep collaborating. They keep co-operating. They co-operate with agencies. They inform. They create dialog. They lobby. They advocate. Why do they do all that, Mr. Chairman? It is a very simple reason, because this group care. They care about the growth of their town. They care about the growth of their community. They care about the growth of their region. They have pride in their community.

Honourable colleagues, every inlet, every bay, every cove, every peninsula, every town and every city of our burgeoning Province is the proud recipient and the beneficiary of such a fine group of volunteers.

CHAIR: Order, please!.

I would like to remind the hon. member his speaking time has elapsed.

MR. POLLARD: Just a minute to clue up, Mr. Chairman?

CHAIR: Does the member have leave?


CHAIR: Leave to clue up.

MR. POLLARD: Thank you.

To whom am I referring? I have you all in suspense, I am sure. Who am I referring to? Hats off to every councillor, every deputy mayor and every mayor of Newfoundland and Labrador, including every district, every town, every community of this Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. POLLARD: We recognize you this afternoon, simply for your unwavering commitment, your unselfish sacrificial service, for your unparalleled dedication, for your visionary leadership, for enhancing community growth. The Premier is behind you. The Deputy Premier is behind you. The Government House Leader is behind you. Every Cabinet minister is behind you. Every MHA is behind you. Keep up the good work! This government is behind you. Thank you for such an outstanding and thank you for such a stellar job.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: Order, please!

The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I appreciate an opportunity to continue with a few comments about Interim Supply. I really appreciate the member's relevant remarks in that regard; a great cheerleading section. Anyway, we will see if we can comment on a few things that might be of relevance. That is the whole purpose of course.

As the Minister of Finance alluded to earlier, although the Interim Supply runs from April 1 onwards and gives the government some funding leverage until the main budget is passed, we do of course have to have it done by March 25, and for very practical reasons. From the time of passage until March 31 you have to put the machinery in place to actually cut the cheques and so on and get things done. You just cannot wait until the last moment to do that. So we will be debating this until about March 25 or so. I do not know if it has ever been held up, not that it is a case of holding it up. Government has the majority to pass it in any case, but I think historically it has always been understood that it would be acceptable to finish debate on it in a reasonable time period to allow that to be done.

I was curious – the minister, no doubt, will get to close up the debate on Interim Supply and he alluded to the meetings that he had, the pre-budget consultations that he had around the Province, and very pleasing to see. Some of the Opposition MHAs and staffers actually got to take in some of the sessions as well throughout the Province. I guess it is unfortunate, and due to the pressures of time and so on, you cannot get everywhere and you have to go on a reasonable basis to give people an opportunity to have their input, but I do think that it would be advisable, maybe even wise, if you did the consultations different places in different years so that everybody eventually gets an opportunity to have their say, different boards of trade, different chambers of commerce, difference councillors, different interest groups in different sectors of the Province. Maybe as a format, if the government did not have just set places - and I realize that population centres are great to do that, you get more people available at the one time - but maybe doing it in really, really rural areas of Newfoundland sometimes might be beneficial and helpful as well and keep people included in the process.

I did not see too much about the clock this year. The former Minister of Finance last year of course became famous, he had the debt clock, and of course that got a lot of –

AN HON. MEMBER: The interest clock.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: The interest clock. The clock got a lot of interest, I will say that too. We never heard much about that this year, the interest clock. I do not know if they have it put in storage or what happened to the interest clock. With a new minister, I guess a new broom sweeps clean. Anyway, we did not see much of the interest clock; that was put away.

Another comment the minister did mention, and I would like to mention, he made reference to this member referring, in Question Period today, to a culture of secrecy. Folks, there is, whether you want to believe it or not, there is a culture of secrecy. Of course it is pretty common for the persons who are in power to always say there is no such thing. Anybody who wants to speak out in this Province has the right to speak out, the ability to speak out, and they ought to have no fear of retribution for speaking out, that no such thing would ever happen.

Well, I had a little experience today. We often - in Opposition of course you get the brown envelopes they call it. You often get brown envelopes from somebody who is disgruntled with government or disgruntled with some minister or some department, but we have been getting a lot of brown envelopes. We are going to have an interesting session in the spring of 2009 when we get to open up some of the brown envelopes.

You talk about the non-existent culture of fear. I had an experience today when a public service worker called us today, whispering in one of the washrooms in Confederation complex, about a certain issue and did it because he was afraid to do it any other way. Now, that is not a false statement. That is an absolutely true statement - passed on some information, passed on the concerns, and they will be followed up on in due course. So let's not talk about the non-existent culture of fear. This person, a long-time member of the public service, is so fearful about what is going on, and the fear of retribution, that they had to call from a bathroom stall, whispering – but it will not be held in secret. That is why we ask for things like the whistleblower legislation, so we can protect some of these people. They do not have to fear that there will be some retribution.

So there is legitimacy and we will unfold some of that as time goes on, between now and when the House closes this spring sitting. We will see then if the words, no such thing as fear, exist. We already saw how the government reacts, and the Premier reacts, to somebody who dares disagree.

The Leader of the Opposition alluded to a certain individual in Central who had the gumption to speak out. Mr. Griffin had the gumption to speak out about what he thought about what was unfolding in Central Newfoundland. God forbid, he is a traitor. He is a traitor, he was told.

Now, no such thing as saying: Thank you very much for your comments. We absolutely think they are wrong, or we disagree with you.

That could have been done. I would have thought that would have been a very reasonable way of handling anybody. Nobody is going to agree with everything government does, for sure. Nobody is going to agree with everything anybody does, but the overall message that the rest of the public gets, and everybody in the public sector gets, is that you cannot say anything to this government because of the method and the way in which they react.

This gentleman, as I understand it, does not carry any political favouritism. He has never been involved in any political party, as I understand it, where you might point a finger and say, ah, he is a Liberal or he is an NDP. This is a gentleman who spoke up and asked some questions because he lives in that area and was born, as I understand it, and raised there. By the way, I do not know if I ever spoke to him in my life. He is a lawyer, but I do not know if I ever spoke to him. I knew his brother quite well. His brother passed away a few years ago.

AN HON. MEMBER: That is not his brother. (Inaudible).

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Gerard? Maybe his first cousin, I guess. Again, all I know is that he has the same last name and I assumed that they were related. I do not even know him to that extent.

The overall reaction again of traitor, that is pretty strong language, to call somebody a traitor. I mean, the Minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development over there, a very reasonable fellow -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: - a very reasonable man, he has been asked questions. I saw a piece in the paper this weekend. Somebody in the paper the weekend talked about – I believe it was a Ms Fancy – they were not pleased with the committee makeup or something. The minister comes out and responds. He did not go out with a hatchet and chop anybody's head off and call her a traitor. He dealt with it, and I would suggest that is a reasonable, level-headed way to do things. You do not need to be going around with a shotgun, trying to frighten people.

MS JONES: He only chopped the two legs off her; he didn't chop the head off her.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Somebody suggested no, he only chopped the two legs off her. Maybe he did, but at least he was a bit more diplomatic and civil in the manner in which he did it. That is the case of defending where you stand; there is nothing wrong with that.

Anyway, we are going to have lots of chances to discuss that, and there are lots of issues. In the minute-and-a-half that I have left I would just like to say that, besides the economic issues, there are lots of social issues that we will have to deal with in this session as well. This member for one, for example, I am going to take a couple of opportunities, if I get them throughout the session, to mention the dirty word called resettlement. Resettlement. Now a lot of people, if you just throw out the word, of course, in Newfoundland, you might be called a traitor if you ever suggested that you would ever want to resettle.

AN HON. MEMBER: You might be called Joey.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: And you might be called Joey Smallwood. You might be called a lot of things, but whether you call it resettlement or whatever name you want to put on it, it is happening in some communities in rural Newfoundland, and it is happening whether the government has a policy to deal with it or do not have a policy. It is happening regardless. All of us here who represent rural districts, everybody who represents rural districts, have probably seen the impacts of it. I, as a member here, have had it affect me in my district. I realize it is a very tough issue, and it is not something to just simply be critical of government about, but it is an issue that has to and needs to be grappled with because it is happening. It has impacts on people's lives, very serious impacts, and a lot of times on very senior people who have major, major, health issues. So that is another issue that this member will be addressing because it has not only a social context but it has an economic element to it.

Mr. Chairman I take my leave at this time and we will have more time to discuss these issues as we go forward.

Thank you.

CHAIR: The hon. the Member for The Isles of Notre Dame.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DALLEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I certainly want to echo a comment from the colleague across the House, and appreciate his reference to Interim Supply messages as well, as he did to my hon. colleague from Baie Verte-Springdale. As well, it is interesting that he would make a comment about resettlement.

It is an opportunity, I guess, if we want to speak to resettlement, in that I represent a district of four islands who are greatly dependent on government and the services that government provide, but I want to pick up on the resettlement piece, and perhaps through my comments indicate where our government is with resettlement. Specifically, I want to speak to a recent announcement in tourism in my district, and that is the geotourism announcement of $16 million for a development on Fogo Island and Change Islands.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DALLEY: Before I speak to that, I do want to recognize and certainly compliment, because I do not think we do it enough, the very foundation of our tourism industry, and compliment the ambassadors. That is those people out there, the entrepreneurs, the committees and the associations who work tirelessly, who put in the effort. Not only that, those people who take the risk to ensure that we have a very viable, strong and vibrant tourism industry around our Province and indeed in rural Newfoundland particularly.

I want to reference the great announcement of $16 million in which Minister Skinner and Minister Keith Ashfield of ACOA and Zita Cobb, the president of Shorefast Foundation - I was fortunate enough to join them on Fogo Island to make the great announcement, this investment which is $5 million from our Province to support this project.

Geotourism refers to best practice tourism. It refers to sustainable and indeed enhancing the character of a place, which includes its culture, its heritage, environment, and the well-being of its residents. This project, grounded in social entrepreneurship, aims to promote the cultural and ecological sustainability of Fogo Island and Change Islands. It aims to build on the strength of the people, and indeed the history of the two islands.

Mr. Chairman, specifically this project has five or six elements to it. The primary one is building a world-class destination resort, a world-renowned artist-in-residency program featuring studios in remote locations, and restoring traditional homes to be uses as artists' residences, basically to capture the beauty and the ruggedness of Fogo Island and Change Islands and to offer it to the world.

It involves a five-star inn with gallery space, conference centre and a heritage library. It will involve distinctive regional cuisine to make the area a unique culinary destination. It will offer access points to natural resources, such as trails, fish, birds, berries and icebergs, and build on cultural and heritage assets such as boat building, gardening, cooking, fishing and quilting. This project, as well, will see investment in traditional island crafts and skills such as wooden boat building and will offer performance spaces for festivals and cultural events.

Mr. Chairman, as a government we are more than pleased to support visionary people such as Zita Cobb. Ms Cobb is a successful entrepreneur, has a wealth of business experience. She has travelled the world. She has been involved in resort development and her work as a philanthropist has been well documented, but what is most striking about Ms Cobb, for anyone who has had the opportunity to sit with her and talk with her about her vision and her future and her plans, it is so striking to see her great passion and great respect and appreciation for her roots, the fact that she would come back to Fogo Island, back to her roots in Joe Batt's Arm and want to make a difference and to be so committed to making that difference for the people of Fogo Island and Change Islands.

When we look at this, and we look at resettlement and we look at this investment, I think it is important that we recognize, and we all do, the importance of the tourism industry in Newfoundland and Labrador. It offers endless opportunities, and thanks to Shorefast and their efforts, we will be able to position our Province as an international tourism destination.

Much research has been done. There is a market out there for the high-end tourist, the traveller who is looking for real, authentic, unique experiences. We believe, and what a better place for those experiences than to come to Newfoundland and Labrador, and to come to the Isles of Notre Dame and to come to Fogo Island and Change Islands where, thanks to Shorefast, we will be offering a world-class tourism destination.

Mr. Chairman, in talking about tourism and talking about investment in rural Newfoundland, recently the tourism department, with the work of the industry, unveiled a new plan, a new vision for the future and that certainly speaks to the government's commitment to tourism and to rural areas, such as the area I represent.

Some of the main points of the Uncommon Potential - which is the name of the new document - that I would like to bring out is getting and sharing the research required to grow the industry. That is what government is prepared to do to support tourism in places like Fogo Island and Change Islands and Twillingate and New World Island and areas.

We have seen, as well, government invest heavily in brand tools and marketing. If I could speak to those great commercials, those visually compelling commercials that enable all of us to connect with who we are, our roots. They are so captivating and enables us to see what we are offering to the people of this Province, but more importantly, this great marketing campaign is a campaign that has been recognized across the country and around the world and is surely establishing Newfoundland and Labrador as a place to come, not to come and see but a place to come and experience. That includes our rural communities, each and every one of them.

Other points that this document, Uncommon Potential, points out and brings forward to realize what the plans are for the future, they want to continue to develop quality products and services which meet the markets demands. We want to continue to be out there to support the people, to support entrepreneurs, to support the visionaries, to support the volunteers, to ensure that we have viable opportunities out in our rural communities.

As well, a part of the document points out that elevating the image of tourism as a professional industry in developing a stable, skilled client focused tourism workforce is key to ensuring that the people out in our communities have the right training, the right success and ensure that the visitors will indeed get an absolutely wonderful experience when they visit Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Chairman, I think when we look at this type of investment what we see from our government is significant, not only in financial but it is a huge commitment to rural Newfoundland and Labrador. We believe in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. We have confidence in the economies. We have confidence in the people and we are committed to working with them, each and every one of them, to see that they continue to put their efforts forward and we continue to see that we can build on that economy.

Mr. Chairman, as well, if I have a minute. If I could just point out, another investment that we have seen from our government that supports rural Newfoundland and Labrador and that is through the provincial strategy on waste management. We are seeing this, a recent announcement - I joined Minister Whalen and Minister O'Brien and a couple of my colleagues in an announcement of the launch of the Central Waste Management Authority. Again, they have done some great work with great leadership but it certainly speaks to the commitment for environmental awareness and protection out in our rural areas. Again, I would like to highlight the fact that Fogo Island are well advanced in their preparations with the Central Waste Management Strategy and very shortly, very soon, we will see that Fogo Island will probably be the first island in the Province, the first area that will be garbage free. All the garbage will be coming off the island and will be taken to a transfer site and then taken to, for the short term to Gander, until the full process and the facility is established in Norris Arm.

So, again, I think it shows that Newfoundland and Labrador is certainly growing. It sees that our government is very committed to rural areas in tourism investments, environmental investments and I am sure I could keep going and going, but, Mr. Chairman, a couple of points I am certainly pleased to bring out today.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

CHAIR: The hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: Mr. Chairman, I move that the Committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.

CHAIR: The motion is that the Committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.

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

All those in favour, 'aye'.


CHAIR: All those against, 'nay'.

The motion is carried.

On motion, that the Committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again, Mr. Speaker returned to the Chair.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): The hon. the Assistant Deputy Speaker.

MR. COLLINS: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of Supply have considered the matters to them referred and have directed me to report progress and ask leave to sit again.

MR. SPEAKER: The Assistant Deputy Speaker reports that the Committee of Supply reports that the Committee have considered the matters to them referred and have directed him to report progress and ask leave to sit again.

When shall the Committee have leave to sit again? Tomorrow?

MS BURKE: Tomorrow.

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I move seconded by the hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services that the House do now adjourn.

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

All those in favour, 'aye'.


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


This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 of the clock tomorrow being Tuesday.

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