April 6, 2009             HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS                  Vol. XLVI   No. 7

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order, please!

Admit strangers.

Statements by Members

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The following members' statements will be heard today: the hon. the Member for the District of Trinity North; the hon. the Member for the District of Placentia & St. Mary's; the hon. the Member for the District of Kilbride; and the hon. the Member for the District of Burin-Placentia West.

It is the Chair's understanding that the hon. the Member for Trinity North and the hon. the Member for Burin-Placentia West have leave to make private member statements.

By leave, the hon. the Member for the District of Trinity North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank my colleagues for leave.

Mr. Speaker, today it is with great pleasure that I stand in this House to congratulate the Clarenville Caribous for winning the 2009 Herder Memorial Cup on Saturday, April 4.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: This coveted cup acknowledges senior hockey supremacy in Newfoundland and Labrador. It is a remarkable feat, given the fact that this was only the third season in senior hockey for the team in Clarenville. Achievements such as these, in hockey, are only possible when you have, firstly, a talented group of hockey players, and, secondly, strong support from a good community organization and strong superior leadership behind the bench coupled with tremendous community support.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud today to say that Clarenville had all of these ingredients. Just to mention some of the individuals, the series most valuable player, Jason Churchill, was an outstanding goalie.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you.

He is a product of the Clarenville minor hockey system. The team leadership by Captain Dustin Russell, another product of the Clarenville area minor hockey system, provided the strong on-ice leadership necessary to inspire his talented teammates.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to acknowledge and commend the men and women who have worked tirelessly to put together a strong organization to drive community support to raise the money, to recruit the talent and to promote the team.

Mr. Speaker, the final key ingredient for success is the fan support. The entire Clarenville region have packed the arena in Clarenville for home games and have spent weekends travelling around the Province providing the moral support and encouragement to show their appreciation for the dedication of all the Clarenville Caribou players.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this House to join me today, and in particular my colleague the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board and Member for Carbonear-Harbour Grace, to join with us today in congratulating the Clarenville Caribous on their first of what will be a series of winnings to come, I say, Mr. Speaker. This is the first year and this will be the first of many to come.

I ask everybody to join with me today and congratulate the Clarenville Caribous, the 2009 Herder Champions.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in this hon. House to pay tribute to a young soldier from Jerseyside, Placentia.

Corporal Jonathan Williams was presented with a Mentioned in Dispatches bravery award from Canada's Chief of Defence Staff in a ceremony in Quebec on December 2, 2008. He was recognized for his show of courage and disregard for his own safety while in the line of duty in Afghanistan.

As a weapons teck commander, Corporal Williams was in charge of heavy machine guns and, while under heavy enemy fire, had to seek higher ground in order to neutralize the enemy and get the exposed rifle section back to its platoon.

According to the award, it was noted that "His skill and courage under enemy fire enabled the personnel from the rifle section to withdraw unharmed from their extremely perilous position."

Corporal Williams was on his first tour of duty in Afghanistan. In fact, this was his very first tour as a reserve of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

He was one of approximately twenty solders to receive this award, and the first soldier from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment to receive this honour since 1918.

Mr. Speaker, Corporal Williams exemplifies the many Canadian soldiers, and more specifically our Newfoundland and Labrador young heroes, who put their lives on the line every day in the course of their duties.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all hon. members to join with me in expressing our pride and congratulations to Corporal Williams, and in conveying our best wishes to him in his future endeavours.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DINN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have attained prominence on the mainland over the years. Allan Doyle, Wayne Johnson, Dan Cleary, Alex Faulkner, Brad Gushue and Ryan Clowe come to mind.

No one from this Province has achieved more national notoriety and prominence than Brad Forward, a harness racing driver from the St. John's area who, on March 21, won the 2009 National Driving Championship at Fraser Downs in Vancouver, British Columbia.

This honour means that Brad will now represent Canada in the World Driving Championships scheduled for May 14-20 in Norway. The equivalent to this distinction is representing Canada in the Olympics, especially when you consider the popularity of harness racing across this country.

Brad Forward was born in 1971, one of four sons of Bob Forward and Marge MacDonald-Forward of St. John's. He got involved in harness racing and horses at an early age at the Goulds track - then known as Avalon Raceway - because his family and extended family were prominent in the harness racing business in the Province.

In 1997 Brad went to the United States to start his professional harness racing career. Shortly after, he moved to Ontario where he has been racing ever since.

So far in his career, Brad has raced in approximately 17,000 races, has won 3,200 races and accumulated purse earnings of approximately $19 million. He has won nearly two dozen Driver of the Year awards. In 2006, 2007 and 2008 he was Canada's top driver in wins. He won the 2006 Male Athlete of the Year for Windsor, Ontario, and in 2008 he was the Male Athlete of the Year for London, Ontario.

Mr. Speaker, Brad is married to Sandra Rose of Goulds and they have three daughters, Kaitlyn, Melissa and Jessica.

I ask all hon. members to join me in proudly congratulating one of our native sons for his great accomplishments in harness racing in Canada; and, Mr. Speaker, I think it would be appropriate for your office to send a congratulatory letter to Brad on behalf of the House.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Burin–Placentia West.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. JACKMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Opposition for granting me leave today to bring forward this member's statement.

Mr. Speaker, it is with heavy heart that I rise in this hon. House today to speak of the passing of Mr. Melvin Lambe of Marystown. Over his fifty-nine years, Melvin contributed to his Province extensively, but more so he was recognized locally as a dedicated volunteer in many capacities. From his work in the church, to his serving on school boards, as a member of the town council, and his timeless efforts given to his local fire department and his service on the provincial fire protection team, for all of these activities he will be missed.

Mr. Speaker, Melvin Lambe was a dedicated friend and family man. It was evident in the number of people who attended his funeral service at Sacred Heart Church in Marystown. He was an energetic, enthusiastic individual, who gave freely of his time and energies to others.

Melvin leaves behind his wife Madonna and his children, Denis, Jimmy, Dora and Lesley. To them, I pass on my condolences.

Mr. Speaker, both myself and Mr. King, the MHA for Grand Bank, worked closely with Melvin, and we considered him a friend to both of us. We have lost the type of individual who truly speaks to volunteerism, hard work and dedication in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Statements by Ministers.

Statements by Ministers

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

On March 25, the Family Violence Intervention Court pilot project in St. John's commenced at Provincial Court with Judge Gregory Brown presiding. Based upon the principles of therapeutic jurisprudence, this court places an emphasis on safety for victims and accountability for the offender, while addressing the root causes of family violence in our society. The court will sit every second Wednesday.

Mr. Speaker, the intent of the Family Violence Intervention Court is to provide, in select cases, a timely, effective and coordinated response to family violence. With the implementation of this court, we are taking a significant step forward in tackling the issues associated with violence in the home. A collaborative effort has been undertaken by various agencies, including the Provincial Court, the Transition House Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, the police, prosecutors, Legal Aid, along with Iris Kirby House, and the John Howard Society, to ensure the needs of victims and offenders are met.

Mr. Speaker, when a charge of family violence is first brought to Provincial Court, it will be identified for referral to the Family Violence Intervention Court. The accused individual will be given a court date, information about the specialized court and, if the offenders take responsibility for their actions, will meet with a Risk Assessment Officer to determine if eligibility requirements are, in fact, met. If met, defence counsel will become engaged and a guilty fee will be submitted to the court. The judge will accept the plea but postpone sentencing until completion of the essential family violence interventions. While intervention is ongoing, the accused will be on supervised bail and will periodically return to the court to update the judge. Once completed, the accused will then return to court for sentencing.

This court is not about being soft on crime, but about finding alternative measures to address family violence and its impacts. A team consisting of a bail supervisor, Child, Youth and Family Services social worker, Victim Services representative, and a family violence counsellor will be engaged throughout the process. Services will be available to those, including children, who have been impacted by the unfortunate occurrence of family violence.

Mr. Speaker, in Budget 2009, through the Family Violence Prevention Initiative and the Poverty Reduction Strategy, the Newfoundland and Labrador Government has supported the Family Violence Intervention Court with a total of $583,000. The court is a twelve-month pilot project and an evaluation of the court will take place upon its completion to see if the court will continue and whether it will be expanded to other parts of the Province. I look forward to watching this court grow and seeing the positive impact it will have upon our community.

Thank you.

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 an advance copy of his release.

Mr. Speaker, obviously family violence in this Province is an ongoing and serious issue. Apparently, from the statistics that we have, about 80 per cent of family violence still goes unreported in the Province. It is great to see a new initiative. Anything that we can do by way of dealing with these new priorities and emerging challenges we certainly need to have them.

In Judge Brown, of course, you certainly have an ideal individual as well, well suited to piloting such a project here. We look forward, at the end of the assessment period of twelve months, to, hopefully, some positive results. It is a good start, and hopefully down the road we can see this successful program expanded to other areas of the Province.

Thank you.

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 certainly applaud this new initiative with regard to the Family Violence Intervention Court pilot project. It is good that it is a pilot project, but we always do that with the hope that it will become the program that you have outlined, because we need this program throughout the Province, as the minister knows.

I am pleased that the department has consulted with women's groups and other stakeholders as you have put this pilot project together, and that you have also looked at courts in other parts of the country. That is very positive.

I know that the women's groups out there, in particular, who are involved with the antiviolence issues will be looking to see that the recommendations that they have made to you are there in the project. I am sure they are. I trust the minister and the department, that this is a very serious issue and will be dealt with in a very open and transparent way.

The issue of violence is rampant throughout our Province and women, in particular, suffer from that. Women face poverty, they face stress, violence, unpaid and underpaid work, and anything that we can do to deal with what they experience from violence is essential to making our society what we want it to be in Newfoundland and Labrador.

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.

Mr. Speaker, Eastern Health has released information that there are forty-three new breast cancer patients who have been identified who need to be retested. Eastern has also confirmed that they expect these numbers will likely increase again before the review is completed.

I ask the Minister of Health today, to tell us when his department first learned about these new patients and what input your office has had in how this information was released.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Members of this House, Mr. Speaker, may recall - and if they do not recall my saying it here, they would recall it as testimony that unfolded before the Cameron Inquiry - that last year my office and me, in particular, as the minister, directed that a more robust search be conducted of the data bases within the system, to ensure that we were able to identify each and every person who may have been impacted between 1997 and 2005 as a result of their ER/PR tests. We commissioned the Centre for Health Information to start that process. They were very much engaged last year with us in identifying the 1,013 that we released back in March of last year.

As 2008 unfolded, we realized that there were still people who were coming forward and saying that they were a part of that group and wondered what their status was.

As a result of that direction we provided last year, the Centre for Health Information have now been aggressively doing a much more robust search of the information systems in the Province to identify any and everybody who may have had and ER/PR test conducted during that period.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister to conclude.

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What we are seeing today, Mr. Speaker, is that exercise unfolding. They have been working on it diligently for a number of months and we are now starting to see the reports coming out of the Centre for Health Information.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

One of the key elements of this process has been ensuring that information is released and communicated properly. What we saw on Friday was a press release from Eastern Health showing up at 4:00 in the afternoon with no media briefings or press conferences, and very little detail attached to it.

I ask the minister again – because it was told this morning that your office had been informed and knew about this since Wednesday. I ask: Why was it not communicated to the public more appropriately, in a more effective fashion than it was, instead of waiting until the end of the day on Friday?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: I will not try to explain the actions of Eastern Health's communication strategy on Friday. I, too, would concur that late Friday afternoon, to make a release available to the public and not have anyone from Eastern Health available to provide comment, is not something that I would have directed. It is not something that I condone. It is not something that I agree with. Let me be perfectly clear about that particular piece.

Yes, I was aware that they were going to be doing that release. The conversation that my office had with Eastern Health was midday on Thursday, and the understanding and direction was pretty clear: that this information needed to get out immediately. The fact that they were late on Friday afternoon releasing it, I had no control over, Mr. Speaker. That was their call, their decision to release it. I received the notice of the release just moments before it was out. I was out of the Province on government business, meeting with my colleagues in Halifax and with other health regions.

Mr. Speaker, that was their call, but I would agree with the member opposite that getting a release out late Friday afternoon and not having anyone available from the organization to comment on it is not something that I would agree with either.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, I think this release was filed under false pretenses. It was filed under a headline that said: Moving forward with Cameron recommendations.

Then, buried in that press release were the information and the evidence regarding the faulty testing of thirty-eight patients in this Province, many who have already been reported as being deceased.

I ask again: Why was the headline misleading? Why was this information not conveyed in a straightforward, up front manner that warranted the kind of disclosure that it should have had?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Again, Mr. Speaker, I want to tell the member opposite and the members of the House, Eastern Health write their own press releases. They release their own communiquιs. I was aware of the information that they had. I was aware on Thursday that they were going to be releasing it. My understand was they were going to be releasing it quickly. I then went out of the Province on business, only to find that I got a copy of the release at the same time it was being released to the public.

I say, Mr. Speaker, again, I am not condoning the manner in which it was released; nor did I sign off on the content of that release. The fact that no one was available to provide some context for it, some comment on it, on Friday afternoon was inappropriate.

This morning, I understand, Eastern Health had officials available to provide response to the media and others who had some questions in and around the content of the release, and some detail around it, Mr. Speaker. I understand some of that information got shared, but again I say, Mr. Speaker, in response to the question, I did not sign off on the release. They issue their own communiquιs through their own executive management team.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, I suggest the minister take a drive down to Waterford Bridge Road and have a conversation with Eastern Health.

At 11:00 o'clock this morning, in a public disclosure, they are saying that the approach they used in communicating this, the way the information went out, was a joint effort between your department and Eastern Health and others that were impacted. I am hearing a completely different story this afternoon.

Mr. Speaker, 30 per cent of the patients who were affected by this statement were never, ever, contacted, and many of them received a phone call only an hour or so before the information was made public. In our view, Mr. Speaker, nothing has changed and this shows complete contempt for patients.

I ask again: Has anything been learned by those involved, from the inquiry into the Cameron report and the recommendations that were filed?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: The whole issue of lessons learned in this process – and I would like to think, Mr. Speaker, that as a health system, with the significant changes we have already made and some investments we have made – I know our government has learned a lot of lessons from this process. We have taken a lot from the Cameron inquiry itself. We have taken a lot from the involvement we have had as a department, from the last couple of years, in examining what went wrong here. So we, as a government, have taken a lot from this exercise and we have learned from that and our response in this year's Budget and our response in last year's Budget and the actions we have taken, I think, reflect that level of understanding of what actually we need to do to strengthen our system.

Now, with respect to the manner in which information gets communicated, as I said a moment ago, I am not trying and I will not attempt to defend or to justify the manner in which this got dealt with on Friday. It was appropriate that we provide a public disclosure. One of the things that we learned from this Cameron inquiry was that, as soon as we start identifying problems, we need to start communicating it with the patients involved and we need to start communicating with the general public, and we need to do it in such a fashion that it does not start to seep out gradually. That is what Eastern Health was doing on Friday -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In this culture of secrecy that Eastern Health seems to have fostered around this entire issue – it is the only way I can explain it, when you bury important information in documents that are mistitled and inappropriate – Mr. Speaker, where do those patients go now to get answers? What can they expect to see from these people in terms of response, in terms of details? When can we see the patient navigators being put in the system so at least patients have a comfort level of knowing that they have somewhere to go to access appropriate information?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: There are two parts to the member's question, Mr. Speaker. The one with respect to the navigators, to assist people through the system, those positions were announced in the Budget and that money will be flowing to the health authorities immediately so that process can start.

With respect to the other piece, I understand now that there is a 1-800 number that Eastern Health has put in place for patients who have some questions to be able to call and get some answers and get to talk to someone. I understand that was initiated late last week, and I understand that over the weekend some people did, in fact, make some calls and did have some discussions with someone within Eastern Health as to how this might affect them and were they impacted by that and be able to get some answers to some questions for them.

With respect to the future, Mr. Speaker, clearly - I want to repeat this because it bears repeating, I believe - I want to make sure that the member opposite understands, and the people of Newfoundland understand, if any reference was made this morning to this being a joint effort, this was not a joint effort. The Department of Health and Community Services received advice of the memo that went out, the release that went out. We received a copy of that, just like members opposite would have gotten a copy. That would have been a draft by Eastern Health themselves. It was not a creation of our department.

What was a creation of our department, I say, Mr. Speaker, was the decision to do this robust search that was commissioned and directed to have been done last year, and we are now starting to see that. My conversation and my department's conversation with Eastern Health in the recent past was on Thursday of last week when clearly this message was to be delivered to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador in a public way. That was the direction and that was the understanding that I had with Eastern Health last Thursday.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Because the Cameron inquiry is a very complex document - it has over 470 pages of information very vital to the people in the Province - Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask government to consider doing some kind of public information sessions around the Province whereby people are explained these recommendations, they understand them, and they can actually watch the transformation that is taking place in our health care system as a means of restoring that confidence.

I ask the minister today: Are you prepared to put in place a team of people to hold those public forums and questions and answers to that people better understand this document and what the recommendations mean for our health care system?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, by all means, we are keenly interested in ensuring that the lessons learned from this Cameron inquiry are not just lessons we learned as a government, not lessons that the health authorities learned, but that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador take some valuable insights from this piece of work that has been done, because there are some meaningful recommendations in there that will serve not just the health system but the people of the Province well into the future.

I compliment and commend the member for bringing forward a recommendation in her question, and we would be only too glad to put in place a mechanism that ensures that the recommendations in that report, in the Cameron inquiry, are well known and well understood by the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. That is learning process, Mr. Speaker, so thank you very much for your suggestion.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the House of Assembly passed legislation to expropriate provincial assets of AbitibiBowater and hand the assets and the employees, to a certain extent, over to Nalcor.

I ask the Premier today, if he can confirm for me that, once an operation becomes void under contract law, that contract with workers also becomes void.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I understand the Leader of the Opposition's question. Maybe she would like to rephrase it for my benefit.

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

MS JONES: Minister, government passed laws to expropriate assets of AbitibiBowater, one of them being the energy division, and they transferred it to Nalcor Energy. My question was: Under contract law, once that became void, does it also mean the benefits that would have been paid out to those workers would have become void as well?

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 am not sure if I understand the Leader of the Opposition when she talks about the contract becoming void.

Certainly, when the assets of Abitibi were expropriated, the assets became owned by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Abitibi would continue to exist as a corporate entity, would continue to own its other assets, and it would still be obligated to carry out any contracts it entered into.

Maybe, if the hon. member would be a little more specific, I will do my best to answer your question.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Once the assets were expropriated, and the employees were transferred over to Nalcor for operations, the Premier was very clear. He made a statement, he said: Government is going to make sure that all the workers will be properly compensated in one way or another.

I have to ask: In the negotiations with Abitibi, around expropriation, was the issue of severance payments for transferred workers on the table, and can government commit to ensure that the appropriate compensation will be paid out to all those qualifying workers?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SKINNER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of situations that the task force has identified and is working through, relative to the expropriation of the assets of AbitibiBowater.

The transitioning of employees who may be going with Nalcor, and other employees who are not a part of that transition: those issues are currently being investigated, options are being looked at, and at an appropriate time there will be decisions made relative to the options that are available to government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

There were over twenty-two employees whose jobs were expropriated along with the facilities of the power generation plant. Mr. Speaker, these workers are being told today that, you will not be eligible to receive severance packages from Abitibi. All except for three of those workers are being told today that, you will not get the holiday pay that is due to you.

I ask the minister: What assurances were negotiated in the transfer of those assets to ensure that these workers would get the severance and the holiday pay that was due to them from the company that they had worked for, for the last number of years?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SKINNER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding that some twenty-three or twenty-four employees have been transitioned to the company Nalcor. When the hon. member says that the employees have been told, I am not sure who she is referencing has told them that. It is my understanding that Abitibi has indicated to the employees certain things that they now feel they have no responsibility for.

As I indicated in a previous answer, as the Chair of the Task Force, we have work underway looking at the obligations that Abitibi has to its workers. The fact that those workers are now employed by some other entity does not necessarily relieve Abitibi of its obligations.

That is being looked into, and as I indicated, as soon as we have information further to that we will report back on it.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

There are seventeen workers who are directly employed today by Nalcor. They are being told by Abitibi that, it is not our responsibility to pay you out those severances and holiday pay that was due to them.

Mr. Speaker, again my question comes back to the government. When the asset was expropriated, when the jobs were expropriated and transferred to Nalcor, where these employees ever informed that, you may not now get your severance packages or the holiday pay that is due to you by this company?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SKINNER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again I say, Mr. Speaker, the determination that Abitibi has made is not necessarily one that is correct. We have undertaken to do some work on this. We understand the benefits that the employees were to receive. It is our position, at this time, that the decision by Abitibi may be premature. As I indicated, we are looking into that matter and when we have the appropriate due diligence done on it we will be able to report back with the options that are available.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

There are five of these employees who were told by government that they would be transferred, with the diesel generation operations, to work for Nalcor who never got a position.

I would like to ask the minister today: What assurances or security are going to be provided to these five workers who right now are being told by Abitibi, we do not owe you any severance, we do not owe you any holiday pay, and they are being told by Nalcor, we do not have a job for you?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SKINNER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, as a part of the transition process, there were contractual arrangements under the agreements that the unions had, the various locals had. My understanding is, right now there are, if I remember correctly, three locals that are involved, three various union groups. There were bumping rights and succession rights and those kinds of things that employees could utilize, and some of those employees did, in fact, utilize that. Some people did exercise their bumping options. Some people, because of that, who were in certain positions, were bumped out of positions as the contracts allowed them to do.

Again, it is my understanding, Mr. Speaker, that this is legal according to the contractual arrangements that were signed off by the unions and the company, and Abitibi, as far as we are concerned, should still live up to any obligations it has to any employees it has who are displaced.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

There continues to be a number of problems associated with school bus safety in our Province. There is no policy or procedure manual which the Highway Enforcement Officers can consult during the carrying-out of their inspections, and the forms which are presently being used to do inspections are not consistently and fully completed. I know this year in the Budget the government announced $300,000 to enhance school bus safety regulations.

I ask the minister: How is this money going to be used to improve school bus inspections?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. O'BRIEN: Mr. Speaker, to answer the hon. member's question, first off I would like to say that school bus safety is paramount to this government and, I suppose, in any government because we are talking about the safety of our children in regards to being transported from their homes to the schools. In this process, we have had a blueprint commitment in regards to looking at the issues, and certainly we have engaged with the Department of Education. We have identified a number of areas that we can have a look at. We costed it at about $300,000, which was reflected in this year's Budget.

We will engage the stakeholders in regards to consultations and we will also review our forms policy and review those forms, make sure that they are consistent and make sure that we are consistently inspecting and we are actually submitting to the officials in my department the right information.

That is a process that we will undertake. It is under review and we will be engaged to partner with the Department of Education in regard to this because it is very important to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, we know that school bus inspections in 2007-2008, eighty-six of the 864 school buses, or 10 per cent, were identified with brake defects. While this is alarming, it was also noted that while this is happening the brakes are not being properly recalibrated, and without this the meters cannot accurately measure the performance of the brakes. This was noted in the Auditor General's report in 2004 and again in January 2009.

I ask the minister: How does government expect to improve school bus safety without taking the necessary steps to ensure accurate testing?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. O'BRIEN: Mr. Speaker, in regard to the inspecting of school buses, school buses in this Province are the most inspected vehicle on the road today in this Province. We inspect regularly. As a matter of fact, I think, between it all, we inspect once ourselves and twice by the inspection stations themselves.

In regard to the issue at hand, I am and have followed it keenly in regard to my interest level to school bus safety in the Province, the system is actually working. Yes, we do have school buses over a certain age. We have brought down the overall age of a bus in Newfoundland and Labrador, since we took government, from fourteen to twelve. The wear and tear on any given bus, you might have a brake problem today, have it fixed, and maybe you might have another one tomorrow. What you have to look at in regard to the reporting system is if it is the same bus or if it is another bus.

Certainly, we have a no tolerance at play here in regard to when we inspect the bus and we identify that a bus may need some work on their brakes –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker

It has come to our attention, I say to the minister, that back in December there was a report completed on a bus in our Province where it was stated either that the inspection showed that the brakes were in good working order or new brakes had been installed. This was in December of 2008. Yet, when this incident happened in January 2009, to my understanding, the cause of the accident had to do with the brakes.

I ask the minister: What is he prepared to do to ensure that accurate testing is done and the proper reporting is taking place?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. O'BRIEN: I would not be able to comment in regard to the specific situation that the hon. member has described, but I certainly will come back to this House with a report on that, and make sure that everything was in order. We endeavour to inspect school buses, and all schools buses, on a regular basis. Plus, as I said in my previous answer, we have a no tolerance approach to school bus safety, and the inspection regime that we have in place. If we find an issue in regard to a defect related to brakes and some other items, too, that we consider to be of high risk to the safety of the children in this Province, we pull the bus at that particular time.

We do not give them three months to get it done. We tell them that they have to do it now, regardless if we, as a mechanic, would say that the item in question could go on for another three months, but get it done within a three month period, that you might have a mechanic say in regard to your own vehicle.

We have a no tolerance approach, and we pull –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

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

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

During the Cameron inquiry the whole Province witnessed evidence of poor communication skills and knowledge within Eastern Health, and in her report Madam Justice Cameron referenced the need for due diligence by the minister when listening to information that comes from Eastern Health.

I ask the minister: Did it occur to him, or to his officials, to ask how and when the disclosure of the information about new ER/PR testing results was going to be made?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: As I said, Mr. Speaker, in my earlier comment in response to the Leader of the Opposition, officials in my office had a conversation, as well as myself, with Eastern Health people on Thursday. My understanding was that the very next day – which would have been Friday – that information would have been made public.

I was not aware of the time of the day that it was going to be made, and the manner in which it was going to be released – which we heard addressed in this House a few moments ago, that it was quite late on Friday afternoon and, in fact, there was no comment associated with that, or to be accompanying that release.

Yes, I was aware on Thursday, and my understanding was that on Friday that information was going to be released to the public.

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate what the minister says, but obviously we are dealing with an agency, an important agency in this Province, one of our regional health authorities, Eastern Health, which is showing us that they do not have the skills and the knowledge to get involved in patient disclosure and public communications.

I ask the minister: What is he going to do about ensuring that training begins immediately to show these people how to do their work? Because they did not get the message of the Cameron report.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: I can advise the member opposite, and the House, that I have had a recent conversation over the weekend with the Chair of Eastern Health Authority with respect to how we would move forward with having a better understanding of public disclosure, how we need to focus on communication with the public and patients in the future. Upon her return to the Province we will be getting together personally to have that discussion with our officials and our department, together with officials within Eastern Health.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I think we have here a case of old wine and new wineskins. This was my fear when the Cameron report came out, that people are so used to behaving in a certain way that they are not going to change.

I am asking the minister: Will he be recommending that there be distinct training for all people who have to be involved in public disclosure, with patient disclosure and public communications? They need more training.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, I have to say, I am in full agreement with the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi and the Leader of the Opposition. This is disgraceful. It should never have happened, to do a release on a Friday afternoon under an improper heading.

It is mentioned in the Cameron report, and I was just looking at it, where they were basically saying they were telling the truth but not the whole truth. That is happening again, and it is not satisfactory and it is not good enough, I can tell you right now. So, yes, things are going to happen over there. We are going to go back to them and give them some direction with regard to communication.

As well, Cameron has also indicated that there was a failure of the management system over there. This has now happened again. That is not satisfactory. Fortunately, as a result of the protocols that are put in place by the Department of Health, and us asking the right questions, and continuing to press them and pursuer them further, more information has come out.

This matter was brought, by the minister, to Cabinet on Thursday. Our media instructions at Cabinet were: Let's get this out, and get it out right away.

On that basis, the minister made the direction to Eastern Health and what did they do? They come out on a Friday afternoon with no support behind it. They issue a press release that has a misleading heading on it, and that is just not good enough.

I agree with both of you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: I need to say, Mr. Speaker, I am absolutely delighted to hear the Premier be so forthright and make this statement, because we have to show - everybody has to show - the people of this Province that they can trust what is coming out.

We are told by Eastern Health there is more information coming, that this is not the end, so we need an assurance from the minister that the next time they will get it right for the sake of the people in this Province.

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 is right, and as I said earlier, this was a piece of work that we commissioned last year to dig more aggressively, to make sure we identified everybody. Now that the information has now been compiled by the Centre for Health Information, or getting to a point where they are now able to provide some reports. As of this morning we have asked Robert Thompson, who you might recall chaired the taskforce on adverse health events, who was guiding this process last year, if he would be available to assist us with now guiding the new information coming out and to be able assemble that and provide a very frank and open discussion and communication as we now get this new information, as it comes from the Centre for Health Information. We will collate that and Robert will, and his group, pull that information together again and we will have some semblance of order as to how we communicate that to the public.

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

Presenting Reports by Standing and Select Committees.

Tabling of Documents.

Notices of Motions.

Notices of Motion

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for The Isles of Notre Dame.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DALLEY: Mr. Speaker, I would like to give notice of the following private member's motion:

WHEREAS all members of the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly support a humane and environmentally sustainable seal harvest, and is committed to its further sustainable development; and

WHEREAS the Newfoundland and Labrador sealing industry provides direct employment for over 6,000 people, and has a significant economic, social, and cultural value for many coastal communities in Newfoundland and Labrador; and

WHEREAS the European Union is considering a proposal to ban the trade in seal products based on perceived moral arguments which are in clear violation of the World Trade Organization Agreements; and

WHEREAS it is the responsibility of the Government of Canada to advance international trade and economic interests by maintaining market access for Canadian goods and services; and

WHEREAS the USA Marine Mammal Protection Act was enacted in 1972 to address conservation concerns over marine mammals, including seals; and has been used to ban the trade in Canadian seal products; and

WHEREAS the proposed EU exemption for seal harvesting by Inuit for cultural and ceremonial purposes only, offers no economic benefit to the Inuit of Labrador; and

WHEREAS the Canadian seal harvest is an environmentally sustainable industry with the Government of Canada setting sealing quota limits that ensure health and an abundance of seals based on science and on internationally-recognized conservation principles; and

WHEREAS research on the modern sealing industry by international veterinarian experts concluded that seals are harvested in a humane manner; and

WHEREAS the commercial harvesting of seals is an important component of ecosystem health and diversity; and

WHEREAS the implementation of trade bans on seal products will have serious consequences for the commercial viability of the seal harvest, and on the livelihood of those who make their living through a legitimate harvest of a renewable marine resource; and

WHEREAS global leaders, including the European Union, at the G-20 Summit in November 2008, spoke against protectionism and agreed to a declaration, calling on countries not to impose any new trade barriers in light of the current global economic crisis;

BE IT RESOLVED that all members of the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly support the Newfoundland and Labrador sealing industry;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Government of Canada call on the European Union to respect the G-20 declaration not to impose any new trade barriers during these times of global economic instability;

BE IT ALSO RESOLVED that the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly calls on the Government of Canada to initiate negotiations with the Government of the United States of America calling for an amendment to the Marine Mammal Protection Act to permit trade in seal products from seal populations that are environmentally sustainable and managed according to international standards for conservation and animal welfare; and

BE IT RESOLVED that the Government of Canada call on the European Union not to proceed with its proposal to ban seal imports, as such a trade restriction would be contrary to international trade rules and would do nothing to encourage either sustainable use or humane sealing practices.

MR. SPEAKER: Further notices of motions?

Answers to Questions for which Notice has been Given.


Orders of the Day.

Orders of the Day

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, we call from the Order Paper Motion 1, moved by the hon. Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board, that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government Budget Speech.

We will continue with the Budget Debate, Mr. Speaker.

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.

It is my pleasure today to get up and speak to the Budget that was recently brought down by our government. A lot to talk about, Mr. Speaker, and I understand that I have twenty minutes. I doubt very much if I will get through all that I need to get through in that period of time, but I will certainly do my best, and hopefully in other debates I will have an opportunity to come back to some of the points that I would like to make.

Mr. Speaker, I want to talk a little bit about the Budget implications relative to things that happen in our districts. I am going to refer, obviously, to my own District of St. John's Centre, and some of the activities that happen in the District of St. John's Centre because of the investments that have been made in the Budget that we had brought down last week.

Mr. Speaker, the first thing I want to speak to is, just today, as an example, noon time, I went to a local service organization, it is called the Longside Club and it is an organization that assists people who have some mental health issues, it assists them in stabilizing their lives, it assists them in finding employment, it assists them with some training, some literacy issues and so on. They called me up a week or so ago and said: Shawn, we are having a graduation. Would you come up and see some of the students that you have seen in the past and see them off as they graduate from our facility? I did go up, Mr. Speaker, and I spent about half an hour there today with those students. What they do, in terms of graduating, is they graduate from a life skills and cooking skills program. Some of the investments that this government made in their program, in terms of literacy investments and infrastructure investments, infrastructure like stoves, freezers and mixers and so on. I talked to the head chief up there today and I said: How are things going now that you have been able to get some extra equipment and you have been able to do some things? He said: Shawn, you will not believe the difference. He said: The equipment that we have – and it was small numbers, hundreds of dollars, maybe a few thousand dollars. We were not talking big investments, but the kinds of investments that this government made in just that one group, I just want to show how the dollars that we spend translate, hit the rubber, and how they translate out into the community.

On Fridays, they do a lunch. He said now we are able to, on Fridays – 400 lunches that they prepare. He said the students are able to have everything hot and ready to go. They take pride in what they do. They are using the equipment there in terms of some of the mixers and so on to make sure that they have the dough kneaded up for the fresh buns that they make, the potatoes are all mashed up and so on. Those people now, Mr. Speaker, are able to learn and use skills in that facility, that once they attain a certain level of proficiency they are able to move out into the community, find employment, and be able to sustain themselves and look after themselves. Typically, these people would be people who would be receiving income support, and they no longer need to receive income support.

Just as one simple example in my own area, Mr. Speaker, I wanted to talk about the impact that we have, when do things, on organizations like the Longside Club.

I also want to reference, Mr. Speaker, the benefits of our budget relative to school infrastructure. In the District of St. John's Centre, students attend schools like Booth Memorial High School, Bishops College, Bishop Abraham, which is a K-6 school, Holy Cross Junior High, Holy Cross Elementary, St. Teresa's/ Ecole Ste-Thιrθse, Brother Rice, Macpherson, and Holy Heart of Mary, all schools that are in and around St. John's Centre, that students in my district attend and go to.

Some of those schools that I have been in over the last number of years have had classrooms that they have had to shut down because of the leaks: water coming down through the light fixtures, tiles falling down in the classroom.

Some of those schools have had to have students wear coats in the classroom during the winter months because of the cold wind blowing in through the windows, because of the water and the snow actually blowing in through the windows.

Some of those schools have had people who have not been able to eat their lunch in the cafeteria because the cafeteria has been flooded when it rains, because of the condition of the roof.

The lack of investment in our school infrastructure over the last number of years has led to a very deteriorated situation in the District of St. John's Centre and, I would suggest to you, in a lot of other districts, and we have had to do something about that.

I am very happy to say that our continued investment into school infrastructure has allowed us to repair roofs, has allowed us to repair windows, has allowed us to make sure that we have been able to have gyproc put up, asbestos has been removed from schools, students are in a healthy, safe, warm, dry environment, and I have been told by the teachers, and I have been told by the principals, that the behaviour problems that they used to have, have lessened because students now are not as distracted and are more comfortable.

The amount of work that the students are doing, and the grades that they are achieving, has improved, because they now have a place that they can go, that they are warm and comfortable in, and they are not distracted by water dripping in a bucket next to them. The monies that we have invested in schools are leading to these kinds of outcomes.

Lots of times, when we deal with Budget debates, we talk about the monies that we are spending, but I think it is important that we focus on the outcomes that we are receiving for the money that we are spending. Those are just some of the outcomes that I see, and that I have been told about in my district.

New school infrastructure: we have a number of schools that have been announced in the Budget. One of them happens to be in the District of St. John's Centre, St. Teresa's/ Ecole Ste-Thιrθse, which we will now move forward on constructing. It is a sixty-year-old facility. I have been in it numerous times. My own children attended that school. It is in poor shape.

The staff of the Eastern School District, the staff of the school, the principal up there, the parent group, have all done yeoman service to try and keep the school in the best state of repair that they can, but it is a sixty-year-old facility. It needs to be replaced, and I am glad to say that we have made the investment now and we will have a new school replacing St. Teresa's over the next couple of years.

Those are the kinds of investments. When we talk about the tens of millions and the hundreds of million of dollars, sometimes I think we become a little bit desensitized to what those numbers mean because they are just numbers. I think it is important that we understand the outcomes that we receive from those kinds of investments.

I will also speak about, in the District of St. John's Centre there is an organization called The Hub. It is an organization that does a lot of work with people who have mental health issues, who are physically challenged and people who have other disabilities and other forms of mobility impairment.

The staff at The Hub receive some monies from the provincial government through the Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment, through the Department of Health, and maybe the Department of Education - I am not so sure about that – but the investments that we make in an organization like The Hub, for instance, allow them to do all kinds of wonderful work. There are people, for instance, in the District of St. John's Centre who go to The Hub for socializing. They are living in bed-sitters. They are people who are forced to live in situations where there are bed-sitters. There are people who are living in dark, dank, wet, mould and mildew type of accommodations because there is nothing better that they can find, but they get an opportunity to come out of that environment and go to an environment like The Hub where there are other people around. They can be given a cup of hot tea. They are given a lunch. They are given a dessert, a treat. They can have a game of cards. They can have a game of bingo. They can sit down and socialize, talk to one another. They can read a book or a newspaper. They can do whatever it is they would like to do, but it gives them something to look forward to and it gives them some quality of life.

Don't underestimate, Mr. Speaker, the value of that kind of interaction for people in our community. Not everyone is fortunate enough, as we are, to be able to get up in the morning and have something to go to, whether it be a job or whether it be some volunteer work, or other people around us who support us and who help us through difficult times, people who we can talk to, people who we can engage with, people who we can have some interaction with. Not everybody in our Province has that opportunity. It is important that government's investments allow people to have that kind of flexibility, and allow people to have that kind of opportunity, and allow people to have that kind of structure that they can go to whereby they are able to have some better quality of life.

The people I speak to, who go to The Hub – and, let me tell you, some of those people have a tough time getting there. I am talking about people who are mobility impaired. They are taking wheelchairs in the middle of the winter and getting to The Hub on their own. There are people who have prosthetics and people who have crutches who are walking over snowbanks that you and I would find difficult, as able-bodied people, but they are doing it because they want to get to something that is of value to them, something that they find is important to them.

The investments that we are making, Mr. Speaker, the hundreds of millions and tens of millions of dollars, sometimes I believe we become desensitized to what actually happens with that money. It is the hundreds of dollars and thousands of dollars, sometimes, that we put into some of our service groups, our community-based groups, that is important for the quality of life of people, so I am glad to see that we have some of those things, Mr. Speaker, in the past number of years.

I am glad to see that this government, in a time of economic turbulence, in a time of global turbulence economically, did not cut our budgets. We got criticized by some people for that because we ran a deficit. We continued to invest. We continued to put money into the services and products and infrastructures and programs that we felt were important to the people of this Province, and we got criticized for that by some people. Not by all people, but by some, but I am happy and I am proud to stand here today and say that we continued to make those investments because it allows us to invest in the people of the Province who need the kind of support that I just described to you a few minutes ago.

Another thing that is happening, Mr. Speaker - again I will refer to my own district, the District of St. John's Centre - we have an expansion and some investment that we are making in the St. Clare's Emergency Department.

Now, anybody who has been to our hospitals knows that they are very busy places and certainly heavily subscribed and heavily utilized. I have been to St. Clare's emergency centre many times, Mr. Speaker. Sometimes for my own needs or my family's needs, and sometimes for people I have had to take there when I have been coaching sports and those kinds of things and people get injuries. It is a facility that is always in use. Whether I have been there at 10:00 o'clock in the morning or 10:00 o'clock at night, there are always people there waiting to be serviced, and they give great care, great quality of care, at St. Clare's.

I had family members who worked there for many years. My grandmother and my mother, for many years, were attached with St. Clare's hospital and I am quite familiar with the kinds of service and the service level that they provide up there, Mr. Speaker, but we have made an investment in our health care services in that area and it is an area that was needed. It is an area that, when we talk about putting $1 million or $1.5 million into the emergency room at St. Clare's hospital, I do not know if people really understand what that means. It means that the people who are going there now with their illnesses and with their problems are people who will have a better place to go in terms of the waiting area. They will have a better place that they will be able to go in terms of some of the equipment that will be provided, some of the wheelchairs and some of the other things that people need when they go there. It would also help in terms of hopefully people not having to wait as long because there are investments being made in some of the human resources that are happening there.

So, Mr. Speaker, I just wanted to take a couple of minutes in the short time that I had to talk a little bit about what is going on in terms of the Budget investments, those hundreds of millions, billions of dollars really, and what it means in terms of a district and what it means in terms of people living in a district.

Mr. Speaker, the other thing I want to refer to - I am going to move away from my district for a second because, as I indicated, I have a short time to speak and I want to just talk a little bit about some of the investments that are being made sort of pan-provincially. Now, it is important we understand that the economic outlook that we did as a part of our Budget indicates that although we are in a global recession, although we are in a global time of economic turbulence, things are still moving a long in the Province. We have challenges. I am not looking at this with rose coloured glasses. We have challenges. We have areas of the Province that we need to certainly do some work in but we also have areas where things are going well. It shows in terms of our general pan-provincial economic indicators that we are looking at, that for instance, our housing starts - and that is an indicator. When I was on municipal council we always looked at the housing starts. That was a good indicator of how the economy was going across the Province.

Our housing starts are expected to remain strong. We are expecting over 2,600 new housing starts this year. That is important, Mr. Speaker, and I am not just talking about in the Avalon area. I have been out to some of the districts of some of the other members here and I have been in places where they are talking about twelve, fifteen, twenty new houses going up in an area where they have not had ten houses built in the last ten years and they are having twelve, fourteen and fifteen being done now. There are a number of districts where I have heard that being said.

As well, Mr. Speaker, our retail sales growth as a Province is expected to increase 1.2 per cent. Again, when you are talking about economic performance of a province, that is an indicator that you would use to see how you are doing in your economy, and our numbers are increasing there Mr. Speaker.

As well, our personal income and our disposable income are both expected to grow, Mr. Speaker. Our personal income is expected to grow by 3 per cent and our disposable income is expected to grow by 3.7 per cent. So the indicators, Mr. Speaker, are not all negative. The indicators are still looking positive, and even with the turbulent times that we are facing, we are still in a position to be able to soften the blow of some of what is happening because of some of the decisions that we have made in the past relative to our investments that I talked about earlier in our infrastructure, our investments in our education system, our investments in our people, and some of the tax policies that we have taken on as a government in terms of tax relief and tax reduction.

The other thing that I wanted to mention, and when we talk about pan-provincial indicators, is that we have had in this Province, for the last four years we have had four consecutive surpluses as a government. We this year, as I indicated, brought down a Budget that would have a deficit in it. A deficit, I believe, it was somewhere around $700 million, if memory serves me correctly; $750 million is the forecast. Well, Mr. Speaker, that needs to be taken in balance. We have had four years of surpluses. We are heading into a year where we are forecasting a deficit but the price of oil being as fluctuating as it is, that could change. So I do not think we need to be all doom and gloom because a deficit is being forecast. We have a long way to go before the year will be completed. A lot can happen. The price of oil can certainly change fairly quickly as we saw last year, as it spiked up and spiked down, and that would certainly make a big difference to the forecasted Budget at the end of the year, whether it is a surplus or a deficit.

The other thing, Mr. Speaker, that I wanted to mention and I think is really important. I think it is important that we continue to reiterate this because I think it says something about the direction this Province is heading in. Our net debt this year is going to be about $7.9 billion, Mr. Speaker. When we came into government it was around $11.9 billion. That is a significant change, $4 billion of change in about six years. Now, I would like to take those kinds of big numbers, as I did earlier, and bring them down to what does it mean to me? What effect does it have on me, as an individual, living in the Province?

Well, Mr. Speaker, five or six years ago the net debt per capita in the Province was roughly $23,000. I do not remember an exact figure, but I can tell you it was around $23,000 per person. Every man, woman and child in this Province carried a debt burden on their broad shoulders of $23,000. What our policies have done, Mr. Speaker, our economic policies and our investment policies and our tax policies have done as a government over the last five or six years, is that net debt now has been reduced down to $15,500, about $8,000 per man, per woman and per child less in this Province. Not only is that important, Mr. Speaker, in terms of getting the debt down by showing that we are heading in the right direction because we are able to pay down our debt, the other thing that is important is that by getting the debt reduced down by that much, it has freed up hundreds of millions of dollars of money for government that we would normally be paying on debt payments, and paying on interest on debt payments that we now do not have to pay on the interest on the debt. We can now put that money into some of the other programs and services that I talked about earlier.

The policies of this government, in terms of economic stimulation, in terms of infrastructure investment, in terms of tax policies, have brought us in the right direction. The indicators show that. The provincial indicators show that. The debt indicators show that. The ratings that we have from the credit rating agencies have shown that, because our ratings are doing up. We are being told by groups like the St. John's Board of Trade, the Chambers of Commerce around the Province that the kinds of things we are doing are the things that they would like to see us doing.

So, it is important, I think, that we reflect upon that. I think it is important we reflect upon the amount of money that this government spends, but it is important that we reflect upon what that impact is on the individuals in the Province. It is important that we let people know where their money is going and how it is benefiting them.

Now, Mr. Speaker, in the short time that I have left I would like to just speak, if I could, to a couple of other quick points. Our reliance on oil revenues, people think that we are relying on oil revenues, and we certainly are. You make hay while the sun shines. Because we have oil now, and because we have an opportunity to exploit that resource, we should be taking the money that we can from it.

Make no mistake, Mr. Speaker, and I will get up at another time to continue this conversation, to continue this debate, we have a diversified economy. We have all kinds of good things happening in the ocean technology sector, in the information technology sector, in the agrifoods area, in our other natural resources that we have. We have all kinds of opportunity there. There are big numbers, big dollar amounts being invested in those things by private companies as well as by government, and there are hundreds and hundreds, and thousands of people being employed. We can see it through the aquaculture, as an example, and there will be a lot more growth in that area as well.

Mr. Speaker, I see that my time has very quickly finished up. I thank the hon. members opposite. If they will give me a few more minutes, I would appreciate that, but I do want to finish up by saying that I think it is important that we recognize, and its important for the people who watch the House of Assembly to understand, that the investments that are made by government in Budget are meant to be very strategic in terms of addressing a wide variety of concerns and issues that occur throughout the Province. We have to be thinking about, as I said before, our health policies, our education policies, our infrastructure policies, and all of that trickles down from a minister's perspective.

When I make those kinds of decisions, or make recommendations on decisions, all of that trickles down, in my mind, to: What impact does it have to the person living in the house, the person on the street, the person living in Avondale, the person living in St. Lunaire, or the person living in St. John's? Wherever it is that they may live, how is this going to impact them?

We try to make the kinds of decisions –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind the hon. minister that his time for speaking has elapsed.

Does the hon. minister have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. minister, by leave.

MR. SKINNER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I certainly will not take advantage of my leave; nor will I try to wear down your patience.

I will conclude my remarks by saying that I do appreciate the opportunity to speak in Budget debate. I do hope that people understand that the decisions made by government are decisions that are made trying to understand the effect we have on the citizens of the Province, and I hope that the people of the Province understand, based upon some of the indicators that are accepted across the country as being indicators that determine the strength of your economy, that our economy is strong, this Province is on sound footing, and we are heading in the right direction.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Before I continue on with the debate, the other day I spoke during the sub-amendment - which was unfortunately defeated – the sub-amendment with regard to non-confidence in the government, so today my few comments will be with regard to the non-confidence part of the motion. Mr. Speaker, before I do that, I want to refer back to a couple of member statements that were made here today.

First of all, my hon. colleague from Kilbride, Brad Forward, I happened to know the gentleman many years ago when we used to be at the Avalon Raceway in Goulds and take part in harness racing out there. It is good to see this young man progress the way that he has over the years, and to win the awards that he has done.

The other thing, my hon. colleague from Trinity North, I cannot say I was the happiest person in Mile One of Saturday night but I was there and I also want to congratulate the Clarenville Caribous. I have to say, they are a wonderful team, well disciplined, and a tremendous goalie. Having said that, I also want to pay tribute to the CeeBee North Stars who had a wonderful time over the previous three years, in winning the Herder, and it was won there many years ago back in the 1960s, but I have to have to say they put up a gallant fight and the better team prevailed in this particular championship.

I want to pay particular attention to, I think it is eight or ten of them who come from the great District of Port de Grave: Paul Brown, Chris Crosbie, Bronson Dawe, Keith and Ryan Delaney, Matthew French, Brent Lynch, Chad Parsons, Randy Reardon and Gary Sparkes, and to all the members of the CeeBee Stars, congratulations on an excellent year and we look forward to another year in 2010, I guess the next championship will be, and we hope that you will be there for us again.

Mr. Speaker, when I finished the other day I was referring to, I guess, the different projects throughout our Province that we find in a declining position due to the world economy. I was touching on some places like Stephenville, the FPI issue, and only today we heard again about the tremendous impact that maybe - hopefully it will not happen, but in Lab City the Iron Ore Company. I know they made an announcement that probably five weeks they would be shut down this summer, and now they are talking about the possibility of thirteen weeks. I am sure that is going to be an additional blow to that particular area, but hopefully it will work itself out.

When we talk about the Iron Ore Company and Wabush Mines, and then we talk about the new oil refinery that was to be built in Placentia Bay, and that has been placed on hold, and the extension to the oil refinery that is already there in Come By Chance, all of those issues, Mr. Speaker, have a tremendous impact on our economy and on the men and women of our Province who find work in those particular places.

We have heard it said – this government has said, and rightly so - that the world crisis that is happening is not of their doing; but, Mr. Speaker, like I said the last time I spoke, the revenues that we see flowing into this Province, or the greater percentage of, are probably not of their doing. They are from a former time, former Administrations, I say, Mr. Speaker, but then again we give credit where credit is due. Like the Premier said, he has tweaked some of the projects, and extra revenue is coming in, and all of that has to be done.

A gentleman said to me the other day, and I guess he must listen to the debates all of the time, he compared what happened when this Administration took office. He looked at it as a young family just starting out, just starting out in life, had a few children, both of them working, making ends meet but no tremendous amount of revenue coming into their household that they could enjoy the extras. He said, you know, it is just like someone bought them a lottery ticket and, fortunately enough, they won the lottery. He said, then they could progress and do things that they never dreamed they could do. He said that is the way I looked at it when this government came on stream. Give them all credit for what they are doing now. When they took over, no doubt, there was a deficit at that time, but the revenues began to flow. He said it is similar to them winning the lottery. Mr. Speaker, with a $750 million deficit this year, if the prices of oil do not go up, they may have to win another lottery. We never know that, and time will tell, Mr. Speaker.

They also mention that when they took over power in 2003, why there was a deficit at the time. They are saying now, because we have a deficit, they could do that or they could cut jobs or increase taxes and fees and what have you, but I am sure they all remember in 2003 there were many jobs that were cut, and probably rightly so, something had to be done, and I can assure you there were many increases. Every tax, every fee in this Province was increased. We all remember the debates we had, even the polar bear tax. Mr. Speaker, I think at that time there was only one thing that was not taxed that particular year, and that was the free on the bingo card. That stayed the same.

Mr. Speaker, we know those things had to be done. Those things had to be done from time to time, and fortunately we find ourselves in the position we do today. My colleagues, we stand and give credit where credit is due but we will bring forward the issues that other people want us to bring forward.

It is good to hear my hon. colleagues opposite - not only opposite, there are some of them here to my left as well - that when they stand they bring up the issues that maybe the government could not deal with at this time. We know everything cannot be done, but we have to look at it and say whatever has to be done, or the concerns that the people are bringing forward, because I am sure we are not the only three members in this House who are getting calls and issues being expressed about what they would like to see brought forward in this House.

For a moment I want to touch on jobs and the population increase and out-migration, and tie the three of them together, because in this year's Budget I think the figure was that there was a population increase of 1,400 for the first time in sixteen years. What I did, I went back to my district and sized up the new people who came into my district. There are seven families, two in a family, who returned home because they went away years ago, they retired and they came home to live in our Province. That is fourteen. In that district there are four families who have moved to live in Newfoundland from the USA. They have never been here before but they came here to visit and they bought homes here; four families, two in each one. That is another eight. There is one family that I know – there are probably others - another family who came home. They were away working and they heard that there was work here and they came home. So out of that total there are twenty-four. Two of them came back to go to work again in their home province. Twenty-two of them came back here to live because they have either retired in Canada or retired in the United States. If you multiply that by forty-eight districts, I would venture to say - my district is not the only one. Every member can sit down and figure it out, that is the 1,400 people, or close to it, who came back, but the government will have you believe that the 1,400 that came back, they came back because there was work here for them. We would love to see that happen, but I am going to tell you, the 1,400 that came back, based on the scenario that I have done, a lot of them came back here to retire. That is good; we want to see them come home.

Then again, I know last week in Question Period I asked the Minister of Transportation, would there be any cuts this year, and he assured me that there would not be. That is good; I hope that is the way it is going to turn out. I think he was being honest and above board when he told me that.

The people who live in my area that work with the Department of Transportation, they have concerns. They have been approached by their supervisors saying that in the Bay Roberts area where there was twelve people on summer maintenance last year, that will be reduced to eight this year.

MR. HICKEY: (Inaudible.)

MR. BUTLER: I know, and I agree with the hon. the Member for Lake Melville, the Minister of Labrador Affairs. He said there are no changes. All I am trying to do is put this to rest, and the minister made sure that he said that.

Those people, right now, they are under the impression that the twelve who were on summer maintenance last year will be reduced to eight.

I want to say to them, by the means of this House of Assembly, that that is not correct. The minister has stated very clearly: There will be no reductions in the number of individuals through summer maintenance this year.

Mr. Speaker, the other thing we have to look at, and all too often we hear about bringing all our people back home to work, there will be so much work here for them and maybe we cannot come up with the numbers to take care of the workforce that we need. That is all wonderful, but we hear so much about job losses, jobs that are vanishing. Only recently I read an article, I think it was in this weeks Telegram, that in the United States, just in March month alone, some 663,000 jobs just vanished. They are up now over 5.1 million job loss. In Canada, 295,000 jobs were lost in the past four months. They claim that for the month of March there may be another 57,500, but some of the experts are saying that number could go as high as 80,000.

Mr. Speaker, we know that times are changing. We know, and it has been recorded, the economic update for the APEC members when they talked about in their last publication about the impact from the recession. They have stated very clearly that in New Brunswick, since October, 2008, 3,900 jobs have been lost. They have also stated, based on the labour force survey that in Newfoundland there has been a loss of 3,100 jobs since October. The new figures will be coming out shortly.

Mr. Speaker, it was only last week - I think, the Minister of Municipal Affairs in today's statement in regards to regionalization, and I concurred with her that it is a wonderful project. I saw her being interviewed after, I do not know if it was here in the building or where it was, and the reporter asked her what were the advantages of regionalization and why would towns do it. The comment she made, and it is accurate, nothing against what the minister said, she said a lot of those smaller communities are being affected because their numbers are declining because of out migration. Whether it is out migration from a small community in some part of this Province to St. John's, or some of the larger hubs, whether it be Corner Brook or Gander or Grand Falls, it is a major impact on those smaller communities.

Like I said, I think I mentioned this before, we sent out a small survey to all the municipalities in the Province since our last sitting of the House of Assembly. A tremendous amount of information has flowed back. If I am not mistaken, I thought one of the people at the office said that Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador wanted to get some feedback on how the municipalities responded to this particular survey.

I can tell you one thing, and I am not going to use any community or names because I do not think that is fair to them, but there was one community, and they named that particular area of the Province, and it is accurate, tourism is a major factor there. It is a beautiful area of the Province, not that any area of our Province is not beautiful, but this particular area is massive. The concern that they had, and they agree with the wonderful advertisements the government has on about the white clothes flowing on the clotheslines and the fresh air, all a wonderful job of bringing people to our Province, but the concern that they had, is that clothesline with the white clothes on it is not in a downtown major town or city of our Province, it is out in those small rural areas. What they are saying, if one thing does not rebound, if one thing we do not take more action towards, which is the fishery, those towns will eventually die and the tourism will go with it because that is why the people flock to this Province and go to the rural communities. That is why the people are there, because of the fishery. If the fishery should fall totally by the wayside, then that industry, our tourism industry will fall with it.

We have heard the Premier say from time to time that we are not affected to any large degree by the economic downturn throughout the world. That may be true and that is good if we are in a better position than somebody else, but then again, I think the comments were: We have to steer the course and hold our own. If the reports that I just mentioned, 3,100 jobs gone in five months and we went last year from a surplus in excess of $1 billion down to a deficit this year of $750 million then maybe, just maybe, it is having an impact on us. I cannot see from the figures that we hear in the United States and the concerns that they find themselves in Canada in the other provinces, that it is not going to affect us possibly to a greater degree.

For the next few minutes I want to touch on some of the issues that people are bringing forward to us and still have concerns with. I want to look at health care and the Cameron recommendations to start with. The report - and I agree with the Premier, what he said here today, the way that issue was handled on Friday past is not acceptable. He stated very clearly, they would see that something should be done about it. I have heard the minister state previous to this, that the health care system that we have today is not the same health care system when this happened back a year or two years ago.

Mr. Speaker, I can tell you stories, and I know one to be 100 per cent accurate, of a lady who had testing done back in April of 2008, and it was seven months after, with the fighting of both of her doctors, to get that particular result and she was diagnosed with having cancer. That is since all this happened, the Cameron Inquiry was ongoing. That is only just one incident, and that is not acceptable. I hate to think this, but there was another young lady in my district, her husband called me when the Cameron Inquiry was ongoing, wondering if his wife could become involved with this inquiry. I do not know, because the lady has passed away. Maybe she is part of this new report that came out of the forty-some-odd people that were mentioned.

Mr. Speaker, the other issue that we are asked to bring forward from time to time, and I am sure I am not the only member who hears this, is from our seniors with regard to the pensions they receive. I think something has to be done for them. I saw the gentleman who represents them on Budget day. He was saying he was disappointed but at least he had a meeting, or he had a meeting arranged with the Minister of Finance. Hopefully, Mr. Speaker, something will come from that.

We also have concerns, and I know I brought it to the floor of the House of Assembly many times, about our doctors. I am sure the majority of us were listening to Open Line about a family who moved from St. John's to Carbonear. While she was out there, she still thought that her doctor was here in St. John's. They came in to see him and he made it very clear to her: No, you have moved from here. You are living in Carbonear, and I am not your doctor any more.

Everyone can guess what happened after that, because the doctors in Conception Bay North area cannot take any additional patients. Here is a husband and wife, both of them having major medical problems, being dropped by their doctor here in St. John's and now are unable to find a doctor in Carbonear.

They finally went to the walk-in clinic in Carbonear and were told: I am sorry, we cannot see you either. We cannot look after your needs. They went to the emergency unit - and the lady was on Open Line, I do not know if it was last night or the night before, explaining it - apparently now there is one doctor who comes to the hospital who has agreed to see them.

Mr. Speaker, it is a major issue. I know the minister has said, and rightly so, there are some thirty or forty doctors who have come on stream in our Province, but those are issues that people ask us to bring forward.

Another major issue that came up during the Budget consultations, and also during the survey that we had returned to us, was from municipalities with regard to the MOGs versus the 90/10 funding. Each and every one of them, Mr. Speaker, are asking this government to return, or increase, the MOGs. Because what they are saying is the 90/10 is an excellent program when it comes to dealing with the capital cost, but what they are looking for is funds for operational purposes. That is what they used to use their MOGs for.

Community after community, town after town, is asking government that they reconsider that. I know the Minister of Finance has more or less said to them, look, it is either the 90/10 or the MOGs. The 90/10 is excellent but they cannot use this money for what they want to use it, so they are asking government to have another look at the MOGs.

Mr. Speaker, the municipalities have other issues as well. I know it came from the municipalities convention, and the minister has agreed to look into this one, is about the Crown lands that are in municipalities. Probably it comes under the Minister of Government Services as well, when it comes to Crown lands. That is an issue where they wanted the Crown lands within a municipal boundary turned over to them so they can do what is appropriate, so that they can expand and try to encourage other business initiatives to come to their town. We know that some 80 per cent of our land base in this Province is Crown lands, and the municipalities are asking that this would be considered.

Mr. Speaker, I know the clock has gone out, but I will keep going until you tell me to go down. Anyway, the municipalities do have those issues, and another issue they have is looking for new legislation to be brought forward with regard to car wrecks – the definition on car wrecks. I know that is being looked at, but it is a major issue with many of the municipalities because the legislation does not state clearly what a car wreck is, and therefore they cannot use their judgement on cleaning that up.

Mr. Speaker, having said that, I think my time has expired so I will take leave and come back later.

MR. SPEAKER (T. Osborne): The hon. the Member for the District of Mount Pearl North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It gives me great pleasure to stand in this hon. House today to acknowledge some of the good work of this government, to talk about some great things that are happening in my District of Mount Pearl North, to talk about some good things that have happened over the last number of months, and also to speak specifically to the recent Budget and how it impacts not only the Province but specifically the constituents I represent in the District of Mount Pearl North.

Mr. Speaker, I want to first and foremost congratulate the Minister of Finance and this government on a tremendous Budget.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENT: We all recognize, as community leaders and as government leaders, that we are living in very challenging, tough economic times, but I think, because of the leadership of this government, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador will be better positioned to withstand those challenges and to excel in this challenging economic climate.

When we look at the economy in 2008, in Newfoundland and Labrador, we saw an increase in our Gross Domestic Product, we saw a decrease in our unemployment rates, and the outlook for 2009 – even in light of what is happening in the world around us – the outlook for 2009 is still very strong.

Without quoting a whole bunch of statistics, I will share with you a couple of examples that I have experienced recently.

Just today, just this morning, Mr. Speaker, I had a conversation with a local bank manager in my district and he was telling me over the last number of weeks he seen a dramatic increase in applicants who are starting small businesses in the communities that I represent, Mount Pearl and Paradise, and in this region and elsewhere in the Province. There are lots of good things happening and there is certainly still a fair amount of positive momentum despite the economic challenges that we see. He is seeing it from a small business perspective, which is really the engine of our economy. I think that is a very positive sign.

In addition to that, as I am travelling in my district and meeting with residents, I am learning that there are a number of families, week after week, month after month, who are moving back to Newfoundland and Labrador because of the opportunities here. I am seeing new houses being built everyday and growing neighbourhoods in Elizabeth Park, for instance, part of which I represent in this House.

There is a lot of positive momentum, and I think the decisions that our government has made over the last five years and the kinds of decisions that we continue to make as outlined in this recent Budget will bode well for the future of communities like Paradise and Mount Pearl, and also for the future of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, one of the big issues that I am talking to residents about, speaking of Elizabeth Park, is the construction of two new schools in the Town of Paradise. I certainly want to, once again, thank the Minister of Education for her commitment to the school system in Paradise. It is one of the fastest growing communities in the country, and for this reason there is a big demand for adequate school facilities to meet those growing needs.

First of all, the tender for the first new elementary school for Paradise has been awarded and things are still well underway and on track for school opening in the fall of 2010, which is great news for the residents of Paradise. The first school will be built in the District of Topsail, which is represented by the hon. member to my left. As well, plans are well underway for the second school, which will be located in my district, in Elizabeth Park, and which will meet the needs of families in that neighbourhood. We hope that the tender will be awarded later this year, and plans are still well underway for that project as well.

The good news here is that the town council, the mayor and the members of council, the school councils, the Eastern School District, the Department of Education, my colleagues, the other members who represent the Town of Paradise and myself, we are all working closely together to make sure that these projects stay on track. It is a high priority for me. I know it is a high priority for the other members who represent Paradise in this House and it is something that we will continue to actively work on and monitor very closely.

The commitment in Paradise alone exceeds $28 million. This is going to mean great things for the future of that community and for the young families in that growing community.

I should also note, as well, that there has been an extension in the works for Holy Family Elementary which will also serve families in Paradise, and this is great news as well.

Mr. Speaker, in challenging economic times I think it is very important that we invest in infrastructure, and this government is incredibly committed to doing just that.

Over the last number of months a commitment has been made to the City of Mount Pearl in the amount of $20 million. These infrastructure monies are going to be invested directly into road upgrades, necessary infrastructure improvements that are necessary in that area. Also, there is going to be a major investment into recreation facilities to meet the needs of that community.

We are going to see later this year construction begin on a brand new arena, a second ice rink that is going to be attached to the Mount Pearl Glacier which will, in effect, replace the Smallwood Arena, which has served the community well but has certainly been in operation longer than any of us would have anticipated and is in need of replacement. The removal of that facility will allow for a further expansion of the other uses at the Smallwood site, soccer, baseball, softball. There is a need for increased parking and other recreational spaces at that site and we will see that happen as well. So, this arena construction is going to take place. Thanks to the support of this government, the City of Mount Pearl has been able to undertake projects like that.

An issue that I am even more excited about though is the construction of a much needed new aquatics facility for the City of Mount Pearl. We are going to see a first-class aquatics facility, an eight-lane facility with all kinds of bells and whistles and amenities to meet residents' needs. I hope construction on that facility will start in the not-to-distant future as well. Over the last year this government has made the commitment to Mount Pearl to provide the funding to allow that project to proceed. I met with council recently, along with my colleague, the Member for Topsail and the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, the Member for Mount Pearl South, and plans are well underway.

We are also very committed to supporting our cultural community and supporting the arts. I am pleased that as part of this recreational redevelopment that will happen on the Reid Centre site adjacent to the Library, the Track and Field and the Mount Pearl Glacier, we are also going to see the addition of a theatre which I have been arguing for many years is much needed in a community the size of Mount Pearl. We have an active arts association, the Association for the Arts in Mount Pearl. We have lots of musicians and actors and artists and performers, all of whom call Mount Pearl home and a community theatre is something that has been needed for quite some time. So I am pleased that that will find a home at the redeveloped Reid Centre complex as well.

The total project, when you factor in the arena, the swimming pool, as well the theatre and some of the other improvements that will be made on the site, the commitment exceeds $38 million. It is a huge project. It is going to have great benefits not only for the residents of Mount Pearl but for the residents of the region and the residents of surrounding communities.

I look forward to continuing to work closely with Mount Pearl Council and my fellow MHAs to bring those projects to fruition.

Mr. Speaker, over the last number of months, I have also been pleased to see this government invest in other community initiatives in Mount Pearl and Paradise.

We have a very active seniors' community, and, in fact, not unlike every other community in the Province, our seniors' population in Mount Pearl and Paradise is growing. We have to modify our plans in order to better meet the needs of that growing demographic.

This government has provided wellness grants and other forms of funding to our Seniors Independence Group to allow them to continue to promote healthy active living among seniors, to allow seniors to remain independent and remain active in the community. There is some great outreach work being undertaken by the Seniors Independence Group to ensure that our seniors are an active part of our community.

We have seen community capital grants awarded to the Town of Paradise. We have a great new community centre in Paradise and there is great recreational space around that facility. This government is committed to working with the Town of Paradise to continue to see improvements made in, as I said, the fastest growing community in the Province, and one of the fastest growing in Canada.

We have also seen a grant provided through the Department of Health and Community Services to the Knights of Columbus in Mount Pearl which is working very closely with Mary Queen of the World School in my district to provide a literacy program to some young students in our community.

These kinds of investments in social development are making a real difference in the lives of children and youth and families in the District of Mount Pearl North, and I feel that they are worthy of recognition in this hon. House.

Mr. Speaker, if we are going to be successful as a Province, and if we are going to continue down the path towards prosperity that we have embarked upon, investments in education are going to continue to be paramount.

I mentioned the investment in the schools in Paradise, but it doesn't stop there. We have seen improvements over the last number of months in scholarship programs for students, new lab equipment for schools, and other improvements. Mary Queen of the World, as I mentioned a moment ago, has had some capital improvements made to its roof and the structure of the building. We are going to see an extension, as a result of recent infrastructure announcements, to St. Peter's Junior High in my district. So, there are a lot of good infrastructure investments being made in education, which I believe are very critical to the future as well.

Mr. Speaker, I want to talk specifically about some other impacts that this recent Budget will have on Mount Pearl North.

There are initiatives in this Budget and in the last Budget which impact virtually every Newfoundlander and Labradorian. When you take a look at tax reductions, for instance, even in this latest Budget we are seeing new tax reductions, as part of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, which will positively impact low income earners in this Province.

Since 2007, this government has initiated tax measures exceeding $776 million. This is putting dollars in people's pockets, it is generating real economic activity, and it is something that impacts virtually every citizen of this Province.

In terms of municipal infrastructure, in this Budget specifically, for 2009-2010 we are seeing an investment in Mount Pearl and Paradise in municipal infrastructure dollars and operating grants, debt servicing subsidies. The commitment exceeds $14.6 million for the two municipalities. This is going to result in some major activity that I know residents will see first-hand. One of the most visible examples in my district is Park Avenue. There has been some major underground work done over the last year. The road is a challenge, at the moment, to navigate from one end to the other. I am pleased to report that council is committed to fully repairing and restoring Park Avenue during this year. That is going to have a positive impact for citizens as well.

Those infrastructure commitments are critical in large municipalities such as Mount Pearl and Paradise, and our government is committed to working closely with those communities to make things happen.

Mr. Speaker, I am confident that when it comes to dealing with these challenging and economic times we are doing the right thing. Some of the leading economists in the Province and in the country have endorsed our plan. The recent announcement of $800 million of infrastructure investments is going to impact every citizen in Mount Pearl North and every citizen in the Province.

We are seeing major investments: $277 million in transportation infrastructure; $156 million in educational facilities; $167 million in health care facilities and equipment; $103 million for municipal infrastructure. As I said, Mount Pearl and Paradise will benefit directly from these investments.

We are also seeing considerable investment in the area of justice, which I will speak to in a moment as well. This will generate real economic activity, it will create jobs, and these are long-term sustainable investments that are going to bode well for the future.

I want to talk specifically about health care. It is an issue that is near and dear to the hearts of everybody in the Province. We have seen a record $2 billion investment in health and community services from this government. Some of that investment will directly relate to implementing recommendations coming out of the recent Cameron inquiry. This is absolutely critical, and it is a process that I know the Minister of Health and Community Services, our Premier, his ministers and our government are extremely committed to. I think that is reflected in the kind of transparency, the kind of openness, the kind of leadership that was shown in Question Period today, Mr. Speaker, by the Minister of Health and Community Services and by our hon. Premier, and that kind of leadership is critical at this time when there are lots of needs in the health care system that still need to be addressed and this government is investing dollars in the right places and resources in the right places and putting the strategies in place to ensure that we get to where we need to go.

We are seeing an investment of over $21 million in enhancing laboratory services, and services for cancer care and health information management. That brings it to a total of $75 million since 2007.

We are seeing investments in Human Resources as well in the health care system. One thing I am particularly pleased to note in this Budget is an additional $3.5 million this year to hire thirty new salaried physicians, more doctors in our clinics and in our hospitals in communities in Newfoundland and Labrador. I was also pleased to see a real investment in the future, $1.6 million to expand the School of Nursing by another ten seats; the School of Pharmacy by another twenty seats; and the School of Social Work's bachelors' program by fifteen seats; the masters' program, as well, by another fifteen seats. There is also the creation of a fast track program for social workers.

We are seeing investments in the right places and the strategy, I think, will pay off for us in the long run. We are also seeing an additional $50 million for diagnostic medical and other equipment this year.

One initiative that may not seem real significant in the scheme of things, but I know is one that I have spoken to many constituents about, is the parking situation at our hospitals in this region. I was delighted to see, in Budget 2009-2010, the commitment for a new parking garage at the Health Sciences Complex. Numerous residents have spoken to me about the challenges when they are visiting relatives and friends in hospital, or when they are visiting the hospital for tests and procedures. Parking is a challenge at the hospitals in our region, and we are committed to doing the right things to address those problems and make the situation better for those who are accessing our health care facilities.

Mr. Speaker, as an MHA representing a district, as I said, that does have an aging population, I do talk to residents from time to time about the home care challenges that exist in Newfoundland and Labrador. I was very pleased to see in this Budget a $7.5 million investment for the implementation of a new financial assessment process for determining eligibility for home support services. We have also seen an increase in the personal monthly allowance. We have seen an increase in subsidy rates for home care workers, which I think is a very positive step in the right direction. We are also seeing an increase in this Budget in the subsidy amount for personal care homes, which will impact a number of facilities located in my District of Mount Pearl North as well.

Mr. Speaker, as someone who has spent most of his young career working on behalf of children, youth and families, I was thrilled to see the commitment in Budget 2009-2010 for the creation of a new department with the responsibility for child, youth and family services. I think this is a real tangible demonstration of how important issues pertaining to children, youth and families in our Province – how important those issues are to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

We are going to see a $5.2 million commitment this year for program growth and for further development of multi-disciplinary teams that will directly work with child, youth and family services. I am looking forward to seeing this new initiative unfold. As the minister has said recently, in various media reports, it will take time to put the implementation plan in place, but this commitment is a great step. As someone who has advocated for children, youth and families, I am absolutely thrilled to see us moving in that direction.

I was equally pleased to see a commitment to improve the foster care rate structure. Recently, myself as well as my wife have had opportunity to meet with families who are going through the process of becoming care givers, becoming foster parents in our Province, and I have learned, through working with families in my own district, and working with families that are involved in the foster care system, that there is an incredible need. Even today, there is an incredible need for more foster homes, not only in this region but throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. Increasing the rates for foster families will certainly help address this need. I think it is important, though, Mr. Speaker, that we acknowledge that as a community we have a responsibility to meet this need.

We have children in need in our community, who are in need of places to stay, foster homes to take them in during times when they are in need, and I think as a community we have a collective responsibility to step up and encourage more people to get involved in the delivery of foster care, and that is something that I will continue to promote and work on in the weeks and months ahead.

Mr. Speaker, I touched earlier on the efforts of this government to reduce poverty, and I think it is clear that our Poverty Reduction Strategy is working and it is having a meaningful, tangible impact on communities and on families and on individuals in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In this Budget we are seeing efforts made to remove financial disincentives and barriers that make it difficult for people to work and re-enter the workforce. We are seeing improvements in early childhood development.

I have talked to numerous child care facilities and daycare operators in my district, and I know that there is a need for increased investment, and I was pleased to see steps in this direction in this Budget.

We saw a $3 million commitment in this Budget to improve access to early childhood development, which includes an increase in subsidy rates for regulated child care, and to strengthen and expand family resource programs in various communities in the Province.

This investment in early childhood development, in early childhood education, is absolutely critical. It is important from an economic development perspective, but it is even more important from a social development perspective, and I am very pleased that our government recognizes this and continues to make these investments in the right places to reach out and to provide support to society's most vulnerable.

Mr. Speaker, the District of Mount Pearl North also sees real benefits from the investments in the justice system, and there were even more improvements announced in Budget 2009. Over the last year we have seen increased contributions made to the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. We have a brand new facility that serves the western part of the region that is located in Mount Pearl, in Donovan's Business Park. We have more police officers on the street. We have more cadets enrolled at the program at Memorial University. We have increased investment in drug enforcement programs. I know from driving the streets of my district, I can see the benefit. I can see the increased police presence and I know that our city and our town enjoy a very close, positive working relationship with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. So we are going to see increased investments in justice this year. More support for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, which I was pleased to see, and improvements in infrastructure and security at Her Majesty's Penitentiary, which is an important part of the justice system as well.

Mr. Speaker, there is much more I could talk about. There are all kinds of initiatives in Budget 2009 that will impact residents of my district. I want to applaud our government, our Premier for his leadership, the members of Cabinet and my colleagues in the House of Assembly for working together to deliver what is a Budget in tough economic times that is going to have real positive impact on communities in Newfoundland and Labrador, like Mount Pearl and Paradise, which I am proud to represent.

I hope, Mr. Speaker, at some point soon, I will have an opportunity to stand again in the House and address more initiatives that are contained in this recent Budget.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

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

I am very pleased to stand today and have my first opportunity to speak to Budget 2009. It is always good to have the opportunity to take things that government is proposing and have discussion on them and raise new ideas that maybe were not there in what government first said. It is good for all of us to have this opportunity to listen to one another and to learn from one another.

This Budget has a lot in it that is positive; there is no doubt about that. I think we still have to acknowledge the very special time that we are at here in Newfoundland and Labrador because of the oil developments that go on in the offshore. Yes, we have a Budget that has a small deficit. I emphasize small because it is, in a Budget of $6.7 billion, it is a small deficit. I think what is important for people to remember is that this government does not have to borrow in order to take care of the deficit, that the government actually has reserves, has the money to cover that deficit without borrowing.

We are at a point in time in our history where we have never had this kind of issue before. If we had deficits in the past the money had to be borrowed in order to cover that deficit, and that does not have to happen this time. What is more, if the price of oil per barrel goes up even by $20 a barrel above what the Budget has estimated or estimating, and it could go up by $20 a barrel halfway through the year, that deficit would probably get wiped out anyway. It will not even have to be covered.

This government is in a very good position. It is in a position that no other government in the history of our Province has ever been before, in terms of the revenues that we have. Let's all recognize that together and let the government recognize that as well. None of us produced the oil that is out there. It took a lot of people and a lot of negotiations to get to where we are. So that is positive.

The other thing that this government has, which we found out during the finance estimates meeting last week, is $1.8 billion in the Consolidated Cash Flow. That is quite significant as well. I understand that if needed, some of that could be used to cover the deficit, but if not, it is there for other reasons. There are different things that money can be used for during the year, but that is a tremendous amount of money to have in the Consolidated Cash Flow, $1.8 billion. The average person picking up the Budget and reading it will not see that figure there anywhere, will not know that there is $1.8 billion out there sitting, making money too, obviously, because it is going to have interest being paid on it. So we are at a point in time where we are literally floating in money, which is really quite fascinating.

This Budget, which has a lot of good things in it, is important, not for what is in it and what it says. We also have to look at what is not in it and what it does not deal with. That is my role. The government members stand up – obviously, they are going to speak to what their government put in the Budget and they are going to back that and support it. That is right, that is the way it happens, but it is my role to stand up and look at what I think might be missing from the Budget, what I think could have been better in the Budget, and that is what I am going to do here today.

It was very clear to me, and it is becoming clearer every year I think, this government obviously does have a vision, and every government should have a vision. This government has a big vision for the future. The efforts that the government is putting into the new corporation, Nalcor Energy, which was formed last year, the money that is going into Nalcor Energy, over half a billion dollars in two budgets, Budget 2008-2009 and now Budget 2009-2010. We have over half a billion dollars that has gone into our Nalcor Energy corporation, and that is fine. I am not saying there should not be investment in Nalcor. If Nalcor was formed, investments have to be made in Nalcor. We are seeing, with certain announcements that have been made recently, the government moving in a direction to get our power out of our Province and elsewhere, and that should happen as well.

I have a concern, that while government has a grand plan and a grand vision for Newfoundland and Labrador to become a big energy player, and there is no doubt about that, and while it is looking to the future and building for the future, and that is positive too, I am not against that, we also have to look at people who are in need in the present and make sure that what we are doing in the present is helping them so that they will not be worse off in the future because of not receiving enough now. That is my concern. It is a concern that I raise often here in the House and I just have to raise it again today, because one of the things that really concerned me is when I looked at the Budget and when I see the money that we have for many things in that Budget, the money that we have in building business, which is important; the money that we have for Nalcor Energy, which is really important; the money that we have in natural resources, which is really important. All of that is important, and large numbers in some areas of increases in spending.

Then I look at the section of the Budget that deals with income support for low-income people. I think it is just a bad mark on us that I go to that section of the Budget and I see hardly any increase. The only increase is the CPI increase that was approved a couple of years ago, but that indexation in the low-income support is such a small amount of money that is makes hardly any difference to the situation of people who are getting it. One, because it is just dealing with the cost of living expense, and already, as I said two years ago when the increase was made to the income support, a very small increase, and then indexation was put on top of it, I pointed out then that the indexation was on too low a base and that we needed a major increase. So, to see that we really do not have an increase in the income support for people in this Province really bothers me, because statistics are showing us that things are worsening for people at the lower end of the scale in this Province, that we are creating a new class division in this Province. We literally have a wider gap going on between people at the top end of the scale and people at the low end of the scale. We are getting more people at the low end of the scale earning less than $10,000, families and individuals - the number is increasing - and we are getting more people above $150,000. So, we are widening a gap between the top and the bottom. This is not something that we want to do in this Province. We had a gap like that for too long. That gap started to narrow, and now we see the gap widening again. We really have to face that, and we have to look at the fact that it is not acceptable to have people who are living in poverty because they are getting income assistance. Income assistance should at least have them living above poverty.

This morning, when I was at the HRLE Estimates, I presented to the minister my concern, for example – and I will just use one example – an individual who is disabled, cannot work through no fault of his or her own, and that is recognized, what they received on income support is approximately $378 every two weeks, and that $378 is supposed to take care of all of their needs.

Now, granted, they have a drug card, and there may be some other things that they have as well but the small amounts that they get, the small benefits that they get, along with that small amount of money, keeps many people who are disabled living in poverty. They have inadequate housing because they cannot afford adequate rent. Lots of time their housing will be subsidized, but lots of times it is not. I know many people with disabilities, sometimes short-term disabilities, sometimes long-term disabilities, and they do not have adequate housing. They cannot feed themselves adequately. Who can buy the right food on $378 every two weeks, when you are covering every other expense that one has to cover to live?

We have a real challenge in this Province, I believe. We have to balance out the good that is happening by making sure that people who do not benefit from that do benefit, and they benefit because of the way in which our social programs are structured. They are not going to benefit because they work on a rig, or they are not going to benefit because they are an engineer down on Water Street for an oil company, or they are not going to benefit because they service the offshore and work on offshore supply boats, so how are they going to benefit? They are not going to benefit working for $9 an hour. So we have to make sure that all our social programs just do not sort of touch the gap but actually help close the gap, by making sure that people who require income assistance have adequate money.

We have people, for example, who are working, and the minimum wage is so low that they are not earning enough money, and even people who are working become eligible for some income assistance. That is a reality. That is how our system works, and that is how it should work, but we have to make sure that we are doing something about that in our budgets.

Unfortunately, the scheduled review of income support is – it will start happening next year, and there will be about a year-and-a-half of review before there are any changes to income support, because the review of income support happens every five years. Two years ago we had changes. It will be another three years before there are any changes. I guess what I would say to government is, I would like see government recognize that even without a review government could make a decision - it does not have to have that review - that it could have given more money to people on income support.

I know the things in there that are good. I know that we certainly have things in our Budget that are going to be really good for housing for seniors in particular, and low-income people, there is no doubt about that, and I am glad to see it, but even the help that is going to be in there for social housing is still not going to benefit people on income support when it comes to buying their food.

We still have – and it is terrible, actually – a large percentage of our population, almost 40 per cent of children – I mean, this figure staggers me – almost 40 per cent of children in Newfoundland and Labrador go to food banks, are a part of families that go to food banks.

I mean, that should really stagger us. That tells us how little money people on income support are getting. That tells us how little disposable income they have. They have no disposable income. That is the bottom line, they have none. Their children cannot access the same kinds of sports that the children of the middle class can access, because they do not have the money. They just cannot do it.

I look at this Budget and I see it as very full of optimism for the future, it is upbeat, and all of that is good, and we do have a lot of financial realities in this Province that are excellent, but we have too many people who do not benefit from it. I think this Budget does not recognize the needs of rural Newfoundland and Labrador. We are still leaving people behind in rural Newfoundland. We need to have a focus on rural Newfoundland. We have to make sure that everybody living on an island can get off that island whenever they need to, that we have adequate boats or causeways.

I don't understand why the government is hesitating with something as small as a causeway to an island, so that people can get off that island readily. We should be encouraging people to live where they are living. We should be making it easy for them to stay where they are on their islands. That is not something that we should be taking lightly. I don't see in this Budget, just as I didn't see in last year's Budget, a plan for rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

I know I have said this many times in the House, but I feel I need to say it again, that what I am looking for from this government – I am starting to see your plan with regard to becoming a big player in energy. That plan is becoming very obvious to me. You are not presenting it as a plan. We are sort of learning about it piecemeal. We get new announcements, and I start saying, okay, now I am seeing the pattern, now I am seeing where things are going, but I can't see the same plan when it comes to home care. There is no plan when it comes to home care.

I have been in many provinces, and we all have, I guess. Name me a province, BC, Ontario, Manitoba; they have a home care plan, they have training programs where home care is seen as a profession, where taking care of the sick in their homes is seen as a profession, where doing personal care in long-term facilities is seen as a profession. People are trained, they are certified, and they are well paid. They are paid adequately for the work they do. They have benefits for the work they do. They don't have to be out there scraping up money to pay for their own transport from home to home as they take care of people, or buying their own equipment that they need to take care of people while they make probably $9.26 an hour. This is not what happens in other provinces.

I look at child care and I look at Quebec in particular. Quebec has come up with a tremendous child care program, a child care program that has really benefited Quebec financially. The figures are there on how Quebec's economy is positively affected because of child care. That is the kind of plan I am looking for, where the government sits down and sets out how we are going to get to a certain place in child care, in home care. These two things are the two major areas that we need to be looking at - how we are going to get a full program and how we are going to use what we have now to help start that program. This is what we have to do. It is no good saying, oh, we are going to have everything in place and in ten or fifteen years' time when we have all kinds of power moving out of Labrador and heading east west, or north south, when we get all those ducks in order, then we are going to start taking care of people with full programs. That is not going to work. It is the same way with prescription drugs. We need a plan.

So, once again, I was very disappointed. We have a Budget that has all kinds of goodies in it - I think there were many things in it that were positive and people can look and say oh yes, that is there for me, and somebody else, that is there for me - but I did not see a plan in that Budget. That is what I was hoping that this government would eventually do, and once again it has not done it. Because, you know, we have a bright government. We certainly have a bright Premier. They know how to plan. He knows how to plan for the future. He knows how to plan in energy; there is no doubt about that. You do business plans, but do a business plan that also involves the social needs of people, because that has to be part of our business plan. The social needs are not adequately being taken care of; there is just absolutely no doubt about that.

I talked about the gap that is going on. Well, the latest statistics show us that there is no appreciable change in household income in ten years, the average household income in ten years in this Province. I have already said that the gap between those who have and those who have not is growing; that people above $150,000 are earning more, more people are earning that, and more people are earning less than $10,000; that we have the cost of living increasing, and people who are on low income, whether it is working low income or whether it is income assistance, cannot afford to keep up with the cost of living. These are the realities. I would love to say that I am satisfied with this Budget but I am not, and that is why I am not.

The fact that we have $1.8 billion in a consolidated cash fund, just imagine if we only took $200 million of that money and put towards increasing income support for low-income people. I know that we could do that. It takes political will, but we could take $200 million of what is sitting in the $1.8 billion and put that towards really increasing substantially the income of people on social assistance in this Province. If we did that, along with the other measures that are called poverty reduction, which in themselves are not poverty reduction but are programs that help people who are living in poverty - and that is positive - those, along with an increase, a real increase, in the income support, the money that people actually receive, those two things together would really bring us poverty reduction.

This is something you have heard me talk about many times, and it is something I will keep talking about until we see that this government understands the connection between having good social programs which we all need - no matter what our income, we all need good social programs - but the connection between good social programs and adequate income, you put those two things together then you get real poverty reduction. Then you would get people who are living in dignity. Then you would get a Province where everybody in the Province can hold their head up and say: Oh yes, I am benefiting from our new-found money in this Province.

When a person on income support sees an extra couple of bucks - and that is all it is - in their cheque this month, they do not feel I am really benefiting from what is happening in this Province.

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

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

MS MICHAEL: Mr. Speaker, yes, I will just clue up.

I have more things to say but I will get –

MR. SPEAKER: Does the member have leave?


MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I will get another opportunity to speak before we finish this debate, and I will raise my other points at that time.

Thank you very much.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. O'BRIEN: Mr. Speaker, I am happy today to get up in this House of Assembly and talk to the non-confidence motion in regard to the Budget that we brought down in this House just a week or so ago.

I listened intently to the hon. members across the House in regard to some of their comments. First, I would like to comment on the hon. Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi and the Leader of the NDP. I appreciate, I certainly do, and I think every member over on this side of the House appreciates, the issue surrounding people in poverty and people on income support. We are keenly aware of that.

She mentioned, first when she got up, the investments that we have made in Nalcor and the reasons, I think, that we made them. She just referenced that there was a need, and it started a company, and it is great vision, and that kind of stuff. Then she kind of got into the issues surrounding poverty and low income, and that is appreciated, too, as well; but, to put it in perspective, Mr. Speaker, there is not a province, there is not a state, there is probably not a country in the world that does not have poverty, and they are probably keenly aware, most countries are, especially in the free world, of having people living within the confines of their province or the confines of their country who are living in poverty. They try - at least we do - to address some of those issues, but when you do a budget you have to have a balance to the budget, you have to have a vision to the future, and also you have to use strategies.

I remember, back a couple of years ago, I was up in this House talking about the strategies that this government has developed over the years since we took government back in 2003. All you talk about is your strategy, and all you talk about is developing a strategy.

Well, coming from the business world of thirty years, and being in business for thirty years, and somewhat in my mind, anyway, successful, I based all my business dealings on strategy. You develop a strategy, you keep to the plan, and you follow it forward.

When it comes to that, I heard the hon. member talking about the Consolidated Revenue Fund. That is there for a reason, and it is all a part of a strategy as well. You just cannot take $200 million from one area and just put it into another just because there is the absolute need. We are not disputing that the absolute need is there, and that we would like to do everything for everybody at any given period of time and have everybody in the Province all on the same level and playing field and all at the same level of income and what they have around them. That would be a perfect world, but we are not living in a perfect world. That is the hard, cold, reality of the world and what we deal with on a daily basis.

I have three children, and the three children are actually at various levels in regard to where they find themselves in their financial situations, their education, and whatever else concerns my kids today. I, as a father, and their mother, always endeavour to make sure that they achieve what I have achieved over the years in regard to where I came from, from my educational background, where I was born, and now where I find myself today in this House of Assembly. We give each and every one of them every support that we possibly can and make sure - the bottom line of it is - that they are happy.

When it comes back to government, you have to have that balance in regard to your budget process. You have to balance it out for the future. The investments in Nalcor are very, very important to this Province, and very, very important to people who might find themselves living in poverty in this Province in the future. Because Nalcor and the investments thereof, and the success that they are even showing today - a company really it its infancy stages is showing success already, and showing success not only just because of the investments that this government has made in Nalcor, enabling them to do what they are doing in regards to the announcement that the Premier made last week, in regards to wheeling power now through the Province of Quebec, and now selling at the border of the United States. Very important stuff, but the reason that happened is, is about the people that we have hired into and being able to attract into Nalcor.

So what I find, and what I believe, and what I would communicate to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and this House of Assembly, is that we actually have a better team now than Hydro Quebec. That is exactly what we have, under the leadership of Ed Martin and the various other people who are players in that particular company. I tip my hat to them, but I also have to tip the Minister of Natural Resources, and the Premier, and the Cabinet, and also to this caucus, that we attracted these people.

We put the things in place and the confidence in these types of people that they had a place and they were going to follow a future and buy into the vision of Newfoundland and Labrador that we had as a government, when we took government in 2003. That is essentially what we did. The confidence enabled us to attract them, then we gave them a job to do, we allowed them the flexibility to do it, and they are showing results already. It is not just because of the investment itself, but in turn, you just cannot take that investment out of Nalcor and put it over into social programs. For the simple reason is that you would cripple the company, and if you cripple the company then you have a problem on your hands, and then you have no future, you have no vision, you cannot realize it.

So, even though I am very, very sensitive, because as a pharmacist in my past life, I dealt with people in poverty, I dealt with people on income supports, I dealt with a lot of things over the years over the counter and made various decisions in regards to some of these people that came into my place of business with various problems that I had to help them out with. That is all history too, as well, Mr. Speaker, for myself, and I continue to do that as an MHA to the best of my ability.

Also in saying that, it is not spoken about enough in this House of Assembly and not recognized by the members across the House, is our Poverty Reduction Strategy. I was not part of the development of that strategy because I was not in Cabinet at the time. I am very aware of it now. I commend the ministers who actually took that piece of work that was directed by Cabinet and developed a strategy, and is continuing to develop a strategy under the leadership of the present minister, and that strategy has been and is hailed across this country, and even in North America, as being probably the best strategy ever developed in the free world today in regards to addressing the issues around poverty.

I think, and I could be corrected on this, but I think there is about $132 million gone into the Poverty Reduction Strategy now. Also, there are various departments and ministers, and also executive staff from other departments who are involved in that strategy, that they direct and bring their piece to the table. Instead of having the strategy that is actually just focused from the Human Resources, Labour and Employment point of view, they also have the various aspects of even business and all of those kinds of things, all at play as well, and the finance.

MS SULLIVAN: Eleven departments across government.

MR. O'BRIEN: Eleven departments all across government, the hon. minister tells me.

Certainly, I commend the work that is being done by all of these people. Do not let it be – I hate in regards to somebody getting up in the House of Assembly and saying that we cannot look at the good things that are in the Budget, we have to look at things that are not in the Budget.

Well, I will tell you something else, and I firmly believe this. If we were flushed, and I mean flushed with cash today, that the global turndown in the economy did not happen and our oil fields are four times as big as what they are, and we were flushed with cash, well we would essentially, in a budget process, still have problems in regard to our social programs; I should not say problems as much as challenges within our social programs. We would have challenges within our health care system. We would have challenges within our educational system because that is the way of the world. We have to address it because things change from time to time and from year to year and then you rise to the challenge and you invest your money wisely.

The hon. member who spoke previously to the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, I believe his district is called Port de Grave, I am pretty sure but they change. So now I am reluctant to name off the particular district because I am not sure, but I am pretty sure it was the Member for Port de Grave. Anyway, he mentioned about in regards to where the cash came from and where we find ourselves today in regards to that and the Premier tweaked some of the contracts and past governments were involved and that kind of stuff. Yes, absolutely. In some ways he is right, in some ways he is not, in regards to that tweaking process.

What I have found about the Premier, and I am certainly impressed with his business mind, I am impressed with his lawyers mind, impressed with his mind in regards to this Province and his vision, and his vision to 2041. I am not really sure where he will be at that particular time in 2041 or even what age he is.

MR. HICKEY: Still in office.

MR. O'BRIEN: The hon. Member for Lake Melville is saying that he will still be in office. I do not doubt that either, as well, if he wants to stay there because he is an absolutely fabulous person in regards to the vision.

The key to this is, what I am getting at is, it is not the aspect of actually having the money. What is more important is the aspect on how you spend it, the strategy that you use with regards to spending that money and putting it in the right places at the right time, be it to stimulate the economy, be it to invest in hydro and invest in Nalcor, invest in the wind energy sector, invest in aquaculture, invest in agriculture, invest in infrastructure, invest in roads programs, invest in health care, invest in education, and invest in government services, my own department.

Government services are just as important as well to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, because they have to have access to good service. I am proud to get up in this House of Assembly today and say that I feel, in my heart and soul, with regard to some of the e-mails that I get in regard to the service that people get now in government service centres across the Province and Motor Registration as well, and even vital stats - and I can name them all off - that we do commendable work and my people do commendable work for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. I am proud of that.

That is the piece that is left out here. When the members opposite get up, they question, yes, but sometimes they are a little bit off on the questioning, in regards to recognizing how important that piece of work is, in making sure that you invest and invest the right amounts really, and also in the proper manner and proper places, so that you get the best bang for your dollar.

That brings to mind some of the things that have changed in regard to the way this government does business. It was only two or three weeks ago I found out that James Paton Memorial Hospital in Gander was going to get a new CAT Scan; an upgrade. They already have one, but, as you know, pieces of equipment are obsolete just about when you buy them these days. Good as they are and all that, new developments, new technologies, within the industry – as the old saying goes, when you buy a camera today it is out of date tomorrow. It is the same thing with CAT Scanners and that kind of equipment.

Through the Public Tender Act, this year the Department of Health and the minister saw fit, instead of going out and tendering a CAT Scan for this hospital and a CAT Scan – I can't remember exactly how many were actually approved in last year's Budget. I think it was three. Anyway, they went out and they tendered the three of them together, and through that tendering process and the savings thereof and the budget that was allocated for that, they found that they actually – I think the company that bid came back and said, well, here is the price we can give you on three, but here is the price we can give you on four. Lo and behold, the four price was below the actual allocated budget for that particular item. The minister and the Department of Health saw fit to place that new piece of equipment in Gander because our CAT Scanner was out of date as well.

Those are the kinds of things this government does in regards to strategy and in regards to their spending habits; that we want to get the best bang for the dollar for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador at any given time.

Also, in regards to that, I think the member talked about out-migration and in-migration, our population is up now by 1,400 people and that kind of stuff. He gave some examples: when he went out to his district this person moved because they are retired, or this person retired from the United States, and we do not want the false impression that people are coming home to work and live. I am telling you, when I travel across Canada and I travel elsewhere, I find people have confidence in Newfoundland and Labrador.

He referenced as well the global turn down, and I think he used the words, I believe - and Hansard would actually prove this - that we would not be affected. We have never said in this House of Assembly or in the media or anywhere else in Newfoundland and Labrador, that we would not be affected by the global turn down. We will. We absolutely will! We accept that. We see that in the pulp and paper industry, we see that in the mining industry, and we see that in various other industries.

What we have said, which is very, very important, to clarify, is that we are the best positioned government in Canada, if not in the United States, to address this global turn down and get ourselves from point A to point B, when we see the upturn again which is predicted late in 2009. That is what is very, very important.

The reason we find ourselves there is because, really, of all the things that were done in the past. Sometimes I am criticized for talking about the past, but I think it is very important to talk about the past, to learn and plan for the future. I think it is very, very important that we do that on an ongoing basis, because that helps you not to make mistakes. When you go back to it and you really, really have a look and analyze what was done in the past in regards to the infrastructure spending, the roads programs, the new schools - the one in Baie Verte that a company out of Gander is a consultant on, certainly they appreciated that piece of work. They did not have any work at the time and certainly now they are doing very, very well as a company, and that is a great piece of work. It is also good for the people of Baie Verte, because there is construction there and some people probably have gotten jobs on the construction, or will get jobs on the construction stage and whatever else. There will be money spent in the Baie Verte area besides the actual construction to the school itself. We have been doing that all along, and that is what is important.

I get back again to the balance in regards to a budget because that is what budget is all about. You have to plan. Yes, you would like to do everything for everybody at any given time, but that is not really realistic. That is not reality. We also endeavour to do that.

I heard the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi mention the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program, and that concerns me because I was in the business for thirty years. Actually, the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program is one of the best in Canada, and I cannot say categorically, but certainly one of the best in the United States. I know, a lot of people, pharmacists as well in the United States, do not provide the medications that we do to our low poverty people; not at all. I had to bring that up, as well, because it just flashed in my mind. It would be fine if we covered everything, and covered everything for everybody. That will be, again, in a perfect unrealistic world, and you just cannot do that. You cannot do that because you have to have the balance between one or the other and move forward.

An overall strategy - and we have many, many strategies within government. Within government I see strategies like I mentioned, the Poverty Reduction Strategy, the Youth Retention Attraction Strategy, and on and on and on, but there is an overall strategy that brings them all together. That is the way it is. We bring them together in the budgetary process, the development plan for the Province, the vision of the Premier, taking it step by step by step, and taking us there. You cannot just take away everybody's problems all at once. It will not happen.

We have tax measures, $776 million since 2007 alone. That is unprecedented in regards to tax savings to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. I have seen in my department alone a number of fees reduced, eliminated, that gave the people of Newfoundland and Labrador more money in their pockets at any given time. We have seen reduction in regards to their motor registration fees, down from $180 to $140, then another 10 per cent in regard to on-line.

I am working now with the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs to improve that service on the North East Coast of Labrador. Certainly, between the two of us we will come up with a solution, with our officials as well. I cannot leave them out because they are so very important to the process. We will come up with a solution, and we will improve that service on the Northeast Coast of Labrador. We will have their IDs and we will improve the service time, which is very important to them, because service is everything, and time is everything to everybody, and that is all they ask. We will continue to work on our overall strategy, and we will continue to work on all the various strategies.

Again, I will go back to the Budget. The Budget is about a plan. Some people bring budgets together, and it is just a budget, but our budget is all about an overall plan on a go-forward basis. We recognize, yes, that we are into –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. O'BRIEN: Just a few seconds to clue up?

MR. SPEAKER: Does the member have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MR. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Certainly, we go through that budget process each and every time with a strategy to the future, and certainly, again, to the vision of this government, particularly, the Premier. I always pick that number out of my head, of 2041, because that is when the Upper Churchill reverts back to Newfoundland and Labrador. In saying that, I do not think that really is the number. I think, what the Premier is thinking about and this government is thinking about is, centuries down the road, to position Newfoundland and Labrador in its rightful place in the federation of Canada, and also her rightful place in the world. I think that vision will bring it all together, and certainly we will see some great things happen in Newfoundland and Labrador in the future. We have seen great things happen in Newfoundland and Labrador in the past number of years.

Mr. Speaker, with that I will stop my speaking at this particular time, and I look forward to speaking in regards to the Budget at some future date.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

It is my understanding that the hon. Member for Port de Grave has spoken on the non-confidence motion?

MR. BUTLER: That is correct. Now I am speaking on the main motion.

MR. SPEAKER: But we have not voted on the non-confidence motion yet.

MR. BUTLER: Oh, sorry.

MR. SPEAKER: Is the House ready for the Question?


MR. SPEAKER: Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the non-confidence motion?

All those in favour, 'aye'.


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


MR. SPEAKER: In my opinion, the nays have it.

On motion, non-confidence motion is defeated.

MR. SPEAKER: We are now speaking on the main motion of the budget.

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

MR. BUTLER: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and I apologize for standing too soon.

I just want to continue on with some of the comments that I was making, Mr. Speaker, when my time ran out on the non-confidence motion part of the debate.

I have to say, I was pleased to hear my hon. colleague, the Minister of Government Services, reference former Administrations where some of the good came from because I have been preaching that for the last two or three weeks, but at least someone recognized that.

I have to say, another comment that he made was in regards to possibly not having confidence in Newfoundland and Labrador. Well, let me assure you, I have every confidence in Newfoundland and Labrador. Hopefully, the plans that are laid out will progress to the point where your plan is headed and we will see that unfold over the next few years.

My hon. colleague for Mount Pearl North referenced the schools that are being built in his district and adjacent areas. I, too, want to recognize some of the work that is being done on the schools in my area, but that does not stop me from bringing forward an issue with regards to the new school for Coley's Point Primary.

MR. HEDDERSON: (Inaudible).

MR. BUTLER: That is why I praised it all.

The hon. the Minister of Fisheries, I guess he did not hear me when I was talking about the good things that happened in the Budget for that particular district. Seeing he did not hear them, I will reference them again, the work that was done at Amalgamated Academy and the work that is being done at Ascension Collegiate. That does not stop me from bringing forward the issue of a new primary school for Coley's Point.

Mr. Speaker, I know it is in the plans for the board. It is one of their high priorities. Hopefully, with next year's Budget, I will be able to stand here and say congratulations once again that there is going to be a new primary school built at Coley's Point to replace the forty-year-old wooden structure.

Some of the other issues that we hear from people and they want us to bring the issues forward. One of them is in regards to the oxygen that some of our seniors find themselves in a very difficult position to be able to afford. Hopefully, with the new program that is brought in, that will help to alleviate that because some of them now will have additional money by the new home care program that has been announced.

When it comes to agriculture, I asked a couple of questions last week to the minister with reference to funding that was cut from a couple of programs within the department. After I asked the question, her comment was, she said: It runs right across the full membership of the Opposition; they never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Where I was coming from, there is nearly $8 million in the grants and subsidy division, and the farmers receive $800 million, leaving $7.153 million. They put back into the program $4,883,000, which leaves $2.25 million, which is taken out of that program. Why I asked the question – I did not know where the funds went, but I can assure you, it was taken from that program. My comments were: they cut the budget for that particular program. The same is true for the agriculture and agrifoods development fund. There was $2.3 million cut from that program. All the minister had to do was explain what other new ventures it was put into. It is not that I was trying to spread a rumour that there were no funds taken out. It is facts. It was taken out, and maybe it is put into another program, which I was not aware of until she mentioned that, but it was not with regards to putting the facts in the way of a good story, let me assure you, Mr. Speaker.

Another issue with regards to, on the side of health care in this Province. I do not know how many of my hon. colleagues know about this, but I know there are fifteen individuals who found themselves in the same position as a constituent of mine. They went to their local dentist and apparently there is only one surgeon here in the Province who does a particular surgery which has to do with wisdom teeth. The constituent that I am referencing went to his local dentist, was transferred here to St. John's to see the specialist and unfortunately that particular specialist does not accept funds through the MCP program. He needs cash, cash up front. There are fifteen individuals – the family came to me and asked me to check it out and see what could be done. I have to be honest with you, I did not know where to turn to, but I called people within the MCP program and they confirmed that is a fact. They said, we have fifteen people here in the Province who are unable to come up with the funds in cash to pay for this surgery. What we are doing now, we have a similar individual coming in from New Brunswick, a specialist similar to the individual here and they have to wait until they get so many patients to carry out this surgery. They come here to the Province. I think he has been here now, or my constituent has been dealt with. So here we are with fifteen or sixteen people who will require this surgery and have to wait until someone comes in from New Brunswick to do it because the specialist that we have here in the city will not carry out this particular surgery unless you pay him cash. He will not take part in the MCP program.

Mr. Speaker, that is a major concern. Hopefully, and I dealt through the minister's office as well and with the people at MCP, and I have to say I had good co-operation and finally this has been corrected. What I am saying is I think government should look at it, that a case similar to this should be dealt with rather than people having to go through the misery with the condition that they have and wait until someone gets enough patients to come in and carry out that procedure.

The other thing I just want to touch on is the – I know the Minister of Fisheries and his predecessor had mentioned that with regards to the pensions for fishers and plant workers. I know the provincial government has been waiting on word, I guess, from Ottawa. There was a time when the provincial government stated they would probably go it alone, not to the full extent but to a certain degree. I do not think there was any funding, and I stand to be corrected, in this year's Budget to look at the - regardless of what procedure they would follow to carry it out for pensions for fishers or plant workers at this time. That is another issue that has been put our way to bring forward to this hon. House. Hopefully, next year maybe, the minister can convince the federal government to come on stream because it is an issue that has to be dealt with, with the downturn in some of the fisheries and knowing the numbers of people that we have involved in the fishing industry.

Mr. Speaker, another one last week; we know there were questions asked with regards to the personal care homes. The small home operators feel that - I know there are new homes being built in this Province. They are built in my district and surrounding area, but the smaller, older establishments believe that they are being more or less forced out of business. It is unfortunate when they think that because they carry on a good service to the Province and to the people within the various areas.

Mr. Speaker, we know that our dependency - and I have no problem with that. I guess with the oil riches that we see coming to our shores and through that it was announced that we have become a have Province. When you consider that it comes on the - I guess the equalization transfers are affected by each province's performance in relation to the performance of other provinces' economies and therefore is subject to change from time to time.

We all know full well back in the late 1970s or mid 1970s and early 1980s, the tremendous impact that was on this Province of our workers who would have to leave home and travel to Ontario to work. I happened to be, I guess one of the unfortunate ones. I remember one time having to go there, but then again, their economy was booming at that time. Now we see what has happened in Alberta with the oil riches out there, many and thousands of our people have gone there to work over a period of time. With the downturn in the economic situation, the downturn in the economies throughout the world, we see the impact that that is having.

I know, for a fact, some of the people who live in my hometown went to Alberta and found good paying jobs – over 3,000 workers on this particular site - and today, as we speak, there are eight individuals who are working with that particular company on that particular site.

The oil is good, there is no doubt about that, when the cash flows, but I can assure you, unless we keep finding new resources in the oil finds – and I hope we do – we will see a downturn in the oil industry.

Hibernia now, we know, has tipped the other way, and we have to go back. I believe, and this is where I was coming from the other day when I said I think we have to go back to what has sustained us as a Province for 500 years, and that is the fishery. I will get into that a little later on.

Mr. Speaker, from time to time it is very interesting to read comments of other individuals when they were in opposition. I refer back to the former – I guess he was the former Minister of Finance, the Member for Ferryland, I think it is, and he is now our ambassador. I remember he made a comment one time, talking about how the deficit was blooming and so on. It is amazing, when you cross the line with this Administration. His name was brought up the other day, I do not know if it was in debate or in Question Period, but someone said they did not know where he was at now; he is probably packing his suitcase.

I also think back to the former Member for Placentia & St. Mary's. He was on this side of the House when we were in government, and the debate on Voisey's Bay came up. That individual stood with the government at the time, in support of that project, because he knew the impact that it would have on his area. Then, after that, he stood again for the people of his district, when it came to the Raw Material Sharing. Lo and behold, the rest is history. Today, I guess, this gentleman is in the Senate and hopefully he will continue on to do great things for our Province.

Mr. Speaker, from time to time, and last week in particular, we all know it was the sixtieth anniversary of Confederation. I do not know how many others are here, but I was born a Newfoundlander. I guess I will die a Newfoundlander, a proud Newfoundlander.

MS JONES: And Labradorian.

MR. BUTLER: And a Labradorian, yes, a proud Newfoundlander and Labradorian, but I am also a proud Canadian. Because all you have to do is, with anything, when this country is taking part, whether it is in hockey tournaments or in the Olympics, when the Canadian flag is waving, that is when your true colours really come out.

I cannot help but mention the article that Brian Jones wrote in The Telegram this past week, when he said one thing is to forget an anniversary, but when you purposely ignore it is something else.

I think that is what happened here in this Province; because, you know, a country is more than the government that governs it. Stephen Harper is not Canada. Whether we like him or not, whether we like his policies, whether we like the way that he treats this Province, as the Premier says: Canada is more than Steve.

To not celebrate our union with Canada, I believe, is not only an insult to the people of this Province but it is also an insult to the people of this country. I listened to, I think it was Out of the Fog, and I heard some hon. members saying: Well, if I was around at that time I don't think I would have voted for Confederation. Another person said: Maybe I would have but I am not quite sure.

It was interesting to hear a professor, and I think he was a professor of history at Memorial, when he said: Well, what would people want if they did not join Canada? Would they want us to stand alone, like Iceland?

We all know how Iceland stood strong and firm for some period of time, but where are they today? They are on the verge now of joining with the EU, joining with our friends across the seas, who the Minister of Fisheries is trying to get on side so that we can continue with the seal fishery. That is what is happening, Mr. Speaker.

You know, it is not that long ago, 2004, and those are comments that were made by our Premier today, and I am sure at that particular time everything was fine. He said: We will not tolerate the practices because we have the support of the federal government when it comes to EU and foreign overfishing and other issues.

He went on to say that our position on custodial management has made the EU officials very uncomfortable. That is how he felt when he came back: it made them very uncomfortable. Well I say, Mr. Speaker, it may have made them very uncomfortable for a very short time.

We all know the Premier took on Paul McCartney and I cannot think of her name but I call her Barbie. He took them on, on national television. With all due respect to the Premier, he tried to do his best, but at the end of the day we know who won out. Barbie won out. The seal fishery is trying to be closed down in Europe those days through a major factor because of her. Not only that, she also walked away with half of her husband's money from the same show.

Mr. Speaker, the people here in this Province rely on the fishery even today. Lots of times we stand and say that there is nothing being done for rural Newfoundland. That is not in regards to something being done to a school or pavement on a road. I know, when I stand and my colleagues stand, that is reference to something being done to help keep those communities what they were for hundreds of years. The hon. Member for The Isles of Notre Dame, I have not read his motion because it was fairly lengthy. I only heard it when he was reading it.

AN HON. MEMBER: But you have to get it all in there.

MR. BUTLER: You have to get it all in there, is right.

I honestly believe that the problem we encounter in our fishery today, Mr. Speaker, is because of what happened in the past. There is no two ways about it.

I can remember my father telling me about when they fished on the Grand Banks out of Lunenburg, and then later years on the draggers out of Burin. What was being done out there? When the fish would come on the decks and they were not large enough, they were kicked over. So, we are a part of the problem. Then, again, we know what happened with the foreign overfishing. Whether we want to believe it or not, I have to say, Mr. Speaker, that is continuing to this very day. Only recently - I am not saying that the ship was accidentally sunk for any reason, but I can assure you our destroyer at that time was not chasing that particular Spanish ship because they were out helping us to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary. You can mark that down.

What we have to do: we have to stand firm. How we can do it, as a small province within a federation that really does not want to take it on? International trade has taken over and I believe is one of the major factors in what we find ourselves in today when it comes to our fishing industry.

In the private member's motion we talk about the sealing industry. Back a few years ago the seal population was approximately two point two million, and then all of a sudden those animal activists came on stream and our seal fishery was closed down. Once that happened the population of the seals became higher, and what happened to the cod fish in conjunction with what we were doing?

We have to listen, Mr. Speaker, to people like Gus Etchegary, to people like Dr. Phil Earle from Carbonear, when they talk about how we have to take over, and the fishery on the Continental Shelf has to be protected. I listened with interest one day to Mr. Gus Etchegary when he talked about the extension of the jurisdiction on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks. He said: the Canadian government would have agreed but the Department of External Affairs and International Trade were convinced that the limited fishing grounds outside the 200-mile limit would not support a foreign-based fishery and therefore the federal government did not do the protection that should have been done. We have to listen to those people. We have to listen to our own fishermen.

Mr. Speaker, back in August of 2004, this present administration had a meeting. I think it was on the Bonavista Peninsula somewhere. The rural strategy was the particular top issue. The premier of the day quoted. He said: The fishery, I do not think, will ever be what it once was so we have to move on beyond that. Yes, we have to move on. There are other resources that we have to deal with that hopefully will help to sustain us for many years to come, but I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, we have to go back to the fishery. If we want to protect rural Newfoundland and Labrador, as we have known it in the past. To say that the fish stocks, the cod stocks, are not there - Mr. Speaker, I spoke to a fisherman who fishes crab off Labrador. He told me that last year, every time they hauled their crab pots, what did not have crab were full of codfish.

Mr. Speaker, the codfish are there and I can assure you that is another issue. The crab will not be there for many years to come like it is today, and we have to do what is right to help protect rural Newfoundland and Labrador. We have to realize that this is a major industry within our Province. Yes, we are enjoying the riches of the oil industry but we have to look back and see where we came from and what kept us here for so many years and make sure that is protected in the future.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

MS JONES: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is certainly an honour for me to get up and say a few words today on Budget 2009. I have quite a few things here I would like to speak about, so I am going to try to pick through most of it as best I can.

There are a couple of things I would like to address, and the first thing I would like to address is the hon. Member from Port de Grave's comments on Confederation. I guess, that always stirs the blood, gets the blood flowing in most of us, Mr. Speaker, especially if you are involved in politics in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I always think about the fact that I heard a story just recently, within the last month, from my grandmother, who told my mother, who relayed the story to me, that one of the hardest things she did in her life was vote PC. She told my mother the only reason she voted PC was because I went out and spoke to her and made sure that she got out on election day and voted PC. She was quite animated in the fact that she could not believe she had done it. She raised three kids, a single mother, raised three kids on her own, and in those days when Confederation came it was certainly a significant increase in money for her. She all of a sudden had the baby bonus, which was significant in those days, back in the late 1940s, early 1950s. In the early 1950s, her kids were probably eleven and twelve at the time.

To her, Confederation meant something that none of us can probably today really realize. Confederation was a move that she could not see past. Of course, with Confederation, her mind was that she had to be Liberal, if the Liberals brought in Confederation, which Premier Smallwood of the day did. She never thought that she could change because of that and how much it meant to her.

Mr. Speaker, I realize, personally, what Confederation has done for us as a Province. It has brought wealth to us on numerous occasions, but I cannot help but question our current arrangement with the federal government. There is no one who was a bigger Conservative than me - in a lot of ways, probably. No one in government, I will say. I am sure there is a bigger Conservative than me somewhere in the country.

In all honesty, what they have done as a government over the last number of years - and we talk about delivering the goose egg. It was the right thing to do, and I am proud that we did it. I, too, am in favour of Confederation, but I do not think, as a government and as a people, we should ever stop debating our place in Confederation. It should always be a debate. It should be a debate that happens every other day in this Province, and we should always be examining our place in Canada, as far as I am concerned, always. There are places throughout this country that consistently examine their place in Confederation and are probably better off for it today. Certainly, I do not have to name the provinces; the people in this country know who they are.

Mr. Speaker, I encourage Newfoundland and Labrador to keep examining where we are in Confederation. Like I said, our current situation as it relates to Ottawa, what they have done to us unilaterally in the last federal Budget was nothing short of criminal. It disappointed all of us in this Province, including people like me who went out, not the last time, but the time before, and worked on federal Conservative campaigns, and did so because I believed in it.

I remember talking to a group of individuals one day, and one of the things that I talked to them about and kind of brought them around a little, was the fact that they were going to remove non-renewable resources from the equalization formula, which would have meant hundreds of millions of dollars. That was one of the things that Prime Minister Harper of the day had suggested would happen.

Of course, Mr. Speaker, I was paraphrasing him and telling people in my district at the time what that would be, and what that would mean for the people of this Province. Of course, Mr. Speaker, as we know, that did not happen and that was very, very unfortunate. Sometimes, like I said, it makes it very hard to believe in Confederation when things like that happen to you.

Again, in the last Budget, what happened to us there certainly makes this very difficult and we have to question our place in the Confederation. I think it is important that we do so, and continue to do as long as we exist as a Province, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, having said that, my piece on Confederation today, I would also like to address a couple of things from the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi. We talk about, in this House, where we are as a government. We are Progressive Conservative, so we are conservative. In actual fact I would think, and I have said this before, many times, we are probably as left wing a Progressive Conservative government that ever existed in this country.

One of the things that the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi likes to do all the time is to lay out the fact that we care nothing about poverty. We have done a few things, and she likes to compliment us occasionally on what we have done, but she always like to include that there is a lot more to be done.

Mr. Speaker, I agree with her. There is nobody, I guess - we all get calls from people who are certainly less fortunate than others, and we try to do our best. Mr. Speaker, what she does not include in her statistics, and she talked about HRLE clients in particular - I get calls from HRLE clients. Friends of mine are HRLE clients, very good friends, as a matter of fact. I know first-hand some of the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis, but I think it is important to note that over the last number of years approximately 1,000 people a year have come off the HRLE rolls. That is a significant thing. Since we have taken government in 2003 there have been several thousand people, and I do not have the exact number here in front of me, but I know from experience of being with HRLE and working with Minister Skinner at one point that there have been thousands of people come away from HRLE as clients since we have formed the government, and that is through a number of initiatives, Mr. Speaker.

I think it is important that we lay this out because sometimes we do not realize - like I said, if we listen to some of the people speak here in the House, we do not get the full brunt of it. I think it is important just to lay out a couple of these. Mr. Speaker, these are things we have done to reduce poverty in this Province. It was a $100 million program. It is one of the things in this House, I can honestly say, as a government, that it is probably one of the proudest things that we have done, as a member of this party, and one of the things I know a lot of us in this House certainly support and back every single time, and that is our Poverty Reduction Strategy. I think we are one of probably two or three provinces now in the country that has a Poverty Reduction Strategy. Last year we topped out at $100 million. I think previous to that it was $90 million. This year, we are at $132.2 million. That is an unbelievable amount of money to reduce poverty. Like I said, it is heralded; our plan is actually heralded across the country. So when the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi references, she should also compliment some of the initiatives that were taken. This year there are eighteen new initiatives and, of course, there is the expansion of other initiatives that we have had.

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to lay out, if I could, some of the things that we have done over the last number of years. Like I said, I always feel it is significant and important that we provide the people of the Province with this information. We have provided adults with disabilities living with family the same board and lodging and supplement for those living with non-relatives. We have expanded the eligibility of the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program to include low-income residents with the addition of the Access Plan and the Assurance Plan, and we have actually increased that plan now by tens of millions of dollars. I do not have the exact number. I believe this year alone we have increased it by some - $22 million rings a bell, how much we have expanded that program.

We have also increased the Special Child Welfare Allowance Program. We have expanded the Newfoundland and Labrador Dental Plan, which the hon. Member for Port de Grave talked about recently. Now we have allowed low-income families with children under the age of seventeen to have free dental care. That is extremely important to young people's confidence, and indeed health costs as time goes on.

We have increased outreach support for youth addiction, prevention and early intervention services, and I have here in front of me quite a bit of information on that, that I could certainly go into. We have enhanced benefits for income support clients for health services, such as eye exams, eye glasses, dentures and special diet allowance. These are all HRLE clients. We have expanded to thirty days the period prescribed for exemption and overlap benefits, and that is geared for people who are currently HRLE clients and go back to work. They have that thirty day period where they can combine their income of what they have earned, plus their HRLE supplement, to get them over the hump, to get them back into the workforce.

Mr. Speaker, actually, I just had some information provided to me by the Member for Ferryland, who is currently Parliamentary Secretary in HRLE, and I thought this was important to talk about. Today we have almost 9,000 fewer people on Income Support compared to 2003. Now, can you imagine! That is the thousands of people I was talking about. That is a significant amount of people.

Again, Mr. Speaker, to go on with the poverty reduction, I would just like to keep going with this. We have provided free textbooks for all students from K to 12. We have increased the instructional grants provided to schools to cover prescribed materials for eliminating school fees. So these are the types of things we have done over the last number of years that the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi fails to mention. Certainly, I thought it important upon me to mention those initiatives today.

One of the things in this Budget, of course as well, was another tax reduction; that we have continued to reduce taxes as part of assisting low-income families. Right now we have increased the threshold for those who have to pay taxes from $13,511 to $15, 911 for individuals, and from $21,825 to $26,625 for families. Just to give you an example - and, of course, besides that we have had a big, huge load of partial tax reductions as well for people up to an income of $31,000 or $32,000 thereabouts. This is going to affect over 15,000 people in this Province this year alone. So, that is a significant chunk of change when we talk about helping people who are less fortunate than some others. That is a significant, significant investment.

Just to give you some quick examples. For individuals who make $15,000 that will be $345 more this year. For people making $16,000 it will be $544 more in their pocket. For people making $17,000, $384 in their pocket. For families who make $25,000 there will be an additional $721 that they will be able to keep, and for $26,000, $793. So these are the kinds of initiatives that we have done over the last number of years to assist people who are on HRLE.

Mr. Speaker, before I go on any further I would like to talk a little bit about some of the initiatives that we have taken in seniors' initiatives in this Province. For those of you who do not know, I guess the current Minister of Health and Community Services, when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health at that time, took on a role where he actually went across this Province and held dozens of consultation meetings with seniors and anybody interested in seniors issues throughout the Province. I think it was in excess of 1,000 individuals. I cannot remember the exact number, but I know it was in excess of 1,000 people that turned out to these meetings.

Of course, it is no secret that we do have an aging population. In Newfoundland and Labrador, in particular, we have a significant – I think we are the fastest aging population in the country. An interesting statistic is that 50 per cent of our population is forty-two-and-a-half years or older. Fifty percent of our population is forty-two-and-a-half years or older, and that is the point that makes us the oldest population in the country. Now, by 2018, 22 per cent of our population will be over the age of sixty-five. So it is not lost on us here as a government, that significant moves have to be taken to assist seniors throughout our Province.

Mr. Speaker, we have done a number of different things in our Province to assist seniors. I guess the first thing we did as a government in 2003, is we took steps to make things happen.

The first thing we did was a ministerial council on aging and seniors. What that was, it is a group of ministers are assigned, particularly, to put a lens on all legislation that goes through the House of Assembly through a seniors' lens. I will get into some of the things that we did in a short minute, Mr. Speaker, to just outlay exactly what they have done.

We have established the Provincial Advisory Council on Aging and Seniors. Meetings that I attend on a regular basis, is made up of a group of seniors throughout our Province that come together, I would think probably quarterly, to advise the minister, give advice, offer opinions on initiatives that government can be taking.

As well, Mr. Speaker, we have established the Office of Aging and Seniors in the Department of Health. It was a division. It is now moved to the Office of Aging and Seniors. In that program there were six policy directions, overarching policy directions that we agreed to take. One was recognition of older persons. Two was celebrate diversity and support communities. Three was financial well-being. Four was help and well-being. Five was employment and education and research. In those priorities there were twenty-eight goals and 172 actions to item. Certainly, a significant piece of work, and I guess a plan that will take a number of years to fulfill.

Mr. Speaker, we are currently in year three of that plan. One of the things in year three of that plan was one of the things I just mentioned, was the recognition of older persons. Recently, we have announced the Seniors of Distinction awards. For those of you who do not know, actually, the deadline was April 2, and I am proud to say that the people of the Province came together, and we have, I think it is 116 nominations for Seniors of Distinction. There is probably, I would think, ten times that many seniors who deserve a Seniors of Distinction award in our Province. You do not have to go far or live in any community to realize that you go to the chartered knights of alliance club, or you go to the Kiwanis club, or the Kinsmen club, and even a lot of the church organizations, the commitments that seniors make in this Province are remarkable.

As a government, we thought that to recognize the contributions they have made, we came up with the Seniors of Distinction award, and every year the plan is to award five awards every year in June, which is seniors' month. So far, Mr. Speaker, it is a great success. I have to say, I am delighted with it. We have a selection committee now almost in place. They are being contacted. We have talked about them. It is totally independent, Mr. Speaker, have absolutely nothing to do with politics or political things at all. It will be an independent body. Like I said, has nothing to do of a political nature at all. They will sift through the 116 we have this year, and I am delighted with it because one of the problems you usually have with these types of awards is that you have to make sure that people nominate someone. I am delighted to say that people did take the time this year and I want to thank them, on behalf of government, for taking the time to nominate this significant number of people.

In June, Mr. Speaker, I say to our listening audience out there, look forward to five people being recognized this year. It could be anything from a local level, to a provincial level, to an international level, the contribution they have made. It could be from their working life, or it could be just from their personal lives and socially. We know that seniors play a significant role from being involved in international groups to maybe just assisting someone who lives next door to them with their everyday living. I want to thank the people, Mr. Speaker, and recognize the contribution that we have made.

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of things that I want to touch on in health care and I am quickly running out of time. I thought that I would just quickly, before I sit down, touch on some of the things that the Budget has done for Conception Bay South.

I recently heard some comments from members of the Opposition concerning mayors and the comments that they have made. Mr. Speaker, I just want to point out something. When it comes to municipalities, particularly the one I represent, Conception Bay South, next year the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador will be committing in excess of $10 million, actually. The exact amount is $10,527,000 to Conception Bay South next year. Fair enough, a couple of million dollars, a little over $2 million of that is for debt servicing, but we will receive almost $500,000 in a grant for - the Municipal Operating Grant is the words I am looking for.

As well, Mr. Speaker, we have recently received a three-year commitment from this Province for almost twenty-three million dollars in infrastructure. Sometimes, when I read comments that this government is not in touch with municipalities, Mr. Speaker, I find it hard to take. Having said that, a place like Conception Bay South has a lot of needs, and it is simply because of our growth. We are growing really, really fast. Mr. Speaker, $23 million over three years with the current formula is probably, no probably, it is the single biggest commitment ever made by a government to the people of my community. That, Mr. Speaker, is something I am again very proud of and certainly delighted with.

Mr. Speaker, a couple of other things: In the education field we have had expansions announced in this year's Budget. I want to thank the Minister of Finance. It is the first time ever actually, that I can remember, that Conception Bay South was referenced three times in the Budget Speech. Of course, it was expansions to St. Edwards School in Kelligrews, where they will now receive extra classrooms and a special needs suite, and, as well, Mr. Speaker, an expansion to Upper Gullies Elementary.

I heard the Member for Port de Grave saying how he was happy with the things, but he still had other needs. Well, Mr. Speaker, my district is no different. I have schools in my district currently that need other things. Mr. Speaker, I am going to continue to work on that, but there is only so much we can do at a time. For years and years and years, there was a lot of neglect in the education system and we are really playing catch up, and have been for the last number of years, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, just to clue up.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. FRENCH: Yes, Mr. Speaker, and I appreciate it. I will just have a quick comment on our Family Resource Centre and I will certainly sit down.

One of the final points I want to make, Mr. Speaker, is that, right now in CBS one of the things announced, which is something that we have been working on, is a Family Resource Centre. What that does, Mr. Speaker, is, it allows people who have young children and new children a place to go to receive expertise and a place that will be staffed five days a week by professionals who will be able to help with everything from nutrition on down. That is so important in an area where we have so many young families moving in, and I certainly want to take my hat off to government for recognizing that.

On that, Mr. Speaker, I will take my place. I have a number of things I would like to speak on. I hardly touched on the health initiatives at all, which I would certainly like to bring to light, and I am sure others in this House will do so over the next coming days.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I am glad to get another opportunity, today, to speak in the debate on the Budget and the motion with regard to the Budget. There are still so many things to talk about. I did start, the last time I stood, to talk, and talk quite a bit, about the needs of low income people. I just want to do one more thing on the issues around poverty and people living in poverty in our Province and the needs of people. I do not think we can refresh our memories too much with regard to what the reality is for a large group of people in our Province.

We are a small community. We are only 500,000 approximately, as we know. When we start talking about the percentage of people who, in this Province, are affected by poverty, it is way too many in terms of the chunk of people of our Province who are living in poverty. I am going to talk a bit about the poverty in our Province, in a province that has a $6.7 billion Budget, in a province where the government has $1.8 billion in a consolidated cash fund, in a province where the deficit is going to be paid off without having to go into debt to pay it off, that in this Province we have a poverty rate which is almost the highest in Canada. Our child poverty rate, I think, is the second highest in Canada.

Two years ago our rural poverty rate - and that is the latest statistic, so I cannot give a new one, I suspect it has not changed - was the highest in Canada. In 2004, which is the latest we have on numbers, 33,000 families lived in poverty in this Province. In the latest figures from hunger count from 2008, around food bank use - and I think we always need to remind ourselves of this, because these are the realities. Number one, we are, Newfoundland and Labrador, one of four provinces where food bank use has increased. In 2008, our food bank use did not go down, so when I speak about poverty reduction, this is one of the things that I look at. If we are reducing poverty, how come our use of food banks in this Province is going up, not coming down?

We have the highest use of food banks in Canada. Five point four per cent of residents of Newfoundland and Labrador used food banks. Seventy-one per cent of food bank recipients were on social assistance. That is why I talk about the need for Income Support to go up substantially. Why are 71 per cent of social assistance people going to food banks? It is because they do not get enough money from their income assistance and they are going to food banks; food banks, which when they started, were supposed to be emergency measures. Food banks are no longer emergency measures. They have become part of the social fabric and our government aids and abets that by refusing to substantially increase the income support. Thirty-eight point four per cent of food bank recipients were children. This is immoral; 38.4 per cent of food bank recipients were children; 10.6 per cent of food bank users were seniors. I know, and you know, from speaking to many seniors out around in our constituencies, that a lot of those seniors who are going to food banks are also pensioners whose public pension does not meet their needs, who are living in poverty after spending years of working in the public sector.

Also, of people using food banks, 10.3 per cent of those using food banks were employed, and that figure went up from 2007. This is why I get concerned and say things are not improving, that between 2007 and 2008 the use of food banks by employed people went up in this Province.

Fourteen point two per cent of people using food banks were on Employment Insurance. Now, I know Employment Insurance is a federal program, but the Employment Insurance program is sort of based on the same premise as our income assistance is; give them a little of it but not enough.

At the Bridges to Hope Food Aid Centre, which is located here in St. John's and is known well by the MHA for that area - he is very supportive of the food centre, there is no doubt, but that food centre reports supplying, just one food centre now, 4,658 full or emergency food hampers to families in 2008. What they have reported is, that is up nearly 50 per cent from 2007. That is really startling; up almost 50 per cent from 2007.

While the people at Bridges to Hope do tremendous work, and I, like my colleague from St. John's Centre, applaud the work of people like the people at Bridges to Hope, the people at The Hub and all of the other places in St. John's, The Gathering Place, and we can name so many, the Stellar Burry programs, while they are doing tremendous work, there is work that they should not have to do. It is one thing to have a place where people can come drop in, socialize and be together, that is wonderful, but it is another thing when the service you are providing is providing food because the people who are coming to you just do not have enough money to buy the food.

When I say that I am concerned because I do not see poverty reducing, when I do not see a reduction going on, I am not just talking for the sake of talking. The figures are telling us that they are not.

Earlier when I spoke today, and I will repeat this again since I am using statistics, I pointed out that the numbers of individuals and families earning less than $10,000, or with incomes of less than $10,000, is increasing in our Province. That is not poverty reduction, and the numbers of families and individuals with incomes of more than $150,000 are increasing. As I pointed out earlier, the gap is growing.

This is why I am concerned. These statistics, these facts, are the reasons why I am concerned about people who are the working poor, people who cannot work for whatever reason, and both groups needing income support, yet neither group being completely taken care of by income support; because, if they were, they would not be going to food banks.

The other thing that is very disturbing is - we are taking steps, I know, towards increasing our minimum wage, and we are moving up there with other provinces. We are not up at the top yet but we are moving in that direction, but the thing that does disturb me, one, because even when the minimum wage is $9 or $9.50 it still is not enough to have people living out of poverty, the thing that really does disturb me is that we have the highest percentage of minimum wage workers in the country; 7.5 per cent of all employed people earned minimum wage in 2006 here in this Province, 14,500, and two-thirds of those workers are women, so women's poverty is worse here in this Province as well.

These are the facts, and I present them because we have to deal with the facts. We have to deal with people's lives, and the reality of what people are living. That is why we have to look at our home care program and we have to look at the fact that so many people cannot afford home care. Again, this is the theme that I speak to, and I know some of my colleagues may get tired of hearing me, but we have to deal with the issue: that people cannot afford home care and we do not have a home care program, and people who are living on the edge with regard to their income just cannot afford home care.

Now, I know that the Budget is making a proposal with regard to looking at the financial assessment tool for home care, and $7.5 million is going into that new financial assessment tool for home care, but the problem is that our assessment is still based on financial ability. When we continue to have programs where we cap an amount, we say so many can get the money and we cap it, there is always somebody on the other side of that cap who cannot afford either their drugs or who cannot afford to pay for their home care.

So, as I have said before in the House and as I am going to say again, I was really sorry that the Budget and that the Minister of Health and Community Services did not recognize that what we should have in home care is a program based on need, so that if the caregivers, whether it is doctors or whoever it is who say that a person needs home care, or that a family member needs home care, that becomes the decision for home care. Then you do a professional assessment on home much home care that person gets. You do not get into creating new financial tools, because somebody will always be left out when you have financial assessment. It has been proven everywhere. Where provinces have good home care programs, they do not base it on financial assessment. They base it on need, and they have needs assessments. I implore this government to start thinking with that mentality, basing on needs. That is what we need.

Yes, I see that some people are going to benefit from the new way in which the assessment is going to be done, but it is still not going to meet the needs of all people and that is the problem. If we have a social program, all peoples in the community, all peoples in our society, should be benefiting from that.

The other issue around programs being accessible and universal, our child care, again I am glad to see that assistance has gone up, that subsidies have gone up, for child care so that people who need assistance are going to get an increase. That was needed, but we do not have a program that is meeting the needs of all child care in this Province. We do not have a program where people can count on being able to get their child in without any problems. Far from it, as a matter of fact.

Recently, I have had parents come to me and talk about the difficulty of finding child care spaces, but this government continues to ignore it. I am aware of a study that has been done which looks very specifically at how economies are improved because of social infrastructure: if you realize that affordable housing, schools, libraries, recreation centres, museums, all of these things, contribute to the economy of a society – not just to the culture of a society, but to the economy as well.

We do not have a budget that significantly matches those two things together, recognizing that if you have universal child care, that the economy benefits from the universal child care. In Quebec, they have shown that their economy has improved by several percentage points because of their child care program. There has been a full analysis done, and they recognize the reason for that is because of the fact that more parents are working.

Now, a lot of those new parents who are in the workforce are women, because, of course, women are the majority ones who are in the homes with children. So, when children can be put in child care, more women are able to work outside the home, and many of those women may have been – in Quebec they were, actually – women who were very often low-income women, and who wanted to work but could not. With the child care program that Quebec now has, they can, and the whole economy has improved by several percentage points because of a full child care program.

So, when I talk about the government doing a plan, this is the kind of thing I am talking about. Do an analysis. Do an economic analysis looking at other jurisdictions, looking at other economies, of what happened when you put in a home care program, when you put in a child care program. Do the economic analysis and you will find the economic benefits of the social programming.

That is something I just feel that this government is failing to do, is doing that analysis, because I really think that this government, which bases their stuff on good business models, if they could show themselves that it makes economic sense to have a child care program, perhaps you would make that decision. So, I just have to keep on about this.

The other thing about the Budget is that there are pieces in the Budget that I am glad the pieces are there but I would like more detail from government about how these pieces are going to be put in place.

One of those is the $16.5 million allocated to increase home care wages. The increase in the subsidy will go to the agencies, but government does not have the authority to tell the agencies to make the increases. So I am really wondering, and I am hoping, before this discussion is over, that the current Minister of Finance will explain how those increases, the subsidy increases, are going to be translated into wage increases for the home care workers because, in the past, subsidies have been increased and the worker has not received the increase. So, how is this going to happen this time? How is the subsidy going to get passed on to the worker? There is no detail that shows me how that is going to happen.

Another example of how I am wondering how something is going to happen, I am very pleased, obviously, more than pleased, that a school in my constituency, Virginia Park School, is finally going to get the extension that it needs - the new gym and the extension that it needs. The money is allocated in this year's Budget, but how does that translate into: Is the school board ready to make sure that this is going to happen? How is government, how is the department, going to work with the school board to make sure that the school board says, yes, this is part of our priority plan this year.

Now, they did say two years ago that Virginia Park School was a priority, but were they involved with the government in the decision to actually put the money finally in the Budget? How is the department going to make sure that money gets used in this Budget for that school? That is something else that I am not sure about. How do those details get worked out?

There are a number of examples like that, where the government has something in the Budget that relates to outside agencies, outside of government, either under government, like the educational system, or the home care agencies, and how does government make sure that what they have in the Budget gets translated into action in this year's Budget?

There are a couple of more concerns with regard to things that are left out of the Budget, because I did say, when I spoke earlier, that I think part of my role is to point out things that are left out, that people are concerned about and people talk about. One of those is the Medical Transportation Assistance Program. This is something that the Canadian Cancer Society in particular has been speaking about for a long time, but for people in general in the Province, the Medical Transportation Assistance Program does not meet the needs of people. We all know how much lobbying has been going on from people around the Province, especially in Labrador but not just in Labrador, with regard to MTAP. Yet, not a cent – not a cent - and yet we have a $1.8 billion consolidated cash flow, but not a cent of anything extra for the MTAP. This is not acceptable.

The other issue that I want to raise is the fact that Memorial University requested $27 million and received $21 million. I heard the Minister of Education, in an interview on one of the radio stations, saying, well, MUN should know that you never get everything that you ask for. There is always a certain amount you do not get.

If the university can prove – and I should imagine it was able to do it – why they needed the $27 million, why weren't they given $27 million? They are the ones who are there. They are the ones doing the assessment. They are the ones who know what is needed. Yet, they are supposed to say: Oh, we put down $27 million but we know we are not going to get it.

That is not the way it should work. What are they supposed to do the next time, go $10 million over because they would have to expect they are not going to get what they are asking for? Then they would not be telling the truth in doing their budgeting. This is really problematic. You have the current president saying that he will need to cut staff, most likely, in order to make up for the shortfall. That is the reality.

We have to have Budgets that are based on people's needs, institutions' needs, not just individuals but also our institutions. We should not be budgeting below what is needed, because as long as we budget below what is needed things are going to fall apart. Because, whether it is buildings, whether it is programs, whether it is individuals' lives, we have to budget for what is needed.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's speaking time has expired.

MS MICHAEL: I see my time is up, Mr. Speaker.

If I could just clue up, please?

MR. SPEAKER: Does the member have leave to clue up?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. member, by leave.

MS MICHAEL: Thank you very much.

Just to say, I guess, what I have been saying earlier today and now again, I see this Budget as a Budget with a vision for the future, there is no doubt, but I do not see the Budget looking at all of the needs of people in the present.

If this government continues over the next two or three Budgets - I guess it is three more - if it continues to do that, to not look at the current full need of people, then in ten years' time or fifteen years' time we are going to be worse off. Those people, the people in need, the people who need the social safety net, are going to be worse off than they are now.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

It is great to finally have an opportunity to say a few words in this Budget debate. I understand the Minister of Finance spoke for about what, an hour-and-a-half, an hour and forty-eight minutes? Then the Opposition House Leader got up and spoke for three hours and then he moved a motion of - or an amendment – and spoke for another hour. They said so much and, of course, you want a chance to debate some of the things that our friends in the Opposition said but I don't have a heckuva lot of time so I had better get to it.

We are doing the Budget, and I want to congratulate the Minister of Finance on bringing in a Budget that is totally appropriate for this time.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. MARSHALL: For everything there is a season, and this particular Budget is exactly what the economy of this place, the economy of the world, needs at this particular time, and I want to congratulate him for it.

I suppose that a very simplistic rule, a general rule, would be that in normal times a government would have no need to have a surplus and no need to have a deficit. It would simply have a balanced budget, because governments do not have – we certainly do not have - money machines here in the House of Assembly. I wish we did, but we do not. The only money that government has to pay, the only money that government has to spend, is money that it takes from the people of the Province, from the people and from the businesses of the Province, so it is the people's money that we spend. Therefore, we have to spend that money very, very carefully because it is not our money. It is their money, and we are spending it.

Normally, governments need revenue. They need taxation revenue, because without that revenue they cannot do all the wonderful things that people demand that governments do: spend money on education; spend money on health; spend money to help people, the vulnerable parts of our populations; help people who are struggling.

Normally a government would bring in a certain amount of revenue and it would spend that revenue and have a balanced budget, but when times are tough, when times are bad, like they are today, when the economy, the world economy, is slowing down and we have an international global slowdown, that is the time when government has to step into the breach.

If consumers are not spending, if businesses are not investing, if our exports are falling down, that leaves only one group, and that is government, and we have a duty in that situation to spend more, to lower taxes, to increase spending, and that is what this government is certainly doing.

The last piece of the puzzle, Mr. Speaker, is that when times are good, when we are flush with revenues, like we were last year and the year before when the oil revenues were coming in and the mining revenues were coming in, in those good times, then we have to run a surplus and use the surplus to pay down the debt we took on to stimulate the economy when times are bad.

That is the general rule, and the situation we are in right now – we are in, I think the Opposition House Leader called it, an economic tsunami – we have a global recession. It is called the great recession. I do not think there has been a slowdown in economic activity in the world that we have seen since the great depression. All around the world, the G-20 countries, everybody is stimulating the economy, and stimulating the economy means you spend. Even right-wing conservatives, even arch fiscal conservatives, even people like Jim Flaherty, the federal Minister of Finance, people like Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of the country, even George Bush, were all in agreement that we are all Keynesians now they said, that because of the slow down its government's role now to start spending money.

It is government's role to stimulate the economy, and we do that in two ways, we lower our taxes, and government continues to spend. Well, how do you pay for it? I remember discussing this with my daughter, saying governments have to spend money they do not have and she said to me, well, how can you do that? How can you spend money you do not have? Of course, the answer is that you go out and you borrow it. That is what happens; you borrow. Meanwhile, the central banks for all the countries are lowering interest rates in order to encourage people to borrow, to encourage business to borrow and invest, in order to get the economy stimulated.

That is exactly what the Minister of Finance is doing here. We did not have to do that last year, we did not have to do it the year before, because we were flush, but this year we are joining most countries in the world, other provinces, other countries such as the United States, China, France, Great Britain, Germany, everybody is priming the pump and stimulating the economy by spending money. I congratulate the Minister of Finance for bringing in that Budget. Unfortunately we can do that. We can do it because we have had four years of consecutive surpluses. After years and years of deficits, after years and years of spending more money than we were taking in, we now came in a position, under the Williams government, to have four consecutive surpluses in a row including a surplus last year of over $2 billion.

What we are essentially doing is that we are using the benefit of the surpluses of the last couple of years to help stimulate the economy this year, and I think the Minister of Finance has indicated that we will do it without borrowing. Now, while our net debt will go up the beauty of bringing our net debt down, which is what we have done for the last four years, puts us in the position where we can do these things. Once again, I congratulate the Minister of Finance.

Now, when the Minister of Finance gives a Budget, Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance does two things. He gives a Budget which is a forecast for what is going to happen over the next year. He estimates what the revenues are going to be for the next year, he estimates what the expenses are going to be for the next year, and then he talks about the difference between the two. If we spend more than we take in we have a deficit. If we take in more than we spend, we have a surplus and that effects what is called our overall net debt.

I had the opportunity, as the former Minister of Finance, to stand here in my place around this time last year and to do the budget for the year that just ended, because that is the other thing the Minister of Finance does. In addition to doing the budget for the coming year, which is a forecast, the minister also talks about what happened this particular year, the year that is now ending. This is now – what? - the 6th of April. So, the fiscal year ended on March 31, because government does not use, for its accounting purposes, the calendar year. It uses what is called the twelve-month fiscal year which starts on the 1st of April and ends on the 31st of March. So the year 2008-2009 ended on March 31, and it was quite a year.

I will mention a few select numbers here. Mr. Speaker, I think, when we did the Budget last year, we were projecting a surplus of $543 million, and the surplus ended up, at the end of the year, of $2.4 billion. Now, I think that is the largest surplus that we have ever had in this Province, and we did it because of the fact that oil prices and oil revenues were extremely high.

In addition to having that surplus, we can look at our net debt and see what has happened over the years. In 2004-2005 we had a net debt in this Province of just under $12 billion, and at the end of 2008-2009, at the end of the year, the year that ended six days ago, we now have a net debt that is less than $8 billion. It has gone from almost $12 billion down to $7.9 billion in over four years, and that puts us in a very strong position. That will enable us to fight this economic tsunami, to fight this economic downturn, and enable us to stimulate the economy for the benefit of the people. It is because of the prudence and the wisdom shown by Premier Williams and this government over the last four years.

Mr. Speaker, the horrible thing about net debt is that we have to pay interest on it every year. That is one of the things the Minister of Finance has to do, when he is doing a budget, or she is doing a budget: What is the interest going to be? How much money do you need to service the debt? It was not that long ago when the figure was 23 cents of every dollar that was coming in here was going to pay interest on the debt. You had a dollar of income and you had to take 23 cents of it, almost a quarter of it, and pay it in interest on a debt, pay it out to moneylenders in New York and Toronto and Japan, or wherever the heck they are. That was money that could have been used for health and education, if we could only keep it here.

I am very pleased to say, Mr. Speaker, that the end of this 2008-2009, that the interest on the debt has gone from twenty-three-point-three cents of every dollar we have down to eight-point-six cents. There is only eight-point-six cents going towards interest on the debt.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. MARSHALL: We have certainly come one heck of a long way.

Net debt is the lowest it has been. The unemployment rate is down to 13.2 per cent. It was 16.5 per cent four years ago, or five years ago. It is now down to 13.2 per cent. Personal income taxes, the lowest rates in Atlantic Canada. We have eliminated the 15 per cent tax on insurance last year.

A few years ago we lowered the low-income tax threshold so low-income earners would be eliminated from the roles. I am delighted that the Minister of Finance, in this year's Budget again, has raised the threshold so that more low income – I forget the number. There are thousands and thousands of people who are going to be removed from our tax roles, and that is an extremely good thing.

We have had four great years. We have accumulated surpluses. We have lowered our debt. We have lowered our taxes and we have invested heavily into education. We have invested in health care. Now the Minister of Finance, today, has to come up with a budget for the coming year, but the difference is that he does not have the revenues to deal with that we had last year and that we had the year before. Revenues are well down. I have just gotten some numbers here that offshore royalties this past year were $2.2 billion, that is royalties paid to the Treasury of this Province, and it is forecast for this year that that number is going to be $1.3 billion, a drop of over $900 million in oil revenues alone.

Last year our oil revenues went up over half a billion more than we projected they would be. Last year we thought they would be about $1.7 billion. It ended up at over $2 billion, an increase of $506 million. Can you imagine? Half a billion more than you thought was going to come.

There was a story in The Telegram, an article in The Telegram that talked about Ministers of Finance and their forecasts. They talked about ministers who had deliberately, or by accident, low balled the numbers. Last year at Budget time we predicted that the price of oil would average, I think, $86.87 over the course of the year.

Now, I said at the time that the only thing I could be sure of in projecting what oil prices would be, because they are so volatile, and they are established on the world market, we do not set oil prices. I said the only thing I knew I could be was wrong. The only thing I could be sure that my estimate of what the oil prices would be, would be wrong.

I said to the officials, we do not want to lowball. We want to be as accurate as we can because the press are going to say that we deliberately lowered the numbers so that we could look good. So I predicted that the price of oil would average over 2008-2009 at $86.87. I hate to tell the people of this Province, Mr. Speaker, we were out by forty-three cents. At the end of the year, the average price of oil was $86.44.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. MARSHALL: Now, Mr. Speaker, I have to tell the people, that is probably a fluke, but there is no lowballing going on. We used people in New York, a company called Pira. We look at what the other provinces are doing. We try our best to be as accurate as we can, but what happened? So the question is, why were we up half a billion dollars? The answer to that was because of the production numbers. Everybody talks about the price of oil, but the production, the amount of oil produced is also a major factor.

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, once again I congratulate the Minister of Finance on just a terrific Budget. I wanted to just say a little word about what is going on in Corner Brook, and I just wanted to talk about what he spent in Corner Brook.

We finished off Herdman Collegiate. We have a beautiful high school in Corner Brook now. It used to be considered the worst school in the Province, and it is now, and there is no question about it, it is now the best high school in the Province. Certainly, a beautiful facility, and I encourage people to go there.

The long-term care facility is coming along. There is $19.2 million he has spent this year to finish off the long-term care facility. I think the total cost of that is going to be about $76 million. There is also $2.5 million to operate it, because what will happen is that as soon as it is done, the staff will go in and start operating this gorgeous facility; $2.5 million in operating money there.

Also, we are moving along with the new hospital for Western Newfoundland and Labrador. There is $4 million in that hospital. What the final cost will be, we do not know at this point. I know that Transportation and Works are going to be setting up an office, and I understand there are two positions going into Western Memorial Regional Hospital for people who will start working on what is called the needs analysis, to determine what should go in that hospital. It is similar to what we did in the courthouse there. You know, you talk to the people who are going to be the users and you make sure that you build a building suitable for what is going to happen there.

The courthouse will be finished this year, a beautiful building. The Minister of Transportation and Works says it is going to be my mausoleum, but it is certainly a beautiful building. There is going to be $7 million spent this year to finish that. There is a song by Merle Haggard, where he talks about proudly flying Old Glory down at the courthouse. We are going to fly the Canadian flag and we are going to fly the flag of Newfoundland and Labrador on that beautiful new courthouse when it is opened in Corner Brook.

There is going to be $300,000 spent on a new eye care centre in Corner Brook. Dr. Joe Wijay came, and we talked about that last year, and we talked about the fact that there were ophthalmologists in training that would come back to Corner Brook if the new centre was there, and the new equipment was there. I am pleased that was put in place, and as a result of that we are going to have three ophthalmologists serving the people of this Province in Corner Brook. We plan for his succession. When Dr. Wijay, who has done tremendous service for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, when he ultimately retires, there is a succession plan in place to ensure that the people in Western Newfoundland get nothing but the best in eye care.

There is a going to be quarter of a million dollars spent on the Corner Brook lock-up, and that is something that we started when I was Justice Minister three years ago. There was some concern to make sure that youth had a separate area from the general population in that lock-up, so I am pleased that is finally being addressed.

There is $1.2 million for a nuclear medicine gamma camera. I cannot tell you what a nuclear medicine gamma camera does, but it is there.

Mr. Speaker, if we are going to stimulate the economy and we are going to spend money, we have to spend it wisely because it is taxpayers' money. That means investing in innovation and that means investing in the new economy. Some of the old industries are going. The newsprint industry is faltering, so you invest in research and you invest in education, and I am pleased that the Minister of Finance is doing that in this particular Budget.

There is going to be a new academic building at Grenfell College, which the Minister of Education announced, a $34 million building with labs and classrooms, plus another $2.5 million added to the half a million dollars last year. That is $3 million to help Grenfell College move towards greater autonomy.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. MARSHALL: With that, Mr. Speaker, I look forward to taking part in this debate again.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would just like to note that this evening at 6:00 o'clock the Estimates Committee will meet here in the House of Assembly. It will be the Government Services Committee, and the department will be Transportation and Works and the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.

Further, Mr. Speaker, tomorrow, Tuesday, April 7, at 9:00 a.m., the Social Services Committee will look at the Estimates for Municipal Affairs, and 6:00 o'clock tomorrow evening the Social Services Committee will look at the Department of Health and Community Services.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the hon. Minister of Finance, that the House do now adjourn.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion 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 p.m. of the clock tomorrow being Tuesday.

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