May 4, 2009              HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS                Vol. XLVI   No. 14

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order, please!

Admit strangers.

Today the House of Assembly would like to welcome forty-six Grade 8 and Grade 9 band students from the Exploits Valley Intermediate in the District of Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans. The students are accompanied by their teacher, Mr. Denley Henstridge; director, Mr. Mike Carroll; chaperons, Ms Joan Sutherland and Ms Shelley Haas; and the bus drivers Mr. Joe Roberts and Mr. Andy Roberts.

Welcome to the House of Assembly.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

Statements by Members

MR. SPEAKER: The following members' statements will be heard: the hon. the Member for the District of Burgeo & LaPoile, the hon. the Member for the District of Baie Verte-Springdale, the hon. the Member for the District of Port de Grave, the hon. the Member for the District of Fortune Bay-Cape la Hune, the hon. the Member for the District of Placentia & St. Mary's.

The hon. the Member for the District of Burgeo & LaPoile.

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

I rise today to recognize and congratulate the officers of Loyal Orange Lodge 151 of Ramea on hosting a successful convention in Ramea.

This is the 137 annual convention of the Grand Orange Lodge of Newfoundland and Labrador. The convention is being attended by members from all over the Province as well as from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Ontario. The convention began this past Friday and will run until Wednesday of this week. Albeit Ramea is a small community, they can accomplish big things. The way they have organized this event and billeted so many people in that community is amazing.

I had the pleasure of attending their banquet this past Saturday evening and meeting many of the enthusiastic participants. Yesterday they held a church service and parade with a thirty-five piece band who were bussed in from the Avalon Peninsula, actually, especially for the occasion.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this House to join with me in extending congratulations to the members of Loyal Orange Lodge 151 on hosting a successful convention at Ramea. You should be very proud of the job you are doing and we wish you well with the remainder of your convention.

Thank you

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Baie Verte-Springdale.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. POLLARD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise in this hon. House today to salute a special hockey team who achieved hockey supremacy in their division. It is my honour and delight to congratulate Springdale's under twelve female hockey team who captured the goal medal at the provincial division A championships hosted by Springdale during the Easter break.

Coached by Dave and Lisa Edison, and Vicky MacDonald, the members of the proud team are LaShonda Roberts, Kaitlyn Watkins, Robin Rideout, Brittany Andrews, Sarah Mercer, Emily Edison, Kristy McDonald, Kailey Gillingham, Carrie Thomas, Tara Traverse, Allie Saunders and Chelsea Hobbs-Regular.

As all hockey fans are aware, no championship comes about without hard work, dedication, good coaching, talent, and community support. This team possessed all of these ingredients and more besides.

Honourable colleagues, please join me in congratulating the Under 12 female hockey club, and the coaches, for capturing the provincial title for the second year in a row, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, this past weekend I was honoured to take part in the opening and closing ceremonies for the twelfth annual Avalon Regional Historical Fair. I have to say, it was a pleasure to have the Member for Carbonear-Harbour Grace, the Minister of Finance, visit the wonderful district.

This year's event took place at the Bay Arena, Bay Roberts, with forty-four schools participating. Some forty-eight judges had the very difficult task to view over 100 exhibits depicting our heritage. The research, presentation and content of each exhibit displayed the tremendous involvement of all presenters.

Many awards were presented in various categories, but the end result was a winner to represent our Province at the nationals. That honour went to Matthew Blundon of Bay de Verde, who attends Baccalieu Collegiate. Matthew's project was titled: Captain Bob Bartlett.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all hon. members to join me in congratulating the organizers and sponsors of the twelfth annual Avalon Regional Historical Fair, and to wish Matthew Blundon every success at the nationals.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS PERRY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise in this hon. House today to recognize the commitment, perseverance and leadership of the residents of rural Newfoundland and Labrador, in particular Mr. Boyd Pack and Ms Jennifer Caines, who have demonstrated exemplary leadership in the development of our Province's aquaculture industry.

At the 2009 annual NAIA conference, Mr. Boyd Pack was named Aquaculturist of the Year. A pioneer in growing finfish, Mr. Pack has been part of the industry from day one, for over twenty-five years, and we owe him a lot for the success we see today.

I would also like to recognize Ms Jennifer Caines, who became the President of the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association at the same AGM. Along with her husband Doug, they won the Aquaculturist of the Year Award in 2007, and they, too, have worked tirelessly for over twenty years to see this industry become a viable, significant economic generator in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

In 2008 production levels reached 11,545 tons, with an export value of $63.1 million. It is expected to increase again this year.

Mr. Speaker, it is people like Mr. Pack, Ms Caines, and others in the Coast of Bays that are responsible for the introduction and growth of aquaculture in this great Province. Through their courage, struggles, skills and stamina, we have a thriving industry today that employs over 500 people in my district alone.

I ask all members of this hon. House to rise with me and acknowledge the hard work and remarkable achievements of these fine individuals.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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 to pay tribute to a great athlete from St. Mary's Bay, Harold St. Croix, a native of Point La Haye, who recently accomplished the ultimate reward in sports. On March 28, Harold was inducted into the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Fame. He had previously been inducted into the Newfoundland and Labrador Track and Field Hall of Fame in July, 2008.

Harold excelled in the sport of track and field and had his humble beginnings running as a student of Dunne Memorial Academy, on the beaches and gravel roads of Point La Haye. He went on to become an elite athlete on the local, provincial and national levels.

Mr. Speaker, time does not permit me to list all the achievements of this great athlete; however, the following are some of the highlights of his career: He was a six-time winner of the Tely 10 Road Race; at the age of seventeen he broke the forty-eight-year-old record with a time of fifty-three minutes, six seconds. He is one of only two people who have run the Tely 10 in under fifty minutes, and the only runner to have won it in three consecutive decades: the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s.

Harold was named St. John's Athlete of the Month on three occasions. He holds the provincial twenty-mile road race record and the provincial half-marathon record. He won three provincial cross-country championships, the Atlantic Open Cross-Country Championships in New Brunswick, and was named the Provincial Track Athlete of the Year in 1977-1978. He competed on a number of MUN Cross-Country Teams and, as a member of Team Ontario, won a gold medal in the 1995 Times National Road Race in Ottawa. He has several other high school, provincial and national awards to his credit and has competed internationally in several events.

Harold now lives and works in Fort McMurray, but his mother, Rita St. Croix, still resides in Point La Haye and is very proud of what her son has accomplished.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this House to join with me in congratulating Harold St. Croix, the little guy from a little place, on his induction into the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Fame.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Statements by Ministers.

Statements by Ministers

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. ORAM: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, today, on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of Government Services, I participated in an event which draws the attention of employers, employees, the general public and all partners in occupational health and safety to the importance of preventing injury and illness in the workplace, at home and in the community.

This afternoon, I was proud to raise the flag declaring this week as North American Occupational Health and Safety Week, or NAOSH Week. I was joined by the local chapter of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineers, along with a number of companies who are leaders in occupational health and safety.

This year's theme is: Make it Home Safe…Every Day. It reminds us all to look around our workplaces to see what improvements can be made, so that we make it home to our loved ones safely every day. It is also important to remember that good health and safety practices should be used in all aspects of our lives. Safety is not just for workplaces.

Mr. Speaker, NAOSH Week strives to increase understanding of the benefits of investment in occupational health and safety and to raise awareness of the role and contribution of health and safety professionals. It is our hope that by recognizing NAOSH Week and participating in health and safety initiatives, we will make further strides in reducing workplace injuries and illness.

NAOSH Week is celebrated every year in Canada, the United States and Mexico and its success can be attributed to the high regard business, labour and government have for this week. The Occupational Health and Safety Branch of the Department of Government Services has always been a proud participant. We will continue to work hard to do our part in making workplaces safer.

Mr. Speaker, the local chapter of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineers put a lot of effort in planning and promoting NAOSH Week. In addition to the flag being raised here at the Confederation Building, they have arranged for the flag to be raised at all trade schools in this Province and some high schools as well. This group was the pioneer of NAOSH Week, and their recognition of the benefits of improving attitudes towards safety quickly turned into a need to recognize this important issue across the rest of North America.

Our safety professionals have shown that they are leaders in spreading the message about injury and illness prevention in our workplaces, and I congratulate them on this achievement.

Mr. Speaker, I encourage everyone to do something in their workplace during NAOSH Week to raise awareness of the importance of health and safety.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to thank the minister for an advanced copy of the statement, and to say that we in the Official Opposition want to join the Canadian Society of Safety Engineers and all the companies that are involved in health and safety, congratulations in taking part, again, in the North American Occupational Health and Safety Week, which was celebrated this week.

Mr. Speaker, from one of the documentations that I saw – and I think it was worded that the National Occupational Health and Safety Week officials say that we have every reason to celebrate. Not only here in this Province, but throughout our country, because over the past thirteen years we have experienced a 75 per cent drop in the number of accidents in the construction industry.

We know that safety is not only with the construction industry, but at home, in schools and wherever. Here in our Province, we have another program that when employers do a good job through the PRIME program, that if they meet their various incentives, then they are eligible for further refunds under the program.

I guess, Mr. Speaker, we always want to continue to educate the public when it comes to safety and we encourage government to continue to supporting any safety measures in our Province.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

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

I thank the minister also for the advanced copy of his statement.

Last week, here in the House, we celebrated the Day of Mourning recognizing how many workers die on a regular basis in the workplace, and today we are celebrating this week which is an important week, the NAOSH Week. We cannot take too much time to recognize the needs for occupational health and safety and the need to make workplaces as safe as possible for our workers in this Province, in this country and around the world. It is good to know that we join with people in two other countries today as we celebrate this week.

Statistics from WHSCC indicate that ninety-five working people have died from occupational disease in our Province since 2002. This is a number that we would really like to see reduced, and I know that we all do. I am concerned also that the decline in injuries that we have seen in our Province in reporting from 7,954 in 2007 to 7,394 in 2008 is not necessarily a total reduction of the actual numbers of accidents. Reporting right now is gone down, but there are some concerns that it is because of incentives for companies to show a smaller number of injuries. So we have to be sure that we really do have safer workplaces.

We have done a lot in our Province to make workplaces safer. We have made great strides, but we do have a long ways to go, and I am sure that government will continue to work with the labour force to make sure this happens.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further Statements by Ministers?

The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise in this House today to recognize National Mental Health Week 2009, which officially runs from May 4 to May 10. This year's theme is: Now more than ever…invest in yourself. This theme highlights the impact of the economy on our mental health, and the importance of investing in things that matter most during the financial difficult times we are experiencing.

As we all know, countries all around the world are facing economic struggles and challenges. Here in our Province, the impacts of these difficulties are ringing true. While we have not been hit to the same level or degree of other provinces or our neighbours in the United States, we must be mindful of the impact of financial worries and stress on our mental health and wellness.

According to the Desjardins Financial Security 2008 Health Survey, Canadians cite finances as their top source of stress more frequently than any other issue. During Mental Health Week this year, the Canadian Mental Health Association is reminding Canadians that in times of stress, the support and caring of loved ones is often the best defence mechanism. And, that investing in the relationships of family, friends, communities and yourself, provides the strength and tenacity to handle the hurdles we all face in life.

Our government recognizes the importance of good mental health as a part of our overall health and well-being. We have made significant progress in supporting mental health in Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker. This year we are providing some $2 million to further enhance mental health services, especially for children, adolescents, and persons with chronic and severe mental illness. Support will also be provided to enable community groups to assist individuals in improving their mental health. In addition, we are providing some $500,000 for the planning of a new residential treatment centre for youth with complex mental health needs.

Mr. Speaker, as well, funding in Budget 2009 brings the provincial government's additional investment to $17.9 million over the last five years for mental health and addiction services in our Province.

As we mark Mental Health Week in the House today, I would like to remind residents of our Province that investment is not only about finances, but it also spans family, friends, and community, as well as the workplace. I encourage all residents to visit the Canadian Mental Health Association's Web site: to learn more about managing stress and investing in what really matters.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the minister for an advanced copy of his statement.

We want to acknowledge National Mental Health Week as well. Mr. Speaker, we certainly feel that the federal government needs to do more in streamlining services and programs for mental health right across the country. In fact, you only have to go back a few months ago to see the documented stories in The Globe and Mail that not only affected services in Newfoundland and Labrador but also in New Brunswick, I think it was, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia where they talked about gaps that exist in services right across the country.

Mr. Speaker, this is a week that offers an opportunity for all of us to promote awareness around mental health and mental health issues. Here in Newfoundland and Labrador, we have seen firsthand the evidence of a system that is failing many people who suffer from mental illness and one of those groups have been the young people in this Province.

Government, while they committed to a treatment facility for youth, we have not seen what the roll out process will be in terms of when the facility will be operational, what the accommodation size of it will be, what the programs and services will look like. Mr. Speaker, the reality is that we have young people in this Province today who have been hospitalized and institutionalized for nearly two years and have not been able to rehabilitate themselves back into the community to be functional young people, and they are losing their youth –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to conclude her remarks.

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

I think this is an opportunity for all of us to be more cognizant of where the gaps are, the work that is required and needs to be done, and to work collectively to ensure that it happens.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

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

I, too, thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement. It is always helpful to have the statements ahead of time.

I am very happy to rise today with him and to acknowledge National Mental Health Week

2009. I remember that two years ago we here in this House passed the new Mental Health Act. I think it was an extremely good piece of work, that Mental Health Act that was presented to this House. I remember that we made some changes in it to reflect what people dealing with mental health, the issue of mental health, wanted to see in the act, and one of the important changes was making sure that the act said that the community treatment plan that is an essential part of the act needed to include medical and other supports, including income and housing required for the person to live in the community.

I would like to point out, Mr. Speaker, that there are many people who are in the community, and in good communities in the community, but who are not receiving what was promised to them by the legislation. A person on a disability assistance right now - and mental illness is a disability - receives $374 every two weeks. That money is supposed to take care of the housing needs of that person, and all the needs of that person.

My experience, Mr. Speaker, is that people have to have the support of their families in order to live on that. Adults who are living out in the community cannot live on their own without support of families, so I ask this government to look at the legislation that we pass and to make sure that we really are concretely helping people live in the communities.

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.

In the weekend Telegram there was a full-page ad from the President of the Canadian Federation of Nurses' Unions and the presidents of other provincial nursing associations across Canada. They all agreed that the market adjustment and extended earnings loss clauses proposed by the government opposite are unheard of in other nursing union contracts.

I ask the Premier: With such widespread condemnation of these two clauses, why are you unwilling to remove them from the negotiating table?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, both myself and the Minister of Finance have stated time and time again as to exactly what we have done for nurses. They wanted an increase in their wages and we gave them a significant increase in their wages which, on the template alone, is 21.5 per cent. They then wanted to deal with recruitment and we dealt with recruitment. For first-year nurses now it is over 30 per cent for the raise there. They wanted retention dealt with, and we dealt with retention as well, so now the senior nurses, of course, are going to be the highest paid east of Ontario. They asked for something to be done with standby fees and we dealt with that. We have now made them, as well, the second-highest if not the highest east of Ontario. Shift differential, we did the same thing. We cannot do any more.

The sad thing now is it looks like we are definitely going to a strike, if that strike vote gets a majority, and we are going to find that if these nurses are out for a month then, in fact, they are going to actually lose the 8 per cent that we have given them in the first year of the template, which is really an unfortunate circumstance.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is certainly recognized that there has been a lot of headway made, both by government and by the union, in terms of trying to sort out a negotiation.

Mr. Speaker, the national nursing representatives are charging that this government wants the power, through the clause of market adjustment, to negotiate individually and not collectively. Obviously, a huge union concern.

I ask the government today, and I ask the Premier: Why would government want the power to be able to do that?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, collective bargaining is a process of trying to reach a reasonable agreement which is fair to both sides. We commenced negotiations with the nurses first out of the gate, I think it was in January of last year, and negotiated for three months to no avail. We broke off. We asked them to come back to the table last June and they said no, that their negotiators were on holidays, and we tried again.

It is obvious that there is a national agenda here. It has become quite obvious to us right from the start that the national union is driving this. The whole intention of this is that they go to strike and, in fact, the Newfoundland and Labrador nurses will be punished for the benefit of the National Federation of Nurses right across the nation so that we can be taken into court and they can try and make a test case of the Newfoundland and Labrador situation.

That is what this is all about. We said it was a national initiative right from the start. We said there was going to be a strike right from the start, and the fact that we have stepped up and made our nurses the highest paid, or the second-best paid east of Ontario does not make any difference.

Ms Forward and her national counterparts have an agenda and they are going to see through it on the backs of the nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, the market adjustment and the extended earnings lost clauses do no not save the government money - they admitted that last week - and it is simply policy decisions.

I have to ask government today, and ask the Premier: Are these two policy decisions worth so much to government, that you get those concessions now, that you are willing to push this into a strike and cause further damage in our health care system in Newfoundland and Labrador?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, for the information of the Opposition Leader, market adjustments are used throughout this country. They are used in every province. In fact, it is what we have to do now to try to be competitive in recruiting and retaining nurses. In fact, Mr. Speaker, we have had in this particular Province health boards which are, in effect, competing with each other; so what we want to be able to do is to bring all of this under one roof, under Treasury Board, set a policy, and apply that policy so that it works towards what we have been told from day one is the nurses' number one issue, which is recruitment and retention.

As for policy decisions, let me put it to you this way: Other unions had a problem with this market adjustment; however, Mr. Speaker, 30,000 public sector employees have signed off on these conditions.

Now, we have gone outside the template with our wages so how far do you go, I say to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador? We are doing everything we can to avoid a strike, Mr. Speaker. As the Premier said, there appears to be a different agenda at play.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The reality is, the fact that 30,000 other people have signed on to it does not make it a good enough rationale that we could practically see our health care system in this Province closed down as a result of a strike.

I ask the minister again today: Will government not go to binding arbitration on two issues that are not monetary in nature but are strictly policy, to get an independent ruling so that this can get settled once and for all?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Mr. Speaker, the Premier indicated last week that we would not be going to binding arbitration and I can indicate again today the answer is no.

What we have is a situation where we have bargained in good faith. We have done everything that the nurses asked us to do. Our number one concern is the patients of this Province. We were criticized for not going outside the template, the 21.5 per cent. We did that. We have increased significantly the shift differential and standby rates. We have made our nurses the highest paid east of Ontario, and the newer nurses the second-highest paid, so we have given everything that they have looked for. Mr. Speaker, we have not gotten anything back.

Unfortunately, we are at a standstill. It is in the nurses' hands right now and they will make a decision as to whether or not they go to strike.

Again, as the Premier has indicated, it is unfortunate, Mr. Speaker, that the nurses, if they are out for four weeks –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Many provinces, including P.E.I. and New Brunswick, have made legislative changes to allow pharmacists to manage medications without actually writing prescriptions. It is often referred to as continuous care. This includes the ability to cover situations like providing a few pills to a patient until they can get a prescription filled by a doctor. This service has been provided by pharmacists in our Province for a number of years. However, the legislation that governs it has not been kept up and does not reflect the realities of how the service is conducted today.

I ask the minister: When will we see changes to the pharmacy act and some updates to allow for continuous care by pharmacists in Newfoundland and Labrador?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, in Newfoundland and Labrador we have made a number of enhancements to our Prescription Drug Program. We have made some enhancements to the contract that we have with the Pharmacy Association. In fact, in this sitting of the Legislature we will be making some further amendments to the legislation that will permit pharmacists to fill prescriptions written by physicians from out of the Province.

The process of enhancing, the process of improving and providing better quality care is an evolving process, Mr. Speaker. We have made some enhancements in the past; we have some more coming in this session. We have a regular dialogue with the Pharmacy Association and when it is appropriate, we will make further enhancements to improve the quality of care to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The minister knows that the auditing process that is now in place for pharmacists has been there for a long time and that there are a number of concerns that are being expressed with that. Government legislation does not allow, right now, for any kind of professional discretion to be used when it comes to these pharmacists dispensing medications or drugs.

I ask the minister: In the meantime, will he commit to putting in place an improved interim auditing process until some new legislative changes can be made?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, audits are kind of a sensitive issue. Any time, whether you are audited by Revenue Canada or whether you are audited by any taxation body or whether you are audited by a regulatory body, there is always going to be, I say, Mr. Speaker, some degree of tension, sometimes healthy tension, some more times it is conflict between a regulatory body and an auditing body. Any time someone is subject to an audit when they have to either repay money or to change a practice of doing business there is always going to be differences of opinion, and the auditing of the Prescription Drug Program or the auditing of our MCP program are such programs or such auditing mechanisms. So I say, Mr. Speaker, by virtue of the nature of how audits are conducted there is always going to be a difference of opinion between those being audited and those who are doing the audits.

This coming Friday, we are meeting with the Pharmacy Association to discuss the auditing process and some of the issues that they want to raise with us. So audits are one of these things that there is always going to be questions and concerns about, but we will work with the association to ensure that it works beneficial for both parties.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

But what they are asking for is very fair. They are asking for some discretion in the process so that when there is an order broken, or a prescription order broken, that they are not laden with huge fines. They are one of the few places in the country that has to follow this kind of an auditing process without any discretion, Mr. Speaker.

I think, minister, I would ask you again today: In light of your meeting that is coming up, is it possible that you could have a look at this to see if there is a way that the process could be altered in the absence of any changes that are not coming forward to the legislation?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, I want to correct something. In the member's preamble she said there are fines, and I want to point out, the audit process does not impose a fine. The audit process is around where – because pharmacists get paid automatically for the prescriptions that they fill. So the auditing process is a review of what has taken place, after the fact.

So therefore, if there was a prescription filled inappropriately, there is a recovery of money that has already been paid out, and that is very different than imposing a fine. So I want to clarify that particular point, because the member opposite would have us believe that this is a very punitive process, and if you did something wrong we are going to levy a penalty or a fine upon you.

Fundamentally, this is a process where if an audit discovers something that is inappropriate, it is a recovery of money that has already been paid out by government to someone that should not have necessarily received it. So that is the process, I say, Mr. Speaker.

The mere fact that I am meeting with members of the Pharmacy Association on Friday –


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, in January 2008, government announced changes to its provincial drug formulary so that the Province would only accept prices for generic drugs that do not exceed the lowest price in any province. There was a lot of concern raised at that time by the Pharmacy Association and government agreed to delay the changes until the completion of an independent review. That review was completed more than six months ago.

I ask the minister today: Can he update the pharmacists and the people of the Province on what generic drug formulary government is considering and when we will see these changes in effect?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, I really hate doing this, but if the member opposite does not get better researchers, I am going to have to always correct her.

Number one, I did not say we were going to do an independent audit. The Pharmacy Association did an independent audit themselves. What I had indicated was we would defer the implementation of the legislation until we had worked through an appropriate mechanism to have a pricing regime that was fair for generic drugs. We have still done that. We still have not enacted that legislation, because we still have not worked through a process that will see us having a fair and equitable pricing mechanism in this Province for generic drugs, one that is consistent with the spirit of the legislation but also one that is fair to the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador and fair to the pharmacists who provide the service to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Until we are finished that process - in consultation, I might add, with the pharmacy association - we will not be making any changes to our current pricing regime.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

If the minister was listening, he would know I did not say government did the review. I said it was an independent review and it was asked for by the pharmacy association.

Mr. Speaker, the pending regulation changes will mean significant savings to government, and it will also mean that government will pay a much lower price for generic drugs; however, it will also mean a loss of revenue to pharmacists.

I ask the minister today: What would be those projected savings to government, if you were to implement that formula, and what would be your plan to offset the loss of revenue that would occur to pharmacists in the Province?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, I want to refer the member to my previous answer because there is a linkage here. I said earlier, in the second question she posed, is that we are not going to be implementing the changes that are proposed in the legislation, or enacting the legislation, until we have been able to work through an appropriate pricing regime.

So, to answer your question about how much money we will save, or how much money it will cost pharmacists, or what we will do to offset some of those costs, that is something that when we announce what it is we are doing we will be able to announce exactly what they will mean.

Until we have done the analysis, have worked through the process with the pharmacy association - because we will work through a process with them - and when we enact the legislation, then we will be able to inform the House the impact of the implementation of that legislation at that moment in time based on the national pricing for generic drugs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The minister must, at this stage, have some idea of what the cost savings would be to government to move in this particular formulary method, and I ask him if he could provide that information to the House.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, this is a fairly significant calculation the member opposite is asking. In fact, this is an issue that is not just unique to Newfoundland and Labrador. Every province in the country is facing a similar circumstance. In fact, a couple of weeks back, in meetings with my colleagues from the rest of Atlantic Canada - because they are facing the same circumstance. They have the exact same set of circumstances before them as we do here in this Province. As a result of those discussions we have agreed to work collectively to have that kind of financial analysis done for Atlantic Canada. Maybe working together, the four Atlantic Provinces may be able to come up with a pricing regime that would benefit all Atlantic Canadians.

The analysis that she is asking for, and the exact figure that she is asking for, is one that is not easy to answer, because there are many variables in that calculation and we need to better understand it ourselves before we implement it. That is why we have now extended our research and involvement with three other Atlantic Provinces to ensure that we are all best served by what we do.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This is a national policy and, as the minister knows, eventually we will have to fall under that regime within Newfoundland and Labrador.

I ask him today: Has he done any kind of analysis around what the value-added services are that pharmacists provide; and, if we were to move in this direction, how much that annual investment would be from government to pharmacies in the Province in order to maintain the appropriate levels of service?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: I do not know how many times I can say this. If you are asking for a cost of something, and you are asking now: What is the cost of the services and the value of the services provided by pharmacists that we would actually have to contribute, should we implement it? That is a pretty broad question.

Depending on the kind of services we are prepared to pay for, depending on what we pay for, that will determine some costs. Depending on the negotiations we have with the pharmacy association - because the member opposite would also recognize and would be fully aware that there is a contractual arrangement between the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador and the pharmacy association on a schedule of fees that we pay for services, and what those services will be.


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, the outcome of these sorts of things comes about as a result of negotiation between ourselves as a government and the pharmacy association representing pharmacists in this Province.

When we have done that, I will tell the member opposite….

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In November 2008 the Premier travelled to Brazil to meet with the mining giant CVRD, the owners of Vale Inco and Voisey's Bay, to discuss, among other things, the possibility of establishing an aluminum smelter in the Province.

The Premier said at that time that discussions on the issue of aluminum smelters were also underway with other companies as well. Around the same time a local economist, known to do work for government in the Province, reported that he was very sure that an announcement was due any day.

My question today is: Can the Premier give us an update in the House as to the status of an aluminum smelter for Labrador, or has the recent decline in aluminum prices in the world market and the decline for service now caused government to cancel or scrap all plans for aluminum smelters?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: As the hon. member opposite is aware, a smelter has been a very, very important piece of possible development for Labrador adjacency with regard to the Lower Churchill. It is very, very important that we have a possible development for Labrador.

When we made the trip to Brazil, because of the nature of the business that Vale Inco are in, we discussed with them – because, besides being top iron ore producers and nickel producers in the world they are significant aluminum producers, so a discussion was commenced there about the possibility of an aluminum smelter in Labrador. Other discussions have been held with companies lie Rio Tinto and others.

It is all part of the Lower Churchill discussion and negotiation that power would come from the Lower Churchill Development. Those discussions are still being encouraged. Some drop on us, some fall off, some come on, but there is certainly no intense negotiation going on now, but it is considered to be a significant option of the future as commodity prices improve.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: I would like to ask the Premier as well: Has government, through Nalcor, completed any feasibility studies on the perspective aluminum smelters for the Province, and what were the results of these studies?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: I personally am not aware of any feasibility studies that have been done, however I can certainly give the hon. member opposite the assurance that Nalcor and the officials at Nalcor and Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro would certainly have looked into the possibility of feasibility. Now, whether there is, in fact, a formal study undertaken that has been completed, I am not aware of that. I can certainly undertake to find out if there is, in fact, a study that has been completed.

I can tell you, that they would not even be entering into discussions unless they had some advanced form of knowledge and understanding of what the possible economic consequences were.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: It was recently reported that briefing papers for the federal Minister of Natural Resources mentioned that Rio Tinto was promoting an aluminum smelter project for this Province as well. The project was expected to enter the federal regulatory review system within six months of October 2008. That means the smelter should have been submitted for review by now, but we see no public announcements on that issue.

I ask the Premier if he can advise the House today as to the status of that project.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: I can't give you a formal answer. I would be guessing, quite frankly. I can tell you, to my knowledge right now - and again that can be checked with officials of Nalcor. As you are aware the minister is at the conference at Houston right now. I am not aware of any formal submission being made on any smelter, nor do I think there would be one being made.

As I have said, the smelter is a part of several options which are available for the Lower Churchill. We, as a government, and Nalcor and Newfoundland Hydro, are trying to keep all options open to make sure that we can obtain the best possible deal or the best possible alternative creating the most benefits and employment for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and as the hon. member opposite is aware, and our members in Labrador are aware, particularly for Labradorians.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Last week I asked the Minister of Environment and Conservation to update this House on the action her department is taking to curtail the decline of the Woodland Caribou in Newfoundland and Labrador. The minister stated according to Hansard, that extensive consultation had taken place with the outfitters. Mr. Speaker, according to our information there has been no consultation with the outfitters. Since government announced its caribou plan, the population of caribou has dropped by 5,000 from 37,000 down to 32,000 and there are only 1,235 licences issued, so clearly stating the hunters are not the main problem.

I ask the minister: How low do the caribou numbers have to go before your government will take action?


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. JACKMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, one thing that can be assured, there have been discussions ongoing with the outfitters. Let that go to rest.

Mr. Speaker, we are in the process right now of compiling the final data and information to bring forward a plan for this year. Mr. Speaker, one thing about it, a $15 million commitment is no loose change.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. JACKMAN: We are very serious about correcting and remedying, to the extent that we can, the decline in our caribou population.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, I agree with the minister, that $15 million is no loose change but I can assure you, when your five year study is done you are going to get the same results that you have had in 2003,2004,2005,2006,2007.

I ask the minister, outfitters believe caribou will be placed as an endangered species list well before your $15 million is spent. You have to intervene with the predators, Mr. Minister. When will your government take action?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. JACKMAN: Mr. Speaker, I can honestly say that we certainly do not think the situation is hopeless or we would not be investing the money that we are.

Secondly, that any plan that we bring forward is going to be based on science. This is not going to be something that is going to be just a simple measure where you decide that you are going to go out and kill animals. There is much more to it than that. We are conducting our science and there will be an intervention strategy, and when that is developed to the extent that we need to, we will submit that the hon. member and all the people of the Province, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, the minister just stated that they are not going out and killing the animals. So much for the predators, but I guess he is not too concerned about the caribou.

Mr. Speaker, the outfitters were promised fourteen months ago that there would be a committee put in place so that they could sit down and consult with government. To date, no such committee has been put in place.

The outfitters and environmentalists also suggest that when caribou populations drastically decline it is a sure sign that the forest they inhabit if not fairing as well.

I ask the minister: Your department plans at looking at the issue of health of the caribou habitat, our forests, some time in the future, why is this not a focus of the strategy today?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. JACKMAN: Mr. Speaker, I did not say that we would not be tackling and taking out some predators. That is all to be determined at this particular point, but I can tell you that under this study everything from forest management, to habitat, to food supply, to predators, all are being taken under consideration.

Mr. Speaker, with regard to the advisory committee, we certainly hope to have that committee all announced, probably within the next couple of weeks.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Mr. Speaker, last Thursday the Premier promised that any cheque passed over to AbitibiBowater in compensation for the assets expropriated by government will have to take into consideration severance for workers. Mr. Speaker, there are 119 workers aged fifty-nine to sixty-four who did not receive their workforce reduction programs cheque this morning due to AbitibiBowater cutting off their payments. Mr. Speaker, the workforce reduction program was a plan worked out with AbitibiBowater in an effort to take older workers out of the workforce and allow younger people to remain.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: Will he extend to the 119 loggers that had this agreement with AbitibiBowater the same commitment he made regarding severances?

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.

Mr. Speaker, as all members in this House know, the agreement with the workforce reduction program was three parties. It included the company, it included the union, and it included Service Canada. There were particular arrangements made that allowed some of the older workers to leave and allowed younger workers to stay. There was, as the hon. member has indicated, a payment made to those workers. The company now is in creditor protection, as we understand. They have made a decision to take those payments and stop making them. The union, as I understand it, is intervening on behalf of their employees, former employees and their pensioners, to ensure that those payments might be reinstated.

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 say to the Premier, that the reasons for the severance being stopped are the same reasons why the payments are not being made, and that is the bankruptcy protection.

So I ask again: Will the Premier make the same commitment to the loggers that was made to those who were getting severances?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SKINNER: Mr. Speaker, I can only reiterate again, that the decisions that have been made by Abitibi are going to be, as I understand it, challenged by the union. There was some reference made from the opposite side that there was a decision today from the court that addressed that. That is not accurate.

The decision made today from the Quebec court is different than the one that the hon. member is referring to. As I have said many times in this House, the court process and all the other processes that are in place need to be followed and we need to see what the outcome of those court decisions will be before government decides whether or not any involvement is required of government.

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 do not think I made any reference to the court ruling. Anyway, my next question.

There are also forty-four seniors, thirty-one of which are widows, who also received letters last week informing them that their special retirement allowance will be cut off.

Is the Premier ready to extend his commitment to these forty-four seniors?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SKINNER: Mr. Speaker, again, I can only say to you that the retirement allowances, the workforce reduction program, these were special arrangements that were negotiated by the company, by the union, with her workers, and in some cases involved a third party, such as Service Canada.

The company has arbitrarily made a decision not to continue with those payments, and as I have indicated already, it is my understanding – as recently as a couple of hours ago when I spoke to members of the union - that the union will be using the court process that is available to them to petition on behalf of the people whose payments have been stopped.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The time allotted for questions and answers have expired.

Presenting Reports by Standing and Select Committees.

Tabling of Documents.

Notices of Motion.

Notices of Motion

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

MR. SKINNER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I give notice that I will ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Amend The Research And Development Council Act. (Bill 20)

MR. SPEAKER: Further notices of motion.

The hon. the Minister of Business.

MR. ORAM: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I give notice that I will ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act Respecting The Registration Of Deeds And Other Documents. (Bill 21)

I further give notice that I will ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Amend The Occupational Health And Safety Act. (Bill 23)

I also give notice that I will ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act Respecting Consumer Protection And Business Practices. (Bill 22)

MR. SPEAKER: Further notices of motion.

The hon. the Member for the District of Exploits.

MR. FORSEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to move the following private member's resolution:

WHEREAS Newfoundland and Labrador have the lowest share of federal government executive positions than our share of the national population; and

WHEREAS executive employees have a high level of input into national policy and decision- making that significantly affects Newfoundland and Labrador; and

WHEREAS the number of federal executive positions in Newfoundland and Labrador has been well below 1 per cent of the total number of positions in Canada and these positions have declined since 1997; and

WHEREAS during the 2006 federal election campaign the leader of the federal Conservative Party said: I think the secret will be to identify particular functions and operations that should be here, as opposed to putting a few jobs here and a few jobs there. There should be some specific things that are headquartered here; and

WHEREAS the leader of the federal Liberal Party, prior to the 2008 federal election, committed to advocate ways to be more effective in putting the headquarters and the decision-making process closer to where the resources are; and

WHEREAS the leader of the federal New Democratic Party shared this concern and committed to reviewing federal government policies that have resulted in this situation with a view to ensure fairness and full access to federal government program delivery and services;

BE IT RESOLVED that the House of Assembly calls on the current Government of Canada and any other national party, if it is elected to form the government, to increase the number of federal decision-making executive positions and/or national or regional headquarters based in Newfoundland and Labrador.

That is seconded by my colleague, the Member for Baie Verte-Springdale.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: Further notices of motion.

Answers to Questions for which Notice has been Given.



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

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

I rise today to make a petition on behalf of the residents of Southwestern Newfoundland, particularly those areas from Grand Bruit, LaPoile, Rose Blanche, Burnt Islands, Isle aux Morts, Margaree, Port aux Basques, Cape Ray, the Codroy Valley, and that is with respect to the issue of dialysis and the need for a satellite dialysis facility at Port aux Basques.

We have a varying number of people in our area who, over the years, need dialysis. Sometimes it is down as low as four and five; other times it is up over twelve and fourteen. We average around nine or ten at any given time. Of course, in order to access it right now they have to travel. Some go to Stephenville for some treatment; some go to Corner Brook. In any case they have to travel. If you go to Stephenville, a round trip anywhere from that area - and they do it three times a week - runs you about a minimum of 350-400 kilometres per trip.

Besides the cost of that, of course, there is the anguish and stress that it causes on the patients themselves and their families. They get transported in three times a week, and that is arduous enough as it is, let alone dealing with the debilitating effects of the treatments.

Now, they have been trying for some years. We got the ear of the minister last year in Corner Brook. We did not get his pen, or we did not get his promise. He did not write the letter explaining to us where it stood. We are still waiting for that, some six or seven months later, and nobody has heard from his since that. We certainly have had no commitment. Western Health, of course, cannot move and do anything without some commitment from the department.

We see them popping up all over the place. We see them going to St. Anthony, we see them going to Marystown, we see them going to Carbonear; but, of course, you do not see them where you have 10,000 or 15,000 people on the Southwest Coast, and that is where the need exists as well. Notwithstanding that we have been complaining for years now that we need this.

It has led to, in some cases, people actually having to move, and move their families, because they could not afford it any more. They just financially could not afford it and they could not emotionally afford it, because of the stress that it took upon them in order to do this.

Again, I call upon the minister. We have already given an undertaking from that area that we, the residents of that area, would pay the cost of any equipment associated with that. We would do the necessary fundraising. We already have funds raised that could be used for that.

With regard to the personnel needed to operate the facilities, we have nurses. I understand it takes about a six-week course. I checked with one of the senior nurses at Port aux Basques, who has been there for thirty years or so, and she tells me that it would take about a six-week course to train a nurse to be able to administer the dialysis machine. Now, I do not understand it. If you have nurses who are prepared to undertake the training, several of them, and if you have the money available to buy the equipment, I do not know why the Department of Health would be so upset.

I notice Labrador has a similar need. We do not hear their member up speaking about it. I do not know, maybe he is not allowed to speak about it, but this member is certainly allowed to speak about it and intends to speak about it because it is a need for the area, and I will continue to speak about it until such time as we get some action.

Again, I do not understand the logic of an area that has the need, is prepared to buy the equipment themselves, the nurses are prepared to undergo the six-week training to do it, and yet this department will not permit it. Now, there is something missing in that logic.

The equipment is the most important part; it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. We will raise the money. We made no qualms about it; we will raise the money. We put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Western health care system in the past ten years for other needs, no matter what they were. We always do our share. We will buy the equipment, I say to the minister and I say to this government. We have the personnel who are prepared to train. Why can't this happen and stop the anguish that it is causing the people, the patients and the families on the Southwest Coast of this Province?

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further petitions.

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

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I stand today to present another petition on behalf of the residents with reference to a fixed link from Long Island to Pilley's Island in Green Bay. The petition is from the people of Pilley's Island, Long Island, and all areas in between, and different communities in that surrounding area.

MR. TAYLOR: (Inaudible).

MR. BUTLER: What we are looking for is a causeway, I say to the minister.

Mr. Speaker, the people in that area have some major concerns. When it comes to the transportation, they know that they have been blessed with a good ferry service, I guess, for twenty-six years, that gave them service. In their petition they are saying at the present time that they are looking forward to a replacement ferry or a fixed link. They contend that from the feasibility studies that have been done, and the information that they have obtained, that the most feasible way would be a causeway.

Some of the issues that they raise in relation to their petition, and the calls and the concerns that we get, are in regard many times to the emergency medical side of it. What they are saying is the time that would have lapsed from getting to a doctor or to a hospital when it comes to the present ferry service, or the ferry service that they had over the years, versus what a causeway would be. They also mentioned concerns that their students experience travelling to school and getting from the island. The same thing, Mr. Speaker, they believe that the causeway is the best route to go. It has also been brought to our attention, and we have mentioned this before, the transportation of the fish products from the plant there. There have been issues from time to time with regard to that.

I know correspondence has been sent to the Member for the Grand Falls–Windsor–Green Bay South area and I know he has been trying his best on their behalf; however, we receive petitions. We know that back in 2003 those residents were told that there would be a causeway built, there would be a Long Island causeway, and then after they were told by a former minister that this would be placed on hold for a while. It would be deferred until the finances became more stable here in our Province.

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the residents I present this petition with regards to asking government to consider immediately to take measures to construct a fixed link between Long Island and Pelley's Island in Green Bay.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further petitions?

The hon. the Member for the District of Burgeo & LaPoile.

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

I appreciate the opportunity to present this petition on behalf of the residents of Ramea, Grey River and François, and that concerns the lack of health care facilities or services being offered in those communities.

The clinic is set up in Ramea; they do weekly coastal visits to Grey River and to François. The problem is, the facility calls for two nurse practitioners and they currently, and for several months now, have only had one. Western Health has been trying to recruit but they have been unable to do so. They have tried to supplement with LPNs; they have tried to have the nurses from Burgeo come across to shore things up in the short term but that does not allow, for example, for weekend coverage.

If something happens in Ramea on a weekend, or Grey River or François, game over in terms of getting any kind of medical treatment. There is nobody there to look after you. Now that is just unacceptable. The reason, of course, is the only person you do have is currently working five days a week, twenty-four hours a day on call and when the weekends come, or at least two days per week, she needs a break and it is just not healthy for her to be trying to cover off on a twenty-four-seven basis all year round.

The problem we have here, and this has been brought to the attention again of Western Health and they are trying their best but they cannot get past the first base with the minister's office that makes the policy pieces. We hear a lot of talk about retention and recruitment of nurses, and one of the problems vis-à-vis this clinic is it currently says that if you are prepared to go to Ramea, for example, as a nurse practitioner, they will give you a recruitment bonus of a certain number of dollars provided you are a new graduate or provided you are from outside the Province.

Now that is pretty limiting. What we are saying is there are nurse practitioners potentially in this Province who would be prepared to go there. So why should the recruitment bonus and these cases of rural Newfoundland where it is difficult enough to recruit, why should that caveat be placed upon that recruitment bonus and those benefits? They should be allowed, we suggest, it makes common sense, if you cannot get them there without the recruitment bonus anyway, why would you restrict the benefits of the recruitment bonus by restricting it to new graduates and to people from outside this Province?

There may well be someone here who is retired in one area of the Province but would be prepared to go, even on an ad hoc basis, a certain number of months a year to fill in, in places like Ramea and other communities in this Province. Yet, they cannot do it because the government in its insistence upon seeing that what happens to one happens to all, that it is just not going to happen. We have to realize that not every community is the same, not every community has the same needs. So therefore, you have to - what is it they say, cut the cloth to fit the garment. That is what we have here. You have to make your policy be adaptable so that if it does not work for certain reasons, and those reasons are pointed out to you, that you change it so that it can fit and can work.

So again, I was there this past weekend, and they had – in the case of this weekend, they had about 150 people from outside who happened to be in there for a convention. Now, it so happened, we anticipated this, and in advance we were able to get Burgeo to backstop because there were numbers of people in the town, but you should not only always be dependent upon Burgeo to send a nurse over because you are going to have an event in your community. Normal, permanent residents should not always be contingent upon somebody coming from Burgeo to look after them. Again, I suggest that it can be done quite easily by changing the recruitment bonus. That is one of the tools that can be used by this government to accomplish that.

I appreciate the opportunity to bring this forward, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of those residents.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: Further petitions?

Orders of the Day.

Orders of the Day

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

MS BURKE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to call Order 2, third reading of a Bill, An Act To Consolidate The Law Respecting Revenue Administration. (Bill 4)

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 4 be now read a third time.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion that Bill 4 be now read a third time?

All those in favour, 'aye'.


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

The motion is carried.

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Consolidate The Law Respecting Revenue Administration. (Bill 4)

MR. SPEAKER: Bill 4 has now read a third time and it is ordered that the bill do pass and its title be as on the Order Paper.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Consolidate The Law Respecting Revenue Administration," read a third time, ordered passed and its title be as on the Order Paper. (Bill 4)

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the hon. Minister of Human Resources, Labour and Employment, that Bill 7, An Act To Amend The Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Act be now read a third time. (Bill 7)

MR. SPEAKER: Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion that Bill 7, An Act To Amend The Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Act, be now read a third time.

All those in favour, 'aye'.


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

The motion is carried.

CLERK: A bill, "An Act To Amend The Workplace Health, Safety And Compensation Act," Bill 7.

MR. SPEAKER: Bill 7 has now been read a third time, and it is ordered that the bill do pass and its title be as on the Order Paper.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Workplace Health, Safety And Compensation Act," read a third time, ordered passed and its title be as on the Order Paper. (Bill 7)

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I would like to call Order 6, Second Reading of a bill, An Act To Repeal The Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund Act, Bill 5.

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 5, An Act To Repeal The Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund Act, be now read a second time.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Repeal The Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund Act." (Bill 5)

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

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise in this House today to rescind Bill 5, the Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund Act.

Mr. Speaker, while I am speaking I would like to give some background as to this piece of legislation for the benefit of hon. members who were not here at the time it was established.

In March 1997, Mr. Speaker, the federal and provincial governments agreed that the Province would assume all responsibility for the operation of the marine freight and passenger services on into the Coast of Labrador in exchange for $340 million plus interest.

On December 19, 1997, the Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund was established under the authority of this Act. The funds affairs, Mr. Speaker, were managed by a Board of Management appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council, while the day-to-day administration of the fund was carried out by officials in the Office of the Comptroller General. The board ensured that the funding provided was in accordance with the Act, provided advice and monitored, through projected cash flow calculations, the expected life of the fund in consultation with the Department of Transportation and Works.

Over the life of the fund, Mr. Speaker, the Board of Management authorized payments for the purposes of operations of the marine freight and passenger services, and the maintenance of land wharfs and related facilities servicing Labrador, the construction of the Trans-Labrador Highway, and other Labrador initiatives related to transportation as approved by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council.

During February of 2007, Mr. Speaker, the last reimbursement cheque to Transportation and Works was issued from the fund which fully depleted all remaining funds. Actual spending from the fund from 1998 to 2007 accounted for $416,708,956; four hundred and sixteen million dollars, Mr. Speaker. When you break that down into its inflows from inception there was an initial deposit in 1997-1998 of $349,172,013, there was accumulated interest revenue of $67,536,943, for a total of $416,708,956. The outflows, Mr. Speaker, from inception are broken down as follows: On the Trans-Labrador Highway there was $239,442,844; the coastal Labrador ferry, $151,164,519; provincial roads and others, $19,735,132; the ferry terminals, $6,292,959, and bank professional fee charges of $73,502, balancing, Mr. Speaker, at $416,708,956.

Mr. Speaker, on April 9, 2007, the board of management served notice of its intention to dissolve the fund. Further to this, the board approved the request to have the Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund Act repealed, and ceased doing business as of the date of the approval of this Legislature.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to make it clear, however, for hon. members and to the residents of Labrador, that our government is committed to investing in Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, when I was appointed as Minister of Justice after the election October 2007, one of the first initiatives that I undertook was to liaise or co-ordinate with our Aboriginal peoples in Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, Labrador is an absolutely amazing and wonderful part of this Province. We have the benefit in this House, we are represented by Minister Patty Pottle in her district, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, and I had the opportunity to visit Nain and other communities in Coastal Labrador with her. Then we have the Minister of Labrador Affairs, with whom I have travelled to Goose Bay on a number of occasions, met with Aboriginal groups on a number of occasions, and I can say, Mr. Speaker, that both of them are very strong advocates for Labrador.

Then the Member for Labrador West, I have had the opportunity to travel to Wabush, Labrador City, with him during pre-Budget consultations and on a couple of other issues, justice issues, when we met with the women's groups in terms of hearing the concerns about legal aid and the legal aid issues and also the women's centre issues that they had in Labrador West.

I also had the opportunity to travel another time to Labrador West in relation to the certain ceremonies for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary. Also, Mr. Speaker, when I became Minister of Finance, I had the opportunity to travel to parts of Labrador for the pre-Budget consultations, to travel to Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The Leader of the Opposition attended that night, Mr. Speaker, and it was a very informative and well-received session. The next day we then went to Labrador West where the member and myself, again, had a very well-received, informative session.

There was a particular group in the Opposition House Leader's district, Mr. Speaker, who could not make it to Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Nor could they make it to St. Anthony, so I met with that particular group in St. John's. I have to say, Mr. Speaker, I was very impressed with the quality of the presentation, the knowledge possessed – I think they were all women; I think it was four women who met with me that day - the knowledge possessed and the reasonableness, Mr. Speaker, in which they made their presentation. Some of these issues have been raised by the Leader of the Opposition in terms of some of the difficulties that are faced in Southern Labrador. They discussed issues from roads to the high price of gasoline. Mr. Speaker, one thing that the Trans-Labrador Highway will do, hopefully, is make it easier to access this great part of the Province and hopefully allow for the services to be improved in that respect.

Mr. Speaker, since my election I think I have been in Labrador it must be now, I guess, a dozen times. I remember one trip to Labrador or, excuse me, to Nain, where we went and there was a tourism conference there at the time, in Nain, and they were having this dinner in the quarry, the Labradorite quarry, which we had to access – it was late in the year - by Ski-Doo. We went to the quarry and there was this amazing meal presented to highlight the opportunities in Labrador for tourism.

What happened, Mr. Speaker, was that a young man, a chef in St. John's from Nain, his father was a judge in Labrador for many years, and from scratch he prepared this amazing five-course meal. I do not even think there was running water there, but it was amazing, Mr. Speaker. The meal was as good as any meal you would get in any restaurant. It was all local wildlife and birds. I am trying to remember now exactly what it was.

The point I am making, Mr. Speaker, is that Labrador is a significant, a very significant, part of this Province, and always has been, and the fact that this act is being repealed does not mean that there is any change in this government's approach to Labrador. Nor does it mean, Mr. Speaker, that there is any less commitment to Labrador.

One issue, Mr. Speaker, before I move to some of the initiatives that we have taken in relation to Labrador, as I met with our Aboriginal groups, one of the things that I learned very quickly – one of the first steps I took as Minister of Justice, I met with a number of the elders in the communities, and a message that I heard loud and clear, especially in relation to the justice system, was the need to appreciate the culture of our Aboriginal people, the need to respect their culture, and those meetings led to the formation of the plan to start, first with the Innu, an Innu healing court, and hopefully that court will start soon.

We travelled to Toronto to have a look at the Aboriginal court, the Gladue Court, named after a Supreme Court of Canada decision, that they had in downtown Toronto, of all places - it was quite amazing - but there was a high Aboriginal population in downtown Toronto. Now their needs, Mr. Speaker, will be different than the needs of the Innu, for example, in Labrador, but the principles were basically the same. The principles that had been recognized in that Supreme Court of Canada case, although being implemented in downtown Toronto, were also applicable in Sheshatshiu or in Natuashish. So, Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity, as Minister of Justice, to work with the leadership of the Innu and I have to say that I was very impressed with their commitment to their culture, to their peoples, but also their willingness to work with us as a government to try to improve the situation in their communities. One particular meeting that stands out, Mr. Speaker, was the meeting with a women's group in Sheshatshiu, and that was quite enlightening.

What we tend to do as a justice system is to look to treating everyone the same. Now, obviously, Mr. Speaker, everyone is equal before the law and everyone is presumed innocent and entitled to that equal treatment but in the case of our Aboriginal peoples we have to be aware of certain cultural issues and cultural differences, and we have to respect those. That is where the Innu court, hopefully, will play a great part. The Innu Healing Path Court is the official terminology.

Then, Mr. Speaker, as I have indicated, I travelled with both the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and met with the leadership of the Nunatsiavut government. Again, Mr. Speaker, very clear commitment to their cultures, their land and their people. So, as a government we are certainly committed to Labrador and I think that commitment is shown by the fact that we have two ministers in Cabinet representing the different parts of Labrador, one minister for Labrador Affairs and another minister in Aboriginal Affairs.

So, Mr. Speaker, part of the difficulty in relation to Labrador though, and part of the difficulty I guess you could say in relation to the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador as a whole is the issue of geography. We live in a vast Province in terms of land mass and the difficulty in providing services is immense.

We have, Mr. Speaker - and again, I spoke about this in the House last week, the importance of rural Newfoundland and Labrador in your district, the desire to maintain that way of life, that closeness to the sea, the closeness to the fishery. Everywhere people live, Mr. Speaker, as a government we have to try to provide them with the basic services that are required. We have to try to provide the best health care, access to community services, roads that can get to their communities. So we face these problems in a Province as large as ours.

To put it in perspective, I was in Toronto last week at some meetings, and I am always amazed at the size of Toronto, but if you look at the size of Mississauga or even Brampton I guess, I am sure that the Brampton-Mississauga area, the population there would be greater than the population of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It would be interesting at some point to look at the City of Mississauga and see how many hospitals they would have in their city. Because one boundary goes into another, they are probably served by – I do not know, Mr. Speaker. As I have indicated, it would be interesting to note the number of hospitals, whereas you look at this Province and you look at its shear size and the number of medical facilities that are required. When we get to Labrador, that situation is even made much more difficult because of the size of the shear land mass again.

Mr. Speaker, in terms of our commitment to the Labrador portion of the Province, even though this act is being repealed, we will continue to invest in Labrador.

In Budget 2009, Mr. Speaker, we are investing more than $135 million in Labrador through the Northern Strategic Plan, reaffirming our commitment to improve the health and well-being of all Labradorians. This includes $58 million in provincial funding, in addition to a federal investment of $26.5 million. That is the complete construction of Phase III and to continue widening and hard surfacing of Phase I of the Trans-Labrador Highway; $4 million towards construction of new transportation depots at Cartwright Junction and Cook's Lane, and $1 million for building alteration projects for various government buildings throughout Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, what we are doing here today, and last week I spoke at some length about legislation, how legislation is brought into force, how it begins with – it could be an idea in the head of a particular person. It could become a policy decision of government, become an act, but at points some acts lose their necessity. One of the things that we have been trying to do as a government, and I know in the last session of the House, was to repeal acts that are no longer necessary, and this is one of them, Mr. Speaker.

What we are doing here today is primarily a housekeeping measure to rescind an act that is no longer required. I would like to take this opportunity again to talk a little bit about our government's commitment to Labrador and steps that we have taken.

Mr. Speaker, these are some of the Budget 2009 highlights. Under Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs there is $500,000 for the Air Foodlift Subsidy; there is $390,000 for the grooming of coastal snowmobile trails; there is $120,000 in operating funding to the Combined Councils of Labrador, and there is $100,000 for suicide and detrimental lifestyles program.

Mr. Speaker, in Transportation and Works there is $58 million in provincial funding, in addition to the federal investment of $26.5 million to complete construction of Phase III and to continue widening and hard surfacing of Phase I of the Trans-Labrador Highway, as I have previously indicated.

In Justice, Mr. Speaker, there is $1.5 million to purchase living quarters for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers in Labrador West. One of the things we found - I found this while I was in Justice, and I am sure my colleague who is now in Justice is finding the same thing. We have, as a Province, the obligation to provide policing to Labrador West. For those who do not know it, Mr. Speaker, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police provide policing to the Coast of Labrador, to Happy Valley–Goose Bay, and I would like to applaud them in terms of the job they do in difficult circumstances in so many different communities along the Coast of Labrador.

One initiative that I was very impressed with last year when we were to Nain was the fact that they were now using video conferencing. So that someone appearing for a bail hearing in Nain, even though the judge might be sitting in Goose Bay, they were making that connection by video conferencing. I thought that was a very welcome addition and one that is very innovative. When we went to – I think it might have been my second trip to Nain. We went to the local school, Mr. Speaker. Quite a modern school, very nice, and went to their Grade 11 or Grade 12 class I think it was, and had a chat with a number of the people who were there. It is amazing when you travel around this Province, the number of people that you come in contact with.

There was this woman who came up and was having a chat with me, and she had grown up just down the road from me in Carbonear. She had been living in Nain for a number of years, but I had been speaking to this young lady in the school. I think this young lady, if I remember correctly, wanted to be a doctor. Her marks, there were a number of – especially the young ladies stand out in my mind. Their marks were astounding. It turns out that the connection –this young lady, her grandparents would have still lived down the road from my parents, but in any event, I guess I digress a little. My point is that even in Nain, as far north as it is, the quality of education there seemed to me to be quite amazing. The quality of the students there were quite amazing. What they were doing – Mr. Speaker, also what they did that was very impressive to me were the long-distance courses. They could do courses. They were set up, and they would do it by computer; they would do the distance learning courses. They were doing all kinds of – I forget examples, but again it was quite amazing, the use of technology. I guess my point being that, as a government, as we invest further in technology and in broadband, Mr. Speaker, hopefully we can connect the whole Province and do a good job. The distance education is one example. The example of using video technology in terms of the courtroom is also another great example.

The RCMP provides policing in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and the Coast of Labrador. Then the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary provides policing in Labrador West. So what we have is, in this Province, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary providing policing in St. John's, Corner Brook and Lab West; but in Lab West, as we looked to try to find living accommodations for our police force it was very difficult. The same thing with Churchill Falls; the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary also provides policing in Churchill Falls.

We have to get progressive. If we are going to get young members to go there, how do we go about that? One of the proposals this year was to actually purchase living quarters, and thereby subsidize the cost of the young officers who are living there.

I earlier talked about the Innu healing path court program; it is $206,000 for that, and $57,300 to make the position of Inuit court clerk in Happy Valley-Goose Bay permanent.

Now, when I first got into the Justice portfolio, the department was working on dictionaries. I do not know, Minister, if a dictionary would be the proper term, but there were lexicons of the Innu-aimun and Inuit languages to be utilized in the court program. That was one of the fascinating things, Mr. Speaker, when I first met with the elders; they said: We do not understand the language.

There is an assumption there that everything means the same, but there are examples used of, in the Innu language, there were words used in court that they had no words for. I think guilty/not guilty might have been one of them. I think the word might not exist. Again, I am not sure if guilty was the word.

So, what happened? We were bringing people into a courtroom, saying: How do you plead, guilty or not guilty? – and they did not really understand it. So, the purpose of this dictionary was to assist the court interpreters, and there was also an initiative of the Department of Justice. I am not sure, Mr. Speaker, if it was when you or when my colleague was first in Justice, the issue of the court interpreters program, and that turned out to be an excellent program. Because, if we are going to bring people into a court system then we have to offer them the opportunity, at a minimum, to understand what is going on.

Then we moved, I think there were Innu clerks and an Inuit clerk, so there is money in the budget to ensure the position is made permanent.

In health and community services, $1.1 million will be invested to increase funding to strengthen existing family resource programs and to support the start-up of new family resource programs throughout the Province, including Happy Valley-Goose Bay. In environment and conservation there is $1.85 million for further assessment and remediation efforts in Hopedale and Northwest Point, Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, any time that we talk about Labrador and we talk about development, we have to be cognizant of the effect on the environment. We have a pristine environment. I will never forget the first time, probably twenty years ago now, that I flew from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Nain to go to court, and the beauty of that rugged land, just looking down at it and realizing that it is untouched by man. That is one of the things that make it so beautiful. As custodians of our children's future we have the moral, and there is also an economic, obligation to ensure that land, while developing it, is kept as pristine as possible. That is the challenge that all modern-day societies face, but what we have to do, and the way we do it, is ensuring, as best we can, that there is a proper balancing between the two, which leads me then to the importance, of course, of the Lower Churchill development.

I wish I had, and perhaps for another day - but in terms of looking at the Upper Churchill development, and the mistakes that were made there for whatever reason, one of our obligations as a government is to ensure that we learn from those mistakes and that we not repeat the mistakes of the past. When you look at that development, that potential of 2,400 megawatts of clean, green and sustainable energy, we have to do it right.

I think last week in this hon. House there were questions from the Opposition House Leader to the Premier as to the issue of the federal government, and us getting along with the federal government better. The federal government should be jumping at the opportunity to be involved in such a magnificent project in this day and age when we have the volatility of the oil markets and we have the rising prices that we encounter, which are good for us but it is also bad for many parts of the world in terms of the cost and the environment. When you look at that, then the federal government with all of this energy, there, ready to be developed, you would think that the federal government would want to come on board.

Again, Mr. Speaker, as protectors of the future, and that is what our job in this Legislature is to a great extent, is to protect and define for our children, as best we can, a future that is sustainable, that allows for self-reliance and that allows us to take our place in this great country. When I say take our place, Mr. Speaker, I do not simply mean that we say we are one of the ten provinces. We want to truly be part of this federation.

This Lower Churchill Project, Mr. Speaker, is one that is renewable energy. In 2041, the Upper Churchill will come back. Unfortunately, there is the renewal process in 2017, or 2016, another twenty-five years after that. If you look at our government's energy plan, that is what it is based on, a long-term vision for the Province.

Mr. Speaker, as politicians that is what we are required to possess, not simply: How do I do what is popular today to get the most votes that is good for me? How do we do what is best to protect our children and our grandchildren's interests? With the Lower Churchill, Mr. Speaker, we will do whatever we have to do to ensure that it is done properly, that it is done in protecting our environment and it is also done with ensuring a bright and prosperous future for our children. So, whenever we talk about Labrador, we also have to talk about the impact of future developments on the environment in Labrador, and as a government we have to ensure that those impacts are minimized to the extent possible.

Mr. Speaker, in Forestry and Agrifoods this year in Labrador, there will be two new kilometres of roads in the forest management District 19 near Happy Valley–Goose Bay. There will two kilometres in forest management District 21 near Port Hope Simpson. There will be road reconstruction and maintenance on some existing roads in Labrador, and 100 hectares of pre-commercial thinning in forest management District 19 near Happy Valley–Goose Bay, and 190 hectares of planting in forest management District 21 near Port Hope Simpson.

In terms of the Fire Emergency Services of Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker, there will be a new fire protection officer in Labrador. The Fire Emergency Services Newfoundland and Labrador will begin to recruit this position and open up a satellite office in Labrador in 2009.

In the Human Resources, Labour and Employment field, Mr. Speaker, there is $142,300 to expand the successful Employment Transition Programs for single parents in Labrador; $70,000 for the state-of-the-art career work centre to be established in Happy Valley-Goose Bay; and $31,000 to enhance community youth networks throughout Labrador.

In Tourism and Culture, Mr. Speaker, there will be $150,000 to Destination Labrador to enable the destination marketing organization to continue to promote Labrador in key national and international markets to assist tourism operators in their efforts to attract more clients and to help ensure visitors receive the top quality services and experiences they expect.

In Women's Policy Office, Mr. Speaker, there will be $60,000 to the Rigolet Partnership Against Family Violence towards its goal of establishing a shelter in Labrador.

Now I remember the day, Mr. Speaker, as Minister of Justice that I was in Rigolet with the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and we met with this particular group, met with the town council. I remember speaking to the police officer there, and it just brought home to me the difficulty that the RCMP face in isolated areas like Rigolet. I think there might have been one or two officers there, but in last year's budget we brought forward some positions for the RCMP backup plan where there have been some very unfortunate events across this country with RCMP officers having to respond to dangerous calls by themselves. So the backup plan requires, I think - and again, I am sure the Minister of Justice at some point in the future will have an opportunity to speak to this, but I think it requires two officers to attend the scene. In a situation like Rigolet though that becomes very difficult because I think, if I remember correctly, there might have been only two officers and a community constable. Well, it made it very difficult because they are always on call. That is a very difficult way to police a situation.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I have to say, I was quite surprised when I met with this committee of the difficulties that they were facing in Rigolet in terms of the violence. They were very earnest in their approach and I am pleased that we can do something to assist them this year.

Mr. Speaker, in the midst of all of this there is always the issue of relationships with our Aboriginal communities. As I have indicated, the issue in terms of the Innu communities and dealing with the Innu leadership, I think, as witnessed by the New Dawn Agreement, has certainly come a long ways. We are continuously in contact, through the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, with the Nunatsiavut government, and we are always looking to better the situation, whether it be from a social, a justice, or a health perspective, of our people in Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, the Act that we are repealing here today appears to have been brought in for a particular reason, and that was simply to allow for the replacement by the Province assuming all responsibility for the operation of the marine freight and passenger services, in exchange for $340 million plus interest.

Mr. Speaker, there were a number of times in the past when we have engaged in this kind of agreement with the federal government. Most notably, I guess, would be the replacement of the railway in Newfoundland and Labrador by essentially agreeing to take a sum of money. This appears to be another one of these situations. It appears that there was a significant amount of money put into Labrador over a short period of time.

I forget now, but I am sure the Minister of Labrador Affairs who has probably driven every portion of the road can tell me. My recollection, Mr. Speaker, is that this would cover hundreds and hundreds of kilometres of highway. If you are going to go from Lab City, Wabush – Jim, how many kilometres are we talking here?

MR. BAKER: About 1,200 from one end to the other.

MR. KENNEDY: The Member for Labrador West just indicated to me, Mr. Speaker, about 1,200 kilometres of roads. I am trying to remember how many it is to cross the Island. It is less than that. It always amazes me, Mr. Speaker. It sometimes puts it in perspective when every now and then I will talk to someone who will say they have never been to Newfoundland and Labrador. They have been to Cape Breton, but they were going to come over for the day. I said: Where were you going to go for the day? By the time you cross on the ferry you are looking at six or eight hours to get to Port aux Basques, and if you take the Argentia ferry – people have no real concept of the distance in this Province.

We are talking 1,200 kilometres to cross Labrador. What it will do, Mr. Speaker, hopefully, will open up the ability to allow for services that may be lacking now. In the wintertime there is obviously the issue of ice, and then there is cost of air travel. So hopefully this will allow, this road, when it is finished – and it is quite a gigantic venture – will allow for easier access both to and from Labrador for the residents and also for people to get to Labrador, because it is something that everyone should do and visit.

I remember last year - and the Minister of Justice will remember this - the Deputy Minister of Justice is quite an avid hiker, and apparently last year he went on a ninety kilometre trek in the woods from Natuashish on. I do not know where he ended up. He went with an Aboriginal group, and it was quite a trek.

I am not suggesting that everyone has to do what the Deputy Minister of Justice did, and go on a ninety kilometre trek, but just to see Labrador. Every time I fly over it, the absolutely –

MS BURKE: The minister should go.

MR. KENNEDY: The House Leader makes the point that the Minister of Justice should engage in that trek the next time around.

Mr. Speaker, every time I fly over I am just struck by the awesome beauty of Labrador. Hopefully, the people of Labrador will appreciate our government's commitment to them, our willingness to work with the native governments. Because, Mr. Speaker, a number of years ago - the Nunatsiavut government is actually a self-governing body that came out of the agreement on the land claims, whereas the Innu Nation are still negotiating land claims. Then, of course, we have the Labrador Métis Nation that is still in discussions, it is my understanding, with the federal government.

Mr. Speaker, at this point I would simply like to state and reiterate our commitment to this Province as a whole, the commitment to Labrador, and simply recommend that this act be rescinded because it serves, as I have indicated, no further purpose.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I was under the mistaken impression, I guess, the Leader of the Opposition, of course, being from the Labrador area, Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair, I thought she had worked out an arrangement with the minister that he would continue to speak until such time as - she is out doing a scrum, and I thought that someone would speak until she returned from the scrum. Rather than lose the time, of course, I would speak if we had to.

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, to continue with the Order Paper and certainly to accommodate all members who would like to speak on any particular piece of legislation, I am going to call second reading of Bill 6, An Act To Amend The Pensions Funding Act.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Pensions Funding Act." (Bill 6)

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

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thought I was going to get a little rest, Mr. Speaker, but there is no rest for the weary.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to introduce an amendment to the Pensions Funding Act that will modify the annual reporting requirement with respect to the operations of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador Pooled Pension Fund.

The amendment, Mr. Speaker, again is housekeeping in nature but it will give me the opportunity to discuss in some detail the issue of pensions, and how pensions work, because it is an issue of significance to all of our public employees, especially in these economic times. Mr. Speaker, I am going to review in some detail where we are with our pension funds, and where we can expect to go, as best as I can see.

Mr. Speaker, this particular amendment will deal with the Pensions Funding Act. Since the inception of the Pooled Pension Fund in 1980, the Minister of Finance was required under the Pensions Funding Act to submit the December 31 annual financial statements of the pension fund to the Lieutenant-Governor in Council for a review by June 30 of the following year. Subsequent to this review, the minister would then table the financial statements before this hon. House at the earliest opportunity. In many instances, Mr. Speaker, this reporting process often delayed the tabling of the statements in the House of Assembly until the fall sitting of the House.

With this amendment, Mr. Speaker, the annual financial statements of the pension fund will be tabled before this hon. House in a more timely manner, consistent with the reporting requirements of the Transparency and Accountability Act. Under those requirements, the financial statements for the fund will be tabled on or before June 30, which is within six months of the year-end of the Pooled Pension Fund.

Mr. Speaker, the act that we are dealing with is called the Pensions Funding Act. In this act, it refers to the pensions that we have responsibility for as a government. They include: the Uniformed Services Pensions Act, 1991 and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Act; the Teachers' Pensions Act and The Education Act – you have to read them together, Mr. Speaker - the Provincial Court Judges' Pension Plan Act; the Members of the House of Assembly Retiring Allowances Act, and the Public Service Pensions Act.

Also, Mr. Speaker, as outlined in section 4 of that act, the Lieutenant-Governor may by order include a pension plan that covers an employee or pensioner of the government of the Province, or of an agency, board or commission.

The Province of Newfoundland and Labrador Pooled Pension Fund is continued under section 5. The fund shall be held in trust by the minister and may be invested on the terms and conditions that the minister considers advisable. A plan shall participate in the fund proportionate to its equity in the fund. The participation of a plan shall operate under the regulations.

Mr. Speaker, I am going to talk about this for a few minutes here today. One very important aspect of this is the deficiency guarantee under section 9 of the act. "Where (a) there are insufficient assets to meet the obligations of the fund; or (b) the equity apportioned to a plan referred to in section 7 is insufficient to meet the obligations of the plan under section 11, the minister shall pay out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund sufficient money as may be necessary to cover the deficit, and the money shall be paid on a timely basis in order to protect the other plans included under this Act."

Mr. Speaker, that is a very important point for this reason: For the person who is out there who works in a private corporation, or the self-employed individual, he or she probably has monies invested in an RRSP. Now, Mr. Speaker, in that RRSP investment what will happen is, the fund will go up and down with the markets but there is no one - that I am aware of, at least, when I was employed as lawyer - there is no one there who, when your fund goes down, says: Well, I will pick up the deficiency here; I am responsible for the deficiency.

To put it in perspective, Mr. Speaker, if an individual has an RRSP that is worth $100,000 and that fund goes down $30,000 – which is consistent with what we saw, the drop in the markets last year. Well, there is a deficiency of $30,000. No one covers that, Mr. Speaker. It is the responsibility of the investor until if and when the fund recovers.

With our employees, Mr. Speaker, it is very important for them to understand that government is responsible. So that the numbers I am going to go through in a second, although they are up and down, ultimately, at the end of the day, government is the one who is responsible for the plans that I have just talked about.

So, Mr. Speaker, government has an obligation. I think it specifically refers to, as I have indicated, the minister of – the fund shall be held in trust by the minister. Now, last week at one point I talked briefly, when we were talking about another act, about what it means to hold in trust. I think, if you remember, in the Revenue Administration Act there was reference to taxes owing, whether it be gasoline tax, tobacco tax, having to be held in trust upon being received and then payable to the government, and that there was a trust situation existing. I think I had used the example, Mr. Speaker, of which you had been aware, of the importance of trust accounts as a lawyer and the obligation when handling other people's money.

Mr. Speaker, in this particular case, the act specifically refers to the monies being held in trust and may be invested on the terms and conditions. Now, how do you go about investing people's money when they are pension funds? It is their futures, and we have heard quite a lot of discussion about that in this House in recent times with the AbitibiBowater situation.

The difference here, Mr. Speaker, is that if these funds go down, then at some point government is obliged. The best example I can use is that when our government took office in 2003 the Public Service Pension Plan and the Teachers' Pension Plan were significantly underfunded. The Teachers' Pension Plan at that point was 26 per cent funded, and would have run dry by 2012.

Now just think of the enormity of that situation, Mr. Speaker. We have approximately, I think, at any given time – I am trying to remember from the collective bargaining, but there is something like 6,000 or 7,000 teachers, I am sure. Next to NAPE, I think it is probably our biggest union.

AN HON. MEMBER: About 6,000.


So, in any event, Mr. Speaker, it was 26 per cent left in the fund. It would have run dry. So what our government did, again to put this in perspective, we would have been required to pay $200 million annually from general revenues just to meet the pensioner payroll. Now the significance of that to the economy, when you look at where we were in 2003 and where we are today, there is no comparison, but what we did as a government, in terms of prudent and reasonable financial management, we looked at this fund and said we have to deal with this situation. We have to fix this up. So in order to bring stability to the pension plans, in 2006 government contributed $1.953 billion to the Teachers' Pension Plan. These monies were funded from the $2 billion Atlantic Accord.

Mr. Speaker, again last week, I come back to it, the Opposition House Leader, as is the right of the Opposition to question and to criticize I suppose, if that is a term, and said to the Premier: How come we are still not getting along with the federal government, what is the problem here? Does anyone in this House think that if Premier Williams had not taken the stance that he took back in 2005, 2006 that we would have gotten that $2 billion that we had to put into that pension fund? Not likely. So it was by Premier Williams and this government taking a strong stance and standing up for ourselves that those monies were obtained. Then what happened to those monies? They were immediately injected into this pension fund to try to bring stability to it.

Mr. Speaker, this special payment of the $1.953 billion increased the funding status of the plan to 85 per cent at the time. They have since declined, as I will go through in a second, but the point being is that this was again an example of prudent, fiscal management. What do you do? Again, my point, what do you do when you have money belonging to other people? They pay it in, it is paid in trust, how do you oversee the investment of this money? We have all of our various unions involved with them, all of which I am very familiar with over the last six months. Including NAPE, NLNU, NLTA, CUPE, Association of Allied Health Professionals, the RNC.

Under the Pensions Funding Act, the Lieutenant-Governor in Council oversees the operations. So these funds are broadly invested professionally by eleven investment managers. There is a pension investment committee appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council. Now who are the members of this committee? How do we determine? Who is going to look after or oversee - not look after, because that is where we have professional managers. Who is going to oversee these funds?

We have representatives from all of the unions, Mr. Speaker. We have a representative from the Public Sector Managers' Association, we have a representative from the Public Sector Pensioners Association, we have seven government officials, including the Deputy Minister of Finance as Chair, and we have one private sector representative.

Mr. Speaker, we have involvement and input from the unions – and I am going to go through, in a second, the way this is looked at. As a government then, what do we do? We hire a company who looks at retaining professional managers to deal with the investment of our pension funds. It would have to be a diversified portfolio – again, as I go through. The company, who is our advisor, is a company called Russell Investments. Russell Investments - I just happened, last week while I was in Toronto on certain meetings, to meet with the people who run this company. There was a gentleman who flew in from New York, and we had a discussion as to how the funds were doing and how our portfolio managers were doing. Make no mistake about it, Mr. Speaker, they get paid good money to run these funds.

Russell Investments, Mr. Speaker, offer investment. You can go in; it is all on their Web site if anyone out there, any member of this House or member of the public is interested in finding out. They offer planning services to institutional investors and individuals in forty-six countries. They advise clients on the investment of approximately $813 billion of Canadian assets and serve 2,800 organizations and millions of individuals.

Mr. Speaker, there is $171.2 billion invested in Russell funds globally. They were founded in 1936 and they have been involved and consulted – they have pioneered the field of investment consulting by focusing on investment management rather than investment products. Now that is an important point, investment management rather than investment products.

Mr. Speaker, what we have is when you are going to determine – what they do with pension funds and the value of the – again, this is a startling example of the volatility of these markets. The funded ratio of our plans is currently down, but one of the reasons I met with them last week is: Are there any changes that need to be made that you would suggest to the Pension Investment Committee? Because, as the Minister of Finance, we are responsible here for these funds.

Mr. Speaker, the current value of the fund is approximately $5.07 billion. That is down significantly and approximately, I think, 20 per cent from the same time last year. Now, that is consistent with the markets. There is a $5 billion fund that has to be invested, so we have to look at a rate of return and investments that will allow the fund to grow and attain a certain funded status.

To give you an example of the volatility of the market, in March I think we picked up approximately $200 million in the fund, so the fund grew by $200 million in one month. So my question, as I met, and the deputy minister was with me, when we met with the Russells in terms of pension advisors, was: Do we need to do anything different? Is there any advice that should be brought back through the deputy minister, who is the chair of the committee? Is there anything that needs to be brought back to the committee in terms of their discussion?

Also, Mr. Speaker, as I have indicated, where the funds are held in trust by the minister, it is something I am very concerned about. This pension fund, Mr. Speaker, again you look at your goals - and again I am just going on what I have learned as I have consulted with various people. We happened to meet that afternoon with the Canada Pension Plan executive director, I think he was, or CEO, just to get a feel for what they were doing. Their pension fund is currently worth $108 billion. The amounts here are staggering, when you think about it, but people's livelihoods are at stake. That is one of the benefits, Mr. Speaker, in terms of working with the provincial government or the federal government. Some people you will often hear say, well, I can make more money in the private sector; but, Mr. Speaker, when you work in the private sector you will find few companies with pension funds as good, or pension plans as good, as the ones that are offered by government, and finding a pension plan that is guaranteed essential is something that I think brings a certain security. Because, if you look at someone who starts with government at age twenty-five, and they work for thirty years, they can retire at fifty-five, with their pension funds guaranteed, so, you have to have a plan that is long term and based in the future.

So the view of Russell Investments in terms of what do we do here, what return we are looking for on the money here, their view is that while things are changing – there are changes happening in the markets and the economy - their view is that the circumstances that drive the Province's current investment beliefs have not changed.

Now, I was reading from a piece of paper which had the word fundamentals there. Well, I do not like that word and I am not going to use it because - just by way of anecdote, I read recently that back around 1929, around the Great Depression, that was the line that was used by the people of the day, the economists, that the fundamentals are good.

Now, where did we hear that fundamentals are good? Back in October of this year, the Prime Minister of Canada said the fundamentals are good. Now, what John Kenneth Galbraith said in a book he wrote about the Great Depression – or the 1929 crash – was, any time you hear a politician say the fundamentals are good, disbelieve what he or she is saying.

So I just changed that line, but the point I guess I am making is that our Province's current investment beliefs have not changed. Therefore, Russell's advice to us is to stay the course with the proposed asset allocation in terms of equity, Canadian funds, international funds, real estate – whatever various ways the money are invested - in terms of the equity and bond allocation, and then to consider some investments in alternatives.

What gives me some solace - I hold money in trust belonging to pension funds - is that all of the unions, the people whose interests are at stake here, are all involved in this. They are all there having a say with this committee, overseeing these funds. I think that is crucial in terms of making sure that their funds are handled properly.

Now, when I say handled properly, Mr. Speaker, could anyone have predicted what has taken place in the last six to eight months, in the last year? Some people could, I am sure, and they probably made a lot of money, but when we look at – and, again, I read somewhere the other day how all of the best and brightest people got it wrong. How people were saying there is not going to be any recession, there is not going to be a depression, a lot of trained economists, Mr. Speaker, who got it wrong.

So what we have to try to is to make sure that, as best we can, we follow the advice given to us, and that we get the best advice we can. Now, that is one thing that I have tried to do as the Minister of Finance, is to seek the best advice that is available. We have met, as I have indicated in the past, with local economists. We have met with bank economists. I am willing to meet and listen to people who have different views, as we try to work our way through these tough economic times.

When you are dealing with people's pension funds, Mr. Speaker, you are dealing with their futures. In that respect, as a government, we have to make sure, as best we can, that we obtain the best advice and follow that advice if it makes sense.

Mr. Speaker, the decline in pension funds for 2009-2010 was very significant but it is also going to have an impact, as you remember from Budget day, when I talked about the projected $750 million deficit, again, depending on many factors such as the price of oil, such as the price of the Canadian dollar, such as production, and some of which are hard to nail down, but I know that when I came in here today oil was at $53.01 so it is continuously hovering around that $50 mark that we had used in our Budget as we tried to come up with a number. When I met with the chief economist for the Royal Bank last week he was actually a bit more optimistic – this was all in the same trip, Mr. Speaker; we just tried to jam as many meetings as possible in – but when I met with the chief economist for the Royal Bank they were a little bit more optimistic on the price of oil than we are.

If that price of oil increases, Mr. Speaker, well, our deficit goes down; but there are, again – and again, I wish I had the numbers here in front of me. I received an e-mail not too long ago, Mr. Speaker, from a gentleman by the name of Joe. Actually, I think I was with the MHA for Port au Port at a dinner in Stephenville. We were doing the post-Budget – it was a post-Budget speech. I got an e-mail from Joe and he was quite knowledgeable. He said, well, if the Canadian dollar – we are basing our deficit, the projected deficit, on the Canadian dollar being around eighty cents. His question was, well, what happens if it goes to seventy-nine cents or, the other side of it, it goes up? Because if it goes up we do not make as much money.

I was having a chart prepared. I meant to get back to Joe, and I will do that because I wanted to say to him, yes, you seem to understand this. Something tells me, Mr. Speaker, and I could be wrong on this, but something tells me, that one cent could be like $20 million either way, so I wanted to get back to this gentleman and say yes, you have hit upon one of the issues, one of the contingencies, that we have to deal with as we are trying to project our deficit.

Mr. Speaker, in terms of the deficit, the decrease in pension funds certainly had an impact on our pension funds. For example, approximately $360 million of the projected deficit is coming from these pension losses, which are abnormally high, but $174 million, Mr. Speaker, relates to the interest on the unfunded liability, and $174 million in pension expenses as a result of the plan's losses. Now, when the pension funds go up $200 million in March, as they did, well that means our costs go down so our deficit changes again.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that what we have to do as a government is take the best information we have, look into a crystal ball, and try to determine where are we going to be as a Province this time next year. That is essentially what budgeting does. It tells us how much money we can spend. Mr. Speaker, in this same Budget, however, in terms of these costs we had to figure in $360 million in relation to the pension fund.

Mr. Speaker, I have already talked about the impact of the Atlantic Accord money and the significant stability that brought to the fund. When we had brought up the teachers' plan to 85 per cent with that $1.953 billion injection of funds, still the funded ratio has since declined to 62 per cent as a result of the decline in the financial market.

Another question for Russell Investments last week was: How funded should your plan be? We obviously want to be at the 80 per cent to 85 per cent mark with the teachers' fund. You would obviously want to be at 100 per cent, Mr. Speaker, if you could. Their point is that the pension plan, when it is down, costs us more money. The effect on the person paying into the plan is that the person is going to receive their pension, because that is what government does by virtue of its guarantee.

Mr. Speaker, in 2007 we contributed $982 million to the Public Service Pension Plan in order to bring that fund to a similar funded status to the teachers' pension. In two years we have paid almost $2 billion into the teachers' fund, $980 million into the Public Service Plan, and this year, in part of the collective agreement with the correctional officers – and the Uniformed Pension Plan involves the correctional officers and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers; I think I am right on that - we agreed to make a $100 million contribution to the Uniformed Services Pension plan in 2009-2010.

Mr. Speaker, again what we are trying to do is recognize the importance of the pension funds, and trying to manage them properly. We are seeking the input of the unions without asking them to assume the risk, and that is a very important factor. It is not simply that they are giving input but they do not assume the risk at this point.

So, Mr. Speaker, these are the kinds of discussions I had last week. When you look at then the figures of how - it is just startling the markets in the last year, but on June 30, 2008 - I know I am overloading with a lot of information here today but I am trying to put things in perspective. On June 30, 2008 the fund asset value was $6.513 billion. It went down to $5.74 billion in September 30, then down to $5.115 billion in December 31, down to $4.879 billion in March 31 and up to $5.07 billion in April 27. I mean that is amazing when you look at the ups and downs of this money. It is quite startling, Mr. Speaker. We go up then, as I have indicated, $200 million in a month.

Another one of the issues, Mr. Speaker, that was raised last week with Russell Investments is that - and this was not a question of being dissatisfied with portfolio mangers. We looked at the charts, and the markets, the 20 per cent to 30 per cent, all the funds that were managed by different portfolio mangers were down significantly around that same range, but one of the discussions we had was the issue of the possibility of managing some of this wealth in our own Province.

Mr. Speaker, in the Blue Book there was a commitment to: put in place a plan to enable Newfoundland and Labrador to develop the capacity to manage our own wealth within a decade in coordination with Memorial University of Newfoundland and the College of the North Atlantic. Now, there are a number of important factors here, Mr. Speaker. One, is to manage our wealth here. Other provinces are doing that. I have learned that New Brunswick, Alberta, other provinces are doing the same, but within a decade. We are dealing with people's funds here. We cannot rush in and say we are going to manage all this. We are going to look at, as the Blue Book says, doing it incrementally, doing it rationally, doing it reasonably, and doing it over a period of time.

One of our primary goals as a government is to attain self-reliance and sustainability; to be able to, as we have shown we can in the last period of time, economically to stand on our own two feet. That, Mr. Speaker, as I have indicated in the past, and the Premier has indicated, that is what being a have province is all about. It is not that we have oodles of money and we can just spread it around. What it means is that we have attained a certain economic self-reliance in this country and that we are not only a contributing member to this great country in terms of our social contributions, our cultural contributions, but also in our economic contributions because that is what it means. We have reached a point where we are not getting money from Canada in terms of equalization.

So, Mr. Speaker, as we look at each step of the way as a Province, looking to the future, this is just another example of the Blue Book and a way that we have to be looking and it was something that was discussed. So, this is something that we will not rush in. It was something that was discussed with our advisors just to see what they thought of it.

One of the last points I want to touch upon, Mr. Speaker, is the benefit – and I am going to come back to this. I really want to emphasize how the provision of this benefit plan, of this type of pension plan is a major benefit for all our full-time public sector employees. In many cases, Mr. Speaker - and you would have, I am assuming from your various careers, have gone through different types of pension plans. The pension plan is often, for many people, the largest component of their personal wealth. It is what allows them to retire and to maintain a certain lifestyle. Hopefully, although I will not have this same luxury, and I see some other of my colleagues here, I look straight across the House, who may not have the same luxury, but if people –a lot of times people – not you, the young guy in front there. By the time that they get to a certain age, fifty-five, Mr. Speaker, a lot of people, their children are gone and they are now going to use and be able to live on their - I should apologize, actually, to the MHA for Trepassey. I just remembered, he is not nearly quite as old as I am.

The point is, Mr. Speaker, a lot of people have - their children are gone. So their retirement, their pension is a significant –

MR. DINN: They never go.

MR. KENNEDY: They never go, the MHA for Kilbride said.

Mr. Speaker, the retirement funds, the pension funds are a significant part of their personal wealth. So as a Province we try to manage them as best we can.

As well, Mr. Speaker, and I have touched upon this, but this is also a significant factor, that this deficiency guarantee protects the pension promise further by guaranteeing that the pension funds will be paid, regardless of the state of the fund at any given time. What the funding down means, it costs us more money as a Province and thereby contributes to our deficit. Hopefully, as the economy improves, and I am still very cautiously optimistic in terms of the economy. I am looking at everything that is happening, and I can assure you that in my department and in Cabinet we are looking at the developments that are taking place throughout the world and we are cautiously optimistic that the economy will improve. As indicated by the Royal Bank economists last week, we are looking at the continuation of a tough year in 2009, and then, hopefully, the economy will improve in 2010. Our pension funds, there could be volatility in the next period of time, but hopefully, in the long term, as long as we have good investments, which we feel we have, based on the advice given, that they will pick up in terms of their funding status.

Again, Mr. Speaker, that second point of the deficiency guarantee in this act that I am talking about here today is a very, very significant protection for the public sector employees of our Province.

For example, there are seniors in this Province, and we have some statistics on this, who do not have that same benefit of a retirement pension. Apparently, out of approximately 72,400 seniors in the Province over age sixty-five only 30 per cent have any pension income, whether from an employer sponsored plan or personal retirement savings. So that the remaining 65 per cent have to rely, for the most part, on federal benefits such as CPP and old age security.

Mr. Speaker, what we are trying to do is to ensure that the risk tolerance is acceptable. This was a comment that struck me last week, and it is perhaps so true. When I look at what has happened, how did this whole situation take place? Human behaviour – this was a note I made when I spoke to this gentleman in New York. How could this have happened? How did we get to the stage where the economy – because obviously this individual, in talking about pensions, he had to be knowledgeable about the economy, about markets, about the global situation that existed. I said: How could this have all happened? My note was, that it comes down to fear and greed, with greed being the more predominant characteristic.

Mr. Speaker, people thought they could come up with a foolproof system, and they have tried forever, as you are dealing with risk, to come up with a foolproof system and there is no foolproof system.

Mr. Speaker, to go back - and I forget the time frame - but I think one of the first examples was the purchasing of tulips around the 1700's that led to the first bubble and the burst that followed.

Mr. Speaker, the greed of whoever they are led to the situation that we find ourselves in, in the economy, but fear cannot be our underlying driver in terms of making decisions. We have to make decisions, in terms of these pension funds, based on the long-term, based on what is best for the public sector employees. It may take a little bit longer. We are monitoring these pensions closely, Mr. Speaker. As I have indicated, we have all our portfolio managers looking at what is there. A lot of this does not make a whole lot of sense to me, but when I look at the allocations between Canadian and foreign equities, I am sure there are people out there who would say, you should invest in one more than the other.

That is where Russell Investments comes in. They say, these are the portfolio managers you should hire, this is how we suggest that the allocations should be, the pension investment committee plays a role, and, basically, what happens is that the best decision that can be made at the time is made.

Mr. Speaker, in conclusion, the section of the Act that is being amended today is section 13. Section 13, Mr. Speaker, requires the Minister of Finance to submit annual audited financial statements for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador Pooled Pension Fund, for the previous year, to the Lieutenant-Governor in Council no later than June 30 in a year.

Following Lieutenant-Governor in Council approval, the audited statements are required to be tabled before the House of Assembly, if it is in Session, or if not, within fifteen days of the commencement of the next Session.

Mr. Speaker, this has been a reporting requirement of the Pensions Funding Act since it was enacted in 1981, to ensure that individuals are kept informed of the status of the fund. Mr. Speaker, the Pension Investment Committee are appointed under the Pensions Funding Act to oversee the activities of the fund and they are classified under the Transparency and Accountability Act. Then, as required by the Transparency and Accountability Act, the Pension Investment Committee reports annually by June 30 of each year. This includes the audited financial statements.

In order to ensure, Mr. Speaker, that the tabling of the documents takes place in a more timely manner, and that is one of the requirements of the Transparency and Accountability Act, we are amending this section to state – excuse me, Mr. Speaker, one second.

The way the procedure is set up now, there would be a delay in the tabling of the statements, and with the amendment we are bringing in, Mr. Speaker, the annual financial statements will be tabled in a more timely manner, and, as I have indicated, the financial statements for the fund will be tabled on or before June 30, which is within six months of the year end of the full pension fund.

As indicated, Mr. Speaker, while merely a housekeeping matter, I hope I have taken this opportunity to give members of this House an update on the status of our pension funds and how, as a government, we are monitoring closely what is going on with these pension funds to ensure that they are protected as best as possible.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS BURKE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

To continue with second reading, we are doing second reading of a couple of bills right now, but we will revert back to the original bill that we had been discussing or debating in second reading. I will call again second reading of Bill 5, An Act To Repeal The Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund Act.

Motion, second reading of a bill, An Act To Repeal The Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund Act. (Bill 5).

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank you for the opportunity to speak on this particular bill. I guess it is an Act To Repeal The Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund.

I listened attentively to the minister when he gave his introduction to this bill today and what he had to say.

The Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund was a fund that was set up by the provincial government after negotiating a deal federally that would allow for revenues that were being funded through the federal government for the operation of marine services in communities throughout Labrador, for that money to be transferred to the Province and that the Province would also take over the marine services in Labrador along with the assets that were associated with those services.

Mr. Speaker, this all happened in March of 1997, in fact, and I remember it well, because it was certainly one of the highlights in Labrador at that particular time, to know that we were moving forward in a different direction when it came to transportation and initiatives. It was at that time that the Province received large sums of money from the federal government and, make no bones about it, it was received at a time when the provincial coffers in the Province were significantly deficient, in which the general revenues overall, for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, were running more surpluses than they were running balanced books.

There was a lot of concern expressed by leadership in Labrador at the time about this money, which would be transferred to the provincial government. There was some fear that if it went into the general revenues of the Province, then it may not find its way back to the operational components that it was intended for, for infrastructure in Labrador. It was a commitment on behalf of the government at that time that they went out and set up a separate fund, a separate account from the general revenues, where they could put this money, where it would be earmarked for this one initiative and that all the funds would be accounted for. In addition to that, any interest that was earned on the money would be directly added to the balance of the account, and again spent in Labrador communities.

Mr. Speaker, while the agreement was on marine services it was the decision of the government of the day that they would use a portion of this money to build roads in Labrador and to upgrade existing roads, because at that time the only piece of highway infrastructure that existed outside of L'Anse au Claire to Red Bay was the section between Goose Bay and Labrador City. Mr. Speaker, we all know that the standard and the condition of that road at that particular time left a lot to be desired. Almost any day back ten years ago you could turn on the radio, or twelve years ago, and you could listen to the horror stories of tractor trailers that were travelling over the Labrador Highway between Labrador City and Wabush into Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and the circumstances which they had to endure, whether that be in the winter or in the spring in particular where you had sections of road that would wash out, where you had a lot of mud on those roads and so on.

It was a huge issue, a huge transportation concern in that region, and a huge concern all over Labrador; because, while the rest of Labrador did not have any highway infrastructure, they were dependent upon marine services, and unfortunately the marine services were very limited. They were limited in terms of the time frame in which they could operate, which usually meant from June until November, in the fall, and they were also limited in terms of frequency and access, when you could get the services of a marine vessel in and out of a community.

I guess for a lot of us - I know for me, having grown up on the Coast of Labrador - you learn to accept the services that you have, and that is what you become comfortable with. Then, all of a sudden, you find out that there is opportunity to have something better, that the potential is there, and people tend to become very excited about it.

Mr. Speaker, it is far different today in my district, as a result of this agreement, than it was prior to that. I remember growing up in communities - the North Coast is still suffering through this, and some of the communities in my own district still today - where they have to depend upon a marine service that will come - the first boat in the spring of the year is like a major event in a community that has just been through months and months of not being able to get goods and services in and out in a way that they want. So, when they get that first boat it is like a whole new world often opens up to you. It is an opportunity not only to get in and out but to get goods in, to get services in, to get equipment in to do jobs and projects, whether it is building schools or bridges or hospitals, so it was always one of those events that happened in the spring of the year that really made you feel like you were alive, that there was vibrancy coming back into a community and that we were heading into summer. That same feeling still exists for a lot of these communities along the Coast of Labrador today.

Mr. Speaker, under this particular agreement there were a certain number of priorities that were set, and one of those priorities was to build roads. Government looked at where it was feasible to build roads at the time, where we could get the most for our investment. One of the priorities was to upgrade the road from Labrador West to Goose Bay. In fact, there was a substantial amount of money spent in that first year, over $60 million, to do upgrades on this particular section of road.

When I talk about upgrades, I mean upgrading a gravel road to a better standard of a gravel road. I am not talking about paving these roads. That certainly was not on the radar for this particular money at the time because there were just so many priorities.

The second phase of it was to construct a highway that would extend along the Coast of Labrador from Red Bay North to Cartwright, and it would take in a number of communities. It would build road access to Mary's Harbour and to Port Hope Simpson, and it would build an access road into Charlottetown at the time, which was going to be about twenty-six kilometres off the main highway, and it would bring a road connection into Cartwright.

Those were basically the four communities that were slated to be connected. I guess, as we got into the project being started and the lobby of people in that area, the government of the day said: Well, we have to really seriously look at, how do we connect the community of St. Lewis? St. Lewis was a community that was going to require an access road that was over thirty kilometres, but there was a fish plant in the community. It was a viable little community and they needed to have access to the markets. So government at the time said: Yes, we will look at squeezing the money out to build a road into this community.

The next community was Pinsent Arm, again a similar situation where they required up to twenty-three or twenty-four kilometres of road to be built. Therefore, they went out and tendered that piece of road and they build it at a cost of about $6.5 million. So, what originally started out as a highway network that would have ran from Red Bay up to Cartwright and connected three communities on the way, ended up connecting five communities at the end of the day.

The next community that was scheduled to be connected was the community of Williams Harbour, at a cost of $5.5 million. Unfortunately, that never got done because when the government changed in 2003 the Conservative government opposite cancelled the project and said that this was not financially feasible, and therefore they would not do it, but we all know of towns right across this Province that have had roads built to them that was never financially feasible to have done. It was a matter of giving people access, and giving them good transportation networks in the Province, and that was basically the rationale for doing it.

Mr. Speaker, the third phase of the project was to look at the construction of a highway between Cartwright and Goose Bay, or the Cartwright intersection and Happy Valley-Goose Bay, a project which is still ongoing today and one that is due to be completed in the construction season of 2009. Now, I guess some of the bridges will probably take a bit longer but that is the tentative plan for the linkage of that particular section of highway.

Mr. Speaker, this made a tremendous difference to people in Labrador, a tremendous difference, and I think you would have had to have been a part of living in that region and understanding the full factors of isolation, and how you cope with isolation, how you build an economy in an isolated environment, and to look at it today, and to look at the reasonable access that people have to the outside world, and their ability to be able to travel more so when they want to is absolutely remarkable. It is something that unfortunately is not being afforded to all of the other communities.

I guess today as we repeal the act for the Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund, I hope we are not repealing commitments to see that section of road built and to see transportation in general improved throughout Labrador, because that would be a sad case for all of the people who live there.

One of the other factors of this agreement, Mr. Speaker, was to maintain marine services in Labrador. In fact, there was a study that was commissioned and this fund paid for that study of well over $60,000 to look at marine transportation services, and what those services should look like on a go-forward basis now that the highway had linked a number of communities.

Mr. Speaker, it was probably the worst waste of money spent out of this fund because, at the end of the day, the study that was done and presented to government was never, ever, followed. In fact, Mr. Speaker, it was the Premier who made a commitment on a conference call to people in my district. I know, because I was on the very call. What he said was this, when they wanted to take the Sir Robert Bond out of Cartwright and put it back to Lewisporte, and the Premier said that we will commission a study and whatever the recommendations in that study are, that is what we will honour at the end of the day. Well guess what? That did not happen. That did not happen. In fact, it was not worth the paper it was written on. It was probably the worst expenditure of money ever under this initiative because it produced nothing that was favourable or resulted in benefit to the people in the area.

What the study said was this, that Marine Services should be based out of Cartwright for Labrador, and not out of Lewisporte. At the end of the day, Mr. Speaker, the government chose to ignore the recommendation - to remove the vessels from Cartwright and to put them back to Lewisporte and maintain a base of operations out of Lewisporte, at a cost to the taxpayers in the Province. That is exactly what happened. A cost of well over a million dollars, $1.5 million a year that they did not even have to spend. They have been doing that now for six years. They are up now to nearly $10 million because of that commitment, and that was $10 million that could have gone to be invested in more appropriate port infrastructure to service the marine sector industry throughout Labrador, and it did not happen. It did not happen.

So, Mr. Speaker, it is not only the Harper government that has broken commitments to people in this Province, but the government opposite have done so as well, and they have done so under expenditures that come directly out of this particular agreement.

Mr. Speaker, the Marine Services were a very key component to all of this, because a number of communities in Labrador still depend upon Marine Services and will probably depend upon them for some time.

In Northern Labrador in particular, there has been more movement and more discussion around building highway connections between communities. In fact, Mr. Speaker, I sat in the Combined Councils of Labrador AGM only a few months ago, when one of the senior bureaucrats in the Nunatsiavut government was in the room. He stood up in that room when they talked about the Lower Churchill deal, and he said: no community on the North Coast of Labrador should ever support the Lower Churchill deal until we have a road network that connects all of our communities. In fact, it was the first time I had actually heard a senior person in the Nunatsiavut government make a statement as firm as that one. After some discussion later, not only with this individual but with others that are affiliated with the government in Northern Labrador, I realized that this is one of the serious planks in their development plan for the entire region that they govern, and that is to look at how they can build roads and connect communities throughout the Northern region of our Province.

Mr. Speaker, while that is a tremendous amount of progress on behalf of the leadership in that area, and the fact that they have decided that this is a route that they want to go, I also know that it does not happen overnight, because the Labrador Transportation Agreement in my area started as early as 1997. We are twelve years out and we have not completed the entire road network. Even though it is part of a plan right now for Northern Labrador, these things also take time. They take time and they take planning. In the meantime, there will have to be appropriate marine services provided to the people of that area.

Mr. Speaker, I still have a huge problem with having the service coming out of Lewisporte, and I make no bones about it. Anywhere else in the world this would not be happening. Anywhere else where you could drive in on a highway network, the service delivery would be done from that location and that is why Cartwright is still the primary and most pertinent location for the supply of marine services to the Northern Coast of Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the arguments of people on the North Coast. In fact, the individual who, today, is the President of the Nunatsiavut government was one of the more vocal people on this issue in terms of wanting the service to stay in Lewisporte; one, because of cost. They did not want to see inflation in the cost of goods getting into Northern Labrador. I do not blame them. I would be the same way.

The other factor, Mr. Speaker, is that they had formed a bond in terms of the Lewisporte wholesale industry. Buying from wholesalers in that area and the relationship that they had under agreements with their businesses, it made it convenient. It was a work of convenience. Well, since then those wholesale companies went out of business. They no longer even exist or operate in the Province. In fact, I would say most of the goods going to Northern Labrador today that come off the Island of Newfoundland are coming out of Bay Roberts or St. John's or Grand Falls; without any doubt whatsoever. I would say Bay Roberts and St. John's would be probably the two main wholesale suppliers that are providing goods to that region of the Province.

Mr. Speaker, that was only one of the issues, the fact that the wholesale company now is gone, that that does not exist. There is actually nowhere in Lewisporte where you can buy goods and services like you could ten years ago when all of this was being done. The other issue was on cost, a very, very legitimate issue, because I agree that in Northern Labrador today they are already paying enough for the goods and services that they access.

Mr. Speaker, if you look at the subsidies that have gone in to maintain Lewisporte as a port because of government's own political agenda, and you take that subsidy and you transfer it to offset the cost of the goods and services to the people in Northern Labrador, they would have been better off at the end of the day. In fact, the government, at the end of the day, could ship almost every single good that needs to go to Northern Labrador out of Cartwright and Goose Bay for free and still not be out money. They could almost ship it free to every business and every single customer in Northern Labrador. I would like to see their numbers on that. I would like to see them actually take that, put some research into it, and look at what the actual cost would be.

That would mean something, and I will tell you what it would mean. It would mean that businesses on the North Coast could get their goods come in over the highway for the same price as businesses in Goose Bay are getting it today. It would mean that they could get their goods come in through the Island and up through the Coast of Labrador for the same price as every business in that area is getting their goods today, because they would be paying only one fee and that is the trucking fee, the same fee that every other business in Labrador has to pay. All of the marine shipping could be done for free to those ports under subsidy by the government.

Mr. Speaker, I do not think they have ever even looked at that option. I just think that political will got in the way of looking at what was sensible and what was right in developing the economy of Labrador. That is what happened, Mr. Speaker. It was businesses in Labrador that were losing out. It was industry being lost in Labrador for the last five to six years because of this political decision that was taken by the government. It was all done because of investments that were fostering new developments and new infrastructure in Labrador through the Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund.

We will see what they are going to propose. They are back to the drawing board, and we will see what they are going to propose. We will see, Mr. Speaker, if they are still going to subsidize a service to Lewisporte on the backs of the taxpayers of this Province even when there is a road connection that exists between Cartwright and Goose Bay.

Mr. Speaker, you get nothing only silence from the members opposite who represent Labrador. If they were in any other capacity except the government that they are in, they would be the first ones out there causing a racket about it. They would be the first ones out there demanding that any opportunity for industry should stay in Labrador, should stay in those communities. I have seen it, Mr. Speaker. I have seen some of them block barges on wharves to stop wood from going out, but yet they were ready to sell out an industry in freight shipping and delivery services for Labrador for the benefit of a port on the island. That is the difference, Mr. Speaker.

Under this agreement, marine services was a key component, a component that still today, I can guarantee you, will be debated, a component that still today is a necessity for Labrador residents and for communities.

I look at my own district, Mr. Speaker. In fact, today, I would say the worst marine service to exist anywhere in the Province is in my district in the community of Black Tickle; probably the worst marine service that you could ever find to be operational and existing in the Province. I will tell you why. You might look at it and say, well, you have two vessels going into Black Tickle, a small town with 250 people. You have a passenger vessel, the Northern Ranger, making a stop in there once a week. You have a freight vessel, the Astron, making a stop in there every week. What could be the problem?

Well, let me tell you what the problem is. If you live in Black Tickle today, and you want to get out of the community to go on a vacation with your family, something people do every single day in this Province, get in their vehicles, take their young children, take their senior parents or grandparents, they go on a vacation, let me tell you how you do that if you live in the Community of Black Tickle.

First of all, you wait for the freight boat to come and you ship your vehicle on the freight boat, which could be five days earlier than when the passenger boat comes. You ship you vehicle on the freight boat, and you pay $500 or more each way. There is no ferry rate. There is no such thing as putting your vehicle on the freighter to send it to Cartwright four hours away and getting it there for $50. You are talking $500, Mr. Speaker. It is highway robbery, I say to the government opposite - highway robbery! - the way you are hauling the money out of the pockets of the people in that community.

They put their vehicle on a freight boat and then they have to wait a week for a passenger boat to show up. Then, they and their children and their grandparents or whatever, can then get on the passenger boat and go out to Cartwright and pick up the vehicle they shipped five days before. That is the service they have to put up with, and it comes at a very high cost. In fact, if you were to look at what the people in Black Tickle pay to get themselves and a vehicle on a highway in this Province, the closest destination, it is probably twenty-five to thirty-five times more than any other person in this Province has to pay. It is highway robbery! The government is scamming the money out of the people in this community because of their isolation. They have no other way to get out of there; no other way to get out of there.

Then, Mr. Speaker, they go out, they take their vacation for a week or two, and they get a break. Maybe they are taking kids on a school trip, maybe they are going out on a church conference, which are all things they do and they participate in. When they come back they have to go through this all over again. They get in Cartwright in time to catch the passenger vessel which goes once every seven or eight days into their community, and they get home. Then they have to wait for the freight boat, which could be every seven, eight or ten days, to show up and they finally get their vehicle back home. That is not an acceptable level of service.

Government has had long enough to look at putting their heads around what is a better service for the people in that community. There there are ways that they could do this. There could be a ferry service that operates directly from Black Tickle to Cartwright. They do not have to use the same boats that go right down the north Coast of Labrador and into Nain. They could use a smaller ferry. The freight boat would still have to go into Black Tickle and pick up all the product from the plant and the containers and things like that, but that only happens a couple of times in a year. It is not something that needs to happen every single week.

There is a way to give the people in that community a much better service and a much more affordable service. I bet either one of you that were going to take a vacation and had to pay $1,000 to get your vehicle on a highway and get it off, you would not be too happy about it. You would not be too happy about it. In fact, I would say you would be kicking up an awful lot of fuss, but, Mr. Speaker, they have had their say. They have raised this in the media. They have sent letters to ministers. They have raised it in Combined Council meetings but there has been no attention being paid to the issue.

So, Mr. Speaker, in the other communities in my district it is a little bit different. In fact, they have what I would consider to be a fairly good marine service. They have a small ferry, every second day that ferry is in and out of their communities giving them a link to the main road. Now they cannot take vehicles on it but there has not been a huge demand to take vehicles on that particular ferry. In terms of passengers and people, they have a fairly decent service. Like everything, there is always tweaking you could do with scheduling and things like that. I am sure if I were to go up and talk to either one of them, they all have a problem that they would like to see fixed with the scheduling or the number of trips or the times of departures and so on. That is to be expected when you deal with services like this, but in terms of having a decent boat and a decent service and the frequency of it and being able to afford to use it, it is all very good and it is all actually in line with other ferry services that are being provided in the Province. So that is a good thing.

The other piece, Mr. Speaker, is the Strait of Belle Isle ferry service, the main ferry that connects Newfoundland and Labrador; the main ferry that connects Newfoundland and Labrador. Now, we have seen the traffic on this service increase, increase and increase year over year, to the fact that it has practically doubled the number of people that it transports in the last number of years. After this year, I would expect that that number is going to grow again by another 30 per cent or 40 per cent, because people in Goose Bay, Churchill Falls, Northwest River, Labrador City, Wabush, will all now have access to that ferry service after this year.

So, we are expecting to see a lot more demand being placed on that service. As a result of that we want to put some demands on government, and those demands mean that we want to see the ferry on the Strait of Belle Isle operate for as long as it possibly can. Whether that is a year-round operation, an eleven month or a ten month operation, these are the things that we want to look at, and we really believe that it can be a year-round operation. We think it can be done if there is a proper winter port established on the Newfoundland side.

St. Barbe is a great port for summer operations and for late spring and early fall operations of the Strait of Belle Isle service. It is an excellent port. In fact, out of this transportation agreement there was a lot of money, nearly $2 million spent out of this agreement on St. Barbe alone to improve the port facilities, to expand on those facilities, to put in proper terminals, to do all the things that needed to be done to run a proper ferry service into that region.

Mr. Speaker, we think St. Barbe is the ideal port, except in the winter. In the winter it is a problem because the ice freezes to the bottom in the harbour and you are not able to get into the port, you are not able to break the ice or to navigate into that particular community. So we want government to look at where is a suitable winter porting area for that service. Anyone who is familiar with the Northern Peninsula will probably make a suggestion of a couple of different ports that might be ideal. One of the ones that we have certainly seen as being ideal and have been sold on by the mayor and the council in that community is in Port Saunders. In Port Saunders where they have open access as a port all winter long. Now, it is a little bit further for the ferry to travel. It increases the time and the distance of the service, but we are talking about for maybe a period of three months out of a year where we would at least have a service, which we do not have today.

We think government should be looking at, is Port Saunders an appropriate port to be using as a winter operation? If it is, I think they need to start making investments to have that port ready so that next year we do not have to see this service shut down. We do not need to see this service shut down in December but we can see it continuously carry on into winter operations. I have talked to the mayor in Port Saunders. I suppose the same mayor is there, but it was a while ago, when I talked to the mayor in Port Saunders, and I have talked to a number of the counsellors and they are excited about the prospect and the idea because it brings some benefits to their community as well. Even though it might only be for a shorter period of time, it still brings some benefits to their community.

We have not seen any commitments from government on those things. We have not heard them say if they are prepared to ensure that we would move to a year-round operation of this service. I think that they owe it to the people of Labrador, not just the people of my district, but to all the people of Labrador who will be dependent upon this service, who will have road access to this service, that the number one thing that they want to see is not just to be able to drive 2,000 kilometres and end up at a port on a dock looking across at the Island of Newfoundland. They want to be able to drive that far and end up on a wharf, knowing that they can step onboard of a ferry and take them across to the other side, to the Island part of the Province.

Mr. Speaker, they should expect no less. They should expect no less. This has been a long time in coming in Labrador. We are three to four decades behind everybody else in this Province when it comes to having proper transportation systems, proper marine services that people can depend upon and rely upon, and I do not think that we should have to tolerate it any more. We should not have to tolerate it any more.

I know why Labradorians are often so frustrated, because they know that they foster the bulk of the wealth in this Province. They know that they are fostering the majority of the revenues that are going into the provincial coffers. They know that when a minister over there stands up and says: we have have status in Newfoundland and Labrador, that a lot of it is attributed to the fact that there is a lot of royalties coming out of Labrador and the area where they live.

So do they expect to have year-round access? Of course they do. Do they expect to have better services? It is natural that they would. So you must understand the sense of frustration but we have never heard one of those ministers who have stood up and said: We now have status, we have all this money and we are balancing the books. They have never, ever heard one of them stand up and say: Now we are going to ensure that with the road opening across Labrador that there is going to be a year-round access for marine services. We have yet to hear that. That has not been said, but this is something that is seen as a priority.

In fact, the Minister of Finance knows. The Minister of Finance, when he spoke today, talked about his trips to Labrador. He talked about the people that he met. I know he was sincere in telling us that it was an eye-opener for him, and that he did learn a lot. He learned about the communities and about the people. He talked about how impressed he was, of their knowledge and their professionalism in proposing the issues and the needs of the area that they represent.

Mr. Speaker, I just hope that has had an influence not just on him, but that he is able to take that and have an influence on others within the Cabinet to ensure that there are proper returns for the people in Labrador, that we are not going to end up, after this year, with a road connection from L'Anse au Clair to Labrador City but nowhere to go only the end of the road. That is very important, and it is this government's responsibility to ensure that is not the case and that it is, in fact, going to be year-round access in that particular area.

Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, this particular agreement focused on three main priorities, and I have talked about the three of them: the road construction between Goose Bay and Labrador West; the highway between Cartwright and Red Bay and the section of highway between Cartwright and Goose Bay; and the other piece being the marine services. That was the main focus of this funding.

Over the course of the last ten years or so there has been more than $400 million spent on this infrastructure in Labrador - very important. There might be those who will still say today that the government of 1997 should not have taken the money from marine services and put it into roads, but I can tell you that I live among, and with, and represent every day, people in this Legislature who would beg to differ, who are very proud of the road connections they have and, in fact, would like more of them into other communities that are not connected.

Mr. Speaker, it is always a matter of opinion, but I can tell you it was a good investment. It was an investment by a government at the time that had knowledge of Labrador, and that was very important, because at that time the Premier of the Province, who happened to be Brian Tobin, had spent a lot of time in Labrador, had lived there, had practically grown up there, had a complete understanding of what the needs were and knew that this would be important. In his capacity as Premier, within the first twelve months of his mandate, this was one of the first major initiatives undertaken by his government.

I can only hope, Mr. Speaker, that the government opposite, and the governments of the future, will also see the benefits and the priority in investing in the Labrador region of this Province, into important infrastructure like this that probably should have done three decades ago, that the rest of the Province has been far more advanced and a lot further ahead in the work that they have done.

Mr. Speaker, there was also money used out of this project to upgrade community roads in Northern Labrador in particular. There was nearly $6 million spent to upgrade roads in communities like Rigolet, Postville, Nain and Hopedale, and not only to upgrade roads but also to buy other infrastructure like graders that were needed to be used in those communities to keep the roads up. There was money used out of the agreement to upgrade roads in Southern Labrador, in Charlottetown, St. Lewis, Black Tickle and Cartwright. There was money used to build a road in Normans Bay. In fact, Mr. Speaker, it was under this agreement that the first monies were made available to build a road around the community of Normans Bay. Until that road was built, the children in that community had never ridden a bike before in their lives. They had no road to ride a bike on. It was under this agreement, and it was the government at the time who saw this as important, who made the monies available to build a road around this tiny community. I remember going in there as the road was being completed and seeing the young children on their bikes, riding around the two kilometres of road in the community, and how excited they were, how enthused they were. Mr. Speaker, it made you feel good because it made you feel, really feel and see the impact that these investments were making in the lives of people, even the youngest people in the community.

Mr. Speaker, it was under this agreement that the road to Pinsent Arm got built, the highway; because, as you know, Pinsent Arm was not scheduled to be connected to the main highway in Labrador. In fact, it was several years later before government was convinced that this was an investment worth making. For $6.5 million that road got built and today, while it may be a small community, it is a community that has 100 per cent employment, 100 per cent employment, all in the fishing industry. All in the fishing industry. They have a small processing plant there, and they are the only plant in Labrador that processes whelk. The only thing that they process is whelk for market, and it is a viable business initiative that was undertaken.

Now, of course, when the highway got built there were changes that happened in that community as well; changes that meant that their school would close, that their children would have to be put on a bus and sent to a larger school twenty-five kilometres away, but those things were what they were prepared to accept. Those were the things they were prepared to accept as the cost of having access, of having the opportunity to be able to transport freely from their community as they wished. So, Mr. Speaker, it was an investment worth making.

In fact it was only a couple of weeks ago, over my Easter holidays, that I was into the community of Pinsent Arm, and I can tell you that I would be awfully worried today if that road did not go through to that community, because I know how important it is to the local economy. I know how important it is to the people who live there, and I know the opportunity that has been afforded to them because of it, so it certainly was a worthwhile investment.

There was also money spent out of this agreement to do upgrades to the North West River Road, nearly $1 million, and certainly again that is another section of road, while it was paved, it was one that needed a lot of work at the time and the work got done.

Mr. Speaker, there was also money used out of this agreement to look at doing work on ferry terminals and wharves. In fact, there was a ramp built in Postville to allow for the offloading of vessels that were going to that community. There was a fair amount of work done in Goose Bay and in Hopedale and in Nain, and I know in Black Tickle there was a substantial amount of money spent, as well as Normans Bay and Cartwright.

In fact, in Normans Bay it was only under this initiative that they got the first public wharf in that community. Not only did they get their first road but they also got their first wharf in the community, a public wharf, where vessels could dock and where the ferry could dock. There was a lot of work done in Cartwright to make Cartwright available for the operations of the ferry service between Cartwright and Goose Bay, Mr. Speaker. That was a worthwhile investment and one, today, that if it was not done I do not know how they would even operate because it still gets somewhat congested on occasions in the summer. There are a lot of users of the ferry service in and out of Cartwright to Goose Bay. I do not think that there is a vessel that sails throughout the summer - it is the Sir Robert Bond that I am referring to - that is not full. You can hardly ever get a reservation anymore because of the demand for the service on this particular vessel.

Mr. Speaker, this is an agreement that has fostered a lot of great opportunities for people in Labrador, and, believe me, for my district in particular, and I probably know it more than any one. I came in as the elected member only a year before this agreement was signed and I have had the opportunity and the benefit to lobby governments successfully through this process to ensure that monies were spent where they needed to be spent for the benefit of Labrador communities. While we did not always get the success 100 per cent that we wanted, we would have loved to have road connections into Black Tickle and into Williams Harbour and into Norman Bay, which did not materialize. I guess that was the decision of the government opposite. They chose their priorities and those communities were not their priorities, unfortunately. As a result of it these people have different challenges in transportation that they have to deal with.

I can only hope that in government repealing the Act today, the Labrador Transportation Initiative Act, that they are not repealing their commitment to continue to do roadwork and development in Labrador. In fact, Mr. Speaker, I would like to see the government opposite forcefully take on Ottawa on securing monies for pavement right throughout Labrador. Mr. Speaker, not only is it good enough to build roads that are gravel but we deserve to have paved roads as well. We deserve to have paved roads. There are people like myself who drive hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of kilometres every day in my district, to do my job, over gravel roads and there are many others who have to do the same.

I think it is time for the government to secure an agreement now. It is twelve years out since the Labrador Transportation Initiative was signed and implemented. It is time for the government opposite to be proactive and to get their act in order to sign a new deal with the federal government that will see the paving of the highway across Labrador. I think it needs to happen, Mr. Speaker.

I know they have their challenges with the government in Ottawa. I know that, Mr. Speaker. They are not the only ones who have their challenges with the government in Ottawa, but at the same time, the federal government now, nationally, is faced with the challenge of creating jobs and of stimulating the economy. There is no greater way to do it than to be able to invest to bring infrastructure to people in Canada who really need to have it.

I want to encourage the Minister of Finance and his colleagues to put before the federal government a full proposal that will outline the plan for the next ten years for highway development in Labrador, that will include the paving of the highway, not just from Labrador City to Goose Bay, but from Labrador City to L'Anse au Clair and to the North Coast of Labrador. I think it is important, and the time has come.

As long as there is no detailed proposal, as long as there are no requests from the government opposite and no aggressive lobby towards the federal government, you cannot expect that it is going to get done. It is not going to get done because some minister runs out in the media and says the federal government should do this or we are asking them to do it. You need to do your homework too. I would like to see a full proposal put to the federal government, and that that be one of the priorities for the government opposite, to ensure that the highways in Labrador are brought to the same standard that they are everywhere else across the Province and everywhere else in the country.

Mr. Speaker, it really would not matter to me under which legislative act they administered the money, as long as the commitment was there, the infrastructure was being done, and the people were receiving the benefits of that.

Mr. Speaker, I could go on for some time. I know I have spoken for over fifty minutes and my time is nearly up, but what I will say is this, that oftentimes people in Labrador feel that, because they are so far removed from the Province, they are often forgotten.

The Labrador Transportation Initiative gave them something that they had not had in a long time, and that was attention to major infrastructure needs that existed in their communities and throughout the region. They were very excited and have maintained that excitement over the years, as they watched new roads being built, new wharves being built, new bridges being put up, new depots being put in, local roads being upgraded, revamped marine services being provided, as they watched all of these things happen over the last number of years as a result of the Brian Tobin Labrador Transportation Initiative Agreement, they were excited. It allowed them to foster new opportunities.

I saw so many businesses created in my district as a result of this highway, so many new innovative ideas being developed and incubated into activity and opportunity that have provided so well for that region, because it forced people to take a different mindset. It gave them hope, Mr. Speaker, it gave them initiative, and it gave them enthusiasm, to go out and do all of those things. Not only was this initiative a catalyst for road development and infrastructure but it was also the catalyst for new ideas, for innovative thinking, and for renewed hope. We have certainly seen all of those things happening over the last number of years as this project continued to invest and provide for the communities in that region.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity today.

MR. SPEAKER (Collins): The hon. the Member for Signal Hill – Quidi Vidi.

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

I am quite happy to get some time to speak to Bill 5, covering the Act To Repeal The Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund Act.

Obviously, as leader of a party with one seat, the third party in the House, we do not have anybody who can speak specifically to Labrador as a member for Labrador, but I feel that it is necessary for me, as the leader of the third party, to have something to say with regard to this bill which deals with the repeal of the Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund.

I have not been in the House a long time, it is two and a half years now, and a lot of the issues around this fund itself took place a long time before I came to this House. However, the issue of transportation in Labrador and the issues that this fund dealt with are still issues of major concern for people in Labrador. While my party does not have a seat in Labrador at the moment, as leader of our party I do go to Labrador, and have done so fairly frequently since coming into this House. I think I am in touch with the concerns that people have, and for that reason want to take time to speak to this bill.

I have to say, Mr. Speaker, I was rather concerned when I saw a press release from the Minister Responsible for Labrador just a few days ago, actually last week, in which the minister was talking about the completion of Phase III of the Trans-Labrador Highway. What really struck me when I saw the press release is that the minister, who himself lives in Labrador, talked in the press release about the residents in Labrador having been very patient when it comes to the Trans-Labrador Highway and they are now being rewarded. As I read that my thought was, if I were a resident of Labrador I would be insulted that a minister would say that: that this is a reward for your patience.

The Trans-Labrador Highway is not a gift. It is not something that people should have had to beg for. The Trans-Labrador Highway is something that residents of Labrador should have been able to expect as a part of this Province. As roads were finished in this Province, they should have been able to expect roads as well. It is quite significant that the attitude of the sitting government is that, we are going to reward you for your patience and finish your road for you, at least finish this phase of the road. Let's remember we are not talking about a hardtop road yet. That attitude really surprised me and disappointed me when I saw it. It is the attitude that says to people in Labrador, that they are not equal citizens with the rest of us in this Province.

They have a right to expect that highway. They have a right to expect that things are going to move quickly. They have a right to expect that it is not going to take another ten years before they have a blacktop road. It seems that what is expected of them by government is: You be patient now and we will reward you, we will reward your patience. Well that is not a good enough attitude, I don't think, for the government to have towards the people in Labrador.

I know that people in Labrador get frustrated. I have been there, I have met with them, and I have heard them. The three members from Labrador know that as well as I do, and the Leader of the Official Opposition certainly knows it as well, the level of their frustration with services, with lack of services, with poor services, whether we are talking about air services, whether we are talking about the road, whether we are talking about those who do depend on a ferry, no matter what it is. The services are just inferior to services in other parts of the Province, and it is not good enough because this is the part of the Province that has given great revenue back to the Province. The mines, for example, in Labrador West, in particular in the past, have brought great revenues into the Province. This is the Province of the Upper Churchill.

We know that we have a flawed contract with Labrador over the Upper Churchill, but there are still benefits that come to this Province from the Upper Churchill, and that is the part of the Province where those resources have really benefited this Province. Yet the rights of the people up there do not get thought about.

I even go back to the Upper Churchill and back to Labrador West, too. We also have to remember - and it is a sad history of ours, but we do have to remember it - that back when Labrador West was opening up, for example, there was no thought as there was when Voisey's Bay happened. There was no thought to the fact that there were Aboriginal people who had inhabited that part of Labrador, that there were Aboriginal people who lived all over that part of Labrador. That was not even thought about back in the 1950s. That was a thought that was so far from everybody's mind. Luckily, when Voisey's Bay happened we were at a different time in our history and the rights and the needs of Aboriginal peoples were thought about.

Labrador is a very complicated part of our history because you have the people who were the Aboriginal inhabitants of the land, then you had the settlers, and then you had those who moved in, in the time of modern development. They all have rights and they all have needs, and in Labrador all of those people are working together to live together and to co-operate and to be there together. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the governments I should say, have not recognized the uniqueness, have not recognized it in a way that shows that the governments have understood that that part of the Province had to be treated equally to other parts of the Province.

Repealing this Act is the time for us to reflect on that. It gives us a moment to stop and think about what it is that people in Labrador should expect. They should expect a lot more than an attitude that says to them: Oh, you have been patient and now we are really rewarding you for your patience.

I know it is not transportation, but since I have been in this House, and even before I came into the House, from the moment I became leader of my party, I have been listening to the promises with regard to the new hospital in Labrador West, for example. We are still in the planning phase with that. Everything is still being planned. People in Labrador may be patient, and they are patient because they live in a part of the world where one has to be patient, where one has to accept what is around you, but they are also very intelligent people, very smart people, and they know the difference between good treatment and bad treatment.

I am not going to take a long time, Mr. Speaker, to speak to this, this afternoon. I am just going to mention a couple more of the services that Labrador does not have that they should be able to expect that are related to the transportation.

For example, people who travel the Trans-Labrador Highway do not feel safe because of the lack of communication. If I had to drive across the Island of Newfoundland, if I had to go from here to Gander, for example, or from here to Grand Falls-Windsor, just even that far, and think that I would not be able to communicate with anybody, that I might run into a problem and not be able to communicate, that I might be in danger not being able to communicate, I would not be very happy. Yet people in Labrador have to use the Trans-Labrador Highway on which they cannot get phone service. While the government had set up a system of satellite phones we know that the satellite phones are not working either.

There are too many stories of people who end up in very dangerous situations on the Trans-Labrador Highway, both in winter and summer, without an ability to contact anybody to get help. They just have to sit and wait and hope somebody is going to come along. This is not good enough. That is not even treating people as human beings. It is not treating people with dignity. It is not realizing that these people have a right to the same things that we have a right to on the Island portion of the Province. It is their right and it is their right to expect it.

Why should somebody, who works over in Labrador West and contributes to the economy of Labrador and to the Province, not expect that they can go on the Trans-Labrador Highway and be safe and have a cell phone service? Why should somebody on the South Coast not feel that they can go on the highway and feel safe?

As I said, I am not going to speak long. I am concerned that the government, while it has its northern plan, and while it is putting pieces of that northern plan in place, still does not recognize, still does not see, that Labrador is not being treated equally, even when it comes to looking at the Lower Churchill. If the Lower Churchill goes ahead, if that were to happen, it looks like this government has plans for that everywhere in the world but with very little benefit going to the Coast of Labrador, for example.

The time has come for governments in this Province, and right now it is the government that we are dealing with, to wake up and to see what the rights of Labrador people are, and that these rights are met, and to stop treating them in this way of: Oh, thank you for being patient, and we are going to reward you.

That is not the attitude that they are looking for in Labrador, and I am completely shocked that a minister who comes from Labrador himself could have that attitude.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to speak at the moment on this bill which, in itself, is not a significant bill, but it gave me an opportunity to voice some concerns with regard to how this government does treat Labrador.

Thank you.

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, we are looking at two pieces of legislation in second reading here today so I will ask the Minister of Finance, if no one else wants to speak on this bill, to close second reading of this act.

MR. SPEAKER: If the hon. minister speaks now he will close debate on Bill 5.

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

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My timing is impeccable, I would think. Mr. Speaker, I would assure the Leader of the Opposition that our commitment to Labrador is strong and is clear. It has been demonstrated by Budget 2009, and I can indicate that on this side of the House we have three strong members of caucus, two of whom are in Cabinet, who continuously strive for everything that is best for Labrador, and we feel that we are doing our best to improve the lot of the people in that part of the Province and to demonstrate our appreciation.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and I move to close debate at this point.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, we will continue with the Order Paper and we will continue second reading of Bill 6, An Act To Amend The Pensions Funding Act.

MR. SPEAKER: Before we move to that, the debate is closed now on Bill 5.

Is it the pleasure of the House now that this bill be read a second time?

All those in favour, 'aye'.


MR. SPEAKER: Contra-minded, 'nay'.

This bill has now been read a second time.

When shall this bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House, now or tomorrow?

MS BURKE: Tomorrow, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

The hon. the Government House Leader.

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Appeal The Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund Act. (Bill 5)

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair apologizes. I think we jumped the gun a little bit here.

This bill has now been read a second time.

When shall this bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House?

MS BURKE: Tomorrow, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Repeal The Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund Act," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill 5)

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, as I had said so quickly before we had the opportunity to wrap up the previous bill, I will continue with the second reading of Bill 6, An Act To Amend The Pensions Funding Act.

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

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

I have a few words with respect to this particular piece of legislation. We have had an opportunity now to review it with our research and so on, and I do not think it is a really, really complex or substantive piece of legislation we have here. The minister alluded to what its purpose was, when he stood in second reading initially, but I would like to make a few comments about pensions in general, I guess, in the Province.

We, of course, have a board, and everybody who is a public servant and MHA and so on, there are all kinds of different pension plans that exist as a result of government, and people contribute to pensions, and government contributes to their pensions, and a lot of people in the public wonder sometimes, well, who looks after that money that gets put into a pot for the pensions? Where does it go? How does it get invested? Who makes the decisions on investing and so on?

We have another group, of course, of public servants who are very upset. We hear them protesting quite regularly. That is a group, of course, who are not indexed, and they have been asking for years - the public service pensioners. They actually have an association and they meet regularly, keep minutes, and they solicit government interests and government involvement and ask the government to get involved.

Their big thing, of course, over the years has been that they do not get any indexation, which means that what they got as a pension if they retired in 1992 is what they have today. Of course, inflation eats away at those values, so the cheque that you got back then you cannot buy quite as much with it today as you would. In some cases you are talking fifteen or twenty years of erosion that has happened as a result of inflationary pressures on those cheques.

The ministers, of course, the past Minister of Finance, had to deal with this, the current Minister of Justice, when he met with these people and they approached him, and the government took the position that no, we are not in a position, nor would it be fair, for various reasons. Some say you had not contributed. In order to have an indexed pension, of course, you would have had to pay a certain amount in the first instance, and that was not done, so therefore you cannot very well expect to have it now; but that does not, of course, defer these people from still insisting that as citizens and as worthy public servants, which they were when they did work with government, that they ought to be entitled to it. I would think that protest is not going away any time soon. As long as we have governments, and as long as we have pensions and we have pensioners in need, they are going to continue year after year to press their case until hopefully we will be in a position, if possible, to do something to assist them.

Now, I do not know when we are ever going to get any better off than we were, say, last year, but it did not happen, so I guess on a go-forward basis it is going to have to be a pretty positive financial fiscal situation in this Province when we see a government looking at it any differently than was looked at it in this government in their Budget of 2008.

I mentioned, of course, where does it go? There is a Pension Investment Committee. A lot of people say well, who is on the pension committee and who is looking after my money so that I have some assurance that it is not a bunch of idiots who are looking after this, and they are going to take my money and it is going to be safely managed? We would not want it like some of those executives down in the states who run IGA, for example, and who are they? Are they high-paid, highfalutin consultants who take our money, or are they people who have our best interests at heart?

For the record, of course, it is easily found out if anybody wanted to know. The Department of Finance puts out a publication, actually, the Pension Investment Committee, and under the accountability and transparency legislation they have to give an activity report each year now for what they do. The membership, of course –

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: I believe that was AIG, rather than IGA. There must have been a grocery store one time called IGA. I appreciate the clarification there. It is AIG, that is right.

The chairperson of the committee - and it is made up of government reps as well as employee representatives, and there is even one non-government representative on there. The Deputy Minister of Finance, whoever that person might be, is on the committee; he actually chairs the Pension Investment Committee. The assistant deputy minister is there as well, as is the Comptroller General for the Province, and the assistant deputy minister, in this case from the Department of Education, sits on there. We also have the Director of Pension Administrations who sits on the committee, the Director of Debt Management, and we have the Manager of Pension Investments. That is from the government side, because this is just not a government plan. The government puts money in, the public service puts money in.

As well, there are employee or pensioner representatives. There is a representative right now, Mr. Bert Blundon from the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, NAPE. There is also a representative, the current Chair, Ms Forward, President of Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses' Union who sits on that committee; the representative from the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association; also, a representative from the Association of Allied Health Professionals; a representative from the Public Sector Managers' Association. There is also a rep from the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Service Pensioners Association; one from the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and there is a private sector representative on that committee as well.

What happens, of course, is they invest the money that is in the plan. They go out to different investors and decide where it is best to put your money and hopefully you are going to get a return. In that regard, everybody who has been alive, watching the news media reports in the last eight months or so is aware of what happened in the markets. Besides places like AIG going bottom up, shall we say, or facing some serious, serious consequences, auto companies that we see in the United States and in Canada, paper mills, for example, that are being hard hit in these economic times, pension funds was another casualty, another victim of the economic downturn.

My question of course, to the minister, it would be nice to see if we could get the figures now on how much we have recovered in the pension plan in the last little while because I do believe that the market value from March 31 last year up to November, at least, of 2008, and that was when we had just been hit the doldrums, shall we say. The bottom was out of her by then, by November. We knew the damage pretty well back in November that the market value of our pension funds decreased from approximately $7.2 billion down to $5.6 billion, which was a decrease in the value of your pension fund, about $1.6 billion. That is a pretty big hit. If you had seven-point two in the bank and you lose one-point six of it, you have taken a pretty good hit.

Now I do not know how that compares with other pension funds. I do not know if that is better than other government pension funds in other provinces. I do not know if that is better than the average individual who lost on his RRSPs for example. I know some individuals lost as much as 50 per cent or 60 per cent of the value of their RRSPs. Usually now, government pension funds probably would not be exposed to the same level of risk that a government pension fund would. Government pensions generally, typically invest in more blue chip type of investments. Whereas if you have RRSPs, most people take a more moderate, maybe a little bit of a higher risk because you want a higher reward, whereas governments do not. The decline was down to $1.6 billion.

Now I remember we had Estimates a little while ago and the Minister of Finance, I do believe I directed that question to him, but in all fairness and honesty, I cannot remember what his response was, that was a few weeks ago, as to how we have come back. I do not think we are down $1.6 billion now. That was a November figure. I think we have recovered somewhat. Most things seemed to have recovered a little bit lately.

I know the market, even a month ago, was down in the $6,000 range, the TSX at least - which is what I usually use as a guideline to see if it is doing okay. I do believe today she topped $9,700 again. I noticed when I checked this morning she was at almost $9,500 on Friday when the TSX closed, and as of about 10:30, 11:00 this morning she had raised 244 points, which was a big jump. Now that might be just the morning figure, maybe by now it is levelled off, I have not checked this afternoon. That kind of figure for example, 244 points on the TSX in the matter of a morning, that is big stuff. You are looking at a percentage or 2 per cent. If you are talking 1 per cent or 2 per cent in a morning on a figure of $7.2 billion, you are talking some dollars. We might have made a lot of money as of this morning even, on 244 points on our pension plan.

It would be nice to see if the minister can give us some figures as to where we are now, how much we have recovered. I do not think there is any suggestion, nobody would suggest that this money is not properly invested, not safely invested. It is like everything else, of course, you put your money in the pot, you take all the precautions that you can to make sure that it is properly invested and hopefully, at the end of the day, you will get good returns. The better the returns you get the healthier the pot, hence the more protection that public servants have on a go-forward basis when it comes down to drawing from that pot.

Another issue for pensions, in addition to how it is invested and whether we win or lose on the investment piece when it comes to returns, another issue always with pension plans is how are they funded? What I mean, of course, is if you have a plan that has to pay out pensions to 100 people, you need a certain pot of money in order to be able to pay those 100 pensioners and you need it funded to a certain level that is acceptable to guarantee that everybody who wants to and is eligible to will recover their money from that pot.

Now, a lot of times it is unfunded or under funded. There are a number of reasons why sometimes pensions are under funded as well. Sometimes you never took out enough money in the first place to put in; governments never put in the money that they ought to have put in. They realized that after the fact and then when they go to look for the money to put in, they realize, we do not have the money in the bank account to put in. So we cannot top it up.

We know this government, for example, did put a lot of money into the unfunded pension liability issues. I do believe a sizeable chunk, if not all of the Atlantic Accord monies that came about went into the unfunded pension liabilities. It used to be way up there. That money got dumped in and of course that lessened the unfunded liability portion. I do believe back then, the unfunded pension liability as of March 31 last year was $1.5 billion, I do believe at the end of March last year, that fiscal year. We were $1.5 billion short. That was a decrease of $466 million or approximately 25 per cent, because we used to be, the year before that in 2007 we were $1.9 billion short. In 2008 we were $1.5 billion short. So you made up about $400 million of the unfunded portion in the course of a year.

That, of course, unfunded portion continues to represent a debt of the Province. That is a liability. Somebody is going to be on the hook for that down the road and it is important of course because you do not want the fund to run out. So you have to make sure you keep it funded to the proportions that are required and you want to make sure that you invest it once it is there in a proper manner so that hopefully everybody who is entitled to their pensions will be able and eligible and draw it for as long as they need to draw it.

Of course, as time goes on as well, we are all aware of the baby-boomer syndrome. We have a situation where I do believe we are going to have a greater number of retirees drawing from that fund in the next number of years than we have ever had, and that is simply because of the baby-boomer factor. All of the baby boomers now of that age group from, shall we say fifty-eight down to forty-eight, that ten-year span, all of those who have strived for the freedom at fifty-five piece, they are going to be drawing from the pot. It is going to be a huge increase in the number of people who are going to be calling upon this pension fund. So all the more reason why we need to have it funded and all the more reason why we need to protect what we do have in there, to see that it is wisely invested.

So, in that regard – and that is a matter of public interest because there are a lot of people in this Province who avail of this pension fund. As I mentioned, you have the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association who is involved here. We have a lot of teachers. It is not the ones who are in the workforce now we are thinking about. We are thinking about all those who have retired, and all those teachers who are going to retire.

NAPE, all the members of NAPE are covered by these pension plans as well; all the people who are involved with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, CUPE. So if you lump together the CUPE workers, the NAPE workers, the nurses' association, all public and private employees, and the teachers' association, you have a lot of people.

I am just wondering maybe, too, for public information, if the minister can give us an idea of how many people are we talking about, really, who are covered off by this pension plan? We often mention names of teachers' association, as I just did, NAPE and CUPE, but I wonder how many people actually in this Province are currently receiving and drawing from this pension plan a pension? Forgetting about how much it is, because I guess different people draw different amounts, depending on what they paid in and so on, and how many years of service they had and when they choose to retire, whether they have other benefits, like Canada Pension benefits and so on.

It would be interesting to know just how many people of our 500,000-plus population in this Province are dependent and draw from the public pension purse. It would be interesting to know. As I say as well, it would be nice to know: Where do we sit now in terms of the unfunded liability piece? How well have we done with the little surge that we have seen in the economy since November, when things seemed to be slowly but surely coming back on a positive note, when it comes to the markets at least? I would think that has impacted, as well, on our pension funds.

So, I do not have anything else. It is getting late in the day. We usually close at 5:30, Mr. Speaker. I do not have any other comments. It does not have to be today, of course. The minister has some time, and we will be coming back in this for committee, but I think that information would be of great public value just to know those three questions that I just posed.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

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

I got caught by surprise. I was thinking that my colleague would go on until the end of the afternoon, so I think I can be ready. I have all my notes here.

I did want to speak to this bill, An Act To Amend The Pensions Funding Act. The act itself is pretty straightforward because it is a very simple amendment that is being made because of a conflict that existed between the Pensions Funding Act and the Transparency and Accountability Act. The changes that have been made remove the conflict. So it is a housekeeping piece of work, and that is important. We have to do those kinds of things here in this House, but what this does do is it gives us an opportunity to look at the whole issue of pensions. I am happy to take some time this afternoon to do that.

We are pretty privileged, those of us who are in the House, those who work for government, those who work for government agencies and government bodies, because we all are covered by a public pension that protects us and is designed to always protect us. So it is a real gift. It is also a luxury. It is part of the responsibility that we carry as people who are paid by the public purse. We are in service, and I think people who are in public service deserve to have this kind of protection but I also believe that all workers deserve to have this kind of protection.

That is why I think it is particularly a difficult moment for all of us as we look at what is happening in our Province right now with a group of workers over in Grand Falls-Windsor, men and women who worked for AbitibiBowater and who do not now know for certain what is going to happen to them. What is going to happen to them with regard to pensions? They do not know what is going to happen to them with regard to severance pay that should be their due. They do not know what is going to happen to them with regard to other agreements that were in place to protect them in the present and in the future.

The fact that we have widows in Grand Falls-Windsor, women in their late seventies, their early and mid-eighties who right now, because of unfunded pensions, have a loss of money; women who are on fixed incomes. We have pensioners over there, men who worked for years in the mill and who now are not receiving the portion of their unfunded pensions. That is something we are not going to have to worry about but that is something that they are being faced with right now.

So we have a real responsibility in this House of Assembly to think of the workers in this Province who do not have the same protection that we have, who do not have the same insurance that we have, who do not have the same assurance that we have. We can feel safe and they cannot.

One of the things that we should be looking at and preparing ourselves for and bringing to this House in legislation - it is not something I have the power to do, but it certainly is something that government has - is legislation that will bring protection to workers who are affected by what the workers in Grand Falls-Windsor are now affected by, by a company that is going under. Workers that have to stand in line as creditors begging for money, standing in the same line with a CEO of AbitibiBowater who walked out with $4.7 million in his hands and who wants to get in that creditor line looking for another $13 million. That is an insult to the workers of Grand Falls-Windsor, that that person is going to be able to stand in line and fight, most likely, for a position ahead of the workers who made the mill in Grand Falls-Windsor.

That is the kind of thing that these workers are facing. That is why this moment of changing a piece of legislation on pensions becomes a time for us to reflect on: How do we make sure that all workers in this Province, who have paid into pension plans all of their work life, get the benefit of those pension plans? Of course, we do not have a great system in this country to be a role model when our federal government takes away so much of the Employment Insurance from people that they have paid into as well. We have to really look at the attitude both in our country, in our Province, in some aspects of the corporate sector, it is not all, but in some, towards workers and to the contribution that workers make to the economy of an individual corporation as well as to the economy of the Province, the economy of the country. The workers are the backbone of the economy. AbitibiBowater, that mill would not be where it was without the workers.

This moment of remembering, of thinking about, of reflecting on what it means to have pension and what it is to protect pension is a time for us to say: Okay how can we –

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS MICHAEL: Okay, Mr. Speaker, I will stop now. I will be able to continue tomorrow.

Thank you.

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, we will certainly continue this debate at another time, and certainly we recognize that the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi has remaining time to continue to speak on this topic.

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to make note that the Estimates Committees will continue this evening. At 6:00 p.m. we will have the Resource Committee reviewing the Estimates of the Department of Environment and Conservation.

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

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

All those in favour, ‘aye'.


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

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

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