May 11, 2009             HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS              Vol. XLVI    No. 18

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order, please!

Admit strangers.

Statements by Members

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Today we welcome the following hon. members' statements: the hon. the Member for the District of Burgeo & LaPoile; the hon. the Member for the District of Labrador West; the hon. the Member for the District of Port de Grave; the hon. the Member for the District of Baie Verte-Springdale; and the hon. the Member for the District of Bay of Islands.

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

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

I rise today to recognize and congratulate twenty-six year old, Trooper Scott Simms, of Channel-Port aux Basques on his service to our country and his safe return from Afghanistan.

Trooper Simms is a member of the Royal Canadian Dragoons with the Canadian Armed Forces and he recently returned from a successful tour of duty in Afghanistan. Scott was stationed at the Forward Operating Base at Frontenac, in the Argandab District where he was the driver of a Coyote and other assigned duties. Scott's tour of duty in Afghanistan was from September 20, 2008 to May 3, 2009. He celebrated his twenty-sixth birthday while in Kandahar.

Trooper Simms is the son of Wayne and Gail Simms of Channel-Port aux Basques. Scott is currently stationed in Petawawa, Ontario.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this House to join with me in extending thanks to Trooper Scott Simms on his service to our country. All the best to Scott and his family.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Labrador West.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. BAKER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise in this hon. House today to congratulate the organizing committee and drama troupes from across the Province on a remarkable week of theatre preformed at the fifty-ninth annual Provincial Drama Festival held from April 14 to April 18 at the Arts and Culture Centre in Labrador West.

I want to particularly recognize the Northern Lights Theatre Company of Labrador West for their impressive showing. This was the debut entry at the drama festival for this relatively new theatre group and they walked away as the overall winners for their performance of Dancing at Lughnasa.

They captured the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador award for the best presentation for a full length play, the Hans Tode Memorial Trophy for innovative and imaginative set design and the Newfoundland Herald audience appreciation award.

The Northern Lights Troupe also won an array of individual awards. The Neala F. Griffin award went to Peter McCormack for best direction, the VOCM Scholarship award went to stage manager Ashleigh Strang. The Honorary Chairman's Award for best performance by a man went to Lester Simmons. Darrell Brenton took the Alan Power memorial trophy for the best lighting design and Wendy Chambers walked away with the Margaret Doyle Trophy for True Spirit of the Festival.

Meanwhile, the Reg Harte Memorial Award for best supporting performance by a man went to Nick McGrath of the Carol Players also from Labrador West.

The Off-Broadway Players from Corner Brook, Gander's Avion Players and Stephenville's Bay Theatre also won a number of impressive awards.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this hon. House to join me in congratulating everyone involved with the fifty-ninth Annual Provincial Drama Festival on an outstanding success.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, on Friday, May 8, the Class of 2009 at Ascension Collegiate held their senior prom night. It was truly an evening of celebration with the forty-fourth graduating class.

A service conducted by Father Clem Flarety and the graduating students was held at All Hallows Roman Catholic Church. Chairpersons for the evening was Olivia Crane and Adam Coombs. The valedictorian speech was given by Justin Delaney.

As parents and grandparents viewed the proceedings, 170 students were presented. This year's theme was: Memories Old-Memories New.

One of the highlights of the evening was the announcement of their king and queen of the prom. The winners were Garrett Mercer of Bay Roberts and Josie Brown of Shearstown.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all hon. members to join me in extending congratulations to the Class of 2009 at Ascension Collegiate, Bay Roberts, and wish them every success in their future endeavours.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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 highlight the outstanding efforts and contributions of Life Unlimited For Older Adults. This volunteer group of seniors, under the capable leadership of Phyllis Gard, Gloria Sheppard, Donna Snow and Bonnie Rowsell, unselfishly serve the seniors of our community.

They offer weekly programs such as moving for health, monthly initiatives such as community kitchen, special events such as entertainment dinners and intergenerational activities as ways to engage seniors in community life and to avail of their wealth of knowledge.

Formed in 2007, Life Unlimited For Older Adults now serves as a model for other areas as it collaborates with numerous agencies on a community, regional and provincial level.

I ask all hon. colleagues to join me in recognizing Life Unlimited For Older Adults for their outstanding efforts and countless hours of volunteer time as they enhance the quality of life for our seniors.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. LODER: Mr. Speaker, I rise in this hon. House today to recognize a long time and wonderful volunteer in the Town of York Harbour.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to recognize Mrs. Lottie Childs. Mrs. Childs, Mr. Speaker, was volunteering for forty-eight years in the town. Her interests are obviously for the well-being of her town and people and some of her involvements are as follows:

Over twenty years on council and presently holding the position as deputy mayor. Coordinator for the very popular Blow Me Down Folk Festival in August of each year.

Mr. Speaker, Lottie was a member of the Firettes for the past twenty-three years. She organized a committee for A-CAP, responsible for cleaning up the beach on an annual basis. Lottie is also a member on the ATV Committee and a member of the St. James Church Boat Tour Committee.

With all of this involvement, Mr. Speaker, Lottie still had the time to raise a family of three and worked thirty-three years in the local fish plant.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members here today to recognize the accomplishments of Lottie Childs as she truly demonstrates of what volunteerism is all about.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Statements by Ministers.

Statements by Ministers

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

I rise today to recognize National Police Week in Canada from May 10-16 and acknowledge the efforts of the dedicated members of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, throughout the country, people will celebrate the efforts of police officers who work tirelessly each day to serve and protect the people of Canada. Being a police officer is no easy job, and I believe that National Police Week is a wonderful opportunity to recognize their work. While police officers do not ask for such recognition, it is certainly deserved.

Throughout this week, numerous activities will take place in which both police forces in our Province will engage the community. Breakfasts are happening in local schools, such as Wednesday at Bishop Field. Floor hockey and basketball games are taking place between police officers, students and teachers, and many RCMP detachments throughout the Province will be available for tours, and a tour of RNC Headquarters is available Friday in Corner Brook.

Mr. Speaker, the Williams' government has made policing a priority of its Administration. Budget 2008 allocated $9 million towards redevelopment of RNC headquarters located at Fort Townsend in St. John's and $1.5 million for the purchase of living quarters for newly stationed officers in Labrador West.

Since 2003 there are 138 new police officers. Many of these officers have been designated to tackle issues of major concern such as illegal drugs and child exploitation. During this period, the combined budget for both police forces has grown by over $36 million for a total budget now surpassing $100 million. Mr. Speaker, we are all proud to have rejuvenated policing in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, May 15 is internationally recognized as Peace Officers' Memorial Day and remembers those who have fallen in the line of duty. Again this year I will have the honour of representing the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador in my capacity as Justice Minister at a ceremony which takes place at 11:00 a.m. at the Seventh Day Adventist Church located on Aldershot Street in St. John's. During this service we will honour the officers who have lost their lives in the course of duty in this Province.

Mr. Speaker, I encourage all residents of Newfoundland and Labrador to participate in National Police Week activities taking place at their local policing detachments or other venues in their communities. As well, Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate members of both forces who have worked hard to develop an informative and engaging police week and, indeed, I would further extend my thanks to all members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary for their dedicated work for all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians throughout the year.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I thank the minister for an advance copy of his announcement.

Congratulations as well from the Official Opposition to both the RNC and the RCMP on a job well done. We have them to thank, of course, for feeling safe in our homes and our communities. The job seems to be getting somewhat tougher in some circumstances, particularly in the more urban areas where robberies, drug issues, home invasions and such seem to be increasing. Albeit we might, from time to time, express some concerns about how they deal with some situations, we certainly have them to thank. They are well-intentioned, well-trained and dedicated professionals and we certainly do appreciate the service that they provide to us and our communities.

They are not only officers in the police force; these people play a vital role in the communities. Many of them are involved in everything from amateur sports to town councils, even, and school systems and so on, so it is very, very helpful that we have them there, not only to provide the safety but also to enhance our social fabric that we have in our communities.

I would encourage everyone to participate in the events they have around the Province this week as well. As we say, we certainly support them in celebrating National Police Week.

Thank you.

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement.

I, too, am pleased to join in celebrating the efforts of the police officers working in Newfoundland and Labrador: our own Newfoundland Constabulary as well as the RCMP. It is good to put investments into the forces, and I am glad to see more investments going into infrastructure, as has happened this year with our budget, but the RNC also needs more resources to provide more and continuous training to officers to ensure that they can operate professionally in the society they are hired to serve.

We all remember, of course, the incident not too long ago involving an autistic man, a young autistic man arrested and detained overnight on suspicion of being intoxicated. It is still fresh in our minds. This incident might have been avoided if more training had been available.

I do understand that training on this particular issue is now being done, but more needs to be done with regard to general sensitivity training. We owe it to the men and women of our police forces that adequate training is given. They want to serve us as best they can. Every bit of training is as important, possibly even more important sometimes, than the building of facilities, although we know we need the facilities.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further statements by ministers.

The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in this hon. House today to share some exciting news regarding the provincial government's ongoing economic stimulus plan.

This fiscal year alone the provincial government will invest approximately $800 million in infrastructure, and in excess of $4 billion over the next several years.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. TAYLOR: This builds upon our pledge to stimulate the economy and combat the global economic crisis. In fact, Mr. Speaker, we were and still are well ahead of the country in battling the looming economic crisis with sound infrastructure planning and investment already put in place by our government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. TAYLOR: I might point out, Mr. Speaker, that our Province is the third in the country to sign on to the stimulus package by the federal government and the first, I might add, who has done it without the threat of an election.

Over the past five years, Mr. Speaker, we have invested $1.5 billion in our provincial infrastructure. Now we see our foresight and planning coming to fruition, creating jobs and boosting the economy in our Province.

We are not wasting any time rolling out this program. We have already issued or awarded tenders for $130 million of this year's infrastructure stimulus package, with the vast majority of the work being done out in rural areas of this Province. We are putting shovels and hammers in hands and getting Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to work right now. It is anticipated our investment plan will create or sustain approximately 5,400 person years of employment this year.

This morning we achieved another milestone in our infrastructure strategy by signing a $366 million deal with the federal government to expedite significant construction and rehabilitation projects throughout the Province. The Province is contributing $175 million to these ventures.

Some of the highlights of today's announcements include: $84.4 million for a variety of cost-shared National Highway System projects, and $55 million - $32.5 million of which comes from the provincial government – to extend the Team Gushue Highway from Kenmount Road to the Goulds By-Pass Road.

Another major project is the replacement of the Kenmount Road Overpass – the infamous Kenmount Road Overpass. We should see work on the $9 million project start this summer. The replacement structure will be large enough to permit four-laning of Topsail road to handle continual traffic growth in that area.

Nine million dollars will also be invested to lengthen the runway at Deer Lake airport by 1,000 feet to increase service capacity and improve landing capability in adverse weather conditions.

Mr. Speaker, I have to say, I am particularly pleased to announce that $5.5 million will be invested to expand port facilities in St. Anthony. This expansion will relieve congestion and accommodate the increasing level of naval, Coast Guard and containership traffic. Today's funding will also provide $6 million worth or upgrades to the Argentia Access Road.

In Labrador, I say to the Leader of the Opposition, there is funding to continue widening and hard-surfacing of Phase I of the Trans-Labrador Highway –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. TAYLOR: - and $6 million to re-route a very dangerous piece of road of approximately five kilometres at Pinware River.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. TAYLOR: Even the Leader of the Opposition is applauding; it must be a good day. Either she or I are not for much longer. I did not even send her a card on Mother's Day.

Funding was also provided in today's announcement for a variety of municipal projects throughout the Province.

Mr. Speaker, the Williams' government took a strategic approach in creating our long-term infrastructure plan. We addressed the needs of the various sectors - projects that we needed to move forward on – and created jobs for our skilled workers, and did so because the timing is right. As we anticipated, we seem to be getting good value for the dollars that we are spending.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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 a copy of his statement, and to say no doubt the announcements that he made in this statement are all very important.

I just wanted to look at, in one of the paragraphs he mentioned we should see work on the $9 million starting this summer. Hopefully all of those projects will start this summer, because they are very crucial to the network in our Province, and it is good to see that the government here in the Province do work in conjunction with the federal government from time to time as we hear talk about the $360 million.

It is always positive to hear about more roadwork being done, because we know many of our roads have to be upgraded. Only last week I spoke to the minister about maintenance on the road, and the closing of the depots, and something has to be done with those. Mr. Speaker, in all, good roads and good links to our communities are also important to our tourism industry.

I know the minister mentioned about the workforce. We always know that is a crucial problem from time to time, but in one of the statements I read this week we lost some 2,800 jobs here in the Province last month and approximately 8,800 in the last twelve months. Hopefully this work that the minister has announced here today will take care of some of those individuals, to get jobs, because it is not what it was out west, and hopefully this will help the people of our Province.

We concur with the statement that he has made today, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

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

I, too, thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement. It is good to see the money finally being delivered today from the federal government. We have had this announcement before, in their January budget, and finally money is coming through. Certainly the municipalities in our Province will be delighted with the funding and be able to move some of the Province's plans ahead as well.

Unfortunately, though, what the government has not included and did not include in its economic stimulus plan is an investment in social infrastructure. That means programs that are needed to be the structure of a healthy society. Government needs to understand that by expanding their definition of infrastructure to include programs like child care, these programs also have an economic impact. Studies show that economies are improved by investment in social infrastructure. Affordable housing, schools, libraries, recreation centres, all of these things contribute to the economy as well as to the community.

For example, as I have pointed out many times to the government, Mr. Speaker, increasing child care spaces helps create long-term jobs, create more training in child care, and helps single mothers return to the workforce. So I continue to encourage this government to understand the need for social infrastructure in their spending.

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.

The nurses' union have rejected government's final contract offer by a vote of 63 per cent. It appears that we are headed towards a strike. This will negatively impact patients and our health care system but can be avoided if government is willing to go to binding arbitration on two clauses that cost no money and are simply policy decisions.

I ask the Premier today: While a strike could be only a week away, why will you not send these issues of dispute to binding arbitration?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, quite simply, a strike can be avoided if the nurses decide not to go on strike. It is my understanding that 80 per cent voted and that 63 per cent of those who voted, voted to have a strike. The math on that is 50.4 per cent, so one out of two nurses wants a strike and one out of two nurses do not want a strike.

The reason that the other nurses do not want a strike is because we have answered everything they have asked for. We asked to resolve the question of recruitment; we have done that. The question of retention, we have done that. We increased their pay package, done. Increase standby fees, done. Increase shift differential, done. We also replenished their educational leave fund, $180,000. We also formed a senior joint quality of work life committee to address system-wide nursing and patient care issues. We have also enhanced experience credits for nurses wanting to come to Newfoundland and Labrador. We can do no more.

We do not want a strike, but if the nurses decide that they are going to strike there is nothing we can do about it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, although the final contract offer was voted 63 per cent by nurses, the strike vote was actually 89 per cent which was taken earlier.


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Finance has not sufficiently explained why these two clauses cannot be sent to binding arbitration.

I ask the Minister of Finance today to explain to the people of the Province why you are so determined to put the nurses on the street because of these two policies, and tell us why you are refusing to go to binding arbitration.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I say to the Leader of the Opposition, we are not determined to put the nurses on the streets. They will decide themselves.

As the Premier has indicated, they have asked us to address the issues of recruitment and retention and we have done that. They have asked to be made competitive. They will be the highest paid nurses east of Ontario, so we have answered their concerns, Mr. Speaker.

Let me say something about collective bargaining. It is not simply we take what we want and then we go to binding arbitration on what we do not like. That is not the way this works. We put a package offer in front of them. Myself and the Premier explained to the president of the union that this is the final offer, and we said time and time again, we are not going to binding arbitration. The market adjustment also deals with issues of recruitment and retention. Government wants to maintain maximum flexibility.

I say to the Leader of the Opposition, 30,000 of the public sector employees in this Province have accepted those two clauses, I do not see the problem.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

But market adjustment in this sense is also about bypassing the collective bargaining process, and the minister knows that, and cutting deals with individual nurses. This is what the problem is.

For example, if a nurse that is working in Burin for the past five years and has that experience, they would be paid about 8 per cent or 9 per cent less than a new recruit that is working side-by-side if government wanted to negotiate that deal.

So I ask the minister, the issue here is about union busting. It is really what it is about, and this is what it looks like, unless there is a reason that government can give for not going to binding arbitration.

So I ask the minister: What is the objective here? Is it to bust the union and have segregation of the nursing workforce in this Province?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

While I was going to say I would expect more from the Leader of the Opposition, she obviously does not understand. You should not mislead the public, I say to you.

Mr. Speaker, market adjustments are all variable pay incentives. It can be retention bonuses, it can be recruitment bonuses, it can be bursaries, relocation expenses. It is something that is going on out there now. We are developing a policy that will address all of these issues and we will apply them fairly and consistently. We have never said, as a government, that we are going to pay one nurse standing side-by-side more than another nurse. What we have –


MR. KENNEDY: Can I finish my question, please?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. KENNEDY: My answer? Yes, can I?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. KENNEDY: Now perhaps, Mr. Speaker –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to direct his comments to the Chair and to conclude his answer.

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We have not said that we were going to do that. What we have said as a government, that we will maintain maximum flexibility in addressing recruitment and retention issues, that this deal is extraordinary, Mr. Speaker, in these economic times, and for the life of me I cannot understand what the difficulty is.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

While the minister says it is not their intention, you are asking to reserve the right to be able to cut deals outside of collective bargaining with individual nurses, and that is what you are doing under market adjustment.

Now, Mr. Speaker, because these issues are non-monetary and because they can be settled by an independent party, why is it that government is reluctant to take that process?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I refer the Leader of the Opposition to the comments of the Opposition House Leader last week when he says: We need nurses in Ramea, or we need nurses to work with nurse practitioners and government should do something about it.

Well, one of the ways we deal with recruitment, Mr. Speaker, is by having the ability to deal with situations as they arise. What the market adjustment will do, it will give us the opportunity to address situations that need to be addressed, Mr. Speaker, and it again goes back to the main issue that the nurses talked about, were recruitment and retention. What we have said is that we will treat everyone fairly and consistently. Mr. Speaker, a 31 per cent increase in these economic times, when I heard the Member for Port de Grave talk about layoffs there that were announced last week in terms of statistics, I say to you, Mr. Speaker, that this is a most generous offer and one that is part of a package.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We will be the first to acknowledge the offers that are already on the table by this government for nurses and we are not disputing whether that is adequate or inadequate.

What I will say to the minister is that outside of the market adjustment clause your government, and governments before have also had special agreements for nurses in this Province, and Labrador is one of those regions. It was negotiated without having this clause in the agreement. So why is it required now to deal with special circumstances?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Let me reiterate that a new nurse entering the profession will start - him or her - their salary will start at $55,000. Senior nurses will go to $75,000. These increases, Mr. Speaker, are ones that are necessary to address the concerns of recruitment and retention.

The president of the union, from what I understand, has said publicly that she has no problem with the offering of recruitment bonuses, she has no problem with signing bonuses, when, in essence, Mr. Speaker, all we are doing as a government is developing a market adjustment policy which will ensure consistency and fairness across the board.

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to allowing for contracts to be negotiated, Treasury Board will indicate to the health boards what they can or cannot do within reason. All we are trying to do, Mr. Speaker, is maintain maximum flexibility so that the people of this Province receive the health care that they deserve.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

According to governments responses today in the vote that has been taken by the nurses, I think a strike is inevitable and could happen as early as the next week.

I ask the Minister of Health today: Have any contingency plans been finalized? When will they be implemented, and when will patients start being notified as to what the level of service that will be provided to them?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: There are multiple questions there, Mr. Speaker, but I believe the first one: Has there contingency plans been made? You might recall, I responded in this House earlier in this session that in fact each of our four authorities have negotiated with the nurses' union essential employee agreements. So throughout each of our organizations there are arrangements in place with the nurses' union where they will provide essential employees to be able to provide emergency response services and care to those people who are critically ill. When will that be activated? We do not have a notice of strike yet, and until that happens, the health authorities are at business as usual and they will continue to provide health service to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Should, or when and should the nurses' union decide to serve notice, because I understand they need to serve a seven-day notice, if that should be served then that will activate a response from the authorities that will then start to notify patients of any changes that may occur in the services that they are scheduled for.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Although the minister is waiting for an official paper trail on the strike, I think everyone in the Province realizes what has been happening and I am sure the health authorities are preparing.

I ask the minister, in comparison to a normal nursing shift, what percentage of nurses would remain on a shift during a strike period as part of that contingency plan?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, just by way of education for the member opposite, these essential employee agreements are negotiated by each of the authorities, site specific. So within, for example, the Health Sciences Centre, the emergency department may not see any changes in the level of staffing that would be required to provide emergency service. So I suspect that in the emergency department there will be no change at all. In some other unit there may be some slight adjustments in the level of service or the number of nurses who will work that schedule.

So the answer to her question is quite simply, it will vary by site in terms of a physical location. It will vary by unit, nursing unit or critical care area or patient care area within a particular site. So that may vary, but on average there is around 40 per cent I believe across the system. On average about 40 per cent of the nurses will have been deemed as essential employees.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We have also heard the minister state previous that all non-essential services would be postponed should the strike occur.

I ask the minister today, if he could outline for us what non-essential services that would be and approximately how many surgeries would be cancelled as a result of this?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, one of the critical responsibilities we have as a system and that is why the nurses' union have worked collaboratively with the health authorities. During a strike, should there be a disruption in service, then we want to make sure that we are able to respond to those emergencies; people who are critically ill, respond to emergencies, things that we cannot predict.

Those things that are much more elective and can be planned for, those sorts of programs and services may be postponed, they may be rescheduled for after a strike but critically, one of the things that we want to make sure we are able to do is respond to emergency services in each of our health facilities around the Province and those people who need critical care, get the critical care they need. Those people who need emergency response, they get the emergency response. That will be the focus during any strike situation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My next questions are for the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture. The federal government is reportedly looking at financial aid for the struggling lobster industry and they have been holding meetings over the weekend with several fisheries groups.

I ask the minister, if he has been involved in those meetings or if he has been given any indication by the federal government what programs are being considered for lobster harvesters in this Province.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HEDDERSON: Mr. Speaker, with regard to the meetings, we have been involved in meetings with our counterparts in the Maritimes since before Christmas in trying to come to grips with the falling price of lobster and the market problems that they have been having, and throughout those meetings, struggling with trying to come up with ways in which we could address the times. Up until this present time, basically it is talking about marketing, diversification, so on and so forth. Of course, I read the same article that the Leader of the Opposition read, that the federal government now, through Minister McKay, have indicated that they are looking at it and will get back to the industry. That is news to us as well and we are obviously waiting to see exactly what it is that they now –

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I know in his statements he quoted that programs would be available in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. He did not list Newfoundland and Labrador and certainly that was the reason for my question to the minister, to ensure that we were included. As well, I was aware of other programs that were launched in Atlantic Canada between governments and the private sector to encourage further sales in the lobster industry. I am not entirely supportive of the route they choose but the concept is a good one.

I ask the minister if this is something that his department or government are considering in Newfoundland and Labrador.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HEDDERSON: Mr. Speaker, again we are always open to any way that we can assist industry, be it the fishing industry or any industry, especially with regard to the workers.

Of course, we are aware of the attempts that have been made throughout the Atlantic Provinces, in any number of different ways, to try to address this particular difficulty we are having now with the market downturn. Again, we are always open to any solutions that come our way.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, the crab fishery remains in turmoil with both the processors and the union headed for a showdown by the looks of it.

I ask the minister: Are you aware of any new developments or discussions that will see a full redemption of the crab fishery in the next few days?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HEDDERSON: Mr. Speaker, since last I stood in this House the panel have made a decision to hold the price as it is. It is obviously not to the satisfaction of either party, to be honest with you. Right now, the market conditions have not changed and both of these parties, of course – this is a collective agreement they have had between each other, and I guess the onus is still upon these particular parties to come to some sort of an agreement. If the price is not there, then they have to make decisions as to where they go from there.

I understand they are in the process of that, and we will continue to support them in any way we can to bring resolve to this situation as we see it now.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, if this issue is not resolved soon, obviously things could get worse.

I ask the minister: With limited processing capacity available, what impact will this have on plant worker who are obviously caught in the middle of this entire dispute?


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HEDDERSON: Mr. Speaker, admittedly this is a very, very difficult situation. I think both sides of the House recognize that.

We understand, too, that the reasons for this difficulty do not necessarily rest with us. It is about a recession, it is about poor markets, it is about buyers who are not setting a price, and it is about us being very, very vulnerable at this particular time. Again, as I have indicated in the past, we will continue to work as hard as we can possibly work with these groups to ensure that the fishery continues and that it is in the best interests of them, as an industry. Again, I cannot control what goes on beyond our borders.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Premier has continuously stated that he would go it alone on the European Union trade negotiations, putting issues affecting our Province front and centre on their agenda, and enter into bilateral agreements with the EU.

As stated in today's paper, the EU representatives said that they would not be entering negotiations with this Province, and those discussions will have to take place with the federal government.

I ask the Premier: In light of these comments, will we be joining the federal government now as part of these trade negotiations, and will we have an in through that route?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: No, Mr. Speaker, absolutely not. We will not be joining the federal government in these negotiations. We will continue to state our case.

We have proof now, as a result of what they have done with the whole sealing protest, that they will not be there to safeguard our interests. That was our concern right from the start: that they would not represent the interests of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and they would trade off our interests for the interests of other Canadians.

That is not in our best interest, so we are not going to abide by that. We will not co-operate with them. We will continue to state our case on the more important issues – equally important issues, forgive me – of tariffs and, as well, foreign overfishing and custodial management.

So there are other bigger issues. There is also the whole issue of the Atlantic Accord and what is going to happen when European countries do business in Newfoundland and Labrador.

We have a case to make, and whether they invite us to sit at the table or not, we could not care less. We will state our case publicly, here and around the world.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, the Premier and the government's decision to opt out of the EU negotiations as part of the federal contingency will have an impact, no doubt, on local businesses and the products that we are exporting, and our ability to be able to trade with the EU.

I am asking the government today: Are there any plans in place to look at other options, to look at how we can deliver a stronger message so that our business community is not impacted by those decisions?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, our history in this Province has been giveaways. It has been giving away and giving in and kowtowing to the federal government, and allowing the Government of Canada to represent our interests around the world to the detriment of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Those days are over. Those days ended with this government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: There are also a lot of very big, multinational, European companies that want to do business in Newfoundland and Labrador, because of our minerals, because of our oil and gas, because of our fishery, and we have to take the abuse from these hypocrites basically saying that we act in an inhumane and a barbarian manner, when they chase bulls through the streets in Spain, and matadors pierce bulls in a Roman type atmosphere, and we are out trying to earn a living.

We are going to do what we have to do here to protect the interests of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and I could not care less what the rest of them do, I have to be quite honest with 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.

The government previously stated back in 2008 that it intended to bring forward legislation regarding the autonomy of Sir Wilfred Grenfell College. We have yet to see any such legislation come to pass.

I ask the minister: Is this delay linked to a re-evaluation of whether or not this government should give Sir Wilfred Grenfell College full university status?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: Absolutely not, Mr. Speaker. We are continuing to work through a process with officials at Grenfell College and Memorial University and our own officials at the Department of Education. We intend to move forward, and when the legislation is ready we will have it before the House.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, in 2007 the student enrolment at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College was approximately 1,400; however, Mr. Paul Wilson, a professor at the college who is also a Memorial University Senator, recently told the news media that the college current enrolment is less than 1,000 students, and may be approaching a critical point where it is no longer capable of maintaining upper level degree programs. This is a significant decline, considering that the college was hoping to have an enrolment of 2,000 by the fall of 2008.

I ask the minister: Has government looked at this decline and its causes, and is this playing any role in the delay of bringing forth legislation on Sir Wilfred Grenfell College autonomy?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: Mr. Speaker, we are aware of the challenges raised by the member opposite, as well as many other challenges that confront us as we try to move forward with any significant venture that we are going on like this. I say to the member opposite, that is why we are taking our time and we are going to make sure we do things right.

I also remind the member opposite that is why we brought in some significant investments in tuition freeze in this Province. I also remind the member that as a result of our investment in that kind of initiative we are seeing a lot of enrolment come to our institutions from outside of the Province, in places like Nova Scotia and elsewhere.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, in the days following the release of the Kelly-Davies report in 2007 many voiced their concerns that the report lacked a thorough analysis of the cost of extending greater autonomy to Sir Wilfred Grenfell College. In response to the report, the university's administration calculated that, based on small universities elsewhere, a separate university in Corner Brook would require a budget of approximately $26.9 million with an enrolment of 2,000 full-time students.

I ask the minister: Has government prepared its own estimates on the cost of extending full university status to the college?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: As I have said previously, Mr. Speaker, with respect to the development of legislation, and bringing it before the House, issues like the member opposite continues to raise are all part of an ongoing process where we are engaged with officials at Grenfell, as well as Memorial, in consultation with our own officials at the Department of Education, and we will assess the issue raised, and many other issues.

At the end of the day, our intention as a government is to make that work. Until we are ready to move forward with legislation and the supporting guidelines to make it work we will not be in front of the House, but we are certainly working through a process and at the appropriate point in time we will bring legislation before the House and move it forward.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, I also recently received a Department of Education briefing note from an Access to Information Request. The briefing note is dated November 20, 2008, and it regards the cost of increasing the autonomy at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College. While much of it has been blacked out, the note states that the long-term financial implications of enhancing the college's autonomy cannot be predicted as it will develop over time.

I ask the minister: If cost cannot be predicted, what financial analysis is being used and, with the ongoing delays, has cost become an obstacle in giving Grenfell autonomy?

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

MR. KING: Mr. Speaker, I say to the member opposite, with all due respect, we are aware, as a government, that any investment outside of the overpass and into rural Newfoundland is going to cost money.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: I also say that there are many initiatives that governments, over the years, become engaged with, where it is very difficult to nail down exactly what a cost is going to be from one moment to the next. I simply point out, who would have known twelve months ago what the markets would be like in the world today?

Certainly, we are cognizant of that. We are cognizant of many other issues that we have to address before we bring legislation before the House and before we make the final move to give autonomy to Grenfell College. We will make sure that we do due diligence so that when we do come before the House it will be a successful venture.

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, on Thursday past the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture said, when referring to crab pricing, this is the dance that goes on every year.

Mr. Speaker, considering the number of fish plant workers and crab fishers, and the large revenue that the crab fishery brings into the Province, this is a very flippant remark to be made by the minister in charge of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister again, as I did last week: Will the minister sit down with the union, harvesters and processors together, as he did in February, to work through the current issues on crab pricing?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HEDDERSON: Mr. Speaker, with the time that you get to get up in the House, oftentimes we make comparisons, metaphors, whatever you want to call it. That is one of them, but it is not a flippant remark because it does adequately describe how, during this time of year, in all the years that I know in the fishery, that is the sort of dance that goes on.

The former Minister of Fisheries, the Leader of the Opposition, you know exactly what I am talking about, right? It is something that – it is not to downgrade any efforts on our part at all, right? So the thing about it is, and I said before as I say now: I am open and accessible to all the groups that are involved in this particular impasse, if you want to look at it this way. With the price setting panel, I brought the groups together less than a couple of weeks ago, again to speak with them to try to find a common ground that we need in order to move forward. I still seek that common ground. I am still accessible and I am still working as hard as I can on behalf of our government to get where we need to be.

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.

Obviously, the minister is not ready to give the leadership that he should be giving.


MS MICHAEL: Mr. Speaker, last Thursday – call the three parties together, I say, Mr. Speaker. Call them together!


MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS MICHAEL: Mr. Speaker, last Thursday the Standing –

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, as the minister has alluded, last Thursday the Standing Fish Price Setting Panel rejected the request by the Association of Seafood Processors application to reduce raw material prices for crab. Mr. Speaker, there are a number of processors that are buying crab. It seems to me that fact puts in question the position of the processors that there is no profit to be had at the current price set by the panel.

So I ask the Speaker: Will the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture unequivocally support the price set by the panel?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HEDDERSON: Mr. Speaker, I am not going to be baited into doing a dance here today, I tell you, because this is a serious –


MR. HEDDERSON: - and I am not going to be led in that dance by anyone from across the House, I can tell you that right now, but I will say, Mr. Speaker, that again, and I reiterate, that this is a collective bargaining procedure, one which we have set up through the Price Setting Panel to be able to negotiate and to work with the two groups. Now, I have been asked to get into the middle of that and to impose, I suppose, some sort of a solution when again, I say to the hon. member on the other side, this is two parties that are struggling to come to grips with a downturn in an economy that is beyond all of our control. So all I am saying is that we are doing the best we can in these trying times.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I will not repeat what I said in response to the minister's last question. It still stands.

Mr. Speaker, the minister in his statement in this House last Thursday saying the comparison of local crab prices with prices in Atlantic Canada is like comparing apples to oranges has caused bewilderment in the industry, as reflected in an article in Friday's Telegram on the first page of the business section where FFAW head Earle McCurdy questions what the minister could have meant. According to the head of the FFAW, snow crab is snow crab, which is my point.

So could the minister stand and explain to the head of the union what he meant when he compared snow crab and snow crab to apples and oranges?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Time for a quick answer from the hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HEDDERSON: Mr. Speaker, I had to put on my glasses for that one because I cannot see where this is going because again, I made a comparison to draw attention to the uninformed that there are differences between the snow crab situation in the Maritimes as it is in this Province.

The Leader of the Opposition, when she was Fisheries Minister, had a report done, the Dunne Report and it identified fifteen different variables. Let me put on my glasses. Bonuses, markets, characteristics and quality of crab, price setting mechanism, competition for the project, jurisdictional processing requirements, shipping costs, how it is financed and on and on and on again. Again, there are differences. I made a point that there are differences!

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.

Tabling of Documents

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

MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to table the Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro Consolidated Financial Statements for the year ending December 31, 2008, as per the Hydro Corporation Act.

I am also tabling the Nalcor Energy Business and Financial Report for 2008 as per the Energy Corporation Act.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further tabling of documents?

Notices of Motions.

Notices of Motion

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

MR. T. MARSHALL: How soon they forget, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I give notice I will ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act Respecting The Public Trustee. (Bill 27)

Mr. Speaker, I further give notice I will ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Amend The Provincial Court Act, 1991. (Bill 28)

MR. SPEAKER: Further notices of motion.

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I give notice that, under Standing Order 11, I shall move that the House not adjourn at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 12, 2009.

Further, I give notice that, under Standing Order 11, I shall move that the House not adjourn at 10:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 12, 2009.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Further notices of motion.

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

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

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

WHEREAS the present financial assessment tool used by government to assess home care and home support sets up barriers for people; and

WHEREAS government's new financial assessment tool will not be in place until December 1, 2009; and

WHEREAS the present system discriminates against people who need care at home and people who receive care in institutions; and

WHEREAS seniors, persons living with disabilities, and those living with chronic diseases require home care and home support, some on a daily basis, some on a short-term basis, and some on a sporadic basis;

BE IT RESOLVED that the House of Assembly urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to implement immediately a needs-based assessment tool for assessing home care and home support in the Province;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the House of Assembly urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to create a fully regulated home care and home support system.

Seconded by the MHA for Port de Grave.

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.

It gives me great pleasure to stand on my seventh petition concerning dialysis equipment for the Southwestern region of the Province. It certainly generated a lot of feedback, shall we say, over the weekend. I am very pleased to say, in fact, we did have a telephone conference this morning with two of the individuals involved in Western Health, and they provided me with some information, because they said they certainly would not want me to be misinformed in what I say here in the House.

It was not a case so much of being misinformed, I guess; it was not having the total information package that was required. So, those two individuals who work with Western Health did give me some information which is crucial as well.

First of all, of course, the training issue of staff: We have already indicated that the staff in the institution could be trained to provide the services. I was under the impression that it was about six weeks to do it, but apparently, according to the information now, it takes about eight weeks to do the training, so not a big deal, a couple of extra weeks to do the training. The bottom line is, the training can be done and there would have to be a certain period, two to four weeks, of clinical training as well. Of course, the hospital could not free up the four or five persons to go and do that training all at one time. You need four or five in a pool, of course, who are capable of doing it, but that does not require that you take four or five out of your staff and go do all the training at one time. You can train so many today and, as time goes on, you have a continuing education program to provide that training, so that training is possible there.

The equipment: Apparently it is not an official fundraising effort of the local foundation but, I assure you, it will not take much for it to become such and it will not take much for the people of Southwestern Newfoundland to put their money where their mouth is and make sure that the equipment is provided. We have provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in the last ten years through the Health Care Foundation to support equipment purchases, not only in our own hospital in Port aux Basques but in the hospital in Corner Brook, in the Western Region, because we all use that as well. It is not that we will only support what we are going to use in our communities. We will support what is needed by anybody in the region.

We have been doing that for ten years and, I do not mind saying, for the last ten years I have taken part in every single one, I believe, except one, telethon that we have done to raise funds. It takes place over a weekend, usually in October month. So, equipment is not going to be an issue.

Now there is a proposal in the works, of course, and it is going to take some time to finalize the details of the proposal. How many people will need home care? Is home care appropriate in some circumstances as opposed to a satellite system? What do we do that accomplishes and maximizes everything on a – enhances the services for dialysis on a regional basis?

We are not suggesting that we should just look after the needs of Port aux Basques and nobody else. Obviously it needs to be a package that services the whole region, but the bottom line is, regardless of what package you choose, you have to have some services to the people of Southwestern Newfoundland which keeps them from having to travel extensive, unacceptable distances every single week of their lives, not once but three times a week, from Port aux Basques to Stephenville or Corner Brook to get these services.

So, a little bit more information. I have more but time does not permit me today in this petition to get it all out, but I will have some time as long the House is open, from now until whenever the dialysis is finally agreed to, so I will be back with further.

Again, the people have not given up on it. I went home for the weekend, actually, and I picked up another suitcase full of petitions, so I have lots of petitions from now until 2011 when election time comes around again. We will see then how government has dealt with the issue.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further petitions.

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

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

I am pleased today to stand with another petition with regard to the Long Island Causeway, it is called, a fixed link between Long Island and Pilley's Island.

I have to say to the hon. House, Mr. Speaker, that I have quite a few petitions. I can't say I have a suitcase full, but I have enough to get us through this session, let me assure you, and they are continually coming in.

We all know the situation: That those people were promised a causeway back in 2003. That issue came to the forefront, I guess, when this government took over and found that the financial situation wasn't in place for them. That is little consolation to those people, Mr. Speaker. Now that they know the financial affairs of our Province have turned around – we hear, today, major announcements being made with regard to road infrastructure and water and sewer and so on – the residents and the Long Island Causeway and Transportation Committee believe their concerns are not being addressed.

I understand, Mr. Speaker – and I can stand to be corrected, but I was talking to the lady with regard to this committee – they have a meeting arranged, I think, with government. Hopefully, government will reconsider their decision. Maybe something good will come from this meeting. It is good to know they are getting together. Maybe the petitions are making a little difference and the minister will listen to their concerns, because they do have concerns, Mr. Speaker.

They have been serviced well over the years with a ferry service. Their request was either for a new ferry or this link to the island. They are saying it is more feasible, financially, for that to be done.

The concerns they have – I repeated them before – are: the issue with regard to getting, in a timely fashion, to the hospital when people need medical attention; the transportation of their students to the schools; and the products from the fish plant, Mr. Speaker.

Listening to what they have to say and knowing the concerns they have, being isolated – I know what it is like to be on an island. That is where I was raised. Those people have some major concerns in this day and age. Many of those people were resettled. Maybe that is what they are trying to do here. Those people are standing firm. They are asking for a good ferry link to the Island or a causeway, which is their preference, because of the financial reasons.

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure, today, to be able to stand on behalf of the residents and this committee to present this petition to the hon. House of Assembly.

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.

It gives me great pleasure to deliver the seventh petition with respect to the Towns of Ramea, Grey River and Francois, and their need for a fully complemented medical facility in the community of Ramea.

I have mentioned this, as I say, seven times before. My colleague from Port de Grave talked about living on an island. Well, anyone who knows Ramea knows it is an island, and of course you need to have the basics, at least, when it comes to medical attention. The clinic there was supposed to be staffed by two nurse practitioners. For months and months and months they have only had one nurse practitioner. She has taken up residence and lives in Ramea and is quite contented, but that person, of course, cannot do it all. That person needs a day off. She cannot work twenty-four seven, 365 and she needs some help.

They are putting in a little bit of backup. There is an LPN that can do certain things, that is going to get certain training to try to help out. There is also some staff that comes from Burgeo from time to time if there are special events and so on and you have an influx of people into the community, but that is not sufficient. The bottom line is it is difficult for Western Health to attract the other second nurse practitioner because of their current attraction system.

The Minister of Finance talked today about recruitment and retention bonuses. He talked about the need for it in Ramea, and I was up here preaching about it for successive days. The minister is quite right, I have been on my feet talking about nurses for Ramea, but unfortunately, the current system that he has in the Department of Finance and government has with respect to recruitment is not serving the purpose. It is fine in some cases. Maybe you can attract them here with the recruitment if they come to bigger centres in more urbanized areas, but when it comes to rural Newfoundland you have to do something a little bit special, I would say to the minister, and your standard package does not fit everybody.

I have suggested before: Why not allow the recruitment and retention bonuses to apply to anyone who is currently a member of the nursing profession in this Province? Why does it have to be a new graduate, or why does it have to be someone who comes from outside the Province? There may well be someone in this Province who is a member of the nursing profession who would be prepared, maybe she is retired or he is retired and they would prepared to go to somewhere like Ramea for a year. Yet, they are not going to go if you do not give them this extra incentive to go. That is what we are suggesting to the minister but so far he has blinkers on. I cannot say blinkers because blinkers you still see ahead and you just do not see to the side. I think he has one of these night masks on because he is not prepared to look at all and he is in the dark.

I will be back, every opportunity that the House permits to have a petition with regards to this issue. I do not mind speaking up for the residents of François either. I do not represent that district but they are part of the same medical clinic coverage. They have given me the petitions as well. I know their MHA is not getting up to speak about it. They have mentioned that to me, by the way, that she has not, but I will do it on her behalf. That is not an issue. I will continue to do so, Mr. Speaker, until, hopefully, the situation is improved there.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: Further petitions?

MR. T. MARSHALL: A point of order, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: A point of order.

The hon. the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General on a point of order.

MR. T. MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, while you are considering the point of order, this arose out of the minister's comments today and the rebuttal by the hon. Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi about training for police and being sensitive to issues other than autism.

I just want to say for the benefit of the hon. member, the benefit of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, that a report was prepared in December of 2008, not that long ago, for the Association of Chiefs of Police and for the Law Advisory Committee of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. After referring to the training, the mental health issues for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, it said: it may well be that the RNC is currently setting standard in this area. It goes on to say that, when it talks about directions for the future, it says that the police academies may want to strive for the type of comprehensive training that is currently offered by the RNC. So I think the people of this Province, while more training is always needed and always will be the people of Newfoundland and Labrador I think can have confidence in the training that our police are receiving.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

There is certainly no point of order. It is a point of clarification put forward by the hon. Minister of Justice and the Attorney General.

Orders of the Day.

Orders of the Day

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the hon. Minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development to ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Amend The Research and Development Council Act. (Bill 20)

I further move that the said bill be now read a first time.

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the hon. the Minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development shall ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Amend The Research and Development Council Act, Bill 20, and that this bill be now read a first time.

Is it the pleasure of the House that the minister shall have leave to introduce Bill 20 and that the said bill be now read a first time?

All those in favour, 'aye'.


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

The motion is carried.

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development to introduce a bill, "An Act To Amend The Research and Development Council Act," carried. (Bill 20)

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Research and Development Council Act. (Bill 20)

MR. SPEAKER: Bill 20 has now been read a first time.

When shall Bill 20 be read a second time?

MS BURKE: Tomorrow, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

On motion, Bill 20 read a first time, ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the hon. Minister of Government Services to ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act Respecting The Registration Of Deeds And Other Documents. (Bill 21)

I further move that the said bill be now read a first time.

MR. SPEAKER: Properly moved and seconded by the hon. the Minister of Government Services to ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act Respecting The Registration Of Deeds And Other Documents, Bill 21, and that Bill 21 be now read a first time.

Is it the pleasure of the House that the minister shall have leave to introduce Bill 21 and that the said bill be now read a first time?

All those in favour, 'aye'.


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

The motion is carried.

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Government Services to introduce a bill, "An Act Respecting The Registration Of Deeds And Other Documents," carried. (Bill 21)

CLERK: A bill, An Act Respecting The Registration Of Deeds And Other Documents. (Bill 21)

MR. SPEAKER: This bill has now been read a first time.

When shall Bill 21 be read a second time?

MS BURKE: Tomorrow, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

On motion, Bill 21 read a first time, ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I move, seconded by the hon. the Minister of Government Services, to ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act Respecting Consumer Protection And Business Practices. (Bill 22)

I further move that the said bill be now read a first time.

MR. SPEAKER: It is properly moved and seconded by the hon. the Government House Leader to introduce a bill entitled, An Act Respecting Consumer Protection And Business Practices, Bill 22, and that Bill 22 be now read a first time.

Is it the pleasure of the House that the hon. minister shall have leave to introduce Bill 22 and that this bill be now read a first time?

All those in favour, 'aye'.


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


Motion, the hon. the Minister of Government Services to introduce a bill, "An Act Respecting Consumer Protection And Business Practices," carried. (Bill 22)

CLERK: A bill, An Act Respecting Consumer Protection And Business Practices. (Bill 22)

MR. SPEAKER: This bill has now been read a first time.

When shall Bill 22 be read a second time?

MS BURKE: Tomorrow, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

On motion, Bill 22 read a first time, ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, from today's order sheet, we want to call Order 2, Concurrence Motions, subsection (a) Government Services Committee.

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved that the Government Services Committee report now be concurred.

The hon. the Member for the District of Conception Bay South.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is certainly an honour for me to get up and say a few words during concurrence debate. I guess, for our listeners at home, I should give a little explanation of what concurrence debate is all about.

Concurrence debate is part of the budgetary debate. We call them Estimates committees. There are three Estimates committees that meet with the minister of each department and their staff. It gives the members of the committee the opportunity to ask questions, direct questions about what is happening in their department as well as line-by-line items of the budget of each department. Sometimes it can be quite laborious. Some departments go quite a bit longer than three hours, however, they are credited with three hours toward a seventy-five hour time limit for Budget Debate.

Mr. Speaker, that is what is entailed in Estimates, and in turn, Concurrence today, what we do is we bring back the report from our committee and debate it here in the House again where everybody, any member can get up and stand and debate concurrence again for, I believe, a total of three hours once again. Like I said, it is all part of the seventy-five hour debate that we hold on the Budget here in the Province.

Mr. Speaker, like I said, sometimes debate can be quite laborious and sometimes there are repetitive questions and so on, but I must say this year it flowed very easily. I want to acknowledge all the ministers who took part, and in particular their staff. Their staff comes – it is usually in the morning or late in the evening that we do Estimates - and they sit here and answer questions that are directed to them by members of the Committee, and indeed in some areas, certainly, for technical assistance that some of the ministers would have.

I always refer to Health, who has a budget of $2.6 billion. When somebody bores down and asks you a specific question about a specific area out in one of the regional health authorities, Mr. Speaker, very often than not you have to count on your officials knowing their work as well.

One thing we are very fortunate in this Province, is that we have a great public service. I know in Health, where I am Parliamentary Secretary as well, they spend quite a bit of time outside the regular nine to five hours. I can assure you that most people at executive levels in government do the same, Mr. Speaker, and I certainly acknowledge the work that they have done.

Before I go any further, Mr. Speaker, I think I should point out and thank the members of the Committee as well. I will name them: the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair; the Member for Topsail; the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi; the Member for Burgeo & LaPoile; the Member for Kilbride; the Member for Port de Grave; the Member for Exploits; and the Member for St. John's East.

Mr. Speaker, these people sit here and ask questions, when directed. Everybody gets an allotted time. I certainly acknowledge the work that they have done, and the hours that they have taken out of their busy schedules to be here in the House with us during the debate.

Mr. Speaker, as I referred to earlier, there are three different categories in Estimates that we go through. We have Government Services, which is the Committee that I chair. We also have two other committees. We have a Resource Committee that is chaired by Mr. Harry Harding – I do not think I am allowed to say your name – the Member for Bonavista North. As well, we have the Member for Ferryland, who chairs the Social Services Committee of Estimates, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, these three Committees are made up of a variety of different departments. The one that our department – the Government Services Committee – we debate a number of departments. I will just list them off for our listening audience: the Department of Finance; the Public Service Commission; the Office of the Chief Information Officer; the Department of Government Services; the Government Purchasing Agency; the Department of Transportation and Works; the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation; Intergovernmental Affairs Secretariat; the Volunteer and Non-Profit Secretariat; the Department of Labrador Affairs; and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.

Mr. Speaker, as you can see from the broad range of departments, we certainly touch on an awful lot of issues, and during these debates it is not uncommon for us to touch on anything, really, as it relates to Estimates, and any time you speak in the House on any kind of a Finance bill you certainly have the opportunity to speak on just about anything you like, especially as it relates to any expenditure that we spend here in government.

Over the last couple of weeks, I guess, Abitibi has been a topic of conversation here in the House where ministers have been asked numerous questions by members opposite, Opposition members, and rightly so. I mean, we are into a very, very serious situation in Grand Falls-Windsor. We have an industry, basically, that has been shutting down, and we have taken some steps over the last little while to ensure that we not only hold on to the resource that we have there, and some of the things that belong to the people of this Province, Mr. Speaker, but we have also done what we can for the workers out there who are experiencing very, very difficult times. We, as a government, are going to continue to work with them and do what we can, Mr. Speaker, to make sure that they get exactly what they are owed. In particular, of course, we have heard over the last couple of weeks things like severance and so on.

Mr. Speaker it is not something that I normally do in the House but last week in some of the reading that I had, I came across a couple of letters that I thought were important to share here in the House. They are not from Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. They are actually from people outside of this Province. Actually, one is from Ottawa, Ontario, and the other one is from I believe Ontario as well, a place in Ontario as well. Oh, no, it is from the President of the Canadian Labour Congress, I think, who is certainly out of Ontario.

Mr. Speaker, I thought it appropriate to share some of these endorsements and some of the ways people are looking at our government for some of the things we did, in particular the leadership of the Premier, and I thought it was important.

This first letter that I would like to quote from was written by a gentleman by the name of James Murray, like I said, who resides in Ottawa, and I just wanted to read a couple of captions, if I could, from this letter: Newfoundland is taking back the forestry and water rights from the company. The move is being protested by AbitibiBowater, who have launched a protest under NAFTA, North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement - which most of us in this House are certainly familiar with. Williams is taking the kind of bold steps that many political leaders only dream about doing. Certainly, the image of the leader standing up for the people is one that every political leader would like to be seen as doing. For most, however, by the time their team of political advisors and consultants have examined the idea of standing up for the people, either the time has passed or the idea seems to fade into inaction.

That is a private citizen in Ottawa, Ontario, who is sizing up the issues here in this Province and believing in what we are doing here and certainly believing in the steps taken by the Premier.

It even goes on to say, and I will just end on this one, by this point, he says: "This is not to suggest that Premier Danny Williams… will end up in the political "Hall of Fame..." So he is not praising him up, that he is going to nominate him for some form of political hall of fame, "…but rather that they can hold their heads up high long after their time in office is over. That legacy perhaps is the best one that any elected official can leave office with."

I have to agree, Mr. Speaker. Somebody told me first when I got involved in this, you stand and you represent people. They told me as a member, he said, when you leave politics, if you are known as a good constituency man, meaning you look after the people who represent you, then I believe that that is the biggest compliment you could have on you, not whether you are the best minister, not whether you are the best at this, not whether you are the best in the House of Assembly. I still believe, Mr. Speaker, that if you are known as a good constituency man, it is certainly the highest compliment that somebody can pay to you as an elected official.

Mr. Speaker, the other thing I would like to refer to on the same topic actually, is a letter that was written to the Premier by Ken Giorgetti, President of the Canadian Labour Congress. Now I am going to touch on a few captions out of this. I think it is important to read this stuff into the House just to let people know that not only are we doing this, there is all kinds of media, there are people who have been across the country saying: Oh, we are bullies and we are doing things against business. Mr. Speaker, these are significant moves that we are making on behalf of the people of the Province and it is certainly being recognized.

Mr. Speaker, this starts off by: The Canadian Labour Congress has praised yesterday's statement by Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams and will fight to ensure workers laid off by Abitibi –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair is always reluctant to interrupt a member when he is speaking but the hon. member is a seasoned politician and the hon. member knows what he can recite from letters as long as he discloses who wrote the particular letters. He can no more read a name of somebody's personal name by reading a letter that he cannot refer to them in conversations or in debate in the House. So I ask the hon. member, by all means bring forward his letters but to not refer to any member here by their personal names. If it reads a member's name, read out the position that the member occupies rather than the person's name.

The hon. the Member for Conception Bay South.

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I agree with you. I certainly apologize. I did not realize the road I was going down and I certainly do apologize for that. I certainly understand what you are saying, the point you are making and I would probably be the one here sitting down grumbling if somebody else was doing it, so I thank you for that, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, just to continue on, the Canadian Labour Congress President, Ken Georgetti, "praised the strong actions and leadership that he and his government" – referring to the Premier – "have demonstrated on behalf of working people."

Mr. Speaker, this is not your average person writing a letter either. This is someone who is head of the Canadian Labour Congress. He goes on to say, "This is the kind of leadership that Canadians expect and, quite frankly, Canadians deserve from the governments they elect."

"This is the kind of first-class service every Canadian who has lost their job, or lost their retirement savings, or who is being squeezed by the banks should demand from their governments, instead of the second-class service too many of them are getting today."

So, Mr. Speaker, there is somebody from the Canadian Labour Congress, who represents, I might add, I think 3.2 million Canadian workers in this Province, certainly a voice for labour throughout the country. What the CLC does, it brings together Canada's national and international unions along with the provincial and territorial federations of labour and 130 district labour councils.

So, Mr. Speaker, when you have the head of one of the largest labour movements in the country, with 3.2 million people involved, it is certainly good to see these people believing in the actions of, indeed, the Premier, but certainly in the actions of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, we talk about our Government Services Committee, well a number of things we could talk about within the different departments that I outlined earlier. Of course, when you deal with Finance and Transportation and Works, certainly it brings open a broad base of topics.

Mr. Speaker, on February 18, 2009 – and I just want to go back to this for a minute – what we did was a stimulus package. A road we decided to go down, I guess we were probably the first in the country to go down that road as a Province. So, we set our course, a course really that we established a number of years ago, expecting - I guess not expecting. It would be unfair for me to say expecting, but certainly planning for a day when things could go bad.

We know now by the world economy, and unless you are living in a bubble, certainly you would have heard of the downturn in the world economy, and the Province's economy too, has had effects. In the meantime, thank God, and knock on wood, we prepared for it in a lot of ways. Certainly, we are riding the wave a lot better than most. We are certainly not in the bubble, we are certainly not missing it, but we are certainly riding the wave a lot better than most in our country, and indeed our friends south of the border, Mr. Speaker. We are probably one of the best positioned regions in North America to weather this financial storm.

Mr. Speaker, on February 18, 2009, we did a number of things: Transportation infrastructure, $309 million; we had educational facilities, $155 million; health care facilities and equipment, $163 million; municipal infrastructure, $103 million; Newfoundland and Labrador Housing, $25 million; and justice infrastructure, $18 million. As well, today I notice Nalcor had their consolidated financial statements shared with members in the House. As well, Nalcor, through their subsidiary of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, are investing $48 million in various projects throughout the Province.

Mr. Speaker, at that time there was a significant announcement for my district and one I think I should get in here now, and that is in education. I mentioned it here in this House before. That is an extension, an addition of new classrooms, and a challenging needs suite at St. Edward's School in Kelligrews.

I actually attended an event there on the weekend. They are now raising money, personally, to set up and put a new playground in place. Certainly, Mr. Speaker, I have to say the school seemed overjoyed with the extension and with the addition of classrooms. I have to tell you, there was quite a good mood there. The place was absolutely full as they tried to raise money for their new playground. I haven't spoken to Mr. Gagnon, so I am not going to break the bubble of much they hoped to raise or how much they did raise, but I am sure it was a significant amount of money.

As well, Mr. Speaker, there was an extension of additional classrooms for Upper Gullies Elementary.

Mr. Speaker, that brings me to today, and I wanted to touch on this today. We had the opportunity this morning to attend a press conference at eight o'clock at the Sheraton down at what I would always call the Newfoundland Hotel, where there was a significant amount of money announced. I think it was, in total, a some three hundred plus million dollar investment of which the federal government put in $135 million and the Province $175 million. That, accumulated, of course, with some municipal money as well, Mr. Speaker, we are well over a $300 million investment this morning.

There is a big list of places getting done. Overall, there is $130 million of this year's infrastructure stimulus package, so part of the $800 million has gone into and really tripled, Mr. Speaker, and will create, apparently, 5,400 person years of employment, which is significant in a Province like ours here.

Mr. Speaker, as well, some of the major things are: $84.4 million in a variety of cost-shared national highway system projects. I am certainly not going to get into them, but I know the minister referred to them earlier today and certainly talked about the overpass in Paradise. I guess it has been the boundary between baymen and townies for a number of years. Mr. Speaker, me being a baymen, most of the crowd where I come from certainly pass the overpass on numerous occasions throughout the run of a day and a week and a month and a year, so it is certainly good to see that, too, will benefit the people from my area. Mr. Speaker, it is going to be great news for a number of areas.

Mr. Speaker, just in my area alone, I will speak to that just for a couple of minutes - my time is running out – we had a multi-year infrastructure plan last year. We saw $22.9 million in multi-year infrastructure, which was over three years. It was a significant amount of money for water and sewer, roads and recreation facilities. There was a piece of it there for a town hall but, of course, mainly it was the paving and the water and sewer and so on that was the big issue. One of the biggest issues of all, which took up $9 million of that component, was the place that we refer to at home as the Topsail treatment plant.

Mr. Speaker, for some time now, I guess it was probably one of the first ones around that did any kind of treatment. I am still not sure what treatment it did. Anyway, there was a building built but it was a very minor treatment to the sewer going out into Conception Bay. I guess it is probably one of our provincial embarrassments today, Mr. Speaker. It is something that certainly had to be dealt with.

Out of the roughly $23 million, $9 million of it was for the Topsail treatment plant. Previously, we had built a new treatment plant in Kelligrews; however, something had to be done to stop the raw sewage going out, so the town and government agreed that $9 million would do the job. Unfortunately, when the engineering work came back, there was now going to be over $15 million worth of work needed.

Mr. Speaker, I was proud to be a part of the news conference today and sit in when our Minister of Transportation and our Minister of Municipal Affairs announced today that there will $6.3 million extra money for the Town of Conception Bay South to move on. Mr. Speaker, that brings the total up now to almost $30 million that we have received, the Town of Conception Bay South has received, from this government. Mr. Speaker, I will stand here today and wait to be corrected, but I know never of a time when the Town of Conception Bay South has received a complement of $30 million for infrastructure.

I say, Mr. Speaker, it was a short time ago that the mayor and the municipal officials out there met with us and different departments and explained how they had $120 million worth of needs. Mr. Speaker, never did I dream that we would achieve $30 million toward those goals in such a short period of time.

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of things I could get into in Finance and so on.


MR. FRENCH: Thank you very much.

There are a number of things I could get into, on what we have done in tax areas that have benefitted the people of this Province under the Department of Finance, under the guidance of the minister from Carbonear-Harbour Grace, but I particularly wanted to hit on that district stuff today because it was a big day for our district, one that we are very, very proud of. Like I said, we are into $30 million now. Do we still have needs? Absolutely, we have needs. We have transportation needs, we have recreation needs.

Mr. Speaker, all I can tell the people of Conception Bay South is that we are getting there. I know some people in certain areas have been waiting quite a while, but let me tell you that $30 million for a community the size of ours does not come easy. I am delighted to say that we are getting there and we will continue to work, Mr. Speaker, on achieving all of the goals and to meet all of the needs of the residents of our town.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER (Collins): Order, please!

The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

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

I appreciate an opportunity to have a few words in debate here on concurrence. We are dealing today with the Government Services Committee. I always take a moment, of course, to explain to my friends Joe and Martha exactly what the process is about, because they often wonder, what are they talking about today?

Of course, everybody in the Province knows that we brought down the Budget some weeks ago, back in March month, but as a part of the process the Budget gets read here in the House by the Minister of Finance. Then there are a whole bunch of Committees called Estimates Committees that meet outside of the House over the next number of weeks, after the Budget is read, with people from all parties. You sit down and on each of these days, for example, the Minister of Finance would come in. If I am on that Committee, I would get to question the Minister of Finance and his staff in his department, his deputy ministers, his ADMs and directors, about anything that I would like to ask him about, the detail that might be in that particular department. That happens with every department. It happens with the Legislative Assembly, which is the budget governing the House, all of the MHAs and the officers of the House, the statutory offices. It happens with the Premier's office and so on. Today is a part of that process.

Today we are dealing with certain departments that come under one of those Committees called the Government Services Committee. Finance comes under it; Government Services comes under it; Transportation and Works; Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs; and Intergovernmental Affairs departments all fit under this particular Committee that we are going to do today. It takes three hours in the House, and people from both sides get up and have their say over the course of that three hours and, at the end of it, that concludes that piece of the Budget, and hopefully by tomorrow night, if things go as planned, we will be doing the final votes on the budgets. We did one Committee last Thursday; we are doing one today and one tomorrow. We have some loose ends we have to tie up besides that tomorrow night, and then we will be ready for the final vote on the budgets.

Now, that is not to say that nobody has been spending any money in the Province, because obviously we did another process earlier on called Supplementary Supply which gave the government some authority – or Interim Supply, excuse me – some half or one-third of the money, usually, back before March 31 so we could send out the cheques that might accrue and be required from the first of April onwards. So nobody has to fear that they are still waiting for a paycheque because we are in here debating in the House. That was dealt with in Interim Supply, so they have that.

I would like to comment on the Estimates Committees because that is a very important process, and unfortunately it is not done in the openness and accountability that it should be. We have come a long way in this Province in the last eight or nine years when it comes to letting people see how the system works, letting people know who speaks, who does not speak, what they speak about, because it helps the people make their own decisions and determinations as to what is happening in the House and who seems to say what is on their mind and stand up for themselves and their districts and so on. That is why it is important, but you do not see that because it is not televised, and I have always been a strong proponent. I was here when we first brought cameras into the House of Assembly, voted for it, and was a strong proponent for it, and I believe that everything that goes on in the House of Assembly should be televised. All of these Estimates Committees, I do believe, or the vast majority of them, took place in the House of Assembly. It takes place right here, usually in the mornings or in the evenings when the House in full is not sitting, so there is no reason physically why we cannot use the House of Assembly to do it. The same equipment that you are using now to watch me on TV in this Province can be used in Estimates. There is no reason in the world it cannot be done. The only thing is that there is a certain cost associated with it, to buy the air time; but, given the importance, I would submit, of how important it is for people to have a true understanding of how the government works, that should be televised, and it is not.

I will give you an example why it should be televised. We have thirty minutes a day, whenever the House is open, called Question Period, and we come in here in Opposition and we ask questions of the minister. Now, anybody in this Province who has watched knows that it is called Question Period for a reason, because it is not answer period. We know that there are very few answers that come from the government ministers when we ask questions here. Some people have even called me after the House some days and said: Did I hear correctly? Did you get up and ask such-and-such this question? Yes. Did he say such-and-such back? Yes. Well, what does one have to do with the other? I said, absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing.

In fairness to some ministers – and, by the way, those ministers are seen as being informed, enlightened, and they do not mind telling it like it is. If some ministers in this House have to stand up and say something, they do not mind doing it. I would say that is the best way to be. If you do not know it, say, I don't know it; I will go find the answer for you and get back to you. If you do know it, why not say it? You do not have to sugar-coat it.

The Minister of Justice usually gets up; he does not fudge it about. If you ask him a question, if he has the answer, he will tell you. He does not bamboozle you very often. Sometimes he might get a bit long-winded, but not too often. If he doesn't know, he will also tell you he does not know, but you can be sure he is going to come back within the next day or two and tell you what the answer was. That is what you call a flow of information.

Then you get other ministers who stand up and you wouldn't know but you asked a question about the moon and they are telling you about something that has nothing to do with the moon.

AN HON. MEMBER: (lnaudible).

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Absolutely. They do not have a clue what they are talking about.

That is not lost on the public. The public knows the ministers who know their stuff and the ministers who do not know their stuff. That is why I like Estimates; because, in Estimates, the way it works is, if I am sitting over here in the Estimates Committee and I ask the minister a question - it works two ways, because it works to the minister's benefit as well. The ministers have their full staff, and if they do not know something they can tell you: Excuse me, ADM or DM, or such-and-such, can you give me the information? You get an immediate follow of information, if it exists.

Sometimes they have to still go and put the information together, and they always say: No problem, we will send it along to you. At least you get an answer. If you do not get the answer, you can say: That is not right. Why are you bluffing me? That is not the answer. Or, if you want to go back with another answer, you can do it. You are not restricted like you are in Question Period, where the minister knows that if he or she gets up and gives a little fluff answer, oh, well, they are going to move on from me now because there is only thirty minutes in Question Period anyway.

They cannot do that in Estimates, and that is why I am a strong advocate of the Estimates being televised, because then you see what is truly going on. You cannot hide behind Question Period. You cannot hide behind the Speaker, who might sit there with a stopwatch and say, okay; the question was thirty seconds so the answer is going to be forty-five. There is none of that then. You really see who knows their stuff.

It is also good because Estimates quite often gives you a lot of information that you can make use of. I have learned a lot of things over the last number of years in Estimates Committees that have been helpful to my district, particularly when it comes to programs. I might be questioning the Minister of ITRD, for example - in fact, I remember this year I was questioning the Minister of Business and an issue came up and I knew there was someone who was interested in pursuing an activity. I asked the Minister of Business: Look, what do I do? What is the process? What door should we knock on, or what number should we call?

Right then and there the answer was given. Sure enough, I have been told since then, only a couple of weeks ago, that officials in that department met with those people. Now, that is what it is all about. It is not a case of saying I am not going to tell you. It is public information, and the more public it is the more people benefit from it.

What is the point of having a Department of Business with x millions of dollars in it, if the MHAs who usually have their ear to the ground, usually know what is going on, who people quite often approach for some information, do not get that information? It is not about hiding away. It is about putting all the information out there so that everybody can get it.

Anybody who has read The Telegram in the last number of weeks also has noted that the media follow this thing - and it is not only The Telegram. I have heard, in this session alone, there were at least five stories that came out of CBC morning news as a result of things that were asked and told in the Estimates Committees, five stories that the public might never have ever heard of before. I have seen at least three or four references in The Telegram by way of editorials, sometimes in the Jeers and Cheers section, about what questions were asked and how certain ministers responded.

Can you imagine that if the media are picking up on this stuff – because that is their job, in the media; they are taking the time to pay attention to what is going on, even though it is not on television – can you imagine how much more informed the public would be if it was televised? We are already to the point here where I understand the House is now going to be rebroadcasting Question Period at certain times. There might be certain other things that we do in the House that we are going to rebroadcast. Why? Because there is an interest in it. A lot of people like to hear Question Period, and all they get of Question Period sometimes is a little snippet that might come on the evening news, and if you were working and you missed the evening news, you missed it. Yet, people want to be informed so they are going to be rebroadcast, and I think that is a very good thing. I think that is a very good thing indeed.

That is the process of Estimates, but it is not complete. It is far from complete, and it will not be complete until we get the true openness and we get it televised. I do not know why government is hung up on this. I have been preaching it for the last five or six years and nobody seems to get the take-up on it, why we should do it. I do not know; maybe the ministers might figure that they would be embarrassed, or what the situation is, but obviously they are not interested.

The other comment I would like to make about openness and tying in to debating here in this House, I would like to refer in particular to the commentary that the Minister of Health and Community Services made last week here in this House. He made it on May 5, which was a Tuesday, and I refer you in particular to page 779 of Hansard when he said, and I will quote, "Each and every one of us, regardless of the party we represent, have a responsibility to come here and represent our constituents, yes, but we also have a responsibility to participate in debate, participate in discussion in a reasonable way, not to fear monger, not to stretch facts, not to try to create illusions that something is different than what it is, play cheap political games in here, take shots at people, try to discredit individuals with a view of trying to bolster your own political fortunes and future."

A long sentence, but it is one full sentence that he made. I have no problem with that sentence, and I am not pointing it out from a critical point of view, but I am going to pick out of it because some members got upset when the issue was raised about who stood up and said what in this House, and what right you had to do it, or the fact to suggest that you were trying to embarrass anybody, because I made no bones about it. If I have something to say I will say it, if it concerns my district and my constituents, or if it in the public interest and it has to be said I have an obligation to say it. As the minister said, you have to take part in the debate. You have to represent your constituents.

Now, some people got upset because there were certain members in here, I would submit, who did not represent their constituents. You can call it what you want, and you can say that it is trying to make someone look bad, but it is a fact. I did not create the facts.

I will give you an example when it first came up. It was when I got up on the dialysis petitions for my district in Southwestern Newfoundland and somebody said I mentioned about Labrador West, and the Member for Labrador West did not get up with petitions. That is up to him, if he gets up or not. It is not my business to tell the gentleman who represents Labrador West whether he gets up in this House or not, but it is noted to me that he did not. That is his call whether he gets up or not.

The MHA for Fortune Bay-Cape la Hune - I got up and gave a petition in this House seven times on the issue of the lack of a proper medical clinic on the South Coast in the communities of Ramea, Grey River and François. Now, folks, I do not represent François, but they came with a petition signed. In fact, the petition that I used on the day in question, every single name on it is a resident of François. What are you supposed to do when you have the petition – not my district but the same ferry service services all three communities? Am I supposed to say: Well, I am not going to put in that one because I do not represent François? I do not think that is prudent. I do not think that is respectful of the people who signed the petition. I do not care if their member wants to get up. If they wanted to, I can give him the petition. Let him stand up if they want to.

By the way, there is nothing democratically wrong with standing up to represent your district on an issue that concerns your district. It does not mean you are being disrespectful to the party of which you are a member. It does not mean you are being disrespectful to the government. All it means is that you are bringing the concerns of your district to the House of Assembly. I got up when I was a member of government and brought petitions. Government did not always agree with me, but it did not relieve me of the responsibility to stand up and bring it to the House. In fact, I think if a member did that you would be all the more respected. You wanted it in there, you got it in there. I got on my feet and I did it for you. Now, unfortunately, the government of which I am a part disagrees with that, but that does not get you in any hot water. I think that only gets you a bit more respect from your constituents if you stand up for them. So instead of ducking the issue stand up for them.

We had the issue here, the member here for Port de Grave, my colleague, day after day after day got up in this House and brought in petitions from Pilley's Island and Long Island about the causeway. He does it because he is asked. He did not go out and look for petitions. People come to you with petitions and say: Look, our member will not do it or whatever, or they do not want to give it to their member but we want it done. Are we supposed to say no, no, we cannot do that? We cannot do that because that is not our district. My advice in that situation would be, go to your own member. If the member asked me I would say get up and do it. So what if you cannot get your causeway, but you have to try. That does not take away. That does not mean you are disrespectful or do not respect your government of which you are a part. There are some things you ought to be able to do your conscience on in here. You should do your conscience on everything in here.

That is like the seniors' home. The Member for Port de Grave got up in this House, and everybody here sort of a little laugh every time he did it because he did it so often, that was a seniors' home for the Carbonear area. There are lots of people in this House besides him where their districts are going to benefit from this seniors' home. There is the Member for Trinity-Bay de Verde, the Member for Bellevue, Harbour Main-Whitbourne, Carbonear-Harbour Grace, and the –

MR. BUTLER: Port de Grave.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: Port de Grave. Five or six districts that are going to benefit from that, and sure enough, they decided in the budget this year, the government in its wisdom, that they are going to put a seniors' home in that area.

Now, that did not mean all of these members could not get up and speak about that in a petition if they wanted to. The Member here from Port de Grave got up and did it. Well, he certainly got credit for it. There were letters to the editor and everything else. Front page story, Member for Port de Grave gets seniors' home for his district. I thought it was pretty good. He was up ranting and raving for six or seven months, and sure enough, they got it.

There is the issue of Barachois Brook, the issues out there. The Member for Stephenville East, there have been petitions entered in this House from Stephenville East. That does not mean that somebody else should not get up. What do you do with these issues that are out in the public domain? Are we supposed to say no, because we do not represent your district, we cannot do it? Of course not, and we will continue to stand up on it.

It is like the Minister of Transportation and Works. He says more from the seat of his pants sitting in his chair than he ever did on his feet in the House. All you need do is sit here and listen to Question Period.

MR. TAYLOR: Yes, boy. (Inaudible) read Hansard.

MR. KELVIN PARSONS: They do not like to have questions asked. Again today, I say, here we are on TV and I mentioned his name, and the Minister of Transportation and Works strikes up again. Strikes up again! Cannot get a word in edgewise here, if it is anything to do with any – but God forbid, if it ever raises a question, because whenever you raise a question, the Minister of Transportation, he does not like that. He does not like for you to ask questions because even if he got the answer sometimes – and I am sure he does. I am sure there are times when he has had, Mr. Speaker, that he has had the answers, but I just think sometimes he just does not want to give them. You talk about the crack shots that come across, but I would like to get some explanation sometimes, a question is asked, get up and give the explanation. You are not fooling anybody, there is only forty-eight of us in here. Get up and convince the 480,000 or 500,000 plus that is out there where you stand. Never mind chirping across the hallway. If you have something to say, you should get up and say it. Yet, in Question Period, what do we hear in here all the time? Chirp, chirp. Chirp, chirp.

Anyway, maybe some just want to chirp and others do not want to get up and speak, but as I say, this is what it is all about here. As long as I get petitions I am going to stand up in this House and speak and I am sorry if any member who does not want to get up and it has impacted their district and they are offended, that is tough, because they are going to have to be offended.

Anyway, I appreciate the opportunity. I just had to set the record straight on that because that was bothering me, to think that because somebody commented on that, that we might be doing that intentionally. I have the paperwork and the suitcase full of petitions to show that it did not come from me, but I will darn well bring the suitcase in here and present them over the course of the next number of months.

Mr. Speaker, thank you very much.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Topsail.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to participate in the concurrence debate of the Government Services Estimates. I will try not to repeat what my colleague from Conception Bay South said or what the Opposition House Leader said, but I did want to talk briefly about what departments are in the general government sector and also I wanted to talk a little bit about the expenditures that are not included in the Budget.

Mr. Speaker, there is about five or six departments that are in the general government sector. The expenditures of those departments total about $1.5 billion, so we are speaking about a significant amount of money. One of the points that I would like to make, which I have not heard anybody else mention, is the fact that all of the expenditures of government, all of the projected expenditures are not included in the Budget. Actually, there are about $500 million that are excluded from the Budget. They are what you call statutory payments and they are provided for by statute. They are not included in the supply bill. So the actual supply bill will be about $6.5 billion. The other $500 million we paid out under provision of statute. These payments are authorized by acts of the Legislature and they are primarily interest on government debt. That would be the bulk of it but there are a couple of interesting statutory payments that are made, a couple of things that I would like to mention that are not included in the Estimates and are going to be paid regardless of whether the Estimates are approved or not. The first is the Comptroller General's salary. That is provided for by statute and is not included in the supply bill, and also the salary of the Auditor General.

Mr. Speaker, one of the matters I would like to discuss during the debate this afternoon relates to pensions. I know the Minister of Finance did speak to pensions when he spoke to the amendment that was in the House this sitting under the Pensions Funding Act, but pensions is such a big issue for the government and, of course, for the entire Province, for the public service pensioners. As I say, it is a major issue not just for this government but it has been a major issue for all governments since the 1970s. All provincial governments, regardless of whether they are Liberal or Progressive Conservative, try to come to terms with the issues facing the public service pensions.

Mr. Speaker, the pension fund, what we call the Pooled Pension Fund, which is all of the Public Service Pension Plans, was created in 1981. One of the points I would like to make is that one of the major achievements that this government has had is the inroads that it has made in addressing the unfunded pension liability of the public service pensions.

I can relate this back directly to the Estimates in that the Minister of Finance, when he spoke on Budget day, indicated that there was an amount of $383 million relating to the Public Service Pension Plan, and part of that would be interest on the unfunded liability but the other part would be the writedown in investments in the pension plan; because, as we all know, in the global economic crisis, pension plans are taking what we would call a real hit in that the investments in the plans – in many, many plans - have decreased significantly. As a result, many plans are going to have either a shortfall, or the shortfall that they had is going to be increased quite significantly.

I would like to indicate that this government has made significant inroads in addressing the unfunded pension liability, and I would just like to throw out a couple of numbers that would indicate the significant progress that this government has made.

Mr. Speaker, when this government took over in 2003 the unfunded pension liability in the Public Service Pension Plans was almost $4 billion. The last set of financial statements that were released by the Province showed that the unfunded pension liability was now $1.5 billion, so that is quite a significant drop. We have gone from almost $4 billion down to $1.5 billion.

One of the ways we have done that is that special payments have been made by this government into those pension plans to increase or to improve their financial viability. Over the past five years - this number will probably astound a lot of people - there has been an extra $3.5 billion put into the Public Service Pension Plans by this government. The biggest bulk of that has been the almost $2 billion from the Atlantic Accord, and that was put in, in fiscal year 2005-2006. In every year, over the past five years, this government has put a substantial amount of money into the Public Service Pension Plans to improve their financial stability.

In addition, Mr. Speaker, one of the issues that shows up in the Estimates of the government is the significant interest charge on the unfunded pension liability of the Province. I know five years ago it was $330 million. Last year it was $113 million. These are expenditures of the provincial government and it is quite a significant amount of money, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, one of the other points I would like to make with regard to the pension plan that is a major issue or a major challenge that we are facing now, and the Minister of Finance has spoken on this on a number of occasions, is with regard to the investments in the plan and the decrease in the value of those investments. Mr. Speaker, at 31 March 2008 the value of the investments in the plan was $7.2 billion. Then a few months later the Auditor General, in his most recent report, indicated that the $7.2 billion in investments now had a market value of $5.6 billion. That is quite a significant drop. That is a drop of $1.6 billion that will be an additional shortfall in the Public Service Pension Plans.

Since the Auditor General reported on the $1.6 billion that has further increased now to $2 billion, so that is quite a significant shortfall. Nobody knows where we are headed into the future, whether that $2 billion will remain at that or whether the value of those investments will go up or whether there will be a further deterioration, but the minister did, in the Estimates Committee, indicate that the investments have increased somewhat in value, to the tune of $200 million, so hopefully we will continue to go in that direction. In any effect, this is quite a significant expense for the Province and it is $383 million in this year's Estimates.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to indicate that we are not alone in trying to come to terms with this pension crisis. There are quite a lot of articles in the media lately regarding other pension plans and I just wanted to mention a couple, because when you are running into a bit of trouble it is always, I suppose, encouraging to know there is somebody in the same situation as yourself or maybe even a little bit worse.

Mr. Speaker, I did see the CEO of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan on the news probably about a week ago and he was indicating that last year was the worst year; they had the worst returns in the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan. They had a loss of just over $21 billion. The value of their investments have gone down from $108 billion to $87 billion. So that is quite a drop for that pension plan.

The other pension plan I would like to mention is the Caisse de Depot in Quebec, and I think we have all heard of the Quebec Pension Plan. They lost $40 billion in one year with regard to their pension plan and it was actually one quarter of the value of their assets. So, Mr. Speaker, we are not alone. We do have a challenge in managing our pension plans but considering the progress we have made over the last five years I think that we will be headed in the right direction.

Mr. Speaker, one of the other issues that we discussed during the Estimates committee and included in the Budget this year is the tax reductions. I would like to go back to the Blue Book of this government, back in 2003. At that time we indicated that we wanted to bring our tax regime more in line with other provinces so that we would be competitive. Even back in 2004-2005 when we were projecting a deficit, we did bring in an initiative to reduce income taxes for low-income earners.

Over the last five years there have been some, what I would consider major initiatives in the way of tax reductions. In 2007-2008 we reduced tax rates so we were the lowest in Atlantic Canada, and then the following year in 2008-2009 we eliminated the 15 per cent insurance premium tax. Now in the current Budget there is a further reduction in provincial income taxes for low-income earners so that the individual thresholds for individuals making low income has risen so that those individuals and families no longer have to pay provincial income tax.

The other initiative in this year's Budget, which I was very pleased to see, Mr. Speaker, was the increase in the dividend tax credit. It went from 6.65 per cent to 9.75 per cent to make us more competitive with other jurisdictions.

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to go back and talk about the reduction in this year's Budget for low-income earners. The threshold for single people, net income – initially, anybody with a net income of $13,511 or below would pay no provincial taxes and that threshold has now increased to $15,911. Families; the threshold initially was $21,825, and that has now been increased to $26,625. While the government will lose provincial tax revenues to the tune of $11.5 million, there will also be $11.5 million saved by low-income earners in the Province. They will have more money to spend. This tax reduction, Mr. Speaker, feeds quite nicely into our Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Mr. Speaker, for the Dividend Tax Credit, which I mentioned a few minutes ago, I have had a number of retirees mention this to me because –


MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

I ask members to my left for their co-operation, please.

The hon. the Member for Topsail.

MS E. MARSHALL: Yes, Mr. Speaker.

I was speaking about the Dividend Tax Credit. I was saying that there are a number of retirees who have mentioned that to me, because there are many retirees in this Province who do not have a pension plan. They are living on their investment income and with the downturn in the economy the value of their investments have gone down. Some, in fact, have had their dividends reduced or no dividends at all, but for the dividend income that they are receiving this tax reduction is a nice benefit.

Mr. Speaker, one of the initiatives of this government is to reduce income taxes because we want people to stay here in Newfoundland and Labrador, pay their taxes here so that the government will receive revenues and they can use that for government programs. The Dividend Tax Credit, the provincial government will lose revenues of $1.3 million but there will be that much money in the pockets of taxpayers in the Province.

Mr. Speaker, when we spoke earlier - and the speakers previous to me had indicated the departments that are in the general government sector. The Department of Finance and the Consolidated Fund Services, which is statutory, those are what I would consider the big dollar departments. The other big dollar department in the Estimates is Transportation and Works. The budget of that department is just under $600 million. That department has quite a variety of programs. I would just like to briefly run down through what the money that is voted in that department, which, as I say, totals $600 million, just to give a rundown as to the types of programs that they have.

The maintenance and repairs of roads is a major program in that department. They purchase equipment in the department to maintain the roads. There is $10.5 million budgeted for that, some of it would be for light vehicles but a lot of it would be for heavy equipment. There is about $45 million there for maintaining the roads during the winter, winter maintenance. There is just over $50 million for building maintenance and about $27 million for equipment maintenance. There is also about $267 million for construction of roads and buildings.

In the area of transportation services, there are a number of services there that the department provides. They maintain airstrips which are under provincial jurisdiction, for example, airstrips in Labrador. There is $118 million budgeted for marine operations, and I would like to speak a little bit about that in a few minutes, Mr. Speaker. There is also $12 million for air services, and the $12 million is used to operate the government hangar and it is also to operate the government aircraft fleet and the air ambulance.

That is one thing that we don't think about very often, Mr. Speaker, that the provincial government does have its own fleet of aircraft. Mostly it is water bombers which are used during the summer season. I believe it comes on probably the first of May and they operate until the end of September. We don't really think about that program unless we do have a forest fire. I am sure we have all seen, on TV, forest fires in Australia, forest fires in California, and how we do need to have that resource there at our fingertips in case we need it.

Mr. Speaker, I did want to go back and talk a little bit about marine services. This is something that has always interested me, and I have spoken on it in the Legislature on a couple of occasions. I want to speak about it because it is such a significant program, not only in terms of the dollar value which is about $120 million, but also because of the impact it has on the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador and especially rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, there is about $70 million there for just general operations of the Intra-Provincial Ferry Services. There is a capital item there of $44 million also. When this government came to power one of the first things they did was they had a study carried out on the ferry services around the Province. One of the big concerns was the age of the ferry vessels, but also the types of service, and how many runs there would be between various points in the services. There was a report issued. We call it the BMT report. It was released back in either 2006 or maybe 2007, Mr. Speaker. What it did, it outlined the strategy for the replacement of the ferry vessels in the Province.

Mr. Speaker, I was very pleased when, either last year or the year before, government announced the construction of two new ferry vessels. One is estimated to be completed in July of 2010, which will be next summer, and the second one will be completed in October of 2010. We will have two new marine vessels on our runs next year.

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Transportation also announced, in addition to the first two marine vessels, there were also going to be two additional ferries. There was a press release that went out May 1 and the minister indicated that the department had invited Expressions of Interest from naval architectural consultants. This is for the preliminary design and specifications for a vessel to replace the thirty-seven-year-old ferry that has been serving the Fogo Island-Change Islands service. In addition to that ferry, Mr. Speaker, there will be a fourth one.

I would like to indicate that the last time a new marine vessel or new ferry was built within the Province and for the Province, for the Intra-Provincial Ferry Service, it was built during a former PC government, so I am very, very pleased that this is coming to fruition, and that the strategy is rolling out.

Mr. Speaker, we are given a bit of latitude in what topics we discuss when we talk about Finance bills, so I do want to stray a little bit. I want to talk about the Department of Municipal Affairs. It is under the social sector, but it has such an impact on my district that I would like to briefly mention that all three communities that are represented by myself – Mount Pearl, Paradise and Conception Bay South - have received significant amounts of funding under the Municipal Infrastructure Program. One of the primary features of the new Municipal Infrastructure Program is that the cost-sharing ratio has been improved significantly. Under previous agreements, the costs were cost-shared with the Province 50-50, so the Province paid 50 per cent and the town paid 50 per cent. With the new program, for municipalities with a population of over 7,000 – and the three areas that I represent all have populations over 7,000 – the cost-sharing ratio is 70-30, so 30 per cent is paid by the town and 70 per cent by the provincial government. This is quite a significant improvement for those three communities, and the improved cost-sharing arrangement was very well received by the City of Mount Pearl and the Towns of Paradise and Conception Bay South.

Mr. Speaker, Mount Pearl received $20 million under that program, and they are going to use about $13 million for recreation purposes, for the redevelopment and expansion of the arena, and a new pool. Actually, Mr. Speaker, the sod-turning is going to be on Wednesday, May 13, so I will be attending that and I am looking forward to it.

Conception Bay South received $23 million, an allocation of $23 million under that program, Mr. Speaker. The primary expenditure item that is of interest to me in that one, that I would like to mention, is something that was brought up by the Member for Conception Bay South, and that is the sewer treatment plant in Topsail is going to be improved, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I see that my time is almost up or my time –

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. member's time is up.

MS E. MARSHALL: May I have leave, Mr. Speaker?


MS E. MARSHALL: I would like to mention, and this is another area that falls outside – it is in the social sector; it is in the Department of Health. It did not come forward in the Committee that I was a member on, but I did want to raise it, and that is the increase in the foster parent rates. This will cost the government $1.3 million in this fiscal year and $2.4 million annually, Mr. Speaker. I know the foster parents' association has been requesting an increase for many, many years and I was very, very pleased when the Minister of Health announced this a couple of weeks ago.

My final comment, Mr. Speaker, is that the foster parents' symposium is being held June 5-7 and I would like take this opportunity, in concluding, to congratulate the foster parents' association on their contribution to the Province and the youth of the Province.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

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

I am quite pleased this afternoon to stand and speak in the Concurrence debate on the government sector Estimates that are in our Budget. These last three sessions that we have to talk about the Budget are important because it gives us the opportunity to raise points that we have not raised already, or to emphasize points that we think we need to give special attention to.

The government sector debate covers an interesting group of budgets, everything from the Executive Council of government through to Transportation and Works, but it also includes the Department of Finance, so there are many, many issues that one can raise and would like to raise under the government sector debate.

I would like to turn my attention first, I think, to the overall issue of finance. We are in a pretty special position right now in our Province. We have a budget of $6.7 billion, which is something that is quite new for us. Something else that we have, that maybe a lot of people are not aware of, is that we have financial assets of $1.8 billion. Of that $1.8 billion, over $1 billion is a cash reserve; it is money that is available, money that is invested short-term in different ways that can be available at any time. So, for us in this Province to, one, have a budget of $6.7 billion, and to have over $1 billion in cash reserves while we have almost $1 billion also invested in things like our Nalcor Energy, where we have over $500 million invested, we have money as we have never had before in this Province and it is wonderful. We all are really pleased about that.

It then becomes frustrating for people who are not doing as well in our society as others, because they see the Province benefiting as a government. They see government benefiting and being able to do things that governments have never been able to do before in this Province, like not only beg for somebody to come in and do something but to set up a Crown corporation like Nalcor and put over half a billion dollars into it. We have never been able to do that before. People do not criticize that - I think they feel good about it, they feel proud about it - but then they also ask, how come I am not benefiting?

We have many people who are not benefiting, people who cannot get adequate housing, who cannot pay for adequate housing, who do not have enough income, people who are working and still find themselves having to go to food banks to complement what they have for their family, people who know that the dollar is not going as far for them as it used to go. People like that are saying, how come? How come I am not doing better than I am doing in a Province that is doing so well, a Province that has become designated on the equalization formula as a have Province?

This is something that we have to look at and discuss, and question over and over. People expect us to do it because they want to come to a point where they can benefit and they can see that what is happening for the Province is happening for the people of the Province, and happening now for the people of the Province. When I look at our Budget, and I look at the Estimates for the various departments, I am looking at it from that perspective, asking: Are all of the people who should be benefiting, benefiting?

It is very hard, for example, for people who do not see themselves benefiting to be quiet, to not question and to not ask. Those groups are so many. What I am going to try to do in the short period of time that I have is name some of the groups and to bring up issues that are brought up to me over and over, and hope that if I bring them up here that I will be heard.

One timely issue, for example, Mr. Speaker, is the whole issue of the program for making our homes more energy efficient. The REEP as it is called, the Residential Energy Efficiency Program. REEP is wonderful and we are very delighted that the Province set up a REEP program but I think it underestimated how popular this was going to be. It is popular not because people want to say: Oh, I am with it because I am more energy efficient. It is popular because people want to be able to save money in heating their houses. Refitting their homes through an energy efficiency program means they have to pay less for heating their homes during the winter. So it is a very popular program. So popular that as of today the latest figure that we have from the department that is coordinating REEP has told us that they have accepted 1,100 into the program for this year's budget. We had been told it was only going to be 1,000 but apparently it is 1,100 that they have accepted, and they have definitely now cut off.

As of today, the NLHC has sent out 945 rejection letters for the program. Now what that means is that all of these people, the 945 and those who are continuing to apply because apparently on a daily basis the letters are coming in, that they are all going to have to apply again. NLHC is not keeping a waiting list. They are all going to have to apply again. They will have to wait until this time next year when the new budget is announced and reapply. So this is very discouraging. It would be wonderful if this Budget, for example, could have accommodated more than just 1,100 families, 1,100 residences in this program. A program that will bring benefits both to the families and the individuals who get the funding because they will not have to pay as much for their heating and it will also benefit our environment.

It is discouraging that government did not put more money in. I think my message to government today is, please make sure that in next year's Budget you look at what the demands were for this year and have next year's Budget be better at meeting the demand that is going to be there. I can understand on one level the reason for NLHC not keeping applications because I guess that would be a bit of a bureaucratic headache next year to go back to contact people and say: Okay, now you are going to be accepted. However, with today's technology, with today's electronic record keeping, it would seem that we could have set up a system where people are kept on the list and as soon as more money became available, whether it was, oh, all of a sudden it became available this year or it becomes available next year in next year's Budget, that they would just get contacted and say: Okay, you did not get accepted for this year but you are getting accepted for next year. It seems strange to me that that could not have happened.

So I put that out for government to think about, for the Minister of Transportation and Works, who is the Minister Responsible for Newfoundland and Labrador Housing, to think about that for next year. Keep electronic records; be able to contact people as soon as they are able to get the program, whether it is this year or next year. I hope that not keeping things moving over from one budget to another does not mean that the department is not committed to making sure that the program happens again next year. It sort of makes you a bit nervous. Why was government afraid to keep the list and keep notifying people as money became available?

I certainly encourage the government, encourage the ministry to make sure that we have a Residential Energy Efficiency Program next year but I also encourage the government to put more money into that program for next year, have it match the need that seems to be there and also find a way in which to keep a record of people who have applied but have to wait so that they do not have to go through the process of applying again. So that is one issue that I wanted to bring up, Mr. Speaker.

I also wanted to bring up an issue that was brought up by my colleague, the MHA for Topsail, and that is the issue of the ferries, our provincial ferry system. I have been talking to some people in the municipalities, some mayors who are mayors in areas where they have ferries. They certainly have a concern that we really do not have a provincial plan. I would love to see in this Province something which would be the equivalent of B.C. Ferries; B.C. Ferries which is not a Crown corporation but neither is it a corporation with equity shares. It has non-capital shares. It is a non-capital share corporation. That means it is there to serve people, not to make money. That corporation has been able, over decades, to develop and maintain a very superior ferry system all along the coast of B.C. You can go into places with the smallest populations, the most out of the way places by ferry up and down the B.C. coast.

It seems to me that we could have a much better system if we were to put in place a corporation that served the needs of people on the islands and on out of the way coastlines in this Province and we would not have the mess that we have today, because we do have a mess. Built into that, if we did have a provincial corporation which was not a profit corporation, which was there to serve, we could have a shipbuilding plan that would go along with that corporation. That corporation could be the body that was in charge of developing a shipbuilding plan so that we are continually doing long-term planning for the ferries.

It is very frustrating for people on Bell Island, for example, when one ferry is down. They are into a very dangerous situation when one ferry is down. It is not just that they have a problem because they have longer wait times with one ferry and they have huge waiting lines, but they also are in a situation where emergencies become problematic.

I know that quite recently up on the Northeast, with Long Island, for example, one night the ferry got moved from its usual position where it should be for emergencies and had to be moved further away to a point that if there had been an emergency on Long Island it was going to be very problematic. We do not have a system whereby emergencies can be well taken care of. In this Province, one ferry going down can affect other ferries, can affect other communities.

I also find it - just to insert this at the moment - very problematic that a government with all the money that it has, a government that says it is interested in rural Newfoundland, would turn around and do what it did to the people on Long Island with regard to their ferry after years of being a one-point ferry system, to do what they have done up there, I think is just absolutely unacceptable, and I am sure from the perspective of the people on Long Island, unforgivable. They should never have been put down to the situation that they are now in. The very fact that they had the service they had meant they needed it. I think any study of their ferry showed that the ferry was used optimally. So, for this government, who has the money that it has, to use the phrase rolling in money, to make that small community of people suffer to the degree that they are now suffering is just unacceptable, and it is very, very problematic that government has done that because it really put into question, what is government's commitment to rural Newfoundland?

Many, many people are asking that. Even what we are seeing today with regard to the fishery, and seeing the Minister of Fisheries not taking leadership to take care of the crab pricing situation, I have to ask, if this government is not putting care and leadership into taking care of a problem in our fishery then what commitment does it have to rural Newfoundland? Because the fishery is the backbone of rural Newfoundland. It always has been and it still is. It may have changed, and we may not be catching cod the way that we caught it, but we still have an industry that is putting over a billion dollars into our economy every year, is still employing people in plants, is still employing people out on the water, and is just bringing, as I said, all kinds of money into this Province, and yet we have a government that is not showing its commitment to this fishery. The issue of the crab pricing, as I have said, the issue of not having a marketing arm. I think government should have showed leadership there as well and said we are going to have a marketing arm and we can make it work and we have the resources to make it work. So, many of us are looking at the government and wondering, where is its leadership when it comes to rural Newfoundland? One has to question it.

Another area that I would like to bring up, that comes under the government sector as well, is the issue of housing. People who can afford mortgages do not have a problem, obviously. There are places where the market can make things go crazy, as happened out in Labrador West earlier this year in the fall and earlier this year where prices went mad and people who owned their own homes were dealing with problems. People who wanted to buy homes could not because mortgages were going to be too high because the cost of housing went up. When that happens that does not only impact people who maybe can afford to buy houses. It impacts people as well who have to rent.

We do not have in this Province something which I think we need, something which we need seriously, and that is legislation with regard to rent controls. If, for example, somebody is living in Ontario, they have in Ontario legislation which prevents anybody who is a landlord or a landlady – somebody who owns the property - from putting up their rent indiscriminately, and every year that figure or the percentage mark gets put in place. It is assessed on an annual basis. I think, for example, last year it was 2.7 per cent. So, for example, no landlord or landlady would be permitted to put a rent up by more than 2.7 per cent over what the rent currently is.

Well, I have heard of cases where rents have gone up by 50 per cent, indiscriminately gone up by 50 per cent. That is unacceptable. People do not have the resources. Then what happens if somebody does not have the resources, they have to give up where they are renting and try to find something that fits their pocketbook. Then they end up going into inferior housing.

We have two things that we need. One, we need rent controls and we need legislation around rent controls. I ask the Minister of Transportation and Works, who is responsible for the NLHC, to really give serious thought to what it would look like to have rent control in this Province. The time is well past our having rent control.

The other thing that we need is a new stock of housing in NLHC. Now, there are areas where housing stock that was owned by NLHC got sold, and I understand the reasons why it got sold. In some cases it was because the housing stock itself did not meet the market, but NLHC – and I think they know it themselves – there are places where they now need to rebuild and restructure smaller units to meet today's market, units that are there for people on lower income, because we do not have enough housing in the Province for people on lower incomes. We have affordable housing – there is always somebody who can afford the housing - but people on lower incomes cannot afford a lot of the housing, so we need better housing and more housing for people who are on lower incomes.

Another area that is an area of concern, and today's announcement by the federal and provincial government of money to go into the economic stimulus package helps get at it, is the need of the municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador. The municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador would like to see a fiscal framework put in place, a provincial fiscal framework put in place for the municipalities. They have been looking to this government for this fiscal framework. They have been working on it for a couple of years now, and they really want this speeded up. It is very important for the future of the municipalities to have that fiscal framework because then they know what they are dealing with. Then they can plan as municipalities. Then they know that they have a future and they know where they go. They were hoping, for example, that in this year that this year's Budget would have –

MR. SPEAKER (Osborne): Order, please!

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

MS MICHAEL: To clue up, please, Mr. Speaker?

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


MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I will just take a moment or so to finish my point on municipalities. There are several areas in which the municipalities are concerned. They would like to see what the government did last year with regard to the cost-share ratios, to have that developed a bit more to benefit especially the smaller communities. Smaller communities cannot often or cannot all the time take advantage of the federal municipal funding because they do not have the money to match the federal government. They need the Province to be involved in dealing with this issue, that if a smaller municipality cannot come up with their share of the cost could there be something in the fiscal framework so that the Province would help with that cost so that the smaller municipalities will not lose out in these cost-sharing agreements that happen? The same way with the waste management plan; the smaller communities need much more help from the Province with regard to waste management plans. I know help is there but there is still too much cost of burden being placed on smaller municipalities who cannot afford it.

So what I say to the government then, Mr. Speaker, as I clue up, is that there are many things in this Budget, and especially under the government sector that are good but what became obvious to me as I read this Budget and as I studied it very carefully is that we have a lot more resources than we are using for the good of the people in this Province, people as individuals as well as in municipalities. I will continue to speak to this government about how that money can be shared out more equitably.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DINN: Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to get up and have a few words today. I am going to have a few words about our Estimates committee sessions I guess, plus I will go on to a few other things because this being money, I can elaborate on other things too, after your ruling of the other day.

The first thing I would like to do is mention that this has been my third year at Estimates committees. Myself and my colleagues who came here – I think there were two other colleagues who came here in 2007 as part of by-elections and we were not here long when we were in on Estimates. The first year, I had no clue what was going on, other than I knew that it was financial. As the last two years went by, you get more in tune to what is going on.

I did notice one thing, is that our staff people, our executive people who attend these meetings are very well able to express themselves and they did a very good job in explaining their different departments. I did observe two things. There are two observations, I guess, I noticed, is that a lot of questions were asked, this year especially, about increases. How come line items increased so much this year? Many times, those increases, Mr. Speaker, were due to the fact that we have new collective agreements with staff people. I think that explained a lot of them.

Another observation I have made in the last couple of years is that a lot of the questions at these Estimate committees are about policy. I will give you an example. I sat in on the Estimates committees when we discussed Transportation and Works and there were questions asked about the line painting that goes on on our roads. The Opposition people were asking: How come we are not doing a better job? How come these lines do not last longer? I have discussed this. We had the same thing when I was at city council. People were always asking: How come the lines are gone in the spring?

The City of St. John's, just by way of example, have spent all kinds of money, tried all kinds of new paints. One example is they did a crosswalk a couple of summers ago in St. John's. I think the crosswalk was supposed to have the best paint that was available, could withstand any kind of environmental situation. A year-and-a-half after that was the same as what we now have on our streets. It was gone pretty well. We have to realize, when we are talking about line painting, is that we have a certain climate here with freezing, thawing and everything else that has an impact on painting.

I want to follow up a little bit on my colleague from Topsail who basically gave a good little bit of extra about the Department of Transportation and Works. It is kind of interesting to stop and think the Department of Transportation and services is such a large department, responsible for a lot of activities. I don't think a lot of people out in the viewing public are aware of all the activities that are involved with Transportation and Works. My colleague from Topsail did elaborate on some of them, but I will elaborate on a few more of them.

Remember, when you talk about transportation in this Province you are talking about roads, you are talking about ferries, and aircraft. Those are the three means of transportation that we have here.

When you get into the road situation, your activities are snow clearing and ice control, which are the two obvious ones. Road signage is a very big part of that activity for this department, not only the road signage but they also have a sign shop that they operate. They are responsible for salt storage sheds, construction and maintenance. They are responsible for guardrails.

You have road maintenance itself, potholes, ditches, and also you have any washouts that occur. We have had a number of major rain storms in the last ten years. After every rain storm you have a lot of washouts, and the Department of Transportation and Works are responsible for repairing what happens. They are responsible for bridges and culverts, and also they are responsible for the purchase and the maintenance of equipment for snow clearing.

There is another part to this department, too, which is the Works part. The Works part deals with mail services, believe it or not. A lot of people are not aware of that. The security of our public buildings is their responsibility. Fleet purchase and maintenance, all the government vehicles that go around, that is their responsibility to purchase and also maintain. I guess they have a fleet management program which looks after that.

They are also responsible for issuing tenders for insurance on all our public buildings, for the design work for roads, bridges, new schools, and all kinds of renovations and everything else. That is their responsibility, to make sure that the design is done and that, then, when the design is done the tenders are let. Then, when the tenders are let, they are responsible for making sure that the work is competed as tendered.

There is also responsibility for them to manage infrastructure programs, and there are a lot of infrastructure programs on the go. We heard some today about this stimulus package. Right now we are in the second year of a municipal infrastructure program which is that department's responsibility, especially when you come to the provincial roads in some of the smaller municipalities.

This department is also responsible for acquisition of land. If land is needed to widen a road or built a new road or to change the design of a road, this department has a real estate part of it, I guess, which deals with these acquisitions. They are also responsible for air subsidies.

As you can see, this is a very large department. My colleague mentioned that it is a $600 million budget. They also have approximately 1,400 permanent employees, not talking about seasonal people at all. I do not know what the number of seasonal people would be, but they have 1,400 permanent employees, which is a fairly large workforce in itself.

I have a couple of other things that I want to comment on today. The Minister of Justice mentioned this was a week dedicated to honour our police, RNC and RCMP. I just wanted to mention that and just add my two cents to it.

Back in the year 2000, when I was on City Council, I was responsible for the Kilbride area. At that time, there were many, many, many break-ins occurring at people's homes in Kilbride; so much so that I called a public meeting and at the public meeting we had 300 people attend. Most of those people were very upset over the fact that we had so much break-ins taking place. The police became involved, the police came to the meeting, and people on the police department were telling us: We hardly have the manpower to respond. A lot of their members were coming up for retirement and they were very, very concerned. They were also concerned about the equipment they had. They were even worried, at the time, that some of the vehicles they were driving may not make it to a call; a very serious concern for them.

Since then, thanks to this government – actually, I will just add in, that back at that time, at a budget consultation that the government had, we presented a brief on behalf of the people in Kilbride to the government to try to improve policing in the area. Thanks to the PC government that took over in 2003, the situation today is much better.

The minister mentioned today that there are 138 new police added to the system. Very important! Because these people, today, are now able to respond to some of the drug trade that is on the go. They are able to respond to some of the crimes against children, and internet crimes, something that is very, very prevalent today. Also, the police today have better equipment, and they have better vehicles to be able to respond.

I also want to mention, today, the announcements in the stimulus package that our minister and the federal government announced today. Some of those projects that were mentioned are from my district, and I will mention a few of these. A very, very important one and one that I have had some discussions with people on already – like private discussions, visiting their homes and that – is the Team Gushue Highway extension to the Goulds bypass road. I had a copy of the route for that two years ago, and right now there are people on Brookfield Road who had their land negotiated and probably even purchased for the extension to that road. That is going to be a very important road for people coming from the Southern Shore, from Mount Pearl, and other places, so that they can get to Kenmount road a lot quicker.

Also, on that list of infrastructure stimulus announcements today was the rehabilitation work on Brookfield Road. One of the busiest roads in my district is Brookfield Road. If anyone is not really aware of it, take an afternoon, about four or five or six o'clock, between that time, and go out and stand on that road, and you will see a lot of traffic on that road. It is a very, very busy road. It is still a rural road that needs upgrading. I guess when the Team Gushue Highway goes in and work is done on that road, the whole situation there will improve.

Bay Bulls Road is included as a part of this stimulus package. Bay Bulls Road is the main road in Kilbride. This road is in desperate shape, it needs work, and I am glad to see that this is included today.

Also included is sewer replacement work for Kieley Drive and Everard Avenue in Goulds. Two years ago I helped the residents down there get a petition together to present to the city to get this on the list of priorities that they had. Mr. Speaker, I think most of the people down there had problems, or a lot of them did.

I remember when I first got on council about fifteen years ago, this subdivision had not long been open and people were having trouble there even at that time. As a matter of fact, one man told me at the time that he had moved into his house and the first time he flushed the toilet, it came back at him. Right off the bat they had problems with the sewer there.

AN HON. MEMBER: Nothing worse.

MR. DINN: I guess there could be things worse, but that would be one of the bad things, I would say.

Also included today in the stimulus package were improvements to the Bay Bulls Big Pond water treatment facility, which is a regional facility. Over the last seven or eight years, the city has been improving this facility and modernizing it, so that today it is probably one of the best water treatment facilities in North America.

Also included today was money to put the treatment facilities on Petty Harbour Long Pond. Petty Harbour Long Pond has had a history for having water that, especially in the summer, gets a bit smelly. The city has taken this off the system, especially in summer. Now, when they get the treatment facilities there it will be similar to Winsor Lake and Bay Bulls Big Pond water. Again this is a benefit to the whole region, not just to the City of St. John's because we are all a part of a regional system when it comes to water.

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to continue with some comments on the Budget, our Budget of 2009-2010. I had not gotten up to speak about the Budget yet, so I just want to make a few comments on that.

First, I want to say that prior to the Budget being announced I had a number of discussions with people in different places and they were wondering what was going to be in the Budget. People were concerned, people were wondering, with the economy and the world the way it is, with this economic crisis going on in the world, how would this government respond, what would we do in our Budget? What happened? When I spoke to these people, what I anticipated, what I expected, was the best probably that we could do was to hold the line on what we had. The status quo was probably the best we could expect. What did happen was kind of surprising to a lot of people. Rather than hold the line on spending, rather than cut, which some people might have expected - people thought there might be cuts in programs. There could have been cuts in a lot of areas. We could have laid people off in order to balance the Budget, but we did not do that. What we did was increase our spending by 9 per cent. Very few have criticized this. Some have. When you look at the alternative, I do not think we made a mistake. I think we did the wise thing, especially when you consider what is going on today in the world economy.

I would like to mention some of the initiatives that we brought in. We are today spending, in this Budget, $800 million on infrastructure, not counting the stimulus package that was just announced. One of the things that struck me and I was very, very glad to see was the fact that we took off the interest on student loans, the provincial portion of student loans. I have had a number of conversations with our young people in this Province, especially in my district. Only as recently as about two weeks ago I had an email – actually, it was just a couple of days before Easter - I had an email from a young lady who is married now with a child and her and her husband owed about $75,000 in student loans. She was having a very hard time credit-wise. She could not pay her student loans and the debt had built up to the point where she could not cope with it at all. She is an example of a lot of people like this. What we did was a bit of help to this young lady and others who were in the same boat.

There are many people in Canada who are in the same boat, a lot of young people. I would estimate that you are probably talking a million or two, at least, in Canada, students, former students, who have student loans that have accumulated and are basically holding them back to the point where they are having difficulty moving on with their life.

I am very surprised that in the last federal election student loans was not an issue. I never heard one comment about it, one peep. When you consider that you have probably a couple of million or more people in Canada who have student loans and student loan payments, I am surprised that this was not an issue and that the federal government were not encouraged to at least reduce their interest on the federal portion of student loans. If that was done, I think it would be a lot better for students.

I want to mention, also, that we brought in a lot of other programs. We made improvements to the Poverty Reduction Strategy, we increased spending for hospitals, for the health care, I should say, and also for education. Some people criticized the fact that we went into deficit, but I think the fact that we went into deficit was something that we had to do, and I think because we did it and because of what we did in the past we were able to absorb such a deficit.

I will spend my last few minutes talking about what we did in the past. I like what we did with our debt reduction. Back in 2003, I think it was, the debt of this Province – or 2002 – the debt of this Province was $12 billion and growing at a rate of about $1 billion a year.

Project that into now. If the present economic path had not been taken, you could be talking about an $18 billion debt now for this Province, which would be staggering. I also like the fact that, because we reduced the debt from $12 billion to about $8 billion, roughly a one-third cut in the debt, we were able to reduce our interest payments on that debt. Consequently, it is because of what we did, we upgraded our credit rating from a C to an A, which is very significant.

I was sitting in the House during our debates on the Budget, listening to members opposite make a comment one day that when it comes to debt we are no better off today than we were in 2002. That is not true at all, because in 2002 the economy was nothing like it is today. Today, the economy is much better. More people are working. People are probably getting paid more than they were in 2002, and the place is basically on an increase. Construction is increasing, even without all of these infrastructure programs kicked in. In 2002 it was hard to find a help-wanted sign. Today, they are everywhere.

I congratulate this government for the path that we went on, the economic path we took in 2003. I think, because we took the path that we did in 2003, you are reaping the benefits right now. We are able to absorb a deficit this year and probably next year if we have to. I am not even sure yet, I do not think the verdict is in yet, whether we are going to have a deficit this year, because the economy, there are signs already that it is starting to improve. I think even in America there are some good signs. With all of this infrastructure spending, I think what you will see is that Newfoundland is going to ride out this storm and be much better off.

Basically, that concludes what I have to say and I thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I stand today to speak to the Concurrence debate for the Estimates for the Government Services Committee. Of course, under this particular debate there are a number of government departments that are outlined. One of those departments is one that I am the critic of, and that is the Department of Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs.

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to speak today about a number of issues in that particular department that I feel government has not addressed adequately, especially in this particular Budget. While you may look at the Budget, and members opposite will say but there is money being committed under the Northern Strategic Plan, or money committed under this particular program or initiative, there were a number of very key issues that were raised by people in Labrador for consideration as part of the Budget consultations that were held by the Minister of Finance when he travelled around, and also a number of these people met individually with Cabinet ministers, with departments and with the Premier himself to discuss issues that they felt were very important in Labrador, important to the people who live there and should be addressed.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, I did attend the Budget consultation that was held in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Unfortunately for me, that evening all of the flights out of St. John's were delayed and there was somewhat of a snow storm on the go in Labrador, but I did get in and I did make it to the consultation; however, it was in the final hour of the actual meeting. I did have an opportunity to present to the minister a number of issues that I felt were worthy of consideration on government's agenda in Labrador. Of course, a lot of these issues - I believe there were twelve issues that I outlined as being important initiatives for government to look at - unfortunately, they did not all get done. A couple of them did get considered by the government and were implemented as part of the budgetary process.

Mr. Speaker, a number of issues in Labrador need more attention from government, and one of those issues is definitely in energy development. First of all, people in Labrador feel that energy issues are not being addressed appropriately by this government. In fact, it has long been lobbied for by the people in the area that there should be a transmission line built that gives an interconnected grid system for power delivery right through the Northern Coast of Labrador and the South Coast of Labrador.

Government and Nalcor Energy have consistently said that comes at a price tag that is not feasible for government. Well, Mr. Speaker, it is not feasible for the people who live in that area right now to be paying the prices that they do for energy. Nor is it feasible for them from an economic perspective when they do not have the availability of power that is required for commercial industry, and I will explain it a little further.

For example, the Department of Natural Resources estimates that the transmission line for Northern Labrador and Southern Labrador will cost the government somewhere around $350 million to construct. They are saying that this would serve 3,500 customers and it would be an average of about $100,000 a customer to actually do the infrastructure.

I do not know what the amortization period of that kind of an infrastructure development project would be, but what I do know is that prices of energy continue to escalate because of the dependency upon diesel power. Our power really is at the mercy of what the world oil prices are. So, as petroleum products continue to climb and increase in price, so does the cost of delivery under a diesel operated system. That means consumers in Labrador end up paying more.

A couple of years ago the government decided to put in a rate subsidy for residential diesel customers. This has been a tremendous help because it gives those people that are residential customers dependent upon diesel power to heat their homes or to light their homes a break on the cost. It gives them a little bit of a break on the cost. So that has been helpful within itself, but they do not afford that subsidy program to commercial users. They do not allow commercial businesses to get that break on the subsidy and therefore that causes a tremendous issue. In fact, Mr. Speaker, in addition to raising this issue at the public consultations and making a request of the minister to look at a rate subsidy for diesel customers in Labrador, I also wrote a briefing note to the minister and to the Premier making a request for government to review this mechanism and to look at bringing it forward for residents in Southern and Northern Labrador.

Basically, Mr. Speaker, right now most people in the Province are supplied with electricity either through the Island interconnected system, which supplies about 230,000 customers on the Island and the Labrador interconnected system, which supplies nearly 9,000 customers in Upper Lake Melville and Labrador West areas. Rates for both these customers are fairly low. In fact, the Island interconnected system rates are lower than most of the Maritime provinces in Canada, while the Labrador interconnected rates are thought to be the lowest in the country.

Mr. Speaker, it is in the Coast of Labrador that we have the problem with these rates. For example, most people that have businesses and are trying to create industry on the Coast of Labrador, they pay a monthly charge of nearly twenty cents per kilowatt hour. That is in comparison to what people in other parts of Labrador would pay which would be like four-and-a-half cents or five cents a kilowatt hour. It is a huge difference. In fact, it is four to five times greater than what people in other regions of Labrador are paying. As a result of it, businesses not just in my district, but in the northern part of Labrador as well, they have trouble trying to keep their business going, to expand their businesses and to entice new industry to come and operate in those communities. I do not need to be explaining this to people. I mean this is the logics of business. This is like basic Business 101, whereby you go and you develop industry where you are going to get the best bang for your buck.

When you look at putting businesses on the north or south coast of Labrador, regardless of the resource base that you might have available to you, you have to weigh it against the fact that one, the only power available to you is diesel-generated power and diesel-generated power is very costly and it is very restricted. For example, in each of those communities what you have is a diesel power plant. That power plant has the capacity to put out so much energy, so much power every day. If the demand exceeds what they are able to supply, then something in the community has to be shut down. I have experienced this many times in my district. For example, in Port Hope Simpson, when we were operating two sawmill operations at a commercial level, the community would have to shut down parts of the power source in the community in order to have enough power to run the commercial sawmilling operations. I have seen it in other communities, where we have fish processing facilities where people are asked to conserve energy, to shut off things in their houses, to not use hot water tanks and dryers and things like that during certain periods of the day because there is a peak demand, a peak load on the system for power.

So it is very challenging in these communities to have commercial industry when you do not have that availability of power. What makes it even worse, Mr. Speaker, is that when you are able to have some power made available to you to do some kind of business development or industry development work, then you have to deal with the fact that you are paying four to five times more for that power than other businesses in Labrador are paying. That was the reason why we certainly submitted a very detailed briefing note and request to the Premier and to the Minister of Finance, to look at that issue during the last round of Budget consultations, to look at how you bring the commercial rates of power for Northern Labrador and Southern Labrador more in line with what is being paid in the Lake Melville area and the Labrador West area.

The other factor that needs to be considered here as well is that in a year or so the highway will open. The Trans-Labrador Highway will connect from L'Anse au Clair to Labrador City, which means that businesses in my district will now have to compete for a customer base with Happy Valley–Goose Bay and Labrador West but it is an unfair competition because the very business that they are competing with is already getting huge breaks on their overhead costs, breaks such as electricity costs. So we want to even the playing field. This is one of the things that government could have done in this Budget for Labrador that they did not do.

Now, I do not know if this issue was ever pushed through Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs or not. I mean, maybe it was not. Maybe it is something that neither of the ministers have ever raised, but I would be disappointed to know that they did not, because if they did not they are certainly not doing their jobs. These issues have been expressed over and over again by people in Labrador. People in Labrador are very adamant that they be treated appropriately when it comes to energy costs, and I do not think that it is right that commercial businesses that operate a garage, a restaurant, a boarding home, a tourist operation, anywhere on the South or North Coast of Labrador, should have to pay four to five times more for electricity for their businesses than is being paid in Goose Bay or in Labrador City, or double or triple what is being paid anywhere else across the Island portion of the Province. So I think that there needs to be more fairness in that particular system, and there needs to be more consistency throughout Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, in the Energy Plan, the Province did outline that they would be committed to building transmission lines to the north and south coasts when it becomes more cost effective to do so, but the problem is here, it is the government who determines when it is going to be cost effective. Government always has a way, just like business has a way to argue every case government has a way to argue every case as well. If they wanted to, they could easily find the information to be able to argue a case that would say it will never be feasible, or it certainly is not feasible at this time to build these transmission lines. We see it very differently in Labrador, probably because we are the ones that are most dependent upon this service and upon this system.

Mr. Speaker, government also said that they would be committed to reviewing the commercial rates in conjunction with any sanction on the Lower Churchill project. So basically, what they are saying is we have to sell our soul before we actually get a break, and that is not right either. It is not right to hold people hostage to get them to support a position of the government, or a negotiation of the government, just to be able to get something that they want in return. I think that is a very unfair practice, and every time that we have asked that their commercial rates for customers who receive diesel power in Labrador - and even on the Island for that matter - be considered by government, and that there be a rebate instated, they say that we are going to consider doing this as part of a Lower Churchill deal, but we want you to support that deal first. If you are prepared to support it and agree to it then we will look at doing it. I think that is wrong, because people want to see that benefit now. They want to see that benefit now.

Mr. Speaker, we do not know what is in this Lower Churchill Project for Labrador. We have no idea. In fact, all we have had from the government is just commitments that if there is any Lower Churchill Project then Labrador has the assurances that they will have appropriate hydro capacity, that they will have some industrial development. We have also heard things like the government is committed to ensure that Labradorians benefit from their region's resources and that the adjacency principles would apply.

Mr. Speaker, it does not ever give us any details around those things. What does it mean? Surely, we are going to have the jobs. Surely, we are going to have first opportunity for business and partnerships. Surely, we are going to have the opportunity to be able to procure a lot of the activity around these particular projects, but when you say Labradorians will be looked after, that they will have first priorities, they will be the first to benefit, what does that really mean? Does it mean that with the development of this project that we will definitely get transmission lines to the North and South Coast of Labrador? Is that what this means? Does it mean that we will get reduced rates on diesel power in communities that are isolated right now? Is that what it means? We have no idea. It is just blank statements consistently being made by government that have no details around them whatsoever, that provide no information to those people who are relying upon it.

Mr. Speaker, it is not just in Labrador where you have diesel operated systems. In fact, while there are sixteen diesel plants that do operate in Labrador, serving nearly every community on the North and South Coast, there are also seven sites on the Island of Newfoundland that are supplied with electricity from diesel generators which are costly as well.

Mr. Speaker, it is an issue and one that government should look at. They have tons of information, but when you look at the Estimates for this department, for Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs, it does not even deal with these issues. It is as if these issues are completely removed from that department as well, and from these ministers. It seems like they have no grasp on these issues, they have no grasp on what is happening around these issues, and it is being left to other government departments to administer.

Mr. Speaker, I think that the appropriate place – we are paying over $5 million a year for these two government departments. Right now they have very little, if any, responsibility. They have very little, if any. In fact, if you go through the Estimates for those two departments you will notice that the Department of Labrador Affairs maybe has two or three issues that they deal with - files, they call them - two or three files for the whole department. The minister really has nothing to do within that department. There is no elevation given in that department to issues of major concern in Labrador, issues like the energy development projects, like the Lower Churchill, like the rebate on diesel generated power. Those things are not in the periphery of those departments. That really concerns me because it is the taxpayers who are paying two ministers, two executives, to lead these two government departments which really have no clout, and that is unfortunate, very unfortunate. The only files that are there are things to do with food subsidy, with some air subsidies, with some trail grooming, which they just took back from Labrador Winter Trails, because I guess they had nothing else to put in the department. Mr. Speaker, there are lots of issues that could be done in Labrador that are not being done.

For example, we have raised issues here before in the House with regard to cellphone coverage, and the fact that there is a lack of cellphone coverage in Labrador. In fact, you will probably remember, in the media, the issue around the satellite phones that were being provided through Globalstar. All of a sudden there was a problem with their satellites that existed for about two years, but government was still signing out these phones that had no satellite access to people who were travelling for seven hours over gravel roads, in the middle of winter, through the interior of Labrador. It was not until an incident with Mr. Andrews and his family that they drew the attention of government to the fact that these satellite phones that you are giving us are not working. We are not even able to pick up a satellite service. So really, again, it was a way for government to say we are addressing the problem, but at the same time they were not on top of the issue. They were not ensuring that the service they were providing was a good service

Mr. Speaker, satellite phones are not what the people in Labrador have been asking for. The people in Labrador have been asking for cellphone service, cellular phone coverage. In fact, Mr. Speaker, there is a company now, a private company, who is working with communities on the North Coast to look at putting a cellphone service in Northern Labrador, a phone service in each community, but it is coming at a high price tag for those communities. I am going to meet with this company about doing a similar thing in my own district but I know that the towns in my district cannot afford a $300,000 or $400,000 infrastructure bill to put this cellphone coverage in their area. That is why I think government has a role to play here. There are areas of this Province where cellphone services are needed for safety reasons, honest-to-God safety reasons, where people every day are putting their lives in jeopardy to do their jobs, to get to work, to provide services in a region, and this is one of those regions in the Province, one of those regions in the Province where we have thousands of kilometres of road with no access, no access whatsoever.

A lot of that road is through rugged terrain. All of it is gravel. Most of it is through the interior of Labrador where you have no rest stops, you have no service stations, and you have no mechanism to contact the outside world. That alone tells me that government should be a partner in providing necessary cell coverage as a means of survival and safety in regions of the Province like this.

It is not just this private company Lynx that has looked at it. Aliant has looked at it as well and they have told me the same thing: We are interested but we would not go it alone to do this infrastructure in this region of the Province because, as a provider and as a company, a business, it is not feasible or profitable for us to do that. So, the only way that we could launch a cellphone service in that area is in partnership with government.

Mr. Speaker, it is basically the same thing I am hearing from this other provider out of Montreal that we will be meeting with, but I know before I ever sit down with them what their response is going to be. Their response is going to be: We would be happy to go into Labrador and to develop a cellphone coverage service and provide that service to people, but in order for it to be feasible for us, someone is going to have to pick up part of the cost. On the North Coast right now those towns are picking up part of the cost because they have more financial ability to do so. They get transfer agreements from the federal government of money that they can use for infrastructure development in their communities under Indian and Northern Affairs that is not provided to communities in my district.

If you go into a community like Cartwright today, a community, Mr. Speaker, which already has government loans that they have to pay, which already has trouble balancing their budget on a year-to-year basis in order to provide snow clearing in their community, to provide street lights, to provide an efficient and safe water supply, they are already stretched to the max. It is a community where population is declining, where the basic income levels have dropped, and where there are more seniors today on fixed incomes, so there is not a variable tax base that you can draw from. In essence, their budgets are shrinking, they are not expanding. While their budgets are shrinking their infrastructure costs are climbing.

If I were to go into Cartwright today with a private provider for cell services, and tell them that this company is prepared to put this service in your community if you are prepared to pay $250,000 or $350,000 of the infrastructure cost, I know what the answer is. They do not even have to call a meeting to make a decision. They do not have the money. They do not have the money, nor do they have the borrowing power to access that money. So, there are two problems here.

The only way I can see this happening is if government becomes the partner with the provider. Mr. Speaker, I think it is a good option for them to look at and I think that there are very few areas left in this Province where people are travelling up to 1,500 and 2,000 kilometres over gravel roads without proper pit stops and security stops and phone access. I think that they have a good argument, a very good argument, for bringing this service to that region of the Province. I think those arguments were made. They were made by the mayors in Labrador City and Wabush. They were made by the zonal boards in my district. They were made by the Combined Councils. They were made by Mr. George Andrews and his family after they went off the road and spent the night there. They have been made by myself in this House on more than one occasion through a briefing that I did to the Minister of Finance on Budget consultations. I raised it there as well. I have talked to the Minister of Works and Transportation when he was the Minister of Industry and Trade about this issue. Government is well aware of it and they were well aware of it in advance of the Budget, but they did not include it. It was not included and we were disappointed in that, because this was one of the things that we did want to see.

Mr. Speaker, there were a number of other things. Let us talk about tourism for a minute. Right now, Labrador does not have tourism development officers. You know, Labrador in itself is one of the icons in the tourism industry. It is a brand unto itself. When you go out to promote tourism in this Province, you promote brands and Labrador is a brand unto itself, with its rich Aboriginal culture, with its remote and rugged landscape, travelling and trekking through some of the most isolated wildernesses of the country, Mr. Speaker, experiencing some of the most fabulous scenery and landscapes and opportunities. Labrador is home to national historic sites, world UNESCO heritage sites, Mr. Speaker. That is the kind of opportunity that is fostered in that part of the Province, yet there are no tourism development officers. The government made the tourism development officers in Labrador redundant. They made the position redundant and laid off the individual who was there. I think it was more about getting rid of the individual than it was getting rid of the office, but, Mr. Speaker, should everybody have to suffer because of it? Should the entire region have to suffer from a tourism perspective?

If you look at other regions of the Province, there are tourism development officers. There are proper tourism services provided for through the provincial government, and Labrador should be no different. In fact, if I were the Minister of Tourism today, Mr. Speaker, I would be lobbying very hard to have these positions placed in Labrador. I think, if you look at the Province as a whole, one of the greatest opportunities for adventure tourism that exists anywhere in North America is in Labrador, right here in our own Province, but it needs to be developed, it needs to be worked on.

Why is it that government, after being told again by tourism groups, by people through public consultations, through lobby efforts of people like myself, not answered to that call? Why have they not created the positions that were necessary in Labrador, to be able to take the tourism industry and the Labrador brand to the next level? It is unfortunate and it is disheartening for a lot of people, a lot of people who see the potential.

I know, Mr. Speaker, this year at the Newfoundland and Labrador Hospitality Convention – I did not make it this year, but there were people there from my district. I knew that when government launched its new marketing campaign for tourism in the Province, there was nothing on Labrador. These people were very upset by that, they were very taken aback by it, because, Mr. Speaker, although the ads – and I will give the minister kudos for this – the ads that are out there marketing Newfoundland today are very good ads. They are a great piece of advertising. In fact, every time I have seen it - I have sat in Toronto in my hotel room when I have watched these ads on television and it makes me proud to be a person from this Province. It makes me proud when I see that marketing tool being used to entice people from around the world to come and see what we have to offer.

Mr. Speaker, I also understand what it felt like for people in Labrador, people in the tourism industry who have invested their own money to build this industry, when they sat there watching the government opposite launch its new marketing campaign for tourism in Newfoundland and Labrador, and there is no mention of Labrador. There is not one ad that promotes Labrador. I am disgusted. I have to say, I was totally disgusted.

Now we are being told that: Your turn will come. In the next year or the year after, we are going to get to promoting Labrador. Well we all have to survive, Mr. Speaker, and we are one Province. If you cannot share an advertising campaign and be able to promote all different areas, all different icons, all different brands in the industry – you know, you have to be fair to everyone. The tourism industry is not non-profit government agencies. The tourism industry is family-based businesses in this Province. The tourism industry is individuals who have invested their own money. The tourism industry, more than any other industry, is made up of families who have mortgaged their houses to start businesses.

It exists all over the Province, in every rural community, in every bay, in every inlet, in every cove, in every region there are people today who have borrowed, who have invested, who have sunk their lifesavings into this industry.

All they want, Mr. Speaker, is to be given the same considerations. That is why the people in Labrador, who sat through the hospitality conference this year and saw the launch of the marketing campaign and realized that Labrador was not included and was not a part of this, they went away feeling pretty hurt, pretty upset, because they felt at the very minimum that we have invested as much as everyone else and that government should try and market all of us, try and promote all of us to give us all that little edge. They liked what was done. They liked what was done, they were proud of the ads, they were just put out that they were not included.

So, Mr. Speaker, I think that there needs to be a dedicated marketing campaign to Labrador. I do, and I think that was something that could have been done in this Budget to highlight the Department of Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs, to invest into an industry sector in that region that is providing a lot of benefits to the people of the area, but government did not use that opportunity. They did not use the opportunity to create a new position for a tourism development officer in Labrador. There is so much potential there, so much potential. I talk to private operators all the time and they want somebody in the industry who can help them. They want someone to help them develop their businesses, develop their ideas, develop their marketing campaigns. They want someone to help take them to the next level. Why government does not provide for a tourism development officer in Labrador, I do not understand it. It is a $100,000 investment that could go a long way to supporting a lot of potentially good, economic opportunities for people in that area. I think they need the work, they need the help.

My district has been involved in the tourism industry for more than thirty years in this Province, more than thirty years. It was one of the first regional tourism promotional areas of the entire Province and it came as a result of things like the Red Bay site, which at the time was a national historic site. Today they are applying to be a world UNESCO heritage site, but it was because of those things.

Mr. Speaker, it was that region and the Viking Trail region, which is represented by the Member for St. Barbe, that became one of the two most progressive areas of the Province when it came to developing tourism ideas, tourism concepts, building a landscape for tourism, creating places that people would want to visit, taking what was local treasures and being able to market it to the rest of the world. Why is it today that those people are falling further behind? They are falling further behind. They still have that potential, they just do not have the resources to work with like they used to. That is unfortunate, because for small amounts of money, for small investments by the government, you could go out and put tourism development officers in a lot of these regions that would do good work for your department, do good work for government, do good work for the businesses, do good work for the regions and bring money in. There are no industries like the fisheries and the tourism industry that is going to provide opportunity in rural communities like these two industries are going to do. That is why they need a concentrated effort by government.

Mr. Speaker, we did not see those things in the Budget. We have a highway opening up. We did not see anything in here for the gateways. The Labrador Straits is the gateway to Labrador. Labrador West is the gateway to Labrador. There are two gateways in Labrador; they are on both ends of Labrador and they are both connected to the Province of Quebec. When I drive across that border every week, the Quebec border to go into my district, I do not even see the Labrador flag flying. The Labrador flag does not even fly on the border because the Department of Transportation and Works and the minister will not allow it, will not allow them to fly the Labrador flag. I think it is ridiculous! You go up in Goose Bay. I go up in Goose Bay, you look in the parking lot of the college campus and here is the Labrador flag flying. The Labrador flag is flying on government buildings in Goose Bay but on the Quebec-Labrador border, in my district, we are not allowed to fly the Labrador flag, but yet there is a big sign that says: Welcome to the Big Land. Well, Labrador is the Big Land. It is the Big Land but we are not allowed to fly the flag. I am going to tell you, that really gnaws at the nerve of Labradorians, I can tell you.

In fact, at the Combined Councils meeting this year in Northwest River, Minister Hickey, the Minister of Labrador Affairs, it was raised with him how people felt about government's decision to not allow the people in Labrador to fly the Labrador flag at the border. It is not disrespectful to the provincial flag. In fact, I fly the provincial flag of Newfoundland and Labrador on everything I own in Labrador, on everything I own, very proud of it. In fact, so do a lot of people in Labrador fly the Newfoundland and Labrador flag.

It is also a community and cultural significance to the Labrador flag, just like the Nunatsiavut government has their flag, just like the Innu have their flag, just like the Metis have their flag. Well, Labradorians have a flag, too. It is not disrespectful to anyone else. What I think is disrespectful is when people do not want to allow them to acknowledge it and they want to dictate to them what they can hold as sentimental value and what they cannot, and I think that is wrong. They should have the opportunity to do this.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, the Labrador flag has become part of the brand for the entire package of tourism in Labrador. It has become one of the icons that we promote through every craft store and every souvenir store, on every poster, on every sign that you see in Labrador, in every tourism brochure, in every article or magazine that is published you will see that emblem because it is synonymous with Labrador. So I do not think government should become so posh about it that they interfere with what happens.

Mr. Speaker, there was nothing in the Budget to talk about interpretation centres for Labrador on those two gateway sites. The people in Labrador West that live on the Quebec border are no different than the people in the Labrador Straits that live on the Quebec border. We should have a government interpretation centre. They exist all over the Province, everywhere else. They exist in every other region of this Province, publicly funded, government operated, interpretation centres under the Department of Tourism.

I would like to know why the Minister for Labrador Affairs and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs are not making these things a priority. Why the Minister of Tourism is not making these things a priority at a time when the highway is opening and its new opportunities for the industry. You have gateway centres in Port aux Basques. You have them in all different other areas. You have tourism interpretation centres at every major stop right across the Island portion of the Province. Mr. Speaker, this is all that they are looking for, the same kind of treatment.

Mr. Speaker, there are other issues as well that could have been addressed in relation to the Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs Department that weren't addressed. A lot of these deal with health care, but one of them in particular deals with the medical travel program. It is still a huge issue for people in Labrador. In fact, it was only last week I had a call from a lady in Goose Bay who came here to St. John's, spent over $1,000 to get here for a doctor's appointment, to have tests done and a surgical biopsy. After spending three weeks in a hostel in the city, she had to go home without ever having that biopsy done. She had to go home again to wait for another appointment that may come before the nurses' strike and may not.

Mr. Speaker, do you realize that, for a lot of these people, that $1,200 plane ticket is their full monthly income? It is their full monthly income, and it is bad enough when you have to spend the money to come here for medical appointments and have procedures done, but when you come here to have it done and you have to go home without having it done, it is worse again because you spend that money twice. So, Mr. Speaker, it is still a problem. It is still an issue.

Labrador medical travel is probably one of the single issues that I hear more from people right across Labrador than any other issue, and it is because every single family has a person who will get sick. Every single family has people who will have to travel for medical. Either they are doing it today or they know they will have to do it tomorrow or the next day. It is very frustrating. If you look at most of the population in Labrador outside of the mining industry, most people work in seasonal industries and they collect unemployment insurance benefits for part of the year. Then they only collect 50 per cent of their income and many of them only collect around $1,000 or $1,200 a month, and some not even that much, so it is very difficult when you have to pay out two, three times a year that amount of money for an airline ticket to get to have a surgical procedure done, to see a specialist, or to have some kind of test done.

Mr. Speaker, I find it very frustrating. How do you look people in the face when they come to you and they are sick and they need this service and they need to access these facilities? I do not have the resources to be able to help these people, and every day I wish I could but it does not exist. Under the government's medical travel program, yes, they are eligible to get up to a $1,000 rebate a year. They do have to pay this money up front and they do get back $1,000. That will cover one plane ticket. What happens when you have to go with your child? When you have to go with your child you are talking two tickets for one trip. We see that a lot, where there is a child and a parent that has to go as an escort. We see cases where people are travelling up to five and six times a year, at that cost, to access the same service. They have to borrow money, get lines of credit from their banks, in order to be able to get medical services.

I do think that while the program has been enhanced it still falls far short of what most people require to access affordable health care services, far short. Mr. Speaker, if there was one area of health care that government was going to spend more money in, it should be spent in this area, because accessing the service at an affordable rate is very important, very important, as a part of the system. You can have great services, you can be able to have the best tertiary care centre in the world right here in St. John's, but if half the population cannot afford to get here to access that service it is of no use to them, so these things have to go hand in hand.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, road transportation is one of the ones that was raised with me not just from Labrador but from people in all different areas of the Province. In fact, right now today if there is a person who needs to do cancer treatment in St. John's, from either Port aux Basques, from St. Anthony, from Marystown, from Bonavista, from any of these communities, chances are they need a family member with them and chances are they are driving to this hospital to have it done; and, because they drive they are not eligible for any rebate. They are not eligible because they cannot claim mileage.

I also realize that if government was to go out and say okay, we will authorize mileage as part of the medical transportation program they could run themselves into some high price tags, because if I live in Carbonear or I live in Kelligrews, every time I come back and forth to hospital I am putting in a medical claim.

There are ways around this, too. There are ways around this, and that is that I think any person in this Province who has to drive more than 250 kilometres to access a medical service should be entitled to claim back under the program a certain amount of mileage. That means five hours on the road, 500 kilometres return, to access a service. I think people should be reimbursed for that mileage.

Do I think they should be reimbursed every time they drive twenty-five or thirty-five kilometres to get to a hospital? No, because the paperwork alone would be nothing only a headache and an administrative financial burden to government; there is no doubt about that. That is not what we are proposing, but what we are proposing is something that is affordable to people.

Right now, today, the nature of health care in this Province has changed. Services that we could one time get in hospitals around the Province now you can only get in St. John's. There are a lot of specialized services that you can only access in the city. There are a lot of surgical procedures that regional facilities no longer perform. There is a lot of diagnostic testing that is required to determine the course of treatment or what illnesses people have, that this equipment does not even exist in many of these hospitals.

When I look at things like MRIs, people have to come to St. John's or Corner Brook to have it done. They have to come. They do not have the option to have these kinds of tests done anywhere else in the Province. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, it needs to be looked at.

That is one of the things that we would have liked to have seen in this particular Estimates, especially pertaining to Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs, something again that this department could have held up as something that they have accomplished, succeeded in doing as a department, but they do nothing. We are paying $5 million in this Province to keep two ministers in a portfolio and in departments that have no responsibility. It is ridiculous, Mr. Speaker, absolutely ridiculous.

What we are saying is give those departments some teeth. Give them some files, as you call them. Give them something substantial to do and administer on behalf of the people they are there to serve. My God, make them work for their money, I say. Make them work for their money in the positions that they hold. Right now, that is not happening.

Mr. Speaker, the people in Labrador West - I have never heard the Member for Labrador West mention this in the House, but I am certainly aware - did ask, under this Budget, for a subsidy to offset the high cost of airline tickets in that area. In fact, Mr. Speaker, in the bordering Province of Quebec – because, as you know, Labrador West as I said is on the border of Quebec – there is an airfare reduction program that the Province of Quebec have put in place. The airfare reduction program services all isolated and remote areas in Quebec region where people have to travel within the province. For example, if I live on the Quebec north shore which is adjacent to my district, or live in Sept-Iles or Fermont or any of those places which is adjacent to Labrador West, I am eligible in the Province of Quebec for any inter-provincial travel to get an airfare reduction, but in this Province that does not exist, and this is what people in the Labrador West, Labrador City and Wabush region have been asking for. They actually proposed it to the government for consideration to be looked at in this Budget, and it did not happen.

Mr. Speaker, in fact, how the program works in Quebec is that if you travel for personal reasons or for any kind of family reasons then you are eligible for a 30 per cent rebate back on your ticket, a 30 per cent rebate. That is a similar program to what was being asked for in Labrador West that never even, to my knowledge, got considered by the government opposite. It certainly did not show up in their plans of things that need to be done.

As well, Mr. Speaker, people in Labrador West who are hoping and praying at some point they are going to see a new hospital built, although they became very sceptical about it back in the fall but hopefully, we will see some tenders out this spring. If we do not, maybe we will become a whole lot sceptical again. They were also asking that there be an increase in the number of professionals in this new hospital, that there would be equipment added such as a CAT scan and an MRI unit and that there would be an inclusion of mental health services in the new facility. These were things that people in that area were asking for. We have seen nothing on these things. In fact, we have not seen any discussion whatsoever.

In regard to an MRI, it has taken this government four years now to decide where the MRI for Central Newfoundland is going to go, if it is going to go in Gander or if it is going to go in Grand Falls. Now, Mr. Speaker, we have had the study done. The study is done. The minister has the study as to where the new MRI is going to go but so far he is pretty tight lipped. He is pretty tight lipped over making the announcement. Eventually, he is going to have to make the announcement. Eventually, he is going to have to tell someone else what the study told him. Whether it is going to go in Gander hospital or in Grand Falls hospital. Either way, the decision is obviously made through the study.

Again, government has had this three or four years and have not been able to make a decision because of the political battle that it is going to create for their colleagues in those two areas. That is all it comes down to. Meanwhile, the people are going without a service. Whether it is one hour down the road either way, today they are going to Corner Brook or St. John's to get that MRI. For the last three years, while government has been trying to make a decision on whether to go in Grand Falls or Gander, the people in this region, the people from Lewisporte and Twillingate and Springdale and Gambo and Glovertown have all been driving to St. John's to get an MRI. I am sure, Mr. Speaker, they would have rather drove to Grand Falls or Gander, which would have been a lot closer and they could have been home in the same day, to get that MRI. In addition to that, they would not have had to wait so long. Now they have to jump on the waiting list with everyone else on the Eastern Avalon Peninsula, to try and get an MRI done.

So Mr. Speaker, this was one of the issues that was asked for by the people in Labrador West. Now, as I said, I never heard anything about it from the members up there or from the Minister of Labrador Affairs. I never heard him breathe a word about it. We know that this was addressed to the government and that they were asking for those services, although they did not get any response.

Mr. Speaker, I want to talk a little bit, as well, about 5 Wing Goose Bay. This is another issue that seems to have fallen off the radar of the government opposite. They are so bitter with the federal government that there are major issues like this that are going unaddressed in the Province. In fact, Mr. Speaker, the Harper government made a commitment to Goose Bay, a pre-election commitment, in fact. Not that it got them any votes up there, but they made a pre-election commitment to include a new rapid reaction army battalion for Goose Bay that would be composed of 650 personnel I think, they were going to move into Goose Bay. They were going to have a new long-range uninhabited aerial vehicle squadron located there with an accompanying 100 regular force personnel and the resurfacing of the main 5 Wing Goose Bay runway.

Now, the resurfacing work did get done. The resurfacing of the runway is getting done, from what I understand, but where are the troops? In fact, Mr. Speaker, do you know what the story is in the news today? The story in the news today is that some of the search and rescue services out of Goose Bay are going to be closed down. Some of the service is going to be closed down because there are not enough personnel to operate that service in Labrador, and that all the search and rescue for Labrador is going to come out of Gander.

Now, I know that in many cases it has come out of Gander. I know in my own district on occasion when we have needed search and rescue it was the team out of Gander that responded, but there was also a team in Goose Bay that did a lot of good work in search and rescue in Labrador that were readily available. Now, Mr. Speaker, they are not there. They are not going to be available.

So, the federal government's pre-commitment, pre-election commitment to Goose Bay is not only out the window and off the radar of the government opposite but the service they did have is declining. The service they did have is declining, and I would like to know where this issue is. I have not heard the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, not one time since he has taken that position, speak on this issue on 5 Wing Goose Bay. Mr. Speaker, I have not heard him. I have not heard him, only once in Question Period in the House of Assembly. Not heard any statements in this House about meetings that have been going on with the federal government. Not heard any statements. Where are the Ministerial Statements by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, on negotiations with groups like the Italian Air Force, like the German Air Force, like the British Air Force, like the Dutch Air Force? Where are his negotiations? Where is the minister's statement on the meetings he has had with the federal government on when they are going to deliver the troops for Goose Bay? When the aerial surveillance work is going to be carried out and the testing is going to be done? Where was he when they had the meetings to decide they are going to cut the search and rescue services at Goose Bay?

Mr. Speaker, government has to be proactive on this stuff. They have to be proactive. They have to ensure that these demands are being met. The next thing, they are going to be up in Goose Bay trying to pick up the pieces up there and put an economy back together like they are out in Grand Falls when everything has hit rock bottom and the whole thing has fallen apart.

Instead of being on top of the job now, where is the Minister of Labrador Affairs? He has very little else to do in his department. Why not give him the file to save the base in Goose Bay, Mr. Speaker? Why not give him that file and let us see what they can do with that? It is a little tiresome, the song and dance of moving in when everything is gone, when the industry has hit rock bottom, when everybody is out of a job. It is a really tiresome little riddle, I say, a really tiresome one. How many ministers in how many portfolios do you need to deal with some of these issues?

Mr. Speaker, these were all issues that landed in the lap of the Minister of Finance as part of the Budget consultation. These are all issues that were put on the government radar to be dealt with for Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, I speak about all of these today because I am the critic for that department, and there are many others, such as Forestry, such as Transportation, where government last year committed in 2008 to spend over $40 million which, in fact, never got spent, never got spent in Labrador on the highway. Mr. Speaker, it never got spent. So, when we hear other announcements about highway work in Labrador, let us see the tenders. Let us see the contracts awarded and then we will have a lot more faith in the fact that the work is getting done.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order, please!

Recognizing no other speakers, the motion is that the report of the Resource Government Services Committee be concurred.

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

All those in favour, 'aye'.


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

The motion is carried.

Motion carried.

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

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

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is that this House do now adjourn.

All those in favour, 'aye'.


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

The motion is carried.

This House does now adjourn 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.