May 5, 1997               HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS                Vol. XLIII  No. 19


The House met at 2:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Snow): Order, please!

The Chair would like to welcome today, thirty-six grade five students from St. Peter's Elementary School, Upper Island Cove in the district of Port de Grave. They are accompanied by their teacher, Mr. Winston Lynch and Mr. David White and bus driver, Mr. George Evans.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

Oral Questions

 

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My questions today will be for the Minister of Health.

Now, in the House of Assembly on April 24th, I asked questions to the Premier with regards to governments handling of health care and I questioned the validity of another forum to respond to what is a crisis situation and the Premier responded. Mr. Speaker, the newfoundland nurses union met with the Social Policy Committee of Cabinet and recommended this concept. The Minister of Health, as a member of the Social Policy Committee in Cabinet, and I ask him, does the government stand by that statement, that the health forum was asked for and requested by the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses Union?

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I think the hon. member may recall, if he listened to the comments from the president of the nursing association last week, who said herself that this was not exactly the concept that they were proposing, in terms of involving themselves and other stakeholder's as being a part of the ongoing discussion about health care restructuring. However, she did follow up by saying, while it was not the exact concept that they had in mind, she did view it as being a good initiative, a good first step and who knows what the results of the forum will be. I do not want to prejudge what the outcomes will be or what the recommendations of the stakeholder's will be, but certainly the nursing association is on record as saying, they support the forum, although it is not exactly what they suggested in terms of structure.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I ask the minister, were you at that meeting with the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses Union?

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Yes, Nr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition, a supplementary.

MR. SULLIVAN: I ask the minister, did the minister interpreted the request by the nurses' union to have this forum? Was that the minister's interpretation of the request by the nurses' union?

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Mr. Speaker, the Social Policy Committee of Cabinet meets with many groups regularly. I am not sure what the hon. member is trying to proposition here. The nurses' union, when they came in and made their presentation, they had a concept in mind of what I would describe as an ongoing, advisory committee being struck to advise government on certain matters with respect to health care restructuring. They made their presentation and as a result of their presentation and as a result of representation that we hear ongoing about issues in matters in health care, the Premier announced a forum where all front-line stakeholders who work in the system could be represented so that we could get the views directly from those who deliver services day in and day out on the front lines.

What we have put in place, Mr. Speaker, is a forum that will involve for the most part front-line health care workers. We believe, Mr. Speaker, that it is important to hear from at this point in time those who sit, work and deliver services right at the front line, and these are primarily whom we will hear from at the forum. Of course, there will be others in attendance but primarily, these are the individuals whom we are going to engage in a dialogue as a round table type of formal (inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition, a supplementary.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What the minister said today, is that they asked for a permanent, Standing Committee. That is not what the Premier said so you are saying today that the Premier did not tell the truth. That is what the Minister of Health is stating here today on the record in the House.

The nurses' union proposed: who is the Premier trying to fool with his statement. The minister denied it, the nurses' union denied it. We know the real truth.

Now they proposed their permanent standing committee of front-line health care workers, that is badly needed I might say to the minister. Now the Newfoundland Pharmaceutical Association also addressed this point in a news release. They are disappointed that the government has chosen a short-term forum that does not include pharmacists as members.

Now Minister, your forum is a closed affair with no opportunities for general public input.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member is on a supplementary. I ask him to get to his question.

MR. SULLIVAN: I ask the minister: Will you provide this House with a list of the people and groups who have received a direct invitation from you to attend this forum?

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

To the first part of the question, the fact that we are having a forum on the weekend involving mainly front-line health care providers does not, in any way, shape or form, preclude us considering further the proposition that was put forth, or the concept of a dialogue on an ongoing basis that is being put forth by the nurses. We have not said we are not going to do that. What we have said, and what we have announced, is a forum to have some dialogue with front-line health care workers, and I am not about to stand here and prejudge in any way what the outcome of the forum will be, what the recommendations and the views of the front-line health care workers in the Province will be.

As to the second part of his question, I have already laid out in this House every group that will be represented at the forum and that has accepted invitations. The only individuals who have not been - no individuals have been identified. It is not government's role, nor will we be involved in identifying individuals who will be at the forum. The ARNN, the Nurse's Union, CUPE, NAPE, Allied Health, PAIRN, the Medical School, all will identify and have at the forum the people they have chosen. I don't know if they have all chosen their representation yet or not, but they will have representation there - they have committed to that - and there will be, contrary to what the hon. member says, public participation. There will be consumer representation at the forum.

When he says it is not a public forum and the public will not be represented, it is a gross, misleading, non-factual proposition that he puts forward. It is not the truth, plain and simple.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Leader of the Opposition, a supplementary.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I asked the minister if he has the names of individuals and groups, and the minister is not prepared to table and provide them. I am sure in due course we will know.

The minister stated that this forum is not going to stop him from doing something. Well, I ask him, why isn't he doing something if it is not going to stop him? Why are you waiting for the results of the forum, as the Premier stated and you stated? Do something now.

We are having public forums in this Province on almost a daily basis with meetings. We are hearing it in the media; we are hearing it in groups expressing their concern; we are hearing it from nurses; we are hearing it from the Medical Association and from pharmacists all over the Province. When, Minister, are you going to start responding to the cries for help out there today and stop waiting for an excuse?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Mr. Speaker, it is difficult to get through to someone who has obviously had a long and probably a rough weekend. I understand what that can cause to happen to an individual's mind. But the hon. member knows very well, Mr. Speaker, that this forum is fully representative of all front-line health care workers in the Province. The hon. member knows that there will be consumer representation. The hon. member knows that we will report, as government, on the outcome of the forum. The hon. member knows that every stakeholder group representing every front-line health care worker in the Province has accepted gladly, willing and with anticipation an invitation to attend this forum. I am not sure what the hon. the Leader of the Opposition, quite frankly, is trying to proposition. Is he suggesting, Mr. Speaker, that his judgement should replace the judgement of every front-line health care worker in the Province? Is he suggesting that his judgement should replace the judgement of the leaders of every union that is going to be at the forum? Is he saying that his judgement should replace the judgement of all of the health care boards that are operating in the Province? He may think that is a valid proposition but I think not, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

A supplementary, the hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The minister knows that is not what the hon. the Leader of the Opposition is saying.

AN HON. MEMBER: What are you saying?

MR. SULLIVAN: I am saying listen to these front-line people. Stop using excuses. Stop trying to buy time. Do something, I say to the minister. There are hospitals closing.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SULLIVAN: Health care is not available. There are professionals in the field saying, Minister: `We do not understand what the government is saying. We are in a crisis.' I hope when the Premier was in Bristol he learned SOS. He can find time -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member is on a supplementary and I ask him to get to his question quickly.

MR. SULLIVAN: If there is sufficient time to attend an announcement in Ottawa on Sunday and travel to Vancouver and all over this globe, why are the Premier and you not addressing the concerns here in this Province? I ask the minister. When are you going to start doing something constructive for an ailing health care system before it completely collapses?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair has recognized the hon. the Minister of Health.

MR. MATTHEWS: Mr. Speaker, anybody with an objective and fair mind -

MR. J. BYRNE: That rules you out.

MR. MATTHEWS: - who wishes to acknowledge the considerable effort that this government and the previous Administration has put into health care, will readily see that we are doing all we can within our resources and with our energies to address health care issues in this Province. The Budget for health care has gone from $838 million in 1992 to $910 million this year. We have just as many doctors working in the Province as we have had at any time in the last five years. We have 3 per cent more nurses working in the Province over the last three years. We have more occupational therapists and physiotherapists working in the health care system than we have had over the past three to five years. We have more and better facilities to deliver health care in the Province than we have had over the past three to five years.

Now, am I saying, Mr. Speaker, that we still do not have some areas that we need to address? Of course not. We have difficulties getting rural doctors, we have had difficulties for thirty years in that regard, and I anticipate, unfortunately, we are going to have them for some time to come, because doctors are not widgets. We do not pick them off a shelf and just deploy them out around that quickly. They are highly trained, professionally skilled people -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. MATTHEWS: - who are trained one at a time -

MR. SPEAKER: I ask the minister to finish his answer quickly, please.

MR. MATTHEWS: - whom we need to recruit, or train through our own medical school. The hon. member knows full well the effort that we, as a government, have put into health care, he knows full well that we are going to continue to expand upon that effort, and frankly, I believe that scares him a little bit.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What scares me is what they are not going to do. That is why I am scared about it, I say to the minister. Will the minister not tell this House today that doctors, nurses, and other people in the system out there, are saying we are in a crisis. There are certain parts of our system in crisis, I say to the minister, and other parts of it are in very serious difficulty. Will the minister stand in his place today and tell us if he feels that any parts of our health care system are in crisis, or is everything fine? Just inform the House.

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Mr. Speaker, I have already indicated that while we have a fundamentally sound health system, there are areas of concern. There are areas of concern in the realm of rural doctors primarily. For the most part, what we are hearing and what we are seeing of late are issues relating to physician services. Now, there may be reasons for that that are not readily identifiable or obvious to the naked eye, but there are areas where we do have physician difficulties.

I was in Port aux Basques last week, met with the people there, and assured them that we are doing the best we can with the Western Health Care Corporation, which has the responsibility for managing that region. I understand they are having a public meeting in Corner Brook this week. I am prepared to go to Corner Brook and meet with the group. But sitting down and meeting with them and somehow ameliorating their fears is part of the job. The bigger part of the job is to try to do what every other province in the country is doing, and that is trying to recruit and retain doctors who will work in outlying areas of the Province and help us with our primary care needs. There is nothing new about it, nothing mystical about it. It is a proposition, a problem, an issue that we will continue to work on, do due diligence to the issue -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. MATTHEWS: - and hopefully get the job done in the best possible way.

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

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My questions today are for the Minister of Health. I am sure the minister is well aware of the press release put out by the Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Health Centre in Port aux Basques. From May 5 the Health Centre will be closed to all but dire emergencies. I am sure the minister is well aware of that.

Minister, the Health Centre is closed. The people of Port aux Basques are in a dire situation. People's lives are in jeopardy. Can you inform the House as to how you are dealing with this emergency?

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Again, thank you, Mr. Speaker.

A slight correction. The Health Centre in Port aux Basques is not closed. What we are dealing with are physician services in the emergency department and that sort of thing. We do have a shortage of doctors in the Port aux Basques area. As I just indicated, I was there a week ago and spoke with the town council and all who wanted to speak with me on the issue. We are still not up to the complement of six or seven doctors, which is what we need, so we do have to take measures to ensure that, in the first instance, the most urgent and the most emergent cases get treated. What the situation reflects in Port aux Basques is this, that the most urgent and the most emergent cases get prioritization, get dealt with first.

Unfortunately, we do not have quite the level of normal emergency room coverage that we would like to have there, but I am in touch with the Health Care Corporation on the West Coast. They are working on it. They are attempting to recruit some doctors. They are providing some locum coverage. I just hope, and I believe they will, albeit on a reduced basis, still provide a level of service that will at least meet the most difficult needs that are presented there - bearing in mind also, of course, the ability of the region to do some services in Stephenville and in Corner Brook as well, where necessary.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for Conception Bay South.

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I really find now that we are probably going to get a definition of emergencies here. Enough is enough. How much longer can this minister get away with disseminating the Province's single greatest necessity and doing absolutely nothing about it? The Premier is avoiding the problem, and all people are being left out. I believe that your forum is a clear indication of that. Minister, do you intend to do something today about the emergency situation in Port aux Basques or do you not?

AN HON. MEMBER: He is doing it.

MR. FRENCH: He is doing nothing.

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Mr. Speaker, I have been in this House four years now, and I have yet to hear one comment or one suggestion that is of a positive or supportive or corrective nature coming from the mouth of the hon. member who is the health critic, the member for Conception Bay South.

Mr. Speaker, I will continue to do today and I will attempt to continue to do tomorrow, what I have done in the past through the offices of the department and through the Western Health Care Corporation, and that is, attempt, to the best of our ability and resources, to meet the needs as they are out there and as they will continue to manifest themselves.

We have doctor shortages from time to time all over the Province. We have them on the Burin Peninsula, in my three years. We have had them on the Baie Verte Peninsula. Today, we have them in Port aux Basque and to some extent in Corner Brook, and they are not new problems. They are not pleasant problems, they are not ones that we want, nor ones that we can always anticipate, but we will respond in the most effective and resourceful way we can.

That is the only commitment I can give the people of the Province. I gave the same commitment to the people of Port aux Basque and I give the same commitment to the hon. member, for what it is worth to him.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Conception Bay South, a supplementary.

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I guess, Mr. Speaker, it is pretty evident here, I say to the minister: You have been a complete failure. You are abandoning the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, your forum has turned into a joke or, as I said on Friday, garbage, and I will say it again today, garbage. Your publicity scam is not working. I do not know how many times you can recycle health care. The people want action and solutions, not rhetoric, Mr. Minister, which they are receiving from you.

Are you going to wait or are you going to do something about the emergencies in health care in this Province, today?

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

MR. MATTHEWS: The answer to the question again, Mr. Speaker, is yes, to the best of our ability.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. J. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, my question today is for the Minister of Government Services and Lands, seeing that a certain minister is not here. I will not say which one.

AN HON. MEMBER: You will not mention one.

MR. J. BYRNE: I did not mention anyone, did I?

MR. TULK: (Inaudible) regardless of who is here.

MR. J. BYRNE: Go back to sleep, I say to the Government House Leader. Go back to sleep.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. J. BYRNE: Mr. Minister, last year you announced a new policy with respect to Crown lands and converting leases to grants. Could you tell me how many people took advantage of that program? You also mentioned last year, that there would be revenues of $6 million, and I said at the time it would be closer to $20 million, for the potential. Could you tell how much money came, or will come, to the Provincial coffers?

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

MR. McLEAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In response to the numbers of people who took advantage of the new program, up to the end of March, we had 2,235 people take advantage of it and the revenues from that particular program amounted to approximately $3.9 million, up to the end of March. We anticipate a few more people taking advantage of it in the coming months, but I have only the figures up to the end of March.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. J. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

That revenue would be times five, I would imagine, because it was a five-year plan, was it not?

Can you tell me how many individuals have been refused - the minister promised a payment plan last year for people who could not come up with the money. Can you tell me how many people have been refused the payment plan and how many people are actually losing their cabins because they could not come up with the money and they had to sell their cabins?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Government Service and Lands.

MR. McLEAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

To date, none have lost their cabins because of this particular program, and to the other part of the question -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. McLEAN: - we have not turned down any for not being able to pay for their cabins under the new program. We have dealt with a number of individual cases and we have been able to work the situation through and we anticipate that there may be a few more coming in in the next few months. But, to date, none have lost their cabins because of this new program.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis, a supplementary.

MR. J. BYRNE: I think the minister should check with his department and find out about the people being refused a payment plan. He should check into it.

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, we have now this government in the process of privatizing parks, in the process of privatizing road systems, Mr. Speaker. We have changes by the Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods with respect to the moose hunting areas and allowing private individuals to go in early, Mr. Speaker. So I ask the Minister of Government Services and Lands, there is a genuine concern out there and it has been brought up at meetings, are there any plans to privatize actual salmon pools or salmon rivers to individuals where ordinary Newfoundlanders may not have the opportunity to go in certain pools in Newfoundland and Labrador?

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

MR. McLEAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am not familiar with that. Maybe the Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods could give you a better response. I am not familiar with any of the processes in our department that deals with salmon pools.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Bonavista South.

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My question today is to the Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods. I wonder if the minister -

MR. E. BYRNE: Sir, when this member is sick he comes to the House, not like half the ministers over there who avoid the place.

MR. FITZGERALD: I wonder if the minister would inform the House if the new owners of the Farm Products facility will operate from the present location or will there be a new location?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods.

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, let me first of all say to the hon. gentleman - let me answer his question by saying this, that at the present time there are no new owners.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for Bonavista South.

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I wonder if the minister would admit here today that the decision to close Newfoundland Farm Products was made unanimously by Cabinet at least two years ago but due to the fear of political fallout, leading up to the election, that it was delayed? Will the minister admit here today, Mr. Speaker, that his government knew two years ago that this facility would be closed? Why would he, in light of that, only give the employees at that particular facility three days lay-off notice?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods.

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, the hon. gentleman should know that the decision to close Newfoundland Farm Products was made by this government a week from Thursday past in Cabinet. Other than that there was no decision to close anything.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for Bonavista South.

MR. FITZGERALD: Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister once again if he would inform the House if there will be any government subsidies allotted to this new operator of Newfoundland Farm Products? If there will be, could he inform the House as to the amount?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods.

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, as I said to the hon. gentleman previously last week, he comes in today and he tries to tell us that Newfoundland Farm Products has already been sold. I say to him, that is not the case. There are negotiations ongoing with IPL to take over Newfoundland Farm Products but those negotiations are ongoing and as I said to him last week, until such time as negotiations are complete I don't even know what the final details will be and even if I did, we are moving along that route. We are in negotiations and I say to him that until such time as negotiations are concluded there is absolutely no way that I can come in here - he knows that as well as I do, as well as anybody else but let me just say to him, that our concern is that the employees are being looked after, our concern is that the Newfoundland Farm Products building in Corner Brook will be used to process something other than chicken and to that end we will leave no stone unturned.

MR. SPEAKER: A final supplementary, the hon. the Member for Bonavista South.

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I realize I am suffering from laryngitis but, Mr. Speaker, the minister has me totally confused here now. Last week he stood here in the House and said that the new owners did not want to operate the Newfoundland Farm Products facility in Corner Brook so it is closed. All the workers are sent home. Today it is not sold. They are all sent home, laid-off but now today he says that this particular facility is not sold. If it is not sold, I ask the minister, when will it be sold? Who made the decision not to operate the facility in Corner Brook? Why are the people sent home?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods.

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, let me clarify his confusion if he wants to clarify it, what I said to him last week was that there was no proposition put forward by anybody since 1994 and there was no scenario that was developed by anybody under which the Corner Brook plant would remain open, nobody. So if he's confused, let me just say to him that that is not the case. That is not necessarily the only case in the present negotiations. Let me say to him that we have not sold Newfoundland Farm Products and we have not sold the building in Corner Brook. We have it there, the facts are as I stated to him. We have it there, hopefully we can, through whatever process we can find, find some means of opening Newfoundland Farm Products building again in Corner Brook so that the people who were laid off last week, go back to work.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Baie Verte.

MR. SHELLEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, my question today is for the Minister of Health.

Some time ago, there was a commitment for the dialysis machine in Central Newfoundland in Grand Falls hospital; now that was a commitment made at that time but I would like to ask the minister first of all in my first question: Does he know when that dialysis machine will be in operation at the Grand Falls hospital?

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

No. I don't know the exact date it will be in operation. There has to be some retrofitting done; the equipment has to be purchased and put in place and staffing issues have to be dealt with. I would suggest that the hon. member might get, if he is really anxious to know more closely to the date what it would be, if he spoke to the Central West Health Care Corporation who is managing that facility in Central Newfoundland and who is mandated with the responsibility of getting it up and running as quickly as they can, obviously.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Baie Verte, a supplementary.

MR. SHELLEY: Mr. Speaker, that is exactly the reason for my question; that I have contacted the Central Newfoundland Board and have had one report from there but I also have patients from the area in my district who have been here at the St. John's hospital waiting of course, to be able to use these systems in Grand Falls and they have been told in here that, it could go as far as 1999 before they could have that operation in Grand Falls. So, is the minister getting conflicting reports on this and, can the minister tell the House and relieve those people who are getting those reports, that in fact, it is October of this year or will it be until 1999?

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Again, Mr. Speaker, the exact date when it will be up and running is not quite certain but it could be several more months, probably October might be the earliest date that it can be up and running.

The good news, Mr. Speaker, is that we are committed to having that service in place, it is a new service and it is a service that the people of the area desperately need and want and it is a service that the government of this Province has acknowledged in terms of a need and has made provision for it, but it takes some physical time or literal time to get the physical retrofitting done and get the equipment in place, the staff trained and those sorts of things. It will happen and if he feels that he wants an exact date as best can be put forward, I will undertake to get that for him once I have spoken to the Western Health Care Corporation's Board.

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

MR. E. BYRNE: (Inaudible) lots of questions, the problem is you do not have any answers.

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board.

Last week I asked the Premier in the House, dealing with what the impact upon this year's Budget would be as a result of the declining population.

The Premier answered that, at the time he was assessing the situation; department officials were called in and that there would be further information tabled in the House. While there are many factors I understand that go into the equalization scheme and formula, there is no doubt that the declining population will have an impact on this year's Budget.

Does the minister know what that impact will be? Has he had any discussions with Ottawa to minimize that impact and if so, could he enlighten the House on the details related to the declining population statistics?

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

MR. DICKS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Yes, we have looked at our budgetary position. I would say first of all, Mr. Speaker, that our statistical analysis of what has been happening in the Province has been more accurate than Statistics Canada.

As the hon. member knows, the statistical models used by Stats Canada are not ones that follow individual events in the Province; they are geared to small areas and they magnify it and they also take a point in time. They extrapolate -

MR. E. BYRNE: (Inaudible) that's the problem.

MR. DICKS: Yes, that is a problem. So when it comes to equalization, what we tend to find on a year-to-year basis is that their estimates are not as accurate as ours, so if I can say to the hon. member that -

AN HON. MEMBER: Too late.

MR. DICKS: No. - what the federal government probably came to, to the surprise of a lot of people, we have been tracking this and we had estimated that our population was in that vicinity. The other thing I should say to the hon. member as well, is that the actual figures I believe they had for the count last year, was about 552,000; they will adjust that upward because of course, during the process of carrying out the actual door-to-door survey, they miss people and we expect that, probably once this works out, to be in the vicinity of 564,000. So that is roughly. We have put it so we see no need to make any corrections at this stage to our equalization projections. We are pretty much where we expect it to be.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Question Period has ended.

 

Presenting Reports by

Standing and Special Committees

 

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

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

The Government Services Committee has directed me to report that they have reviewed the Estimates and approved, without amendments, the estimates and expenditures of the Departments of Finance; Government Services and Lands; Works, Services and Transportation; Municipal and Provincial Affairs; the Public Service Commission, and Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

 

Petitions

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's South.

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I have yet another petition on the privatization of provincial parks. The prayer of the petition reads as follows:

We, the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador, wish to petition the hon. House of Assembly to voice our concerns over the government's decision to privatize our provincial parks. We are asking the government to immediately reverse its decision to privatize the parks as we feel it was made in haste without consultation with the people who owned the parks, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, we have presented many, many, many petitions on this. Every day we go to the mail and, no surprise, there are more petitions coming in. We will continue to present petitions, I would say, for as long as this House is open, and into the fall and next spring we will have petitions to present on this particular topic because the people of our Province do not want these parks privatized. Unfortunately the government of the day is unaware or unable to see that, but the fact of the matter is that the people of the Province are against the privatization of provincial parks. There have been seventy-seven proposals put in on the twenty-one parks and seven sites, which is really a small number when you consider the tens of thousands of names on petitions so far to date.

Mr. Speaker, we are still left without answers. The people of the Province have no answers on the cost to the people of the Province of these provincial parks, the money that has been invested into these provincial parks by the people of our Province, the total investment by the people who own these parks, what these parks are worth to us. Unfortunately, we are going to get somewhere between $9,000 and maybe $20,000 in return for these parks on the privatization of the parks. Really that is a shame, because when you boil it all down we are only getting back a fraction of the total investment put into these parks by the people of the Province.

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately this government is prepared to sell us out for far less than what we are worth, and we can see that in everything: in provincial parks, in our health care system, our education system, everything. Every topic that has come to light in the past several months, we can see that this government is selling the people of our Province short.

Mr. Speaker, based on those arguments and the many other arguments that we have put forward in the past on this particular topic, I am most pleased to represent and support the people who have signed these petitions in their fight against the privatization of provincial parks.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's East.

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I stand this afternoon to support the petition as presented by my colleague, the Member for St. John's South. It is clear that the public of this Province continues to have grave concerns and difficulties with respect to many of the policies of this government, including the subject matter of the petition just presented, namely the sale of many of the provincial parks in this Province.

The parks in this Province have been protected by statute, and when we see now approximately twenty of our parks being privatized it is something which Newfoundlanders are saying, loudly and clearly, `It goes against the grain'. It is something which the public of this Province does not support. It is an issue which has not been accepted widely by the public of this Province.

I had an opportunity over this weekend to speak with many individuals from across the whole of this Province and Labrador, the Island and Labrador, people who are concerned with many of the directions that this government is taking and in particular with respect, as was mentioned earlier, in the areas of health, social services, education, and not to exclude this government's policy on parks.

The people of this Province have accepted for many years the fact that the parks belong to the people of this Province. This is what I referred to earlier in debate on this issue, a proprietary interest, an ownership interest, which is of meaning and significance to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. They take strong objection to government's position that we will just simply, arbitrarily now allow an individual, pursuant supposedly to the private enterprise system, allow an individual of means to take away from the ordinary Newfoundlander and Labradorians that which is his and hers. That is what goes against the grain, Mr. Speaker. That is why there has been such a loud outcry in recent months in reaction and response to this particular policy initiative.

In addition, we have the loss of jobs of those individuals who are directly affected. Individuals who have given many years of service to the provincial parks system in this Province now find themselves in limbo. In addition is the consequence and the impact that such a decision may well have on the tourism industry. There are those individuals who I'm sure have made arrangements, have made plans, have come to this Province on the understanding that a particular resource was available, only to find that the whole park network is in a state of uncertainty. Again this government, I would submit, is in a state of uncertainty, and it is reflected in these arbitrary meaningless policies similar to the park proposal which is now before us and which is the subject matter of this petition.

What I find most amusing is the fact that just three short years ago the then-Minister of Industry, Trade and Technology, by way of a ministerial statement, made a commitment, made a pledge to the people of this Province, that the provincial park system was a system that would be here for a long time. I would like to refer to it very briefly. It says: "Over a span of 40 years, the provincial park system has evolved from small rest stops along the Trans-Canada Highway, into a diverse system" -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. OTTENHEIMER: It wasn't the hon. minister. It goes on: "...into a diverse system of provincial parks, wilderness reserves and ecological reserves. Many provincial parks offer a diverse range of outdoor recreational and environmental education opportunities for our visitors."

The statement went on to say, Mr. Speaker:

"In celebrating the 40th anniversary of our provincial parks, the goal is to inform Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and visitors to this Province, of the variety of unique experiences available through parks and reserves and to demonstrate the vital role that these sites play in preserving our natural heritage. In connection with the anniversary" - because obviously this statement was made in celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the system - "a series of events are being planned that will enable visitors to celebrate our natural heritage. I encourage all resident and non-resident travellers to take part in the activities scheduled to help celebrate this natural heritage" -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. OTTENHEIMER: - "and congratulate the employees..."

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

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Mr. Speaker, it is clear that there is significant support for our provincial park system as it now exists, and I endorse the wording and the support of those petitioners as referenced. Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. J. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I'm rising in my place today to present yet another petition on behalf of the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador regarding the privatization of our parks. Some of the signatures on this - well actually, most of the signatures, are from Pouch Cove, and there are a few from Flatrock. It seems to me that there is an unending number of petitions coming in to the members of the Opposition on the privatization of parks. It seems we just can't run out of them. That will tell you about how much opposition there is in the Province to the privatization of parks.

The Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation stood in her place, and in the media talked about how there were seventy-seven signs of interest on the privatization of parks in Newfoundland and Labrador, rationalizing her decision, or someone else's decision, to privatize the parks in Newfoundland and Labrador. Yet we have thousands of names being signed to petitions across this Province, hundreds of people showing up -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: On this one here there are only about forty or fifty signatures. That is right, on this petition. I would say to the Minister of Education, there are forty or fifty. But if there were four, they have a right to be heard.

But we know there are probably 1,000 times four signatures, thousands upon thousands of people who have been signing petitions in Newfoundland and Labrador against the privatization of the parks. Even if there were seventy-eight names, that would be a good reason not to go ahead with the privatization of the parks, because the minister is trying to justify it and rationalize it by having seventy-seven signs of interest. So if he had seventy-eight names it would outweigh seventy-seven signs of interest, I say you, Mr. Speaker.

Here we are again today presenting these petitions. Now often times the Minister of Education will question the wording of the petition, but I am not going to bother to read that out because we have read it numerous times in this House of Assembly, so there is no need to waste the time of the House of Assembly to read the petition again. We all know it is a petition against the privatization of parks in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Now the minister stood in her place answering questions of the Member for St. John's South with respect to employees. The minister made statements in this House that the employees would have first choice, first chance, and be given assistance in the privatization of the parks and she welcomed - welcomed - the applications from the employees.

Now I know of a case: There were two individuals in my office this morning who made an application on the privatization of the park in Pouch Cove, called the Marine Drive Park. Two individuals made application, and it was a good application, and they contacted the Department of Tourism to try to find out what the competition was. Of course, they were brushed aside with the attitude of this administration that they were unimportant and did not mean a row of beans, but these people were very serious and they were employees of the department. One of them worked in that particular park. They went today and asked to have a meeting with certain individuals within the department, and they would not meet with them. So, in actual fact, they had to go to the Premier's office to get someone to meet with them in the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation with respect to their application, to see what the answers would be. We all know that they were supposed to be assessed by now. Two weeks ago, I think, the successful bidders, I suppose, were supposed to be announced; but it was delayed and delayed, and is still delayed and they still don't know.

They met with certain individuals within the department and were told they were not successful. They were not told why, just that another individual had a better application. Now the other individual or group, were they or are they representatives of the department who worked with the department? We don't know at this point in time.

The situation with parks in this Province today is disgraceful. No one knows what is on the go. Here we are in May, the 24th weekend, the big weekend, only two weeks away in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the people of this Province go out by the hundreds and maybe thousands to the different parks in this Province. They go out in the woods to do a bit of trouting or what have you, and we still don't know what is going to happen with the parks, or who is going to own them.

Another point is the fact that there are a certain number of parks left over - I think twenty-one or twenty-seven parks - to remain as the core park system in the Province. I said in this House of Assembly, and I will say it again right here and now, that there is a plan afoot in this Province that the remaining parks - I suppose the parks that are the cream of the crop - are still there, but next year or the year after there will be an individual or two, or a group, of probably known Liberal supporters, make an application or an unsolicited proposal to take over all the parks in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador; and what do you think will happen? I would say, to venture a guess, that they will end up getting them.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. E. BYRNE: By leave, Mr. Speaker.

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

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MR. E. BYRNE: Thank you.

I would venture to guess that in a year or two down the road there will be certain groups in this Province end up with all the parks and there will be no public park system in this Province - none - and all the money -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: You are going to get another half-hour of this in the near future.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: What is your problem?

All of the money that has been put into these parks, all the public funding, will be gone down the drain and given to a few buddies of the Liberal administration, which obviously has been the hallmark of this administration to privatize and to give, give, give, to the people who least deserve it.

AN HON. MEMBER: Who?

MR. E. BYRNE: Some of the people who are going to receive these parks a year or two down the road, the cream of the crop, the parks that are left. That is what is going to happen.

If it was me and there was any way of doing it, I will tell you what I would do. I would make it known, if I were the Premier of the Province, anybody getting their hands on these parks, they would be taken back from them. The parks will be taken back from them when we form the government, because they belong to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador; and rightly so, Mr. Speaker, these are the people who paid the taxes. These are the people who put their money into the parks. These are the people who traditionally use the parks all over the Province. Now, we have them being given away, and for what, we do not know. Are they going to be given away for their true value? Are we going to have a cost benefit analysis done on each park? We do not know. I doubt very much if we are going to have it done. The bids had to be in by April 1 - April Fool's Day, I think it was, that the bids had to be in. Again, holding the people of Newfoundland and Labrador - sucking them in, Mr. Speaker, doing their best to suck them in, any way they can.

We had the Minister of Environment and Labour make an announcement last year on the new policy with respect to returnable bottles and returnable cans. We asked the people to bring them back, giving them six cents or eighteen cents, or whatever the case may be. Where is all the money going, Mr. Speaker? It is going to their buddies. That is where the money is going, Mr. Speaker, to their buddies, nowhere else. That is what the hallmark of this Administration is, and it is starting to be known, people are starting to see through it. They are getting tired of it, fed up with it. Just like I am getting tired and fed up with it. I consider myself an ordinary Newfoundlander, and what I feel in my gut seems to be what people feel in their guts across the Province. They are getting tired of it. They are getting tired of being used and abused, Mr. Speaker. They are getting tired of going to the Health Sciences or the other hospitals to find that their hospital is closed, they cannot get a bed.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I know what I am talking about when it comes to the Health Sciences Centre. There are good people in there, excellent people. I always maintained there are good people in there, but the situation in the hospitals now - you may talk about relevancy here, but it is all relevant. We are spending the people's money here. We are abusing the people's money - I cannot say `we'; it is not us on this side of the House. When I say `we' I have to refer to the government, it is just that I am in the House of Assembly here, Mr. Speaker. I am in here as one of the members of the House of Assembly and I feel very fortunate to be here. But when it comes to spending the tax dollars of this Province, the government is doing a very, very poor job of it. By no stretch of the imagination can you think they are doing a good job, other than in the imagination of the Minister of Health. For some strange reason, he thinks he is doing a grand job with the funds and the public health care system in this Province, but the people out there are hurting badly. I am not talking about hurt feelings, I mean, actually physically hurting, waiting to get into hospital. The minister got up today and talked about -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind the hon. member that he is on a petition and his comments should be kept relevant to the subject.

MR. J. BYRNE: You are looking for relevancy, I take it, Mr. Speaker. Well, here is the relevancy. We talked about them selling off these parks to get revenue for the Province. And the revenue they bring in from these parks, hopefully, will be spent on the health care system. So there is the relevancy, Mr. Speaker, there is no trouble to make it relevant.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: That is it, but they are not doing that, Mr. Speaker. They are taking the money and God knows what they are doing. They are paying their bills. They are paying the Trans City bills. They are paying the court fees. They are paying the bills for the Murray Premises, that are going to go to $15 million. That is the relevancy, Mr. Speaker. Proper administration, that is what we are talking about.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: Yes, Mr. Hickman's baby out there, $40 million over and above the contract; the privatization of Hydro, $10 million or $12 million gone out of the system. What could that do for the health care system in this Province, I ask you, Mr. Speaker? What could $12 million do for the municipalities in this Province?

Now, Mr. Speaker, the privatization of parks in this Province leads me to another issue which I brought up today in Question Period. When I was at a meeting in Torbay last February - in the middle of a snow storm - on the parks in this Province, Mr. Speaker, we had elderly gentlemen coming out, seventy-five to eighty years old, because they had major concerns about what was going on in this Province with respect to the parks. The concern that they brought up on the floor at that meeting was: What is going to happen to our rivers? What is going to happen to our ponds? Are they going to be privatized? The former Administration brought in legislation to basically allow an individual or a group to have access to the water's edge and probably fence right to the water's edge. That made me think: What is coming down the road, Mr. Speaker, with respect to the salmon rivers in this Province? Are we going to have individuals - and this was brought up at the meeting in a question put forward. Is the end result going to be that we are going to lose access to the rivers and lose access to our ponds? Now, remember this, Mr. Speaker, today, May 5 at 2:54 p.m. in the House of Assembly, that I brought up the question about the salmon rivers and access to the ponds in our Province, which has been traditionally a right, a tradition of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador to have access.

We are not talking about England or Scotland or other areas where you can buy a certain length, maybe 100 or 200 or 500 feet along a river, such as had been done hundreds of years ago. We are not talking about that, Mr. Speaker, we are talking about people having full, outright access to the rivers in Newfoundland and Labrador, to the ponds in Newfoundland and Labrador. And privatization of the parks could be the very first step to losing the rights and traditions of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to have access to these ponds and rivers, Mr. Speaker, that is what I am talking about here today. That is only one of the many things I have been speaking about in this House of Assembly since I came here back in 1993 - four years ago. I have been very proud to represent first, the District of St. John's East Extern and now, the District of Cape St. Francis. As I said earlier, the intent originally, was to privatize the public beaches, Middle Cove beach, Bellevue beach and a few more.

Now, the day after we brought this to light - I had been on Open Line, I had gone to the media about it - the minister issued a release saying it was reported wrong, that The Evening Telegram made a mistake and should not have had those beaches in there. But in actual fact, when you looked at the release that came out from the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, Middle Cove beach was clearly there in black and white; Bellevue beach is another that was there in black and white, and I think Northern Bay Sands was another. But they withdrew them because they knew there would be a vicious outcry altogether if they had gone along with that, Mr. Speaker. So the people of the Province are starting to speak out. They are starting to be upset about privatization of the parks. They got upset about the privatization of Hydro.

They are getting upset about the privatization of the roads now. There is going to be an experiment taking place this year on the roads. The Department of Works, Services and Transportation is going to privatize basically all the areas for which the depot out in the White Hills is responsible, and other areas on the Avalon. And, what is going to happen? I can tell you what is going to happen next winter, Mr. Speaker. It was bad enough this past year when we had a few snowfalls, when people in Torbay had to line up and wait for hours to get a sand truck down there, because of cutbacks. And the minister can stand in her place and say it has nothing to do with cutbacks. I know it does. I have contacted the department and they gave me all kinds of answers beating around the bush, Mr. Speaker, and not hitting the main problem, which is the cutbacks.

Now, next year, they are going to privatize this and put it out to individuals, God knows who, maybe Liberal buddies again, more than likely Liberal buddies, if, in any way they can pull it off. That is who will get it, and I am going to be getting calls from Pouch Cove, Flatrock, Torbay and Logy Bay because the roads are not done. I am going to have to take the crack for the government. That is what is going to happen, Mr. Speaker, and I am not going to do it. I am going to put it right where it belongs, right on the Minister of Works, Services and Transportation. I am fed up with it, people are getting fed up, everybody is getting fed up.

Like the Member for Bonavista South the other day - saying the minister was mad about this, he was mad about that, he is a mad man. Mr. Speaker, I am getting to be a fed up man. Everybody in the Province is getting fed up. And the man walking in now, Mr. Speaker, the former Minister of Works, Services and Transportation - that is where the problem started, by taking off the wing-men. As a matter of fact, Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Works, Services and Transportation, the common nickname around the Province for that man was `the wing nut', because he took the wing men off.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Again, the hon. member should keep his comments relevant to the prayer of the petition.

MR. J. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, relevancy? No problem.

Now, the Department of Works, Services and Transportation -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please! Order, please!

Again, the hon. member is on a petition and I ask him to keep his remarks relevant to the topic that is on the prayer of the petition.

MR. J. BYRNE: Yes, Mr. Speaker, I will do that. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Back to the privatization of the parks. The Speaker thinks I am not being relevant - I am back to the parks.

Now, Mr. Speaker, with respect to privatization of the parks, I have said this before in this House of Assembly - I think I was probably one of the first to mention in this House of Assembly, that the poor people in this Province, and there are, God knows, enough of them. They have been growing and growing every day because of this Administration and their policies - but the poor people in this Province use the parks. They get off for a week or two or maybe even a weekend in the summertime, as their trip to Florida.

Now, a lot of members on that side of the House, especially the ministers, do not have to worry about that, but these people do. They have to worry about getting a few bucks together, maybe $100 or $200 for a weekend or a week, to take their kids, put them in the trailer and go out to these parks. Now, what is going to happen, Mr. Speaker? Obviously, if the government says that they are not making money and are being subsidized - but, we are all paying taxes, Mr. Speaker. We are all paying taxes for services. I mean, it is getting to the point now that people do not know what they are paying their taxes for anymore. But the poor people now who use these parks for a week or a weekend, quite possibly, will not be able to use them. Why? Because if the government says they are not viable or not feasible, if private individuals take over, they are going to have to up the rates for people to get in.

Mr. Speaker, there may be parks in which they will have slides and all kinds of attractions, and people who are not very well off, you know, the working poor, of which again there are a great many in this Province, will not want to go to these parks. Because they are going to have maybe two, three or four kids who will not be able to go on these slides or get in this pool because they will not have the money to pay for it. The people who have the money, like the ministers on this side of the House who support this, will not have any problem taking their kids to these parks, no problem whatsoever.

This is the type of thing we are looking at. A government when it is elected is supposed to take care of all people, the rich people, the poor people and the in-between, all classes. What is going on in this Province today is there are two classes. There is no middle class anymore, you are either rich or poor in this Province today, and it is getting worse by the day, almost by the minute.

This petition I am speaking on, on behalf of the people of Pouch Cove, and I have had petitions here from Long Harbour, Bauline, Torbay, all over -

MR. DECKER: (Inaudible) half an hour and clue up, boy, come on!

MR. J. BYRNE: I say to the Minister of Justice, I have been sitting in this House now for three years, and I look at people like the Minister of Education there when he gets up to speak to answer a question, who cannot say `hello' in ten minutes. It takes him ten minutes to say `hello'. There are other people who get up to speak on that side of the House - the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture gets up to answer a question or to speak, and he goes on and on, saying nothing. At least I am talking sense here, Mr. Speaker. I am talking about the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) embarrassing the man, boy!

MR. J. BYRNE: I not only embarrass the man here in the House of Assembly, I embarrass him on the ballfield, too, no sweat - no problem at all. I cannot play hockey (inaudible) though.

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, I do not know how long I can go on. I do not want to be abusing the time of the House and the leave.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please! Order, please!

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. TULK: Speaking by leave? He can consider it withdrawn now.

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

MR. E. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, what a speech! What a presentation on a petition!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. E. BYRNE: First the member lulls them all to sleep, then he wakes them all up, and the Government House Leader finally realized what was going on.

Mr. Speaker, I stand to support the petition presented by my hon. colleague to deal with the privatization of the public park system. There is a number of questions that have been raised in this House and outside the House. As a member who was here in 1995 and watched government at the time stand up and say: We are going to privatize provincial parks - `We are going to save $1 million,' we were told. Government was going to save approximately $1 million per year in 1995 when it first started to plan for the privatization of every park. What they said then was that the money that would be saved would be re-invested into the existing park system - re-invested to ensure that the people of the Province would get a greater service, re-invested in the park system to ensure the continued viability of the parks that would be left.

What we saw, really, two years ago, was the beginning of the complete privatization of all parks. Prior to the Budget the now-Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation stood and talked about the need to privatize more parks. The present minister said the same as the old minister said two years ago: We are maintaining and we will continue to maintain a provincial park system. The question remains: Why should we believe this government now?

Two year ago we were told the exact same thing - two years later, another change. The ultimate reason and the only reason that government has put forward for the privatization of parks has been this: If we want to continue and if we wish to continue to provide the same level of health care, if we wish to continue and want to continue to provide the same level of education, then we have to make tough choices, difficult choices. The Premier and the Minister of Finance have said, we have to make investments and continuing the provincial park structure at this time is not one of the decisions or choices we would make. We need the revenue.

MR. EFFORD: You are the Opposition - you do not make the decisions.

MR. E. BYRNE: We need the revenue, we were told.

Government have said -

MR. J. BYRNE: (Inaudible) decide next time around, buddy.

MR. E. BYRNE: Government has said: We need it because of revenue.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I can tell you today, that if there were a Tory government on that side of the House, we would not be wondering what the revenue scene would be from Voisey's Bay.

AN HON. MEMBER: Hear, hear!

MR. E. BYRNE: We would not be wondering what the royalty regime would be for Voisey's Bay and we would not be wondering what the mining tax would be on a significant resource like Voisey's Bay.

If there were a Progressive Conservative Government on that side over there, we would not be giving away jobs related to Terra Nova. We would know what the royalty regime would be. There would be people employed in our industries and we would ensure our full and fair share.

The member asks: Where would I get the revenue? Where would we get it? That would be a start-up, I suggest to the Member for Twillingate and Fogo. Maybe, as a member on the government side, he can continue to press for what should be taking place, for what is not taking place with respect to revenues coming from our resources. That is the reality of it.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and support the petition put forward by the hon. member and I will continue to support it.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Baie Verte.

MR. SHELLEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am glad to present this petition today from the people in my district from the Jacques Cove to Silverdale area, Mr. Speaker. I am going to read the entire petition, because they put a lot of time into preparing it, and it is very well done, I might add.

To the hon. House of Assembly:

WHEREAS regional councils may be feasible in some areas, it will not be feasible in this area because of the distance between communities and the scattered population; and

WHEREAS in this area the cost of living is already high because of the distance we travel to work on a daily basis and essential services on a frequent basis, the result is extremely high gas bills and vehicle repair bills, especially now with the HST. Since all telephone calls are long distance, except a for a few local calls, we have extremely high telephone bills as well; and

WHEREAS regional councils or service authorities will raise our cost of living so high that it will be impossible to survive here. It will result in extra taxes without additional services which we cannot afford. Property tax will result in the loss of property, for which we worked so hard. It will cause forced resettlement, heartache and sorrow. Honest hard-working people who have worked so hard and paid their fair share of taxes will be ignored. The high tax on gas, vehicle tires, broken windshields, etc. should be sufficient for snow clearing, road maintenance, etc.; and

WHEREAS regional councils will not be able to provide additional services to our area because of the high cost associated with the distance involved. We are opposed to paying off others' debt, which will be to the detriment and destruction of out own communities; and

WHEREAS the federation of municipalities do not support the local service districts, they will continue to undermine and destroy our small communities once they have bled them financially; and

WHEREAS the government continues to download to the town councils and has admitted it, they will destroy many little communities financially and physically in the near future. Government should stop this senseless, ruthless, savage attack and financial grab from the rural areas;

WHEREFORE your petitioners humbly pray that the hon. House may be pleased to request the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador not to force any areas under regional government, especially local service districts, and as in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

Mr. Speaker, I presented a petition last week from a group in that area also on this very important issue, because it hits to the heart of what is happening today in the Province. I said it just last week, Mr. Speaker, and the rural MHAs in this House especially, but I know a lot of urban MHA's who travel back and forth to rural parts of this Province also, will tell you, Mr. Speaker, even the difference from last week and this week as I travelled to my district and back - I do not know if it is the timing, that it just all culminated, but it is getting very serious right now in this Province.

The rural Newfoundland people, and I mean rural Newfoundland, the small communities, are very upset and on edge right now. And now we have these petitioners who are talking about having regionalization forced on them again. The downloading started at the root of the problem, which so many people miss so often, which started in Ottawa, when the transfer payments were so severely decreased, we started to see some years ago what the impact would be on this Province, but now just today, over the last weeks and months, I say, even, as recent as that, we are now seeing the real effect of the downloading that started in Ottawa, went to the Provincial Government here, the Provincial Government took that hot potato and passed it to the municipalities, and now the municipalities are taking it and handing it right down to the people in rural parts of this Province. That is where the impact lies.

Really, what is happening here, is we have gotten to the end of the rope on it. The people in rural Newfoundland are saying: We have finally had enough. I gave a specific example that can be used by anybody in this House of Assembly here today. One community within three days got notice that the road was impassable and could not be driven over, that its hospital was full and could not be used - that was Monday and Tuesday - and on Wednesday they got word that their school was closing. One community, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, got those three bits of news.

Now, Mr. Speaker, that is not a fabricated or dramatized story, that is exactly what happened in one particular community in three days - the hospital was full, the road was impassable, and then on Wednesday, bang, on top of everything else, they were told: By the way, your school here in this community is now ended. You will ship all students some twenty kilometres to the nearest school. Your hospital which is full, cannot be used, you will have to go to Corner Brook, and the road you are driving over to get these people to these places is not passable.

Can you imagine? That is the blunt reality of what is going on in this Province in the last few days. I am going to tell you, with health care and the education mess -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time has elapsed.

MR. SHELLEY: By leave, Mr. Speaker?

AN HON. MEMBER: No leave!

MR. SHELLEY: By leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: No leave!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. member does not have leave.

MR. SHELLEY: No leave from the Government House Leader, Mr. Speaker. I guess I was making sense.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. J. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to stand in my place today and support the petition put forward by the Member for Baie Verte, a petition that hits to the very heart and soul of Newfoundland and Labrador, and it addresses what is going on in this Province today.

I was in this House of Assembly talking last week and asking questions about the political patronage that is going on in this Province. We have the Member for Twillingate and Fogo just making a comment across this House that he got $6.5 million for his district, and they are up paving roads in towns where there are no towns. That is what is going on in this Province today. It is absolutely disgraceful! We have the most political, patronage group of people in this House of Assembly since the 1960s, led by his brother, the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs. He has the gall to say over on that side of the House that they are putting money in roads, paving roads in towns where there are no towns. That is what the problem is with this Administration. That is what the people in this Province see today, and they are fed up with it, they are sick and tired of it.

Now, this petition is about regionalization. And regionalization of services is not necessarily a bad thing. We were doing it down on the Northeast Avalon ten years ago without any input from this Administration. We did not have to be told what to do. We saw what needed to be done and we did it. We did not need to be told. But this Administration thinks, for some reason or other it gets these brain waves that pop out of - I should not say brain waves, because the people who come up with these ideas cannot have any brains. They have some kind of waves coming out of their heads and they act upon them. That is what is going on in this Province today. It is sickening, I tell you.

Three years ago I went on a provincial affairs program and made some predictions on what was going to happen in this Province. You dig it out and look at it, I say to the Member for Topsail, dig it out and look at it and see what is going on. Exactly what we said was going to happen is happening. People are leaving in droves, 17,000 people in the last five years. That is a net difference. There may have been 4,000, 5,000 or 10,000 come in. Seventeen thousand gone. How many actually in reality did leave, how many? I do not have the figures, but there is more than 17,000.

The Leader of the Opposition stood in his place last week and asked the Premier of the Province a question with respect to what impact that would have on the transfer payments of this Province. The Premier of the Province stood in his place and said he did not have a clue! The bottom line, that is what he said, he did not have a clue about what impact this would have on the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Can you imagine? We have the man who the people of the Province thought last February was going to walk across the Straits - not going to fly over or come in a boat - walk across, come back to save the Province, and he didn't even know what impact 17,000 people would have on the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. That is what we are up against here.

We see the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs go into communities, go out across this Province, trying to sell regionalization, and he talks to the towns and says: Listen here, town of whatever, you pay in taxes. Yet, the community down the road is not paying any taxes.

That is what he says. What is he doing? He is pitting a town against a community. It is antagonistic. That is what he is doing in this Province today, and people are starting to see it.

What did we see last year? We saw the referendum with respect to education. Now we see school against school. We see church against church.

AN HON. MEMBER: Community against community.

MR. J. BYRNE: Community against community. We see police force against police force.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind the hon. member again about -

MR. J. BYRNE: By leave, Mr. Speaker.

We see hospital against hospital.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind the hon. member that he is on a petition presented by the hon. Member for Baie Verte and that his remarks should be relevant to the prayer of the petition.

MR. J. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We see worker against worker. We are talking about regionalization here, and the intentions of this administration to bring people out of the rural parts of the Province and try to centralize them.

We are not only talking about centralizing in areas in the main locations in the Province, such as Corner Brook, St. John's, Grand Falls, Gander, and getting people in from the smaller communities. I think there is some kind of plan afoot - I don't know if they are in cahoots, the government or not; maybe some big business might have to get people out of the Province altogether and get our numbers down for some strange reason.

I am of a different opinion. I believe we should have an influx of people into the Province. As a matter of fact, we should have an influx of people into the country. It is because it is such a sparsely populated country that we have some of the problems.

The Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture is over there looking at me like - I don't know how to describe it, but he is over there shaking his head, disagreeing of course.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. J. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's South.

MR. EFFORD: (Inaudible).

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I hear something from the man from Port de Grave over there.

Mr. Speaker, I have a petition here to present on the privatization of our provincial parks. Again, another petition, people speaking out against the privatization of our provincial parks, and there are several reasons why we have thousands and thousands of names on the privatization of our provincial parks.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. OSBORNE: If you were listening you would have known.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, on the privatization of provincial parks, for the benefit of those members in the House who have no idea what is happening in Her Majesty's House, this petition against the privatization of provincial parks... We have thousands and thousands of names against the privatization of provincial parks and, for obvious reasons, people are upset because that would reduce the number of provincial parks in Newfoundland and Labrador to thirteen. There are 120 provincial parks in Nova Scotia. There are seventeen provincial parks in Prince Edward Island, fifteen in the Yukon Territories, and we are going to be left with thirteen. That is disgusting, and the people of our Province are not prepared to accept that.

Mr. Speaker, that would create a loss of economic spin-off to some businesses, some convenience stores and so on in communities in which these provincial parks are located. We realize that even if these provincial parks, once privatized, are operated profitably and are operated efficiently, part of the reason they will be operated profitably and efficiently is because they will have their own amenities, their own convenience stores, which means the convenience stores that are in the communities and towns neighbouring these provincial parks will simply be put out of business, and I am sure that the people in these communities fear that.

Mr. Speaker, the ability of the Province to promote these parks as provincial parks will be lost. Our travel and tourism guides this year list these twenty-one parks as provincial parks, and that is going to create tremendous confusion for the people who visit our Province, the tourists who come into our Province.

Because when these tourists visit our Province and drive up to one of these private parks, expecting the park to be a provincial park and find out that it isn't, and that the park may not offer the same standards and the safety standards and the same security that is offered in a provincial park, that will create tremendous confusion. It will create humilation to the people of our Province, to our tourism industry, unfortunately.

The parks workers who worked in these parks for many years have been told with very little notice, if any, that all of a sudden now they are going to be put out of work. There are ninety-two parks workers who are affected by the privatization of these provincial parks. We are told that forty-five of these workers are going to retain employment through the provincial park system, and that in itself creates a problem. Because these forty-five people who are going into the provincial park system, there is going to be a cost to our Province of $100,000, which is $100,000 less the Province is going to save on the privatization of provincial parks, over and above the loss of employment to our students that was offered and counted on every year through the provincial park system.

Back in 1995 in the provincial Budget the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation at that time - he is now the Minister of Education - promised that the monies saved through the privatization of twenty-eight parks at that particular time would be approximately $1 million, and that money would be reintroduced, reinvested, into our provincial parks that were remaining to enhance those parks. That money was intended to upgrade those parks as far as washroom facilities and shower facilities and electricity, and some of the basics that tourists expect and demand in provincial park systems.

Part of the reason the government has to complain about the visitorship in these parks being low is because some of these amenities right now, such as electricity and showers and washrooms, do not exist. If that money was reinvested into these provincial parks to enhance them, the visitorship in these parks would be up, naturally, because these parks would be up to the standard

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. OSBORNE: By leave, Mr. Speaker, a couple of closing comments.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: No leave!

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. On that I'm proud to represent the people signing the petition.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. J. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise in my place of course to support the petition put forward by the Member for St. John's South, a petition on the privatization of the parks. I could read it if you want me to. I don't think it is necessary. It is the same thing we have read here - we have probably read fifty or sixty of them already, same wording.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: I probably can't. How about that? I'm doing a good job for not being able to read though, aren't I? What? I say to the minister. Mr. Speaker, the question has to be asked: Why?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: Why?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: (Inaudible)!

MR. J. BYRNE: Why is this Administration privatizing the parks in Newfoundland and Labrador? The answer is it started last year. What happened last year?... we had the same Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, the Member for Gander, wanting to end the gravel pit camping in this Province.

The question was asked last year: Why did they want to end gravel pit camping in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador? I was against it and some members on this side of the House here got up against it. Because they were going to see a tradition end in Newfoundland and Labrador, a tradition that developed over the past fifty years, Mr. Speaker, in gravel-pit camping and which is a misnomer by the way, Nr Speaker. We saw a tradition going to end and she backed off because of public pressure, but over the winter, for some reason or other, and it may have to do with the problem of her sleeping in too many igloos and her brain got frozen or something, Mr. Speaker, it may have to do with that, so it goes back to: why are they trying to privatize the parks and if they got rid of the gravel-pit campers in this Province, now we will see a number of people being forced to use or to utilize the parks so if we have a greater number of people utilizing the parks, now, aha, we can probably get a few more bucks for our buddies and force them into the parks. That is what is going on in the Province, Mr. Speaker, all to do with buddies and buddy systems.

As I said earlier when I stood in my place, about the different privatization of the roads, who is going to get that? Who is going to get the privatization of Hydro, when they were doing that and it goes on and on and on, Mr. Speaker, and the people in the Province are getting tired of it. They are getting fed up with it as I said earlier in this House of Assembly, today, and I know that I am. As a matter of fact, Mr. Speaker, and you can believe it or not, I am almost getting tired of talking about it in this House of Assembly, about the privatization of the parks; I am almost getting tired of it but we only have about another 100 or 200 petitions up there to talk about it so we have our jobs cut out for us. We have a lot of time to take up in this House of Assembly to talk about the privatization of the parks.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: No, not necessarily. They are coming in. I mean, they are coming in and coming in and coming in all the time. I know that there are petitions all around the Island, people are still signing petitions.

MR. TULK: Is that why I see Federal Express (inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: It could be I don't know. Quite possibly, the Federal Express may be here with hundreds of them, so -

MR. TULK: Pony Express (inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: Pony Express. The Minister of Forestry Resources and Agrifoods is talking about ponies for some reason or other. The Minister of Forestry Resources and Agrifoods is talking about ponies today and horses and all that kind of stuff and obviously, as I said earlier, Mr. Speaker, that this administration went back thirty years last week in time, with respect to patronage and what have you but for some strange reason and I don't have any idea why, the Minister of Forestry Resources and Agrifoods is talking about horses and ponies and cowboys and what they like, Mr. Speaker, that I think he has gone back maybe, a hundred years in time.

MR. TULK: No, no. (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: The Minister of Forestry Resources and Agriculture is referring to our convention on the weekend.

I do not know if I could make that relevant or not, Mr. Speaker, to this petition, but we have had 400 people out there, 400 loyal Tories and as a matter of fact, we had one individual who came into our meeting - and probably there were more because I did not get to meet them all personally - who stood at a public meeting and said: Listen. I have voted Liberal the last time and it will be the last time I will ever vote Liberal, and he apologized for voting Liberal, apologized, can you imagine apologizing for voting Liberal? I can understand -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. J. BYRNE: - and he did it for nothing. He did it for nothing.

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

MR. EFFORD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Just a couple of quick minutes to remind the hon. members opposite about the petitions they are presenting to the government side not to privatize parks. The purpose and the reason why we are privatizing parks is to create an opportunity for private citizens in this Province to operate something that government should not be in the business of operating. Create jobs in the private sector, give private business the opportunity to do that.

It is too bad that members opposite don't -

AN HON. MEMBER: Oh come on; do you believe that?

MR. EFFORD: It is too bad - just listen now for a second, I am only going to be a minute. It is too bad that members opposite do not practice what they preach day after day here, keeping jobs in Newfoundland and Labrador.

During their convention this past weekend, the big celebration which they are entitled to under the Democracy to have, you would think, Mr. Speaker, with the Cabot 500 celebrations, it would be something to do with the 500 celebrations and it would be something to show how interested they are that they helped the government to create a stable economy in this Province. What did they do, Mr. Speaker?

AN HON. MEMBER: Promote Mexico.

MR. EFFORD: They promoted Texas, cowboys from Texas. Where did they buy their products? Out of Nova Scotia, made in Mexico.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. EFFORD: Now, this is a group of people who are up here in the House of Assembly every day, promoting Newfoundland and Labrador.

AN HON. MEMBER: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Member for St. John's South -

MR. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, if he is speaking to the petition, shouldn't there be relevance?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Is the hon. member speaking to the petition?

MR. EFFORD: Yes, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. EFFORD: Just to conclude, Mr. Speaker, not waste the valuable time of the hon. House, just to conclude, to remind members opposite that privatization of parks in Newfoundland is not closing parks, it is giving private industry an opportunity out there to be involved in private industry, to create an environment, to provide a service, which I have said for years that government should not be involved in, creating a good economy, opportunities for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, not opportunities for Nova Scotia and not opportunities for Mexico.

MR. J. BYRNE: What about our flags, the Cabot 500 flags, the Cabot 500 pins and all of that. Where was that done?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Health.

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Just to comment on the privatization issue.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. minister is out of order.

MR. MATTHEWS: Out of order. Well, the hon. minister will sit down.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's South.

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

If I had a minute or so of leave when I was presenting my petition on parks earlier it would have been sufficient, but I feel the need to present another petition to elaborate further on what I was speaking on and perhaps then the Minister of Health can get up and comment on what he wanted to say.

Mr. Speaker, yet again another petition on the privatization of provincial parks and we have many, many more of these yet to present and I assure you that we will present them.

Mr. Speaker, I was saying that in 1995, the government in their budget said that, the money saved through the privatization of provincial parks would be reinvested into the parks to enhance the parks and to bring the standards of theses parks up, such as washroom facilities, shower facilities and so on and once these facilities were brought up perhaps then the visitors into these parks would be increased. Mr. Speaker, I believe that that is a fact because the records show that the parks that are in place right now with these amenities are the ones that are most frequently used and are the most profitable.

Mr. Speaker, in 1995 the government conducted a task force to evaluate the current parks system, it identified the strengths and weaknesses and made recommendations for improvement. Based on the recommendations of that task force, improvements to the system in `95 included parks classification, extended seasons for selected parks, a revised wilderness and ecological reserve program and the closure of twenty-nine parks.

Mr. Speaker, if there was a need to privatize parks, perhaps that would have been recognized during the task force of 1995, but it was not and it was not enforced in 1995. What was enforced in 1995 was the closure of twenty-nine parks, of which twelve were privatized and ten of those are still operating.

Mr. Speaker, the fact of the matter is today that this is a quick grab on dollars. The Department of Tourism needed to save some money, so they figured a easy way to save, is $1.8 million through the privatization of provincial parks at sell out prices and they are going to recover somewhere between $9 and $20,000 from the rumours we hear, now that may or may not be fact.

MR. J. BYRNE: Is that total or in part?

MR. OSBORNE: That is per park. So, that may or may not be fact, but those are the rumours we are hearing from the employees from the Department of Tourism calling and giving us hints and giving us information and so on.

So, Mr. Speaker, a park that we have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into over the years, to retrieve $9,000 on it is a slap in the face to the people of our Province, to the people that invested the money into these parks, the people that own these parks.

Mr. Speaker, there is no need to privatize these parks. If they were to invest the money that they promised to invest into these parks, in the 1995 budget, these parks would have the amenities enhanced, such as washrooms and shower facilities and electricity and the visitors in these parks would be increased.

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Tourism, two weeks prior to her announcement to privatize these parks, sent around to each one of the members of the House applications for student employment. We find out now that obviously this decision was made in haste because they are not providing any student employment now, not even in the remaining thirteen parks. So, two weeks prior the minister did not even know she was going to privatize these parks until somebody came to her and said, Mrs. Minister you must privatize the parks to save money in the tourism budget.

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately the people of this Province are being hoodwinked. The employees of the parks are being hoodwinked. The ninety-two employees that are being affected by the privatization of these provincial parks, Mr. Speaker - we are told ninety-two employees by the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation but in actual fact there are 142 seasonal employees and students that are being affected by the privatization. Forty-five of those are going to be rehired at a cost of $100,000 plus the wages that would have been paid to the students and yet we are going to deny the students the privilege and the right to work in the provincial parks that have been offered to them for many, many years. Mr. Speaker, some of the parks that are being privatized, one has to wonder why those particular parks are being privatized, such as the ones closer to St. John's that have proven to be the more profitable parks. Catamaran Park out on the West Coast has proven to be one of the more profitable parks. Where has the wisdom, where has the logic come from, Mr. Speaker, in the decision on which parks they were going to privatize let alone the decision to privatize these particular parks?

Mr. Speaker, the people of this Province deserve to be heard. Their voices deserve to be heard and that is precisely why we are going to present petition after petition after petition on the privatization of provincial parks in this House of Assembly and on that, Mr. Speaker -

MR. E. BYRNE: Petitions that have been sent in to us.

MR. OSBORNE: Petitions that have been sent in to us. On an earlier petition today I presented the names from Gander, Gambo and that area. The last one I presented were names from the areas of Torbay, Bauline, Pouch Cove and even up as far as Tors Cove on that particular petition. This one, Mr. Speaker, there are St. John's, Tors Cove, Mount Pearl, Torbay, St. Mary's -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. OSBORNE: By leave, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will sit down on that and I will present another petition this afternoon because I feel that the people of the Province need to be heard on this issue.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. J. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I am going to take a few minutes to support the petition put forward by the Member for St. John's South.

Today I spoke earlier for a few minutes on a petition that I presented on behalf of the people in Pouch Cove, Torbay and Flatrock. Mr. Speaker, the minister made a statement in this House of Assembly and in the public that the employees would have basically the first chance at the privatization of these parks. She made that quite clear. She said that there would be possible assistance for these people and that they would be given special consideration.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I know of individuals who have applied to privatize the park on Marine Drive. One individual worked at the park and they were supposed to be given special consideration. Now I had meetings with these people and they told me that the only advantage they had was that in the evaluation of the proposals coming in they would be given ten points out of 100. So now if we had a group - and we brought this forward before, Mr. Speaker - of employees that wanted to make application to privatize a park, right off the bat, Mr. Speaker, they are at a disadvantage because most of these people are working week by week for their pay cheque and often times they are summer employees. They get enough to qualify for UI and then they are back there again next year. So now these people are at a disadvantage. So the minister said maybe there will be a possibility to give them financial assistance. I know that these individuals looked for this financial assistance and there was no assistance forthcoming. They put in an application and, Mr. Speaker, they were told today - they had a meeting today after going and talking to the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation and being told no, they were not going to have a meeting. Then they went to the Premier's office, Mr. Speaker, and ended up getting a meeting. Now is that fair access to the public servants of this Province?

I phoned two weeks ago, Mr. Speaker, looking for information specifically with respect to the park on Marine Drive. I wanted to know how many applications were there and who made the applications. No, I could not have the information until it was completely analyzed, reviewed and what have you and the decisions made. Well, Mr. Speaker, once a decision is made - by the way, these individuals who made this application on the Marine Drive were told quite clearly that you probably would not even know anything about it until you saw the successful candidate or group working down in the park. Now, Mr. Speaker, is there any fairness there? How would these individuals have any time or chance to appeal a decision that had been made by the minister in awarding this contract? Who knows the conditions? Who knows the terms of the application on the privatization of a park? Is park `a' or park `b' going to have the same terms? Are they going to have the same conditions? Are they going to have the same requirements? We don't know, and the people who apply for it don't know. Those are just some of the problems that individuals are having out there.

Also, the announcement was made that the applications had to be in, I think, by early April - April 1, or something like that - so decisions could be made so that people would have access to the parks this year. Now we find it is May 5, two weeks away from the long weekend, and decisions have yet to be made. Now these people are going to have to gear up, get into the parks and do what they would have to do if they are privatized. It seems like a foregone conclusion that they are going to be privatized, no doubt about that. We have presented petitions. We have asked questions in this House of Assembly of the minister, and it is like water on a duck's back.

The Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture stood in his place today and talked about the whole idea of how we are going to create jobs by putting it out to the private sector. The Member for St. John's South just stood in his place and said that two years ago when they privatized nineteen parks, seventeen closed. So where is the job creation? All for the sake of $1.8 million, the park system that has been open over the years by the people of this Province, has been paid for by the people of this Province, $1.8 million a year for a public service to allow the people of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador to have access to the great outdoors.

Now we see the minister also trying to pull back on the gravel pit campers. That is another sore issue out there, and I can tell the members on that side of the House, every last one of them over there. Some of them may smile and laugh and joke that there are no parks in their district, or there is only one park in their district, but this will be an issue to come back and haunt this administration. You can mark it down. It will come back to haunt this administration, and rightly so.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: The Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture is not worth wasting my breath on, I say.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. J. BYRNE: By leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: No leave.

MR. J. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Is the hon. member rising to speak to the same petition?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's South.

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am rising to present another petition on the privatization -

AN HON. MEMBER: If they would let you talk, you would not keep doing it.

MR. OSBORNE: If they let me talk, I could get all of this out by 4:30 p.m. or so and I wouldn't have to present any more petitions this afternoon.

Mr. Speaker, I am presenting yet another petition on the privatization of provincial parks. I guess the reasoning behind this is that the people of the Province have a right to be heard and obviously they have sent their petitions in to us so that their voices can be heard. They want their voices heard. They do not want their parks privatized. They are against the privatization of provincial parks.

I have a list here of the parks that are being privatized and the ones that are not being privatized as well. Fitzgerald's Pond, for example, had four seasonal employees and two students. Those jobs are gone. Marine Drive had one seasonal employee and two students. Those jobs are gone. Northern Bay Sands had four seasonal employees and two students. Those jobs are gone. Backside Pond had five seasonal employees and three students. Those jobs are gone. Gushue's Pond had seven seasonal employees and five students. Those jobs are gone. Square Pond, five seasonal employees and four students. Those jobs are gone. David Smallwood Park which, I might add, the Mayor of Gambo was told would not be privatized this year - he came publicly and complained that that park was being privatized; he was given no notice that park was being privatized - those jobs are gone. Windmill Bight, four seasonal employees and two students; those jobs are gone. Jonathan's Pond, five seasonal employees and four students; those jobs are gone. Bellevue Beach, five seasonal employees and three students; those jobs are gone. Jack's Pond Provincial Park, four seasonal employees and three students; those jobs are gone. Beothuck Park, eight seasonal employees and five students; those jobs are gone. Catamaran Park, six seasonal employees and four students. Those jobs are gone. Little River, three seasonal employees. Those jobs are gone. Indian River, four seasonal employees, one student. Those jobs are gone. Grand Codroy, six seasonal employees and two students. Those jobs are gone. Picadilly Head, four seasonal employees and two students. Those jobs are gone. Flatwater Pond, three seasonal employees and two students. Those jobs are gone. Sop's Arm, three seasonal employees and one student. Those jobs are gone. River of Ponds, four seasonal employees and two students. Those jobs are gone. Duley Lake, three seasonal employees and two students. Those jobs are gone.

I can look across this House and there is no embarrassment on the faces of the members across except for the Member for Windsor - Springdale. He is ashamed, we can tell he's ashamed. He spoke out and said he was ashamed. Other than that there is no embarrassment on the faces of the members across. All those students. They have the gall, they have the face to say to those students: Your jobs are gone. Forty-five of those seasonal employees will be rehired through the existing parks at a cost of the salaries that were paid to the student employees, and $100,000 a year. So right off the bat we are down from $1.8 million to $1.7 million.

This year the government is going to put in force a support staff and support measures at a cost that the minister was unable to give us to make sure that this year the standards are kept up to as close a level as possible to the provincial parks that are in place. That is embarrassing. It is embarrassing because we have come out and said that there is no need to privatize parks this year during the Cabot 500 celebration. The Program Review that was accepted by the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, Parks and Recreation division, stated that there is absolutely no need to experiment with the privatization of provincial parks this year. Yet the minister in her wisdom decides to privatize these parks -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. OSBORNE: By leave, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: No leave!

MR. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, by leave.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. member has been denied leave.

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Just a few words to support the petition on parks. The department itself in its own internal review indicated that it isn't in the best interest to even look at privatizing parks, particularly in light of the 500th year. I mean, we still don't know today what hands the parks are going to be in, and parks are ready to open. It isn't indicative of very good planning, not at all. It isn't what people were led to believe.

This government has practised consultation. We had the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board and his associate minister the Member for Conception Bay East & Bell Island go around this Province on a pre-Budget consultation process. There was no question asked: Do you feel we should privatize parks? There were many questions asked in that Budget consultation, and that was not one of them. This government has indicated the reason it did it was because of finances. If it did it because of finances, other policy, it should have been included and asked of the people of the Province in a normal, upfront budget consultation process. Because that is the only reason it gives for doing it. There is no other reason I heard from the minister.

Also, not only is it impacting on the parks that are being privatized, it is impacting on the youth of our Province that would be employed in other parks that they are not planning on privatizing. There are no students going to get work, the Butter Pot and La Manche park and those parks anymore, the interpreters, the interpretations of those processes because of this we are going to have people coming in to do interpretation of these parks that are not going to be familiar with the area. I know in my area, in La Manche Park for example, I believe all of the employees will be different, even though it is not privatized. I understand students will not get work there. People who are not familiar, I mean knowing the area is a big advantage. Where someone can obtain propane, where they can obtain various supplies, where convenience stores are, be able to explain the history of the area, what the general area has to offer, the archaeological dig: the Colony of Avalon, we can direct people to where Peter Eastman the pirate came ashore and where he waited in hiding.

Those areas, all aspects are known and they are relayed there and I certainly hope the minister is cognisant of this particular concern, especially. I know I have raised it with the minister. I called and raised it, I had a call back I must say from her deputy minister and spoke with and raised the concerns that I feel in the area how it is going to have a detrimental affect on tourism and I ask them to do what they can in their power to ensure that it does not happen because I do not want people coming into an area, not being able to obtain information, not knowing what attractions you can have in an area, when you are new and pushed in there a week before it opens and as of now, I am not aware, two weeks ago they were not or last week, I do not know if they are aware now, even in La Manche Park for example, not being privatized and still a whole new set of workers coming in and everybody there are going to be gone.

Now, that is a concern because in that park the people took a pride in that park, they worked double the hours they were getting paid and what they did on their own, they even went and applied for funding under some federal programs to get money to enhance the park, they did that on their own initiatives. They took a pride in it because it is a part of their area and now those initiatives will very likely not continue. They have done considerable improvements there, not provincial dollars, they were successful as a group in getting access to some other dollars of a federal nature that enhanced our provincial parks without being a big drain here in the Province to do it and many people donated their time and effort, above and beyond their regular working hours, out there and it is unacceptable, it is unacceptable the process in which it was done alone, the process alone is unacceptable. There was not any discussion, not even adequate, there was no discussion and any members who sit here in this House and tries to tell that their constituents of this Province, that their people here pushed them to privatize parks, they would not be telling the truth because the people want to have provincial parks within the system.

Now, if people want to establish their private parks around the Province, that opportunity is there and there are some, there are some attractions where people want to take their kids, whether it is numerous others, ones that have water slides and attractions, they are fine too, we need some of that. We need a choice, we need to have those options, but we also need to have spaces that are free and open spaces, ones that are under provincial government control, ones that can preserve the integrity of the land and surrounding area.

One can ensure, that people working these parks and the people that come to these parks are going to have their best interests at heart and they are going to be a place quiet and so on where certain standards are kept.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. members time is up.

MR. SULLIVAN: Just by leave to finish up, one minute.

AN HON. MEMBER: No leave.

MR. SULLIVAN: Just a half minute to finish up.

AN HON. MEMBER: No leave.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. member has been denied leave.

 

Orders of the Day

 

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

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, Motion No. 3, first reading, the hon. the Minister of Justice.

MR. SPEAKER: Motion, the Hon. the Minister of Justice to introduce a Bill entitled, "An Act to Amend The Judgment Enforcement Act," carried. (Bill No. 3).

On Motion, Bill No. 3 read a first time, ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. TULK: Motion No. 4 and 5, if I can call both of them at the same time and it will save us some time.

MR. SPEAKER: We will do them one at a time since it is two different ministers.

Motion, the Hon. the Minister of Justice to introduce a Bill entitled, "An Act To Remove Anomalies And Errors In The Statute Law," carried. (Bill No. 4).

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Justice to introduce a bill entitled, "An Act To Amend The Judgement Enforcement Act," carried. (Bill No. 9).

On motion, Bill No. 9 read a first time ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation to introduce a bill entitled, "An Act To Amend The Wilderness And Ecological Reserves Act, carried. (Bill No. 10).

On motion, Bill No. 10 read a first time ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

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

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, Motion No. 1, the Budget Speech.

MR. SPEAKER: Motion No. 1, the Budget Speech.

MR. E. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. E. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

On Thursday before we left, I was speaking about the declining population of Newfoundland and Labrador.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: For the round-up I say to the Government House Leader, and what a round-up it was! About 400 Tories out in Gander, what a round-up.

AN HON. MEMBER: Did you count twice.

MR. E. BYRNE: No, 280 delegates, 110 observers and the remainder spouses and friends of those who came, Mr. Speaker, about 400 Tories on Saturday so what a round-up it was. What a round-up it was. At the banquet, the most telling, Mr. Speaker, of all the comments in Gander on Sunday came from the most unlikely source.

AN HON. MEMBER: What?

MR. E. BYRNE: The most telling comment. Somebody who showed up at the dinner to welcome people, say `hello', (inaudible) and crucified the government, said what happened, what it was doing to the area. He told the truth and predicted that the Member for Gander would be a one-term member only. So, yes, it was a great weekend, I say to the Government House Leader, a great weekend of about 400, too bad that you could not be there. Too bad you could not be there as a constituent of mine, I say to the Government House Leader, the invitation was opened to everyone in the District of Kilbride, I am just sorry that you did not take advantage of that opportunity.

Now, Mr. Speaker, back to the Budget Debate. On Thursday when we left here, Mr. Speaker, I was talking about the declining population of Newfoundland and Labrador and how serious an issue it is. On two occasions I have asked, on one occasion the Premier, today, the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board, on what the impact would be on the Budget, and I have gotten two different responses.

On Friday or last week, the Premier said directly to me in response that: government were surprised by the numbers released by Stats Canada. He did not believe it was that high, couldn't believe that it was that high and that he would have to ask his officials to have a look at it and see what the impact would be financially on the government's Budget. But he missed the point. He missed the point. Instead, Mr. Speaker, he should have been thinking about: why is this happening, not what the impact would be on his Budget this year but why did 17,000 pack up and leave this Province?

Now today, in questioning, the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board said: They weren't surprised by the numbers. The Province's tracking of the number of people leaving the Province, their own tracking, how they do it, was more dead on and they were not surprised. It leads me to believe, Mr. Speaker, that they know full well what is happening and are prepared to do nothing about it or at least not even to admit that there is a problem.

Now I have asked the Premier and the Minister of Finance publicly, what would be the impact, financially, on the Province as we struggle to maintain roads, as we struggle to maintain schools for the people of this Province and as we struggle to maintain hospitals? Can we afford to lose another $52 million from transfer payments? No we can't but it's a circle.

Mr. Speaker, I just want to say - for the record - that over the last five years Canada's, as a nation, population growth has led all industrialized nations in the world. We are still frontrunners compared to the entire industrial world. Between 1991 and 1996, Mr. Speaker, Canada's population - the nation that we are a part of - the population ultimately grew at an annual average rate of about 1.1 per cent. Mr. Speaker, if you look at, province by province, the most telling story begins to be told. The North West Territories population increased by 11.7 per cent in the last five years; the Yukon Territory population increased by 10.7 per cent in the last five years; British Columbia's population, highest in Canada, increased by 13.5 per cent in the last five years; Alberta, an increase of 5.9 per cent; Saskatchewan, a province not unlike ours, having difficult times financially, yet their population increased by 0.1 per cent; Manitoba, another western province, their population increased by 2.0 per cent; Ontario, over the last five years, its population has increased by 6.6 per cent; Quebec experienced a population increase of 3.5 per cent; New Brunswick, 2.0 per cent; Nova Scotia, an increase of 1 per cent; Prince Edward Island, an increase of 3.7 per cent and, Mr. Speaker, Newfoundland and Labrador, a decrease in population of 2.7 per cent. The only province in Canada, Mr. Speaker, that in the last five years has experienced a population decrease. Now, Mr. Speaker, what this means for the people of the Province, while they may not realize it or understand it directly, it is probably the most distributing trend that will impact on each and every one of our lives.

The Premier said two weeks ago - I believe it is in the article here, let me have a look - in an Evening Telegram article on April 16, 1997 that he was somewhat surprised at the huge decrease in the population figures. February 25, 1996, a prediction was made - that was three days after the last provincial election - the new Premier, at that time was interviewed but the prediction was then known and it was publicly made clear, the debate happened and started to begin there on what it would mean financially, what it would mean to the people of this Province, what out-migration is doing. Let's have a look, right here it leads off, it says check your calendar, by this time next week ninety more people will have left this Province. This time next week, almost another 100 people will have left this Province and Stats Canada has said that they - some sobering demographic information that it has released to us, Mr. Speaker. By this time next week another ninety people will have left this Province. As I said, Stats Canada has released some sobering information.

AN HON. MEMBER: This week in Paquet, the Baie Verte Peninsula, twenty-one people (inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: There we go, just an example. In Paquet, a community that I know, a community that I've been into on a number of occasions, in this member's district, twenty-one people left last week. Last week alone in Paquet. Paquet has, what, a population of a couple of hundred people?

AN HON. MEMBER: Three hundred people.

MR. E. BYRNE: Three hundred people. At that rate that community will have disappeared if that trend continues in that community alone.

Mr. Speaker, the information released by Stats Canada on demographic shifts in this Province is pretty sobering. The Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture knows full well - as a Cabinet minister he must deal with it, in terms of having the responsibility of maintaining services for the people and looking at what the future will bring in terms of that direction. A pretty sobering thought.

A Memorial University economist said, and I quote directly: The way it is going, I'm not a bit surprised. If we continue to get this trend of out-migration the figure is going to be well off. I think we are presiding - and I quote - over the death of rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

That is what is happening. The Premier stood up on many occasions and he said categorically that this trend has everything to do with the close down in the northern cod fishery. While there is some truth to that, it is not entirely true. Because it is not just that issue. It is not just the closure of that resource that is causing the ultimate demise and the out-migration of people in this Province.

It is funny. Approximately 70 per cent of those who left in that time frame, in the last five years, were between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five years of age. There were people with technical skills, university degrees, tradesmen and tradeswomen, young families, who have bought one-way tickets either across the Gulf or on Air Canada or Canadian, and gone to set up their lives somewhere else.

On February 25 1996, here is what the paper said, and it was way off. One year later shows that Stats Canada a year ago are way off. Under the current formula, Stats Canada said last year that it would have predicted - its numbers will be done this year, but last year it suspects that about 9,000 people would have left in the last five years. In April of this year its predictions demonstrated that it was way off: 17,000 people left. Here is exactly what that means to the people of the Province who are living in every corner of the Province. If 17,000 people leave, the figure is correct, the Province could be looking at losing upwards of $52 million to $55 million this year from transfer payments. That is what we could be looking at losing. That is why I've asked the Premier and the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board to see what is happening.

If you want to look at what type of vicious circle we are in, people are leaving the Province, people are leaving Paquet, people are leaving Marystown, people are leaving all over. Just look at municipal councils, what has happened to them in the last three years. The federal government has continuously, deliberately, down loaded on this Province and any other province. In an effort to recover cash, but to not provide the service, the provincial government in turn has down loaded on municipalities. Municipalities then, I say to the Members of the House, have struggled to increase their tax base.

The Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs on many occasions through legislation in this House has forced that issue by eliminating municipal operating grants, by forcing municipalities to increase mil rates. So municipal leaders in the Province right now, over the last number of years, have struggled continuously with increasing tax bases in their own municipalities from a shrinking population base. That is what is happening. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out. It doesn't take a rocket scientist at all. Smaller numbers trying to grab more money from smaller numbers, and for what purpose?

One of the sole reasons that the school system today in Newfoundland and Labrador is in trouble is because of what Ottawa has done to this Province. You look at what used to come in in equalization five years ago, in 1991, in 1992, and look at what is coming into the Province today. One quickly realizes that $70 million was taken out of the education budget this year for that reason. What happens next year and the year after as Ottawa continues to, as they said they are going to do, download? We are forcing people into very, very trying situations, to make life decisions about where they will live, where they will raise their children. What happens in Badger when the school closes down? What happens in Jacques Fontaine when the school closes down? In the fifty or sixty other communities, when those schools close down? Where have we been? Where has this government been? Where have we been? We all share, or we should all share, some sense of the responsibility. After all, this is the people's House. It is their place. They put us here. Yet, government fails to recognize - publicly anyway - where the source of the problem is.

For the past three years we have had seven MPs sitting in the federal House of Commons and we have not heard a word, not a peep, from them - nothing. Where have the great voices for Newfoundland and Labrador gone the last three years in the federal House of Commons, irrespective of political type, because we had some good ones there. When the Premier was there, you heard him as a member of the House when he was in opposition. We certainly heard him when he was Fisheries Minister. When John Crosbie was there, you certainly heard him. George Baker is not quite as vocal as he used to be. Where has Roger Simmons been for the people in his district? Where has he been? Where has the Member for St. John's West been on current issues that affect people in the District of St. John's West? What about the Member for St. John's East? When have we heard -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) federal member.

MR. E. BYRNE: The federal member, not the provincial member. When have we heard the collective voices of seven of our MPs, sent to Ottawa to represent our interests in the nation's capital, representing our interests? They have not.

Alexa McDonough, the federal NDP leader, called it right last week. The Prime Minister made a statement about raising the cash floor for the Canada Health and Social Transfer Act, that they were going to raise the cash floor to about $12 billion, up $1 billion. The Minister of Health says: Wow, it's great; that means $66 million extra dollars.

The reality is that it wasn't $66 million extra. What he failed to say was that is $66 million extra we don't have to cut over the next three years - $22 million next year from health and education, $22 million the year after, and $14 million the year after that. There is no new money.

Alexa McDonough said it right when they asked her what she felt about the Prime Minister's announcement. She said: I compare it to somebody who robbed my purse and then offered me bus fare back home.

She echoed, I think, the sentiments of the people of Canada because that is exactly what the Prime Minister did, a deliberate and blatant attempt to buy votes.

Mr. Speaker, I don't think the people of Canada would mind paying taxes so much if they knew the services were going to be there, but when a government on the one hand publicly continues to say that there are no problems in education, or that there are no problems in health care, and then at the same time we read about hospitals closing down in Port aux Basques for two weeks because there are no doctors. Medical specialists in Corner Brook are talking about what will happen next week or this week in Corner Brook if a situation is not corrected. Why, Mr. Speaker, does government continue to do that? Why not acknowledge that there is a problem? Why not acknowledge where that problem began? Why not acknowledge that together we may be able to solve it? They talk about a health care forum where nobody is allowed in, only those who have been invited. What type of forum is that? It's a closed shop. It is a completely closed shop, Mr. Speaker, when government chooses those who they want to come and talk to them about health care, invites them into a room, locks the doors, no media allowed and then promises on the other hand to say, we will release what the recommendations are after the meeting is over. The story is, Mr. Speaker, that government will release the recommendations after the meeting is over, after the public relation specialist get hold of it. That is what will happen but we will see what Friday brings, I say to the Minister of Health. We will see what Friday brings. It could be an interesting day for the Minister of Health on Friday. It could be very interesting.

MR. MATTHEWS: I am not sure Jean is going to be proud of you though (inaudible).

MR. J. BYRNE: You're listening to your spin doctors too much boy. You are starting to believe what you say yourself and that's a big mistake to me. You're really starting to believe it.

MR. E. BYRNE: Anyway, Mr. Speaker, I would like to continue on when we talk about

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. E. BYRNE: I would like to continue on in another area, Mr. Speaker, because this motion today deals with non-confidence in government put forward by the Member for Baie Verte supported by members in the Opposition, certainly the independent member and also the member for the NDP but there are other things-

MR. EFFORD: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: - a motion of non-confidence. Yes, he did, I say to the Member for Port de Grave, yes he did.

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk about the HST for a few minutes and what it has meant to the people of the Province, essentially. HST on the one hand, Mr. Speaker, again has been an attempt by three governments in Atlantic Canada to sort of defray a commitment made by the federal government to eliminate the GST but what it has meant to the people of this Province is simply this, government has stood up time and time again and has told us how wonderful the HST is going to be for all of us, how much money we are going to save on big ticket items, how much money we are going to save every time we buy a new car, how much we are going to save on washers and dryers every time we buy them. They have talked about input tax credits for businesses. They have had many representations from small business about input tax credits which have told them clearly that they will not make up nearly what they are going to lose. The deal on HST was never discussed publicly. It was negotiated behind the scenes immediately following the provincial election. The day it was implemented a number of things happened; gas per litre automatically jumped by five cents, overnight by five cents. In an industry where gas prices should be regulated and are out of control now, government knows this. They had a study done for the past four or five years that they had not released a regulation of the oil and gas industry in the Province in terms of prices to consumers; Children's clothes jumped by 15 per cent overnight; Electricity rates went up by 8 per cent overnight; Insurance rates climbed, some predict, by 17 per cent to 18 per cent overnight and government then talks about lost revenue.

Between Year I and Year IV, by the time this deal is over and the Minister of Finance said in this House that what the people of the Province will gain and what they will be able to put back into the economy will more than make up for the $105 million to $110 million that we will be out at the end of the day of Year IV of this deal. Yet at the same time, Mr. Speaker, he stands up in the House and admits that our populations are declining at a more rapid rate. Revenues, as a result, are declining at a more rapid rate. Which is true, how are we going to gain back our increased revenue from more jobs and taxes when we have less people living here and continuing to live here? It is beyond me. Then they expect to have tremendous credibility.

I would just like to touch on, before my time is up, the infrastructure program. Last week I heard the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs say in this House that when it came to Clarenville there was completely, 100 per cent support from the Town of Clarenville for a recreational development - 100 per cent support.

AN HON. MEMBER: $1.43 million.

MR. E. BYRNE: $1.43 million. On Thursday night I was astounded to see the Mayor of Clarenville on saying that they absolutely did not support it. They have roads they need upgraded. They have water and sewer they need upgraded. The priorities in Clarenville are not recreation complexes which will have indoor tracks and golf simulators, a much different story. He also said that he communicated that to the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. E. BYRNE: By leave, to clue up?

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

AN HON. MEMBER: No.

MR. SPEAKER: Leave has been denied.

Is the House ready for the question?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: All in favour of the amendment, `aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Nay.

MR. SPEAKER: I declare the motion defeated.

AN HON. MEMBER: Division.

 

Division

 

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, if the hon. gentlemen are ready on the other side we are ready to put the vote.

MR. SPEAKER: All in favour of the motion, please stand.

CLERK (Noel): The hon. the Leader of the Opposition; Mr. Shelly; Mr. Edward Byrne; Mr. Fitzgerald; Mr. Jack Byrne; Mr. Osborne; Mr. Ottenheimer; Mr. French.

MR. SPEAKER: All against the motion, please stand.

CLERK (Noel): The hon. the Minister of Forestry Resources and Agrifoods; The hon. the Minister of Justice and Attorney General; The hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture; Mr. Flight; Mr. Walsh; Mr. Lush; Mr. Langdon; The hon. the Minister of Development and Rural Renewal; The hon. the Minister of Health; The hon. the Minister of Government Services and Lands; Mr Noel; Mr. Oldford; Mr. Canning; Mr. Smith; Mr. Ramsey; Ms Hodder; Mr. Woodford; Mr. Reid; Ms Thistle; Mr. Sparrow; Mr. Wiseman.

Mr. Speaker, eight `yeas' and twenty-one `nays'.

MR. SPEAKER: I declare the motion defeated.

The hon. the Member for St. John's East.

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I understand that we now return to the main Budget Debate?

Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a few comments in response to the Budget which has been handed down by the members opposite and specifically with respect to issues affecting schools and the communities in our Province.

Mr. Speaker, we have seen what in my view, we can only classify as an unprecedented protest in this Province from parents and from communities who feel that they have been completely ignored by this government in terms of concerns and representations being made on their behalf supposedly with respect to education in this Province.

Mr. Speaker, there has been protest after protest and it is just a matter of reading the newspapers, watching the tv news, listening to radio stories, and community after community, Mr. Speaker is in an uproar as a result of closures of schools throughout our Province. We have communities on the West Coast of this Province on the Great Northern Peninsula, on the South Coast, Trinity Bay, Central Newfoundland, there is not a region of this Province which has been unaffected.

We have communities who are crying out, Mr. Speaker, for a Minister of Education to listen to their concerns. We have communities who have been crying out for their members to make representations on their behalf, with the view to at least listening to the concerns and in the hope that their particular schools would remain open.

I have attended, Mr. Speaker, public meetings on a regular basis where I have listened to parents and school councils, teachers who have made comments repeatedly as to how their voices and their concerns go unheard and, Mr. Speaker, the problem is, in education today in this Province, there appears to be nobody to whom their concerns can be directed. We have the minister saying: I will not get involved; we have the school boards which are appointed school boards, not elected, they are appointed school boards who have been given this responsibility, responsibility thrust upon them with actually no legal accountability; they are not elected. The school boards supposedly, then, their hands are tied. The minister is saying to the school boards, `You deal with it.' So where is their recourse? Where is there an option to the parents in this Province to have their educational concerns both listened to and resolved?

There is nobody, and that is why we have problems today, and that is why we have heard over this past weekend, during a convention which was attended by hundreds of faithful supporters and members of this party who asked us: `What is happening in rural Newfoundland?'

MR. MATTHEWS: Two hundred.

MR. OTTENHEIMER: No, it is quite more than that, I say to the Minister of Health, many hundreds more.

Mr. Speaker, these people are asking: `What is happening to rural Newfoundland? Why is this government turning its back on rural Newfoundland?' I am sure there is not a member opposite, particularly rural members, who have not had communities in their own districts up in arms and have been unable to answer simple questions being put to them: `Why is government doing this?'

Yes, there is the party line. Yes, there is the government line. Oh, for fiscal reasons difficult decisions have to be made. Well, I say, there are human reasons and there are reasons which go to the very essence of Newfoundland and rural Newfoundland, and that is the survivorship and the continuation of Newfoundland as a society as we know it.

Mr. Speaker, we have to be at least in a position to listen to the many hundreds and indeed thousands of Newfoundlanders who need somebody to at least have their concerns listened to and hopefully addressed. To this point, government members and government generally have not been in a position to listen to the concerns of Newfoundlanders, and in particular rural Newfoundlanders, as it affects the closure of schools.

Last week we saw the beginning of what I would consider to be a very interesting movement with respect to schools and the continuation of schools in this Province, and it has to do with a news release which became public I believe on Thursday of last week, and it was released by the Lakewood Academy School Council in Glenwood, in Central Newfoundland. In fact, over the weekend I had an opportunity to meet with the Chairperson of the Lakewood Academy School Council, Mr. McCormick, who has decided to become quite vocal and quite active in the hope of the preservation of viable and worthwhile schools in Newfoundland communities.

Just to make a general statement, what he sees is the total abdication of responsibility by the minister and his department, and an unwillingness by the minister to listen to those concerns. This particular school council is saying, `Enough is enough', and it is prepared to take the bull by the horns and is prepared to become active and vocal in its fight against a perceived closure of rural Newfoundland which is being precipitated by this government.

There is an interesting feature of the new Schools Act which I would like to refer to very briefly, and it is with respect to the development of school councils and the function of school councils in our Province. Under Section 25 of the new Schools Act, it states that a principal of a school shall establish a school council for the school - so in every school in this Province it is now a legal imperative. It is pursuant to Section 25 of the Act; every school must have a school council, and that council is established by the principal of the school.

The council shall consist of no fewer than eight members and no more than fifteen. No fewer than two shall be teachers, elected by teachers from among the teachers of the school. No fewer than three shall be parents, elected by parents from among the parents of the students in the school. No fewer than two shall be representatives of the community appointed by the school council members elected under paragraphs (a) and (b); and where a school council consists of more than eight members, those members shall be elected and appointed in a manner consistent with the representation of members under the paragraphs just mentioned.

The principal of the school shall be a member of the school council by virtue of his or her position. A parent of a student in a school, who is a teacher in that school, cannot be eligible and notwithstanding Sections 2, 3 and 9, a school with fewer than four teachers, including the principal, shall appoint all of its teachers to the school council.

In addition, to the requirements of subsection (2), in a school where senior high school courses are taught, at least one student who is elected by students in those courses shall be a member of the school council.

A school council shall elect a chairperson from among its members, but the principal in this particular incidence is ineligible. A member of a school council elected or appointed under subsection (2), shall hold office for a period of not more than three years and may be elected or appointed to that school council for one further term of three years.

Notwithstanding subsection (9), of the members of a school council first elected or appointed, one-third or as near as may be possible shall serve for a term of one year, another one-third or as many as possible shall serve for a term of two, and the remaining members shall serve for a term of three.

The Act continues with other provisions with respect to the composition of the school council. It states that a vacancy shall be filled in the same manner as the member being replaced, and the replacement member shall serve only for the remainder of the term of office of the member being replaced and may be re-elected or re-appointed for one term of three years.

Under Section 25.(14), there is an important reference with respect to the role of school councils. A principal shall report in writing to the director not later then September 30th of the school year, if he or she is unable to establish a school council and the board, if satisfied that every reasonable effort has been made to establish the school council, may exempt the principal from the obligation to establish a school council or proving a school council.

So, we have under Section 25, provision in the new schools Act for the establishment of these councils which obviously have representation from the school administration, from the teaching staff, from the parents and, in some cases, students, obviously, a group of people who have their fingers on the pulse of education in their particular school and in their particular community.

Section 26 is equally important because it describes what the functions of a school council are and what the role of a school council is. The purpose of a school council is to - and I would like to stress these words and I think it is important for the hon. the Minister of Education to listen and to reread his Act, if necessary, so that he can gain a knowledge as to the importance of school councils and the roles that these councils play in every particular school, in every particular community in our Province.

The purpose of a school council is to develop, encourage and promote policies, practices and activities to enhance the quality of school programs and the level of student achievement in the school - a very broad definition, Mr. Speaker, a definition and a purpose which I would suggest give this school council significant control, significant authority, and ought to give significant direction with respect to the direction of schools in their particular community.

The function of a school council - here are the various functions of a council: to represent the educational interests of the school, to advise on the quality of teaching and learning in the school, to facilitate parent and community involvement in teaching and learning in the school, and to advise the board on matters of concern to the school and the community.

The section continues and it states that the school council `shall', so it is compulsory; it is mandatory on the school council to carry out the following functions: to approve for recommendation, to the board, a plan for improving teaching and learning in the school, to support and promote the plan approved by the board for improving teaching and learning in the school, to approve and monitor activities for the raising of funds for the school, to consider information respecting performance standards in their school, to assist in the system of monitoring and evaluating standards in the school, to monitor the implementation of recommendations in reports on the performance, to conduct meetings with parents, to ensure that the report of the school prepared under paragraph 24 is available to members of the public, and to communicate concerns respecting board policies and practices to the board. So we have a fairly exhaustive list here, Mr. Speaker, of the responsibilities and the role of a school council.

Notice the last one that was just read, Section 26(i): `to communicate concerns respecting board policies and practices to the board.' We now have a duly, statutorily-based power given to a group of parents, community-minded individuals, the administration, students and teachers, who now can give direction, recommend policy, give suggestions as to how a school or a school program or the curriculum may be improved upon. And it is a very significant role and a significant responsibility. The language is mandatory, `a school council "must" be created.' There is an obligation on the principal to ensure that it is done. It must then report to the board. So it has a role. I would say, Mr. Speaker, it has a power. Already, we can see the beginning of this power and this movement in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Last week, in my view, is an important date in educational history in this Province because we have a school council which is prepared to be pro-active, it is prepared to be politically active, it is prepared to make a difference and it wants to be heard. And it now has the statutory basis to do just that, because those sections, which I just referred to in the new schools Act, give this school council that legal right and basis to do exactly what it is doing and school councils in this Province, Mr. Speaker, are beginning to be wanted to be heard - that is what is happening.

A release, which I referred to earlier from Lakewood Academy, spells out in clear language exactly why this particular school council is prepared to take the bull by the horns and to make a difference. Because the minister will not listen. School boards' hands appear to be tied. School councils, therefore, who have the authority under the Act to become involved, are beginning to become involved. In this release, it states that the Lakewood Academy School council wants to draw attention to parents, citizens, grandparents and employers the concerns about the future of the most valuable resource in this Province, namely, our children. So it sets out a preamble. It sets out exactly the purpose of why it wants to get involved, because it wants to take seriously what this government is not prepared to take seriously. It wants to ensure that what is in the best interest and best educational interest of our children is being reported.

Mr. Speaker, the news release clearly indicates that we have a serious problem in education. Of course, as we all know, it is not only education in this Province but education is certainly up there with others, health not being the least. It refers specifically in this release to the 468 teaching positions which have just been wiped out of the schools in our Province, amounting to 7 per cent of the total teaching force eliminated arbitrarily, and during this school year student decline was only 3.8 per cent but yet 7 per cent of our teachers have been obliterated as the result of 468 positions being removed.

Since 1990, Mr. Speaker, 1,700 teaching positions have disappeared in this Province which includes the 468 laid off just a few weeks ago, 1,700 positions in seven years, that is a startling statistic. That is a startling statistic when we try to assess and analyze where education is going in this Province. The total reduction in the teaching force over the four school years from 94-95 through to 97-98 is 1,300 teaching positions or 17.5 per cent of the teaching force in this Province. Student decline over the same period was just 12.8 per cent in comparison.

MR. TULK: And it all (inaudible).

MR. OTTENHEIMER: It certainly does, I say to the Government House Leader, it certainly does have to be said because we are talking about what this preamble in this press release began with, namely: The most important resource in this Province is our children; and very shortly, very shortly I say to the Government House Leader, I am going to read a letter which typifies the type of letter which I receive as education critic from an ordinary Newfoundland resident, from an ordinary parent who sees the demise of this Province on the horizon, Mr. Speaker, because of policies, blind policies which are being confirmed, ratified, put in place and supported by this particular government, and very shortly I will get to that. I just want to continue, Mr. Speaker, with some of the particulars as we find in this press release.

Over the next three years, indications from the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers Association are that it intends to remove an additional 1,100 to 1,200 positions from the teaching force. It also refers to a statistic which this government is simply not being honest with the people of this Province when it continues to talk about a reduced pupil/teacher ratio. The 14.8 to 1 ratio, that the hon. minister refers to, is not just talking about classroom teachers. I know this comment is repeated over and over but it appears that the government, through the minister, does not seem to understand it. This particular statistic, the 14 to 1 statistic, in terms of pupil/teacher ratio which is being referred to and repeated by the hon. minister includes: program consultants, board consultants, guidance counsellors, art teachers, special education teachers. It includes those numbers of individuals albeit very important individuals but they are not the individuals who are in direct contact in a typical classroom instruction setting on a regular basis. How the special education teacher who has three students in another classroom can be included in that overall statistic is beyond me, and why the minister continues to use that analysis in his own analysis is beyond me. It is simply not being honest with the facts.

Mr. Speaker, that whole concept has to be reviewed by the Minister of Education. He has to make it clear that when he talks about a pupil-teacher ratio it has to be an honest pupil-teacher ratio, one which is well behind the Canadian average, and not well ahead of it as he claims, because of these somewhat confused and inappropriate analysis mechanisms which he uses. He can't do it this way because the result in doing it this way gives us false information.

All of this information with respect to teacher cutbacks, with respect to program decline, with respect to the falsifying of pupil-teacher information, is well presented in this news release by this particular school council. This particular school council has invited other school councils in this Province to latch on board, to get on board, to become involved with what is the beginning of an important movement in education. I make this prediction right now. It is only last week that we really heard for the first time of a school council becoming actively involved in education in this Province, but I will make a prediction that this is going to be a growing movement.

Last week when this particular letter was written it already had received responses from eighty school councils in our Province. That is eighty schools. Over this past weekend in speaking with this individual, he tells me he has now heard from 120 school councils. That is a significant number.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. OTTENHEIMER: I had the privilege of meeting this gentleman, I say to the hon. minister. Because this is a gentleman who is prepared to say that we need answers, and is prepared to ask the minister why will he not answer the questions that are being asked.

One hundred and twenty school councils have become involved, Mr. Speaker, and that is a force to be reckoned with. The minister will have to listen, I say. If he isn't prepared to listen to the individuals in the community, who the minister appears to just consider as powerless, if he is not prepared to listen to advocates of education, he will have to listen to school councils because school councils are established pursuant to sections 25 and 26 of this act. They are given significant authority. They have a purpose and, I say to the minister, if they did not have a purpose why are they even there? Why are they there in the act?

Obviously the minister felt that the establishment of school councils was essential in the development of education in our Province, so he now has to be accountable to them and he has to listen to what the parents and the administration and the teachers and the students in this Province are saying.

Mr. Speaker, as critic in this area I get numerous letters from individuals throughout this Province who just feel the frustration of having a government and having to live with a government which is not prepared to answer their concerns. They have spoken on open line shows. They have written letters to the editor. They have marched in front of their school boards. They have blocked the access to their particular schools. They have written letters to their members. They have written letters to us as an opposition, and they continue to protest in this Province and they continue to ask questions. Unfortunately there are no answers from the members opposite.

I would just like to very briefly refer to a letter, before my time expires, which to me typifies the type of letter which is being written by this ordinary Newfoundlander, this parent who feels that their place in society has been forgotten and neglected. I only have a few minutes and I would like to refer to it briefly, and I am going to read from it. It states:

Dear Mr. Ottenheimer, in this country a school board makes a decision to close a school. The board member says your children will have to get used to it, accept it, get over it, adjust. This is your only option. You have to help us make this work. Did you guess Russia? - this is what the letter asks - wrong; the country is Canada and the Province is Newfoundland.

He says: I thought this was supposed to be a democratic society, a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, where people are kept informed and given time to make choices. But to say you have no choice, `take it or lump it', is an awful smack in the face. The school board asked us - the school council - to do a viability study of our area. They should have said: We need fifteen to twenty teachers and they have to be yours. It would have saved us a lot of time and aggravation. It never had anything to do with being viable. We are being told, the letter continues, you had to close down your school to make the rest of the district viable.

My question to you is: Why has Bishop O'Reilly got to be the answer to everyone else's prayer? Our children are the ones to suffer no matter which way you look at it. Our fight is not with the school board or with the outlying communities; we all have the right to our community schools. The letter continues: it is with the government who thinks parties, rallies, rusty ships, expense accounts, free airfare are all more important than the education of our young people. A government which is trying to resettle the people all into the one, big pasture. If there is no school, you are not on the map, the letter states, Mr. Speaker. Who is going to build there, who is going to buy your house if you want to move away? As it is, we only see most of our family when they come home on holiday. If roots did not matter, Newfoundland would be one, big ghost town. We all have the right to choose where we live. If I choose to live up in the back country and educate my children by correspondence, I have that right. If I have that right, if I want my children in a small school, I have that right. We do not want to be piled into large schools if all we have to pick from is a large school and an overcrowded classroom. It is time we told government. We had to remember this is not a communist country. We had to say whether they like it or not.

Mr. Speaker, this letter is typical of the hundreds of letters which we receive as members and I would suggest typical of the kinds of letters which members opposite receive as well. Members opposite are not prepared to speak out and to represent the concerns of the everyday Newfoundlander, but we as an opposition have that obligation to do so. We do so willingly, we do so because there are too many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who feel right now that there is no accountability and there is nobody, Mr. Speaker, who is prepared to listen to them with respect to their educational needs.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister and I ask the members opposite to listen. I ask the minister that, he not be afraid to take a lead role if need be. This is a critical time in education. Never again will the structural changes which we are now witnessing in this Province reoccur. This is an opportunity if he wants to leave his mark in education, I say to the hon. minister: Here is a golden opportunity for him to do so. He can take an active role; he can intervene; he can listen to those communities who feel their questions have not been answer. It is an opportunity for him to make a difference.

Unfortunately and sadly to this point, he is saying to the people of this Province: I don't want to make a difference. I wash my hands of responsibilities. I will leave these decisions to members who I have appointed: not elected, but appointed. Therein lies the frustration. I say to the minister as I have said to him repeatedly in the past, and I will continue to say it, play an active role. This is a critical time in education. Mr. Minister, try to make a difference. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's South.

MR. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will just speak for a couple of minutes before I adjourn debate. I'm going to speak on the Budget debate and I will stand again tomorrow and use up my time to speak on the Budget debate. There are many issues which have to be brought out, and many issues that the people of our Province bring to us and ask us to bring to the floor of the House of Assembly and speak on their behalf, and that is what we on this side of the House are doing.

On that note, Mr. Speaker, I will adjourn debate until tomorrow.

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

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House adjourn. Tomorrow I think we will do concurrence on the Government Services Committee, which has reported to the House, I think by the Member for Topsail this evening. If we should finish that we will then do heads of Executive Council, Legislative heads, and Consolidated Fund. I move that the House do now adjourn until tomorrow at 2:00 p.m.

On motion, the House at its rising adjourned until tomorrow, Tuesday, at 2:00 p.m.