December 9, 1997         HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS            Vol. XLIII  No. 47


The House met at 2:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Snow): Order, please!

Before we begin our routine proceedings for the day, I would like to welcome to the gallery today twenty Democracy and Canadian Law students from E. J. Pratt High School in the District of Trinity - Bay de Verde, and they are accompanied by their principal, Mr. Richard Knapman.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

Statements by Ministers

 

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. EFFORD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, during this past summer and fall, my department has been involved with a project to study all aspects of cod farming, from harvesting and growing to processing and marketing. This project, funded under the Aquaculture Component of the Economic Renewal Agreement, was a joint effort of the FFAW, harvesters, and the federal and provincial governments.

The objective of this program was to evaluate the commercial viability of small scale, cost-effective farming enterprises operated by harvesters. I am pleased to announce that we are well on our way to achieving our objective.

As hon. members are aware, cod farming is based on the commercial harvest of cod. Cod harvested from traps are transferred into aquaculture cages and fed the traditional diet of caplin, herring, or mackerel. After a three or four month period of regular feeding, farmed cod double their weight. Since the cod moratorium was announced in 1992, cod have not been available for farming. With the opening of a limited cod fishery in fishing areas 3Ps and 4R this year, cod were once again available, although in small quantities.

In this particular project, eight licensed aquaculture sites were selected to establish small scale cod farms. Of these, four were located in Trinity Bay, two in Placentia Bay, and one each in Norris Point and Noddy Bay on the West Coast. Approximately 67,000 pounds of trap cod were obtained from the commercial trap fishery and distributed among the eight farms. These cod were very small and would not fetch a good price on the market had they been sold at the time when they were taken from the traps. I should also point out that the farms in Trinity Bay received cod transported by tanker trucks from Placentia Bay, successfully proving that this can be done with very little cod mortality.

Mr. Speaker, there are also other very successful results from the grow-out phase of this project. Not only did the cod more than double their weight from July to mid-November, but the cod were of extremely good quality. Furthermore, feed costs were reduced by using locally caught species in fresh form and in frozen form when out of season. An added bonus is that some of this feed was male caplin which in the past would have been discarded.

Mr. Speaker, to be successful, cod farming must also be marketed at the highest possible price when the demand is highest, so that the harvester can be assured of a profit. The cod farmer must be better off financially than if the fish were sold during the traditional trap season when markets are depressed and prices are lower.

To determine if this will be the case, test marketing is being conducted. Eighty percent of the farm cod have been shipped to United States companies with the remainder being marketed locally. Reactions from both local processors and the U.S. companies have been extremely favourable and prices discussed are encouraging.

Mr. Speaker, while the final results of this marketing effort are not yet available, all indications are that the price for this farmed cod will be 50 per cent to 100 per cent higher than what harvesters would have received had they sold the cod in June or July straight from the cod trap. By harvesting trap cod in early summer, growing it for three or four months, feeding it locally caught species, and selling it at a time when the quality product fetches higher prices, a harvester can potentially receive three to four times the price of cod sold from the trap.

Mr. Speaker, I am confident that with the success obtained by the eight harvesters involved in this project and the anticipated re-opening of the cod fisheries in 3Ps and 4R, there will be dramatic increases in cod grow out in 1998 and beyond. My Aquaculture staff will provide all necessary information and technical assistance to harvesters to become involved in an activity that will lead to increased prosperity for fishermen and their families.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the minister for providing me with a copy of his news release.

This is certainly not anything new. Cod farming has been around this Province for many, many years I say to the minister, but it is certainly an opportunity for a lot of people in our rural areas to be able to access a business and to live in their own communities.

Down in my district, I know that many people were trained during the TAGS program to - they were taking part in cod farming training programs, and we have many people right here in this Province today trained, ready to go to work. It is certainly an opportunity where fishermen can take the small juvenile cod, and over a four-or five-month period, by using such things as male caplin, herring, mackerel, have them increase their weight by double, triple, to a size which is certainly marketable and would demand a much higher price.

Mr. Speaker, I think it is down on the Southern Shore, you named the places where those farms are presently being operated, but there are many, many places around Newfoundland with sheltered inlets, sheltered bays, where we can go and take part in cod farming.

The only thing I say to the minister is, there has to be some financial help given to those people to tide them over from the time they purchase the juvenile cod until they can put it in the market. There has to be some financial help provided to those people. It certainly is an opportunity and something I think many of our local people could take advantage of.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Forestry and Agrifoods.

MR. K. AYLWARD: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to announce to members of the House that our department has doubled its enforcements presence by upgrading the training officers in the field. Our 150 conservation officers, located throughout the Province, are now trained to enforce all forestry, wildlife and inland fisheries legislation. Mr. Speaker, these men and women are dedicated to protect those resources from poachers and abusers.

Mr. Speaker, conservation and the protection of the forest and wildlife resources of this Province is a priority for our government. We have taken on the challenge of developing an ecosystem approach to managing these resources and these management objectives are meaningless unless they are implemented in the field.

Therefore, we are making this strong commitment to compliance and enforcement to ensure that everyone obeys the laws of the land. Mr. Speaker, poaching will not be tolerated and those who choose to disregard the legislation that has been enacted to protect and conserve our ecosystem will be investigated and held to task for their actions. Our officers, who were traditionally responsible for duties only within their specific disciplines of wildlife and forestry, have recently completed the necessary training to perform integrated resource management enforcement.

This fall of 1997, 150 officers have completed the three essential phases of training to be able to operate confidently and effectively in the field. First, they have an overview of the integrated approach to enforcement adopted by this government. Second, they have completed comprehensive training in the legislation and Acts and enforcement procedures appropriate for both the forestry and wildlife areas. Third, they have completed the officer safety training that enables them to handle confrontation situations with violators in a safe and effective manner.

To provide an overview of the scope of these responsibilities, these conservation officers are now able to enforce both wildlife- and forestry-related statutes and regulations, including wildlife regulations, wilderness and ecological reserve regulations, all-terrain use regulations, federal migratory bird convention Act, the recreational trout and salmon regulations, as well as the enforcement concerns contained in the forestry Act.

While the regional offices are located in Gander, Pasadena and Goose Bay, the district and local officers are scattered geographically across the Province. This allows their presence and authority to be felt immediately in the field. Their presence at a district level also provides an enhanced level of service to the public as routine matters such as inspection of issuing licences can be done more conveniently at these local offices.

We would also like to announce today the official uniform for the new conservation officers. The new crest that is worn by each and every one of the 150 officers is a symbol of our pride in the new duties and responsibilities that our conservation officers are now performing throughout the Province. This crest depicts the forest, inland waters, and wildlife resources of this Province, encircled by the authority divested to the conservation officer to protect them from illegal abuse and poaching.

I would like to encourage the members of this House to congratulate the conservation officers for their continued dedication to the spirit of conservation and protection of our forest and wildlife resources. I believe that the role of these professionals is critical to ensure the protection of this Province's abundant natural resources for future generations.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I would have appreciated a copy of the statement. The minister was halfway through before I realized what he was talking about. I will make a response to it anyway.

We are all for enforcement in the Province. All too often in this Province, our environment, protection of our wildlife, fisheries and so on - it is good to have regulations in place, but the regulations are no good unless they are enforced. Of course, nobody in this House or in this Province would like to see an increase in poaching and so on around the Province.

What we would like, I say to the minister, is that in the next few days, we take this statement and look it over and see the specifics of it to make sure we are covering all the bases, that jobs are protected in this particular enforcement agency, Mr. Speaker, and that we do protect our environment and our wildlife.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: On a point of order, the hon. the Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods.

MR. K. AYLWARD: Mr. Speaker, I will check and see whether that statement was sent over. Last week one of the members made a reference to that, we checked, and it was sent over two hours earlier, plus e-mailed. I will check again, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. H. HODDER: To that point of order, Mr. Speaker, I had conversation last week with the hon. the minister relative to that point and having checked our e-mail, and our office has checked our fax machines, we are still waiting for the information to be sent two weeks ago.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

There is no point of order.

The hon. the Minister of Works, Services and Transportation.

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I wish to follow up on a December 4 question from the Leader of the Opposition on Government's future provision of passenger and freight services to coastal Labrador.

As hon. members are aware, responsibility for this operation was transferred to the Province through a comprehensive federal-provincial agreement last spring. Given the timing of the transaction, Marine Atlantic continued to operate the service under contract to the Province for the past season.

On December 15, title to Marine Atlantic's coastal assets will be transferred to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. This significant array of infrastructure includes the car ferry Sir Robert Bond, the coastal passenger freighter Northern Ranger, and all freight handling components and office equipment at the company's facilities in Lewisporte and Goose Bay.

Mr. Speaker, we are at a pivotal point in our Province's transportation history. In addition to the infrastructure noted above, the comprehensive $340 million transfer agreement signed with the Government of Canada last spring puts us in good stead to provide a quality marine service to coastal Labrador residents, while also achieving a greatly enhanced Labrador road network.

Already we are seeing the positive results of our Labrador initiatives and this $340 million fund, as evidenced by my announcement last week, of a further $28 million in tenders for Labrador road construction and upgrading.

AN HON. MEMBER: How many times are you going to talk about that?

MR. MATTHEWS: We will keep telling you until you get it in your head.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Works, Services and Transportation.

MR. MATTHEWS: As mentioned at that time, this will bring our 1998-1999 Labrador road expenditure to $36 million.

However, government's road initiatives in Labrador will not be carried out at the expenses of coastal Labrador residents and their marine requirements.

This past summer, the consultants SGE Group carried out extensive consultations with coastal Labrador stakeholders on our behalf, seeking their input into our service plans for 1998 and beyond.

Government will continue to provide a quality level of service to coastal residents as our road projects evolve, and Labrador's road network grows. There will be no trade-off of Labrador transportation services, but a balanced endeavour achieving road progress while ensuring coastal freight and passenger needs are met.

An in-depth business plan for the 1998 season has been developed by my department, and will be presented very shortly to my Cabinet colleagues for their consideration.

A great deal of effort and prudent assessment has gone into our 1998 business plan, and it is our intention that it will be finalized before the end of this calendar year. At that time, details will be provided to all hon. members, the public, and in particular the key stakeholders in the new provincial coastal Labrador service.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

You know, it is almost laughable, an announcement that on December 15 Marine Atlantic's assets are transferred to the Province, an agreement signed on April 3 of this year. A $340 million transfer agreement was part of the agreement, road work that he announced in a Ministerial Statement last week. The questions I asked in the House on December 4, I say to the minister - and the Premier said he would answer every single one of the questions by the Leader of the Opposition.

I asked questions on: What are the options for people out there today - the individual I spoke with last week - who, on Monday of this week, December 15, no longer employed by Marine Atlantic, has to leave for North Sydney from Lewisporte, with a family, and move, when this government knew for over eight months and they wait until December when the agreement is up to tell people what their future is going to be. I say it is irresponsible. Over eight months ago, I say, these people knew.

I ask the minister, and I asked the Premier that day: Could he tell the House if he is going to have Marine Atlantic continue? We know they are there until December 15. That is in the record. That has been established: If the government is going to operate it themselves? If they are going to look at going out to private contractors and proposals?

None of the questions I asked on December 4... A waste of time to stand up with a Ministerial Statement today in response to questions by the Leader of the Opposition. If he going to respond to it, I would be delighted to give him time to respond to the questions, but he has not answered any of the questions. In fact, he has regurgitated announcements he made in the House last week and that have been made since April.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair would like to welcome to the gallery today, two individuals from the James Hornell Boys and Girls Club in Buchans and they are: Mr. Gary Noftall, Executive Director and Mr. Noel Rowsell, Chairman of the Board of Directors.

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 are for the Minister of Works, Services and Transportation.

I did have important questions for the Premier I must say but I will ask the Minister of Works, Services and Transportation some questions today.

On November 19, 1996, on the eve of the announcement of the smelter refinery going to Argentia, this government, in Ministerial Statements in the House - we were almost bowled over with them like we are getting today - there was an announcement that gave a commitment that the Trans-Labrador Highway would be paved in ten years, and since that, an agreement was reached with the federal government on April 3, of this year and that agreement, the Province accepted responsibility for the Labrador ferry service, a $340-million chunk of money we received and two boats valued at $25 million.

Now I ask the minister: will he confirm, if that commitment that was made then, to have a Trans-Labrador Highway completed and paved by the year 2006, will occur? Does that commitment still stand?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Works, Services and Transportation.

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The commitment that government has made for the next five-year period with respect to the Trans-Labrador Highway, is to do what we have outlined a number of times, and despite the hon. member's assertion that we are repeating it too often, he still does not get it - he still does not get it. His hearing has failed or his retention span has been constricted or something is happening to him.

What we announced, Mr. Speaker, in April, is that we had a $340-million cash arrangement with Ottawa plus the acquisition of two boats in return for taking over Marine services as of April 1, of last year on the Coast, and to build two specific pieces of highway in Labrador. One was to reconstruct the piece of highway from Lab West to Goose and bring it up to a Class A gravel-road standard and the second commitment was to do phase two which was to build a road from Red Bay to Cartwright.

The total cost of those two projects, Mr. Speaker, were estimated at that time to be $190 million. We are living and working within the parameters of that announcement and we fully expect that next year, we will be ahead of schedule in terms of the redevelopment of the piece of road from Goose to Lab West, because we have done more this year, frankly than we thought we were going to get done and secondly we hope to be doing some work

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister to conclude his answer quickly.

MR. MATTHEWS: - on phase two by late next fall.

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I know the minister is not in the portfolio very long; he is only there very recently and I would ask him to refer back

AN HON. MEMBER: Too long.

MR. SULLIVAN: Well, that is debatable, whether it is too long. I will ask him to refer to the November 19, Ministerial Statement, in 1996, that there were three phases announced and the Member for Labrador stood in his place and the former Minister of Works, Services and Transportation. Go back and read the records and you will find out what was said in the statement, I have checked it.

We have heard the minister responsible for Labrador, the Minister of Works, Services and Transportation has repeatedly talked about phase one from Lab West down to Happy Valley - Goose Bay; we have heard them talk about phase two from Cartwright to Red Bay continuously, and we have heard the Premier say publicly that, those two phases will cost $190 million, $60 million and $130 million respectively and the rest will be needed the Premier stated on April 3, to maintain and operate that ferry service. I ask the minister, in light of today, will he now confirm if those figures that the Premier stated on April 3, are still accurate figures or, has there been any revision?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Works, Services and Transportation.

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

No, the announcement made in April and the figures that we laid out as being the approximate cost of doing road construction and running the service in perpetuity are still the figures within which we are working.

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I certainly agree and certainly felt you were accurate and that only reinforces what I now want to ask the minister.

Over the past several months the government has omitted, when it stood in this House for the last few months, and it has continuously omitted for the last several months to make any reference to phase three, which is from Goose Bay down to Cartwright. In all previous announcements prior to getting an agreement with the federal government it announced three phases, the completed Trans-Labrador Highway. Will the minister tell us now what his department estimates the cost will be to connect Happy Valley-Goose Bay with Cartwright? I'm sure they have some preliminary estimates and figures.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Works, Services and Transportation.

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The hon. member is correct to this extent. We haven't yet identified the funding to build phase three. However, we have made a commitment as government, and we did in April, to find the money, to make a deal, make an arrangement with Ottawa and ourselves in some fashion so that we can move to phase three as quickly as we can. So that within the ten-year time frame we will have the full three phases of the road completed.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. MATTHEWS: Phase two will be a five-year project and we will be starting it next year. I can tell the hon. member that I did meet with the Minister of Transport on Regatta Day, as a matter of fact, August 6. I remember it well because I wanted to be at the races, being a good St. John's man. I had to go to work. It was straight time, I would tell him, as well.

In any event, I did meet with Minister Collenette on August 6 and we talked about the phase three funding. We did at that time agree to put in place a mechanism to start discussions with respect to how we could achieve the funding for that portion of the road. We haven't concluded those discussions yet but they are ongoing.

The commitment of this government still stands. Within a ten-year period we hope to have the full three phases finished, within a five-year period two phase finished, and by the end of next year, 1998, phase one from Goose Bay to Labrador West will be fully completed, and there will be a class A gravel road 9.5 metres wide running clear from Goose Bay to Labrador West to the benefit of all Labradorians.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I'm delighted to see progress. In fact, I would like to see a complete Trans-Labrador Highway. There is no talking of paving lately which, granted, a gravel road is certainly a priority prior to that. I agree. Estimates on that would be in the billion dollar range.

We received $340 million. We have already stated $190 million is need to maintain phase one and phase two, to complete them, the rest for the ferry service. Where is the money, I ask the minister, that is estimated well in excess of $100 million, in the hundreds of millions of dollars, to complete Goose Bay to Cartwright? How does the government propose to finance that particular project?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Works, Services and Transportation.

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It isn't the first occasion that the hon. member has been actually the equivalent of a day late and a dollar short, I can tell you, in terms of putting questions after the answers have been given. We feel that we are doing very well to answer the questions after they have been put, but we now have a record of answering the questions before they are being put.

I can only say to the hon. minister - the hon. member again, who wishes he will be a minister some day, that the funding is to be determined at the conclusion of negotiations between us and the federal government. We have not concluded those negotiations. A process is in place to have those discussions happen over the next short while. When we get the money, when we are ready to announce it, we will be the first to make the announcement available so that the people of this Province, and particularly the people of Labrador, can have the benefit of not only the information and the expectation, but the reality of a road that we will build.

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. What this government has done is given away its leverage. Taking a chunk of money up front that is only going to complete part of the job. Now you have lost your bargaining power because the federal government has been relieved of the responsibility on the Labrador ferry service. You have no bargaining chips any more. I asked those questions over a year ago, I say to the minister, and I'm on record here as putting that caution out to the Premier.

Without a highway connecting Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Cartwright, we are going to see over 70 per cent of the people in Labrador will be denied access to Southern Labrador and to the Island portion of this Province. I ask the minister: Is he concerned that Newfoundland and Labrador businesses now will be disadvantaged because of easier access to businesses and services in Quebec at the expense of Newfoundland and Labrador businesses?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Works, Services and Transportation.

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. No, we are not concerned that Newfoundland businesses would be disadvantaged, on the contrary. If people who live in areas such as Goose Bay, Labrador become the entrepreneurs who are bringing product from the mainland, as opposed to businesses on the island bringing it in over water from Montreal or over road, that is not a disadvantage in the big picture. It simply means that some of the business activity here was originating on the island in products going to Labrador, more of that business will logically now be generated out of Goose Bay as products come in from Labrador West over the highway. So we don't see that as being a disadvantage. We see that as being a net advantage, particularly to the people in the Goose Bay and the Labrador area because they themselves will not only be the importers but they will be the distributors of product that is needed along the coast of Labrador.

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

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My questions are to the Minister of Environment and Labour. The Workers' Safety Training Report recommends the Canadian Red Cross be recognized as the provider of first aid training in Newfoundland and Labrador under the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act. The Department of Health legislation recognizes the Canadian Red Cross first aid training program. The Red Cross standard First Aid Program meets the prerequisites for ambulance training. I ask the minister, why is the Canadian Red Cross First Aid Program not recognized under the Occupational Health and Safety Act to deliver first aid training to employees and employers in Newfoundland and Labrador?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Environment and Labour.

MR LANGDON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to thank the member for the question. This is not a new question, Mr. Speaker. In fact, this particular problem was assessed in 1985 under the previous administration. It was assessed in 1989, it was assessed in 1992 and it was also assessed in 1995. I guess for the previous administrations and probably for this one as well, we have not made the final decision yet. The St. John Ambulance Brigade has had a monopoly in the Province to do the first aid training over all of these years and, Mr. Speaker, they have done a first rate job for the people of the Province. However, I will say to the member that in a personal commitment that I made to Mr. Blackwood - I think it was a couple of weeks ago - that we would be dealing with this particular issue before the Christmas Season. So we will have a decision for the Red Cross shortly.

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

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I say to the minister that last year his former colleague also gave a commitment to have this reviewed and it has also been made last spring. So he forgot the review in '96 and in '97. I say to the minister as well that the Canadian Red Cross is recognized to provide this training in every other Province. Just recently, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island were added. So we are now the only Province in Canada where the Canadian Red Cross is not recognized to provide this training. Why, Mr. Minister, are we still being the exception and why hasn't action been taken in your mandate as the minister?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Environment and Labour.

MR LANGDON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to say to the hon. member again that that could very well be the case before Christmas but I am not making that commitment here today. I will say to him that I made a commitment to Mr. Blackwood and I stand by that commitment that we will have a decision, one way or the other, to allow the Red Cross to participate in the first aid delivery in the Province or to maintain the excellent program that is being done by the St. John Ambulance but I want to live up to the commitment that I gave to Mr. Blackwood that indeed I will have an answer for him before the Christmas break.

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

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What the Canadian Red Cross is asking for is a level playing field. They want equal access to provide the training equal to the opportunities available to the other group. Mr. Minister, I say to you that many people in this Province believe that the reason why your government is hesitant to give the authorization is because of the fact that the provincial president of the Liberal Party is the executive director of the St. John Ambulance.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. H. HODDER: I want to say to minister, I want him to assure us that this is not party politics, petty politics that is influencing this decision.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Environment and Labour.

MR LANGDON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to say to the member, at the beginning when I answered the first question, I want to tell him that it was brought to the former administration of which his particular party was there, for seventeen years they allowed it to happen, they did not see any need to change it then because I am telling you, it was a first rate program and I am telling you that John O'Brien was President of the party then, so I must say that you like John O'Brien just as much as what we do.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader, final supplementary.

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I again ask the minister to confirm that party politics and petty politics is not going to be influencing this decision this time around.

So, I ask the minister, will he confirm that the Red Cross will be given an equal opportunity as that provided to the St. John Ambulance?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Environment and Labour.

MR LANGDON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I take exception to that because I am telling you, since I have been minister, John O'Brien who is President of the St. John Ambulance has not visited me in the office, but I can tell you this, that I had representation from Paula Buckle, Sergeant of the RNC, twice in fact, she was there last week, so I have had an open-door policy, I am not playing politics with it. I am telling you we have a good First Aid Program in the Province right now, but I will say to you that we will have a commitment to the Red Cross before Christmas as to the final decision.

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

MS S. OSBORNE: My questions today are either for the Minister of Human Resources and Employment or the Minister of Justice.

On April 1, 1996, at 9:00 a.m., by her own account, Dr. Inkpen delivered to the government her final report on secure custody for the youth at the Whitbourne and Pleasentville Correctional Centres. That report had been commissioned as a result - or in the wake of serious allocations on a tragic suicide and on October 29, 1997, nineteen months later, the minister finally released the report to the public.

Why does the government keep withholding reports form the public and what has the government done to implement one of the key recommendations of the report and that is to establish an Independent Advisory Council, one whose only allegiance would be to the young offender to assist with creating, implementing and monitoring all policies and procedures at the Youth Corrections facility?

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

MR. DECKER: Mr. Speaker, I can only conclude that the hon. member must have been out of the Province a few weeks ago or months ago, whenever it was, because we had a press conference out here in the little room, when that document was made public to every Newfoundlander and Labradorian, every Canadian, made public to all the world, Mr. Speaker, so I do not know where the hon. member was. I will attempt to get a copy over to her, because it is a public document. I believe it might have been tabled in this House, I think. If it was not, the whole world has it. She must be the only one left in Newfoundland and Labrador who does not have it, so we will have to try to make it available to her.

MR. TULK: Now, Chris, be nice to her; she just got elected.

MR. DECKER: Mr. Speaker, I know she is a new member, and all of that, and probably does not know her way around, so I certainly will not be too difficult with her (inaudible).

The other part of her question -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Justice.

MR. DECKER: There were two parts to the question. The second part was the Advisory Council which Dr. Inkpen recommended. We have been giving that recommendation a lot of consideration. It has a lot of merit. We have discussed it with Dr. Inkpen, as to how we will implement her recommendation.

At one time we did consider using the new community health boards that we are going to put in place, but on reflection we feel that we would not want to put that responsibility on these boards too early in their mandate. We have not even put them in place yet, so we have discounted that; but it is a serious recommendation. We take it in the spirit in which it was made. We are considering it, and in due course we will - we are not certain we are going to go as far as Dr. Inkpen suggested. She recommended a committee, but the authority which she would have given that committee would have been more the authority of a board, and there are some decisions for which I believe the Department of Justice has responsibility. I am not even sure that we can delegate certain powers that she would give that board, but the whole concept -

AN HON. MEMBER: There is only half-an-hour in Question Period, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. DECKER: Mr. Speaker, I believe the hon. member put this forward as a serious question, and I think the least that their colleagues can do is allow me to provide a serious answer to the hon. lady. I think it is unfair for her own colleagues to do this.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. DECKER: Mr. Speaker, the short answer is that the concept of the Advisory Committee is by no means a dead one. It is one which we are seriously looking into, and hopefully in the not-too-distant future we will be able to deal with that particular recommendation.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's West, a supplementary.

MS S. OSBORNE: I find that a lot of recommendations are either `we are developing', or `this will require'.

This, to me, is a very important recommendation. This agency would be a watchdog agency, and it would force accountability. I am wondering why, after twenty months, you have only gotten this far with this recommendation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. DECKER: Mr. Speaker, the hon. member should know that if she puts forward a question and it is fully answered in the first reply, she does not have to come with a supplementary. Obviously the hon. member - I dealt with that in the first question, Mr. Speaker. She should know from now on that you don't have to have a supplementary. That is only if the question was not fully answered.

The hon. member, in her first preamble -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. DECKER: I am not sure, Mr. Speaker, that the hon. member -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister to finish his answer quickly.

MR. DECKER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As soon as the House quiets down a bit I will continue.

The hon. member seems to be of the opinion that this report was commissioned because of the tragic suicide. She is wrong on that count. That report was commissioned before that tragic suicide took place. It was not commissioned because of any tragic suicide. There were other concerns which government had, and the report was commissioned long before that.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. John's West, a supplementary.

MS S. OSBORNE: It was commissioned because the heat was on.

The report also said that Pleasantville is a disgrace. Can you confirm that in the past twenty months this centre has not been replaced? And can you tell us whether in the past twenty months, despite the report's unequivocal condemnation of the centre and its demand for a replacement, that government still continues to hold the young people there?

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

MR. DECKER: Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is quite right when she says that Dr. Inkpen referred to the Remand Centre as a disgrace. That was exactly the terminology she used.

We agreed that there are problems at the Remand Centre. It is a building that was not built specifically for a remand centre. We are trying our best to operate under the conditions that we are. I have been instructed by government to bring this issue forward as a priority project during the budgetary process. We do not have any money in the present Budget to build a new remand centre, but it is certainly an area that we are very concerned over.

However, I have to assure the parents of the children who end up in the Remand Centre that there is no need to be unduly concerned about the safety of the children. The building is secure. It certainly does need to be upgraded or replaced, and it is a priority item for government. As soon as we can find the financial wherewithal to do it, we certainly will be attending to that issue, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: A final supplementary, the hon. the Member for St. John's West.

MS S. OSBORNE: It has been more than twenty months and counting. Have the charts yet been computerized that will share information about the young people at these centres, so that staff will be aware of any circumstances that may place the young people at risk - for example, at risk of suicide? If they have not been computerized, when will Dr. Inkpen's recommendation be heeded and when will they be computerized?

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

MR. DECKER: Mr. Speaker, that institution in Whitbourne is probably one of the best institutions in all of Canada. It is an institution which I believe has been getting some negative criticism both from the media and the Opposition that is unwarranted, unfounded, with no basis whatsoever.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. DECKER: Mr. Speaker, the program that is being utilized -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. DECKER: Mr. Speaker, hon. members are making a farce out of Question Period.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. DECKER: If they are going to ask questions and not allow the answer -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

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

MR. H. HODDER: A point of order, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Opposition House Leader, on a point of order.

MR. H. HODDER: Mr. Speaker, Beauchesne, Section 408 is quite clear. The minister's answer should deal with the question that is asked, and it should be as brief as possible. He was asked a simple question.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. H. HODDER: Is it computerized, is it not computerized? Give us the answer -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. H. HODDER: - and then we will be able to proceed with the rest of Question Period.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please! That is not a point of order. I ask the hon. the minister to quickly conclude his answer.

MR. DECKER: To that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. the minister to get to his answer quickly, please.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Justice.

MR. DECKER: Mr. Speaker, I will raise a point of order with your permission, Sir. Hon. members opposite take all the time they require is necessary to ask a question. When they do it they put forward preambles, they make comments in their preambles, which must be addressed in the interest of letting the people of this Province know that some of their spurious accusations have no basis. They cannot make accusations in the preambles and have them carried in the media if they have no basis. Therefore, if they are going to continue with these innuendoes -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. DECKER: - I am going to answer them, Mr. Speaker.

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

There is no point of order.

The hon. the Member for Cape St. Francis.

MR. J. BYRNE: As usual, no point of order, Mr. Speaker. Thank you.

My question is for the Minister of Government Services and Lands, Mr. Speaker, regarding the on-site septic waste disposal water supply inspection process. Under the new proposed system, the applicant will hire a consultant to assess the site, recommend site work, design a system, possibly install a system, and when the new inspection process is complete, eventually inspect and approve the system. Will the minister not agree that this is a potential conflict whereby the consultant is being paid by the applicant?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. McLEAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The answer is no.

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

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

I would like to thank the minister for that lengthy answer.

Can the minister explain why there was more detailed technical information required under the new system than is required under the old system, and will this requisite not require more money to be spent by the applicant?

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

MR. McLEAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The situation with the septic tanks, I think there are very few types of design of septic tanks - I do not know why they would be a lot more expensive now than they were then. Septic tanks are septic tanks and I would say to the hon. member that I see no difference in the price now from what it was before.

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

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

I would suggest to the minister, that before he implements a system, he at least know and understand what the department is implementing before he puts his name to it.

I say to the minister, the North East Avalon Towns Joint Council, which involves thirteen municipalities and the two cities, have written the Premier of the Province, and I have a copy of a letter dated December 4, 1997, urging the minister -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to get to his question, he is on a supplementary.

MR. J. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, if that crowd over there would only keep it down and not panic every time I get on my feet - trying to protect the Minister of Government Services and Lands -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member is on a supplementary - he ought to get to his question.

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

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. J. BYRNE: - trying to protect the Minister of Government Services and Lands - I could get to my question a lot earlier.

I say, the North East Avalon Towns Joint Council has recently written the Premier requesting that the government withdraw -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Government House Leader, on a point of order.

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, it is one thing for the hon. gentleman to be brought to order by the Speaker and asked to put his question, it is another thing for him then to stand and disobey the ruling of the Speaker. I ask the Speaker to bring him to order, or name him.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair does not need direction from members. The Chair will -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

The Chair will determine when a member has had sufficient time to ask a question and likewise with the answer.

I ask the hon. member to get to his question.

MR. J. BYRNE: I would like to thank the Government House Leader, the biggest abuser in the House, for his lecture.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. J. BYRNE: Will the minister back-off on this new implementation of the on-site inspection of the water and sewer process as being requested by the North East Avalon Towns Joint Council, which represents thirteen municipalities and the two cities on the North East Avalon?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Government Services and Lands.

MR. McLEAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In reference to the letter that the hon. member refers to, I was just informed that the letter was written to the hon. Art Reid. I have not seen a copy of the letter. I am assuming it is on it's way to my office, and once I get the letter, we will certainly respond to it, but basically, the answer is no.

MR. SPEAKER: Question Period has ended.

 

Notices of Motion

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs.

MR. A. REID: Mr. Speaker, I give notice that I will on tomorrow ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, "An Act To Amend The City Of Corner Brook Act, An Act To Amend The Mount Pearl Act, And The Municipalities Act". (Bill No. 51)

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Environment and Labour.

MR LANGDON: Mr. Speaker, I give notice that I will on tomorrow ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, "An Act To Amend The Labour Relations Act No. 2". (Bill No. 52)

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

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I give notice that I will on tomorrow ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, "An Act To Revise The Law Respecting The Operation Of Schools In The Province". (Bill No. 41)

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

 

Petitions

 

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

MS S. OSBORNE: To the hon. House of Assembly in legislative session convened, the petition of the undersigned student-parents of Newfoundland:

WHEREAS the Department of Human Resources and Employment fostered an atmosphere of confusion by failing to provide clients in post-secondary institutions with timely information regarding the changes to policy concerning the issue of the shelter component of the student loan; and

WHEREAS clients, based on inaccurate information, went on to spend this money on essential items such as food and day care costs, thereby rendering them unable to repay the shelter component; and

WHEREAS, in response to this confusion, the Department of Human Resources and Employment went on to claw back this money at such a rate as to leave people unable to pay for food, rent, heat, light, and other items essential to life;

The prayer of our petition is that the Department of Human Resources and Employment change its policy regarding this area and allow the student-parents involved to be able to pay back this money over a more reasonable period of time. This policy has stolen the spirit of Christmas for many student-parents and their innocent children across our Province, and as in duty bound, your petitioners will ever pray.

I have some e-mails here from students at MUN supporting this petition, and also included in this petition are parents who find themselves in a dire situation, especially given this season of the year. Not only do they have no money for Christmas, or to purchase boots, snowsuits, or mittens for their children, but they have no money for food. Let me cite some examples.

There is a single mother with three-year-old twins. Her social assistance has been reduced to $264 twice monthly, for a total of $528 a month. Her rent is $495 a month, leaving her a total of $33 for the month to pay her utilities and buy groceries. As an added burden, her children are lactose intolerant.

There is another single parent with two children, and, in this case, the department will not even allow the client any money for rent, let alone other essential items such as food. This individual has been given half a month's rent for December, and $150 every three weeks for a babysitter. Food is not even a consideration.

I have another single mother for whom the department has made some concessions. Instead of $246 twice monthly, she receives $137, for a total of $274 a month, to pay her utilities and for food and transportation for herself and a sixteen-year-old daughter.

If the Department of Human Resources officials were to visit a home and find that there was no food in the cupboards, they would remove the children from the home. Yet, this same department has forced people into this position by refusing to make logical concessions in their claw back of the shelter component of the student loans. There are not an awful lot of parents involved, certainly not enough to put any hardship on the Department of Human Resources and Employment. However, the few families who are involved are suffering incredible hardship because of this policy. It is unconscionable that they are allowed to suffer any longer because of a communication problem within the Department of Human Resources and Employment.

Thank you.

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

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to support the petition put forward by my colleague from St. John's West. It follows from a Private Member's resolution put forward by myself last spring in this House and which was rejected by the members of the government. They did not like this idea of treating student-parents fairly and reasonably.

Mr. Speaker, what we have in this Province today is, we have many student-parents whom we should be supporting and encouraging and saying to them: We want you to get out of the track you are in, we want you get off the welfare roll, we want you to encourage your children to establish and the parents, to establish a learning environment in these homes but rather, Mr. Speaker, what we have today, we have young mothers out there - and there are single mothers, most of them are responsible for one or two, and sometimes three.

I know of one case, four children under twelve years of age and this mother has gone back to school and all she is saying is: Be fair to me, be reasonable; I want my family to have an equal opportunity; I want them to be able to go to school and be able to be treated like all the other children, but instead, what we have here as we say, the government is more interested in clawing back money from single parents than they are in promoting education and we ask the minister: Look at it, because we are not talking about great big numbers here. What we are talking about is a fundamental change in philosophy. We are talking about looking at the whole picture and we should be out there praising those single mothers. We should be saying to them: let us remove all the barriers we can, let us help you get out of this cycle of poverty that you are in, let us help you create in your family the kind of learning environment that will inspire your children to be able to keep in school, be able to do well in school, instead, what we have, many children are going to school who are absolutely unable to buy a lunch. In fact, when they get home, the cupboards are bare.

Just a few days ago, I was talking to my colleague here who visited three homes and in each one of those three homes, with a single, student-parent there, the group was talking about all three of them had nothing to be able to put on the kitchen table that evening.

Mr. Speaker, I say: Good enough. How can we say we are a caring, compassionate society when we have families out there who cannot put food on their table, they are trying to go back to school but the government is more interested in clawing back a few measly dollars from the poorest people in society, from the people who have ability, they have the wherewithal, the brain power to be able to get ahead in this world, all they want is an equal opportunity and the minister should be breaking down the barriers instead of putting stumbling blocks in the pathways of these parents.

I say to the minister: Review the policy; I know the minister to be sensitive to this issue and I know that she is listening to what is being said here, but when the Member for St. John's West tells me she visited three homes and in all three homes there was nothing to eat, that causes me great concern and we ask: What is the value of clawing back the money if we are going to make the children pay for that claw back?

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

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

MS BETTNEY: Yes, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to respond to the members opposite on this issue in two miens actually.

In the first case, I would strongly encourage members when they are aware of individual situations and circumstances of clients whom they feel are in extreme hardship and where there are extenuating circumstances, that they make those cases known to the department. I have made a commitment as the minister, and the department has been acting on this commitment, that where there are extenuating circumstances and certainly where there is extreme hardship, that we will deal with these cases on an individual basis. However, if we are looking at the policy overall, I would have to say as the minister, that we are talking of a different issue here because the policy as it exists with respect to the repayment of the shelter component is such that it does not incur any ongoing hardship to these students. They do not receive any less assistance or funding to be able to maintain themselves and their families over the course of their studies then existed prior to the introduction of this policy.

The policy, as I had explained before, requires that student-parents draw down the full student loan that is available to them. The result is, that yes, student-parents will have larger debt than they would have had under the existing regime. However, that debt is no different from any other student who must draw down the full student loan available to them in order to pursue their studies. So this is a key component because when they draw down the full student loan and when they return the shelter component they are then entitled to receive full social assistance, as they have been receiving, prior to. If there are any cases where this is not the case, where there are extenuating circumstances, I have committed that we will deal with those on an individual basis. I repeat again, that for the most part, our clients who are the student-parents attending post-secondary training in this case have complied. There are some cases that are still outstanding and we are working through making arrangements with those on an individual basis. I would also inform the members opposite that in doing that we have made arrangements to extend the period of payback that is available to them and in fact, we have extended that period to the end of the fiscal year, to the end of March 31, which extends the amount that would have to be deducted over the period of time.

So I would simply say to all members of the House that the department is working actively with this issue. We recognize that the first priority is to try and support the students who are receiving social assistance so that they can continue with their studies. We have been doing that for many years. We are still actively doing that and we will deal with each individual case that is presented to us to try and ensure that this can continue to happen. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MS J.M. AYLWARD: Mr. Speaker, I ask leave to revert back to, `Answers to Questions for which Notice has been Given?'

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

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MS J.M. AYLWARD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I think it is important to point out that yesterday during Question Period the Leader of the Opposition clearly alluded to a letter that I had written to Sister Elizabeth Davis outlining a concern and asking that she respond to a family member awaiting this concern. The Opposition leader clearly made the point that this situation left the family waiting for an extended period of time, leaving the impression that it had not been written when in fact, Mr. Speaker, I would like to table -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

On a point of order, the hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. H. HODDER: Mr. Speaker, when leave was granted it was granted under the category of, `Answers to Questions for which Notice has been Given.' However, that is not the category because there was no notice given of that particular question that the minister is now answering. So therefore she is not in compliance with the leave that was given by this side of the House in order to answer the question. However, we are delighted that she is answering the question but she is in the wrong category and has the wrong type of leave.

MR. TULK: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: On a point of order, the hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. TULK: Let me just say to the hon. gentleman that it is a well used tradition in this House that under, `Answers to Questions for which Notice has been Given,' that ministers will rise in their place to correct some information that might have been given the day before -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. TULK: Oh yes, oh yes and that's what the minister happens to be doing here. She asked for leave. Obviously if the hon. gentlemen want to withdraw it, just say `leave is withdrawn.'

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Opposition House Leader to the point of order.

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. To the point of order; I say to the hon. Government House Leader that we have no objections to the minister using the time. However, we just wanted to point out that this was not a question where notice had been given. I say to the Government House Leader, in my nearly five years here I have never seen this particular use, and so therefore the tradition is somewhat out of use, if this is the way it is being used today.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I understand from the Opposition House Leader that the hon. minister does have leave to proceed to give her answer.

On the point of order raised, the Chair will just review what the hon. member has said and have a look at that and report later.

The hon. the Minister of Health.

MS J.M. AYLWARD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Even though there are probably about 4.6 million units of service in our health care system in a year, and that ranges from a doctor's visit to a surgery, I think I have clearly located the letter that was in fact written to this family reviewing with them the very unfortunate circumstances that had occurred, and offering them not only an explanation but an opportunity to come forward and meet with the emergency staff in this particular case in a very sensitive way.

I think it is important for the House and the public to know that in fact the Health Care Corporation did respond and did respond in a caring way to this family. I think it is important that not only should questions deserve answers, but they also deserve research before people are left with the impression that this is not happening, and that the Health Care Corporation and our doctors and nurses aren't doing what they should be doing in our system. I now table this letter.

MR. SULLIVAN: Point of order.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition on a point of order.

MR. SULLIVAN: Point of order, Mr. Speaker. The minister made a statement there. Late this morning I received a telephone call from the family that received the letter in the mail today. They called me today, late this morning. They got a letter in the mail today that was dated November.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. SULLIVAN: They called me today. I want to state that. She made a statement in the House that was not accurate -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. SULLIVAN: - and they called me this morning -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. SULLIVAN: - on that letter. So I wanted to

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

MR. SULLIVAN: - state that for the record.

MR. SPEAKER: There is no point of order.

 

Orders of the Day

 

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

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, Motion No. 1, An Act To Amend The Food And Drug Act, Bill 7.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: (Inaudible)!

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

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Health to introduce a bill, "An Act To Amend The Food And Drug Act," carried. (Bill No. 7)

On motion, Bill No. 7 read a first time, ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

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

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, if I could. Order No. 23, Bill 34, An Act To Amend The Public Service Pensions Act, 1991 And The Uniformed Services Pensions Act, 1991. I believe the Opposition House Leader adjourned the debate.

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

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Last evening when we were debating this particular bill I had indicated that we on this side have no objections to the principles that this bill espouses, and I guess the laws that it creates.

The intent of the bill is that most people who work for Crown agencies or government-owned companies be allowed to purchase their full time service for pension purposes. We agreed with that. We do have some concerns that we don't know, for example, how many companies we are talking about. Is this ten of those government-owned companies that have been privatized? Is this four? Is this 200 employees? Is this going to be 2,000 employees? How many employees are we talking about? There is no financial data given with the explanations put forward by the Minister of Education yesterday.

We, on this side, would like to say, absolutely yes, this is a good idea. However, we would like to have some idea from the minister as to what we are committed here - we are approving the intent, we are approving the philosophy behind it; we think that is a good principle to follow, that people who did work for government-owned companies be allowed to purchase their pensionable service or full-time service while these companies were government-owned and now that they are not government-owned that they be able to carry those benefits with them. That makes good sense.

However, we would like for the minister to tell us what government owned-companies we are talking about. How many employees? What is the commitment? For example, is the government required now to transfer that amount of money to some other private firm? If so, is that going to come out of the $10 million that was allocated in this year's budget? Where is the money going to come from? If it is not coming from there, where else would it come from? What other monies are we talking about other than this particular total sum?

Maybe, when the minister stands in his place, he might be able to give us some information, because we would like to make the approval of this amendment to this bill - The Public Service Pensions Act, 1991 and The Uniformed Services Pensions Act, 1991 -we would like to make that almost a unanimous vote of the House. Because we believe that we should be looking after our employees, not only when they are working for us in the public service, but after they have left the public service as well.

With these few comments, I believe that we, on this side, might have one or two more speakers, but we do not anticipate a lengthy debate.

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Certainly, the intent here is to allow employees who were employees of government-owned companies, whether it be - I guess, Newfoundland Farm Products, is a example, a recent one now that will be moving out of government Crown corporations. And, as my colleague indicated, we are not quite clear, because in the introduction of the bill - I am not sure if the minister did the introduction on the bill, I do not think the Minister of Finance did, so there are questions we would like to have answered, maybe, at the Committee stage, if they don't do it in closing debate, when they get to that on the bill.

Does that mean that this can be carried forward to a company that is now a private company or if they have not already bought it - I would assume that people under those Crown corporations now are still operating with the right to get a pension here, under the Public Service Pension Plan, but under the Crown corporation, for example, Hydro was always under the Public Service Pension Plan and they were supposed to establish a Hydro plan, I do not think that has been done, to this point in time. It was not transferred, I know, several months back, I guess, a year-and-a-half after the legislation has gone through. So, I am wondering if that is going to be applied now? Are they going to be able to do that? Is it for people like Newfoundland Farm Products?

With reference to the Public Service Pension Plan having an unfunded liability, a considerable one that is certainly not the severity of some other pension plans, and steps have been taken to correct that and to alleviate that unfunded liability in the future. I would assume the actuarial - are they looking at unfunded liabilities or are they just looking at an equal contributory basis in line with that, and do I gather - although I do not assume it does - but whether this contribution now can be looked at government service and then be carried or transferred into another plan with a private company. Some of those questions we need answered here. We certainly need to have specifics on those. I am not sure who is handling this bill on behalf of the minister, probably the Minister of Education. We certainly would like an explanation, if not we will have a heck of a lot of questions and a lengthy debate on it at Committee stage, I am sure.

So, once again, the opportunity for people working with Crown corporations, we do not have any problem with those people having the opportunity to buy back at the actuarial amounts in their pension plan, but we need to know what exactly - and how they can be channelled on this pension that they buy back. I do not know if the minister understands where I am coming from.

Overall, the intent of it is fine. I mean, that is a service provided to other people. Under this pension plan, too - I think Hydro went under the Public Service Pension Plan. They have been, I understand, for some time. It is interesting, too, while we are on this bill, to know certainly what has happened with reference to that, because that is a Crown corporation.

There were certain liabilities in the Public Service Pension Plan, and when the deal to have Hydro operating as a separate, arm's length entity, and they were to transfer their pension plans into a Hydro pension plan, while it was the intent to have that as a separate funded unit themselves, with amounts transferred, accepting their pro rata share of unfunded liabilities, we are not going to transfer an amount that is going to be a burden on the remaining people in the pension plan; that would be more cost-prohibitive than trying to correct the unfunded liabilities in that plan.

In light of that, too, and any other Crown corporation, I am wondering: Is this bill necessitated now by Newfoundland Farm Products, too, in dealing with this situation? And exactly what impact is it going to have, and how is it going to be handled?

Those are just some of the things we would like - I am not sure how many other speakers we have on it. Those are basically my comments. They are very brief. My questions are more numerous than my comments on this particular one, so I will sit down now, and hopefully, we will hear something.

MR. SPEAKER: If the hon. the minister speaks now, he will close the debate.

The hon. the Minister of Education.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I will just provide a little bit of information and undertake that I will check with the Minister of Finance. I will give you my understandings of it, and check with the Minister of Finance to make sure that I have not provided any erroneous information to the House so that we can make a correction at the Committee stage, if necessary.

The intent, clearly, in Section 8.1 is that basically there are currently some employees in the government who are now eligible, or are in service of the government so that they would be eligible under the Public Service Pension Plan or the Uniformed Services Pension Plan; so they are working somewhere today as an employee that makes them eligible under one of those two plans, and some of them previously worked for some companies that no longer exist, that used to be government-owned when they were in operation.

One old one from some time back would be Newfoundland Hardwoods. So, someone who was an employee of Newfoundland Hardwoods five or six years ago and is now employed somewhere else in government where they are an employee by definition, who are eligible for some service time under the Public Service Pension Plan or the Uniformed Services Pension Plan, they will be given an option under this amendment to purchase some time at full actuarial value - not that they just take the premiums and so on, but they would have to make a decision if they wanted to purchase that time.

The companies that will be deemed eligible will be prescribed under 8.1(3), so there is no open end. In each case, there has to be an issue go to the Minister of Finance, who basically directs the pension plans on behalf of government.

The indication, though, at this point, is that we expect, because we know there are some employees in the system - we have been told it is only a couple of dozen - who were either formerly employees of Newfoundland Hardwoods, for example, who are now employed somewhere else in government, who would like to purchase some time and come in - I do not know any affiliations - and also with Newfoundland Farm Products, particularly with the operation that closed previously in Corner Brook, and some people who may now not be working for the private enterprise here, may find themselves in the public service, that they would at least like an option.

It is a very expensive option for them, as people would know, because it is at full actuarial cost. It protects the pension plans themselves, but it does provide a window of opportunity. The companies have to come forward and will be prescribed under Section 8.1(3), and then any employees would be eligible to make a choice to purchase, if the company has been designated as one that is eligible.

I offer those two as examples, Newfoundland Hardwoods from some years ago, and Newfoundland Farm Products more recently, that some of those employees have since found employment in a government sector that would make them eligible under one of these two plans, and they need at least an option available to them to purchase at full actuarial value.

I will have it confirmed at the Committee stage that the information is correct. If there needs to be more questions we will deal with them then.

MR. SULLIVAN: (Inaudible) Crown corporations?

MR. GRIMES: I will check that with the Minister of Finance as to others that are being contemplated or have given rise to discussion of the issue.

With that undertaking, I am pleased to move second reading of the bill.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Public Service Pensions Act, 1991, And The Uniformed Services Pensions Act, 1991," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill No. 34.)

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

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, Order No. 22, Bill 39, "An Act To Amend The Memorial University Pensions Act."

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Memorial University Pensions Act". (Bill No. 39).

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

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again, just a few comments by way of introducing Bill 39 on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of Finance, in whose name the bill stands.

Members will recall, Mr. Speaker, that a year or so ago, there was a detailed set of negotiations between Memorial University and its employees. Actually, part of it was ongoing, I think, during the last general provincial election. A number of issues were raised, and part of the settlement at that time related to a review of some options in the pension plan because they also exercised an early retirement option for some of the faculty and other staff at the University at the time. Part of the good news that was disclosed to the public at the time, Mr. Speaker, is that this pension plan, Memorial University's Pension Plan is the model plan, really, for the Province in terms of funding.

At this point, the pension plan at Memorial is 100 per cent funded, if not a little more than 100 per cent funded; they have more than enough money in the actual fund itself, because it was funded from day one, unlike the public service plans where there were some contributions that were not made for many years at the beginning of the establishment of the plan. It was a funded plan from day one, it is fully funded, and what they negotiated in discussions with the University administration, the unions and with the concurrence of government officials who were represented, was that they would make some adjustments that were long overdue with respect to spousal benefits and other types of pay-out that needed adjustment to bring them in line with provisions of the Public Service Pension plan, The Uniformed Services Pension plan and others that are in the Province. There had been some that were a little outdated and needed some review and as well, Mr. Speaker, the fact that there had been some agreed to changes during the negotiation that facilitated a successful conclusion to a round of bargaining.

All of these, Mr. Speaker, have been reviewed and vetted by the pensions division here of the government, even though this is a plan that we only assist with the monitoring of because of the fact that it is fully funded, they have done a good job of running it themselves, but because it is controlled under this Act, The Memorial University Pensions Act, they need the permission of the Legislature to enact the changes that they have agreed to through a round of intense negotiations and everybody is assured, Mr. Speaker, that these bring the benefits in line with the public service benefits where they were out of line and also, Mr. Speaker, that there is no risk whatsoever to this plan because it has been very well managed and is in fact - I think the latest update that we had is that it is funded more than 100 per cent as opposed to say, less than 20 per cent for plans like the Teachers' Pension Plans and so on that are in severe difficulty.

So what we are being asked to here, Mr. Speaker, and we invite full investigation of it by the members of the House in debate, is to facilitate those changes that have been agreed to through the bargaining process at Memorial University, with the assurance that it is no threat at all to the plan. These are changes that should occur, some of them, Mr. Speaker, bringing in line with the national federal revenue stipulations and others, Mr. Speaker, bringing in line with the other public service plans in the Province.

So with that, Mr. Speaker, I look forward to the debate on this particular bill.

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

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We, on this side, again, understand the background to the amendment that the minister is still trying to get us to approve this afternoon on the University Pensions Act. We have general approval; however, there are some issues relative to this particular amendment that we would like to bring to the minister's attention. One of the things that we want to talk about first of all, is the relationship between the University, the Minister of Finance and this Legislature and the Public Accounts Committee.

One of the difficulties we have is that the philosophy of this government is that, the University operates at arm's length. In fact, when the former government, of which the Minister of Education was a member a few years ago, under the Premiership of Clyde Wells, we had a bill put into this House which said that the University would not have to respond to this Legislature in a direct way through the Public Accounts Committee because they were above the rules that every other group has to live by in this Province who access monies from the public Treasury. In fact, we have a situation in Newfoundland that is somewhat unique in Canada, not exclusively different from some of the others, but different from Ontario. The universities in Ontario - and there are many more universities in Ontario than there are in Newfoundland - these universities must be accountable directly to the Legislature, to the Public Accounts Committee and to the Auditor General for expenditures of public money.

So, we say to the Minister of Education - and we recognize that under the scheme they now have, he is supposed to have all the information relative to the financial affairs of the University, and he is supposed to be answerable to the Legislature for affairs that arise from time to time affecting the University. However, when it comes to the expenditure of public money we recognize that this government, through its transfer payments, makes available around 80 per cent of the funding that is necessary to fund Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. However, the Auditor General of this Province, when she wishes to audit the University's books, finds that the doors are closed.

Now, one of the things that we need to take on face value is the fact that the minister says the Memorial University pension plan is in real good shape. Well, I would assume the minister knows what he is talking about - and that is not always the case here, but we assume the minister knows and has his facts straight - that Memorial University pension plan is indeed in good shape and is on solid financial footing. But we ask the minister: How can we really respond to affairs as they affect Memorial University, when the University itself is not answerable to the Auditor General? That causes a great deal of frustration for many people in this Province. We believe if the University accesses public money, the University should be subject to the Auditor General. As a consequence, we question again here, on this side of the House, why the University is treated the way it is?

Now, obviously, the minister, when he was a member of the former government, bought the arguments put forward by the University that somehow, if we were to ask questions in this House about the spending at Memorial, somehow that would infringe upon academic freedom. Now, that is a lot of nonsense, a lot of garbage is the way to put it. Because we are talking here about information relative to pension plans or information relative to whether the University abides by the Public Tender Act. We are talking about how much money is spent on entertainment and travel by the president or by all of the vice-presidents, that kind of thing. We are not infringing on academic freedom. All we are saying is that the public's money should be spent in a manner that makes it directly accountable. In Newfoundland and Labrador the way that things are made directly accountable is through the Auditor General but of course, as we know, this University has been set up in such a way that it is an ivory tower. That is the way it is.

It was set up as an ivory tower by the now Minister of Justice who was the Minister of Education at that time and who supported the way that the structure is now set up. So we say to the Minister of Justice that he should be hanging his head in shame that he has barred the door at the University to the Auditor General. What he is saying is that there is an elitism when it comes to institutions. Not only is Memorial University gradually becoming an elitist institution as far as students who can study there is concerned, but even the whole institution itself is treated in a way different from other institutions in this Province.

What we say, on this side, is that one of the things we will be doing, that we will commit now to do, is that when this group on that side are sitting on this side, and this party is over there, then Memorial University should know right from now that we will be changing that to make it reflective of what it is in other provinces. In other words, there is no reason why, there is no logic to the academic freedom argument that the Auditor General of Newfoundland and Labrador should not be able to go into Memorial University with certain guidelines set down that would protect the real academic issues. There are to be no arguments put forward that would say to the Auditor General: You cannot come in here and you cannot audit the books of this institution.

We would say to the university: If you are going to spend public money, then you have to be accountable in the public forum. That is the way it should be. That is the philosophy of this party on this side of the House. It should have been the philosophy of that party on that side of the House, but they were huddled and cuddled, they were wined and dined, they were taken, shall we say, to the ivory towers and they were, shall we say, persuaded by the powers that be that the university somehow needed to be excluded from the Auditor General's Act.

We know that the arguments have to be somewhat, shall we say, overpowering, but we met with the president at the time. We never found any overpowering arguments. The arguments put forward by the president to the Liberal Party and the Liberal Cabinet had to be a lot different from the ones he put forward to our party at that time. Because the arguments he told us about issues, afraid that if the Auditor General came in there might be some infringement on academic freedom, that perhaps they would ask questions about why a course is being offered or why a course is not being offered or that kind of thing; or how much money is spent on research in this particular division, or not spent on research, and the results and all that kind of issue that was brought forward.

We, on our side, at that time said: that is not what the Auditor General is going to be doing. The Auditor General is not going to be doing that. Therefore, what we want to say to the government today is, we support the general principles here, because the university pension plan is in good shape, as the minister has said. We, however, have no way to confirm that. We do not have the option of asking the Auditor General: Would you give us a confirmation of that particular statement? We cannot say to the Auditor General under the Public Accounts Committee: Would you go into the university? If we were to say to the Auditor General today through the Public Accounts Committee chairperson: We want you to go to Memorial University to do an examination of the university's expenditures, what would happen is that the President of the university would call up the Minister of Education.

He would say in frantic tones: I have to get hold of the minister because the Auditor General is at the door and the door is barred and locked, but she is out there banging on the door; she wants to get in. He would say: `Roger'! Would you come down here and haul off the Auditor General from our steps? We cannot let the Auditor General come in here because we do not want to show her the books. Therefore, we know what chaos that would cause in government, if the Auditor General turned up and was turned away, thrown off the front steps, because she has no authorization to be there.

That is the law of this Province. It is a law that protects the hoity-toity and those in ivory towers. It protects those people from being accountable to the public Treasury. We say that is not the way Newfoundland and Labrador should be run. When we can send the Auditor General to Pouch Cove to find out what is wrong with the accounting procedures in Pouch Cove, we can send the Auditor General to Conception Bay South, we can send the Auditor General to examine a school board in Central Newfoundland or to examine a school board here in St. John's, or to look at the Health Care Corporation, but we can't send the Auditor General in to examine the books of Memorial University.

Where what we say to them is: We are going to give you $100 million. One hundred million dollars we are going to pass over to the university, and then we are going to say to the university: That is okay, just let us know how you spend it. Come back to us. We will take your word for it. We aren't going to ask any tough questions or anything like that. Don't have any worries about it, because the laws say the Auditor General can't come in to examine the books.

We ask ourselves, is that a reasonable way to run a province? Is that a reasonable way to expend public money? Is that the way we would want our own money spent? In reality, this government says: Yes, that is okay. We approve that. In fact, we were so anxious to approve it we introduced a bill into the Legislature three or four years ago to make sure that the doors were barred to the Auditor General.

That is what we have difficulties with in our appraisal of this particular piece of legislation, because we don't know exactly what, shall we say, the university is doing with the money we give it every year. These are the main issues we want to raise at this time. I believe a couple of my other colleagues on this side will have a couple of other issues that they would want to raise.

MR. SPEAKER (Penney): The hon. the Member for Kilbride.

MR. E. BYRNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I'm pleased to rise on Bill 39 to make a few comments, and to deal in particular with some of the comments made by my colleague for Waterford Valley.

As the Minister of Education is fully aware, the former House Leader of this House is now the Chair of the Board of Regents, I understand; a logical choice and a legitimate choice. I have no necessary qualms about the former Government House Leader and former Member for Naskapi being appointed. No question about it. Certainly this member is not going to impugn that past member's credibility.

It is a fact today, undisputable, undeniable, that the Public Accounts Committee of the Province has the power to subpoena any minister before it, including the Premier, to account for the proper and appropriate expenditure of public dollars according to the acts and legislation we all are governed by and we all live with. That is a reality of the place we live in. Within the Auditor General's purview of what the Auditor General can look at, within the scope of her mandate as Auditor General and the power enshrined to her under the Auditor General's act, she can go into some 200 agencies, Crown entities, or departments with a particular viewpoint. Not one that questions government policy, but clearly one that sees that where public expenditures have been expended that they are done so according to the laws of the land we live in.

Such as the Public Tender Act; it is what you would call a forensic or legislative audit. It is not something like a private auditing firm goes in, like Coopers & Lybrand, would sift through the receipts or the books and say; Okay, x number of dollars was set to be spent, $1.2 million on that. They will look and they will follow the money trail and follow the cheques and they will see if $1.2 million was spent. That is what they account on, that is what they report on. They do not report on: Was in fact public money spent according to the laws and regulations that govern all of us?

In every other jurisdiction in Canada such an audit by the Auditor General of Memorial University, or on universities in general, it varies. In about six jurisdictions, it is my understanding that provincial auditor general's have the right to go in and request an audit of a university.

AN HON. MEMBER: How far back do you want them to go?

MR. E. BYRNE: How far back? I would say to the minister that the first thing we have to do is to ensure that -

AN HON. MEMBER: Minister?

MR. E. BYRNE: - the Auditor General has the - or to the member, soon to be minister, that the Auditor General

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: That wasn't nasty, I say to the Government House Leader. The first thing that has to be done is that we have to ensure the right that they have to go in there. The Minister of Energy and Mines who was a member of the Public Accounts Committee in 1986, asked a question in this House related to that very matter, that the Auditor General should have the right to go into the university.

AN HON. MEMBER: You never answered the question.

MR. E. BYRNE: How far back?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) go in, how far back do you want her to go?

MR. E. BYRNE: My own point of view, and it is clearly only mine, is that it should be within a contemporary time frame, within the last, say, budget year or two.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: Well, that would be a point of view that would be open to the committee, I guess, or to government.

The reality is that the arguments that have been put forward are mainly coming from the academic and administrative community - not necessarily the academic community, because I would like to deal with that point in a moment, but from the administrative community, that they would not want to see the Auditor General come in and comment on the basic courses. So, would her commentary influence on the types of English courses, or how many English courses are made available? How many biology courses?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: And the priorities.

Mr. Speaker, clearly that represents a non-informed view of what the Auditor General's office is about, and from my point of view I think it is a complete red herring in terms of throwing that argument up.

The fact of the matter is this: Last year government expended $105 million. Right now, as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee which represents all sides of the House, which is a non-partisan committee that deals specifically with public expenditure - and I cannot speak for other committees, but I can speak for the present one, and I will speak clearly for it - that every issue that we have looked at so far this year has been by unanimous consent. Every issue that we have gone beyond the Auditor General's Report, to request the Auditor General to go in and have a look at, has been done by unanimous agreement amongst all committee members on both sides of the House. So I think that adds weight to the point I just made in terms of this committee, this Public Accounts Committee and its membership, and the type of work they are doing in terms of what we would like to see.

We have looked at the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Care Commission. We have looked at the Western Health Care Board. We have looked at the St. John's Health Care Corporation. We have looked at the Cancer Clinic. We have looked at the Department of Social Services in terms of an integrated delivery system. We have looked at the Department of Industry, Trade and Technology in two respects, EDGE designation and the former SIID agreement. We are about to look into issues arising that came out of the Auditor General's Report.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) Marble Mountain.

MR. E. BYRNE: Marble Mountain is another.

AN HON. MEMBER: Pouch Cove.

MR. E. BYRNE: Pouch Cove.

AN HON. MEMBER: I did a good job (inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: And it came out that you did, that those who were involved with it... Mr. Speaker, the point is this.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: What is the matter with the minister's nerves?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: Minister, what issue do you think we are debating here?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) pension fund.

MR. E. BYRNE: Have you read the bill from start to finish? Has the minister read it from top to bottom?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: Every bit of it.

The minister should know that on any finance bill that comes before this House - on any finance bill - we can speak to the issue, and what I am talking about is Memorial University and the inability of the Auditor General to go in and look at the pension fund, and every other issue; so it is a very relevant topic, I say to the minister. If your nerves are that bad, you can always leave the House while I am standing and speaking and come back some other time.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: Pardon me? Don't tempt you? Sure, go ahead. Go ahead.

The point is, Mr. Speaker, that in terms of the academic community at Memorial University it is clear. During the last employer/employee dispute - and I can table it; I can table the information at an appropriate time - even the MUNFA executive, the very things that an Auditor General would look at, the academic community's union, itself, requested the very things that this House should be concerned about. It requested financial information from the administration of the university, which this House should be concerned about, and which the Public Accounts Committee is concerned about; such things as pensions, which we are discussing in this bill, a fully funded pension; such things as administrative expenses; such things as bonuses paid to university administration; such things as interest-free loans that may be occurring. Those are the issues that are fundamental to an entity that comes under the jurisdiction and legislative control of this House that we have a responsibility to see where the funds are going.

Mr. Speaker, the issue with respect to the Auditor General, there is sort of a cute argument that has been made that is coming from Memorial, from its university relations department, that the Auditor General has every right to look at what is happening at the university and they put it on this line, that the Auditor General has the right to look at the audits that come from the University's auditor's and if they have any questions, they can ask them.

That is not the point, again it is a red-herring, part of a red-herring argument I submit has really no bearing on what we should be looking into it comes to the University. There is no one in this Legislature, I would submit, that would suggest or ask the Auditor General to go in and look at academic programs. To go in and look at how many English courses should be offered at the university or history courses or Newfoundland studies courses or engineering courses, nobody, Mr. Speaker, in fact is asking that. What we are asking for and it must be understood, that the University itself, the community is governed by two separate bodies. The Board of Regents is concerned primarily with the financial affairs of the University, the administrative running of the University, that is what the Public Accounts Committee should be concerned about, that is what this Legislature should be concerned about.

The separate wing of it deals with academic accreditation, granting of degrees, convocations, academic averages, grade point averages, readmissions, with a whole host of matters surrounding the academic community and that governing body, Mr. Speaker, for anybody who knows is called a senate, the university senate. Nobody is suggesting or would suggest that the Auditor General go in and look at what the senate does, because clearly that is not what the Auditor General would look at. The Auditor General goes in does an audited statement on legislative compliance, how public monies were spend, were they spent in the fashion they said they were going to be spent in and, if not, why not, and reports back to each and every member of this House.

To have a community or agency that is enshrined - its very existence depends upon an act that was enshrined and voted upon by this Legislature, to fly in the face of such a fundamental principle, Mr. Speaker, I find personally revolting and I do not buy the University's argument that they put forward, but the issue is not dead. I say that for the purpose of the record, that we will be dealing with it in due course as a committee. How we want to deal with it, which way we want to proceed, certainly will become more obvious as time goes on.

Mr. Speaker, with this I will conclude my remarks with respect to Bill No. 39 and take my seat.

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I have some comments too on Bill No. 39 to amend The Memorial University Pensions Act and in particular here what it attempts to do is to, in one clause, clause 2 of the Act, section 11 of the bill is to take away and to lessen, reduce the Auditor Generals ability to be able to audit the pension fund of Memorial University. That is what it does. It allows for someone other then - even in the explanatory note is says, `It would enable an auditor, other than the Auditor General, to audit the pension fund and to issue a report'.

I do not see anything wrong, Mr. Speaker, with allowing the Auditor General to examine the accounts of any expenditure of public funds within government, within Crown corporation or within any particular agencies of this government that are funded out of public funds. I think it should be the right of the Auditor General to be able to do that.

Just a couple of years ago, back in 1993, I am not sure when it was proclaimed, but around there, this Legislature took away the right of the Auditor General to have access to the books of Memorial University and to examine it for public accountability of funds given to the University. That happens in other universities in this country - are permitted to allow their Auditor Generals to go in and do an examination of the wise expenditure of public funds within their respected provinces. I do not see why it should be any different here.

I do not expect the Auditor General to pass judgement on the academic freedoms that universities would want, their selections of course offering in facilities or if they want to specialize within certain specific areas.

MR. J. BYRNE: (Inaudible).

MR. SULLIVAN: There are certain basic academic freedoms a university should have unencumbered by government legislation, but the Auditor General should have a right to go in and to make a determination of the value that we get for the peoples' bucks in Memorial University and this Legislature -

MR. J. BYRNE: (Inaudible).

PREMIER TOBIN: This Legislature roughly three years ago took away that right and this legislation today in

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. SULLIVAN: - section 11 of this Act, in clause 2 of the bill is reducing the Auditor Generals ability to be able to audit the pension funds of Memorial University and since Memorial University is an institution that is funded by public dollars, I feel the Auditor General has the right to look at this account and any other particular accounts that they may have.

There are positive aspects and as the minister in introducing the bill indicated, it is fully funded, which I feel all pension plans should be, fully funded pension plans and at Memorial University, if the service is a model, it is an appropriate way to go, we have to pay the price sooner or later and pay as you go is my concept of the way we should do business and the way we should have pension funds. I agree, we can't expect future generations, our children and their children, to pay the price for our expenditures in this particular generation. There is talk now about retired people out there in pensions making them pay extra when they take retirement options. We have to look very closely at the pension issue, at whether we should tell people who retire at an earlier age on a certain pension, to tell them now they have to pay a price. Had they known those things and those circumstances, they may have chosen to stay working. They may have chosen to stay in the workforce to draw a higher pension; to pay those premiums over a longer period of time and get a higher pension.

So you cannot turn the clock back on one issue and not turn it back on the whole thing. You cannot be selective in doing that. It is unfair. What is wrong with the public examining whether Memorial University has appropriate accounting procedures in place to safeguard the expenditure of public funds? What is wrong with the Auditor General being able to do that? Why are we just opening it up to other areas? Why do we prevent the Auditor General, who is supposed to be a watchdog on public expenditures, to ensure that dollars are spent wisely? People entrusted with hundreds of millions of dollars - overall with Memorial University we are talking about over $100 million - direct of expenditures, payments by this government, where in the opportunities fund we are going to see another $25 million overall, on top of the regular, I think it is going down to $104 million roughly over the third year of a three year plan to have access to that and they should.

I think Memorial University has a right to get a three year budget plan, a three year commitment from the Province to know where they are going from one year to the next. They can't keep adjusting budgets in mid-stream. You have to have a sense of where you are going to be. This government said they have a three year plan. It only took up two little pages in the Budget but Memorial University asked for a three year commitment on what they are going to be given and they should be given it. They should be given a commitment and they should know so they can plan ahead and not ad hoc decision making from one year to the next and have to drive tuition through the ceiling because government did not let them know what their contribution was going to be. Those types of things I think are fundamental. In long-term planning - a word that has not been high on the agenda of this government - long-term planning has been ad hoc, ad hoc spontaneous decisions to address critical problems that should have been addressed earlier so they would not have been critical problems.

AN HON. MEMBER: Loyola, are you afraid of (inaudible)?

MR. SULLIVAN: I am afraid of nobody, not even you. I am not afraid of you. You can pick the match of your choice, the weapon, the matter of combat and I will be ready for you any day. We will even put on a display outside the House if you want to. You can pick guns, you can pick swords, you can pick wrestling, boxing, running or jumping. You name it, I will take you on any day, I say to the minister. You name it. If you pick boxing I hope you are a good runner.

AN HON. MEMBER: I heard you were a (inaudible).

MR. SULLIVAN: No, indeed I wasn't - with my fist probably. The gloves came off before the stick went up, I say to the guy who put the Port aux Basques Mariners into deep bankruptcy. Actually it is a matter of - well it is a good price to pay I suppose to win a herder. Everybody does it at times. It is a little unrelated to the issue at hand now but we have seen it right back to the days in Buchans and today in Port aux Basques and all over the place, in La Scie everywhere; we seen that.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SULLIVAN: No, I can tell you, I went three years without getting one penalty. You can ask the Minister of Health's brother who played on the team there for awhile with me. I'm a pretty clean player, I never got a penalty.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SULLIVAN: Yes, he is, I agree. The best one in the family. Yes, I will agree.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SULLIVAN: Well he is not in my family. I can't speak for him but he's a good man that George Faulkner. I followed him from his early days. I am a Montreal fan, too bad Montreal drafted him, he might have been NHL - George Faulkner -

AN HON. MEMBER: He will be in the House of Assembly soon.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. SULLIVAN: He is the guy who is going to take charge

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. FITZGERALD: He makes wise decisions.

MR. SULLIVAN: Yes, and he is a member of this Province who contributes to the Treasury, who contributes money to Memorial University, so the employer of Memorial University can put money into the pension fund.

The employer's contribution in the pension fund of this Province comes from revenues obtained by the university of which over $100 million comes from this Province, of which he and you and me and everybody else contribute to that. That is a very relevant issue I would say today, that taxpayers contribute and why shouldn't the taxpayers get accountability from the Auditor General? They should. There is nothing more relevant I can say than the Province footing the bill and paying tremendously and not being allowed to have their watchdog go in and examine the books.

This bill also adds in section 15 (1) an employee shall be retired, when you reach normal retirement age which is one thing, and (b) if he or she is not participating in the long term disability insurance plan of the university or a similar plan substituted for it and so on, I won't read all that, but they add in a third one now which says: If the post held by the employee is abolished or his or her services are no longer required as a result of reorganization, the employee shall be retired. So that is there and there are some changes I noticed to allow somebody to retire a little earlier - I had a little notation here on one, where, if they are less than sixty - you had to be sixty but now, if you are fifty-five and that is in 15.2 in the Act, clause 5 in the bill - to somebody who has not yet reached the age of sixty but who is fifty-five and has ten years or more of service, they should be able to retire with their accumulated level of pension they should receive, they have that particular option also.

So, these are some of the specifics there but the overall thing and that is also in 16: The board shall award a pension to an employee who has completed not less than ten years of pensionable service and has been retired under section 15 which is the one I just alluded to earlier. But overall, the gist of it, right on the specifics here, I do not have a problem with the Memorial University Pensions Plan at all. It is a plan I understand that is a fully-funded plan; I stand to be corrected but I think it is a fully-funded plan.

AN HON. MEMBER: It is fully funded.

MR. SULLIVAN: It is fully funded, my colleague tells me and one in which they are paying premiums of what, 6 per cent basically is the normal requirement that it states here that they have been paying into the fund, I think it is six, is it? It is a healthy plan but the problem I have is that as a taxpayer, the people of the Province, we contribute to Memorial University, we contribute an equivalent of 6 per cent employer contributes to that plan, there are taxpayers dollars going to the University in excess of $100-and-some million with the opportunity to fund another $25 million in addition to their grants to Memorial University on an annual basis, that is a significant chunk of money out of taxpayers dollars when this Province only raises about less than $2 billion of its own funds or revenue in a year, that is a significant expenditure, one certainly that I support an expenditure to post-secondary education but also, with any price of supporting and putting money, there has to be an accountability of those revenues carried out and I feel the Auditor General, my colleagues here have mentioned before, should not only be able to examine - they took the Auditor General out of examining the books of Memorial University, the former Premier; the former government did that and they decided to go the rest of the ways now and remove the Auditor General from being able to audit the pension plan fund of Memorial University. Not that there is any problem with it, not to imply that at all but to imply the right of an Auditor General, the watchdog of this Province, to be able to see that the public's money has been expended in an appropriate fashion and the proper regimes are in place to be able to show full accountability and expenditures on an accepted accounting basis.

While many times people make decisions in the best interest and with the best intentions in mind. We don't always have the safeguards there that would protect the public investment into any institution.

That is an auditor general person who has been trained in that area, has expertise in that area, and the staff of the auditor general's officer are such that they look for those methods, always trying to achieve something that is perfect. Might never achieve it, but at least we can analyze it, we can recommend, we can say where you went wrong, where you can notice that the next time we might avoid those mistakes and we won't end up making the same mistakes all over again.

That is the role there. There hasn't been an opportunity for the Auditor General to exercise full protection of the public by taking the Auditor General out of the right to audit the funds. I shouldn't say taken out. By having someone other than, by diminishing or reducing the ability of the Auditor General to do that, and to audit Memorial University as it was done in the previous legislation.

That isn't acceptable, that isn't something that we support, that aspect of it. Those factors, I think, are important. I say, Mr. Speaker, they are important in protecting the public here and having appropriate guarantees in place, and appropriate safeguards, and appropriate monitoring and watch-dogging of expenditures of an institution here that is to use public money.

Because if money is not used to the advantage, to the best use, there could be ways that the students pay for it. There is an increasing burden being borne by students in tuition today. They are paying a higher and higher per cent of tuition to run those institutions. I spoke to the Federation of Students over a year ago and I spoke again this year and I said: If 25 per cent of the cost of running the University is paid by students, they should have 25 per cent of representation on the Board of Regents. If they contribute the same per cent to other colleges, to the College of the North Atlantic or wherever in the Province, they also should have an appropriate representation because he or she who pays the piper calls the tune.

Why shouldn't students, 25 per cent, have 25 per cent of representation? If they pay it all, they should have all the representation. Their money. It should be utilized to an appropriate purpose. We have a very small representation. In fact, I think there are only two out of about thirty-two, for instance, on the Board of Regents. I know it is unrelated, but there are decisions made that impact University in expenditures, and the overall pot of money ties into what the University has.

There are important aspects there, and many other things I've recommended, dozens of recommendations I made that should be done. Who did I hear after? I heard the Premier, was it, or somebody stood up after them, a year after I made them, and copied some of the same ones I made to them out in Stephenville over a year ago, and I made out in Corner Brook again this year and so on. As if they must have got a copy of my speech, which I distribute to all the media anyway. I'm sure they have a copy. Some of the same basic things I said should be happening out there.

We have to allow a certain amount of autonomy, have to allow people to contribute, and we contribute to the operation of the University, we as taxpayers, people all over this Province. We have somebody out there in office, the Auditor General, reports here to the House of Assembly, to see that these are expended in an appropriate manner, and that we follow the proper accounting procedures that would maximize the most efficient use of these dollars, within the parameters of academic freedom of the University on the dollars.

Dollars in a pension plan are still dollars contributed by the employer. They are decisions that must be made appropriately. If you can operate it efficiently and have it fully-funded at 5.5 per cent, so be it. If it takes 6.5 per cent to fully fund it, so be it. We aren't talking about relative amounts or about the health of a plan. We are just talking about the percentage of money, and what the people at the University pay into this fund out of their own pocket is not the relative point. That is their money and it is their choice what they do. What is contributed as an employer and a public funded money, a good portion of it out of public funded money, and a portion out of the students who contribute to the overall budget of Memorial University, and other funds or revenue that they get by various other sources, that all go into the one pot and the one decision making, we have to have a degree of accountability.

We don't have that degree of accountability enhanced by removing and lessening, decreasing, the role that the Auditor General plays in that particular institution.

That is an issue that I certainly hope will not be exercised. It is diminishing the powers (inaudible) to someone else. I hope it won't be diminished by that process because the Auditor General - it doesn't matter what the government of the day is - looks at things from a perspective of accountability, and we should heed the words of the Auditor General and use it not as a means to rebuke the Auditor General, as has happened in cases, but to use it as a lesson to improve our role as legislators here in enhancing the accountability, contributing to a better, more efficiently run operation that safeguards the public dollars and gives us dollars to use in some other area where it is badly needed. That is the role. That is what should be done, and we should maximize that to our advantage.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I conclude my remarks on this specific bill, Bill 39.

MR. SPEAKER: Is the hon. the Government House Leader intending to close the debate?

MR. TULK: Yes.

MR. SPEAKER: If the minister speaks now he will close the debate. The hon. the Government House Leader.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. TULK: He will probably get to it in committee.

The debate has gone on for awhile, and I would move second reading.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Memorial University Pensions Act," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill No. 39)

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

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, Order No. 25, Bill No. 25, "An Act To Amend The Nursing Assistants Act".

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Nursing Assistants Act". (Bill No. 25)

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

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, in the absence of the Minister of Health, who is in a meeting that has to do with some very important business, let me just say that

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. TULK: Well, yes, she has some other things she has to do.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. TULK: Well, that is very important. That is a meeting that is very important.

Let me say that what this bill does is basically take us along to change the designation of Registered Nursing Assistant to Licensed Practical Nurse. There is nothing overwhelmingly earthshaking about this bill; otherwise, the minister probably would have foregone her meeting and been here to introduce the bill herself.

As we know, the minister has just moved to make the profession of nursing to, I suppose you would have to say, upgrade it somewhat in that she has gotten into giving nurses, many of us would say, their dues, what is due them in many outports in Newfoundland. I believe this bill just moves that profession along another step further in this particular case.

Mr. Speaker, I am not going to move second reading. I suppose somebody else will stand up and speak.

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

MR. FRENCH: Mr. Speaker, I just want to take a couple of minutes today. I guess, as the Government House Leader has said, this bill is basically housekeeping more than anything else so it certainly will not take me very long to just have a few minutes on this.

Of course, the bill is just basically changing the designation of Nursing Assistant to Licensed Practical Nurse, and replaces all references to Nursing Assistants with references to Licensed Practical Nurses. The name of the act is changed, of course, and there are a couple of other very minute changes in this particular piece of legislation.

Again, the council may, subject to the approval of the minister, make regulations. Of course, in (d) of that section, just prescribing the registration fees payable, including fees for renewal of registrations and prescribing other fees that the council considers necessary to defray its expenses. So, Mr. Speaker, there is not a lot in this particular bill. Basically what it is, is a housekeeping bill and we, on this side of the House, have no problem with that.

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

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I had hoped that the Minister of Health would have been able to make a few comments prior to the approval at second reading because I wanted to hear her comments as to what the real purpose - I read the purposes as contained in the explanatory note, however I wanted her to comment on the professional role and scope of duties and whether or not there is a change in the role and scope of duties as we now have under the present act, what we call the nursing assistants to the new nomenclature here which is the licensed practical nurse. I wanted her to comment as to whether or not there would be new roles and new responsibilities and how this ties in with Bill 42. We kind of wanted to have a little more information but, Mr. Speaker, I assume that perhaps at the committee stage - if the Minister of Health might be available to the Legislature - that we might be able to put our questions at that time. I, perhaps, Mr. Speaker, would give notice that at the committee stage we will put those questions and maybe the minister, as I said, might be able to give us more detail. Thank you very much.

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, I move second reading.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Nursing Assistants Act," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill No. 25)

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

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, Order No. 28, Bill No. 49, "An Act To Amend The Environmental Assessment Act."

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Environmental Assessment Act". (Bill No. 49)

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Environment and Labour.

MR LANGDON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, today we have two amendments to the Environmental Assessment Act. These two measures were a budgetary item back last spring. However, at that particular time we did not bring it to changes so in the fall session we are doing that.

No. 1 Section, Mr. Speaker, has to deal with, where cost recovery for environmental assessment for projects that are less than $15 million in capital costs. So the fee for projects less than that, Mr. Speaker, is a $200 registration fee. However, for undertakings that are more than $15 million this particular amendment really enables the government to recover the cost of doing the environmental assessment. I am sure that in this particular case it is a step forward because basically the proponent of course would have to pay the assessed fee that has been set down here.

This section, as I said, was considered to have come into force on April 1, 1997, but at this particular time we want to set back these two amendments to be retroactive to April 1, to enable us to recover the work that has been done since April, Mr. Speaker. With that I will leave it for the comments from the Opposition.

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

MR. H. HODDER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Again I've listened to what the minister has said in his Explanatory Notes, the purpose of the bill. The bill is again a minor piece of legislation in the overall scope of things. However it does, as the minister has said, permit the minister to be able to recover certain costs that the minister and his department would incur when a proponent comes in to make an application.

I do note that the change will require "a proponent of an undertaking having a projected capital cost greater than $15 million to pay fees set by the minister to offset the costs incurred by the Crown..." I say to the minister, that is a pretty reasonable thing to do. These proponents who come into our Province to explore our resources, to access our natural resources, they should be paying something towards the cost of the environmental assessment. Because in essence we all benefit by that.

The companies which come into Newfoundland and Labrador don't come here because they like Newfoundland and Labrador. They come here because we have resources they are going to be able to develop. It is part of the cost of doing business. Consequently we say why should the taxpayers of Newfoundland and Labrador pay the cost incurred by X company or Y company in doing an environmental assessment, living by the laws of this Province. Which is what they are doing.

(Inaudible) are saying: Come in here. We say: We want you to live by the laws of this Province, live by the laws of this country. For us to make sure that you live by those laws, you have to do an assessment which will be pretty comprehensive, and which has a federal component and a provincial component, and is multi-disciplinary. We are saying to that company: That is a cost you are going to have to pay when you come into this Province.

That certainly makes some sense. It is the cost of doing business. It is like, as the minister would know, in his former life as a municipal councillor, when you have people coming into your municipality and they are going to develop things in your municipality, you can be kind and generous to them, but at some point or another if they want to do some work, you are going to say to them: You have to pay some of the costs. Particularly if that company is going to make substantial profits. Since they are our resources - by "our" I mean the people of Newfoundland and Labrador - then we say to these companies: You are going to be expected to pay something because eventually you will have returning to you substantial sums of money.

We have a few words over here. We want to talk about the fees that clause 2 will impose. In clause 2 it says: "(1) The Act is amended by adding immediately after section 40 the following..." This refers again to the $15 million. We want to ask about the fees and how they will be determined. We want to ask what are the costs the Crown may incur for which cost offsetting fees may be imposed. What are the categories? Are there categories here? Are there things we would charge for? Some of the details as to what kind of things we are talking about here. Who decides it? We know it is not going to be done haphazardly. We aren't suggesting that. We are saying there should be some scale set up and some categories identified. We wanted to have some more information on that.

We also wanted to say to the minister that we had a substantial number of statements we wanted to make relative to the environment assessment process, and to have it done step by step. As the minister knows, there is a step by step procedure. Maybe some idea as to who is going to assess the cost for each of these procedures and, as the minister knows, there is everything from the registration of the undertaking to the registration of the documentation, all the way through; and maybe, the minister may be able to tell us as to what items he will be costing back to the proponent and what items will be absorbed by his department or by the public Treasury; also, statement of expectations of revenues that will be recovered by the ministry over the next number of years and what impact this will have on Newfoundland's financial picture. Will we be able to save millions of dollars? What will be the impact financially on his department's bottom line, and also, when will this take effect and how will we communicate this to all proponents?

So, with that kind of a breakdown and also for an opportunity to perhaps have the new process itself reviewed by the industry, I do not see here any provision whereby - because it says, This section is considered to have come into force on April 1 of 1997. Since it is retroactive legislation, and the former Premier, Premier Wells, said he hated retroactive legislation, I ask the minister: Why are we retroactively bringing in this particular change? And, as a consequence, the minister might want to tell us why for that, because I know the former Premier used to say: Any time I bring in something retroactive, change the laws retroactively, I want to stand in my place and justify to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador why I would retroactively change the law.

I was going to, a few moments ago, ask the minister if he would be able to perhaps give some idea as to what the consultations they have had with the industry reveal. In other words, this is not new to the industry, and what has been the result? Has there been general acceptability of those changes that he is bringing in here and are we hearing people say that they are not going to be as willing to, you know, put forward proposals as they were before? I doubt that, but maybe, the minister will comment on that, as to what the industry is saying in response to the proposals he is putting forward.

We wanted to, as well, talk about retroactivity. I draw the minister's attention to the fact that his own department has put out a number of assessment bulletins for 1997. I find that listed here in my notes going back April 1 of 1997, and all those, actually, back to 1996. What would be the impact on these and all of those that you put forward here going back over the last six months - and it contains several pages of notes; in fact, about four pages of notes. I have listed every assessment here that you have done and want to get some idea as to what impact we are having - I am not going to list them out here, but, for example, let us say, May 23rd, you had the assessment committee appointed for Long Harbour; on the same date, one appointed for Come By Chance; on the same date, one appointed for the combined cycle generating unit of the Holyrood generating station; on the same date, as well, the Holyrood fourth turbo generating unit resubmission there; and then, you had on that date, as well, the Argentia multiple gas turbine power project; also, on that same date, the Argentia co-generation power project. What I am saying to the minister is: All of those assessments that have been commissioned in 1997, what is the impact there?

Mr. Speaker, I know that some of my other colleagues wish to have a few comments, and I will yield now to some of my other friends.

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

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

Mr. Speaker, I want to read in, for the record, the clauses because I believe I heard the minister correctly earlier saying that both clauses that are being entered here are going to be retroactive. I just want to make sure that I understand for sure what he is saying.

Clause 1, amends Section 6(1) of the Act, which reads: `Registration. A proponent shall, before proceeding with the final design of an undertaking, notify the minister in the form required by the minister respecting the proposed undertaking'; and 6(2), `The notification under subsection (1) shall be considered to be registration of an undertaking for the purpose of this Act.'

The new clause added will be 6(3), which reads: `A proponent shall pay the fee that the minister may set with respect to the registration of an undertaking.'

In other words, the government will be able to impose registration fees for any proposal, the change is not of a retroactive effect, in my understanding, and relates only to the registration of the project.

Recall, Mr. Speaker, if you would, the budget of 1997 already imposes a new $200 administration fee to be charged to all proponents registering an undertaking pursuant to the Environmental Assessment Act. A fee was effective as of April 1, 1997.

So, what does this provision do that is new, or does it simply enact the fee announced already in the budget? Is that the case? I ask the minister.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. T. OSBORNE: Okay, so that is not retroactive, I take it?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. T. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, Clause 2, adds a new Section 41, which reads: `Recovery of Costs.' This is the portion of the bill that would be retroactive. I would suggest, `A proponent of an undertaking having a projected capital cost greater than $15 million shall pay fees that the minister may set to offset the cost incurred by the Crown with respect to the conduct of an environmental assessment in connection with the undertaking.'

This new Section 41, not Section 6(3), I would suggest, is considered to have come into force on April 1, 1997, and fees that the minister may set may be set retroactively to April 1, 1997.

So, as I see it, only one of these clauses would be retroactive, the other I anticipate already announces what was set out in the budget of 1997, or reannounces it, puts it into legislation.

So, the bill has two provisions, Mr. Speaker, -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. T. OSBORNE: Thank you very much and I will let you know soon -your project will be ready very soon I would suspect.

Mr. Speaker, the minister may set fees with respect to the registration of an undertaking, and that raises some cause for alarm, because the minister `may' set fees. It appears to me that this is probably at the minister's discretion, which proponents he may set fees for and which ones he may not, what fees he may charge and what fees he may not, so that does cause some alarm. The provisions would be retroactive to April 1, 1997, which also raises some questions. Why retroactive to that date? The bill's explanatory note does not make mention of why it goes retroactive to that date and in looking at the projects registered under the Environmental Assessment Act since April 1, it is clear that most of those will likely require cost assessment processes that relate to private energy developments.

My comment is, why is the government putting this into effect now? Are they closing with a band-aid, a wound that they opened by not having in place the proper energy plan to deal with these projects, the hydro-developments on our smaller rivers and so on.

Mr. Speaker, other costly assessments may involve water export, as well. In going back through the proponents that have registered since April 1, other costly assessments may involve these water exports which may have been avoided had the government implemented a sound water export policy, a policy, may I add, that would prohibit the mass bulk export of our water and also entail a royalty regime.

Mr. Speaker, we have to ask: What are the costs the Crown may incur for which cost offsetting fees may be imposed? There are a number of those. Consider the environmental assessment process step by step, the Environmental Impact Statement, the Environment Preview Report, the Draft Terms of Reference, and the Environmental Assessment Board.

I guess, to outline these in sub-reference, step one: The proponent would register the undertaking. Next, the minister would examine the registration documents to determine whether an Environmental Impact Statement would be required. Third, the EIS, if it is not required, the proponent may proceed subject to other laws. If the EIS may be required, the minister orders an EPR unless the proponent chooses to go ahead with the full EIS system anyway, and would give the proponent the EPR guidelines set out in the regulations. The proponent would complete the EPR and the minister would examine the EPR to see whether or not an EIS is required at that state, or whether or not the proposal is to be rejected.

If the EIS is not required after the EPR, the proponent may proceed subject to other laws. If the EIS is required, however, before or after the EPR is done, the minister gives the proponent the EPR guidelines set out in the regulations. The proponent would then submit the DTOR that meet detailed specifications. The minister examines the DTOR. If unsatisfactory, the proponent must modify them so they would be acceptable. Otherwise, if the DTOR is satisfactory, they become the Terms of Reference for the EIS, by which the proponent prepares an EIS for the minister.

The minister publishes a notice of the start of the environmental assessment stage. The proponent provides the public with the opportunities for input.

When the proponent submits the EIS, the minister makes it public and examines it to see whether or not that is acceptable. If the EIS is deficient, the minister may order that the proponent do further study and re-submit it. The minister brings an acceptable EIS to Cabinet.

For any proposal where an EIS is or may be required, the minister must appoint an assessment committee for technical advice with a member from each department affected, and the committee expenses are to be paid by government.

The minister may invite public questions which are forwarded to the proponent for answering. If there is a strong public interest, the minister may appoint a two-to-five person environmental assessment board for public hearings, and the member's expenses are also paid by government.

The Environmental Assessment Board holds public hearings in or near the affected area to examine the EIS and exchange information between the public and the proponent. The Environmental Assessment Board Chair must submit a report of proceedings, public recommendations, and the Environmental Assessment Board recommendations.

The minister brings the EAB report to Cabinet and distributes it to the public. The minister brings an acceptable EIS to Cabinet with the recommendation to proceed subject to conditions. Cabinet may, at any time, halt further environmental assessment and reject the proposal if it feels that the environmental impact is unacceptable. Although, Mr. Speaker, I should point out the proponent can demand that the EIS be completed with the proponent paying all the costs at that point. The minister may order the proponent to carry out environmental monitoring and rehabilitation studies and programs, and to restore the site. The minister may exempt a proponent from any undertaking, revoke an exception, or change a condition of the exemption and keep the document secret.

We have to ask, which of these will cost the Province? Examining any submitted documents takes time and staff, and as well the cost of professionals who give the technical analysis. Providing companies with regulations has a small cost. Publishing documents and notice of an environmental assessment each costs something as well.

The big costs seem to be the assessment committee - always required when an EIS, may I add, may be required -, and the environmental assessment board which would sometimes be required, for which the government incurred significant expenses. Larger and more complicated projects are more likely to require both and generate more expenses for both.

The government will be able to impose fees on any parts of the environmental assessment under its new section 41 as long as the project's estimated capital cost exceeds $15 million. Again, the question here is whether or not the minister will impose any cost. Because according to the legislation the minister may impose cost to the proponent. The question still remains: Which proponents would have to pay costs and which ones would not, even if they are in excess of $15 million? That is a question that I would like the minister to answer.

Again I may add, which companies are affected by retroactivity? Which aspects of which projects above this capital cost ceiling have proceeded between April 1, 1997 and December 1997 to which the retroactivity clause may be related?

As my colleague for Waterford Valley said earlier, retroactivity was a contentious issue in this House in the previous Administration. Premier Wells used to say that retroactivity should be avoided like the plague. It undermines the credibility of government, it sends a message that our word and our bond cannot be trusted, he used to say. Changing the rules in midstream is bad enough, I would suggest, but using the Legislature to change the rules retroactively puts the companies and other contractees and the public in a position of vulnerability. A well-administered government would plan in advance and make the necessary adjustments up front, I would suggest to the minister. This government obviously acts first and plans later, and it uses retroactivity too freely and must learn to restrain itself. On that, Mr. Speaker, I will take my seat. Thank you.

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

MR. SHELLEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I just rise for a couple of minutes to make a few comments today on this environmental assessment act. It is always an important point for me when it comes to environment, and we like to make a few every chance we get in this House.

I just got off a phone call a few minutes ago I would just like to mention. Today there was a court case -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SHELLEY: Yes, a phone call that the minister missed one time. Today in Badger's Quay there was court date at 10:00 this morning. Mr. Ronald Rogers and Mr. Lester Rogers of that area went to court on the fisheries violation. I've just finished speaking to both those gentlemen, Mr. Speaker. There was a packed courthouse there today.

They were arrested, for anyone who doesn't know, a little while ago on charges of illegal fishing. Both men between them have a combined experience of 130 years on the water. I just spoke to the two of them. The second gentleman could hardly say too much about it, but when Mr. Ronald Rogers spoke today - and they told me they wouldn't mind if I did use their names here today - they wanted to make a few points.

The judge did say in his twenty-four years in the chambers after Mr. Rogers spoke and talked about how he felt about this injustice to him today, there was a standing ovation from the crowded room that there was there today. Everyone talked to him after.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SHELLEY: Eighty-one years old. Fishing on the Labrador since he was nine years old. His brother, seventy-eight years old, fishing since he was fourteen years old. Those two gentlemen spoke to me today, Mr. Speaker, and said they were going to sit home. I mentioned that there could be a food fishery next year and do you know what they said? They said if there is or not, Paul, I don't think we will bother to go out because we don't know any more what is right or wrong. We don't know what is right or wrong anymore.

Mr. Speaker, what was even more disgusting - Lester, the younger of the two gentlemen said, what is more disgusting to hear is the same people who led us around for so many years, yesterday told him, a man that has been on the water for as long as he had, that there is no fish in his bay. Mr. Speaker, he said he will challenge that scientist any day of the week, anywhere, and see if there is fish in the bay. There has to be a combination of common sense and scientists used here. I have said it many times over and over in this House that these people, with that much experience on the water - he said to the judge today, Mr. Speaker, it wasn't my job to go out and catch that fish. He said it certainly wasn't my intention to break the law. I certainly didn't need it, we weren't starving to death in our house. None of those reasons were why that man went on the water. He believed that the people who were telling him there was no fish were wrong. He believed that the amount of fish he was going to get was insignificant. He believed that it was not a job or a way to feed his family but it was a right that he had, Mr. Speaker.

The last thing he said to me was, Mr. Speaker: if I ever thought that me and my brother were going on that water to catch those twenty fish or thirty fish they had. They did not go out the whole time. They said they were going to get their thirty fish one way or the other. He said if I thought for one minute, Mr. Shelley, that that was going to hurt the cod stocks in this Province that we would never recover, he said God help us because if it is gone that far it is too far gone. He believes sincerely, after all the years they have spent on the water, that they are honest people and they made a living at this. They should have had the right and he said it - and we have said it here many times - he said if my cousin on the South Coast can call and tell me that he is fishing but I can't fish up on the northern part of Newfoundland, if a scientist can tell me where those fish are stopping at the boarders then I will agree with it but he said I can never, ever believe that for as long as I live.

He said last year we stepped in of course when there nothing - the year before when there was nothing for Newfoundland but St. Pierre et Miquelon fished. Last year of course the whole Province sucked it in but this year, to add insult to injury and I don't care what scientist you sit down and speak to -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I just want to remind the hon. member that he is now on second reading of a bill entitled, "An Act To Amend The Environmental Assessment Act", and that we are debating the principles of the bill -

MR. SHELLEY: Yes, Mr. Speaker, and environmental assessment is what the whole issue is all about, conserving the environment, protecting the environment and part of that environment, Mr. Speaker, is the fishery. That is why it is all relevant. Anybody who is trying to circumvent this process -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. SHELLEY: - and stop me from speaking on this today on behalf of those gentlemen who have asked me, Mr. Speaker - as a matter of fact I wanted to be at the court case today but because of circumstances in here today, I could not, at 10:00 a.m. They both were fined $300.

AN HON. MEMBER: Shame.

MR. SHELLEY: Three hundred dollars today, Mr. Speaker, from two gentlemen who have 135 years experience on the water between them, $300. Like he said, it is not the $300. As a matter of fact, the younger gentleman -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Again, I tell the hon. member that he is debating the principle of the bill here and that his comments should be relevant to the principles in the bill.

MR. SHELLEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I will get another chance to speak on this today, Mr. Speaker. I don't support anybody breaking the law but I support what those two gentlemen stood for, for many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in this Province today and I support them wholeheartedly.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Environment and Labour. If the hon. the Minister speaks now he will close the debate.

MR LANGDON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As was already said previously and by the people in the Opposition, number 1, registration fee of $200 was introduced in the Budget this spring and became effective April 1, 1997. All people who register are charged $200, apart from the non-profit organizations. They don't have to pay the nominal fee of $200. However, the point I guess where we want to get after them, Mr. Speaker, is number 2, for major projects that are more than $15 million. Many of the projects in environmental assessment - for any project that is less than $15 million you have a registration fee of $200 but over that, for example, the assessment that is being done probably of the Voisey's Bay situation, the assessment could cost probably $1 million or $2 million to this Province.

As the Opposition House Leader says, I don't think that should be borne by the taxpayers of this Province as part of doing business here. We want to set up the parameters for that and basically say to him that review and approval of environmental assessment documents, environmental preview reports and impact statements, component studies and special case by case to recover actual costs is what this is about.

Basically at the end of the day for major projects - like I said, $15 million and over; there are not many of them - we want to make sure that we recover the amount that the provincial government would put in in assisting that particular project.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Environmental Assessment Act," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill No. 49)

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

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, Committee of the Whole on a bill, "An Act To Amend The Human Rights Code", Bill No. 21. I move that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole.

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

 

Committee of the Whole

 

CHAIR (Penny): Order, please!

A bill, "An Act To Amend The Human Rights Code". (Bill No. 21)

On motion, clauses 1 and 2 carried.

Motion, that the Committee report having passed the bill without amendment, carried.

CHAIR: The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. TULK: Mr. Chairman, I move that the Committee rise, report substantial progress, and ask leave to sit again.

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

MR. SPEAKER (Snow): Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Lewisporte.

MR. PENNEY: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of the Whole has considered the matters to it referred and has directed me to report Bill No. 21 passed without amendment, and ask leave to sit again.

On motion, report received and adopted, bill ordered read a third time presently by leave.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Human Rights Code," read a third time, ordered passed and its title be as on the Order Paper. (Bill No. 21)

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

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, before we adjourn the House, I want to just say that we will be debating tomorrow the Private Member's Resolution put forward by the Member for Labrador West, and I now move that this House adjourn.

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