March 25, 1998 HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS Vol. XLIII No. 4


The House met at 2:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Snow): Order, please!

Before we begin our routine proceedings I would like to welcome, on behalf of all members today, visitors to the gallery. We have Mayor Gus Roberts from Baie Verte, along with a group of high school students from the Baie Verte High School area.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

 

Statements by Ministers

 

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

MR. DECKER: Mr. Speaker, March 21 marked the 38th anniversary of the day in 1960 when more than seventy peaceful demonstrators against apartheid were killed and over 180 were injured in South Africa.

In 1966, the United Nations General Assembly declared March 21 the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The United Nations also declared 1983-1993 as the Second Decade for Action to Combat Racial Discrimination. Canada proclaimed its involvement in March 1986 and all provinces collectively agreed in 1988 to commemorate March 21, as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

This year, 1998 I have again proclaimed for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador that March 21 was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is committed to the belief that equal opportunity and treatment should exist for all people. Every resident of our Province has the right to realize his or her full potential regardless of race, colour, national or ethnic origin. All of us should have the ability to live our lives in peace with respect and dignity.

The elimination of racial discrimination and racism can be accomplished if we allow ourselves to live with understanding and respect for those around us. This is the social and moral responsibility of us all.

I would like to take this opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to commend the work of the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Association in this area. They put forth tremendous effort in education and research towards the reduction of human suffering and intolerance that is unfortunately still around us even as we enter the year 2000. Let the next century bring with it a wave of new attitudes so that we can live in a society where all of us are seen as equals.

Mr. Speaker, I invite all members of this House and of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador to recognize the significance of this initiative and through their daily activities promote the dignity and human rights of everyone in accordance with the principles ascribed to by the United Nations and this government.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

On this side of the House, Mr. Speaker, we join with the Minister of Justice with respect to the proclamation of March 21, a number of days ago being the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. I, too, want to commend the work of the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Association and, of course, Human Rights Associations in each province and our federal body as well.

In this country, we take great pride in the fact, Mr. Speaker, that we are a pluralistic society as a result of Immigration policies and the fact that Canada is a refugee-receiving nation. We are blessed with peoples from all corners of the earth, people with a variety of races and backgrounds and religious beliefs and opinions and so on, and as a result of that diversity, as all Canadians we are better off for it. So we join with the minister in this proclamation and, as Canadians, we should be proud of the wonderful nation and diversity in which we live.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Signal Hill - Quidi Vidi. Does he have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: Yes.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to join with the Minister and the Member for St. John's East in acknowledging the proclamation of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and in fact, the celebration of a week of activities devoted to the promotion of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in this country and throughout the world; and also, to commend the activities and work of the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Association in this area.

But I want to take this opportunity to repeat what I said in December in this House. We were talking about development in this Province, particularly in Labrador, that we in this House, ought to be particularly vigilant in providing leadership in this Province to ensure that any questions of development as they may or may not become contentious in Labrador, that we ensure -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. HARRIS: - to the very best of our ability and leadership that these discussions and tensions do not become the subject of fermenting or encouraging any racial discrimination or racial intolerance in this Province with respect to Aboriginal people.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise to inform the hon. members of an agreement reached between the Department of Works, Services and Transportation and the State of North Carolina for the use of two CL 215 water bombers owned by the Province.

The two provincial aircraft have been contracted to North Carolina for a 60-day period. The aircraft will be used on standby for fighting forest fires in the State. Mr. Speaker, the Province will receive $2,200 U.S. per day, for each aircraft, and an additional $1,700 per hour should the aircraft be in the air. Even in the event no flying time is required, the province will still generate gross revenues of $264,000 U.S. The first aircraft was deployed on 16 March and the second aircraft on 22 March.

Mr. Speaker, this is a period during the year when these aircraft are not in use by the Province, however, both aircraft will be back in Newfoundland and Labrador by the end of May for our use. This is the second time the Province has entered into a contract with the State of North Carolina for the use of our water bombers, the first time being in 1993 when we contracted one aircraft to the State for revenues of $174,000.

Mr. Speaker, this a significant revenue generating practice for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. We will continue to find ways to utilize our equipment and our resources to the full advantage of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Another little good news, but we have not heard it all, I do not expect, Mr. Speaker.

The minister talks about revenues of $264,000. He did not mention the cost involved with respect to insurance, fuel, travel costs and so on. He did not talk about any liabilities, whether the liabilities of the Province would be covered with respect to there being an accident. It is nice to see the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador protecting the forests of North Carolina.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Oral Questions

 

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

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

My question today, Mr. Speaker, is for the Minister - I will have to skip that today, there is a lot of empty chairs over there. I will have to go to the Premier.

Mr. Premier, the Auditor General's Report came down the other day and in it there was a comment or reference to privatization of Newfoundland Hardwoods in 1965. It was privatized for $6.7 million dollars. Can the Premier explain why $1.4 million of the $6.7 million of the deal that was supposed to come to the Province, has not yet been received and why the financial statements for 1996 and 1997 have not yet been received?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Mr. Speaker, I understand this was a matter that was addressed by the Minister of Finance yesterday, but I would be very glad to pass on to the minister the additional questions put by the member opposite, and to assure him that a full and complete answer will be provide as soon as the minister is back in the House.

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

MR. J. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, it was touched upon very superficially by the Minister of Finance yesterday. We have some very specific questions to be asked, and we need some answers. I would expect the Premier to know what is going on within the Department of Finance, but obviously he doesn't.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. J. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, I will continue.

The government was to receive 10 per cent of the company's net income until the year 2000 as part of the deal. How much money has been received to date, I ask the Premier? And can the Premier explain why - and this is a very important point -, the consultant fees have sky-rocketed from $39,000 to over $900,000 to date? Can the minister or the Premier explain: Who are these consultants? Obviously, a cost of $900,000 for financial costs on a $6.7 million deal is outrageous. Maybe the Minister of Finance can address it now.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Premier.

PREMIER TOBIN: Well, Mr. Speaker, as I said a moment ago, the Minister of Finance was not in the House when the member began asking these questions on the sale of Newfoundland Hardwoods. I am sure, now that he is in the House, he can more than adequately respond to all of the legitimate questions being raised by the member opposite, and I would advise him to put them again.

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

MR. J. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, I would to say now that Question Period starts at 2:12 p.m. instead of 2:08 p.m.; we have to re-address the questions to the Premier.

To the Minister of Finance: Can you answer the question with respect to the privatization of Newfoundland Hardwoods? Can you explain why $1.4 million of the $6.7 million has not yet been received - that was the initial deal - and why the financial statements for 1996 and 1997 have not yet been submitted?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. Minister for Finance and Treasury Board.

MR. DICKS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

First of all, this was handled by Industry, Trade and Technology, and I will give the hon. member the explanation that the department gave in respond to the Auditor General's Report. It is the same answer I gave yesterday to his hon. Leader, who is not here today. I am sorry, I should not have said that, Mr. Speaker.

If you refer to page 145, it is all explained there in detail. The Province has received all the proceeds from Newfoundland Hardwoods, other than surplus funds from the wind-up of the pension plan.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. DICKS: Pardon me?

I am sorry; do we both have the same book? I got it from the Speaker. It is on page 145, right-hand column, the top third of the page. I cannot read from the book, but I am sure the hon. member can read for himself.

The problem with the pension plan is that it has been wound up in accordance with pension plan regulations, and there are issues relating to certain accounts receivable.

The explanation, as far as I see it, is quite straightforward. As I mentioned, there are some surplus storage tanks that have to be sold. I don't think, from what I know of it, there is a great market for surplus storage tanks in the greater Clarenville area. I understand the Newfoundland Hardwood statements will be available by mid-December. I am not aware of whether or not they have been received, but I will check with the Department of ITT and tell you tomorrow whether or not they are in fact in hand.

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

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

I say to the minister, he is referring to page 145. What is given here is a rationalization; it is not an answer. It is not very specific, very general. In this it says the financial statements will not be available until mid-December. Part of the question was, why haven't the financial statements been available up to now? So it is not an answer; it is a rationalization, from your perspective, Mr. Minister.

Can the minister explain how much money of the 10 per cent net income of the company that was supposed to come to the Province to the year 2000 has been forthcoming to this point in time, and why the consultant's fees sky-rocketed from $39,000 to over $900,000 to date? Who are the consultants, Minister, and why does it cost $900,000 on a $6.7 million deal? Isn't that a bit outrageous, wouldn't you admit?

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

MR. DICKS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I suspect it probably is outrageous. If you have ever engaged consultants I am always astonished at the fees they take from people who are availing of their services. There are several circumstances that I have been involved in, in government, where I have refused requests from consultants who want to help us with privatizations and other things.

The amount may very well be quite large. I suspect that in this case the department looked at the account, reviewed it, and was satisfied with it. In this case, as I recall, it took some time to privatize Hardwoods. They engaged, I think, a chartered accounting firm to assist them with it, and in this case the money may have been well spent.

As a general observation, we have been trying to cut down on the number of consultants, particularly in assisting government in doing what it should do in the normal course of events.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

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

The Minister of Finance and Treasury Board admits that $900,000 on a $6.7 million project is outrageous. I wonder what the minister is going to do about it. You never answered the question about who the consultants are.

With respect to this situation, Mr. Minister, how many hospital beds could have been opened, how many school lunch programs could be in place, how many rural doctors could be in place, if you had kept tabs on or controlled upwards maybe of millions of dollars? Will the minister admit that the financial controls this government has are very loose at best?

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

MR. DICKS: No, quite the opposite, Mr. Speaker. We have a very firm grip on the finances of the Province. I didn't say that the consultant's fees were outrageous. What I said is that the principle I follow, my personal view, is that if we hire people in departments to do things we should not be hiring as many consultants outside because they are costly and expensive. Very often in the past consultants have been hired and, in my view, the worth of having them is pretty minimal.

In this case, I have a pretty good idea who the consultants were. The department, in this case, monitored this very closely. It took a long time to achieve the privatization of Newfoundland Hardwoods. There were a lot of issues at stake and the consultants in this case -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. DICKS: The consultants in this case - the fees were monitored by the department and the department can speak to whether or not the fees were reasonable. I suspect that in the department's view they were, and they kept close track of it.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Waterford Valley.

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

My questions are to the Minister of Education.

In the past several days I have had many calls and several visits to my office from teachers who meet the minimum requirements of retirement at the end of March. Most of them would like to continue in their teaching positions until the end of June, rather than disrupt the learning environment throughout the school year. They want to know, from the minister, if their earned retirement options, relative to severance and pensions benefits, would be negatively affected by their staying in their positions until the end of June.

Can the minister, and will the minister, assure these long-serving teachers that any benefits they now have will still be there for them at the end of the current school year, and thus they would be able to stay in their teaching positions and not disrupt the learning environment?

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

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The matter of the teachers' pension plan has been one that has been in the public domain and public view, and discussed publicly, repeated for the past several years. I think everybody in the Province understands that there is a very, very serious unfunded liability, particularly with respect to the teachers' pension plan. There are unfunded liabilities, Mr. Speaker, with respect to all of the pension plans in the Province, but the most serious is with respect to the teachers' pension plan which is due to go absolutely bankrupt in less than five years.

Two years ago, Mr. Speaker, this government, through negotiation, arrived at a Memorandum of Understanding with the teachers' union, with its leadership, with its joint council as they call it, which is the provincial executive and the leaders of all fifty-eight, fifty-nine or sixty of their district organizations. Mr. Speaker, for some reason still unbeknownst to government, the teachers' association decided not to put that Memorandum of Understanding that they agreed to, to a vote of their members. The matter, Mr. Speaker, is now before the negotiators for both the teachers' association and the government. It is being discussed during a current round of collective bargaining. We are not in a position to predict what the outcome of those particular negotiations will be.

In the meantime, Mr. Speaker, the record of this particular government and this particular Administration has been that there is no reason, there is absolutely no reason, for a teacher or any other public servant to expect that this government would take any kind of unilateral action at this point in time. We are in negotiations. We await the outcome of that. We have asked, Mr. Speaker, as a matter of fact -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister to conclude his answer.

MR. GRIMES: Yes, Mr. Speaker.

We have asked, as a matter of fact, on several occasions that the representatives for the teachers put a definitive proposal on the bargaining table as to the changes that they will agree to in their pension plan, to make sure that every teacher who is expecting a benefit that they have worked for will receive the benefit when they retire.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister to take his seat.

The hon. the Member for Waterford Valley.

MR. H. HODDER: Mr. Speaker, I remind the minister that in the Throne Speech - I mentioned this the other day to him - he said the chaos in education was finished. I just want to say to him, that in the past three years there have been in excess of 700 teachers who have left the teaching profession in mid-year. That is not counting the ones at the end of the school year. These teachers are caught in a dilemma. They are caught between their sense of professionalism, their duty to their students and, of course, their own personal benefits.

I want to ask the minister: For the sake of the children, and in view of the fact that the NLTA has asked for that comfort letter to be given, and to stop the chaos in the school system, will he today give the NLTA and these teachers who are about to leave in the next week, the comfort they need, that any benefits they now have today will still be there for them at the end of this school year?

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

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Maybe I might remind the hon. member as to the history of the whole evolution of this particular situation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. GRIMES: Mr. Speaker, the issue came to the attention of government, actually, about fifteen years ago; because at that point in time I happened to be in a different position. I was negotiating on behalf of the teachers of the Province. It is an important part, Mr. Speaker, to put the whole answer into context.

To the surprise of the negotiators for the teachers' association, of which I was one, the government representatives came to the bargaining table and said: We need a new clause in the teachers' collective agreement. We need a new clause which requires teachers to give notice of their intent to retire, because the normal practice fifteen years ago was that if a teacher started in the beginning of the year they probably would not retire until the end of the year. We wondered why they needed notice when that had been the history and the practice.

The answer given, Mr. Speaker, was that to the chagrin and to the dismay of school boards, teachers had started retiring on their birth date, not this year, not last year, not in the last three years, but fifteen years ago, Mr. Speaker. The bargainers for school boards and the government came to the table and said: We need a three month notice from teachers of their intent to retire. The example they gave was a teacher in Buchans - I don't mind naming the community - fifteen years ago, an exemplary worker -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. GRIMES: Yes, Mr. Speaker.

- an exemplary record, had not missed a day of teaching and, all of a sudden, on his fifty-fifth birthday, which was retirement at that - the teacher did not show up in school. The principal, very concerned, called. He thought that the teacher was sick, but he said: There is nothing wrong with me. I am retired.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister to take his seat.

A final supplementary, the hon. the Member for Waterford Valley.

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

History lessons. I think you should choose another subject if you are going to go back teaching. You just will not make it as a history teacher.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. H. HODDER: I say to the minister, by his reluctance to give teachers the assurances that they need to protect their future incomes, is the minister indirectly today announcing that there will be changes in both severance benefits and the thirty-and-out options of the teachers' pension plan, and that these changes will be legislated to be effective at a date to be specified in the legislation? And will he confirm that legislation to change the teachers' pension plan has been drafted and will be introduced and be effective before the end of this current legislative session?

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

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Before I respond to the scare tactic that is common for the members opposite, exactly as just presented, it is problems and statements like that, Mr. Speaker, that cause difficulties with teachers and others because that did not come from anybody on this side of the House.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. GRIMES: That kind of a suggestion, Mr. Speaker, and that kind of a scare tactic and so on that we might be changing severance, that we might be going to legislate changes, came from his mouth. As a matter of fact, the only place I have heard it has been from members opposite. I have never heard it from one single soul on this side of the Legislature, Mr. Speaker, not one, none at all!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. GRIMES: Now with respect to it, because the hon. member, as the Education critic, would again try to suggest that we have a crisis that just started this year or last year: fifteen years ago teachers started retiring on their birthday, and it came to the attention of the government who asked that notice be given. This is not a new phenomenon. This is not something that just arose in the last couple of years. But, the reason that it has arisen in the last couple of years, more so than fifteen years ago, is because hon. members will irresponsibly, like the member just did, get up and say that government has legislation in its hip pocket ready to haul out tomorrow, lay down on the table, and shaft the teachers! That is not what is in the mind of the government. However, Mr. Speaker, if they want to scare people they can go ahead.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS S. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My questions today are for the Minister of Human Resources and Employment.

After two years of dismissing our criticisms about the government's heartless social policies, the government finally `fessed up' in this year's Throne Speech and admitted that something must be done about social policy concerns.

In this light, instead of returning to her old ways of dismissing our concerns, will the Minister of Human Resources and Employment explain exactly what is meant in the Throne Speech by helping people gain skills and find work through "...a benefit schedule that is more equitable and effective in reducing poverty..."?

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

MS BETTNEY: Mr. Speaker, throughout the course of the past year, since the Budget announcements last year where we changed the departments - the former Department of Social Services - and brought into this department the employment programs, we have been focusing on investing in people. We have said from the beginning that our thrust in terms of social policy and in reforming our approach to income support is to move from passive support, which creates dependencies, towards active employment programs which encourage self-reliance and encourage self-esteem.

As we move through the coming years, particularly these next few months as we continue to design and refine an approach to delivering income support programs, we will continue to develop this concept so that, in fact, as we are using our resources to help people in need we are also helping them out of dependency.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS S. OSBORNE: In training them out of dependency, will the government be restrictive in choosing which educational programs it will assist people to take? Will the government be concerned about repeating mistakes of other programs by training countless numbers of people for jobs that do not exist, or for which few jobs are available, such as hairdressing, animal grooming, heavy equipment operating, et cetera? Or will the government pressure these graduates to leave the Province once they have been trained, because no work exists here?

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

MS BETTNEY: Mr. Speaker, one of the things we recognize is that there is a link between education, skill development, and employment, and that training itself is only one element that contributes to employment and increasing employment levels in any given area.

One of the things we do know is that we have had, I believe, the highest growth in employment in the country during the past year, that we have to link our training and development services with career plans and with employment services that will effectively address people being able to move into employment. As we redesign our system for income support in this Province over the coming year, we will be focusing on assessing the needs of our clients, determining which skills, which experience, which knowledge, is going to most benefit them, and we will provide linkages for them to attain that so they can move into employment.

This is the whole thrust of supporting employment that is recognized as being successful anywhere you go in North America today. This is the kind of thing we need to be doing more of and upon which we will continue to focus.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS S. OSBORNE: When you have determined what jobs are out there for them, you could probably make it public and let the other people who are not on social services know so they can train for them; because to my knowledge, and to a lot of unemployed students, there are not really a lot of jobs around.

When these graduates of the training programs finish, if they cannot find a job, as many other graduates in this Province cannot, will the government continue their benefits?

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

MS BETTNEY: Mr. Speaker, one of the issues the member is addressing is the whole issue of labour market supply, and providing good labour market information to all of our people in the Province. This is something that through the labour market development agreement, in collaboration and cooperation with the federal government, we are developing and doing more and more.

We are establishing databases of skills of people in the Province, so that can be available to all of our employers both here in the Province and throughout the country. We are establishing an information network that will provide access for anyone who wishes to go in and determine where the jobs are, where the jobs are growing, for what we need to be training. All of this is being done to develop our labour market supply, to increase the match between the jobs that will be coming in the future and the training and development that people are taking today.

So this whole issue is one of a number of strategies that we have to use to try and increase employment in the Province today, and what we know is that what we are doing in the way of supports to employment, in the way of our employment development programs, is working. We are seeing results, we are getting progress. We still have a ways to go, and we are going to continue to work with the kinds of programs that we know produce results.

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

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My questions today are for the Minister of Environment and Labour.

Minister, some nineteen months ago the government appointed the Workers' Compensation Statutory Review Committee, and ten months ago the committee submitted far-reaching recommendations. Why has this government still not responded with comprehensive action to implement these recommendations? And will you today, Sir, as minister, make a commitment to reduce the claw-back to injured workers who are now receiving Canada Pension Plan benefits?

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

MR. LANGDON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Yes, the review that was done by the Statutory Review Committee was really comprehensive. In fact, this afternoon I am having a final assessment of it from the officials, and next week I am hoping to bring it to Cabinet for approval. I am sure, at the end of the day, that the adjustments we will make to the review committee, suggestions, will be beneficial to those people who are on workers' compensation benefits right now.

It has been comprehensive, and we want to do what is best for the plan and for the people who draw from workers' compensation.

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

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The minister admitted as long ago as last fall that he was appalled at the horror stories from deeming, as we all have been, I guess, on both sides of this House. But the stories, Mr. Minister, keep on coming: for denying an injured worker benefits because workers' compensation - if you believe this or not, but this is a fact and I can prove it to you - that he was capable of working while lying flat on his back. If we could only imagine (inaudible).

You recently appointed a committee to look at this issue, Minister, in regards to deeming. I just wonder if you are now ready - because I know they have reported back to you - to release the recommendations that they made to this House and to the public?

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

MR. LANGDON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In response to the questions that came from the Opposition Leader last fall, we decided to put a committee in place to look at `deeming'. One of the people on that particular committee was Mr. Austin Haynes, who is the President of the Injured Workers' Association. We put the workers' representative who was on the Statutory Review Committee, Mr. Skinner, on that, and the assistant deputy minister from my department, Mr. O'Neill, chaired it. We also had a person there from the employers' association, and one from WCC.

That particular committee has made recommendations, and that will be a part of the comprehensive review that we will lay before the House and the people of the Province within the next little while.

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

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Minister, we pointed out last fall that some 75 per cent to 80 per cent of the recommended changes did not require changes to legislation. Can you now tell us how many of these changes the minister has implemented since last fall.

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

MR. LANGDON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to tell the hon. member that within the next week or two we will outline all of the recommendations to him and to the people as a whole, and we believe that the package we have in store for these people will see major changes made to the workers' compensation workplace, Health and Safety, and Workers' Compensation Commission. I believe that the reforms that we will bring in will really show that we have been active, and I think will really, in a sense, benefit the people who are deriving from the benefits plus those who pay into it. It is comprehensive and the benefits are there for everyone to see.

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

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

Over a year ago, Mr. Speaker, the government, through the Department of Environment and Labour, introduced the Trash to Cash Program, aimed at recycling beverage containers as well as other containers. I would ask the minister how many containers the deposit was charged on to date, and how much revenue was collected as a result of this program to date.

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

MR. LANGDON: I do not have the exact figures here, but I can have the numbers for the member tomorrow when the House is in session -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) Friday.

MR. LANGDON: - or on Friday.

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

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

I would like to ask the minister if he has any idea how much revenue is refunded back as a result of recycled containers.

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

MR. LANGDON: I do not have the numbers here but I will get them for the hon. member.

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

MR. T. OSBORNE: I wonder, Mr. Speaker, if the minister cannot answer this question today, if he could supply an answer to this tomorrow as well: What does the minister intend to do with the excess revenue collected through this program that has not been refunded?

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

MR. LANGDON: Mr. Speaker, the revenue that is generated at the beginning of this program now is in excess, obviously, of what it takes to run the program. Basically there is a profit here, but as the number of containers increase, or the percentages increase from 50 per cent to 60 per cent to 70 per cent to 80 per cent, then that particular excess revenue that is there now with the 50 per cent collection will somewhat have to be used to augment and to run the system. So it in abeyance there now for when we will need it later on as the program becomes more efficient.

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

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

I understand from your department, seeing that you do not know the answer, that it is 183 million containers, but I will let you clarify that tomorrow.

Mr. Speaker, is the minister going to do anything to promote recycling of containers in rural areas that do not have recycling depots at the moment; such as to set up depots in those areas so that we can increase the number from the 49 per cent of the containers that were returned last year and recycled and increase that to the 60 per cent or 70 per cent or 80 per cent of which you now speak?

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

MR. LANGDON: I would assume then, Mr. Speaker, that he supports the program, and I would give the news to the multi-stewardship board, who is operating on behalf of NewBRI, to set up extra depots to make sure the program is involved.

MR. SPEAKER: The time for Oral Questions has elapsed.

 

Presenting Reports by
Standing and Special Committees

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. Member for Port au Port.

MR. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

On behalf of the Select Committee appointed to draft a reply to the Speech of His Honour the Lieutenant Governor, I am pleased to present the report of the Select Committee as follows:

To His Honour the Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable A. M. House, C.M., M.D., FRCPC. May it please Your Honour: We, the Commons of Newfoundland and Labrador, in legislative session assembled, beg to thank Your Honour for the Gracious Speech which Your Honour has addressed to this House.

I have signed it, as well as the Member for Torngat Mountains and the Member for St. John's West.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

On motion, report received, debate to follow on tomorrow.

 

Petitions

 

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Waterford Valley.

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

I rise today to present a petition on behalf of 261 residents of Bell Island who have forwarded me a petition relative to the proposed cuts to the allocation of teaching units for the upcoming year. Mr. Speaker, the prayer of the petition is:

We, the parents of Bell Island, wish to protest the proposed cuts to the allocation of teaching units for the upcoming school year. The new school board - that will be the Avalon East School Board - is been forced to make hasty decisions on school closures and program cuts without being able to consider the task force information. They are asking for the task force to be able to complete its work, its analysis, prior to the Department of Education cutting the programs and cutting the teaching staff on the Island.

Mr. Speaker, we have had many petitions forwarded to us in the last number of days. I still have many more to present here in the next days, relative to education. This particular one is very clear in its intent. There are 261 residents of Bell Island who wish this House to know that they are concerned with the impact of the teaching unit cuts on their school system.

Mr. Speaker, we note that the parents here are not saying that they disagree with school closures. They are not saying that they do not appreciate the efforts of the minister in the last couple of weeks to reduce the impact somewhat. There were supposed to be 425 teaching units lost, and he has reduced that to a little over 200 teaching units that will be lost next year. That is appreciated, I say to the minister. It is a step in the right direction. We know that over time there will have to be substantive adjustments, and these substantive adjustments are part of reform.

What these parents are saying is: Would you slow it down a little bit? The school boards were only elected in February, the third week of February, and they really have not have time to complete the analysis that might be required. As a matter of fact, in the last two nights, and continuing on tonight, the Avalon East School Board is now holding public sessions here in St. John's at Holiday Inn, listening to parent councils. What they are finding is that they need to do all of this analysis prior to firm decisions being made.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present this petition on behalf of the residents of Bell Island, who want their voices to be heard, asking the government and the minister to give some consideration to giving the school boards ample time to prepare their task force, to make the right decisions, so that when we make the final decisions they will be with the best interests of children as the core of the decision-making process.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. SHELLEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am glad today to rise to support my colleague in his petition from the people of Bell Island. Again, this petition today is indicative of what is really happening, of the many questions that are asked day-by-day, week-by-week, on the whole issue of education reform. We also talked about it yesterday in a couple of minutes of debate, Mr. Speaker.

The whole point to all of this: Now that the process is continuing, everybody supports the education reform. Everybody wants to see it progress. Everybody realizes that with declining enrolments there will be schools that will close down. Everybody understands that. There is nobody who is not going to use their common sense and rationale to figure out that as progress takes place things will have to change. That is what it is all about.

The thing that is starting to come out more and more, Mr. Speaker, with this petition, with calls that we have been getting lately, with the protest that was here last Sunday, all of those points, is that people are concerned about how the progress is taking place, at what speed it is taking place, and how, at the end of the day, it is going to affect the child who is in school. That is what the whole debate comes down to, Mr. Speaker. What they need are assurances from the minister and from the government that at the end of the day, when the classroom is set, that the right number of students will be in the classroom and the right number of teachers will be there.

Mr. Speaker, something we discussed a couple of days ago is the rounded education system. By that we are talking about a student out in Baie Verte, out in Ming's Bight or wherever they are, who can go into a classroom and have the same quality of education as somebody in Grand Falls, Corner Brook, Stephenville or some of the bigger centres; so that at the end of the day they have the computers available to them and they have the courses available to them.

Mr. Speaker, there is another point in all this, when you start looking at the reduction in the number of teachers. It started to happen a year or so ago, and you saw how the students responded to that. The way the students responded is, they want to have their music classes and their phys-ed classes and their extracurricular, because they know that we do not rush into the classroom every day because we are waiting for a math class or a science class. If any of us think that, as parents or as former teachers, we are kidding ourselves. The full education of the child is to make that person interested to stay in school from Kindergarten to Grade XII, with all those extras that keep those people interested.

I would love to believe now, with young children of my own, that they are going to rush to school every day from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. because they cannot wait to rush into a math or science class, but we know that is not true. We know what it will do. Also, Mr. Speaker, speaking from a former coaching perspective, and being involved with students in extra-curricular, we know that that is what entices people. I know there are lots of people in this House who have had sports connections. We will use sports for an example today. We can use drama, some people can use drama for that, or the extra science projects we go on. All of those extras are what entice that child, so many of them, to stay in school, to be interested, and it gives that person that well-rounded education, the social aspect and so on.

That is why these petitions keep coming forward, that is why we keep getting the calls, that is why you see people protesting here in St. John's. Because they are wondering at the end of the day is education reform really: Shove more students into the classroom, cut out more programs. I am not saying it is, but we are just saying that we hope, at the end of the day, that is not what it is. Because that is not what education reform is.

This is not like a marriage. A marriage is for better or for worse. This reform is for the better. That was the whole intent. That is why everybody sucked in their gut and said: We will do the changes, we will close a school here and there. We have a school closed down in my district now that I went to, and every time I look up the road and see that it is closed down, it sends a bad chill through me. But I know that is progress and we have to move on from that, and I am willing to accept that. If you are willing to accept that as an individual, as a parent, as a student, or whatever you are, then we have to see at the end of the day a better system.

I will be satisfied, like many other people in this Province will be satisfied, if we can look at a closed school that is boarded up that has a lot of history and tradition and everything else, and we will accept that, as long as at the end of the day the system that our child walks into in school is a better one, a system that has more programs offered, that has all of those extras of the extra-curricular, the sports, the phys-ed teachers, the drama, the music and so on.

That is why I support this petition because what it does is raise a concern, raise a flag to say: Okay, we will watch how this develops and how the reform takes place. Hopefully at the end of the day a child will walk into school and he will have that system that is going to be in place, and that is why I support this petition.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I just want to make a few brief comments with respect to the petition presented by the hon. the Member for Waterford Valley and supported by the hon. the Member for Baie Verte.

The fact is that in this particular petition we have two members who repeatedly suggest they support education reform fully, and did so in this Legislature last fall, and the year before. The hon. member who presented the petition has been a proponent of reform ever since he has been an educator, over a period of some thirty-odd years, and has a very fine record as an educator. I am not sure that his record as a legislator will be the same, but as an educator, a very fine record for thirty years.

The difficulty is this. The members, while they support the concept, absolutely refuse to show leadership with respect to the issue. Remember, this petition is from Bell Island, and it would be the same as if the petition came from Baie Verte. Neither of these two members would suggest that in Bell Island, where the plan last year was to close out a school that was in a state of disrepair, to have a single high school in which every single high school student in that community, which is a separate, self-contained community - not that they might go to some other school in St. John's or some other school in C.B.S.; they are a self-contained unit - and in that community, because the petition is from Bell Island, and it is on behalf of 261 parents in Bell Island. These two members, standing up as they do in this Legislature when they say: I support reform -

MR. SHELLEY: A point of order, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Baie Verte on a point of order.

MR. SHELLEY: (Inaudible) take away the momentum (inaudible) well out to lunch on what I just mentioned (inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to get to his point of order.

MR. SHELLEY: (Inaudible) long as we (inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: There is no point of order.

The hon. the Minister of Education.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

- rather than show some leadership when the petitioners come forward, like we do, and say there are other places where the plea to slow down and take some time makes sense - but I am sure that in Bell Island the best thing for everybody is to go ahead with the plan that was in place last year.

Everybody in this Legislature knows that the only reason there is not a single high school in Bell Island this school year with more programs than they have ever had, like music, like phys-ed, like the extra-curriculars and so on - that that was all planned for this year - that was frustrated by a court injunction based on denominational differences. And to the surprise of everybody in that instance, it was the Integrated Education Committee that would not agree to give permission for this current school year to have a single high school in Bell Island that would have improved programs for every student in the community.

In Baie Verte, Mr. Speaker, I would challenge the member to stand up and say that with the plans that are there now, with a single system that is already in Baie Verte, that the hon. member would suggest that people will want to go back and have a different system again - they are ready to do it, they are ready to proceed.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

On a point of order, the hon. the Member for Waterford Valley.

MR. H. HODDER: Mr. Speaker, during the minister's presentations he has made reference to the fact that we, on this side, have not been consistent. I would like to point out to the minister that nowhere in my presentation on this petition did I mention any reference to Bell Island and parents not wanting a single school system.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to get to his point of order quickly.

MR. H. HODDER: The point of order, Mr. Speaker, is that the minister is putting words into the presentation that were not said in this particular presentation and on this petition.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

That is not a point of order.

The hon. the Minister of Education.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The point of the petition articulated by both these members was to support a request from parents in a particular self-contained community to delay the process, to wait another year. That is the point of the petition, Mr. Speaker. That is what is in this petition. They should have read the petition before they presented it. That is exactly what the petition says. That is exactly what these two members stood up and spoke in favour of.

In Bell Island of all places, Mr. Speaker, the leadership that should have been provided would be to say to those people, I understand the petition, however, I do not agree with it. Neither of those individuals, Mr. Speaker, agree with waiting another year in Bell Island and neither of those individuals agree with waiting another year in Baie Verte. And, Mr. Speaker, the petition asked for that; they stood up and presented it as if that is what they also wanted, and it is contrary to what they have been saying as members in this particular Legislature.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

The hon. the Member for Grand Falls - Buchans.

MS THISTLE: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition on behalf of the pensioners of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador from the district of Grand Falls - Buchans. The petition read like this:

WHEREAS the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador pensioners have not had an increase to their pension since 1989; and

WHEREAS the cost of living continues to further erode the purchasing power of the pensioner's pension in excess of 20 per cent; and

WHEREAS pensioners have done their share in helping to reduce the provincial and federal deficits;

WHEREFORE be it resolved that we, the undersigned, do implore government to carry out the fair, just and compassionate act of implementing the following immediately; (1) that pensioners' pensions be indexed annually according to the cost of living, or (2) that pensioners receive the same increases to their pension as that provided in the collective agreements of the public service workers.

Now, Mr. Speaker, this petition has been signed by approximately 150 people within the district of Grand Falls - Buchans and I must say, the neighbouring community of Bishop's Falls. Many pensioners have expressed openly to me in the past few weeks, by way of telephone calls and also through written correspondence, the concern they have that their pension is not keeping pace with the cost of living today.

Mr. Speaker, I guess I would be the first to agree with that statement, that their concerns are legitimate and well-founded. Mr. Speaker, I would also have to ask, what is the remedy? As my colleague, the Minister of Education just recently stood in the House and said, we have a pension fund here in this government that is unfunded. In fact, it is bankrupt - bankrupt to the tune of $2 billion. As you go throughout the Province, you only have to listen to the Open Line shows, the newspapers. The two priorities in this Province and I am sure in most provinces of Canada is health care and education. Yet, our pensioners must be considered as well. The question is, Mr. Speaker, how do we address these priorities within the framework of our fiscal realities. I, as the Member for Grand Falls - Buchans, would have to say that I fully hope as our finances improve within this Government, that this Government will and should be able to provide for those among us who are unable to do so; and many of those are seniors and we are sympathetic to their cause.

I am certain as our financial situation improves that this will be a high priority with this government, and I am pleased to present this petition today.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. Opposition House Leader

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to make a few comments too, regarding the petition presented by the Member for Grand Falls - Buchans.

Back in this House last fall I raised the issue - to ask the Minister of Finance, ask this government and the Premier, actually, and the Minister of Finance rose in his place - that they should factor in whatever is going to the public sector. That should be factored in for people who are receiving pensions. I spoke with the Retired Pensioners' Association. In fact some of these people go to soup kitchens to be able to make ends meet. Some are getting as little as $200 and $300.

I spoke with one pensioner who is getting about $10.000 - I use this specific case here in this House - about $10,000, and they are clawing back 69 per cent of what he is getting under the Canada Pension. That person is left with practically nothing here because of claw-backs under minimal income.

There should be some mechanism in place, I am saying, for people with extremely low incomes, that their Canada Pension is not clawed back until it gets to a certain level. I spoke with the minister and asked questions on this particular thing, and I think it is very, very unfair to people who went out under a certain pension system. Nine years later, with the cost of living increases here, people are trying to survive without an index pension, on minimum amounts.

They spent twenty-five and thirty five years working in the Public Service, and should get the same opportunities to draw from the public purse - what goes into Public Sector Union increases should be relegated to people who have those non-index pensions, and I might add, are being subjected to an (inaudible) of pension plans where they clawing back benefits at such a low level. I think it is unfair, Mr. Speaker. I think the Government has to address it. I am hopeful that tomorrow, when we get all that good news, the Premier just back with a cheque from Paul Martin, of $1 to $2 billion I am sure, to help us out in our dilemma here for TAGS, that might ease the purse strings in other areas here in the Province. I am sure that something will develop, that we will get something positive there.

I can assure you it is not that the Public Sector Pension Plan is in such dire straits. In fact, the Minister stated, just several months ago, that the Public Sector Pension Plan has been put in good shape, it is going to reach a fully funded liability stage in the future, and we made those corrections. He said: The other pension plans, of course, are in the situation now where there are very high unfunded liabilities there and they not so healthy. I am sure they will also be addressed in due course.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. SULLIVAN: It being Private Members' Day, Mr. Speaker I will take my seat.

MR. SPEAKER: It being 3:00 p.m., we move to Orders of the Day. The Private Members' Resolution today I believe is the Hon. Member for St. John's East.

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

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased to rise today to address an issue which is of utmost importance, Mr. Speaker, to thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, in dealing with the issue of a retired pensioners, Public Service pensioners, in this Province.

We have all, as members in this House, I am sure, received numerous calls, letters and petitions expressing the concerns of these individuals who, as just expressed previously, are undergoing severe hardship at this particular time in their lives, as a result of the fact that the pension to which they are entitled has not been given the due attention that it now deserves, Mr. Speaker.

For the record, I would just like to read in the precise wording of today's resolution:

WHEREAS Public Service pensioners in this Province have not had an increase in benefits in nine years, almost ten, and their pensions are not indexed for automatic adjustments; and

WHEREAS the Government has been clawing back from pensioners, Canada Pension Plan benefits they receive; and

WHEREAS the income many pensioners are left with is so little that many find themselves far beneath the poverty line. Many are forced to rely on food banks and the generosity of the public to survive, and many cannot cover the special expenses such as regular medication costs that many seniors encounter; and

WHEREAS like so many seniors in our society, our Public Service pensioners are a mostly-hidden segment of our people who find themselves especially vulnerable to neglect and abuse by those who hold power and make the decisions; and

WHEREAS it is unseemly that the employer of people who made a lifetime's contribution to their Province as public servants should leave them impoverished in their vulnerable senior years;

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that in the opinion of Members of this House of Assembly the provincial government should provide adequate increases in benefits to Public Service pensioners which reflect the increases in wages for public servants; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that in the opinion of Members of the House of Assembly the government should cease the clawing back with respect to Canada Pension benefits from seniors whose income would then be below the poverty line.

Mr. Speaker, this is an issue of compassion; it is an issue of sensitivity for, I am told, some 11,000 of our citizens, people who have dedicated their lives to public service and who have been an integral part of government over the past twenty, thirty and in some cases even a greater number of years. These are people who devoted their service to the wheels of government and added to the successes of all governments regardless of political stripe.

Unfortunately, what is now happening, Mr. Speaker, is that, as a government, we are turning our backs on those very people who are now looking to government to help remedy the very dire straits in which they now find themselves.

Mr. Speaker, we have all received, and I have referred to some of the letters, and we are all aware of a campaign, a very successful campaign I might add, that was initiated by a group of Public Service pensioners. We have all received the letters, we have all read the very difficult stories, and I would just like to refer, very briefly, specifically, to some of the wording that have been used by our senior citizens, by our Public Service pensioners who now look to their government for redress and for correcting what is, right now, a very unfair and inequitable situation.

One letter in particular, one gentleman, says that we pensioners have been forgotten when all governments, federal, provincial and municipal, increase taxes on everything required for daily living. Because of the increases in the cost of living we have been forced to curtail or cancel all or most activities previously looked forward to, to provide reasonably contented declining years. Yet, when some relief seems to appear on the horizon, we are still left in the abyss of chasing the proverbial rainbow.

We, the toilers in the garden, who brought to fruition through our labours, that enjoyed today by the reapers, have been dismissed by those who benefitted by those labours. I think, very succinctly, this individual has described exactly what he is now experiencing. He has dedicated his efforts, his experience, his hours of work, only now to find that government is not there to assist him when that assistance is greatly required.

Another individual, a lady from my own District of St. John's East, had given thirty-one years, Mr. Speaker, of dedicated service to the provincial Public Service. She states, in part: However, having given my entire working life to my Province, the very least I expected in my retirement, was to be treated equally vis--vis other public servants.

I do not think retired pensioners, Public Service pensioners, are looking for anything above and beyond what the norm is with respect to other civil servants in our Province. They do not want anything that they feel they are not entitled to. What the Public Service pensioners require, as I have indicated earlier, Mr. Speaker, is simply fairness and, hopefully, attention by their government at this particular time.

Most of the letters and most of the references are similar. It is a plea for help and, as today's resolution indicates, it is simply asking this government, in the opinion of all members - that is why I think it is important that all members respond in the affirmative when looking at the wording of this particular resolution before them. It is asking all members to provide adequate increases, to give consideration to the provision of adequate increases, so that these individuals can live a normal existence from day to day.

In the past, attempts have been made, Mr. Speaker, by various representatives of Public Service pensioners in the Province, and approximately two-and-a-half years ago a representation was made to government indicating exactly what pensioners are experiencing.

Again I will refer, in part, to this brief which was presented to government during 1996. In part, it states that the association, and this is the Association of Public Service Pensioners, is frequently reminded by membership that financial difficulties are being experienced due to the inability to match the 1989 incomes, with the problems of the day.

The cost of living has escalated while the purchasing power of the dollar has deteriorated. Pensioners are experiencing reductions in benefits because of increased costs in most areas of the cost of living, without any opportunity to obtain additional incomes or pay increases. This is the dilemma that many of our pensioners find themselves in. The opportunity, Mr. Speaker, is simply not there. They are retired and are of an age and at a stage in their lives that it is not easy, and not possible in many cases, to simply go out and find a way to increase or augment their present financial status.

Pensioners are experiencing reductions in benefits because of increased costs in most areas of living without any opportunity of obtaining those additional incomes. Particular hardship is experienced by pensioners who are at the lower end of the pension income scale, many receiving less than $12,000 a year. I am told, Mr. Speaker, the average is $11,000.

I spoke to a lady last night from Clarenville, in the District of Trinity North, who indicated to me that her pension was $10,000, but after the claw-back provisions were put in place, as a result of here entitlement to Canada Pension benefits, she, in fact, was receiving less than $8,000. This is an individual who had dedicated her working years to the Public Service of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

So we really have to look very carefully at what our seniors and what our pensioners are saying, when they now come to the very people who now serve these pensioners, simply asking for help and attention at this particular time.

Pension incomes have remained static for the following reasons: Absence of any increase since 1989 - so we are talking close to ten years; no cost of living allowance where pensions are non-indexed; and no opportunities for increased income compared to promotions in the general Public Service.

Mr. Speaker, the pensioners have recognized a number of expectations when they presented their brief to government, and I am told that these expectations are as true today as they were a couple of years ago when this particular brief was presented.

The retired Public Service workers are viewed as a valued and integral part of the overall government service. While no longer actively participating, retired workers have contributed to the development of the Province through many years of dedicated service and committed support. Notice the word, Mr. Speaker, "committed". Indeed, their contributions continue since many retired Public Service employees are actively involved as community service volunteers. This is perhaps even truer today than it was when it was written a couple of years ago.

Their selfless giving enriches the availability of many community services and programs which if not available would undoubtedly create a demand for additional government funded social services.

So again, there must be recognition of the role these individuals play in each and every community in this Province. Their role has even a greater presence, because what we see happening as a sad reality is the fact that many of our younger citizens are leaving our Province, leaving our retired individuals, in many cases our pensioners, to be the very people within each community to ensure that that community continues to exist and hopefully thrive.

The second expectation, Mr. Speaker, is: that retired and elderly persons are contributing to the provincial economy in increasing numbers. In many smaller rural Newfoundland communities it is often the senior population which comprises the social and economic backbone of the populace. Again, as I have just mentioned, that is perhaps truer today than two years ago, four years ago, certainly ten years ago. We must rely on the strength, courage, and commitment of our senior citizens, our pensioned citizens, in many of our communities just so that our communities continue to be on the map. A sad reality, but unfortunately a fact.

The third expectation is: Newfoundland's retired and elderly persons are not, as some would believe, the Province's fat cats. On the contrary, Newfoundland statistics indicate that over 70 per cent of the population aged 65 years and over are in receipt of some portion of guaranteed income supplement from the federal government, and as noted above, most of the seniors' incomes are recycled back into the provincial economy.

So we are talking about people who do not have a lot. As my colleague, the Member for Ferryland indicated a few minutes ago, we are talking about people who have to resort to other means in order to exist on a day-to-day basis - support from families, support from their children, support in some cases, from food banks. The situation is distressful, I would say, and it requires the attention these individuals now seek. It requires the compassion of this government to listen to their needs at this time.

The fourth expectation is: the Public Service pensioners of this Province have, as former government employees, contributed a portion of their income to the pension fund. So they aren't looking for a freebie. There has been a contribution made, and they expect as a result of this contribution a fair and reasonable return. The fund has increased to a point where indexing could be introduced immediately without any detrimental affect on the fund's assets.

What it requires, what this resolution is all about, is essentially the willingness by this government to recognize that we have approximately 11,000 people in this Province, people who have given a strong commitment through their experience and through their best working years to the people of this Province, and they now at this particular stage in their life come asking this government simply to listen, to pay attention to the request that we have, and to hopefully create a means and a mechanism which can be put in place which will effectively respond to their requests.

There is no better time to do it than now. We are on the eve of Budget Day, we are on the eve of many collective agreements being ratified and hopefully signed. This is a most appropriate time for this government to recognize that our public service pensioners are in distress. They seek the assistance of this government, and it is hoped that in some small way this resolution this afternoon will be an eye-opener to the government of this Province to recognize that 11,000 of its citizens are saying at this time: Please help us, the time is right, please listen to us, we need your help, we need your attention, and come to our rescue at this time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. DICKS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I just want to respond to some points raised by the hon. member and, of course, some issues raised by his resolution.

Mr. Speaker, the resolution is accurate in some respects and not in others. First of all he says: Public service pensioners have not had an increase in the last nine years and their pensions are not indexed for automatic adjustments. Both of those are true.

Secondly, he says: The government has been clawing back from pensioners Canada Pension Plan benefits they receive. That is untrue, Mr. Speaker. The government does not claw back pension -

MR. SULLIVAN: Claw back government pensions.

MR. DICKS: No, we do not claw back Canada Pension Plan benefits. What happens is that when - and this is fundamental to an understanding of the issue - all pension benefits relate to the amount of money that people contribute. It is much like an RRSP. The benefits you receive -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. DICKS: No, I understand. I am not raising a technical issue because it is a government plan that is reduced. It is not the Canada Pension Plan that comes back. The point I am making, Mr. Speaker, is that there seems to be an expectation that merely because someone works for the provincial government that they should receive an automatic increase if civil servants' wages, of those employed, go up. Mr. Speaker, that is a proposition I do not agree with and I will tell you why over the course of the next several minutes.

A pension plan is set up so that people draw out, over the course of an actuarially determined life span, after they retire, benefits that are equal to the amount they put in the pension plan. Now, whether people know it or not, there are, at the present time, 13,695 pensioners in this Province. There are 105,000 members registered with the superintendent of pensions. In other words, Mr. Speaker, in this Province out of our population of 562,400 - if the census of last year can be believed - 105,000 people are registered in one form of pension plan or another. Less than 1 per cent have an indexed plan, less than 1 per cent.

It is apparent, and the hon. member knows, that none of the government pension plans are indexed. We have raised it with the unions because this has been a repeated issue. Every time we have raised it and said look, people expect us or want us to give indexing increases each year with an increase in the cost of living. Are you prepared to co-operate with us and come up with a plan whereby you will contribute and we will contribute something for this? And the answer has been no. So then, Mr. Speaker, people who are now on pension did not contribute any monies to their pension plan to provide for indexing. So one has to ask, if that has not been done should we do it? What expectations should they have to do it?

Well, first of all, Mr. Speaker, they did not contribute to it. It would be contrary to any principle, that I know of, relating to pension plans where you would pay that money.

The other aspect of it is that if we were to do it, Mr. Speaker, for the number of pensioners we have to get a 1 per cent increase government would, right now, have to put $20 million into the pension plan to pay for that 1 per cent increase in perpetuity. It is slightly over $2 million a year but actuarially you have to put the money in because it is not a one-time payment; $2 million this year, $2 million next year, $2 million the year after. Another percent would be $2 million, $2 million, $2 million plus a bit, of course, because it is also another percent of the first percent you put in. In large part, one of the greatest difficulties and one of the greatest contributors to the unfunded liability of the pension plans has been the fact that the previous governments - the previous conservative governments prior to 1989 - provided for indexing by making payments out of the pension plan. They did not put money in to pay for it.

So one of the reasons why our pension plan is underfunded is that people were paid ad hoc fortuitous increases that just were not provided for. They did not contribute, nor was money put in the pension plan to do it. So reasonably, if we were going to do it, we would have to take from the general tax revenues of the Province $20 million or in this case - and I think people are asking for 2 per cent - we would have to put $40 million into the pension plan now to provide for that increase for all retired pensioners.

Now, Mr. Speaker, we have to bear in mind that, first of all our major concern is that our pension plans are underfunded, teachers' pension plans substantially so, less than 17 per cent. The early retirement pension plan for teachers has less than one-half of 1 per cent. It requires immediately an injection of approximately $212 million. It has $900,000 in assets in that plan. It is now borrowing from the main teachers' pension plan to pay it out.

What the hon. members are saying, on top of that liability, we should increase the liability of that pension plan and pay it out to retired teachers, for example, or retired policemen or retired civil servants or retired hospital workers. Mr. Speaker, we cannot justify, number one, taking it from the public purse to put into the pension plan nor can we pay it out of the pension plan in some false expectation that the money can be found elsewhere, that the pension plan will improve over time, and that clearly has not been the case.

The other issue we have to consider, Mr. Speaker, is that, if we take it out of general tax revenues of the Province, from whom are we taking it? We are taxing the pensioners who are retired from Bowaters, the retired taxi-drivers of the Province, the retired people who provided for their own retirement with RRSPs, who do not have fixed pensions from employers such as government or industry, and are out there on fixed incomes. So, what the hon. member is suggesting is that we tax those pensioners who do not have indexed pensions, who have no means of increasing their pensions or their incomes and give the money to government pensioners. Why? Because they work for government. Mr. Speaker, there is no rationale for doing that. It is socially inequitable, it is a taxation in equity that I should take from one retiree through the taxation system, to provide indexing to another individual who, in many cases, did not pay for the cost of their pension and is drawing on a pension plan that is in serious jeopardy.

The other thing, Mr. Speaker, is that the pension plans in the Province, the only ones that we have in this Province that are underfunded, are the government pension plans. By virtue of our legislation, they must all be 100 per cent funded and the main reason, as I said, is a lack of contribution in some cases by people and secondly, gratuitous payments out of that fund.

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member also indicates that it is unseemly that people of the Province who made a lifetime contribution to the Province as public servants, we should leave them impoverished in their vulnerable senior years. Mr. Speaker, if anybody worked for government for a long period of time, a lifetime of work, most of them have reasonable pensions. Now, I think there is a situation that we have to look at and that is a situation where a person is on a small pension.

If a person is drawing a small pension that is usually because they have had a small number of years of service, but to look solely at the pension is only to see part of the picture and that is a combination, yes, but a lot of people who have a small pension also have other assets and means. Just because a person is receiving a small pension does not mean that they do not have any other income. And family members who are retired government employees, they have the government pension, they have some other assets and, Mr. Speaker, this affects us all. But on an equitable basis, I find no reason, I find no cause, I can find no persuasive rationale, I can find no equitable argument that we should give government pensioners an increase and leave everybody else out there who is retired on a fixed income with nothing.

Not only that, but to make it worse, we will take their tax dollars and give them to government pensioners merely because they work for government. I mean, if there is anything self-serving for any of us in this House, to consider or speak to, is to try to set up a system whereby we can all look forward to gratuitous ad hoc payments to which we ourselves did not contribute, and, Mr. Speaker, I just find that position intellectually and defensibly indefensible and not very persuasive.

AN HON. MEMBER: Preston Manning has gotten to him there.

MR. DICKS: No, Mr. Speaker, logic has gotten to me. I come from a background, I did not have a pension. Mr. Speaker, I worked, I provided for whatever means we had and most people do in this Province.

Most people, 99 per cent of pension plans do not have any indexing and I ask hon. members: How can you justify taxing those people to provide benefits to a very small group of people in this Province, namely, Public Service pensioners? Now, having said that, Mr. Speaker, if our employees were to come to us and suggest a formula for indexing, we would consider it. We feel that it is a good thing but we cannot afford it, the people who are retired did not contribute to it, the pension plans are underfunded and part of the major reason for it is this and we have to ask ourselves: Can we justify doing it, and we cannot. But having said that, we are open to the prospect; we are concerned about people on low incomes but frankly, it is the low income that concerns us; a small pension does not necessarily speak to a low income. We also have to remember that many civil servants retire with very substantial pensions. What this is suggesting is that we give to everybody, so someone - and we know people, the people who have sat in this House, who have very substantial pensions and very substantial incomes. And I will not name them, but as recently as the last session with people who retired and I suggest are very comfortably off.

Now, this resolution says I should give to them and we should give to them 2 per cent as well. And the hon. member does not mention a figure I think - he does, it reflects the increase; give them 2 per cent now, retroactive; 2 per cent next year and 2 per cent the year after and another per cent in February of the following year. I cannot justify it, Mr. Speaker. I cannot see that the hon. members opposite would suggest that. Even if they had suggested that at the lower level of pension income and taken into account all their income, a means test, one might consider it, there might be some merit to it, but we really cannot support this proposition. The further proposition that we cease clawing back Canada Pension Benefits from seniors whose income will then be below the poverty line, we do not claw back the Canada pensions, we do reduce the provincial pension. But let us remember something: When a person retires and the person decides to take Canada Pension Plan at either age 60 or 65, or some period in between as a person may elect, the person still gets an increase in income. It goes up, it does not come down. The total effect of those two is that the person receives an increase.

The second thing to remember is that the contribution rate of 5 per cent or so that pensioners pay in and that we match is the current cost of service. In other words, the pension plan contributions by the employee and government are calculated on the basis that the person will receive a pension that will be integrated with the Canada Pension Plan. We are quite open to the prospect. If hon. members want to suggest that we should not do that, then let us raise the contribution rates to support that. I do not think you can come in and say: Look, this person out here did not pay for that, but let us give him or her back the money anyway.

What I have to emphasize for members is that it is everybody's obligation in this society to provide for their retirement. You do it through a pension plan or through other savings options. If we want to enhance our pension plan, we as a government have no objection to that, but it has to done on a fully-funded - and in a manner that properly accounts for the actuarial cost of those pensions.

One of the greatest struggles we will have over the next several years is to find a way, for example, to fund the teachers' pension plan, a liability of $1.6 billion. That is going to be a monumental cost. Are hon. members going to suggest, in line with this type of reasoning, that in the year 2004 we should take from the Public Treasury of this Province $120 million? From whom? From the retirees of the Province, from the poor of the Province, from the low-income people? To pay $120 million into a teachers' pension plan?

Because if you are suggesting we should pay out benefits that have not been paid for, if we are going to give increases that have not been paid for, when people had their choice to come and arrange indexing with us, and choose and refuse to do so, frankly, well, what is another $120 million? Why do we not put that in for the teachers each year, and increasing thereafter to well approaching $250 million over the next fifteen years or so?

So, Mr. Speaker, one has to be prudent, one has to be reasonable, one has to realize out of life that you get and deserve the benefits you pay for. I just want to point out as well that civil servants who are still active took a roll back several years ago. I did not see anybody coming in suggesting, nor did hon. members opposite: Let us roll back pensioners the same way. Why was that? We did not seek it. Because when you retire, what you have with government is a contract. You say: Look, I have contributed this amount to the pension, I should receive these benefits. You then arrange your affairs and you are given an expectation of a cheque. That is the normal way it is.

Just let me say that having reviewed the hon. member's resolution here today, there is no persuasive, there is no real intellectual, there is no economic rationale to doing this. If one thinks in terms of tax equity, it is inequitable. It is inequitable to tax one pensioner on a fixed income, to give an increase to another pensioner because he is a retired civil servant. I am sure the hon. member, if he asked himself that question, would not justify it.

Secondly, we have to remember that we are taking money from underfunded pension plans, which in many cases individuals now receiving pensions did not contribute sufficiently to, and not only are we going to continue to pay them pensions which they did not contribute sufficiently to, but now you want to index them on top of it.

There is no economic rationale. We would have to pay the money out of Treasury there. There is no intellectual rationale, there is no policy rationale that would support this resolution in any manner whatsoever. I urge my colleagues in this House to have a sense of what is proper public policy for this Province, and to say to people who retired: Yes, we recognize you want more money, we all want more money, but it is not the right thing to do, and it simply is not. For that reason, I urge members to vote against the resolution, as I myself will be doing.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. FRENCH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would just like to say a few words today in support of my colleague's motion, and to say, of course, to the minister that nowhere in this particular resolution is 2 per cent mentioned. As a matter of fact, there is nowhere in this motion where there is any percentage mentioned.

To say that some of these people do not deserve a raise I believe is certainly morally, socially wrong, when we have people who we have watched, who have been interviewed, who find it very difficult to live on a pension they are now receiving from government. I think we have an obligation to some of these people to provide them with a decent pension, with a decent amount of money that they can live on, which some of them today are certainly not receiving. I have had letter and phone calls from people which clearly state the difficulties they are having at this particular point in time, in surviving on the pensions they are receiving. They do lose some of their pension because as the Canada Pension kicks in then we cut down on the provincial pension. They are losing. Some of them, Mr. Speaker, are certainly living below the poverty line.

One of your members on the other side today, presented a petition. I hope later on today, when the time comes to vote on that particular motion, that we will certainly be supportive of this particular resolution. I am sure we have residents throughout the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador who deserve decent food and decent living. I also believe, Mr. Speaker, that they are not getting that today because of the amount of pension which they are receiving.

I stand today, Mr. Speaker, in my place to support this particular private member's motion in support of my colleague, the Member for St. John's East.

I had a call a little while ago from a lady, who is eighty-five years old, whose rent was going to increase. Well, she did not call me but her son did. The rent was going to increase some 20%. The question was asked: Where does she get the money to pay the increase that she is going to have to pay in rent? Where will she get it from? I shudder to think, with some of the calls I have received from people who have retired from the provincial government, as to how they are going to live on the meager amount of money which they are going to receive.

I say to the minister, we should do something to help these pensioners in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador; that we come out in support and hopefully, tomorrow, on Budget Day, the minister and the government will see fit to increase pensions to these very, very needy and very deserving people in our Province.

So, again, there is nowhere in here, where we have asked for a particular amount of increase and I am sure the Minister is well aware of that. I would urge him on tomorrow when the Budget comes down, to do something for the pensioners in this Province who are so deserving of some type of an increase in their benefits.

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for your time and I certainly support the motion that was made by my colleague, the Member for St. John's East.

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

MS S. OSBORNE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased to stand and support this private member's motion but I am distressed that there is a need to do so. That need is precipitated by this government that has let our Public Service pensioners go for the past eight years without a raise. Many will respond and say, that no one in the Public Service has had a raise in that time and why should Public Service pensioners be treated differently. Well, two wrongs don't make a right. In fact, it is downright shameful.

The word `abuse' is a frequently used word in our society today. There is child abuse, spousal abuse, and seniors abuse; children, spouses and seniors. Isn't it amazing how we pick on the most vulnerable in our society? In this case the government has allowed the abuse of our seniors to be perpetrated, and they have every reason to hang their heads in shame. I would like to expand a little on how abused the retired pensioners really feel. Over the past month or so I have had numerous phone calls and letters from retired public servants, and the stories have not been pretty.

This is from a widow, and she is a recipient of her late husband's provincial pension. She has lived this past eight or ten years without an income while everything else in the economy climbs higher in price. She says: How much longer do you expect us to hold on as our years decline? We need an increase badly.

Then there is the case of a seventy-one old widow. She worked in the civil service for thirty years. Now the Minister of Finance, a little while ago, said that the longer the service the greater the pension. I pity somebody who has worked for a short period of time, because this lady's pension is about $1,000 a month. She receives her Canada Pension, but then her provincial pension is clawed back. The unjust part of that is, she has made CPP payments all her life and now she finds herself receiving little benefit because it is clawed back from her provincial pension. It certainly would make one stop and think why they should make CPP payments at all. After all, they receive little benefit from it. They pay into two plans and collect from one. Think about it: how would you feel if after thirty years of faithful service - and while you are working being told that the pension plan is there for you - to be now living, in your retirement years, below the poverty line?

I received another letter, and this one is from a person who is, I suppose, by some of our standards, a senior. He is fifty years of age, and he is a victim of the restructuring that was carried out by this government when it eviscerated the civil servants in an endeavour to balance its Budget, once again, on the backs of our residents. He is fifty years old, laid off and not really employable. This person says: I am not sure if you are aware of the fact that the average public service pension is a mere $11,000 per annum. That is the average. Many of the people live below that, and in many cases that is the only source of income for that household.

He said: Recent comments by Mr. Dicks related to the fact that consideration would not be given to the plight of pensioners until public service workers' salaries were dealt with first. Well, public service salaries are being dealt with and there is still no indication that there will be any consideration to increasing the public service pension in this Budget. If you listened to the Minister of Finance a few minutes ago you would know that we should not look forward to a raise in their pension.

This person who wrote, who was laid off by the provincial government, paid into three plans. He paid into his public service pension, he paid into his Canada Pension, and he paid EI premiums all of his life. When he was laid off, he went to the EI office: Sorry, Sir, you are not eligible for EI; you are going to be collecting a pension.

So why did he pay EI? Why did he pay Canada Pension when he is not going to be able to collect? Basically he paid into three plans and will only ever be eligible to collect from one of them. And his pension benefits have been frozen. Can anybody sitting here in this House of Assembly honestly say they would not feel violated if they found themselves in that situation?

I received a call from another gentleman and he said, "Mrs. Osborne, can you do something for us? I am a senior and I am receiving $161 less in my pension cheque than I did in 1990." So his pension cheque has gone down. Think about it: everything else has gone up and his pension cheque has gone down.

Now these same seniors who are on fixed pensions, many below the poverty line, have not enjoyed a reduction in payments. As a matter of fact, this very government that bought so quickly into HST has been responsible for these seniors paying more for heating fuel, more for electricity, and more for gasoline for their cars.

Our seniors are among our most vulnerable citizens, and they are being abused by the very institution they served so well in their employment years.

My colleagues here on the Opposition side of the House will rise and speak to this motion, and the Member for Grand Falls - Buchans presented a petition today, and I think it will fall on deaf ears.

In December past, my colleague for Ferryland raised this very issue in the House, and the skating act that was performed by the Premier and the hon. Minister of Finance and Treasury Board at that time would put Elvis Stojko and Kurt Browning to shame. They twisted and twirled around the issue but they did not answer the questions. The questions posed at that time were: Does the Premier consider this fair treatment for our seniors? And will he change the claw-back policy in the integration of pension plans so that people who are at or below the poverty line are not affected?

No, the questions were not answered then. Although again today we speak on behalf of our public service pensioners, from this parsimonious government I am not so sure what the reply will be.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Humber East.

MR. MERCER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would just like to take a very few minutes to speak on this particular private member's resolution.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. MERCER: To the hon. Member for Ferryland, we will just let that go for the moment.

The point that has been made, I guess, very simply, is that the pensioners from the public service are being inadequately recompensed for the years of service which they performed while in the employ of the government. In many respects, there is little that one could say but to agree to that. Many of the workers who have worked over the years are receiving a very small pension, pensions which I have seen in the order of $5,000, $6,000 a year, very small amounts. Do I feel the pensioners should be receiving a greater pension? Of course I do. No one can live on $5,000 or $6,000 a year.

That being said, and having recognized the problem that many of these pensioners are in fact living well below the poverty line, I think we need to just reflect a little bit upon the Public Service Pension Plan. As a member of the public service for twenty-five years, I know the provincial pension plan. I know how it works; I know the collective bargaining process.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. MERCER: We will come to that in a moment.

The very simple matter, point of fact, Mr. Speaker, is that public service pensions are determined very simply on the basis of the years that you spend in the employ of the government, up to a maximum of thirty-five years, resulting in a maximum pension of some 70 per cent or thereabouts. I believe the numbers have changed a little bit in the few years I have been out of the public service, thank God, and you could -

AN HON. MEMBER: Thank God you are out of the public service, or thank God (inaudible).

MR. MERCER: Thank God I am out of the public service.

Somewhere in the order of 70 per cent of your best five years of employment. So, in actual fact, the amount of money which a pensioner receives is related to the amount of earnings that individual enjoyed while engaged in the public service. If you happened to be occupying a position in the service that paid relatively few dollars, unfortunately at the end of the day your average was less than someone who was obviously into a higher paying position. So 70 per cent of that is obviously a lot less than what one otherwise might want to expect. So the fact that a person is receiving $5,000, $6,000, $7,000, $10,000 or $20,000, is strictly related to their earning capacity while they were in the employ of the public service. That is point number one.

Point number two is: the union that represented me was involved in the negotiating process for the various benefits that we received - whether they be pensions or sick leave, whatever they might be - and, to the best of my knowledge, none of the unions that ever represented me raised the issue of indexing of pensions.

It was a very topical issue back in the 70s when the federal government - when these cost-of-living allowances were negotiated and the employee was then expected to pay a certain amount to receive a pension that was indexed to the cost of living.

In the provincial public service, to the best of my knowledge, and I could be corrected on this, it has never been raised as an issue by the unions representing the workers with the employer, in this case Treasury Board. So there is nothing in the provincial pension plan now, or in the past, that would lead any employee who is now retired to expect an increase in their pension based upon the cost of living. I just want to make that clear.

A second point deals with the second `WHEREAS' of the petition: "WHEREAS the government has been clawing back from pensioners, Canada Pension Plan benefits they receive." Mr. Speaker, that, I am sure, is being said with a great deal of tongue in a great big cheek, because it is not correct in any way at all. The provincial pension plan was never stacked. As a matter of fact, we would always look at the teachers and say: My, they have it made. They get their provincial pension and upon retirement, and when they get their Canada Pension Plan -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. MERCER: - they also get the Canada Pension Plan. That is the point. It was never ever a stacked pension plan. As a matter of fact the only pension plans which are stacked, as I understand it, in the whole of Canada - there are only two, and both of them are in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. We, the Members of this House, are one group which enjoys a stacked pension. The other group that enjoys a stacked pension are the members of the teachers' union.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. MERCER: Do you like that? There is nothing in it for you, Jack.

So this whole notion of having stacked provisions of the pension plans is a misnomer. There is no provincial stacking outside of Newfoundland. There are two pension plans - and I could be corrected. You probably have better information than I have; but the fact is, I understand that there are two. So we are not clawing back anything from anyone.

When the people in the public service paid their pension premiums they knew - they have always known - that there will be a single pension and that pension will equal the amount that they would have been entitled to as a result of applying the formula of 2 per cent per year multiplied by the number of years of service, multiplied by the average of the best five years of employment. That is the way the provincial plan works.

The next question I should talk a little bit about: I really do understand why the pensioners expected, why they really expected, that if there were a pay raise for the public service then this would automatically accrue to them. The reason for that is: during previous administrations it was the common practice of the day that if the public service received a pay increase then the pensioners would also receive that. Unfortunately, this now becomes an increase in the unfunded liability of the pension plan, and that is the way this was paid for. Mr. Speaker, we have been paying for those mistakes for the last nine or ten years when the previous government, the government, led by the Hon. Clyde Wells, tried to bring some sense to the chaos that we had endured for the previous seventeen years of mismanagement and overspending. So that is where I can understand the pensioners would expect to have received an increase in their pensions equal to what it is now been given to the Public Service.

This being a much more prudent government and being much more fiscally responsible than that government of many years ago, take the position that the pension plan is as it is, people are receiving the pensions which they are entitled to and, as regrettable has it might be that these pensions are low - and I really do sympathize with a lot of these people. I have spoken with many of them. The amounts which they are receiving are a pittance. It is below the poverty line. We do have to find ways whereby the incomes of these individuals are augmented and brought up to appropriate standards. Whether or not that can be done through a resolution such as this, I am somewhat sceptical.

I notice as well, Mr. Speaker, that when the member was introducing his motion he used the phrase, be it resolved that the provincial government should consider indexing or providing an increase of the pensions. When I read the motion, of course, it does not say that at all. It says the provincial government should provide; there is no consideration there at all.

So, with great reluctance, Mr. Speaker, I find that while the motion is very well intended, I suspect if it is not politically motivated - if it is intended to mean to give these seniors and people who were previously employed in the Public Service a greater level of income, I can certainly support that notion. But the problem with it is - and the honourable gentlemen and ladies opposite know -

AN HON. MEMBER: Lady.

MR. MERCER: Well, in due course you may have more ladies opposite, just like we have on this side; we have four or five.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. MERCER: We have six to one, something like that.

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, I would just like to clue up my very brief remarks on this particular motion. I support the thrust of it. I do believe that we have to find ways and means whereby our seniors are going to be provided with a adequate standard of living. However, the motion as written at the moment, it would be clearly fiscally irresponsible to vote in favour of at this motion.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Thy hon. the Minister for Signal Hill - Quidi Vidi.

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would just to take a few minutes to offer my support for the motion now before the House, to ensure that the provincial government should provide adequate increases and benefits to Public Service pensioners reflecting the increase in wages to public servants, public sector workers.

Mr. Speaker, as the previous speaker mentioned, it had been the practise of the government, prior to this government or prior to this party been in power in 1989, of granting increases to the Public Service pensioners equivalent to wage increases. There were very good reasons for that, Mr. Speaker. Because what had happened in this Province, as in all of North America, was that there had been a very substantial period of inflation in which the Public Service pensioners who had a very modest pension, modest in amount, were receiving a pension whose value was substantially and significantly decreased by the erosion of inflation.

Mr. Speaker, we all talk about fiscal rectitude, or we hear the government members, the Minister of Finance and his followers in the backbenches, speak about financial rectitude as if it was something that they had discovered or invented. What about financial position of the people who are forced to live on very meagre incomes, Mr. Speaker? Members opposite, who are trying to balance their own books, trying to balance their household budget with their income as a result of inflation which they are not responsible for, and neither is the government, Mr. Speaker. But the government is in a position to ameliorate, at least to some extent, the decreases in the value of pensions by going along with what, by all accounts, will be a very minimal type of increase in terms of actual dollars, but will represent a recognition by this government that provincial government pensioners, who are in a very difficult situation, many of them, deserve an increase.

Mr. Speaker, I don't think most of the people are complaining about this are people with $50,000 or $60,000 pensions, or $30,000 or $40,000 pensions, as some people have walked away from government with in the last little while. We are talking about people whose pensions are very, very meagre indeed, in some cases less than $10,000 a year.

I'm not going to move an amendment to this motion, but perhaps in the implementation of the spirit of the motion, after it passes today, we would expect that perhaps the government might have a cut-off, that pensioners receiving in excess of, say, $20,000 or $25,000 would not qualify for this increase.

They have newly discovered social policy, Mr. Speaker, they have newly discovered the fact that people out there are hurting. They are going to try to whitewash the whole situation in their budget tomorrow and over the coming months, to try and make people believe that they, in fact, are concerned about the consequences of their policies on people suffering out there in the Province. They are going to try and massage that in the media over the next number of months, and it is going to be our responsibility, on this side of the House, to point out the inadequacies of the government's program. We will continue to do that as assiduously as we have done in the past.

Mr. Speaker, if they really want to show they have concerns about how people are forced to live in this Province, people who have retired after many years of public service, who are forced to live on very meagre incomes, if they really want to show their compassion and understanding for the consequences of governmental action on people, they will support this resolution here today, and in fact, implement the resolution by providing the same increase to those who are on a pension as they will be providing to those who are negotiating collective agreements.

They have, as the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board quite rightly pointed out, no legal, contractual obligation to this. Above and beyond the legal obligations of government, there is a social contract, Mr. Speaker, there is a moral obligation arising from the position of power which those on the other side of the House have taken upon themselves. They in return have an obligation to govern, but they also have an obligation to be compassionate and to ensure that people, who are subject to their policies, aren't harmed by them.

By refusing to carry on the practice of the previous two administrations -

MR. J. BYRNE: How far back to you want to go?

MR. HARRIS: Back before 1989, before this crowd took over, the practice was to grant an increase, along with that of the public sector workers; a very ameliorative measure, Mr. Speaker. This government should continue it, and I commend this resolution to all hon. members, including the Member for Ferryland.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I know, Mr. Speaker, that we will vote on this particular private member's resolution soon.

Just a couple of points again, Mr. Speaker, to reiterate and reinforce a couple of comments made by my colleague, the Minister of Finance, with respect to this resolution. I understood, Mr. Speaker, as well, during the Minister of Finance's comments, with respect to this private member's resolution that the hon. the Member for Ferryland, former Leader of the Opposition - probably should still be the Leader of the Opposition because he asked better questions, more insightful, more thoughtful, obviously better researched and so on. I do not know why he gave up the job but I guess there must be some things over there I do not understand.

Mr. Speaker, he did mention across the House the fact that if the government were not going to agree with this kind of a motion, which is to index the pensions, then maybe we should look at other measures, such as giving low-income seniors other breaks from the general revenues of the Province, things like maybe giving an HST break on fuel, electricity and so on, if we are not going to agree to increase the pensions.

Mr. Speaker, I think that is the whole point that the government would make, that if we have low-income seniors, whether they are Public Service pensioners or whether they are other seniors, then the government has an obligation and should be committed to making sure that they are not disadvantaged with respect to their equals in society.

I think, Mr. Speaker, the direction here today, though, is very specific. It says: Take care of a select few who happen to be public service pensioners by creating a further burden on pension plans that are already severely stressed. What the Minister of Fiance was saying - what I would like to reiterate using some of my own words, Mr. Speaker - is that it is the approach that we disagree with.

I think tomorrow in the Budget we would welcome everyone to challenge us as to whether or not we treated the seniors, generally, of the Province, fairly. The same as we would hope you would challenge us to see whether we have treated the children of the Province fairly, whether we have treated the youth of the Province fairly, whether we treated the people of the Province fairly, in a general sense. But this specific resolution, Mr. Speaker, and the reason the Minister of Finance was urging colleagues on this side of the House to vote against it is misdirected because it is targeted to a small group and, Mr. Speaker, there is no justification for it.

Let me mention one other thing by way of information, Mr. Speaker, with respect to a further clarification on past practice. The previous Administration, when they were granting ad hoc gratuitous increases to Public Service pensioners, were doing two things: first and foremost, they were acting against the recommendation of an actuarial study that they had done, that advised and recommended to the government that they discontinue the practice because it was causing increased unfunded liabilities within the plans; that if they had concerns for low-income seniors, Mr. Speaker, the recommendation is that the government try to find some way to address it through the general revenues of the Province.

Mr. Speaker, the other issue is this, because again, a little bit of history, I used to negotiate the increases for retired teachers. It was not tied exactly to the increases in the Public Service wage package at all but there was a practice that went on for ten or fifteen years, with the previous Administration, whereby the severely low-income people who could identify that their pension was their only income, that they had very low pension incomes because they had worked thirty and forty years ago - they are now eighty-five and ninety years old and their pension was very small and very fixed - they would not get the increase given to the Public Service. They would get an increase much bigger than that, so that when the Public Service was getting an increase, Mr. Speaker, of 3 per cent or 4 per cent, the most disadvantaged seniors would get an increase of 10 per cent or 11 per cent. The next group would get 8 per cent or 9 per cent. The next group would get 6 per cent or 7 per cent and, Mr. Speaker, the most recent pensioners would be the ones that might get the 3 per cent or 4 per cent increase.

So again, even what is being proposed today is not at all consistent, which is what was done in past practice. It is contrary to a recommendation made to the previous Administration and acted upon in 1989, that the pension plan should only pay for what it is set up to provide, which is a purchased defined benefit that is described and paid for while you were working.

So, Mr. Speaker, those types of things have been dealt with in the past. I guess what we are suggesting is that, as a government, if there are issues with respect to low-income seniors - because the other thing, to point out again just a fact for the record, Mr. Speaker, is this debate, because we know that members opposite have a habit sometimes of taking certain excerpts from Hansard and sending them out to people; even in the past, taking out ads in the newspaper and quoting certain excerpts from certain speeches to say this is what the Government believes, because they are prone to taking certain things out of context.

The proposition in the private member's motion talks about an increase for all Public Service pensioners. Just look at the teachers alone, Mr. Speaker, 4,000 of the 13,000 currently on the rolls are teachers receiving a pension. Two thousand of those have retired in the last seven years, since they have gotten `thirty-and-out'. They are not impoverished. They are retired at a point in time when the average salary for teachers approached $45,000. There might even be members in this House who would know this issue better than I do - a $45,000 average salary, pensions averaging $30,000, the motion here, if passed, the private member's resolution, would say that these should get an increase. It did not even go to the normal practice of saying the hardship cases should be taken care off. This just says a blanket statement that everybody on a pension - there are members of this Legislature - when I think of the current MP for Burin - St. George's, who complained some time ago during a federal election, that it should not be public that his pension was somewhere around $80,000 or $90,000. I do not remember what the number was. But I think, Mr. Speaker, that this resolution would say that that member, who now has been selected by the people of the Province to be their federal member, should get an increase in his pension of 7% over the next three years or so. So, in this instance, there is no basis for passing this particular resolution and if members, like the former Leader of the Opposition, would like to get up and talk about specific target initiatives that we should do for low-income seniors, then, that is another resolution that we would gladly debate in this Legislature.

This one, the government contends, is the wrong resolution. And the politics of it, even in the language again, of putting in language that I understand people use for a particular reason, like the second whereas which talks about the government clawing back from pensioners.

Now, the language, Mr. Speaker, is designed to have a certain effect, that this dirty, mean, foul, awful, vicious government takes an action to go out, reach into people's pockets and grab their money on them.

Mr. Speaker, the members opposite know that a feature of the Public Service pension plan, since its inception, is that it has not been stacked, that you do not get your full provincial pension when you get your Canada Pension. Every pensioner knew that when they were accruing pensionable time, the members opposite know that, but the language is designed to connotate and suggest that this is a mean, vicious act of this government for the first time ever.

AN HON. MEMBER: It is!

MR. GRIMES: It has been part of a plan since its inception and all of the actual evaluations make this assumption as part of the calculations as to what the premium should be when the people are working.

Mr. Speaker, just let me close my few comments by saying this: If there are hardships for senior or others in society, regardless of whether they are Public Service pensioners or not, bring them to the attention to the government and we will certainly deal with that kind of resolution. Stay tuned tomorrow and challenge the government and its Budget as to whether or not we have been fair to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Secondly, Mr. Speaker, the mover of the resolution, in talking of certain points, said that their seniors are now an increasing percentage of the population of our communities, suggesting that is a reason to give an increase to the Public Service pensioners. I agree with his comment.

In the communities that I represent, thirteen communities - the mover of the resolution, the private member's motion - thirteen communities, ten if not eleven of them can accurately now be described probably as close to retirement communities. Because the young people who graduate from high school go on to further their education, they do not go back. There are not great job opportunities. Younger families have left; the seniors are there. Mr. Speaker, the reality is this: In those eleven communities, while the seniors are an increasing portion of the population, you would be hard-pressed in the District of Exploits to find a single retired public servant in that part of the Province, because there were never public service agencies in that part of the Province. They are not public service pensioners. So while it is a nice speech to make, it doesn't give credibility to the motion, and I will certainly be one who will be voting against it when the question is called.

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

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I will take this opportunity just to conclude the debate on this resolution.

What is unfortunate is that while members opposite say in one breath that they agree with the thrust or the spirit and the concerns of our pensioners, in the same breath they are saying they will not support the concerns of pensioners. They never even had the courage to even consider an amendment to this resolution. An amendment to this resolution would have addressed the very concerns that have been raised by the members opposite, but oh, no, no suggestion of an amendment, and therefore no suggestion, unfortunately, by members opposite to consider the very genuine concerns of our senior citizens and our retired pensioners from the public service.

In addition to that, the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board indicated in his presentation that there was no intellectual rationale or no economic rationale. I say to the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board, if the will and the genuine concern were there to assist these people, there would be creative ways found. We hear announcements day after day, we hear our mega-projects day after day; we are a society of hope. What hope do the 11,000 pensioners, many of whom are below the poverty line, have today, March 25, 1998?

When you listen to members opposite, unfortunately there is no hope. That is the sad reality. I again say, in response to many of the comments made by members opposite, there was no courage, there was no willingness to listen to the pensioners of this Province, and the proof will be in the pudding very soon when they will rise to their feet and they will vote to turn this resolution down. If there was a willingness there, it would have been shown loudly and clearly, but no, there was no courage, they refused to listen, and that is a sad reflection as to how this government responds to the senior citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The House is now ready for the resolution.

All those in favour of the motion, `aye.'

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye!

MR. SPEAKER: Against.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Nay!

MR. SPEAKER: I declare the resolution defeated.

AN HON. MEMBER: Ring the bells.

MR. SPEAKER: Call in the members.

 

Division

 

MR. SPEAKER: Are we ready for the vote?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: All those in favour of the resolution, please rise.

CLERK: Mr. Fitzgerald, Mr. T. Osborne, Mr. Ottenheimer, Mr. French, Ms S. Osborne, Mr. J. Byrne, Mr. Hodder, Mr. Shelley, Mr. Sullivan, Mr. Harris.

MR. SPEAKER: All those against the resolution, please rise.

CLERK: The hon. the Minister of Development and Rural Renewal; the hon. the Minister of Justice and Attorney General; the hon. the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs; Mr. Flight; Mr. Walsh; the hon. the Minister of Finance and Treasury Board; the hon. the Minister of Education; Mr. Lush; Mr. Oldford; Mr. Barrett; the hon. the Minister of Human Resources and Employment; the hon. the Minister of Environment and Labour; the hon. the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation; the hon. the Minister of Government Services and Lands; Mr. Wiseman; Mr. Andersen; Mr. Canning; Mr. Smith; Mr. Ramsay; Mr. Whelan; Mr. Woodford; Mr. Mercer; Mr. Reid; Ms Thistle; Mr. Sparrow.

Mr. Speaker, ten `yeas' and twenty-five `nays'.

MR. SPEAKER: I declare the resolution defeated.

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House adjourn until tomorrow at 2:00 p.m., at which time we will hear the -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. TULK: I don't have to do it, do I? No, Mr. Speaker, the motion to adjourn is in order anyway; you called that.

I just want to inform hon. members, before we leave today, tomorrow will be Budget Day. The Minister of Finance will once again have another historic day -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. TULK: - and show the great, social conscience of the Liberal Party!

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