May 6, 1999               HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS                Vol. XLIV  No. 19


The House met at 2:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Snow): Order, please!

Before we begin our routine proceedings, the Chair would like to welcome to the gallery today twenty-five students from the Grade IX social studies class at St. James Junior High School, in the district of Burgeo-LaPoile, accompanied by their teacher, Mr. Ed Bailey; chaperons, Aaron Hewitt and Jerome Battiste, and bus driver, Mr. Allan Porter.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: As well, I would like to welcome to the gallery twenty-four students from Grades VIII, IX and Levels I, II and III classes at William Gillett Academy in Charlottetown, Labrador, in the District of Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair, accompanied by teachers, Max Sheppard and George Jefferies; along with chaperons, Ray Turnbull and Lisa Frechette.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

Statements by Ministers

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. EFFORD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, it is not hard to smile today. It is very easy, on behalf of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Seriously, Mr. Speaker, as Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture for the past three-and-a-half years, it has been my responsibility to work with industry to put measures in place to ensure the groundfish stocks that have been seriously depleted are rebuilt to a sustainable level.

As we all know, the Grand Banks used to be the richest fishing grounds in the world. However, Mr. Speaker, because of human greed, including the overfishing by Canadian and foreign trawlers, this valuable world resource has been depleted almost to the point of extinction. At the same time, rural Newfoundland and Labrador is also suffering the same fate.

Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have been saying for years, Mr. Speaker, that one of the main reasons for the slow recovery of our cod stocks is our burgeoning harp seal population. Today, Mr. Speaker, the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council released its 1999 report, which states it is "convinced beyond any reasonable doubt" that the conservation of groundfish stocks will continue to be jeopardized if something isn't done about the overpopulated seal herds. One of the council's principle recommendations to the federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is that he must take immediate action to reduce the seal herds by up to 50 per cent of their current population levels. The FRCC, which is the federal Fisheries Minister's own scientific advisory board, states that without a doubt seals are a key factor in reducing the recruitment of cod to the fishery.

From day one we, in Newfoundland and Labrador, have taken a lot of criticism from stating our view that the seal population, at its current level of about 6 million animals, is significantly impeding the recovery of our groundfish stocks. We knew it would be a difficult battle, but the battle was not only about seals and groundfish, it was also about people - our people, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. It was about our survival.

I have been concerned for the past three years about the principles of resource conservation, and this report released by the FRCC has given us hope. This is indeed another major step forward for us upon this issue.

As my hon. colleagues know, the House of Assembly's All-Party Committee on Sealing travelled to Ottawa to make a major presentation to the federal government's Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Our message is getting through, and I only hope that our message and the message delivered today by the FRCC gets through to the federal Minister of Fisheries. He must act immediately to implement the recommendations announced today by his own advisory group.

I want to emphasize that I look forward to working with the federal government on immediate implementation of these recommendations to control the exploding seal herds, and thus rebuild our groundfish stocks. This action must be taken now if our groundfish stocks are to come back, and if rural Newfoundland and Labrador is to survive.

The FRCC report also recommended an increase in the 3Ps cod stock from 20,000 tonnes to 30,000 tones. This is indeed good news for the South Coast fishery.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. EFFORD: However, it is important to point out that the South Coast is one of only a few areas around the Province where there are positive signs of recovery of our cod stocks, and the South Coast is also an area where there are lower numbers of seals.

There is a message in this and it is the same message that I, as Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, members of the All-Party Committee on Sealing, and my fellow Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have been giving for years. It is a message that seals are jeopardizing the recovery of our cod stocks and will continue to do so if action is not taken now for a major reduction in the seal herd. If immediate action is not taken, the 3Ps cod stocks will also be threatened because there are reports that the number of seals in this area is starting to grow.

In closing, the recommendations put forward by the FRCC are a major victory for rural Newfoundland and Labrador. We have worked hard to get something done about this critical issue and today, as Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, I am proud to reiterate that we have won the battle - but the war is not over yet. We will continue to fight for the survival of rural Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has no choice but to act immediately upon the council's recommendations.

Mr. Speaker, before I sit down I want to make recognition of one individual who is in the gallery, an employee of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Mr. Frank Pinhorn, who has been on this file for -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. EFFORD: The former Minister of Fisheries, Mr. Rideout, knows full well that this file did not start just recently. It has been ongoing a long time. Mr. Pinhorn has been on this file for the past twelve years and I just want to make recognition of his valuable contribution, as well as the all-Party committee which travelled to Ottawa.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I say to the minister: What a difference a year makes. It was only this time last year that I was driving home in the afternoon and I heard the minister on the radio talking about how he was going to make every effort to disband the FRCC, to fire Mr. Fred Woodman. He was a traitor, he should be set adrift, he wasn't speaking for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Now, when we finally hear something that the minister wants to hear, it is a wonderful announcement.

I say to the minister, the first step in solving the problems that we are facing today is the attitude of the minister.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. FITZGERALD: I say to the minister: This is good news, to have the scientific arm of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans making a report and finally seeing and finally reporting back to Ottawa, back to the federal minister, the damage that is being done by the harp seal herd. It is about time that people realize this is about more than seals: This is about people, this is about families, this is about communities, this is about the survival of rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. FITZGERALD: I say to the minister that we should make every effort possible to make sure that the federal minister listens to this arm of his department, make sure that the federal minister reacts and reacts now. We do not have the time to wait. We do not have the time to get a count in the year 2000 and have it practised in the year 2001. We need it now. The time is urgent, it is now, and I would implore upon the minister to visit with his federal counterpart and to impress upon him once again the need to have this acted upon as immediately as possible.

Mr. Speaker, thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When the minister first got up, the applause from his colleagues led me believe he was starting his leadership campaign.

Seriously though, it is a serious statement, and is one that we all, as an all party committee, went to Ottawa for, to support the effort to insist that the federal government have a proper management plan in place for the seal herd based on scientific evidence.

Now the FRCC has come out with this recommendation based on scientific reports. In fact, I heard this morning Mr. Rick Smith of the IFAW agree that the seal herd has reached its natural capacity. This is the same organization that was fighting for a reduction in the quotas because the herd was in danger. He said they had reached their natural capacity and ought to be allowed to naturally collapse as a population. That is what he said this morning.

Mr. Speaker, we know that if the return of the cod stock is threatened, that that is not sufficient and not good enough, and there must be action taken by the federal government. I want to caution the minister to take the same -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. HARRIS: By leave, Mr. Speaker?

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

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. HARRIS: To have the same restraint about this issue as he exercised in Ottawa. I think it is an important national issue, and that we cannot risk losing the support of the people of Canada and the Government of Canada on this issue by creating a backlash.

I think it is important. I think there has to be a quick follow-through by the Government of Canada, by the Minister of Fisheries. I hope we can continue to support the efforts of the minister in getting that done.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. K. AYLWARD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am not as popular as Minister Efford. That is all you can do.

I would like to take this opportunity to inform the House of Assembly of the contributions of the Conservation Corps in the Province. The Conservation Corps Newfoundland and Labrador was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1992. It has an excellent and deserved reputation in the Province for innovative and progressive youth training and employment initiatives. It provides young people with meaningful work, and training opportunities in environmental and cultural heritage conservation and habitat enhancement. This organization envisions our young people leading a change in environmental, economic and cultural development in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I would like to acknowledge the support of this organization by our colleague the hon. Julie Bettney. The Conservation Corps is supported through the Department of Human Resources and Employment with a funding of $450,000 for the coming year. This contribution will see 130 young people employed this year around the Province doing a number of initiatives including wildlife habitat enhancement and opportunities related to the environment.

Since its inception, the Corps has fielded 171 Green Teams - more than 750 individuals between sixteen and twenty-seven years old - and carried out 201 projects in 182 communities throughout the Province. Roughly equal numbers of female and male students have participated.

Last year's program saw a dramatic increase of 55 per cent in Green Team project applications. Green Team projects emphasize community, youth, and environmental or cultural enhancement. These projects are as diverse as fish and wildlife habitat enhancement, trail development and interpretation, stream rehabilitation and erosion control, cultural conservation such as archaeological digs, and environmental education.

The Corps' Environmental Leadership Program provides students aged twenty-one to twenty-four with leadership and environmental training in the developing world, which they apply on local projects. Six participants are selected in the Province each year to travel to Costa Rica for seven weeks. This year they will be doing that again, and returning to the Province in the end of May to start the program here in the Province.

We congratulate, on behalf of the Province, the Conservation Corps Newfoundland and Labrador, for their commitment and dedication to environmental awareness and preservation of our habitat, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Windsor-Springdale.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUNTER: Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for forwarding to me a copy of his ministerial statement.

The provincial government made a commitment to the Conservation Corps in action item 21 of the Strategic Economic Plan which was released June 18, 1992. That action item committed the Province to establish Newfoundland and Labrador Conservation Corps which will channel funds into socially useful activities that will both contribute to environmental enhancement and provide valuable work experience and training for all members.

The vision of the Conservation Corps is that young people will lead change in environmental, economic and cultural development and ethics in Newfoundland and Labrador. The goals of the Conservation Corps in Newfoundland and Labrador are to work with communities and partners to enhance and restore sustainable development of our natural and cultural resources, and to help the young people develop leadership, teamwork and employment skills, to develop and promote strong conservation ethics in Newfoundland and Labrador. What better way to educate our youth as to what is important to our Province. I think this could be even bigger in the years to come.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. HEDDERSON: I totally agree with the minister's statement and congratulate the Conservation Corps of Newfoundland and Labrador, and I hope everyone realizes the commitment and dedication to environmental awareness and preservation.

I also support this organization and I know the employment is greatly appreciated by our youth in Newfoundland and Labrador today.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We support the Conservation Corp and we are pleased that government continues to provide significant financial support to this organization. The work that they do is important. The opportunity for young people to participate directly in projects of environmental concern is important and a good life experience, and the Environmental Leadership Program offers an opportunity for young people to get experience hands-on in dealing with some of the complex problems of our society. It is a very positive opportunity and a very positive experience for everyone involved.

MR. SPEAKER: Before the Chair calls Oral Questions, I want to draw all hon. members' attention to our own Standing Orders in Beauchesne as it relates to oral questions.

I have noticed that in the last couple of days there have been some rather lengthy questions and lengthy preambles, and answers have been likewise.

Honourable members know that answers to questions should be brief, that preambles should be short, and that answers should be likewise. I want to remind hon. members of our own Standing Orders dealing with supplementary questions and oral questions.

In the discretion of the Speaker, a reasonable number of supplementary questions arising out of a minister's reply to an oral question may be asked by any member. In putting any oral question, no argument or opinion is to be offered nor any facts stated except so far as may be necessary to explain the same; and, in answering any such question, the minister is not to debate the matter to which it refers.

Oral questions must not be prefaced by the reading of letters, telegrams, newspaper extracts, or preambles of any kind. A minister may, in his or her discretion, decline to answer any question; or, if, in the opinion of the minister to whom the question is addressed, it requires a lengthy answer, he or she may require it to be placed on the Order Paper. The Speaker's rulings relating to oral questions are not debatable or subject to appeal.

I refer members to Beauchesne, page 120, 409.(2), which states, "The question must be brief. A preamble need not exceed one carefully drawn sentence. A long preamble on a long question takes an unfair share of time and provokes the same sort of reply. A supplementary question should need no preamble."

So I ask hon. members to keep their questions brief; and the ministers, in their replies, to keep them brief as well.

Oral Questions

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

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. E. BYRNE: Yesterday, in Question Period, the Minister of Health clearly left the impression that the Member for Ferryland, in asking a question related to the health care system in the Province, was trying only to convince people of the Province that there was a crisis and that basic care was going to be affected. Today, all members of the House received from the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association a statement on their assessment of the health care in this Province.

My question is for the acting Premier. In that correspondence, to paraphrase: Today the system may be able to handle the most urgent and emergent cases; however, basic care is suffering - from the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association.

The question to the acting Premier today is: In the face of this statement from the medical profession and from medical professionals, how is government going to move quickly and expeditiously to restore the system and to put faith back into the system on behalf of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I did see on my desk, just before I left the office, a letter from the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association. I have not read it but I will take an opportunity to do that.

As for members on this side of the House, and for us as government, we respect the views of all of the stakeholders out in the health care system. Certainly, we respect the views, solicit the views, and take note of the views that are expressed by agencies, stakeholders, and organizations such as the doctors, nurses and others in the Province.

I am sure the minister, when she gets back from her travels, will take time to review what has been put forward by the NLMA and, to the extent that it is appropriate, she will address any concerns that they have raised.

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

MR. E. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, that would be a change: for the minister to address any concerns that have been raised, particularly by the Member for Ferryland.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. E. BYRNE: It is clear, and it also goes on to say that in a difficult negotiating environment the NLMA and government recently completed an intense process resulting in a Memorandum of Understanding. It is clear - we have raised questions in this House - that the MOU is not being effective.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. E. BYRNE: The question is this - I would like to ask the Speaker one question. Is it you, Sir, who is in charge of the Chair, or is it the Government House Leader? Which is it? I would like to know.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. E. BYRNE: Because too often in this House this member, as Government House Leader, tries to take this House on his back. Not today, not tomorrow, not next week, not any time, I say to the Government House Leader!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. E. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, in light of this clear statement that the Minister of Health has stood on, that the Memorandum of Understanding is working, it is not. In light of this clear statement - the problem with retention and recruitment - I will ask the acting Premier: Will you reopen discussions on the Memorandum of Understanding to correct the problem that is seeing our physicians leave and making life difficult not only for people, but seeing the health care system collapse around our ears?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am sure that when the Minister of Health returns from her urgent business that has taken her out of town today, she will reflect on the representation that has been made by the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association and she will provide to them - and I guess more importantly to the people of the Province - an appropriate response, as she has been doing on an ongoing basis, on all issues of major concern in the health care system.

The fact that there still continues to exist areas where we need to do some things in the health care system, that, I suppose, will never change. There will always be a need for improvement, for additional resources to the degree we can put them in. There will always be a need for paying strict attention to our health care system because, after all, our health is our wealth and we want to ensure that we all have it available to us at what time we need it.

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

MR. E. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, I am not surprised the minister is on urgent business, because the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association says: Lately it seems that putting out fires has become the norm for managing health care, that many of the meetings that they have established with the Department of Health have been cancelled because of emergency situations that have occurred.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. E. BYRNE: I would like to ask the acting Premier, and minister in this case: These are the Province's physicians. Their concerns are echoed by the Province's nurses. Are these not the experts, Minister? Are these not the professionals that we rely upon to deliver sound, publicly administered health care to every person in the Province? Are you telling them they do not know, they do not understand what they are talking about when they say, when it comes to basic care, that the system itself is in crisis? When are you going to stop pretending that there is no emerging crisis in health care and do what needs to be done on behalf of the people in this Province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I do not know from what vantage point the hon. Leader of the Opposition is propositioning the possibility that anyone is suggesting that doctors do not know what they are talking about. That has not been said by me in the couple of questions that I am taking. It has never been said, to my knowledge, by the Minister of Health. It has never been said by us as government.

We believe that in their -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. MATTHEWS: We believe that in their -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs.

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We believe that in their area of expertise the doctors have a lot to say with respect to the health care system. They have always been heard as a significant contributor to the dialogue with respect to issues in health care, and they will continue to be a significant partner in terms of discussing and working through issues that affect our health care system so that we can arrive at the most positive circumstance in the delivery of health care in the Province that is ultimately possible.

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

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

In the Clarenville area the administrators of the board said it was all rumours. The proposition from which my question comes from comes from statements made by your own colleague I say, Minister.

The letter goes on to say: We trust that we can urgently work together to address problems facing the Province, if only government will come to table. Minister, the question is this. When will this government and the Minister of Health and the Cabinet stop relying on spin doctors and start listening to medical doctors when it comes to what we have to do with the health care system in this Province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. E. BYRNE: When will you begin, based upon the information coming from the professional association, to sit down, reopen the Memorandum of Understanding, and focus our attention on retention of the physicians we have in this Province, as well as recruitment of others, that eventually will offer a better health care system to each and every person in Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We have great respect for the doctors of this Province. We have much less respect and time for spin doctors and witch doctors and all of these sorts of concepts. I can tell you that, as a government, it is not a question of when will be come to the table. We are always at the table. We have always been at the table and we will continue to be at the table and listen to and talk with and dialogue with and take advice from and work through issues with the doctors, with the nurses, with the other people in the medical fields, and in the health care system generally.

We will undertake today, as we have undertaken in the past and as we have indeed delivered on in the past, to do the maximum we can in terms of resource investment and in terms of making significant changes to the health care system so that we have positive net benefits for all of the people of the Province who need health care from time to time.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

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

Ask Dr. Chris Randell in Bonavista if this government has been at the table for last ten years! Ask Dr. Wayne Kean in Clarenville: Has this government been at the table for the last ten years? Those are two of many physicians that are leaving the Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. E. BYRNE: The Medical Association president -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. E. BYRNE: The Medical Association president in his letter, dated to physicians indicates the MOU does not address the serious problems identified by them and government has not addressed them. It does not address the decreasing supply of nurses.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. E. BYRNE: It does not create an environment conducive to recruitment and retaining of physicians.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. E. BYRNE: The question is this: Is the minister hearing what the Medical Association is saying? Is the minister doing anything to act upon what the Medical Association has already provided to the department? Is there finally any glimmer of recognition in this government's eyes that the loss of nurses, the loss of physicians and the unaddressed concerns of doctors, is directly linked to the retention and recruitment problem they say they are trying to fix?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This government has invested probably more in percentage increases in the health care system year over year during the past two-and-a-half years than probably any other province or any other government in this Province in history. I say to the hon. member that the people of this Province are grateful to themselves, because on February 9 they elected a government which was prepared to reinvest in health care, not a party which was running on a platform of taking $800 million out of the provincial budget and reducing the ability of government to response to the health care needs of the Province.

We said we would deliver extraordinary increases in resources to the health care system. We have delivered that level of resource, and we will continue to work on the issues as they emerge and address them as best we can.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Harbour Main-Whitbourne.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. HEDDERSON: Mr. Speaker, my questions today are for the Minister of Education. Minister -

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

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. TULK: The Speaker made a ruling a few minutes ago about questions. I wonder if the hon. gentleman would like to stand and ask me if I am still a real speaker of this House. The Speaker sits up there, not here.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

There is no point of order.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

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

I am going to ask the hon. members that if they want to continue their conversation they do it outside the Chamber.

The hon. the Member for Harbour Main-Whitbourne.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HEDDERSON: Mr. Speaker, again, my questions today are for the Minister of Education.

Minister, prior to the announcements of the teacher allocations for this year, and since, you have been made aware of the negative impact these cuts will have on programming for the upcoming school year, September 1999. At Whitbourne High last evening I attended a meeting, organized by two parents and attended by a large number of the school councils from Avalon West School Board, which saw at least twenty-seven speakers stand. Each of those speakers sent a very strong message to you, the message being that when it comes to programming, enough cuts are enough cuts. The cuts have to stop here.

Is the minister going to act to answer the pleas of these parents and students? Is the minister going to act to guarantee the same level of programming in the schools of Newfoundland and Labrador for September 1999 as we currently have in this school year?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Education.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Again, if the hon. members continue the conversation, and they do not do it outside the Chamber - the Chair will not tolerate continuous interruptions by the hon. members.

The hon. the Minister of Education.

MS FOOTE: Mr. Speaker, I am well aware of the meeting that took place last night out in Whitbourne, and very aware of some of the issues that were raised and some of the concerns that were expressed. I have to say that what I'm hearing seems to result from a lot of misinformation, and I can certainly understand and appreciate where the parents are coming from. If I were being told some of the things that parents are being told I would be very concerned as well.

That is precisely why we are meeting with all of the education directors for every district in this Province, to try and determine again exactly how the teachers have been allocated. Because if the teachers have been allocated in such a way as to impact on whether or not a student who graduates from high school is qualified, based on the required number of courses having been taken, whether or not they can enter a post-secondary institution, I would be very concerned if they are being told that that may not be the case.

Because we have a responsibility and a mandate through the Department of Education to make sure that enough courses are offered at the high school level, required courses, to ensure that when a student graduates they can, in fact, go on to any post-secondary institution in this country, we offer 162 courses.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I am going to ask the hon. minister to conclude her answer.

MS FOOTE: Those are the prescribed courses, prescribed curriculum, through the Department of Education. Students must be able to access 36 credits out of that prescribed curriculum in order to graduate, and we ensure that they can.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

A supplementary, the hon. the Member for Harbour Main-Whitbourne.

MR. HEDDERSON: Again, the meeting which I attended last night, the people who spoke last night, I consider to be very much informed.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HEDDERSON: A teacher loss in the school where that assembly was held last night - this high school is losing a teacher unit, which means less computer courses; the Phys. Ed. 2100 is gone; social studies have been dropped; at least ten high school credits are gone. Fatima in St. Bride's, All Hallows in North River, Holy Redeemer Elementary, and on and on, these people stood up and gave an account of what is going on in their schools now and what is going to happen next year.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. HEDDERSON: Is this enough evidence for the minister to act now?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS FOOTE: Mr. Speaker, again, I go back to where the information is coming from. When I am told that I was made aware, prior to the teachers being allocated, of the impact that it would have. I will tell you that, yes, the president of the NLTA, Mr. Brendan Doyle, came in to see me and asked for a moratorium on teachers in the system, knowing full well that we will have 4,200 fewer teachers in the system.

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member has said, yes, I was made aware that through the NLTA they felt there would be an impact; but I would have to question that, when you consider the reduction in the number of students and not an equivalent reduction in the number of teachers.

Again, I go back to the source of the information that we are getting. That is precisely why we are meeting with the education directors. If the directors are allocating teachers in such a way that it is going to have an impact on the quality of programming, if it means that a high school student will not be able to get the require courses for graduation -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MS FOOTE: - then that is the kind of thing I want to know about.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for Harbour Main-Whitbourne.

MR. HEDDERSON: Mr. Speaker, last evening, a student at Whitbourne High stood up and said that the program cuts of next year will force her to move from Whitbourne to St. John's.

Minister, do you realize that if you do not do something, if this program loss continues, that a two-tiered system of education will develop in this Province: one for rural Newfoundland, one for urban Newfoundland. Are you going to let this happen?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS FOOTE: Mr. Speaker, that certainly is not the case. In fact, the list of courses, the 162 courses that are to be available - courses that students can access throughout this Province so that they can complete high school and go on to a post-secondary institution - is available throughout this Province.

It may vary from school to school, from district to district, but I can assure you, as I stand here today, that every school -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister to finish her answer quickly, please.

MS FOOTE: Mr. Speaker, any student who requires courses throughout this Province can access the required courses in order to graduate and go on to a post-secondary institution. No student should have to be concerned that as a result of 182 teachers coming out of the system that they will not, at the end of the day, be able to graduate and be qualified to go on to a post-secondary institution.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My questions today are to the acting Minister of Health and Community Services. In this House on May 3, I raised a topic of a contingency plan to send babies to the Isaac Walton Killam Hospital in Halifax because there was a shortage of specialist nurses here to care for them in the neonatal ICU.

The minister said that the contingency plan that has been put in place is one that is in place on a regular basis if the number of patients admitted to the unit exceeds capacity. The contingency plan in place is one we have had in place a number of times throughout the last number of years, that I am aware of, and will continue to be in place if in fact the need arises for a bed and a bed is not available.

I have spoken with people working in this area and I have been informed there never was a contingency plan in place before in this Province because there was no bed available or because there was a shortage of nurses, and the history of these people goes back to the 1970s.

I spoke with a person who is a head nurse, and a person who is a coordinator of the transport team, who confirms that in their twenty-year history -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. SULLIVAN: - in neonatal care there was no protocol for newborn transport in this Province.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. SULLIVAN: I ask the minister: Will he stand in his place in this House today and confirm that statement - that it is correct, what the Minister of Health said in this House on Monday?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In a general sense we are, on an ongoing basis, in a state of contingency with respect to planning to move people who cannot be handled in our own health care system to hospitals outside the Province. We do it for extraordinary circumstances or for special treatments that we cannot give in this Province, on an ongoing basis, through our air ambulance system.

With respect to the specific question - I guess he is talking about a more narrowly defined contingency plan with respect to the Janeway, et cetera - I will take the question under advisement and get for him a clearer response, upon the return of the Minister of Health, respecting that specific issue.

I have to say that it is not uncommon for us to move patients out of the Province for health care services. We do it for Janeway patients, we do it for patients in all of our high level tertiary care. We move them into St. John's and then we move them out as the need arises.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. SULLIVAN: Mr. Speaker, I am aware that people are sent out of this Province when the surgery and other procedures cannot be performed here, but the minister said in this House on Monday it is in place when a bed is not available here, and that is not correct.

I ask the minister: Will the minister provide to me the times over the last years and the past year - as the minister referred to - when such protocol for newborn transfer was in place? Furthermore, will you tell this House if the minister, or the acting minister, was informed this week that the I.W.K. Hospital in Halifax informed this Province that it cannot accommodate any babies in the future?

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Mr. Speaker, the hon. member asks specific questions with respect to the movement of patients and the availability of beds both in Newfoundland and in Halifax. I will undertake to take the question under advisement and provide him with the appropriate response.

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The minister made a statement in Hansard on Monday that is not factual, I say to the minister. She knows, and everybody in the system knows, it is not factual!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SULLIVAN: Last fall, the department was told that not only is the problem in neonatal intensive care but that paediatric intensive care is becoming serious. They are only staffed to an occupancy level of 30 per cent to 40 per cent when there was an occupancy level of 56 per cent, resulting in overtime of $114,092 up to October of this past year.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. SULLIVAN: I want to ask the minister: Is the minister aware that it is only staffed to an occupancy level of a little over half of what is required; extreme overtime costs; one nurse with 500 hours of banked time; two nurses with over 300 hours of banked time cannot use them because there is a shortage. I ask the minister, is this an efficient and a safe way to run an intensive care unit for children in our Province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The hon. member knows very well that the government manages the health -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs.

MR. MATTHEWS: Mr. Speaker, the hon. member knows quite well that the management of the health care system in the Province is an effort that is taken and carried out under the auspices of the various health care boards that are in place.

As far as I know our boards are doing as much as they possibly can to ensure that the staffing levels at all of our health care facilities are consistent with the needs. That is why they have some flexibility in terms of calling in people, such as nurses, when they need them on short notice. That is why they have to have, for efficient operations, a dedicated bank of casuals that are readily available to them.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. MATTHEWS: If there are from time to time specific areas where understaffing is causing critical concern to the hon. member, then I would suggest he bring them forward very specifically. Otherwise our health care boards -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to conclude his answer.

MR. MATTHEWS: We have confidence, Mr. Speaker, that our health care boards are doing a good job on balance in managing the system.

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

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My questions are for the acting Minister of Mines and Energy. Another day, another gas price hike, it seems. Some while ago we had gas prices increase by four cents a litre and this week a further three cents a litre. A year and one-half ago the minister received the report of the consumer advocate on gasoline prices, and since then the minister has been lobbied hard by the consumer group for fair gasoline prices.

I ask the acting minister: Why not take the advice of the consumer advocate and the consumer group? Why not do what our party recommended on January 7 and put in place an independent, impartial consumer watchdog to investigate what is going on behind the scenes and issue the facts about gas pricing so consumers can use those facts as a tool to keep prices down where they should be?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. FUREY: Mr. Speaker, I will certainly pass the suggestion on to the Minister of Energy who is in Houston leading a business delegation there now.

In fairness, if you look at what is happening in the world today, the OPEC countries and the world producing countries have restricted production by 2 million barrels a day. That has driven the prices up. If you have watched the price of crude oil as measured against the West Texas crude benchmark, you will see that oil prices have risen from $11, I think, to some $19.50 U.S. in the last little while.

If you look at gas prices generally there is a market watch in place. We took the advice of that study. If you look at the St. John's region, from March 2 to April 22 you saw basically a four cent per litre increase. In the same time frame in Saint John, New Brunswick there was a 7 per cent increase, and in Halifax there was a 7.5 per cent increase. We are concerned about it. This is a free market party and a free enterprise party, the Conservative Party. Surely they do not want us to restrict the market or put handcuffs on the market.

If crude prices are going up -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the minister to conclude his answer quickly.

MR. FUREY: - and wholesale prices at the refinery are going up, it is naturally a consequence then that retail prices would go up as well.

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

MR. OTTENHEIMER: In view of the time, Mr. Speaker, I will go to the Minister of Finance on the same topic. Consumers are outraged to discover that taxes compose 51 per cent of the price of gas, and about three-fifths of this tax is provincial. You have the power, Minister, to lower gas prices by lowering your taxes on gasoline. Have you given serious consideration to that option, Mr. Minister? I ask you if have not, will you?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. DICKS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to point out a couple of things. First of all, the ad valorem tax -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair is going to give the hon. minister a few seconds to answer the question.

MR. DICKS: I will make two comments, Mr. Speaker.

First of all, the notion of ad valorem tax, which is one based on percentage as opposed to a fixed amount per gallon, was one that was brought in by his predecessor's government and Mr. John Collins, the Minister of Finance in 1986. So on the one hand he is proposing a departure from what his party adopted as a principle.

The second thing is, government relies on these revenues to do things such as the educational system, to provide teachers, and to provide nurses. I find it inconsistent -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. DICKS: - that he would maintain that we lower taxes while his leader is demanding that we spend more taxes on education and health. (Inaudible) consistency.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Question Period has ended.

Petitions

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is my pleasure to present a petition today in the House of Assembly on behalf of nurses who presented this petition to me. I will read the prayer of the petition:

To the hon. House of Assembly in the Province of Newfoundland, parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned nurses of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador ask the House of Assembly to accept the following prayer:

We, the nurses, of Newfoundland and Labrador have honestly and openly conveyed our concerns about the failing health care system in this Province. In good faith, and under the collective bargaining process of this Province, we attempted to negotiate these issues with the Liberal government. Premier Tobin and the Liberal government showed their lack of respect for nurses' concerns and made a mockery of the Province's collective bargaining process by legislating nurses back to work without binding arbitration.

If the Liberal government honestly wishes to pursue constructive dialogue with the nurses of this Province in an attempt to help solve the existing health care crisis, we wish to inform the House of Assembly this can only be made possible if the Liberal government admits they made a mistake in not acknowledging the depth and scope of the crisis facing health care in Newfoundland and Labrador, and the hon. House of Assembly repeals Bill 3, and the Liberal government resumes bargaining in good faith with the nurses of Newfoundland and Labrador by using the collective bargaining process that existed before Bill 3.

Mr. Speaker, there is a crisis looming in health care in our Province. The minister might not acknowledge there is a crisis looming, but the general public admits there is a crisis looming. Before I came to this House today I got off the telephone with a lady who was in tears, whose son is numb all on one side of his body, who runs a business in this city, and has to try to drag himself to work, and has to wait until August to get a MRI.

That is just one recent example. I get dozens of examples every single day of the week. I get hundreds in the run of a month from cases like that where people are very concerned. As the parent said, that person may not be alive by August. A young man working today, productive, with a family to feed and a mortgage to pay, is in that situation. I told the lady I would call her back after the House is over. I had to make a very brief call to her when she left the message before I came to the House.

That is symptomatic of what is going on in our health care system today. In this Province we have five radiologists, possibly six, who are leaving, and nursing shortages that are unprecedented. In fact, in the neonatal intensive care I just spoke about today there is a shortage of nurses. They need nurses for Friday right up to Sunday. There are shifts not plugged in and filled because they still haven't - there are numerous positions. There are vacancies for nurses working tomorrow in the intensive care in the Janeway, and they don't have nurses yet, and nurses' shifts for Saturday and Sunday are still not filled. There are people back on double time.

They are juggling workers one day to the next. They cannot do staff scheduling because there is not enough. They are taking to juggling people, saying: Will you come in tonight on double time and I will give you tomorrow off? They are filling the next day by saying to the person the day after: Come in and we will give you tomorrow off, and come in on double time. They are not filled tomorrow or the next day. Today is one of the first days it is a little bit slack, there is a little bit of breathing room, and there are still people in on double time.

It was a crisis last weekend. We have seen it. They had to shut down. When you have to shut down the coronary care unit in the Grace Hospital because there are no critical care nurses, that is serious. When you have to tell a person who is ready to go to surgery: We cannot do you today for a bypass because we have no nurse to look after you when you come out of surgery, that to me is serious.

I got an e-mail yesterday from the person who told me he was on death row for six months. Six months, he said, to get an angiogram, six months to get a bypass. I finally got an e-mail yesterday which said: Thank God, I finally got done. This is a person who runs an tourism business in this Province who did not think he would be able to run the business this year, who just came out of bypass surgery this past week, and I got an e-mail to that effect. I have touched base with him, getting back on the situation. How many are on a waiting list? I gave him the coordinator's number to call to just pass on their concerns, to find out exactly what is happening.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. SULLIVAN: We have a critical situation here with nurses in our Province and it is not getting addressed.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the President of Treasury Board.

MS THISTLE: Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member opposite for giving me the opportunity to respond to his petition today concerning nurses in our health care system.

What I would like to say to the member opposite or members opposite is the fact that I recall three years ago being elected to this House, and the first thing I did was look at the budget for health care. You know something, when we were elected February 22, 1996 we were placing roughly $900 million in health care. Today, May 1999, even based on reduced health transfers to this Province, we are now placing almost $1.3 billion into health care in this Province. What does that tell you, Mr. Speaker, and Members of this House of Assembly? That tells us all that health care is priority number one in this Province for this government.

In relation to Bill 3, Bill 3 was a difficult choice made by this government, a necessary choice. We had to act on our responsibility to restore the health care system of this Province. What I would like to say today is I would like to congratulate the nurses of Branch 12, the Western Health Care Corporation, who this time last week were heading into some anxious moments looking at a wildcat strike. I am glad they have be able to resolve their differences with the board in Corner Brook. That is a good beginning. There are bridges to mend, bridges to build, but I have to tell you that this government is committed to health care.

MR. SULLIVAN: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The President of Treasury Board indicated today that $1.3 billion is going into health care. That contradicts the statement by the Minister of Finance. I would like to know where the other $150 million is going in health care that she made from the Minister of Finance's Budget?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

There is no point of order.

The hon. the President of Treasury Board.

MS THISTLE: Mr. Speaker, if you look at the Estimates book, it is $1.2 billion but we are heading -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible)!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS THISTLE: What I am saying to you, Mr. Speaker, is the following. This government has committed new money to the health care system. We have committed $40 million to eliminate regional health care boards' deficits, $21 million for additional hospital equipment, $15 million in additional funding for board budgets, $4.1 million to recruit salaried positions, $1.8 for new drug therapy, and the lists go on and on.

What I am saying, Mr. Speaker, is every time you look at raising salaries for our public sector there is a price tag attached. Every time you look at spending money for any department there is a price tag attached. The recent raise that we were able to give our nurses, 7 per cent, there was a $27 million annual budget attached to that commitment.

What I would like to say today, Mr. Speaker, is that I congratulate nurses for taking that first step back. I think once the 325 new positions have been processed and are in the system, all of us will find the benefits of that move.

It is difficult when there is an issue like Bill 3 looming in front of us, but I would have to say to members opposite and the public in general that this was a unique situation, one that government had to act on, and we did not take that decision lightly.

What we have to do now is look ahead and cooperate in a fashion that restores the health care system for all people in this Province. I believe we are moving in that direction, and I thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. SHELLEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am glad to rise today to support my colleague on this particular petition. I am even more enthused to get up, after hearing the President of Treasury Board. I am wondering if my colleague would get up again on a point of order and save us another million dollars very quickly. The truth is, the minister has to get her facts straight.

Mr. Speaker, I had the full intention of supporting this petition today especially, of course, to give me an opportunity to commend the nurses in my district on how they handled themselves throughout this whole situation, and how professional they were about it.

When the minister talks, she talks about: Now we need cooperation, now we have to pass out the olive branch and everybody has to work together. Well, Minister, I say to you, maybe it is too late because you have gone too far. You have cut to the bone. You have backed these nurses to the wall. They did what they had to do but, at the same time, they kept their respect for the job that they do as professionals. They never once put in jeopardy their patients, the people they have to deal with every single day. That is what I commend them for.

When we saw all the wrangling going on, all the politics being played, all the theatrics being done and so on, the nurses kept respect for their patients. That was what was so professional about them.

In my district every day they manned the lines but also at the same time they made sure there was adequate service at the hospital in Baie Verte. They did a very good job of that, and I know they did it throughout the Province.

We commend them for that, but what we are talking about here is a process. Yes, the government of the day now says we have to cooperate. Yes, they say we have to have dialogue and yes, that is going to have to happen sooner or later, but it is not going to happen quickly because these professional people who have handled themselves as professionals have been bitten by this government and by the way they handled this entire process, a process that was poisoned before it began.

When you talk about collective bargaining, that is two groups sitting together to work out an agreement. That is what collective bargaining is all about - in good faith - but of course we have heard many situations with this particular unit and the RNC where this government has sat down with them face to face and in good faith touched their shoulders and said everything will be fine, we will work it out.

We find out the truth was that when the deed was done and we were ready for an agreement, really, the strong arm of the government came down and said: There is no such thing. We will tell you what you are going to get.

It was the same with the RNC and it was the same with the nurses, two professions in this Province who have handled themselves professionally and have done yeomen service for this Province over the years.

I commend those two groups - although we are speaking on one petition today - for handling themselves in light of the way the government of the day has handled this whole process. I believe they did the right thing and, I will say to the President of Treasury Board, it is far from over. It is not over with the nurses, it is not over with the RNC. They will remember because this is something that has cut to the bone. We will see what their next move will be, but we certainly support them in their efforts.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Placentia & St. Mary's.

MR. MANNING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I stand today to present a petition on behalf of eighty-odd residents from the District of Bellevue.

I was out in Whitbourne last night to a meeting and this petition was passed to me. They asked me if I would present it in the House. I want to read the petition:

To the hon. House of Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned residents of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador asks for the House of Assembly to accept the following prayer:

We, the undersigned citizens of the Isthmus region, hereby draw your attention to the existing unsafe conditions as they now exist on the Trans-Canada Highway near the Whitbourne-Blaketown exits:

WHEREAS it is the duty of government, thought the enactment and enforcement of the Highway Safety Act, to protect its citizens, not only from commuters but also from unsafe highways; and

WHEREAS the safety of the travelling public must be the number one priority of any government;

THEREFORE your petitioners ask that government take all measures necessary to ensure that a divided highway continues past the Whitbourne-Blaketown exits and that the twinned highway include the Argentia Access overpass;

As in duty bound your petitioners will ever pray.

These eighty-one residents from Bellevue are very concerned about the planned extension to the twinned highway past and including the area in Whitbourne. I was appalled today to hear the Member for Bellevue make a comment that there was a Tory rally held in Whitbourne last night concerning the Whitbourne Highway.

That was not the case. We were out there to a very well-organized and very well-attended rally, that had to do with the education concerns that are raised here. To think that the Leader of the NDP Party was at that meeting last night, the president of the NLTA was at that meeting, students, teachers, parents from all over the Avalon West area, Fraser March chaired the meeting, for the Member for Bellevue to make a comment that it was a Tory rally, I beg to differ and question. That was not the case at all. It was a rally that was held on behalf of the students and the parents of the Avalon West area. There was a great message that came from that, and my colleague here, the education critic, brought forward those concerns today and will continue to do so over the next little while.

Getting back to the petition and the concern that has been raised by these people from Bellevue, there are two concerns. They are concerned that their own member has not stood up and represented their concerns in this House on this particular issue - the Member for Bellevue - and they are very concerned that their own member has not stood up and spoken out on this concern that these eighty-one people have raised. I have more. I have a whole file full of information and petitions that have been forwarded to me by people from that area.

This is a very ongoing concern by these people. Safety is the number one concern that these people have. They are very concerned that back in 1996 the government put forward Davis Engineering - at a cost of $40,000 - put forward engineering studies that showed that a twinned highway was the safest route to take.

These ideas and these three proposals were put forward to the people at a public session in Whitbourne in 1997. The people of the area supported the efforts of a twinned highway which included, I say, Mr. Speaker, an overpass at the end of Argentia Access.

For some reason or other, in 1997, the minister of the day decided that he was not going to take into consideration the concerns of the people of that area, he was not going to take into consideration the concerns of safety of that area, and brought back another plan, another engineering study, that does not include the twinned highway and does not include an overpass at the Argentia Access Road.

Mr. Speaker, there have been considerably accidents and fatalities in that area, and the people of the area believe that a twinned highway is the safest route. It has been known right across Canada that a twinned highway saves lives. It does not save everybody's life, but indeed saves many lives from the ultimate decision that happens when there is an accident.

I rise today and present this petition on behalf of these people because the concerns have been raised to me, and not only me but indeed several of my colleagues on this side of the House. I find it very strange if these concerns have not been raised with people on the other side of the House also.

I think that those people should stand up and represent the people who have put them here in the House. These people are very concerned. This is not a political game, as some people may think it is. This is a very serious issue that these people have come forward with. All they ask is that their voices be heard and their concerns be taken, and that the proper thing be done as it relates to the twinning of the highway and the overpass at Argentia.

Mr. Speaker, thank you very much.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

The hon. the Member for Bonavista South.

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to present a petition to the House. The petition reads:

To the hon. House of Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland in legislative session convened, the petition of the undersigned residents of Newfoundland:

WHEREAS Route 235 from Birchy Cove to Bonavista has not been upgraded since it was paved approximately twenty-five years ago and;

WHEREAS this section of Route 235 is in such a terrible condition that vehicles are being damaged, including the school buses serving schools in the area, and schoolchildren are finding their daily trips over the road very difficult;

WHEREFORE your petitioners urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to upgrade and pave the five kilometres of Route 235 from Birchy Cove to Bonavista.

Mr. Speaker, this is another petition that arrived at my office. In fact, it arrived yesterday, I say to the members opposite, and there are approximately another 120 names on this petition. It came in again as parents are speaking out and wanting to add their voice to the voice of the children that attend Matthew Elementary School and Discovery Collegiate to try and get the five kilometres of road leading from Birchy Cove to Bonavista upgraded and paved.

In repeating myself, this particular roadway was built approximately twenty-five, twenty-eight years ago and there has been nothing done other than patching since the roadwork was done. You talk to engineers in the area and they will tell you that even at the time the road was build the money was extended farther than it should ever be in order to build roads, in order to get, I guess, the most done for the few dollars that you had.

It was almost like the road was built by just making the ditch and taking the fill out of the ditches and making a roadway. Completely different from how we see a road built today, where you go and you build a road up to a certain limit. You put in your culverts, you tend to your ditches, you truck in rock, and you build it up to acceptable levels, and then you roll it all in and pave it.

The base of this particular road is nothing but mud and sand and, I suppose, that is the reason why the road has deteriorated as badly as it has. Because you will find on this particular section of roadway that the asphalt patches have been patched over almost on an annual basis.

Two-and-a-half kilometres of this particular roadway is probably the worst section of road, going around the pond, and I suppose that is where the mud is, and that is why it so bad. What the parents are saying, I say to the minister, is: Even if the two-and-a-half kilometres could be done this year, at least it would be a big improvement from what it is today.

They would like to see the whole road done, the whole five kilometres upgraded and paved. That is what needs to be done. If it is started this year it will have to be completed next year, because I can guarantee you that it will not last any more than another year, and the money will have to be spent on it at that particular time.

There is not another detour to go around this certain area. It is not like you are living in an urban area where you have choices, that you can avoid this two-and-a-half kilometres by going another way, because there is no other route unless you drive back up through the communities and drive miles out of your way and down to Bonavista on another route. That is certainly not practical and it is certainly not something the residents in that area should have to do.

Their request is simple. Their own roads, through their own communities, are in terrible shape as well but they are willing to look at this section of roadway first. It is not a situation where parents are saying: If the equipment comes in to do this particular roadway, then we want the road through this community done and another community done as well. That is not the way it is. They speak with a united voice by saying: This is what we have identified as work that needs to be this year, work that needs to be done now in order to provide a safe passage from Birchy Cove, Newmans Cove, Upper, Middle and Lower Amherst Cove into the town of Bonavista, into the school, into the hospital, into the fisherman's centre, into the grocery stores. They have all travelled this particular roadway.

We are not talking about a massive project here. We are not talking about overpasses. We are not talking about building bridges. We are not talking about building a big link between one community to another where a road is not already completed. All we are talking about -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. FITZGERALD: - is upgrading an existing road so that those people may drive with some degree of comfort and safety.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. COLLINS: Mr. Speaker, I rise to present a petition on behalf of the people of the Great Northern Peninsula, the St. Anthony area and their hospital in particular.

The petition is not worded in its normal form that would come before this House but both House Leaders from the other parties have agreed that it is acceptable to them to be submitted.

This issue is about a dialysis machine for the hospital in St. Anthony, and the petition reads:

WHEREAS there is no dialysis machine in the St. Anthony Hospital; and

WHEREAS there are several families in St. Anthony and other parts of the Northern Peninsula having to leave their homes and move to Corner Brook or St. John's and rent apartments to have access to dialysis;

We the people of St. Anthony and surrounding area petition the government to install a dialysis machine in the St. Anthony Hospital.

Mr. Speaker, I want to talk a bit about the problems that are caused when people have to move away from their homes where they have lived all their lives to receive treatment in other areas they are not familiar with.

If it is a young person that requires the services of a dialysis machine, it may mean one of the parents being present at all times with that young person, and the time that they have is spent exclusively, away from remaining family members. If it is an older person that requires the services of a dialysis machine, it could mean a permanent move to a strange city, places that they are not familiar with, just to receive treatment. Many times it means that their spouse may move as well. This means leaving behind their families and their friends, selling off their homes.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible)?

MR. COLLINS: Is there a purpose to the question?

Mr. Speaker, it means that this is a complete change in their lifestyle. It may mean selling off their homes, it may mean selling off all the things that have been dear to them over the years, so they can move to an area of the Province they need to live in to receive the services they require. This, as I said, is a complete change in the lifestyle they have known.

At a stage in their lives, particularly with our seniors, it is a time when they should be able to be surrounded by their families and friends. Instead, they have to move away from all that is familiar to them and in many times live out their last days in a place that is totally foreign to them. The shock alone of having to do this is detrimental to their health and their well being, not only for the patient but for other family members who may be required to uproot and move as well just to be near them.

This says nothing about the cost that is associated with moving to a site, to a hospital, that can provide the health care that a person needs.

I believe that when this issue was raised before in this House, I think I recall the Minister of Health and Community Services saying, in a response, that it was something they were prepared to look at. I am just wondering if she, or somebody from government, could inform us what progress, if any, has been made to establishing or putting in place a dialysis machine in the St. Anthony and area hospital.

Mr. Speaker, I understand there are many issues in our health care system that need to be addressed, particularly in rural Newfoundland and remote isolated areas. In my own district, Labrador West, we have to travel to the Island portion of the Province to receive any type of serious medical treatment.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. COLLINS: In my own district, many residents requiring any type of serious medical treatment have to relocate or come to St. John's to receive that treatment, in most cases. One of the problems associated lately in Labrador West relates to stretcher travel and how a person, when released from hospital, has no way to get back home if they cannot travel via regular airlines.

We have had four cases in the past two months, and I must say that with the intervention -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I wish to speak at this time in support of the petition presented by the Member for Labrador West. The issue has been debated in the House before by a petition being raised by the Opposition House Leader. It is an issue that is very important to the petition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. HARRIS: I am surprised that members are not listening to the concerns of the petitioners.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I know the petitioners would want to know that hon. members were listening to their concerns in this House when their petition was being presented, because it is an important issue. It is significant enough that people have signed petitions. There are I do not know how many hundreds of names on the petition presented here today. I know there were nearly 1,200 or 1,400 or more on the petition that was presented a little earlier by the Opposition House Leader.

It is a issue that a lot of people are concerned enough about to take around these petitions, to raise this issue, because they know what happens when they are in need of medical services they cannot get in their area - which area is the Premier's district, after all. It is a surprise that they would have petitions presented by this side of the House rather than have the Premier deal with their need and eliminate the problem by ensuring that significant steps were taken to provide dialysis service in the Great Northern Peninsula.

We had a situation a few years ago where a dialysis unit that was in the Grand Falls area was moved out of Grand Falls, and the service was not provided there. There were quite a number of matters raised in this House about that. There was a group who came to St. John's and protested, and brought this issue before the public, and government took action.

I understand that there is a need in this area that government should be addressing. We should not have to have people move halfway across the Province, to move to Corner Brook or St. John's, and end up in a very expensive and dislocating experience to achieve dialysis treatment. It is not something that is so unique or so complex, or even that expensive, that it needs to be only in one, two or three centres in the Province.

There is a hospital in St. Anthony. There is a long history of medical services out of St. Anthony, serving the Northern Peninsula and parts of Labrador for many, many years. What we want to see is there being a relative equality of services across the Province, obviously consistent with good management, but we do have here a concern that comes out of experience that in recent months, in the last six or eight months, there have been a number of individuals who have had to have dialysis services and have been required to relocate to St. John's. That is something that we would like to see ended, and I support wholeheartedly the petitioners and the petition the way it was presented by my colleague from Labrador West.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Orders of the Day

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

MR. TULK: Mr. Speaker, Motion 1, the Budget Speech.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. MERCER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is my pleasure just to resume the few words I had on yesterday. I would like to continue along the same lines. As you may recall, I was speaking about the health and social services estimates. I would like to recap and reiterate a couple of points that I made briefly last week.

In this House and outside we hear all the time: When is this government going to make health care its number one priority? When are we going to make it our number one priority? Mr. Speaker, if they were good students and if they read their lessons and they read the Budget book, they would see that health care is the number one priority in the Budget!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. MERCER: It is number one! Our budget for this year is estimating $1.2 billion - almost as much money as the member over there earns, but $1.2 billion - out of a total budget of little under $3 billion. Now to me, in my mathematics, that is about one-third of every dollar. Of every dollar that we spend in this Province, thirty-three cents, or a little bit more, is going to health care.

Now, if members opposite would like to engage in a debate as to whether or not that is being wisely and efficiently, that would be a good debate and a good discussion; but let's get off this nonsense about what is the number one issue. Everyone on this side - at least on this side - recognizes it as the number one priority.

Mr. Speaker, just to refresh the members opposite - just to refresh their memory, because I know it is sometimes failing - in this year's Budget, for argument sake, here are a few of the items. It is in very simple form, it is in point form. It is not spread over many pages in the Budget. It is not going to take a lot of their time to read it and understand it, but let's take a look at some of the things that are in this year's Budget.

For argument sake, in the summary - I am sure members opposite have copies of this, and if they do not I am sure we can provide a few hundred copies if they want to have one - we are providing this year some $40 million to eliminate the deficits in the regional health care boards. Let us dwell on that number for just a little bit, because our hon. friends opposite have said a lot of interesting things about that particular $40 million.

Many of them have indicated that we are doing very little for the health care system. As a matter of fact, one of the members opposite has simply said that we are just giving it to a board that we control, we manipulate, and they will spend the money as we tell them to do. That is their concept of the how the health care boards work, but the $40 million which we have given the boards to pay down their debt is debt that has been accumulated over the last - I don't know - five, ten, fifteen years. It is a debt which has been in place for some long, long time. To say that is of no value to the current health care system is a bit naive.

Obviously, if the health care boards are carrying a total debt of some $40 million, someone is paying the interest. Where do you think the interest on that money is coming from? It is coming out of the normal operating budget of the health care system. Obviously, if you pay down the $40 million, that is money on the interest payments which do not have to be made and which is monies which can go back into health care, primarily at the institutional level.

Mr. Speaker, members opposite have said a number of very disparaging things about this paying down of the debt. One member opposite - I just made some rough notes and I am sure Hansard could bear me out if I were to get the detailed words - clearly left the impression that the paying down of the debt had absolutely no advantage. It was a meaningless thing for us to have done. It was a waste of money. It did not do anything to improve health care. As I have just said, that is clearly nonsense because the health care boards are responsible for the interest on those long-term debts - money which must come out of their operating budgets, money which could be better spent in other things, whether they be support staff on the floors, equipment, or whatever.

I could go on and talk about a number of other things that have been said by the members opposite, but we can all read Hansard. It is in there for anyone who takes the time and the effort to read and to hear what the Opposition have to say about that particular expenditure.

In addition to the $40 million for the paying down of the long-term debt which has been accumulated over many years within the health care system we also, this year in the Budget, have provided some $21 million for additional hospital equipment; $21 million. People might argue it should be more - it should be $30 million or it should be $40 million - I am not prepared to argue that, Mr. Speaker.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. MERCER: Point taken.

Twenty-one million for additional hospital equipment. In addition to that, the Budget this year provides an additional $15 million for the budgets in the boards themselves; an additional $15 million to be spent in the operation of the various health care facilities throughout the Province.

We have also, this year, provided for some $4.1 million to recruit additional salaried physicians. I am not sure what I am hearing from the Opposition from time to time. I am not sure whether we are spending enough, too much, or just about right. Today, I heard the members opposite saying we were not spending enough. A couple of days ago, the member who is now going elsewhere spoke about the fact that we were spending too much for our doctors. Today, the tune seems to have changed and we are not spending enough.

In addition to that, we are spending some $1.8 million for new drug therapies. I do not profess to be an expert in this field but I presume that is a legitimate and a bona fide expenditure within the health care system.

We are spending approximately $1.3 million to implement the new Child, Youth and Family Services Act, and we are spending some $900,000 - a relatively minor expenditure compared to the total Budget - in issues dealing with tobacco reduction.

There is no doubt - I do not think anyone could challenge the fact - that health care is the number one priority, at least in the expenditure of provincial dollars, for members on this side and for the government that I am very proud to be a part of.

I get a little bit confused when we receive letters from the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association - I received my letter today, the same as the Leader of the Opposition - saying: I am calling upon all Members of the House of Assembly to make health care a top priority.

I do not know where this association is coming from. It is very clear that health care is the number one priority in this particular Province.

That is one of the statements made today, and the Leader of the Opposition today did make a number of other statements, but he also failed to make some others.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER (Oldford): Order, please!

MR. MERCER: The author of this particular letter says: Money allocated in the provincial Budget may have reduced the burden of regional board deficits but it has done very little to meet current demand - again, I am at a complete loss as to the logical involved in that particular statement - done very little to meet current demand, let alone the increased cost due to an aging population.

Then he asked the question to the people that he wrote this letter to: Has the situation in your clinic or hospital improved since the last provincial Budget?

Mr. Speaker, the Budget was only introduced a few days ago. We are still in debate on the Estimates of the Budget. Then we have a gentleman here asking the question: Has the health care situation improved in that relatively short period of time?

If we could have made profound changes, I suggest we would have been on the Sea of Galilee and we would have parted the Red Sea.

There are issues in the health care system. There are issues that need to be addressed, and they are being addressed.

That was just by way of a preamble, just to bring us back to where I had left off in the last few days.

When I stood in my place a few days ago, I said I wanted to bring a West Coast - meaning west of St. John's, west of Grand Falls, west of White Bay - perspective to my speech here in this House today. I indicated that when I was in the last election campaign and nursing was a major issue, the same as it was everywhere else in the Province, none of us on the West Coast - or at least I did not duck the issues. I believe that after that election campaign I came away from my district and I had a good feel, a very good feel, of what the issues on the West Coast were, especially in my District of Humber East, with respect to nursing issues and health care concerns.

As I said the last day, there were three issues. They are the same three issues we hear all over the Province: working conditions, casualization and pay. The big difference is that when I went around door-to-door talking to nurses, talking to health care providers, that was the order in which they were given: working conditions, casualization and thirdly, pay.

In the last few words that I had to say the other day I spoke about the first issue, the issue of working conditions. I alluded to the fact that yes, at Western Memorial Regional Hospital there are problem which have been there for many years. If we wanted to, I could elaborate on my discussion from the last day on how some of those problems occurred, but that would serve no particular purpose.

The second big issue, as I said, on the West Coast, or at least in the area of Humber East, is the whole issue of casualization, the whole notion of bringing in casual nurses to fill in when they were needed, or basically, to bring them in whenever the hospitals thought they needed someone that particular day.

Yes, that is a major problem. I met many individuals, many young nurses with young families, who told me of the fact that they might be called in at 3:00 p.m., told to be at work at 4:00 p.m., and they are faced with a young child, and what to do and where to go with the young child. Unless there was an established babysitting service or a day care provider, that presented an unusual demand upon that person's time. Yes, those were the types of issues that came up time and time again.

Also, when we talk about the casualization issue we talk about the issue of lack of benefits, no annual leave and other matters. That is not a very attractive lifestyle for someone trying to break into a profession. Yes, I do have a lot of sympathy for those who work part-time, those who work casual, but in the recent days I have heard a lot more about casuals. I have heard, for argument's sake, that they are only casual in name. Many of our nurses are working forty hours a week, some even more if they would appear to take the time to go back in.

Just before I leave that point, a very important point to make with respect to casualization is that if you refuse to come in when you are asked, you are in violation of some of the rules associated with EI, and that is another big issue.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. MERCER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

By leave?

MR. SPEAKER: Does the member have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MR. MERCER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate the members opposite giving me a few extra minutes to basically clue up.

The whole issue of casualization needs to be addressed. It needs to be addressed both at the hospital board level and at the Department of Health level.

When I talked to nurses and health care providers on the West Coast the issue of wages, yes, it did come up, and I made no bones about it. Government was wed to 7 per cent. Unfortunately or fortunately, as the case may be, that was the government policy. The challenge was to find ways to get additional dollars into the pay envelopes of nurses without violating the 7 per cent. At some appropriate time I hope to be able to rise in my place and speak to some of things that I believe were in the offer that was made to the nurses.

However, when I came into St. John's, boy, was I in for a shock. Because the issue in St. John's was not in the order in which I had perceived them to be in my District of Humber East. They were not: one, working conditions, two, casualization and three, wages. Wages had somehow jumped to number one. It was the only issue that I heard in there for about two weeks. Maybe I was not listening to the right people, maybe I was not listening hard enough, but in the terms of the things which I read it was very hard not to get the impression that wages was not a major issue.

This is a little ad from, I believe, maybe from The Western Star, as opposed to the St. John's paper: Nurses in this Province are the lowest paid in Canada. I am not surprised. Many of us who are professionals and who led a workaday life before we came in here, many of us who are engineers, we could have gotten much higher paid salaries in British Columbia, Ontario, Alberta. That is not really the issue, that we are the lowest paid in Canada. We are the lowest paid in many professions in Canada.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. MERCER: No sir, it does not make it right. What it does mean is that we are probably paying the amount that we can afford to pay.

Mr. Speaker, I just want to add that little West Coast perspective because what I am hearing here on the East Coast is not what I heard on the West Coast. Just to follow-up a little further on that, just recently on the West Coast there was the threat of a work action by the nurses dealing with issues that have been unresolved, clearly, from the previous strikes here in the St. John's area.

It is very interesting that I believe that my perception of what I heard on the West Coast was real, because when this strike was threatened, there was a disruption in the hospital. There was a disruption to my constituents who had been asked to go in and were scheduled for surgery. They were told: No, we cannot do you today because of the threatened strike.

There were ramifications associated with the threatened wildcat strike. I just want to draw your attention to the fact that when the issue was brought to a conclusion, when the issue was finalized, what were the issues that were resolved?

Reading from the only materials which I have available - that is in the public media - we find, for argument's sake, that at the Western Memorial Regional Hospital there were an additional twenty-four full-time positions. Positions which my colleague the hon. the Minister of Health announced in this House weeks before. This settlement was done within the context of that.

Another one of the issues which I am personally aware of that was settled was the whole issue of support staff. I understand right now that issues dealing with support staff are being addressed and there will be additional support staff put on the floors. Casualization of course was addressed in the permanents because there was so many of these casuals transferred into permanent staff.

These were the issues that nurses articulated on the West Coast, these were the issues that were addressed. The issue of wages was acknowledged, not to be an issue that could be dealt with on the West Coast and had to be dealt with in a larger environment, presumably at the Department of Health and Treasury Board level.

I just want to again indicate and clue up by saying that a resolution was passed here some weeks ago. I will read the wording:

"THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Honourable House call upon the Government, employers represented by the Newfoundland & Labrador Health and Community Services Association, and the nurses, represented by the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses' Union, to immediately take collective action to address nursing human resources issues, including recruitment and retention."

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. MERCER: Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to note that motion was passed, but unanimously the members opposite voted against that particular resolution.

AN HON. MEMBER: Leave is withdrawn.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Leave has been withdrawn.

MR. MERCER: They voted against the resolution.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. MERCER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Windsor-Springdale.

MR. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Today I would like to speak a little bit on rural Newfoundland and Labrador. I find there is a rising crisis in rural Newfoundland and Labrador today. I think we have to recognize that something is going to have to be done in the very near future or we are going to lose a lot more people in our smaller communities.

I've watched a lot of people in the district packing up, boarding up their houses, and leaving the communities. I think that is going to put a lot of hardship on the remaining people in the communities in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. I think that if these younger family people leave, these are the people that spend the money in the communities, these are the people that have young families that need services, and they spend their money supporting their families in these smaller communities.

I think if we lose too many more of these young family members that the hardship put on the remaining people in the communities is going to be that great that these communities will suffer so much that I would say you are going to see a lot of resignations of councils and committee members, and people that are going to say: Enough is enough, I cannot handle it any more. They are going to be leaving too. You are going to see small businesses in these communities having to close up too, because the family wage earners in the communities that spend the money are the younger family members with young families. If you take that money out of any community then it has a devastating affect on the rest.

You can also see in a lot of communities, even some of the larger ones, the municipal infrastructures deteriorating to a point where councillors are so frustrated that they do not know what to do. I spoke to a few councils in the past few weeks and they said they are just at the end of their rope. They do not know what to do to give the services that are required in their communities.

I was in one community that had one street light, one street light that they had to pay for. There were several others that members of the community took on themselves to pay on a monthly basis. I think that it is unacceptable in this day and age that communities would have to suffer that way because the government is putting undue hardship on these small communities. They knew that they cannot repay loans that they have through capital works.

One community alone - I talked to the mayor there - owes $200,000. They are cut off now from any more funding for infrastructure or capital works in that community. They are so frustrated that any day at all the only two members remaining on that council may resign. I do not think the people in that community deserve to be treated in a way that they cannot have services equal to other communities in Newfoundland and Labrador today.

I visit more than just my district. I visited a lot of communities in the past year in Newfoundland, and I see the same problem in all the communities, and in all the districts even serviced by members on the opposite side. I am sure they are quite aware of these needs in their districts.

I went into one community and there was still three kilometres of gravel road. Children in that community have to walk on these roads and play near these roads. The devastating effect that is having on the health of these children, I think is unacceptable. I think we are going to have to look at communities now that still have gravel roads. Something has to be done or some health matters may arise in those communities.

Also, in some of the places there are paved roads. These paved roads are in terrible condition. They have deteriorated to a point where they are almost impassable. I think this government is going to have to look at these road programs and try to address some of the problems and get it in areas, not only in their own districts, but think about the concerns of all people in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I am a person that believes in equal treatment for everybody. I believe that no matter what district you are in - I do not discriminate against people because of their politics, their religion, colour or anything else.

MS THISTLE: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

On a point of order, the hon. the President of Treasury Board.

MS THISTLE: Mr. Speaker, when I was responding to the petition by the Opposition House Leader I said that when I was elected in 1996 government had roughly $900 million in its Budget committed to health care. I said that as of February 9, 1999, we are looking at close to $1.3 billion. What I was looking at was the figure in the Estimates book today, plus our commitment to the St. John's Health Care Corporation of $130 million, and also to the immigrant investor fund to other facilities around the Province.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

There is no point of order.

The hon. the Member for Windsor-Springdale.

MR. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My philosophy on that is that I think that we cannot compare dollars to people's needs. We cannot look at dollars and sacrifice the importance of people's needs in this Province. There are needs there, certain things that have to be done and should be done. If we go looking at dollars and cents then a lot of things are not going to get done.

I do not know where the money is going to come from. This government has control of the money. They spend it in places where they want to spend it. I would like to see it spent in some other places. I would like to see more emphasis put on the key issues in Newfoundland and Labrador, which are health care and education. It is up to this government to make sure that money is allocated in the areas that it is mostly needed and prioritize, at least, the concerns of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

They are the ones who are speaking out. They are the ones who have to vote for us and they are the ones who are going to make you and I accountable in the next election. If you are not accountable and if you do not do what you should be doing, then I guess I will not be looking at you next time because I think I will be elected, but probably a lot on the other side will not be elected. So I think you had better look seriously at some of these issues, spend your money wisely, and make sure these health care issues are taken care of.

I will get back to municipal infrastructure that I was talking about. I went into some communities - and this is not all in my district - where councillors are saying: Look, what can we do? We have forty-year-old fire trucks, we have thirty-year-old pay loaders and dump trucks that we can't keep working. What can we do? We are frustrated to a point where we do not know where to turn, we do not know where to go. We need roads that have to be paved and the government is saying: Sure, we have a capital works program, you can take advantage of that. Where are these communities going to get their share of the money? The interest on their loans now is so high that they can barely pay it. I talked to some of the mayors in different communities and they are at a point where maybe within the next six to eight months a lot of these councils will not be existing. There will have to members appointed.

I also went between the communities where I saw a lot of things that need to be done and should be done, particularly to roads connecting communities in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. I think the rural areas in Newfoundland are in serious trouble. If we don't do something to replace the jobs that are being lost in rural Newfoundland and Labrador then I am afraid that in a very short few years the health of the seniors in these communities and the people that are unable to work is going to be jeopardized. They are going to be in a position where the government might have to spend more money to give them the services in their communities because they are not going to leave on their own. Most of these seniors, when they leave they will be leaving in an ambulance or a hearse. I think in this day and age we cannot allow things to happen in the rural areas of Newfoundland so that seniors or children would have to suffer because of lack of services.

A lot of the jobs in rural Newfoundland today can stay, and a lot of other jobs can replace them if we just use our heads and think about ways of replacing these jobs, particularly in the forest sector. We had a lot of jobs lost, over 600 in the last couple of years in my district alone, 1,200 in the last ten years. We are going to have to get into retraining a lot of these workers, particularly the ones young enough to retrain, and use these workers in the use of silviculture, firefighting protection and other things in the community that they are able to do.

Not only in the smaller communities, but in some of the larger communities in the district the towns and the people are suffering because of lack of services. I talked to some people that needed medical services. They got aboard their car and drove for an hour-and-a-half to a hospital, stayed overnight, and had to go home the next day because they could not find a bed for them. I think this is unacceptable. I don't know how, but for the people who have to commute long distances to get health care and any other care something has to be done, to make sure these people are not sent back on the road in snowstorms and bad conditions, jeopardizing their lives, and then have to return again the next day, only to be told that they cannot be seen again that day.

A lot of people that I talked to throughout the Province are desperate when it comes to jobs. They were used to making good money, used to working all year round. In rural Newfoundland and Labrador today these people are barely surviving, struggling to hang on to what they have, and having a job even to put food on their table and shoes on their children's feet. If no one believes me, I could take them to different places and show them what I am talking about. I am sure there is nobody in this House today who does not believe me. I am sure there is every district, particularly the rural areas, that is seeing the same thing and I am sure that they understand.

A lot of people are looking for these make-work programs. The money is not great but it is enough to keep them alive and give them some hope that maybe if they can hang on another little while something better would come along. I am sure if we all work together that maybe something can be done. Hopefully, this government has compassion enough to see that the needs are there in the communities. I think that we are all human and we all have hearts and that we can feel this as much as anybody else.

Even though it is not a glamorous job, tree cutting and thinning at a low wage is better than nothing. Some of these people are certainly hanging on to the hope of getting something this summer and fall. They are depending on these programs. They cannot move. Some of them are getting too old, they are up in their late fifties. Some of them have already moved, went to the mainland and were told: Go back home, you are no good to us, you are at the age now where we cannot do anything with you. We cannot retrain you, we can't do anything. Go back home.

I talked to several people who came home who phoned me and said: What can I do? What can you do for me? There is nothing I can do only just tell them to hang on. Maybe something will be done in the near future that more programs will be put in rural areas of Newfoundland to help them hang on.

Even though a lot of people I have talked to are so desperate, there are still so many out there, particularly younger people between the ages of twenty and thirty, who are coming up with ways of trying to sustain their own living by trying to get involved in small businesses. A lot of them have good ideas, but they turn to politicians to get help, to help them develop and finance their businesses. I have had many call me in the last couple of weeks. One called me particularly in Beaumont. She had a good business idea, and her business would mostly depend on the transportation system to the island of Long Island. A commitment was made during the election to have a study done on that by some other politicians. Most people on Long Island are expecting these politicians and government to keep their word and have that study done, and look at the viability of a causeway for Long Island.

If a causeway is possible, and the prices are reasonable, then we should look at doing that. There are probably close to 400 people on Long Island who are not going to move. The ferry operation on Long Island will be there for many years, and the cost of operating that ferry is going to be so high that maybe a causeway is possible.

With such avenues to access areas of Newfoundland and Labrador, particularly in rural areas, then maybe a lot of these people can stay in their homes, stay in their communities. Not only that, I believe a lot of these communities will grow because of it. The tourist trade in some of these areas could be enhanced greatly if some of these concerns were taken care, particularly with paved roads, causeways, and even in the enhancement of the ferry service, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER (Smith): Order, please!

If I can just interrupt the hon. member for a few seconds to announce the questions for the Late Show?

MR. HUNTER: Yes, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The questions are:

I am dissatisfied with the answer provided by the Minister of Health re my question on doctors resigning. That is from the hon. the Member for Ferryland.

I am dissatisfied with the answer provided by the Minister of Education re my question on education reform. That is from the hon. the Member for Harbour Main-Whitbourne.

I am dissatisfied with the answer provided by the Minister of Education re my question on school busing in St. John's. That is from the hon. the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi.

The hon. the Member for Windsor-Springdale.

MR. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I was talking about job replacement in rural Newfoundland. I think the tourist industry can certainly create a lot of jobs in rural Newfoundland. I know we all must be diligent in finding ways of creating these jobs. Some of these small family business people who I have talked to just need a little help. The biggest resource is the time that they put into it, and I think because of their dedication most of them will be successful, but I think it is on politicians to help any way they can. I realize there are avenues and resources and things available to them.

I think not a lot of attention is being paid to rural Newfoundland. I think too much attention is being paid to the larger urban areas in Newfoundland and Labrador, and I think even the members on the opposite side are not speaking out enough to address the problems in rural Newfoundland. If all of us don't do that, then maybe there will not be enough population to warrant the number of seats that we do have today in this House.

I also see a need in Central Newfoundland, particularly, for more input in the agricultural fields. I feel the resource base in the Central Newfoundland land base - some people in the field tell me the land base is not there. I see a lot of land base that I know is there. I think there is a lot of problems, particularly in Central, with the paper companies because they do not want to give up one inch of land and one foot of timber.

Multi-users in Newfoundland have to have access to our land base, our resource bases, particularly in the forestry sector. There are a lot of good ideas in Newfoundland pertaining to people wanting to develop different businesses and industries. If they do not get that chance, maybe in a few years then even some of the larger areas in rural Newfoundland will be wiped out. We have to be smart enough to realize that certain things can be done and certain things cannot be done.

In particular, in my area there is a blueberry association formed just lately that has some good ideas for the blueberry industry in Central Newfoundland. They are running into all kinds of road blocks because of government bureaucracy and big business interference into smaller business trying to get started. These bigger businesses do not want to see small businesses succeed, because they know that down the road these small businesses will become bigger and need more of the resource. The best thing now that these big businesses are saying: Let us keep them out now, keep them from creating jobs.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. HUNTER: That is true. You should be listening, hon. minister.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

AN HON. MEMBER: I was listening. That is not fair. (Inaudible) couldn't hear.

MR. HUNTER: You were? Do you want me to start from the beginning? I said some of these big businesses are not being fair to the smaller businesses. They are controlling the resources in the area, so a lot of these small businesses that have potential to grow, these big businesses are trying to keep them down. Okay?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. HUNTER: Thank you. I got a fair compliment from you the other day, Mr. Minister, and I appreciate it. I think you are treating me pretty fair.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. HUNTER: Some people cannot believe it and some people cannot understand it.

MR. FRENCH: What did he do? What did he do, Walter?

MR. HUNTER: I do not know if he was smoking something or drinking something but I did get a compliment from him and I thank him very much.

MR. FRENCH: Don't go praising him up too much, now.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS THISTLE: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

On a point of order, the hon. the President of Treasury Board.

MS THISTLE: The Member for Windsor-Springdale said that the blueberry business in his district was held up by government bureaucracy. I would like to clarify that statement. Government has been totally supportive of that industry and, in fact, has interceded with the paper company to allow a Crown land transfer.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

There is no point of order.

The hon. the Member for Windsor-Springdale.

MR. HUNTER: I take it the hon. minister then will make sure the association will get the land base that they need. I guess she has been working on that and I can go back to the blueberry association and tell them yes, things will be done for them, and they will receive the 300 hectares of land they are looking for. Can I do that, Madam Minister?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. HUNTER: Did you? I can go back and tell them then that they are going to get the rest of what they need. Thank you very much, sir.

MS THISTLE: Mr. Speaker, on a point of order.

MR. SPEAKER: On a point of order, the hon. the President of Treasury Board.

MS THISTLE: (Inaudible) I was making reference, Mr. Speaker, to a statement that you just made and it references our support for the association. We have done it in previous encounters with the association. It does not address what you are talking about today.

AN HON. MEMBER: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: There is no point of order.

The hon. the Member for Windsor-Springdale.

MR. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I read the letters. I get letters faxed every second day from the association and talk to them by phone. They still are frustrated because they are not getting full support from the department. Other than that, you would have to talk to the association members. I can get the fax, and I have letters I can give you if you want them.

Also throughout the district are other people who have good business ideas. I talked to -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. HUNTER: They have the best now.

Mr. Speaker, some young people I talked to, young family members, have good ideas. I think we have to do what we can to make sure these young people get a chance to put their dreams into reality.

I can go on, I have a list here, but I know my hon. colleague wants to get up too.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. HUNTER: Okay. Thank you very much.

Mr. Speaker, I will go back to one area in particular. Four hundred jobs could be in jeopardy if something is not done soon, and that is in the town of Triton. We have a fish plant there that is a viable fish plant, a pretty well revamped new fish plant. The town has been calling me -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

AN HON. MEMBER: Four hundred jobs, he said, in jeopardy.

MR. HUNTER: Four hundred jobs in the FPI fish plant in Triton if they do not get the new water line to the fish plant. I do not know if a commitment was made but I would like to know if it was. If a commitment was made I certainly would appreciate it. It is not for me, it is for the people of Green Bay south, and particularly around the Triton area. Mr. Speaker, I would like to get more information from the minister on that if he is willing to get it for me.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. HUNTER: Thank you. Okay. I just support the hon. Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture on his efforts there.

Mr. Speaker, I have seen cases in the coastal areas of my district where people have to cut four feet off their boat so they can go out and fish, to be within the regulation. I have people in there that had to add so many feet on their boat so they can fish. It just blows my mind to see why the federal government - I guess it is under the federal fisheries policies -, that people would have to do this kind of thing to make a living and jeopardize their safety to go out there and have to cut four feet off their boat. I really do not understand why they would have to do that. I am sure the hon. minister is aware of it and I am sure he is working on that. If changes can be made on that, I would support him 100 per cent on that.

Now I will speak on the environment issues throughout Newfoundland and Labrador today. I see a crisis arising, particularly in my district, with landfills. We have several communities whose landfills are overfull. Something has to be done in the near future to address that problem. There was a report done last year, and I believe there is a new report being done this year. I hope that soon in Green Bay South and Springdale something will be done with regards to landfill in that area. Because there is a lot of danger there, particularly with people in the area who use the landfill sites there. There is a lot of danger particularly to people living near the existing landfill areas with the smoke, pollution and everything going into the communities. I hope that this year the minister will look into that need and make sure his department will look into it and make sure something could be done this year. There are great concerns in all the communities in that part of the district.

In my district alone, I have great concerns with our regional garbage incinerator, the Grand Falls-Windsor incinerator. It is on one side of the road and our water supply is on the other side of the road. When the wind changes, comes in from the southeast and easterly winds, all this smoke settles on the water in our water supply. I realize we do have a new water treatment plant but I think there is still something wrong. In our community alone in the past couple of years the cases of cancer are rising and rising. Every day you hear talk of people getting cancer and dying from cancer. I talked to the town on it. They said they were monitoring the water supply. I think the type of monitoring that is done is not sufficient to find out what chemicals are being introduced in our water supply because of the incineration.

Now we have a bigger problem in there. Because it has been made a regional incineration site, then we are bringing garbage in from communities as far away as Botwood - and I believe Northern Arm, I am not sure if it is Northern Arm -, Bishop's Falls, Grand Falls-Windsor. Now they are talking about bringing garbage from Badger.

The amount of pollution going into that water supply could be quadrupled. I have not talked to my hon. colleague because she is in the same area as a member, but I think probably I will talk to her. Probably between both of us we could get the ball rolling on some more studies in that area. I think it is imperative that we do something because too many children are being affected. Too many young people are dying in Central Newfoundland. I do not know the reason, I cannot say, but we do have an industry in there creating a lot of air pollution. We do have this incinerator creating a lot of pollution. I think that in the near future I will lobbying the Department of Environment and Labour to have more studies, and independent studies, because an independent study probably will be more effective then some government department study. This incinerator should be dismantled. It is not efficient, and I think it is time we do something about it. I will lobby from now on to have something done about that.

With the school situation, particularly in St. Francis Xavier, I know we will be working on that. I know something is going to have to be done. I feel confident that maybe before the September opening of the school things will be corrected. I am looking forward to seeing something done there.

Also, with the extensions in schools in my district, the Brian Peckford Elementary, a lot of work has to be done there. The extension has to be there to address the problems they are having with the special needs' students. It is not acceptable in this day and age to take special needs' students into a broom closet and try to teach them something, with no windows, just one light in that room. I think this government has to realize that District #5 deserves the input of new money. This year there is not one new dollar for District #5.

This district sacrificed, they did the cuts, they did everything they could do to please the government, and now the government is turning their back on District #5. I think that if they could spend $15 million somewhere else, in another school district, I think District #5 deserves money being spent in this district to give the children an acceptable place to learn. I think that parents are very mad in Grand Falls-Windsor, Triton, Springdale, and Dorset Collegiate parents are very mad.

I think there is a price going to be paid by politicians. Unfortunately, if we do not all fulfil our duties to make sure that these facilities are acceptable then a lot of members on the other side are going to pay a big price next election. These things you do not forget. You do not take these things lightly. People in the districts do not forget this too easily.

I think if the government does not put people's needs before dollars and cents - even though it is nice to have balanced budgets and surplus money, I think the needs of people are more important to have their needs taken care of then trying to have a big slush fund for the next election, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I conclude.

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

MR. EFFORD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. EFFORD: Mr. Speaker, I have about fourteen minutes left this afternoon so I am going to try to bring together the few remarks I wanted to make this afternoon. Because after listening to the Member for Windsor-Springdale making some of the remarks, and other colleagues on the other side of the House, I think it is time we tried to put in context what is happening here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I think if I have said it once I have said it a thousand times, in many speaking engagements in Newfoundland and Labrador and across this country, that, bar none, we live in the greatest country in the whole world, and, bar none, Newfoundland excels over any other Province across this country. There is no doubt about that in anybody's mind.

The one thing that I've found in my fifteen years in politics is the attitudes of people. People somehow want to dwell on the negative. The more I listen to the news media, the more I listen to people talking all the time, the Opposition, is there any wonder why our people are talking negatively all the time? I try to speak to as many high schools as I possibly can when I get an invitation, not only in my district but anywhere in the Province, and when I talk to them I try to motivate them, talk to them about positive things.

Look, we have more resource per capita here than any other part of this country. Now that is a big statement to make, but look at the 560,000 people living in this Province, look at the resources we have in this Province, and all we are talking about is negative. There is never a day that you can turn on the radio, turn on the television, read a newspaper, listen to people talking - is there any wonder why our children are demoralized? Is there any wonder why the only thing they see when they graduate from high school is to leave Newfoundland and Labrador? It should not be like that. Sitting around the kitchen table, sitting on the park bench, sitting in restaurants, when the parents or whoever is sitting in their company, it is negative, negative, negative.

I would say to a few people in this Province, regardless of their careers, travel. If you want to see people in desperate situations, travel outside Canada and live in the conditions that people in other parts of the world are living in, and the attitudes they have compared to the attitudes here. I am going to tell you, people who are complaining all the time now and people who are saying we have nothing here and should be doing more, I can tell you that there would be a lot of people who would come back and live and pray to God that we keep on living in this Province.

What I am saying is simply this. Look at the size of Newfoundland and Labrador. Look at the geography of Newfoundland and Labrador, a piece of land four times larger than Japan. The population of Japan is in excess of 120 million people; the population of Newfoundland and Labrador, approximately 560,000 people. Those people living on this mass of land require the same services as a country like Japan, four times smaller with 120 million people. Look at the health care in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. For 560,000 people, how many health care systems do we require? How many doctors' offices do we require? How many clinics do we require? Look at the schools in Newfoundland and Labrador. Because of the geography, because of the isolation of communities, how many schools do we require? Everybody living in Newfoundland and Labrador needs and wants more, and that is fine. People should be provided with the best possible health care system that they can be provided with, that they can afford. Every child in Newfoundland going to school, either elementary, post-secondary education, university, requires the best education they can possibly get.

I can tell you that while we require and while we demand more, somebody has to pay for it. Not members on that side of the House, not members on this side of the House. The people who have to pay for it are the people working in Newfoundland and Labrador, the people who pay taxes. The people who, every time they get a pay cheque, they take that pay cheque out and here is a portion, that much of that cheque is gone in taxes. What for? To provide the services to the people who are demanding them on a day to day basis.

Government is no different than any business in Newfoundland and Labrador. It is no different than any family living in Newfoundland and Labrador. You take in money and you spend money. If a family is taking in $2,000 a month and they are spending $2,500 or $3,000 a month, they are continuously going down further in debt. What will happen at the end of the day? At some point in time somebody will bring it to a halt. You spend more than you can afford to pay back.

When I operated a business for the seventeen years prior to politics, it was no different. I could only spend according to the amount of money I earned. Once I went beyond that there was trouble. The banks were calling up: John, you got an overdraft, you have to come up with money. Where am I going to get it? I do not have it any more. So if that is the case, what happens? The bank tightens the cord and you are out of business.

Now, what is the difference about government? Government collects taxes from the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. Government receives transfer payments and equalization payments from Ottawa. Now what do you do?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. EFFORD: I did not interrupt the hon. member. Give me the same opportunity and I will get to what I am talking about.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. EFFORD: I still have not heard the question he asked.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. EFFORD: Mr. Speaker, this government is entrusted by the people of this Province. As long as the people of this Province vote for this government -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. EFFORD: It is just as well to sit down and shut up. What is the point?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. EFFORD: Tom, being a former principal of a school, you know better.

Mr. Speaker, this government is no different than any financial institution, any business, any corporation, or anybody else who is entrusted with a responsibility. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador entrusted this government with a responsibility to manage the affairs for the people of the Province, to manage the needs and services of the people of the Province, to provide the services to the people of the Province.

Now, if you do it under pressure, you do it for political decisions, you do it every time somebody gets a demand for money, and you keep saying yes, you will be the nice guy. You will definitely be appreciated by all the people who ask you for an increase, more services, more schools, more teachers, whatever. This government, the Premier of this Province, and every minister in the Cabinet will be great for the people who are receiving it for the day, but somebody someday, whether tomorrow or next month, has to pay for it. Somebody has to be taken to task for it.

Let me go back thirty years or so, let's go back to 1972. Let's go back to 1949. When we joined Canada, what happened for twenty-three years Premier Smallwood was in power? That debt at the end of his term was $800 million.

MR. TULK: Seven hundred and ninety million dollars.

MR. EFFORD: Seven hundred and ninety million dollars. In those days that was a lot of money. The taxpayers of this Province must pay that back. Then along came the Progressive Conservative government in 1972. After seventeen years in government, the debt in 1989 was what?

MR. TULK: Five billion dollars.

MR. EFFORD: Five billion dollars. Now, somebody has to pay that back. Who pays that back? The people who are employed in this Province. Their tax dollars pay that back. Their children and their grandchildren will be paying that money back. The interest on that loan every single year is $585 million.

MR. SULLIVAN: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The minister made a statement there. The public sector debt in 1989 was $4.845 billion, and it was last year $6.386 billion, of which today it is $5.982 billion. It increased over $1.1 billion since 1989.

MR. SPEAKER: There is no point of order.

The hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair has recognized the hon. the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

MR. EFFORD: If the hon. member had to give me an opportunity, I was going to get to that. I was not going to ignore that. I never came down and accused the Tory government of driving the Province in debt. Not yet. I never got to that yet, Mr. Speaker. I will.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. EFFORD: Mr. Speaker, the people in this Province will hold the responsibility of the management of government, whether it is mismanagement or whether it is management, and whether there are demands from the general public, whatever the profession they are into. Whatever monies are paid out, whatever debt is incurred, somebody will have to pay for it. Who will have to pay for that? Our children, our grandchildren. That is who will have to pay for that money. Any minister, any premier, any government collectively must look at where the money is coming from.

I will speak for myself as a minister, and I will speak as all of government. We want to do whatever is possible to provide whatever service is necessary for the people of this Province. There is nobody sitting on this side of the House who is saying: We do not want to do it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. EFFORD: It is absolutely not correct. It is like when I had a group of people in today to see me about a fish plant license. They really want one. They see it as the only way that their community can survive. The nicest thing I could have done for them is to say yes to them, but I would have been telling them wrong.

MR. TULK: It would not have been the best thing.

MR. EFFORD: It would not have been the best thing. Because where is the resource going to come from? Where are all the resources going to come from that people are demanding? That is what happened to us in the 1970s and 1980s. They gave into the pressure of the people, they gave into the demand. We built 245 fish plants. Too much demand on the resource. What happened?

You have to be honest with people. For the most part, people want to hear honestly. Do they accept it all the time? No. When you ask for something and you don't get it you don't like the answer. The fact remains that it is better to be honest with people and tell them the truth up front so they can have an understanding of where you are coming from.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible)?

AN HON. MEMBER: Did you give them what?

MR. EFFORD: Did you give him a suitcase? Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member wants to get -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER (Snow): Order, please!

MR. EFFORD: Mr. Speaker, if I listen to the hon. members opposite then we will borrow every dollar that is needed to keep everybody in Newfoundland, regardless of whether they want to or not. We would pay them to stay home, and then for the next one hundred years our children and our grandchildren will be paying off the debt.

It is 4:30 p.m., Mr. Speaker, so I will adjourn debate.

MR. SPEAKER: It is not quite 4:30 p.m. but I assume we are ready to go to the Late Show.

Debate on the Adjournment

[Late Show]

MR. SPEAKER: I will call on the hon. Member for Ferryland.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The question I asked was to the Minister of Health. I did not get a satisfactory answer. I stated in the House of Assembly yesterday that three doctors resigned from the Bonavista Hospital, leaving only two to carry the workload. I asked her: What has her department done to try to retain those doctors? She said: We put in place a provincial recruitment committee comprised of a number of groups. I informed the minister that she is really missing the boat on this whole problem. The emphasis should be on the retention of doctors in our Province. Then we would not need to be looking at recruitment. What did you do to keep doctors? You have an aggressive recruitment committee? That is far from a satisfactory answer, I say to the minister.

If we were diverting our efforts into keeping people here in our Province we would not have as big a problem. It is tough enough as it is, and I acknowledge it is a tough job. What has happened now is that a lot of people waited, and a lot of specialists waited, for the last several months on the MOU. It is filtered out now what they are going to get and they are starting to realize: We have waited and we sat still, and what we expected we might get is not there. It is not sufficient to deal with the workload and with the salary problems.

On top of that, many other provinces in this country are starting to realize that we have to invest more in the health care. Mike Harris in Ontario, 10,000 nurses, over $1 billion in health care -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Ferryland.

MR. SULLIVAN: They do not like to hear good news, I tell them, in Ontario. They do not like to hear it. That is their problem. They do not like to hear good news in Ontario; that is what I tell them.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Ferryland.

MR. SULLIVAN: What we need in this Province, yes, is a commonsense revolution because they are lacking commonsense on that side of the House. We want some commonsense.

I asked the minister: What are we doing to keep those five and possibly six, I have heard, pathologists leaving St. John's now - just this week it has come up - kidney specialists, GI specialists. We have seen five gone from the Janeway in the last few months. It would be a sad day, I would say, in this Province when the chief of paediatric oncology leaves this Province.

I have had more calls in this last week on a single doctor leaving - on this particular paediatric oncologist leaving this Province - than I have had on any other single person resigning in medicine in this Province; people whose kids went through it, young people in their twenties who went through the Janeway Hospital. It is pretty unfortunate. It is unfortunate, I can tell you, and I can tell the Member for Carbonear-Harbour Grace that the facts that I raised in this House - and I call them facts - are true to the letter, and what I have said in this House in the past two and three years are coming true today.

I warned the government - I warned them on many occasions - and told them how to stop it, and they failed to respond. The minister stood in this House on Monday and made a statement that is not true - a down, outright untruth, I would say. That is what it was in this House, and it is here on the record.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member knows that he cannot use that kind of language in this Parliament, so I ask him to withdraw his remark.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I withdraw "untruth". I did not know untruth was not parliamentary. I withdraw it and apologize, certainly.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. SULLIVAN: I knew I could not say that she told a lie. I knew I could not say that, but I did not know -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. SULLIVAN: I ask the minister, in the absence of the Minister of Health today: Could you tell us why the department, the Province, is not putting their efforts into retaining doctors and they are hell-bent on forming recruitment committees all over the Province on trying to recruit doctors? It is the loss of doctors that is causing the problem, Minister, and I think something needs to be done about it. That is very genuine.

The Burin Peninsula - there is a possibility. People are talking about leaving. I heard mayors on the radio saying they spoke with doctors and there are doctors that have gone; doctors are leaving.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. SULLIVAN: So maybe the minister can tell us what the department has done to work on retaining those doctors, as opposed to trying to set up recruitment committees.

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

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When the hon. member rises and asks a question, and puts forward as a possible solution the example that has been followed by Mike Harris in Ontario, I almost feel like sitting down and saying, Mr. Speaker, I rest my case.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. MATTHEWS: When he proposes that the answer to health care is to lay off -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to remove the sign that is on the -

AN HON. MEMBER: It is unparliamentary, Mr. Speaker, very unparliamentary.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. MATTHEWS: When the hon. member suggests that the solution to solving the health care crisis is to lay off 12,000 nurses, then announce over five years he is going to hire back ten, I would suggest it is probably over five weeks that he is probably going to hire back a few, rather than five years. We will see where they are.

On top of that, he suggests that the example we should be following as a government is to continue to be running deficits of the order that Ontario is running - $2 billion in their budget the other day, when they announced four years ago that they were going to have a balanced budget and tax refunds by now. They have refunded no taxes and they have a deficit as big as your head.

AN HON. MEMBER: That is pretty big.

MR. MATTHEWS: That is big.

AN HON. MEMBER: As big as his ego.

MR. MATTHEWS: As big as his ego.

Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member was genuinely concerned and pointedly honest with respect to retention issues, he would get up and first of all, acknowledge -

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

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. SULLIVAN: It is unparliamentary to say that someone is dishonest, or imply that in this House.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair did not hear what the hon. member had to say, or did not interrupt it in that context, but if the hon. member said something that is unparliamentary I am sure he would -

MR. MATTHEWS: Mr. Speaker, I repeat again, I said: If the hon. member was genuinely concerned and pointedly honest with respect to the issue of retention of doctors, he would be get up and acknowledge that three years ago, when I just happened to be the Health Minister, we were the first ones to introduce a retention bonus of $7,500 minimum, $10,000 maximum, $20,000 over two years, to start to address the issue of retention of doctors.

MR. SULLIVAN: Five thousand (inaudible).

MR. MATTHEWS: Five and ten, I am sorry, ten and twenty over two years. So, you do acknowledge? You do acknowledge, and the record will show that you rose in the House and said we were making a good first start on retention.

Well, Mr. Speaker, since then we have thrown about 30 per cent more money into the MCP budget for the cause of paying doctors what we can afford to pay them commensurate with their skills in consideration of the marketplace.

MR. SULLIVAN: (Inaudible).

MR. MATTHEWS: No, commensurate with their skills. We pay GPs -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. MATTHEWS: No, I did not say that. Mr. Speaker, the hon. member will not listen.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. MATTHEWS: He will not listen, lest he will learn, but if he listens he might learn.

What I said was that we are paying doctors, commensurate with their responsibilities or their skills, as much as we can afford to pay them.

We pay GPs at a different rate than specialists, and obviously there is a whole different range of -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. MATTHEWS: Absolutely. What is wrong with that?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. MATTHEWS: Mr. Speaker, Hansard will show.

Let me say, without being laborious with respect to the answer to the hon. member's question, we are doing as much as we can financially do, as much as we can humanly do, and we will continue to make the valiant effort along every front we can to not only attract doctors but to do as he suggests - and, correctly so - retain doctors once we get them; because recruiting would never be a problem if we could retain the doctors we have.

I agree we should be retaining the doctors, and we are working on that issue. The Minister of Health has put additional measures in place that she has alluded to. I think the hon. member, if he was totally transparent in his heart of hearts, he would be up in his place today and saying: Notwithstanding the difficulties we have of getting doctors, that you, as a government, have done a good job in terms of your ability to get doctors and to keep doctors and to get the job done in health care.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Harbour Main-Whitbourne.

MR. HEDDERSON: Mr. Speaker, again I direct to the Minister of Education that the response to the question today regarding the information that is coming in from parents and students, from investors in the education system, that they are being misinformed. I go back to, again, the meeting of last evening at Whitbourne and again present to the minister some more examples of where the cutback in teacher allocation in these particular schools is causing a cutback in programming.

The first school would be St. George's Regional High in New Harbour. St. George's Regional High in New Harbour will lose one teaching unit for the next school year, and consequently the decision of the administration of that school is not to offer art next year, as well as some components of the home economics program. That is the loss of a half unit. The other half unit will be absorbed by the industrial resource teachers. Next year, the IRT will be certainly less than it is in this particular year.

All Hallows Elementary in North River will, as well, lose a full unit. Because this particular year there is an increase at the kindergarten level there will now be, instead of a two-way split at the kindergarten level, a three-way split, and this is putting extra pressure upon the administration there to present a program.

So the loss of a full unit, and as well the reduction of the challenging needs to a halftime unit, necessitates the following program reductions: (a) reduce the music program by 50 per cent; (b) reduce the physical education program by 50 per cent; (c) reduce the amount of time devoted to technology education; (d) reallocation internally of special education teachers at the primary and elementary level to meet the needs of the challenging needs students during now the absence of the challenging needs teacher because of reduction of a half unit; a significant reduction in the number of students and the level of services provided for those availing of the special education services at this particular school.

These are hard choices, very hard choices, and again obvious that the program at All Hallows Elementary next September, 1999, will indeed be less of a quality program than is currently being offered at that school, because of the loss of a full unit.

The third example - I like to deal with threes - is at Holy Redeemer Elementary in Spaniard's Bay. Again, I draw to the attention of the minister that in view of the fact that this school will lose a unit and they will, as well as All Hallows, have an additional class to program because next year there will be double classes in one of the particular grade levels - anyway, the programs of this year, this present, current school year, cannot be continued under the present allocation.

Again I just point to the programs that are going to be lost because, once again, of the cut; and it is a cut in regard to the (inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. HEDDERSON: Again the question: How can this be?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

The hon. the Minister of Education.

MS FOOTE: Mr. Speaker, I would like to start out again by making reference to the fact that we have seen a significant decline in student enrolment in this Province, and it is not going to end with 97,000 students. In fact, if we were to project out for the next ten years, we are looking at about 70,000 students in our system.

What has happened through consolidation, because we have seen such a dramatic decline in student enrolment, is that we have seen our schools go from a number of 538 in 1990-1991, to today where we have 365 schools. That is a reduction of 173 schools.

For anyone to suggest, with that kind of a decline in student enrolment, and that kind of reduction in the number of schools, that we should not look at a reduction in the number of teachers, is being totally unrealistic and irresponsible.

Mr. Speaker, if you look at the decline in student enrolment over the last couple of years, in fact, we have seen 8.1 per cent decline in student enrolment and 5.8 per cent decline in teacher allocations. Again, we have not, as a government, removed teachers according to the decline in student population.

We know that the programs that are being offered, the prescribed curriculum that is being offered through the Department of Education, 162 courses are available under the prescribed curriculum throughout this Province; of course, different subjects being offered at different schools, but any student can get the required number of credits they require to graduate - that is thirty-six credits - in three years.

Clearly, if you are going to want to take courses that are available, locally developed courses, for instance: Advanced Textiles; Food Service; Housing/Interior Design; First Aid Survival; Workplace Safety; Audio/Visual Production; Media and Society; Video Film Arts, they may not be able to take those courses. Those are courses that are not required as part of the prescribed curriculum, courses that are not required for entrance into a post-secondary institution.

My fear - and this is why we are meeting with all of the education directors - is that some of the administrators may in fact be allocating teachers in the system to offer these particular courses, to the determent of the prescribed courses. That is precisely why we are meeting with the education directors. Unfortunately, we cannot clue up the meetings as soon as we would like because three of them happen to be in Iceland on a study tour. It is not a very good time to be in Iceland, I would add, when concerns are being expressed around the Province, concerns again that I think are based on misinformation.

My larger concern is just the genesis of that misinformation. We have the president of the NLTA, the president of the teachers' union, who, yes, came into me and said: Minister, you cannot remove any teachers from the system. You just cannot do that; we have to have a motorium. It does not matter that we have a declining student enrolment. There must be a motorium on teachers.

You know, Mr. Speaker, I recognize that Mr. Doyle is the president of a union. He is doing his job. I cannot fault him for that. He has a constituency, just like we all have constituencies. He was acting on behalf of his constituency. I said to him then and I have said to him since, that it is unrealistic to expect that there would not be a reduction in the number of teachers when you look at the declining student enrolment.

The school board trustees came in, the federation of school councils came in, and they too said: Be careful when you are reducing teachers; you cannot reduce teachers if it is going to impact on programming. At the time, everyone assumed we were going to be following the formula which would have seen us remove 418 teachers from the system. We did not do that. We made a conscious choice not to do that. What we have been able to do is retain, within the system, an additional 236 teachers -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. minister's time is up.

MS FOOTE: - hoping that will, in fact, enable us to continue with a good quality program above and beyond what is required for graduation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I asked a question to the minister about the provision of busing in St. John's for students, but that question was really about the benefits of education reform. What is becoming very clear in this Province is that this government and the predecessor government went about this Province singing the praises of education reform because it was going to, they said, improve the quality of education in the Province, deliver a better program, stop all this busing of children pass one school to another. We were going to achieve major efficiencies and major savings.

We went through a excruciating period in this Province over the last several years trying to get through this education reform. We had two referendums. We had not had a referendum for fifty years. We insisted, even those who did not wish to give up their rights, that they would no longer be able to have denominational schools, because for the good of all we were going to improve the system.

As the Minister of Health says: That was then and this is now. Now all we can hear from the minister and government is declining student enrolments. When the people of this Province are looking around and asking: Where is the improvement?, they are being told: We have declining student enrolments. Where is the improvement? Where is the benefit of education reform if the minister and her government are using eighteen year old formulas to try and take teachers away from classrooms and are in fact making things worse?

The minister wants to talk about two or three special programs there. Those are not the programs we were hearing about being lost last night. Those are not the programs that have been lost over the last couple of years by the application of this formula. The declining student enrolment should be an opportunity to improve the education system by having more teachers to provide the programs all throughout the Province.

Busing is an issue as well. It arises particularly in St. John's where there is no school bus program except in a few very small instances. There is no school bus program except the Metrobus, the Metrobus which must be paid for by the parents themselves to get their children back and forth to school, subsidized not by this government but by the taxpayers of St. John's paying their taxes to subsidize a school bus system. It is still -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. HARRIS: There are some people who can afford it, there is no question about that, but there are many people who cannot afford to pay for a bus pass for their children, one, two, three, sometimes four children going to school. If you have a young child, someone going to kindergarten - my daughter is going to kindergarten. She will not be 5 years old in September. She will be going to kindergarten. Do we put four-year-old children on a Metrobus by themselves to go to school? Is that what we do if we do not have a car, if we do not have private transportation? Is that what we do if we don't have private transportation and if we live far away from school?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. HARRIS: This is a serious issue. You can talk all you want about people's income, your own income, or someone else's. I do not care, it does not make any difference. I am talking, Mr. Speaker, about people in this city who cannot afford a bus pass for their kids and are expected, somehow or other, to get their children to school.

There are three issues. Number one is the cost issue. Number two is the issue of safety. The minister mentioned the other day about people crossing four lanes of road to get from their home to the school. That is a very important issue as well. The third issue is one of discrimination. Children, students, their parents, their families, if they live in St. John's they are being discriminated against because the school bus policy does not apply for them.

There are some places where we had school buses before. The school locations have changed. No assurance has been given. No study was done when they closed down schools to determine what the social affect on schoolchildren would be. I would like the minister to address these issues: the issue of cost, the issue of safety, and the issue of discrimination against students in St. John's.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

The hon. the Minister of Education.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS FOOTE: Mr. Speaker, I thought the hon. member wanted to speak about busing, but let me answer his question in the manner in which he asked it, and that was to talk about education reform.

Let me tell him what education reform has meant. With regards to access to physical education in the Province, in urban parts of this Province two years ago, 83.7 per cent had access. Today, 97.1 per cent have access. That is physical education. If you look at rural parts of this Province, two years ago 88 per cent of our students had access to physical education. Today, 90.9 per cent have access.

This is what reform has done. Regarding access to music, in the urban parts of our Province two years ago 76.7 per cent of our students had access to music. This year, 82.4 per cent have access. If you want to look at it in rural Newfoundland, the same situation applies.

Now, on to access to French. If you look at urban Newfoundland - and this is French 3200 - 96.6 per cent have access, and it is going up. Rural Newfoundland is going up. If you look at access in computer technology - and I could go on and on. That is what education reform has done.

As well, we have reinvested $125 million back into the school system for renovations and new school construction. We can go on and on and talk about education reform. Yes, there will be substantial savings, and I would expect, speaking to the issue of busing, that in the Avalon East District, because of the consolidations that have taken place, there will be a significant savings in their money for busing.

We are having ongoing discussions with that particular board to look at those areas of concern, and there are areas of concern where, in fact, the Metrobus - right now there is not a bus route. We certainly have to look at that. We also have to look at those areas where, again, safety is an issue in terms of crossing four-lane traffic.

Mr. Speaker, we have a perfectly good public transportation system in St. John's.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS FOOTE: Yes, there is a cost, Mr. Speaker, but there is a cost to everything today. In those areas where we have people who are finding it difficult because of the cost we have indeed put busing in place at a subsidized level. Certainly we have recognized there is a need there, and we will be looking at other areas as well in the Avalon East District.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

On motion, the House at its rising adjourned until tomorrow, Monday at 2:00 pm.