November 25. 2002 HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS Vol. XLIV No. 34


The House met at 1:30 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Snow): Order, please!

On November 20, the hon. Government House Leader raised a point of order concerning comments made by the hon. the Leader of the Opposition during Oral Question Period on November 19.

Before getting into the details of the point of order, the Chair would like to remind all hon. members of the importance of conducting the proceedings in this or any other Parliament in such a way as to respect the integrity of all members. Without such respect, the proceedings descend into disorder and the work of the House becomes secondary to wrangling and disputes. To quote Marleau and Montpetit on page 525: "...the use of offensive, (or) provocative...language in the House is strictly forbidden." "Personal attacks, insults...are not in order."

While the acceptability of language depends on the context, there are certain prohibitions which are fairly well established. These can be found in 481 of Beauchesne's 6th Edition.

A member must not, "(e) impute bad motives or motives different from those acknowledged by a Member or (f) make a personal charge against a Member."

It has been consistently ruled in the House that language must be temperate. I think this is the key to the whole matter.

It is also, however, a requirement when raising points of order that members bring such matters to the attention of the House immediately. In the case of something said during Oral Question Period, of course, it should be raised at the appropriate time, immediately after the proceedings are over.

However, it is perhaps a good opportunity to remind all members of the necessity of keeping their language temperate and of respecting the integrity of one's colleagues and the dignity of the House.

In respect of the expression raised by the hon. the Government House Leader, the expression, "Shame on you," the Chair has done some research and has found that it is one that is frequently used in various parliaments.

However, the expression, "less than honest", is in the category of imputing bad motives and, when applied to an individual, is unacceptable and tends to cause disorder.

Two points that I want to make: One is, that from now on all points of order will have to be raised when they arise or in the case of Oral Questions, of course, they should be raised at the appropriate time.

The Chair did take the point of order under advisement and, in the view of the Chair, calling a member less than honest is unparliamentary and the Chair now invites the hon. Leader to withdraw that comment.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I graciously accept your ruling, and I withdraw my remark that the hon. gentleman was anything less than honest.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair would like to take this opportunity as well to invite to the House today fifteen adult education students from the school, Skill for Success on Military Road. They are accompanied by their instructors: Bernadette Galgay, Agnes Murphy and Anne Buckle, Director.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

Statements by Members

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

MR. MERCER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to inform all hon. members that Humber Valley Resort has received an International, Mercedes-Benz award as the best Canadian resort development in 2002.

This award was recently accepted by local entrepreneur, Brian Dobbin, at an awards ceremony held at the Royal Ascot Pavilion in London, England.

Mr. Dobbin and his partner, Mr. Rex Phillpott of Cottles Island, received the award for the resort that they are currently constructing in Humber East on the north shore of Deer Lake just east of Strawberry Hill. A resort which will consist of some 350 luxurious chalets and a championship golf course.

The Mercedes-Benz awards are presented annually to the top international property developers and property marketing companies in the world. This year over 1,000 companies were nominated worldwide, including eight from Canada with Humber Valley Resort being the only Canadian winner and the only recipient to receive the prestigious five star platinum commendation.

Mr. Speaker, this award speaks highly of the high regard that the Humber Valley Resort development and its principals have on the international scene and the ability of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to successfully compete in International markets.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this hon. House to join with me in congratulating Mr. Brian Dobbin and Mr. Rex Phillpott of Humber Valley Resorts on receiving this prestigious award.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to ask the House to join with me to send special congratulations and best wishes to the organizing committee, supporters and the senior hockey team, the Cataracts of Grand Falls- Windsor.

Mr. Speaker, the Cataracts are back for the 2002 and 2003 season in senior hockey with the Labatt's Western Senior Hockey League.

Mr. Speaker, the Cataracts have not played Provincial Senior Hockey since 1984-1985 season, but with the help of many people and sponsors, too many to mention, we now have a very energetic group of players from Badger, Bishop's Falls, Gander and Lewisporte.

The Cataracts are showing great skills in hockey and I know the spectators watching this team will not be disappointed; they have already won three out of four games played. Saturday past, I had the honour of participating in the start of the first game on home ice at the Windsor Stadium. The Cataracts played to a full house both on Saturday and Sunday.

Mr. Speaker, the supporters of the Cataracts will be shouting: Go Cats Go for some great hockey. I say thanks to the team and the organizing committee.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Carbonear-Harbour Grace.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SWEENEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to congratulate Mr. Ches Penney, a native of Carbonear, on being named Atlantic Entrepreneur of the Year for 2002. Mr. Penney is chairman and founder of The Penney Group of Companies which has blossomed from a small owner-managed road building company in 1971, to a holding group with more than sixty companies in four provinces. The Penney Group of Companies employs almost 3,000 people in a multitude of industries, including: construction, real estate, automotive, seafood processing, off-shore oil and gas services, ship repair, steel fabrication and marine terminal services.

Mr. Penney is a well-respected businessman in the community who builds long lasting relationships with his colleagues and the business community based on trust and honesty. He also supports a number of non-profit and charitable local pursuits. His tenacity, sense of commitment and infectious spirit provide encouragement for our Province's entrepreneurs.

I think it is fitting that we acknowledge Mr. Penney's contribution to entrepreneurship in Newfoundland and Labrador and the contributions of all entrepreneurs within the Province. Also, I would like to recognize the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Atlantic Progress magazine and Air Canada Jazz who sponsored the Entrepreneur of the Year program in the Atlantic region.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members to join with me in expressing congratulations to Mr. Penney and all who made the awards possible.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to acknowledge the 30th anniversary of the St. John's Status of Women Council. Since 1972, the St. John's Status of Women Council have been working hard to advance the social and economic equality of women in our Province, and all members of the council, past and present, are to be commended for the excellent work they have done.

There were a series of events this past week in honour of the anniversary, including a gala dinner on Saturday evening, which I had the pleasure of attending. Unfortunately, there were not other members of the House there to enjoy the historic event and to hear the speeches and comments of so many activist women, both past and present, who shared stories of their struggles and achievements.

Wendy Williams, feminist activist, long-term council member, and past President of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, was here from British Columbia to give the keynote address. We want to thank Wendy and all the women, past and present, who worked so diligently in furthering the cause of women.

Over the past thirty years, the St. John's Status of Women Council has been lobbying on behalf of women, challenging and changing inequalities that women face, and advancing equality in the Province. They established the first women's centre in Canada to be owned in their own building and were also the driving force behind the development of women's shelters in this Province and started the Iris Kirby House.

While much has been accomplished, there is much work to be done. The St. John's Status of Women Council will continue to play a leading and critical role in addressing women's issues, shaping government policy and furthering women's equality in Newfoundland and Labrador.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the McIvers Community Improvement Club, better known as the MCIC, on its 30th anniversary which I had the pleasure of attending on October 26, 2002. The Club was organized in 1972 by a group of women from the town and, at present, it has twenty-nine active members. As I said at their 30th anniversary dinner, they wanted to do it right so there were no men allowed and, to this date, this policy still stands.

The McIvers Community Improvement Club is a beneficial organization which provides an extraordinary amount of support to the community as a whole. Initially, the Club was created to help raise funds for persons who had to travel for medical reasons; however, today it has expanded its efforts and provides aid to several groups within the community. The Club's priorities now include: providing aid for people who travel for medial reasons; helping the youth of McIvers; donating to the church; assisting the local Fire Department; and supporting the Town Council. All monies that are donated by the Club are raised by a weekly bingo game which is held at the Community Hall.

The McIvers Community Improvement Club has, for thirty years, shown tremendous spirit and unwavering dedication to the Town of McIvers. It is estimated that this group, totally volunteers, raised over $130,000 to help and improve their Town and its residents.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask all members of the House to join me in extending congratulations to this remarkable group of women who have each been, and who will continue to be, extraordinary examples of community leaders.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

Statements by Ministers

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BETTNEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to inform my hon. colleagues about the cultural policy announced on Saturday that will help preserve and enhance the culture of Newfoundland and Labrador. This policy focuses on both the tangible and intangible heritage of the people of this Province. It includes the activities of artists and art professionals, heritage professionals and volunteers, and Aboriginal and European-based tradition bearers.

Our culture is the heart of our identity. We are very much defined by the marine environment in which we live. Our culture includes our past and present day peoples, including their art forms expressed in music, dance, theatre, literary works and film. We want to preserve, protect and strengthen our culture by valuing the legacy created by our predecessors and contemporary professionals alike. Our Province has made, and continues to make, significant contributions to the cultural fabric of Canada and the world.

The main component of our cultural policy is a set of guiding principles which will direct government in setting cultural goals and developing strategies, initiatives and programs. These principles focus on all aspects of culture from its inherent value and quality of life, its socioeconomic value, linguistic diversity and peer assessment. They will allow us to clearly articulate priorities on cultural matters to our federal partners, and help us work collaboratively to identify priorities in existing programs. In drafting the policy, we reviewed international models of cultural policy from countries such as Ireland, Scotland, Denmark and Australia, and identified the best practices within each.

Based on these guiding principles, I am proud to say that we have one of the most progressive cultural policies in Canada, if not in North America.

Mr. Speaker, this policy is the result of efforts by several stakeholders in the cultural community. The Association of Cultural Industries, the Association of Heritage Industries, the working committee on cultural policy, and, of course, several staff in the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation contributed to its development.

The creation of this policy represents Phase I of the Cultural Policy Development Plan. It will form the basis for the Strategic Cultural Plan. Phase II of the plan will outline the goals, objectives and key actions which flow from the guiding principles announced last weekend.

Mr. Speaker, we take great pride in the cultural identity that binds us as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. We recognize the social and economic contributions culture makes to our Province. It is important that we benefit from the uniqueness that is ours, and future generations should be able to do the same. We, as a government, share this obligation with the people of our Province. We support cultural products and activities targeted to our own residents, as well as national and international audiences. Adopting this cultural policy visibly demonstrates that we are meeting our commitment to nurture and preserve and enhance our Province's culture.

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 would like to thank the minister for an advance copy of her Ministerial Statement, and I say to the minister, you are right, we do have a very unique culture and heritage here in this Province. In fact, I believe we are the envy of everybody who comes to visit.

Mr. Speaker, culture policies are good, guiding principles are good, but what I am hearing from the community out there - and it was only, in fact, driving into work this morning, and the message was loud and clear - while we need good policy and while we need direction, the comment was: Show us the money. Where is the commitment to direct funding so that we might be able to implement those policies and those guidelines as put forward by the minister?

Mr. Speaker, I understand that the CIDA agreement expires in March of 2003, which is the funding that is provided to the community today, and they are wondering where funding is going to come from as of March, 2003, when the funding of today ends.

Mr. Speaker, I know of one incident in my district, in Bonavista, where we have the Bridge House which was built prior to 1814, and the historical association in Bonavista has gone to this minister and asked her to allow this structure to fit into some of the guidelines of funding that is administered by her department. She is saying: I am sorry, but it doesn't fit into those guidelines.

That is hard to believe, that the only wooden structure of pre-merchant days, dating back prior to 1814, does not fit into a heritage structure and a heritage fund as put forward by the minister. Minister, yes, we need guidelines. Yes, we need principles, we need direction, but we also need money and commitment in order to make it a success.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again, I thank the minister for an advance copy of her statement. As the previous speaker has mentioned, Mr. Speaker, it is going to take money for this to happen. It is fine to have all the principles in place but I think even according to ACI President Donna Butt, she talks about the need for dollars to make sure this can be carried out.

I have to say, Mr. Speaker, that our culture and our heritage are something that the people of this Province are very proud of, and that is reflected in our music and in our songs. I would just like to give one example of that, if I may. If you go to any place in this world and meet people from other provinces in Canada, and if they happen to have been there four or five years, and you ask them where they are from, then where they have been living for the last four or five years is the answer you get. But, if you talk to anyone from Newfoundland and Labrador, in another part of this country or in other countries, and ask them where they are from, even if they were there fifty years, the answer you are likely to get -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. COLLINS: By leave, Mr. Speaker?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MR. COLLINS: - the answer you are likely to get is: I have been living here for the last fifty years but I am from Newfoundland and Labrador.

I think that speaks volumes about the affection and the pride that people of this Province take in being from this Province.

Thank you.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS FOOTE: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform the House of Assembly that the Department of Education has received national and international recognition for its efforts to improve the achievement levels of the students of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS FOOTE: What has caught the attention of the Council of Ministers in Education, Canada, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is this Province's Criterion Referenced Tests.

Mr. Speaker, in 1995, the Department of Education began to assess primary language arts performance using a form of provincial assessment called Criterion Referenced Tests, otherwise known as CRTs.

When our primary children were first tested in 1995, our students had shown some improvement over earlier achievement levels but there was significant work to do. We recognized this work had to begin in the primary grades. Furthermore, we felt that we needed to expand the program and began using these assessment tests on students in Grade 6 and Grade 9, for both language arts and math. And, because of our focus on literacy and our efforts to ensure students get a good start in their school years, we are now testing Grade 3 students every year.

I was pleased to join the Premier last month to report on the tremendous achievement levels we have experienced with the most recent results of the CRTs for our primary students in language arts.

The results illustrate significant learning gains by our primary children and show that many more students are well prepared to enter elementary school. For example: Approximately 90 per cent of the Grade 3 students across the Province are writing at an acceptable level when they leave primary school. This is significant, Mr. Speaker, when you consider that our system is an inclusive one. More students are writing at a level that exceeds what is required when they go to Grade 4; over one-third of our students are entering elementary school with exemplary writing skills; and 80 per cent of our students are able to read and understand stories, books and other reading materials at the required level for Grade 4 entry.

Mr. Speaker, we have made such significant improvements in the reading and writing skills of our primary students because we take these results and discuss them with our school boards, school principals and teachers at the district and school levels and, most importantly, with our students.

We provide meaningful feedback to our schools and teachers to identify the strengths and weaknesses of our students, which helps them improve achievement levels.

Mr. Speaker, the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada, has chosen this Province as the national representative in an international study being conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development - an international organization of thirty member countries which helps governments with the economic and social challenges of a globalized economy. The study, What Works in Innovation in Education, is looking at best practices in enhanced learning through assessment.

I am pleased to inform this House that Marian Fushell, the Department of Education's director of testing, certification and evaluation, has been named Canada's national expert on this project.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS FOOTE: Ms Fushell recently attended the OECD national experts meeting in France where our case study on the Criterion Referenced Tests was presented.

I am pleased that our department's expertise in testing and assessment has been recognized at this level. We are continuously looking at ways to improve our students' performance, and to be recognized at the international level for the work we are doing is a testament to our staff and the teachers and students throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. The success of our CRT program demonstrates that we have the expertise to take an international lead on many common issues in education.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HEDDERSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I certainly would thank the minister for an advanced copy of her ministerial statement. Looking at the statement, certainly it is always good to hear some good news on the one hand because when we look at our students, let me say, Mr. Speaker, that any good news is welcome.

The CRTs certainly are an indication of not necessarily of students performance, but how the curriculum is being delivered and how effective the curriculum is. It is rather dangerous for the minister to be talking about achievement levels when, in actual fact, these tests are internal checks. They are put together by the Department of Education; they are administered in the system. They are not based on any type of national standards whatsoever, so they are internal. So, it is very dangerous when we talk about significant learning gains - many more students, 90 per cent. This is very, very dangerous because any statistics, Mr. Speaker, can give a part of the picture, which the CRTs do, they give a part of the picture, but we have to look at the overall picture. In looking at the overall picture, let me say, that it is important that we look at the balance and we look at what is going on in the schools; we look at the resources that are being put in there; we look at the delivery; we look at all aspects of it. Just to hang their hats on one particular indication is not where we should be going. As a matter of fact, it is quite dangerous.

I would say again, that Miss Fushell will certainly represent us well. She has the expertise, but again, I say to you, Mr. Speaker -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. HEDDERSON: By leave?

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

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MR. HEDDERSON: I say that we have to look at the overall picture. We have to make sure that we just do not get a narrow view of what is happening out there.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

While it is certainly a pleasure to see that the Province and the people in the Province could play a leadership role in development of this type of testing, I do want to sound a note of caution. A CRT, or a test of this nature, can be a very useful tool, particularly for determining whether a particular school district or school area needs extra resources because they are not doing the job well enough, but I am a little worried that there can be abuses of this type of tool as well.

We see teaching for tests going on to the exclusion of other values in certain places and we see decisions about funding being made negatively against schools that do not perform; in the United States, for example. So, we have to be very careful about this type of testing and make sure it is used for positive things as well as recognizing that it is a limited tool and only one aspect of what is necessary to provide a good education in the Province.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the member's time is up.

The hon. the Minister of Mines and Energy.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Board of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro has completed its due diligence process in examining the proposed framework agreement of the development of the Gull Island Hydro Electric Project and have passed a resolution supporting this development.

This vote was, however, less than unanimous. Three of the ten board members did not vote in support of the resolution before the board. The Chair, Mr. Dean MacDonald and one other board member, Mr. Mark Dobbin, have since tendered their resignations. I wish to thank them for the service they have given to Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. A third board member, Mr. Bill Kelly, wishes to continue serving on the board. All board members are to be commended for the significant time and effort they have contributed to this issue.

I have asked the President and CEO of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, Bill Wells, to report directly to government on the deliberations of the board, including any concerns regarding the proposed Gull Island development. Government is most interested in hearing the specific issues and the facts surrounding them. More importantly, we want to give them full consideration and evaluation.

An announcement will be made in the near future on filling the position of Chairperson and the board vacancy.

I want also, Mr. Speaker, to express regrets to my hon. the critic for Mines and Energy on the lateness of providing this statement to him. It was singularly unavoidable.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This is a very significant announcement when we consider, certainly, the background and the expertise and experience of these two individuals. For example, both individuals were recognized by The Financial Post for outstanding leadership and were among the top forty under forty in 1998 and recognized by The Financial Post.

Mr. MacDonald, for example, was Alumnus of the Year of the Business School at Memorial University and was recognized by the Newfoundland Association of Technical Industries. But, I say to the hon. minister, to report directly to government on the deliberations of the board, that is not good enough. Mr. Speaker, what we should have is the tabling of deliberations -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. OTTENHEIMER: - the tabling of information, the tabling of details leading to these resignations. We would get the information ourselves, but unfortunately this open and accountable government has chosen to exempt Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro under the provisions of their Freedom of Information Act.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HARRIS: Mr. Speaker, it is certainly a great shock to hear that the chairman of the board, another significant and well recognized businessperson, and the only Labrador member of the board, has chosen to resign over the proposal. Although he may be staying, the three people who voted against this proposal have clearly recognized that there is a significant problem with this kind of proposal and speaks volumes about what this government is doing; where even a hand-picked board and appointed by government, has found that three of its most significant members are not prepared to support a proposal such as is now about to be presented to the people of this Province.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

Oral Questions

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My questions this afternoon are for the hon. the Premier.

Mr. Speaker, the chairman of the Premier's Royal Commission stated on Friday last week that in their numerous public meetings throughout the Province there have been discussions against the lost windfall profits from Churchill Falls, the total control of the Churchill River exercise by Quebec, and the significant role played by the Government of Canada in denying a power accord thirty years ago. The chairman said: If we don't resolve the Upper Churchill situation this time around, this will be a very significant and fundamental sore on our place in Canada for the next thirty-nine years.

Mr. Speaker, my question for the Premier is, due to the fact that his government intends to give away power from the Lower Churchill agreement until 2055, which is fifty-two years from now, and do nothing with the Upper Churchill contract, does he agree with Mr. Young that it will be, in fact, a very significant and fundamental sore on our place in Canada?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER GRIMES: Thank you.

Mr. Speaker, with respect to the preamble, we have not needed a Royal Commission for those statements to be made. They have been made in the Province for thirty years since 1972. Every single person in the Province has been saying those kinds of things. It is just that it has not been said before a Royal Commission. Everyone in this House knows that. The first start by a Conservative government, led by a Premier Moores at the time in 1975, led to the building of a road from Happy Valley-Goose Bay into the Lower Churchill site and the clearing of land actually for the work camp before it was cancelled. In fact, people have been trying to deal with this issue for thirty years and everybody in the Province is unanimous about the fact that we have foregone significant revenues and significant opportunities primarily - and the Chair of the Royal Commission agrees with this - because the Government of Canada refused to take the adequate and appropriate role at that point in time. That is the Commission that he is now leading up and heading up, talking about renewing and strengthening our place in Canada.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. the Premier now to conclude his answer.

PREMIER GRIMES: Yes, Mr. Speaker.

I, too, have spoken with the Chair and he, in fact, indicates that every stone should be looked under, turned over and examined, every opportunity seized, and they are hoping to make some recommendation to us as to how we can do both things: maybe even develop the Lower Churchill and accomplish something on the Upper Churchill at the same time, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, let me ask the Premier a very, very straightforward question: Premier, with regard to the Lower Churchill deal, do you support moving forward on a deal with Quebec without first seeking a better deal on the Upper Churchill?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, every single person who has occupied the seat and the position that I now hold, the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, has done, on behalf of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, two things. There is a former premier in the House who, even in the short time that he was there, I am sure he would have done it - had he been given an opportunity to have one meeting, it is the one he would have had. It is a two-fold request. One is to the Quebec government to see if there is any basis on which they would volunteer to reopen negotiations on the Upper Churchill contract. There was some progress being made for a number of years until a former, former, former premier, Premier Peckford, decided to challenge them in court twice and lost in the Supreme Court of Canada. That hardened the positions in Quebec, and since that time they are kind enough to listen to you and then they say: No, thank you. We have a legal agreement which has been upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada, challenged by Newfoundland and Labrador, and we are not going to voluntarily open that contract with anybody.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. the Premier now to conclude his answer quickly.

PREMIER GRIMES: Mr. Speaker, the other request has been to the Government of Canada - because this is the Chairman of the Royal Commission and the real beef - that it is the Government of Canada who let down and betrayed the people of Newfoundland and Labrador in the first instance by not guaranteeing us a corridor through Quebec or financing it so we could build it ourselves. That is the grievance that is being dealt with in the Royal Commission. Every single one of us in this position goes to the Government of Canada and the Quebec government, and each time the answer has been no, you must go ahead and do something else because we are not going to reopen the contracts or give you money.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I do not want to put words in the mouth of the hon. the Premier so I will ask the Premier again a very straightforward question: With regard to the Lower Churchill deal, do you support moving forward on a deal with Quebec without first seeking a better deal on the Upper Churchill? Yes or no, Premier? That is all I want.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, what I support and what this government supports is this: This government supports - and the Leader of the Opposition was kind enough, because it was shown the other day that he tries to put words in our mouths and is not successful at it. We are allowed to give our own answers.

Mr. Speaker, what we support is this. We support moving forward with things that are to the advantage and benefit of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. We also support keeping every single option open and pursuing every single option every day to fight for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians for some redress on the Upper Churchill because it has been an absolute injustice in Newfoundland and Labrador, but we do not support the proposition that when you have done that, when you have even challenged it in the courts, when you have checked with the governments of the day, regardless of their political stripe, and when you know that the answer is no, we do not support it - like Premier Peckford, just picking a fight for the sake of looking like you are fighting when you know what the outcome is going to be -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. the Premier now to conclude his answer quickly.

PREMIER GRIMES: - and then denying yourselves the possible benefits of some things that we can do ourselves. We are trying to do both things, Mr. Speaker: accomplish some development and get some redress.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, a reread of Hansard will indicate that the Premier has said he does not support what Mr. Peckford did, so therefore his answer is yes, he would proceed with a deal on the Lower Churchill without seeking any redress or a better deal on the Upper Churchill.

Yesterday, in conversation with the Premier, the Premier said, in answer to our poll - the poll where 67 per cent of the people have answered this question -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. WILLIAMS: - I am surprised that anybody would have answered yes to that question.

In other words he said yesterday he agrees with 67 per cent of the (inaudible) -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. WILLIAMS: - twenty-four hours later, a completely different opinion.

Mr. Speaker, both Members of Parliament, Lawrence O'Brien and John Efford, have spoken out against this proposed deal.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, I would ask the Premier, in light of the fact that Mr. O'Brien has said that the Premier should wake up, smell the roses, and do something right for a change in reference to the Lower Churchill, would the Premier please confirm that he has not, in fact, even informed his fellow Liberal MPs in Ottawa of the specific details of the Lower Churchill deal? And, if not, why not? What are you trying to hide from them, Premier?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Just a couple of things because I think everyone would recognize it was a fairly lengthy answer with some preamble. Again, just for the record, Mr. Speaker, I did not say yes. I used the words that Hansard - that anybody can read, and they can read my words. I gave an answer which is understandable to people who want to read it and check the record. I did not say what he said, so his tactic of trying to interpret what I said is fine, he can continue to use if he likes, Mr. Speaker, and maybe we will have to rise on points of order again to make the distinction.

Mr. Speaker, let me say this. There is a very different view here. What the Leader of the Opposition is proposing is this: that, having asked the question, having sought out the opportunity both with the Government of Quebec and with the Government of Canada, and finding that neither of them is willing to do what we, as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, want to do today - Quebec is not willing to reopen the contract, primarily because the nature and status and legality of it has been reaffirmed in the Supreme Court of Canada. I am sure, if he was the Premier of Quebec, he would not go to his people and say: I think we should voluntarily now change this contract and give the money that we are now using in our province, even though it is a legal contract, give it back to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. the Premier now to conclude his answer quickly.

PREMIER GRIMES: So, Mr. Speaker, knowing that is the answer, we would not then refuse to develop. We would prefer a different answer and we are going to try to find other avenues to get redress under the Upper Churchill just like any Newfoundlander and Labradorian would do every day.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. the Premier now to conclude his answer quickly.

PREMIER GRIMES: Yes, Mr. Speaker.

With respect to our federal colleagues, the issues are clear. I would love to have our federal colleagues, all of them, plead the case more strongly and see if they have enough influence to have the Government of Canada bring the money that we would like to have to -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. the Premier now to take his seat.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the facts are that this government is doing this deal out of desperation. Those are the facts!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, according to its published annual report, the Lower Churchill Development Corporation states that it is owned 51 per cent by the Province and 49 per cent by the Government of Canada, and was established with the objective of developing all or part of the hydroelectric potential of the Lower Churchill Basin.

Mr. Speaker, my question for the Premier is this: What role, Premier, has the Lower Churchill Development Corporation played in these Lower Churchill negotiations with Quebec?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

A very good question, Mr. Speaker, and I am glad that it is asked so we can have a discussion about it. The fact of the matter is this: the Lower Churchill Development Corporation, as described, is 49 per cent owned by the Government of Canada, 51 per cent owned by Newfoundland and Labrador. We are trying to do a project in which we own the assets and the project 100 per cent; not to have 51 per cent come to Newfoundland and Labrador, and 49 per cent go to Canada.

The other issue is this: that same Government of Canada, particularly this current Liberal one, when asked to participate, they have just changed the rules with respect to funding that they used to have for major project development to get out of the business. The only successful one - and we had this discussion with the Deputy Prime Minister and the federal Minister of Finance just one day last week, myself and the Finance Minster, because we talk about it and bring it up every chance we get - the only successful major megaproject that they got involved with in Canada was Hibernia. They got involved in three others out West that all failed and cost them money -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. the Premier now to conclude his answer quickly.

PREMIER GRIMES: - and, because of failures out West, they created a policy to say, we will not get involved in megaprojects; and when they were asked if they were willing to participate -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. the Premier now to conclude his answer quickly.

PREMIER GRIMES: - through the Lower Churchill Development Corporation, they said: No, we do not get involved in megaprojects. We do not want to participate in developing a hydro project in Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Premier, that has not stopped them from giving $4 billion guarantees to companies like Bombardier and Nortel, though.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, in that same annual report, an option was granted by the Province to the Lower Churchill Development Corporation with respect to the Gull Island assets and water rights.

Mr. Speaker, my question, which I would like to ask this Premier is: What is the status of that option to acquire the Gull Island assets and water rights?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada and the Federal MPs in Newfoundland and Labrador that support it will defend the actions of the Government of Canada with respect to any loan guarantees they give or anything they get involved in.

All I can tell you is the information that we know to be a fact. They do not - and this Government of Canada of today has made a conscious policy decision to not be involved in funding and building new megaprojects, which is very different, Mr. Speaker; very different.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

AN HON. MEMBER: It is not new, boy.

PREMIER GRIMES: It is not new, it is an existing operation that they are trying to find a way to save from collapse and lose hundreds of jobs in Canada. They will answer that, that is their role, and our Federal MPs will answer as to why is it the government -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. Premier now to conclude his answer.

PREMIER GRIMES: - that they are part of has a policy that does not let it get involved in the Lower Churchill Development Corporation.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. Premier now to conclude his answer.

PREMIER GRIMES: Mr. Speaker, all the options that are available under the LCDC or elsewhere are still in place, the corporation still exists.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WILLIAMS: I asked the hon. Premier the status of the option. He has indicated that the corporation still exists and the option still exists. Premier, is that, in fact, the case as well?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER GRIMES: Mr. Speaker, let me answer again. The Lower Churchill Development Corporation still exits and it has all of the assets and options available to it that it had yesterday and today.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I can only have access to the information that is in the public domain, that I can access on the Web, that are public documents.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) not what you said last week.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. WILLIAMS: I can advise the Premier, that according to the Lower Churchill annual report this option expired yesterday, November 24, 2002.

Could the Premier please advise the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, based on his last answer, if the option has expired or not, and what are the consequences of that expiry for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am glad to see that that is the only source of information he has, what is in the public domain. I am delighted to hear that.

Mr. Speaker -

MR. RIDEOUT: You wish...

PREMIER GRIMES: Is the Member for Lewisporte suggesting he might have some other information?

MR. RIDEOUT: You never know.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER GRIMES: Okay, thank you. I appreciate that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. Premier now to get to his answer.

PREMIER GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate the interjection from the Member for Lewisporte, who is also a former Premier, who indicated that he has other information. So, he is contradicting the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Speaker. He has other information, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER GRIMES: And, Mr. Speaker -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. Premier now to give his answer, quickly.

PREMIER GRIMES: And, Mr. Speaker, to indicate, I think, because Hansard might not have picked it up, but the Member for Lewisporte said that it is from inside the government, as well.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. Premier now to conclude his answer, very quickly.

PREMIER GRIMES: Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition says, my only information is from the public domain, Web sites and so on, and the former premier says, no, he has information from inside the government; very different information.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. Premier to take his seat.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Premier of our Province did not even know that the option had expired on the Lower Churchill Development Corporation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Shame!

MR. WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, my question for the Premier is: Would the Premier tell the people of our Province why he is proceeding with this deal when the following are against it: former PC Premier Brian Peckford -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. WILLIAMS: Wait, there is more to come.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. WILLIAMS: - former Liberal Minister of Mines and Energy, Chuck Furey; current Liberal MP Lawrence O'Brien -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. WILLIAMS: - current Liberal MP John Efford -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. WILLIAMS: A few less laughs that time.

A Chairman of his own Royal Commission, a former Chairman of Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am in the middle of my question. Chairman of the Royal Commission and a former Chairman of Newfoundland Hydro, Vic Young, myself, and eighteen of our caucus members, and finally, most importantly, 67 per cent of the people of our Province as confirmed by an independent poll last week.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. WILLIAMS: Am I finished, Mr. Speaker, or can I continue?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member ought to get to his question very quickly. He is on a supplementary and should require no preamble.

MR. WILLIAMS: I will continue. I would ask the Premier: Premier, can you stand up for this Province for a change and can this deal like you canned your wasteful advertising campaign this weekend?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again, I guess it is a difference of approach and attitude basically. We will gladly have the informed debate and then we will see whether or not these same people - I do not expect ever to change Brian Peckford's mind, I can tell you that right now today. Don't ever expect to change the mind of the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Speaker, and a few others.

Mr. Speaker, when we release the information, if we are fortunate enough to get there, we will gladly have the debate and see who is for and against these issues in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, just so the Leader of the Opposition would not want to be mistaken, because his only information, he suggests, is from the public domain and he is not in the Cabinet meeting, the Lower Churchill Development Corporation option is renewed annually, on or before November 24. So he would now - because he is not part of the Cabinet he would not know - it was renewed again this year and is optioned for another year.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, we look forward to hopefully having something, unlike the Opposition who are against something - it depends upon who you are talking to, whether it is the Leader of the Opposition or the former Premier. Either they are against something they have not seen, which is what the Leader of the Opposition would have you say, or the Member for Lewisporte would say: We have seen it all. We have our government sources and we know we are against it.

Mr. Speaker, we will gladly have an informed public debate if we are fortunate enough to have something about growth and development and prosperity to actually talk about, because that is what we are trying to accomplish and we will stick with it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for The Straits & White Bay North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, in light of the announcement by Minister Thibault last week about the probability of cod closures in our fisheries around this Province next year, I have a couple of questions for the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Mr. Speaker, in the statement about the Gulf groundfish stocks, Fred Woodman of the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council said, both of these stocks are seeing fewer numbers of three-year-old fish - the first age at which their numbers can be estimated. We do not think this is a result of fewer fish being born; they just don't seem to be surviving to age three.

Mr. Speaker, a DFO research document that I read over the weekend seems to support this. The document says: Harp seals consume very small cod. Seventy-two per cent of cod consumed by harp seals off the West Coast of Newfoundland were less than or equal to twenty centimetres in length.

Mr. Speaker, why does the federal minister seem so willing to close the fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador when his own advisors see the natural mortality resulting from predation by seals as the number one constraint to stock rebuilding?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. REID: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the member opposite for the question, even though I am not sure what it was he exactly asked. With regard to seals, we have in excess of 6 million harp seals off our shores here in this Province. We also know that last year they ate somewhere in the area of 7 million tons of some species. We also know that roughly 150,000 metric tons of that was cod, and the figures I am quoting come from DFO themselves. In a conversation I had with the federal minister this morning, I mentioned seals to him, and the need to do something with them. I certainly hope that he will take our advice and do exactly that.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My question is for the Minister of Mines and Energy. I ask the Minister of Mines and Energy: Keeping in mind the commitment of the Premier, of the minister and Inco, concerning the hiring at Voisey's Bay, that other Labradorians would have first priority after hiring Aboriginals, can the minister confirm to the people of Labrador that this year no qualified Labradorian who applied for employment at Voisey's Bay was denied while others from outside Labrador were hired for these positions?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Mines and Energy.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The agreements and the targets that were set under the Environmental Assessment Panel and subsequently recognized in IBAs are well understood, I think, by all of us. I am not sure that I got the hon. member's question right. I thought I heard him ask the question, or to make the statement, that no qualified Labradorian was hired despite the fact that many applied for work while some from the Island did. If that is the circumstance, I would beg to differ with that because I know many Labradorians in addition to Aboriginals were hired for the project this year. There are also some people from the Island portion of the Province hired as well for the project. If he wants to clarify what his question might be with respect to that issue, I would be glad to respond to it further.

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for Labrador West.

MR. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to clarify it because the minister did not get it right; the same as he has not gotten it right when it comes to the hiring principles.

My question, Mr. Minister, is: Were there any Labradorians who applied for employment at Voisey's Bay, who were qualified, denied employment while people from other areas were hired?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Mines and Energy.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I have no direct knowledge that, in fact, occurred or was the circumstance, but if the hon. member has specific information with respect to people whom he thinks appropriately should have been hired and were not, while others were inappropriately hired and should not have been, I would be happy to have that information examined by my officials and indeed raise the question with the company itself; because, as I understand the circumstance, hiring from within Labrador this year on the first phase of the project was very, very good, exceeding targets that were all agreed to, and we hope that it will continue that way because in fact that was the intent expressed in the IBAs and it grew out of the Environmental Management Assessment Panel that was signed off by everybody in 1998.

MR. SPEAKER: A final supplementary, the hon. the Member for Labrador West.

MR. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I say to the minister, that indeed took place. People did not receive employment for jobs they were qualified for, and the minister responsible for Labrador, I say to the minister, also raised these concerns so maybe you should talk to the minister in your Cabinet who is responsible for Labrador.

Will the minister commit to the reviewing and enforcement that people from Labrador will receive employment opportunities from Voisey's Bay when construction starts next year? And, will he go one step further and guarantee that any development of the Lower Churchill will contain the same hiring provisions?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Mines and Energy.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I will indeed confirm that this government, through my department, will continue to do its job in monitoring what is happening with respect to the development of the Lower Churchill. I would also ask the hon. member to also go one step further and commit to the people of the Province and his constituents, inasmuch as this is a very significant issue with him, that he bring forward the details to my attention so I can do the right thing in terms of what he is alleging to be a circumstance but provides no specific information around, and that is wrongful hiring practices on the project. If he has something to expose, if he has details, if he has information that I should be examining, I would ask him to bring it forward as an hon. member should do and as a good representative from Labrador should do, and this government, through this minister, will undertake to do what we should do.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Question Period has ended.

Presenting Reports by Standing and Special Committees

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Today I am tabling the Public Accounts of the Province for the financial year ending March 31, 2002, as required by the Financial Administration Act.

This year as well, Mr. Speaker, we have provided a brochure to go along with the Public Accounts. It is important to note that these financial statements present the Province's financial activities and our financial position in a complete and transparent manner. Again this year they have received a clean, unqualified, audit opinion by the Auditor General.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) a change.

MS J.M. AYLWARD: No, it is not a change, I say to the member opposite. It is not a change. It has been consistent.

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

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

I say to the Member for Bonavista, that it is not a change. The Auditor General has consistently given us clean audited statements, as presented by the Public Accounts information, just to be factual, and I think it is important for that.

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to subsection 26.5(a) of the Financial Administration Act, I am tabling one Order in Council relating to funding pre-commitments for the years 2003, 2004 to 2007 and 2008 fiscal years.

Further, Mr. Speaker, I would also like to table today before this House the Audited Financial Statements of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador Pooled Pension Fund for the year ending December 31, 2001.

It is important to note that government continues to make annual payments of $40 million to the Public Service Pension Plan, increasing to $60 million in 2003, and $76 million to the Teachers' Pension Plan. As well, $27 million in annual special payments are being paid into the other two plans. This is part of government's commitment to substantially reduce the unfunded liabilities of the $3.5 billion plans.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. K. AYLWARD: Mr. Speaker, today I am pleased to table the 2002 Drinking Water Safety Annual Report, as committed by government through the Source to Tap drinking water initiative launched in 2001.

The 2002 Drinking Water Safety Report was released in September of this year. The report was provided to all Members of the House of Assembly at that time. All municipalities, local service districts and other community organizations throughout the Province have received the report as well.

Thank you.

Notices of Motion

 

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

MR. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, I give notice that I will on tomorrow ask leave to introduce a bill entitled, "An Act To Amend The Access To Information And Protection Of Privacy Act." Bill 25.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Trinity North.

MR. ROSS WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, I give notice that I will on tomorrow ask leave to introduce the following private member's resolution:

WHEREAS the percentage of the Province's population over the age of sixty-five is increasing faster than any other province in Canada; and

WHEREAS an aging population requires specific attention to medical treatment, quality of life issues, affordable prescription drugs, home support services and other direct and indirect supports; and

WHEREAS the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is not responding to the health needs of the seniors in our Province;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador make public immediately a detailed action plan to respond to the long-term care needs of the Province's aging population.

Petitions

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

MR. FITZGERALD: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I stand today to present a petition signed by hundreds of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Mr. Speaker, the petition reads:

To the hon. House of Assembly of Newfoundland and Labrador in legislative session convened, the petition of the undersigned residents of Newfoundland and Labrador;

WHEREAS the government has requested the Board of Regents to consider a name change of our University; and

WHEREAS Memorial University of Newfoundland is excluded under the Newfoundland and Labrador Act; and

WHEREAS publicly funded universities can be named for a region of a Province, and

WHEREAS when other political entities change, the name of the university within it did not; and

WHEREAS our educational mandate is not limited to this Province; and

WHEREAS the University is on the Island of Newfoundland; and

WHEREAS the first university in other provinces did not reflect the entire name of the province; and

WHEREAS there will be enormous costs to undergo this name change; and

WHEREAS there are enormous disadvantages to not having a geographic identity attached to the University; and

WHEREAS another proposed university in this Province is more suitable to have Labrador added to its name;

WHEREFORE your petitioners urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to retain the current name - Memorial University of Newfoundland; and

As in duty bound your petitioners will ever pray.

Mr. Speaker, I am presenting a petition today that has been brought forward by hundreds of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and I understand there have been petitions circulated and petitions returned to members of this Legislature with between 6,000 and 7,000 names on them, to reflect people's dissatisfaction with changing the name of Memorial University of Newfoundland as it presently exists today.

What I find intriguing about this particular petition that I am presenting, Mr. Speaker, is that a lot of the names are signed by Legions in the Province here. This particular petition that I am presenting, the Royal Canadian Legion of Botwood, the Royal Canadian Legion of Bonavista, have signed and submitted this petition, along with other names right across the Province, to say that they want the name of Memorial University to stay as it presently exists today. They see no benefits in changing the name of this institution which has been in existence now for the past fifty-three years. It is a name that is known, not only in Newfoundland and Labrador but right across the world, as Memorial University of Newfoundland.

At a time when we see the cost of tuition going up, we see enrollment dropping, people are asking if now is the time to get involved in a cost of changing the name of this institution.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. FITZGERALD: Mr. Speaker, just a minute to clue up.

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

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. FITZGERALD: I understand that there are other petitions that other members on both sides of the House have been presented with, a similar petition that will be presented here in a time that they see fit. The message is loud; the message is clear. They want to maintain the name of our University, the Memorial University of Newfoundland, as it presently exists, and the people signing the petition see no reason or no good whatsoever in having the name of this institution changed.

Thank you very much.

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

MR. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to present a petition on behalf of a number of people from Labrador West and a number of people have signed as well from Trinity North. The petition reads:

WHEREAS in 1998 the Province provided funding for four new MS drug therapies; and

WHEREAS the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program only provides medical coverage for seniors under the Senior Citizen's Drug Subsidy Program and people on income support; and

WHEREAS all citizens in other Canadian provinces can receive assistance with the high cost of MS drugs, using co-payment and sliding scale programs, not limited to social assistance income levels; and

WHEREAS these drugs can improve significantly the quality of life for people with MS.

We, the undersigned, ask the House of Assembly to direct the government to implement a co-payment or sliding scale program for these drugs so that people can get financial assistance with the high cost, as in other Canadian provinces.

Mr. Speaker, I have presented this petition during a number of sessions of the House of Assembly. Ever since I have been elected I have been addressing this concern, because what this government is doing to the people of the Province has nothing whatsoever to do with their ability to pay. It has to do with what they require the people who work in this Province to do to their own personal lives before they will. If it was a question of not being able to pay, that is one argument, Mr. Speaker, but that is not the case in this situation.

Every other jurisdiction in this country assists their citizens with the cost of these high-cost drugs but our Province insists, and this government insists, that the people of this Province financially ruin themselves, their future, financially jeopardize their children's education and not be able to save any RRSPs, if they are saving any. They require them to liquidate all of these things, to spend the money on these drugs, to get rid of any new vehicle they may have, reduce their income down to income support levels, and then this government will provide assistance.

Mr. Speaker, that frankly, is not good enough. This government has a role and an obligation to the people of this Province - who work hard contributing their taxes to the well-being of this Province - to assist them as every other province in this country does with their citizens. The cost of these drugs is such that people cannot afford to pay for them out of their paycheques. These are high-cost drugs. They average anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 a month. It is not only MS, Mr. Speaker, it is people with Alzheimer's; people who require hormone replacement drugs. All of these specialized drugs can greatly enhance the quality of life of people in this Province and yet this government refuses to help out anyone who requires it. Mr. Speaker, if a person is on income support, the drugs are provided for them.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. COLLINS: By leave to clue up, Mr. Speaker?

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

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MR. COLLINS: Mr. Speaker, if somebody is on income support the drugs are paid for by this government. If people have an insurance plan that provides coverage that is fine, but there are many, many insurances plans in this Province, particularly in the private sector, where these drugs are not covered, or if they are, there is a lifetime maximum on the coverage provided. At the level of purchasing these drugs, that lifetime maximum is reached in a very short period of time, leaving the people with no coverage for any other thing that they may need in the future.

I strongly urge this government to provide and come up with a policy of a co-payment and sliding scale program that will assist the people in this Province who need their help.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I am wondering if I might take the opportunity, with the approval of the House, to table as well other documents that I have to table that were here on the table with the - mixed of the other three -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS J.M. AYLWARD: It is just the tabling. It is not to speak to them.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS J.M. AYLWARD: I did. I did ask for leave and I am wondering, with the permission of the House, if I might table these seven special warrants?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member has asked for leave to revert to Presenting Reports and tabling.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

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

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

Pursuant to section 28(4)(e) of the Financial Administration Act, I am tabling seven special warrants relating to the fiscal year 2002-2003.

MR. SPEAKER: Further Petitions?

The hon. the Member for Bonavista North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HARDING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am very proud to stand here today and present this petition on behalf of the local service districts of Gander Bay North, Gander Bay South, and Main Point, Davidsville and the 302 residents who have signed the petition.

The petition is worded as follows:

To the hon. House of Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland in Parliament Assembled;

WHEREAS the Gander Bay Highway from Main Point to Gander is one of the busiest secondary roads in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador; and

WHEREAS a large number of Gander Bay residents and others use this road daily to commute back and forth to work and for other personal reasons; and

WHEREAS the extensive growth of alders and brush along Route 330 has made it extremely dangerous;

THEREFORE your petitioners urge the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to provide funding under the Department of Municipal and Provincial Affairs current Job Creation Program to correct this serious problem.

Mr. Speaker, the road in question, Gander Bay Highway, as most people know, is one of the busiest secondary highways in the Province. It is also one of the narrowest secondary highways in this Province. The shoulders of that road now have deteriorated almost to the point where there is hardly anything left. Where there is shoulder left, not only alders are growing to the shoulder but they are growing up in the shoulders of the road. For that full twenty-five to thirty miles of highway there is not one place, not one section, where there is an extra passing lane.

Also, Mr. Speaker, in that area it has been noted as one of the best areas in the Province where moose have been most prevalent. So, Mr. Speaker, in addition to the danger aspect of the road, work is also needed in that part of my district. It is one of the areas where work is probably needed more than any other part of Bonavista North.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, I urge the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs or the Premier's Office, whoever will be making the final decisions on these make-work projects, to seriously consider applications from the Gander Bay North, Gander Bay South and Main Point, Davidsville areas.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

Orders of the Day

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

MR. LUSH: Mr. Speaker, Order 7, and the minister will be closing debate on second reading of Bill 15.

MR. SPEAKER: Order 7, Bill 15, An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act.

The hon. the Minister of Government Services and Lands.

MR. NOEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As I was saying when I concluded debate last Tuesday, I think it was, I want to thank all hon. members who spoke in support of this bill which will ban the use of hand-held cellphones by drivers while driving in our Province. I want to congratulate everybody for being willing to lead the country in taking this sort of action, and we are doing so, people should know, because it is the right thing to do. Using cellphones while driving is a danger to life and limb and it is costing our automobile insurance policyholders a lot of money and it can continue doing so into the future.

Mr. Speaker, we proposed this bill because it is the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do for safe driving in our Province. It is the right thing to do to try to minimize injuries and it is the right thing to do to try to minimize insurance rates.

Some of the speakers raised questions about whether or not this will cause the police forces in the Province any additional problems. The fact, Mr. Speaker, is that the police in our Province have encouraged us to pass this bill because they have told us it will make their job easier. It will help them to more clearly identify when somebody is breaking the law in this regard. Right now people can be penalized for using cellphones while driving if the officer judges that they are driving without due care and attention. The reality and practice is that that is a difficult call for policemen to make and the consequence has been that I do not think there have been many tickets given on that basis in our Province, and so many policemen have asked us to do this. The police forces have indicated their support for this kind of initiative. It will not cause them any additional work because the law is there now making it an offence to drive without due care and attention. This just makes the offence more specific and makes it easier for a policeman to find offenders.

Some people also suggested that this would be an additional burden on police forces in our Province who are already understaffed. The reality, Mr. Speaker, is that, to some extent I guess, we do not require the number of police people that we have had in the past because of the decline in population in the Province, and also because of the increasing technology, it does not require as many police officers to enforce the laws as it did in the past.

Some other speakers questioned whether or not this would have the support of the wireless industry in the country, Mr. Speaker. As I said the last time I was speaking, I met with the president of the wireless industry in Canada and a senior official of Aliant more than a year ago on this. They indicated that they did not support this sort of legislation. Actually, they indicated they would come back and talk to me some more, but the fact is that nobody from that industry has indicated that they have a problem with this. They have had a long time - they have had over a year-and-a-half, I guess - that they have known that we planned to do this, and they have not initiated any discussions. I know publicly, as some people in that industry have indicated, that they think this is unnecessary, even though they admit and they go out and advertise themselves and try and educate people not to use cellphones while they are driving. Everybody admits it is a problem, but some of those people felt that we should not legislate against it. I think it is not a problem for them because they recognize that most people will use the hands-free phone instead of the hand-held phone, and consequently there will not be any significant decline in the use of the wireless services.

As some of the members indicated, Mr. Speaker, a lot of the research and a lot of public opinion feels that we should ban the hands-free as well as hand-held because the problem is getting up in the conversations. I agree with that line of thought, but I think we are only able to propose going as far as the public is prepared to go. At this time, I think that the public is prepared to support the banning of hand-held but not the banning of hands-free. I think this is a reasonable first step, and I am sure the public are going to be very happy with this initiative.

Some people have raised the question of the number of demerit points that will be involved in this offence. While the bill itself does not stipulate the number of demerit points that are involved, the demerit points are determined by how an offence is categorized by the Registrar of Vehicles. This offence will be categorized as imprudent driving - it is under the classification of imprudent driving - driving without due care and attention, and all offences in that category require four demerit points. That is why that will be the case for this offence.

Many members have indicated that we should make sure that we properly publicize what we are doing here, and inform the public and give the public adequate time to become familiar with the new law and to make preparations in their vehicles for abiding by the law. We certainly intend to do that. We will proclaim the law, if this House passes it, within a few months, I would think, after it is passed, in order to give people an opportunity to become familiar with the new law.

AN HON. MEMBER: What about demerits?

MR. NOEL: Pardon me?

AN HON. MEMBER: Demerits.

MR. NOEL: I just spoke about demerits.

Mr. Speaker, one other issue that was raised in this House was the question of whether this will lead to any reduction in the price of automobile insurance in our Province. I can only tell members that, insofar as it leads to a reduction in the number of accidents and the number of claims made on insurance policies over the long run it will result in a reduction in insurance costs, but that is not going to be anything significant in the short run. As with many of the things that we can do and we have tried to do to try to reduce the cost of accidents and the cost of insurance, this may have some long-term effects on the cost of insurance but it is not going to do anything to deal with the dramatic increases of 10 per cent to 20 per cent to 30 per cent that we have been seeing in each of the past several years.

There was just a story on the weekend, Mr. Speaker, of the problem the Metrobus in St. John's is having with automobile insurance, and their insurance rates for the present year have increased from some $300,000 to, I think, about $900,000. While that is not typical of the kind of insurance rate increases we are seeing, there are many increases of that sort of significance.

It is important for us to do all that we can to control the cost of insurance, and we have been trying to do that. We issued a consultation paper over a year ago and we proposed some fifty-one, I think, options for changing our insurance system in the Province that we think could lead to substantial savings over the long run. The one proposal that we asked the public to think about was to restrict the right to compensation for soft tissue pain and suffering injuries, and our evidence is that such a change could lead to a reduction of some 35 per cent in the cost of liability insurance in our Province, saving policyholders some $40 million a year if the Province were to decide that it wanted to go in that direction.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, there was a strong and extensive campaign against that proposal carried out throughout the Province and the result was, public opinion does not seem to be in favour of going in that kind of direction. Unless we are prepared to do something significant like that, there is very little that government can do to control the cost of insurance. The only effective thing you can do is to control the cost of claims.

While members on the other side have raised questions in this debate about whether this will have an effect on reducing the cost of insurance, they have not had much to say over the past year about our consultation paper, and I have not heard many ideas from them about what may be done in this Province to help reduce the cost of automobile insurance significantly. As a matter of fact, the law firm of the Leader of the Opposition was one of the participants in the campaign against moving to this sort of system of insurance. While that may be justified and while people in our Province may not want to adopt that sort of system, people have to understand the reality that the only way we are going to significantly reduce the cost of insurance is to reduce the cost of claims, and that is one option for doing so. Unless people are willing to make those kinds of choices, there is not very much we are going to be able to do as a government and as a Province to control the cost of insurance, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. SPEAKER (Mercer): On a point of order, the hon. the Member for Bonavista South.

MR. FITZGERALD: Mr. Speaker, I say to the minister that people on this side of the House have given you an idea already on how you can lower insurance in this Province, and one is by lowering the taxation that you are presently charging consumers in this Province to purchase insurance: 20 per cent, the highest insurance coverage in all of Canada, with not only HST and GST added on, but a 4 per cent hidden insurance tax as well, that your government charges an extra taxation for HST and GST, in addition to a policy tax.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. FITZGERALD: That is one way you can reduce insurance in this Province by 20 per cent, I say to the minister.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

There is no point of order.

I would ask the minister to conclude his remarks. His time is pretty well up.

MR. NOEL: The hon. member makes a reasonable point. The fact is that insurance taxes amount to about 20 per cent and produce about $75 million in revenues for our Province each year, but as is so typical with the Opposition, Mr. Speaker, they call for the reduction in all kinds of taxes and they call for increasing in all kinds of expenditures and they will not specify where we should reduce expenditures.

AN HON. MEMBER: You cannot have it both ways.

MR. NOEL: You cannot have it both ways is the fact of the matter. There is no point in advocating cutting all sources of revenue and increasing all sources of expenditure. If members opposite want us to take that kind of initiative, they should be more specific about the consequences of such an action.

Mr. Speaker, I move second reading of this bill.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill 15)

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

MR. LUSH: Mr. Speaker, Order 8, second reading of a bill, An Act To Amend The Automobile Insurance Act, Bill 9.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Automobile Insurance Act." (Bill 9)

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

MR. NOEL: Mr. Speaker, this bill provides for the appointment of a Consumer Advocate to represent consumer interests inherent before the Public Utilities Board of the Province when there are requests by the insurance companies in the Province for rate increases.

The minister is presently able to make such an appointment, as people will realize from the fact that we appointed a Consumer Advocate for the present hearings being requested by a Facility Association within the past couple of weeks.

The other aspect of this bill, Mr. Speaker, provides that the costs encountered by the Advocate, the Advocate's salary and any expenses the Advocate runs up, will be paid for by the Public Utilities Board, just as is the case with the Consumer Representative who represents consumer interests in regard to increases in electricity rates in the Province. This is reasonable and fair because the board will then charge back the insurance industry who, presumably, to some small extent, will charge back their customers, and those are the people who will benefit from any reductions that we are able to get in the cost of automobile insurance in the Province.

Mr. Speaker, for the past year, almost two years ago since I became minister responsible for automobile insurance regulation in our Province, when I first became minister we looked at what could be done to try to implement some of the recommendations of the all-party committee that was established in 1996 and reported in 1998. It had not been given much attention, I guess, over the previous couple of years because insurance rates were in the down part of their cycle and there was not a demand from the public that government take action, such as was the case when that committee was set up.

Mr. Speaker, we were getting indications at that time that there were going to be substantial increases in insurance rates in our Province. We felt we had to look at what we may be able to do so we reviewed the report of that committee and we put together a consultation paper which we put before the people of the Province. We had a pretty extensive consultation, rather intently, for some six months or so, and it is going on today, Mr. Speaker. People are still talking about the extraordinary costs that they are facing in all insurance policies in our Province, as is the case throughout the country and throughout the world are being increased substantially. Insurance is becoming a significantly increasing proportion of household expenditures and of business costs. I had one business that came to me a while ago and indicated they were being refused liability insurance by their current provider and by alternative providers in the Province. They worked at it for some time and were eventually able to acquire a policy but their rate for the year was increased from some $25,000 for the previous year to some $300,000 for the current year. That was for liability insurance in the retail business.

Many people are seeing significant increases in the cost of automobile insurance. It looks like that is going to continue, Mr. Speaker, and we have to do everything we can to try to minimize those increases. Most of the fifty-one items we had in our consultation had pretty broad public support but as I have said, the one item that we feel could have made a significant difference to the cost of insurance was the proposal to reduce compensation or restrict the right to compensation for soft tissue pain and suffering injuries. There certainly does not seem to be majority support in our Province for that, or at least that was the case last year, Mr. Speaker. Whether opinions have changed as a result of what has been happening in the industry, I guess we will all have to make a determination over the next while. We are continuing to do that as we prepare to present our bill for automobile insurance reform within the next few days in this House.

Unless we are prepared to do something significant to reduce the costs of claims that are made by insurance policyholders and by people who are injured and make some reasonable compromises, then people can only face substantially increasing insurance costs. As I guess most people know, one of the things we are looking at is the possibility of bringing a choice system into the Province. That would enable people to choose to have either a non-restricted insurance policy in which they can claim for all kinds of injuries, including soft tissue pain and suffering, and that sort of thing or a restricted policy which would save them a lot of money in insurance premiums but would restrict what they may be able to claim for if they are injured.

Mr. Speaker, insurance is a serious problem for our constituents; all kinds of insurance. As I say, automobile insurance in particular. We are looking to do a number of things. We have three bills in the House this sitting. One, to ban the use of hand-held cellphones by drivers - this one - and the one to increase penalties for impaired driving. Those sort of offences in the Province.

Of course, later on we will be coming with a more complete bill to deal with more extensive reform.

Mr. Speaker, we intend to do all we can to try to help control the cost of insurance in the Province and I encourage all members to look open-mindedly at the alternatives that are out there. We are not going to be able to get the kind of reductions our people want unless we are prepared to take some dramatic action. I think we have to even review some of our own positions in this regard and prepare to change our minds if it looks like the need for reform is increasing, if it looks like the cost of insurance is becoming unbearable for so many of our people and if it looks like there may be alternatives out there that can help solve some of these problems.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for St. Barbe.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. YOUNG: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to take a few minutes to speak to Bill 9 here as well. It is important that the public interest of the - you properly represent it. The insurance industry is not an industry that is widely understood. There are always a lot of details in insurance and because of that, I believe a lot of people have shown very little interest. They go out and renew their insurance, and as soon as that painful part of writing the cheque is over they put it to one side again. Unless, of course, the unfortunate happens that you need your insurance. I think that is what the general public has with insurance, or the vast majority of us.

To think about the need of an advocate brings to question the position of the superintendent of insurance. What role does that position play? It is a role that goes out and sees that industry plays fair with our people; that they do not go out there and not follow the law of the land; that they do have to follow the law of the land and they do have to put reasonable insurance rates, I suppose, in front of the people. At least as the law of the land stands. It is a regulated industry. I do not know how far we can go out there to regulate it more than what it is, and exactly what role an advocate would play.

The need was brought forward in the consultation paper that the minister has spoken about. It was a paper that was out, had gone around this Province and sought the input of the people in general. It was a very extensive piece of work that was out there a few years ago and it brought back a number of regulations, or a number of recommendations, and this is just one of them.

It was a controversial document. As the minister has said, the fact that it had gone out there and suggested limited compensation for soft tissue injuries is something that did not go very well in this Province. It was seen as a way for the industry, I suppose, to get away without paying the people who were due the benefits that they were due. It was a very, very gray area. It was not an area where it was black and white. It was not a bone broken as such (inaudible) it was. Soft tissue injuries was something that was always debatable. I think one of the things that people seen out there, as they protested the move towards this limitation, was the fact that it put a lot of power into the hands of the industry. Today, the industry has the means to go out there and fight the individual. The individual, obviously, cannot stand up to the industry (inaudible) and the will of the industry that can drag out those things for years on end. Individuals out there with very limited resources have to have something that is going to be answered in a very short period of time.

I think when you go into the soft tissue injuries it is something that could have gone on and dragged out, and would have left the vast majority of us, who had gone out there and experienced soft tissue injuries, any compensation. That was how the people felt. They really felt that if they were going to buy insurance they wanted to know what they were getting. They wanted to be assured that they were insured. I think when the soft tissue injury came in there, it certainly changed the balance of power and how they were going to be able to receive any benefits from the companies. As I said, they certainly felt that the balance of power had certainly gone into the industries hands.

However, as the minister said, insurance is going up, and it is increasing considerably. At what levels will it level off, and how will it level off? Will we have to come to some kind of conclusion that we just cannot afford the insurance as we have noted in the past? People today are saying, no, that they do want insurance, that is a complete insurance; but, I suppose, the debate will always be one that goes on and on because the levels - at some point we are going to say: Well, we have to have some level of insurance, but not always the level that we historically had.

What can we do to go out there and help keep prices - I mean, people have said no to the soft tissue injuries, the limitations that we have there. What are the other means? Maybe in debate today, as we continue on with this bill, maybe some of those things will come out or some suggestions on how we should go out there and keep it at a reasonable level, but yet respect the rights of the people who go out of there. I think the thing is, anybody will always know that once you find yourself in a position of needing your insurance - and it is the most vulnerable time you are. You don't have the means. You probably don't have the physical wellness to get out there to fight the battle. The tiredness, the fatigue and all those things that you hear people talk about: I cannot fight as if I were a well man, as I would two months or a year ago. I think that is a point that people have seen. They know and understand that if they find themselves in that position, it is not a position that they can get out of then.

Some of the suggestions, I suppose, that people have gone out and looked at is that they see insurance companies go out there and behave in such a way. How they do business. It does not seem to be in a way to keep their bottom line down. When it comes to, for example, the windshield situation; if you have insurance your windshield is at one price, but if you don't and you are buying it on your own, it is another price. I mean those are things that really take people - in saying that this industry is out there and they are taking us for what we are worth. If a windshield has a certain value with insurance it should have the same value without, but that is not how the industry goes. It looks as if the industry is always gouging the customers. I mean, it has been a long-time debate as well, and that is certainly not good.

Investments are a big part of the industry. They will go out there and take my money today, and they are going to be giving me insurance, then, for the rest of the year. As they invest that money into - and that is something that has not been factored in. When we look at the industry and talk about the profit-loss side of the industry, they can claim that, yes, we need to raise it, we are losing money today, but it is not always factored in, the fact that they have been investing our money for 364 days. That has been a big part of the industry, the industry is built on that, but yet when they talk about the losses they have, that is not factored in there.

I think the fact that they don't have to show financial statements to the Public Utilities Board, vis--vis this government, on exactly how they are doing, certainly gives them the opportunity to be less than forward or upfront with the people of this Province. I think those are some of the things we have to look at that would make the insurance industry more accountable to the people, at least to be open.

If they are having losses, well then that is fine, you know and understand that you are going to have to change it. But I don't think we always understand and appreciate the fact, when we know that there are certain figures being put out there by the industry itself, as has been rightfully pointed out, that show they are talking about it to their shareholders, that they are making this amount of money, then on the other hand they will turn around and tell us, at the same time, that, no, they are losing.

The Facility Association is another part, I suppose, that has certainly bothered people. A lot of people have ended up in the Facility Association without ever knowing they were in there. They have one accident and they find themselves in such a high rate program, that it is unacceptable. I mean, there are people who have had just one accident and have had quite a number of years, up to twenty years, of accident free driving, with no speeding tickets and nothing against their record. Yet, the industry has been been able to put people into this without any notification. Even the fact that without an accident as such - you have to cancel your insurance, you move away for six months, and when you go back to renew, at that time you can find yourself in the unfortunate position of being in the Facility Association, which is extremely expensive and unaffordable for many people.

As well, when you reach a certain age, the fact that you are eighty years old, people have found, who are in perfect health and have no reason to give up driving, that they cannot afford the insurance. They are living on a limited income. At that point, for no other reason than you have reached the age of eighty, instead of being rewarded, you are being penalized for reaching that age and you can no longer afford to drive because you cannot afford to buy insurance to be out on the road. It is very, very unfortunate.

One of the things that went out in some of the documents that are out there, that would have a big impact on trying to keep insurance at reasonable levels, so that the struggle between the people in the insurance companies wouldn't be as great, the demand wouldn't be there, is more frequent highway patrols. A part of my duty, I suppose, I was called upon as to the fact that the number of officers are not out patrolling our highways today, and we mentioned back in the cellphone usage, how do you regulate it if you do not have the numbers? I think it has been shown that we do not have the number of officers today on our highways and out there patrolling to be able to enforce and to be able to see that we are staying down, that speed limits are kept within reason and driving practices are kept to the safest that they can be.

Many times they are just not there in numbers and, when the enforcement is not there, you know, if you can get away with something so many times, the trend goes, what stops you is an accident. From the accident, of course, is the insurance that follows behind, and then collectively it is the number of accidents that has driven the insurance rates to where they are.

One of the things that I hear, and especially in rural Newfoundland, is vehicle inspections. They certainly made a big impact on the business community, with the feedback that came back a number of years ago when they took out vehicle inspections. On top of that is the fact that out on our highways there are certain vehicles out there that just should not be on our highways. When you are going to have a spot check once or twice a year at most, to go out there and check those vehicles, it is not enough to deter people from being out there. The odds of getting caught again, it is not big enough against them to go out there and do something about the vehicles that they have. It is just that they need to get from point A to point B, and they get out there and think about their safety and they only consider their safety. If you knew the machines that you were meeting as you were going down the highway, I think you would have a different opinion of vehicle inspections.

MR. NOEL: Do you think we should bring back annual inspections?

MR. YOUNG: Well, it has certainly been out there. It is something that has come my way. Being from a very rural district, I have seen it from the business community. The condition of the vehicles when they come in for repairs are unsafe, but yet they do not have a means to keep those vehicles in the garage, to insist that they do the job to put them up to the standards that they should be. They will just take their machines back.

I have seen situations while I have been there - I live close to a business as such - where a person was going to take their vehicle back. It so happened that the RCMP happened to come by at the time and stop the vehicle from being taken away from the garage. That is the only thing that stopped it. There are not enough officers to be there to see those kinds of circumstances to ensure it. That is what concerns people in that industry. I know they talk about it from a self-serving point of view, the fact that they lost an amount of business, and going there you would see it, but it is also the safety point.

It gets brought up to me because, being the critic for Government Services and Lands, they really think that something should be done there from the safety point of view. As well, I guess, it is self-serving. It is a double role, that they would bring it to my attention.

MR. NOEL: I don't think the public would agree (inaudible).

MR. YOUNG: I think the public are not in favour of it because they do not understand so many times what is coming down the road after them.

At the same time, there was another vehicle in my neighbourhood - there was a very serious accident. This individual was coming down and the steering fell off the vehicle and there was a head-on collision. There was a serious accident and it was because this vehicle should not have been on the road, from what I understand. Those are the kinds of things, if you think about them. If you are driving down that road and if you only knew the vehicles that are coming on it, I think if you appreciated the situation you would probably change your views.

I am out there and I maintain and take care of my vehicle. I try to drive within reason. I have family. There are a lot of circumstances. If the vehicle coming towards me had not been kept up, I would have been concerned, but I am not really aware of that in most cases. If you are fortunate enough to be around a mechanical garage or whatever, you start to hear the stories more by being around that environment. As I said, in the past, a lot of those conversations come my way now because they know the role that I play in my district, not in my district but in a part of government as being critic for the department that is responsible.

One of the other things that I find that has been coming up with me is the snow clearing. We go out there and we want and expect safety, and part of that safety is road clearing. Last week, I had someone call me who had an accident at 8:00 a.m. because the roads had not been salted and sanded. As far as they knew and understood, it was supposed to be done at 5:00 a.m. with the weather conditions. The weather conditions were such that it needed to be done but it was not, and at 8:00 a.m. they were going down, there was black ice, and there had been nothing done with the highway at that point.

That was brought to my attention but it was also brought to my attention in my neighbourhood, in my own backyard again. The road from Plum Point to Roddickton is where a lot of people go back and forth, who have working obligations. If you are going to be living in Plum Point and teaching in Roddickton or Englee, you have to get there. You have to be there at such a time that the roads needs to be maintained long before 8:00 a.m. What is happening is that so many times you are out there and driving with just one lane being open at 7:00 a.m. It is just too late to be able to get out and have work obligations somewhere else.

The thing in rural Newfoundland that I was told, and we were told so many times, is that you cannot expect to have a job in your own small community, that you may have to travel up to an hour. If we were going to put industry there, or encourage industry, you cannot expect it in every community but it would be in a distance as such that you can go there and find employment without moving out of rural Newfoundland. I think what is happening now in rural Newfoundland with the cutbacks in the highways is that you cannot go out there and work in a community out our way because if you are going to make your commitment to be at work at 8:30 a.m. or 9:00 a.m., you just cannot get there. There is not a safe driving environment provided for you. I hear that time and time again as the people have been travelling in particular on that road. I know it is not only that road but that is the one that I get most of my complaints about in my district.

The 430 itself, this is where this particular accident happened. It was just north of Port Saunders, heading north. This accident happened at 8:00 a.m. and, if there is a need to have your roads passable and in good condition, you need it by then. There were not any other weather conditions at the time to stop it; it was something that happened overnight with the temperatures.

That really concludes what I had to say about the insurance. It is just the difficulties of knowing where the industry stands. I think even though the Superintendent of Insurance is out there and plays a role to see that it lives by the law, and is being fair and being regulated in that way, there are still a lot of shades of gray there and there are a lot of ways that I think we can go out there and tighten up a little to find out more of what is happening. I think if we do some of the things that are in our control, such as I just mentioned between the highway patrols, the vehicle inspections and the snow clearing, those kind of things, I think, would bring back the insurance levels and would take the pressure off that we see today. Because I think some of them are just being created out of not having the proper preventative things done to make our driving safer in this Province.

Thank you.

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to say a few words at this time on the bill, An Act To Amend The Automobile Insurance Act, to provide for a Consumer Representative and to have the fees, I guess, importantly, of the Consumer Representative be paid for, it says in the act, by the Public Utilities Commission; but the effect of that is that the fees and the costs of the Advocate are actually paid for by the applicant, in this case, one that is currently before the board, the Facility Association or by the insurance industry because, at the end of the application, the normal proceeding is that the Board of Commissioners of Public Utilities will add to its order that the fees of the board would be paid for by the applicant. In this case, those fees would include the costs of the Consumer Advocate, although I think at some point, certainly in relation to other applications before the Public Utilities Commission, and perhaps the minister can answer this question, I know that previous Consumer Advocates were given a specific budget by government when they were engaged, and I would wonder - and perhaps the minster can tell us - how there would be some controls on that.

I know from my own experience in the past as being a representative of the Consumers' Association, and intervening in hydro rate applications or telephone company applications when the telephones were under the jurisdiction of the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Utilities Board, that there was - not a budget for that purpose - an expense involved and there was a lot of decision making that had to go into how much money you would actually spend; whether you could afford to hire an expert, whether an expert was necessary in a particular case, because quite often these are highly specialized individuals, in the case of usually actuaries, who are being engaged to challenge or look at the rates being proposed, and these people charge a pretty hefty rate. They are usually not available in the Province. You have to bring somebody in from other parts of Canada and sometimes the United States, who charge fees like $200 an hour or more for their advice and their witness fees.

There are a couple of ways of doing that. One is by the government establishing a budget for Consumer Advocate. The other, which was the one that applied when I was doing these things, because the Consumers' Association did not have any budget to conduct these interventions, you had to actually apply to the board at the end of the hearing and the board would decide whether your fees were appropriate and adequate, and only then would they decided that they would be paid. It would be based on some sort of determination that the contribution that had been made by the intervener, in this case the Consumers' Association, was of assistance to the process.

When you have a situation here where the legislation is saying that it shall be the cost to the board, are we going to have that monitored by the board or is the minister, in his role as minister, going to have some influence on the budget to be associated with the costs of intervening? Perhaps the minister can answer that when he concludes his remarks. Clearly, there is a need for some direction in that regard because you cannot ordinarily have an advocate, or a lawyer in this case, who would normally be a lawyer or law firm, deciding, of their own accord, how much money they are going to spend on something. Somebody has to make that determination.

It is important, I would say, that there be a Consumer Representative and a Consumer Advocate at these hearings. The one that is currently before the board, for example, has a filing of a document probably two-and-a-half or three inches thick that I have here in front of me and it is an application by something called Facility Association, which most people probably have not heard of. This is set up by the Insurance Act. It is located in Toronto, according to its letterhead, and this is where you are sent if the insurance industry decides that you are high risk.

People find themselves assigned to the Facility Association sometimes for very peculiar reasons. I have heard of cases, for example, where a young person aged nineteen was assigned to the Facility Association because she had been "involved in an accident". What had happened, Mr. Speaker, was that she had been driving a relative's car, her grandparent's car, and she was struck from behind by somebody else when she was stopped at a red light. It was not her fault but she was "involved in an accident" and when she applied for insurance in her own name she was considered high risk because she was a young person who had been involved in an accident. She was assigned to the Facility Association and had to pay three or four times what she would have had to pay if she had applied as an accident-free driver.

We have to look at a number of things here, and I do not know if this application can even look at that because it is suggested that is really in the Automobile Insurance Act and that is not decided by this application; this is only about rates. Mr. Speaker, if you cannot challenge who gets thrown into this body or pool called high risk drivers, then there is something wrong with the system and we have to examine that.

This application alone - and this is something, that you do not find out these things until you actually apply for a copy of the application itself. The application for Facility Association is applying for what they call an average rate level, an average increase of 41.3 per cent for private passenger vehicles and 48 per cent for commercial vehicles. We are taking about average increases there: an average of 41 per cent increase for passenger and 48 per cent for commercial. If you look at the application itself, in the detail, actually for Territory 1, which I understand is the Avalon Peninsula, for Territory 1 they are looking for a 60 per cent increase for private passenger liability insurance, and for commercial they are looking for 59.2 per cent for Territory 1. In fact, for commercial for all Territories 1, 2 and 3, it is 59 per cent for commercial vehicles. This is the overall liability case for all classes of people who are in Facility Association.

MR. WALSH: How do you get there?

MR. HARRIS: The Member for Conception Bay East & Bell Island asked, how do you get there? You get there by being considered high risk by the insurance industry. I just mentioned an example of a nineteen-year-old girl who was "involved in an accident" by being rear-ended by somebody else, not her fault. She was driving her grandmother's car and all of a sudden when she applies for insurance herself a year later she is told that she is high risk because she is a young person who has been involved in an accident.

Now I ask you, from a commonsense point of view, is that young person, who happened to be rear-ended, a high risk to the insurance industry? Is this person at greater risk of having insurance? There is something very wrong with that system if that is what we are faced with here. There does not seem to be any sense if that kind of thing can happen.

We are talking about very significant rate increases being sought here. We are also talking about an organization, which I understand from newspaper reports, that Facility Association actually made a profit last year. This is supposed to be cost recovery. We have high risk drivers. They have to be insured. We do not want uninsured drivers on the highways. We have to be insured. This is supposed to be cost neutral; you collect premiums and you pay it out.

What happened last year was that they made $8 million. Is that $8 million being used to offset the future costs of Facility Association? No, Mr. Speaker, that was given to the insurance companies to put that in their pockets. Last year they made $8 million and said they were supposed to make nothing. They put that in their pockets, and they are coming back to the Public Utilities Commission looking for rate increases of as much as 60 per cent in some cases, but averaging 41 per cent of various parts of the coverage. Now I don't know, that average must be some kind of accumulative average because there is one or two where they were actually going down. They were actually seeking decreases in some of them, but they are upping the deductibles. So there are a lot of things going on. There is a complex application. Some of the coverages will be going down, but the deductibles are going up from $100 to $500 in some cases, and from $100 to $250 in others. So there are a lot of adjustments being made here, but the overall effect of it is that for commercial coverage we are going up by 48 per cent; 48.3 per cent for commercial coverage and 41.3 per cent for private passenger. Some of which, and I would submit, the more expensive - the public liability side of it - are going up by 60 per cent or being sought to go up by 60 per cent in the case of private passenger liability in Territory 1, and by 59 per cent in all territories. In other words, every commercial driver in the Province who is in Facility Association will be potentially facing an increase of 60 per cent in public liability premiums.

What is also interesting, Mr. Speaker, is that the uninsured automobile coverage is being proposed to go to $19 base premium in order to be consistent with the New Brunswick universal uninsured automobile proposed base premium, which is currently pending review. Now that is very interesting, Mr. Speaker. I remember a number of years ago in this House when there were proposed changes to the Insurance Act and we were told that there was a benefit to getting rid of the uninsured motorists fund in this Province and that would be just done by the insurance companies themselves. We would no longer have the separate organization, which was looking after uninsured motorists and would settle the claims for the uninsured motorists and had a fund to do that. We were told that this would go into regular insurance coverage now. It would be covered by the insurance company, and the premium would be $7 per driver; $7 per policy. Now we are talking about $19. Even though when it was introduced in this House it was talked about at $7 per driver, and this is supposed to be not a very significant addition to the cost to drivers.

So this particular type of coverage for uninsured motorists came in at around $10, went to $14 very quickly, and now we are looking at $19 for uninsured motorists coverage. Yes, Mr. Speaker, there is a very great need to have at the table, at the Public Utilities Board, somebody representing consumers here because something is amiss when we see the Facility Association - which is supposed to be totally revenue neutral, they just pay their expenses, they just pay our their cost - collect $8 million one year and put it in their pockets with the permission of the Public Utilities Commission, I would say. They did not do it on their own. They did it with permission.

MR. NOEL: (Inaudible).

MR. HARRIS: Government says it made the case against being allowed to do it, but I do not see any proposal in the legislation here, Mr. Speaker, to make it illegal for them to do it. If you made the case and you were not successful, it is up to this government to be able to direct the Public Utilities Board, or make sure that the legislation that governs the Facility Association, make sure that it operates on a cost recovery basis only, and that the Public Utilities Commission should not be permitted to do that. Perhaps if the minister will accept an amendment to this legislation to achieve that very result, I would be happy to make one.

I would be happy to make one, Mr. Speaker, because the Facility Association currently has an application before the board. We had the example last year of $8 million being turned back to the insurance companies. Now they are coming back looking for 60 per cent. Perhaps it would be a good opportunity this time to pass legislation that says that not only is the Public Utilities Commission going to be permitted to allow these things to be put back, but we would simply say that in dealing with the Facility Association the Public Utilities Commission shall take into account any profit or excess of revenue over costs in previous years in dealing with rate applications proposed by the Facility Association. Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, that would satisfy the concerns that I am raising here and the concerns that obviously the minister has because his government, he says, opposed and did not want the Public Utilities Commission to do that. Well, if they did not want them to do it, they have the legislative means to ensure that in taking into consideration applications for increases by Facility Association that any excess of revenue over costs in previous years be used to deduct from the needs of the Facility Association for current and future years. That seems to me to be a very sensible way to deal with it.

I hope the minister will accept an amendment during this session so that we will not have the charade, or charade as some say, of the Facility Association pocketing $8 million to the insurance companies this year, coming for a 60 per cent increase on liability insurance the next year and saying: we need the money because our experience has been so bad. In fact, the experience was obviously good enough to enable them to make $8 million more than they had expended for these so-called high risk insurers. Maybe some of the reasons they are doing that, maybe some of the reasons that that is allowed to happen is because they have too many people in the Facility Association rates that should not be there. I would like to make those points.

While speaking in support of the need for a Consumer Advocate there was some doubt. At several meetings of the Public Utilities Board on the Facility Association application as to whether or not this government was going to, in fact, appoint a representative and some concern that the consumers were not going to be represented there by an advocate dealing with a quite complex application. I understand now that the government has decided to do that, and we are pleased that they have.

I would say there is another reason why there is a need for this. Sometimes these are very rushed kinds of things. You have a letter sent on September 5 by the Facility Association, received by the Public Utilities Commissioner on, I believe it was, September 9. In that letter they asked for a rate increase proposed to become effective on February 1 or as soon as it is practical after that, pending approval. Then they go on to say: in order for this filing to become effective on February 1, we require your approval by October 15. So, they write a letter on September 5, receive it on September 9, and are asking for approval within one month, of rates of up to 60 per cent on Facility Association, looking for an answer in six weeks.

Mr. Speaker, that obviously is not going to happen. We are beyond that already now and the hearings have not commenced yet. In fact, the government just appointed its own Consumer Representative within the past week or ten days. Clearly, this person is going to have to have time to prepare for hearings and the hearings are going to have to be scheduled.

Mr. Speaker, it is absolutely necessary that consumers be represented at these hearings. We have seen the kind of things that happened. We know the kind of anomalies that exist in people being put in the facility. We need to have someone there ensuring that the questions are asked, that the witnesses are called to challenge assumptions that might be made that deserve to be challenged, and to ensure that if rates are going to increase, they are increasing based on a proper consideration and they are based on the actual experience that has occurred with drivers in Newfoundland and Labrador to justify these kinds of rate increases because being put in the facility can actually put people out of business.

Somebody who is in a commercial field, whether they are driving for a living or their job depends on having a car, if they are put in the facility sometimes the cost could be prohibited and make a business no longer profitable. If someone is in the taxi business and ends up for some reason in the facility, this could drive their cost up considerably, perhaps making it totally unprofitable to be in the business. If someone is in that association unnecessarily, then there should be redress, there should be a way to have that decision changed and corrected, and there should be some greater public scrutiny and greater transparency about how this actually happens. You just cannot have an insurance company saying: I don't like this policy; I think this person is high risk. Then all of a sudden they go into another field and their premiums jump up and increase considerably.

I think those points being made, I support the legislation. I would like to see some control over what happens to Facility Association's profits. Well, we will not call them profits. They became profits because they were taken, but they are excess of revenue over expenditure. I think it is appropriate that we do that. I think it is appropriate that we have someone representing consumers there and that these rate increases, if they are deserved, then they have an opportunity to prove them to the board, but they also should be subject to scrutiny and challenge on behalf of the consumers.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Youth Services and Post-Secondary Education.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS KELLY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I, too, would like to speak to the bill on the appointment of the auto insurance Consumer Advocate. I feel this is a good bill, a bill that consumers in this Province have asked for. I know this was one of the proposals contained in the consultation paper that was done in this Province, and I think it was issued on October 4, 2001; so we know that, with all of the consulting that has been done in this Province on insurance reform, this is one issue that the people in this Province have clearly expressed a will on. What they are asking, in looking at this Consumer Advocate, is that they be represented at all of the board hearings.

I know that many people are feeling, in this Province, that the cost of insurance is rising and they are not feeling that it is rising in a way that they are getting best value for their dollar. They are feeling that if this insurance Advocate is appointed, that there will be someone at the board hearings to put through greater scrutiny the rate increases that are being proposed, to see: Is this really necessary? Are we getting the best bang for our buck? Is it really necessary for insurance rates to be this high?

I have asked, and all areas of the Province are going to be affected by the requested increase that is to appear before the board starting on December 11 of this year, and the requested increases are very high: 51.6 per cent on the Avalon region; 28.1 per cent on the remainder of the Island; and 37.7 per cent in Labrador. These are very significant, Mr. Speaker, and I feel, as Mr. Peter O'Flaherty who has been appointed as the Consumer Advocate, as he does his work and his research, he will be able to represent consumers to make sure that the rates that are being asked for are justified. I think that people will be satisfied when they know that their interests are being looked at, that the proper scrutiny is being applied, and that they will know whether or not this is justified.

You know, maybe we will find that what they are asking for is being perfectly well justified, but in the past consumers have not felt that. They felt that there ought to be someone representing them, as there are on other issues with the Public Utilities Board. So, I think, by looking at this and allowing an advocate to analyze the rate change proposal, inquire into the justifications for change and endeavouring to ensure that the rate increases are justified, that we will be sure that consumers are being fairly represented.

The Advocate would also have the authority to hire additional expertise to go out and to make sure that the authorities are able to look at this, the experts in the industry, to make sure that the rates that are being asked for are perfectly justified.

I am really glad that this bill is now before the House because it is due to go before the Public Utilities Board on December 11 of this year, and this will be the first time that now we will have the consumer represented. This is not a permanent appointment, this is not a full-time job. This is a person that the minister will have the discretion to appoint when there are such rate increases before the board and whenever a rate increase is being looked for.

Mr. Speaker, I feel that this is one thing that we can be doing in this Province, as a government, to help consumers realize whether or not their increases or even the rates that they are paying today are justified. It is a big worry, not just in this Province but right across this country, and I am very pleased that we are bringing this bill before this Legislature so that the Consumer Advocate will be able to have greater scrutiny, will be able to apply greater scrutiny, and there will be more transparency; that we will understand more of why we are paying the insurance rates that we paying and why the industry feels that it is necessary to step forward and ask for these huge increases at this time.

I know that some of them are justified but we also have wondered - many of us, as consumers - if these rates that we are both paying now and the rates that are being asked for in the future are really necessary. Consumers have said that they want to be represented and now, after this bill is passed in this Legislature, they will be represented.

Thank you very much, 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 stand today to say a few words on Bill 9, An Act to Amend the Automobile Insurance Act. I must say - and I am going to go back and back up a little bit before I get talking about the bill and talk about what the minister's comments were when he raised the point of people on this side of the House not bringing forward any proposals or any suggestions on how we might deal with maintaining the status quo, the insurance rates, or reducing the rates. I want to refer back again because I am not so sure that everybody understood or everybody was clear when I talked about the taxes that are being charged on an insurance policy in this Province.

Mr. Speaker, the minister can correct me if I am wrong but I thought he said there was $75 million raised by insurance tax to go into the public coffers of this Province - $75 million. That $75 million, I say to you, Mr. Speaker, comes from the same pockets of the people we are talking about appointing a representative for, to protect, to try to keep the cost of insurance down.

This premium tax that I am talking about is not GST, it is not HST. It has nothing to do with the federal government, it has nothing to do with any harmonized sales tax or goods and services tax. It is a policy tax. It is a policy tax that we charge consumers in this Province, everybody that has a driver's licence and drives an automobile. Have a guess what we charge them? You go and buy a suit of clothes today, or a pair of shoes or other commodities, and you pay 15 per cent as a HST tax. On insurance, which is something that is compulsory and you do not have to pay HST or GST, Mr. Speaker, this government - the Liberal government - steps up and says: Mr. Consumer, Mr. Insurance Applicant, not only are we going to charge you 15 per cent as a sales tax, as a policy tax, but we are also charging the insurance companies 4 per cent as a hidden tax - and that 4 per cent is added into your premium when you go to buy insurance - and on top of that 4 per cent we are going to charge you 15 per cent as well. So, guess what this same minister is charging consumers -

AN HON. MEMBER: Not me.

MR. FITZGERALD: Never mind, not me. The minister points and says, not me.

The minister sits as a Cabinet minister in the government that charges consumers in this Province 19.75 per cent tax on insurance policies.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Shame!

MR. FITZGERALD: Shame! I say to you opposite.

Mr. Speaker, in order to drive a car today -

MR. NOEL: What services (inaudible)?

MR. FITZGERALD: You cannot have it both ways, I say to the minister. You cannot stand here today and talk about ways to reduce insurance premiums and, by the same token, go out and say we are going to charge people 20 per cent as a tax. You cannot have it both ways!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. FITZGERALD: Mr. Speaker, the minister stands there high and mighty and talks about all the wonderful things he did, and there is nobody else making any suggestions, that he has all the answers. Minister, if you have all the answers and if you want to help the consumers in this Province today, and if you want to stop the gouging that you referred to as some insurance companies are doing, then I suggest you stop the gouging that your government is doing from those same consumers; because that $75 million comes out of the same pockets that have to go out and buy groceries, pay for insurance premiums, and buy every other commodity that is produced. That it the shame of what is happening here.

I say to the minister, when he stands sometimes and he talks about what is happening in other provinces, what is happening in other jurisdictions, I ask the minister if he every checked on his neighbouring provinces up in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick? I will just refer to the other Maritime Provinces. I ask him if he has ever asked those people what they are paying as an insurance tax? Have you ever done it?

AN HON. MEMBER: No.

MR. FITZGERALD: No, and I suggest you do. When you find out those things, I suggest you come back to the House and tell the consumers in this Province what they would pay as a premium tax if they were living in one of those jurisdictions. You will find that some of those taxes are as low as 4 per cent, I say to you, Mr. Speaker.

You cannot have it both ways. You cannot say, on the one hand, that you want to reduce insurance premiums and, on the other hand, go out and say we are going to charge you 20 per cent tax. That is 5 per cent more taxes than you pay if you were charging them HST. There is no taxes that you should pay on insurance. It is a service. It is not taxable, according to the rules and regulation of taxation through Revenue Canada. It is a policy tax. It is paid wholly and solely by the consumer, and it goes in to the provincial coffers of this Province.

Mr. Speaker, I suggest to the minister that he look at reducing that 20 per cent to a reasonable level and by doing that maybe we can see an immediate - he doesn't have to depend on insurance companies - reduction in the premiums that people are paying in this Province.

Mr. Speaker, when you look at insurance, there are lots of things happening and there are lots of things we can do differently, I say to people opposite. There are lots of things we can do differently.

In fact, in this Province today it is just as compulsory to have insurance as it is to have a driver's license. It is just as compulsory to have insurance as it is to be able to go out, write a test and take an exam to drive a car, Mr. Speaker. Let me tell you what is happening. I did hear the figures and I may be wrong when I say between 15 and 20 per cent, but I do not think I am. Even though it is compulsory to have insurance in this Province, between 15 and 20 per cent of the drivers today are driving without insurance. Let me tell you what happens. You go out today, you go to an insurance company, you tell them you want to take out a policy and you pay a percentage down. It is done by a financing scheme. Some insurance companies finance their own insurance, others go through a company in one of the other maritime provinces. I just forget the name of it, but it is a company that only finances insurance.

AN HON. MEMBER: The underwriters.

MR. FITZGERALD: No, it is not the underwriters.

Let me tell you what happens. You go and you make your down payment. Your insurance policy costs you $1,000, for argument's sake. What you do is write out your down payment for your $200 or your $250 or whatever it is, and that insurance company will give you your pink slip that will say you have an insurance policy from today's date until one year after. Most companies today write one year insurance policies. Not many companies write anything different than that. Then you do not bother making another payment. So you have your little card for when the RCMP stops you and when that officer stops you he has no way of knowing whether you have insurance or not. He has no way of telling whether that insurance was allowed to lapse yesterday, a month ago, or whatever. He takes you at your word. Here is your insurance card, it shows that you have it for a year, but in the meantime you have paid your down payment and that is all you have paid. That is what is happening.

The insurance committee, which I was a part of - and I say to people, there are two other members, sitting members of the House here now, the Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods and the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, who were also members of that. In fact, the Minister of Forest Resources and Agrifoods was the chairman of that committee. It was one of the best committees I ever served on. It was a committee that went around, had hearings all over the Province, looked at other jurisdictions, and it was one of the best learning things, I think, that I have taken part in, one of the better committees since I have sat in the House; a great experience.

Mr. Speaker, this is what happens. Our recommendation - and it took many hours and many meetings to talk about - is to ask, why aren't we going to give somebody the authority to go out and take the license plates off vehicles if somebody cancels insurance. I brought it up when the now Lieutenant-Governor was the Minister of Justice. I brought that topic up here in the House and asked why there is no sharing of information between Motor Registration and the insurance companies. How come? How come Motor Registration is not contacted the minute that Roger Fitzgerald cancels his insurance policy? The minister at the time, now the Lieutenant-Governor, said: It is too costly, we cannot share information. Come on, boys! Here we are in the year 2002 and we cannot share information between the department of Motor Registration and the insurance companies in this Province. I am certain that somebody out there can come up with some kind of software to feed into a computer to share this information. Come on! The RCMP have no way of knowing. They are going to take your card and they will look at that and they will accept that. They know about your motor registration. They can call into Motor Registration and find out that, but there is no sharing of information.

If we are going to look at ways of reducing the cost of insurance, instead of bringing in blanket policies to charge everybody an extra fee, which is what is happening now by the way - what is happening now is, you go and you buy insurance and there is a little part of that insurance policy that is called SEF 44. Well, guess what SEF 44 does? Guess what it does? It protects you from somebody who is under-insured or does not have any insurance. So, here, again, they are going to charge me extra to protect myself against somebody who is driving in this Province without insurance. That is what is happening today, minister. The insurance companies recognize it and they know they have to build something into their collection of money in order to pay out claims. What do we do? We go right back again to the innocent people in this Province and say, yes, there might be people driving without insurance, but what we are going to do is we are going to charge you another $25 or $30 now, so your insurance can pay you back should you be involved in an accident with somebody who is driving without insurance.

MR. NOEL: So, who do you want to pay for it?

MR. FITZGERALD: That is what it is. That is what is happening today. Sit back and listen. There is lots to be learned yet, Mr. Speaker.

I will put forward another little topic here. I will flick something else out there that not a lot of people know, and that is fraud within the insurance industry. Fraud within the insurance industry today is second only to the sale of illicit drugs in this Province. Fraud within the insurance industry today is this Province is second only to the sale of illicit drugs.

MR. NOEL: You mean compensation for pain and suffering? Is that the kind of -

MR. FITZGERALD: Fraud I am talking about. You can build it in however you want it, I say to the minster, but I will tell you that my facts are not wrong, that fraud in this Province today is second only to the sale of illicit drugs. So, those are the kinds of things, Minister, that you have to get your teeth into if you are serious about reducing the cost of insurance. Those are the kinds of things that you have to get involved in and you have to get your department involved in, and you have to get the superintendent of insurance involved in, to look at ways of reducing - that is if you are serious about it - the premium on insurance in this Province today and still give consumers the protection that they want. That is what you are going to have to do.

The member for Quidi Vidi talked about facility, and facility insurance was brought about - I do not know how long ago now but it hasn't been around for a whole long time - by all the insurance companies getting together and saying: Look, there are a lot of people out there today who need insurance. There are a lot of people out there today who are high risk. The law of the Province says, that in order to drive in Newfoundland and Labrador you must have automobile insurance. So, what they did is they came up with this company known as Facility, and it was supposed to be the sharing of profits. No, there were supposed to no profits, but it was the sharing, I guess, of high risk, where the people who would be a high risk would be put into this facility rating.

Then, Mr. Speaker, the watchdog we are talking about should have been there at that particular time, because what is happening with facility in this Province today is shameful. This company that was put in place, or this arm of the insurance company that was put in place, in order to provide insurance premiums and insurance policies to high-risk drivers, that was supposed to be non-profitable - it was the sharing of the expense, the sharing of the cost of doing business - is now turning a profit. Guess who is being put in facility? It is not the driver who goes out there and gets picked up twice for impaired driving, or for drinking and driving, or somebody who has had a dozen accidents. It is the people, I suppose, who have contributed the most over the years and the people who should be now in the stage of life where they have a good record set and they should be well settled away with insurance companies. I am talking about seniors. Those are the people who are being put in this company today with no way of getting out of there.

It is not uncommon for somebody who is seventy years old, seventy-two years old, to get a letter from their insurance company saying: Because of your age, you are now put in the facility group of companies, if you would. Those are the people today who are being put in that category with no alternative to go anywhere else. Because, who is going to take you at seventy or seventy-two years old? You are with a company for twenty years, you have a good driving record, and all of a sudden that company uncaring looks at you and says: Come on now, this fellow is seventy or seventy-two years old, or this lady, and they are still driving. There is a chance they might have an accident now. The chances are probably greater because they look at the age. The person is put in facility and no other option to go anywhere else. There is no new insurance company going to take them. You would think that the company they were with would show some respect for their service and the commitment that they have made to the company and the services that they brought there, but it doesn't happen. You are put in facility and where do you go from there? If you want to drive you have no other choice but pay. That is the shame of what is happening.

I am a little bit surprised that we are looking for an advocate. There is nobody against advocates, Mr. Speaker. I am a little bit surprised to see members oppose talk about an advocate for this and an advocate for something else. It was only a few years ago, when a former, former, former premier there figured there was no need for advocates. Most of the people over there, or a lot of them, sat with that same premier and stood and talked about the wonderful things he did, and he was right, there was no need for an ombudsman, people did not need a spokesperson. That would be all done by the members of the House of Assembly. That is what members opposite went along with and condoned. Now, all of a sudden, we have to appoint an advocate for everybody. We have to appoint an advocate for everything that is happening out there.

Well, this situation, I guess, since the advocate is going to be temporarily appointed, is a situation that not a lot of people may have a great knowledge about or know much about. It is a job to say you are against something to give people, to take their views and opinions forward and to allow their wishes and their concerns to be brought forward in order to protect them and provide them with the representations that they need.

Mr. Speaker, those are some of the things that really concern me. Somebody talked about vehicle inspections. Is this a way to reduce insurance? I was always for vehicle inspections, I say to members opposite. This member was always for vehicle inspections. When I drive, and I drive as much on the highway as most people today, and you see some of the conditions of cars that you come up on and you meet, certainly I have concerns about them. I know even myself, there was always a time when you had to get your car inspected; you knew it had to be done. Now you drive it out, either you are in a rush or in a hurry or going somewhere and you put it off and you do not pay as much attention to it as if you had to have it done in order get your licence.

MR. NOEL: Are you for it now? (Inaudible).

MR. FITZGERALD: I don't see where my mind has changed, I say to the minister. I am certainly not against vehicle inspections. In fact, I think it has been a good thing. Sure, there has been abuse. You see, there is one thing that we have to get away from, and this happens with social services, it has happened with Works, Services and Transportation, it is happening now with Government Services and Lands: that we bring in blanket policies to cover everything. If there is a problem with something, then we bring in a policy that affects everybody. There is no need of doing that. You deal with the abusers. That is all I ever heard brought forward: Do you mean to tell me you are for somebody writing out an inspection slip, who never looks at a vehicle? I am not for that, but that was the argument that your minister brought forward - now the MP, when he sat as the Minister of Works, Services and Transportation - when he brought it in. That was his argument.

I remember the questions asked here, the probing questions, because it was a concern. There were demonstrations out in the lobby. People came in here and it was only a few weeks before that, that we went out and said to motor vehicle repair garages: If you are going to carry out inspections - this same government Mr. Speaker, the same people sitting over there now - if you are going to be allowed to carry out -

MR. SPEAKER (Snow): Order, please!

The hon. member's time is up.

MR. FITZGERALD: - motor vehicle inspections, then you are going to need this piece of equipment.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. FITZGERALD: By leave, just to conclude?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MR. FITZGERALD: Mr. Speaker, what was said is: If you are going to continue to do motor vehicle repairs, Mr. Repairman, then you are going to have to go and purchase this piece of equipment, another piece of equipment. I know garage owners who went out and invested $3,000 and $4,000 because they were told they had to do it in order to carry out inspections. A couple of weeks after, it was all done away with. You do not need inspections any more now, too bad, you spent your money. Yes, we told you you had to spend it but that is it; we have checked with other jurisdictions and everybody doesn't do inspections. We figure we should do the same thing.

This is not the way to do it. You do not bring in blanket policies to cover every problem you have. You deal with the abusers, you deal with the problems, and you let some good things stay where they are.

Mr. Speaker, there are lots of ways of reducing insurance premiums in this Province without taking rights away from consumers. There are lots of ways of dealing with it, and the biggest way of dealing with it, that I wanted to get into but I do not have time, is education. We have to get into educating people of what insurance is all about, what it means to have a claim on insurance, and who pays for it; because some people think that if they pay insurance it gives them a right to go out and put in whatever claims they have and somehow get their insurance premium back, but somebody pays for it.

I was an insurance representative, myself, for twenty-two years, and I can tell you that I could tell you when some people were going on holidays, by claims that were coming in. So, this is the way of dealing with it; it should be done by education. I have pointed out a few things that have concerned me so, I say to the minister, take some of those things under advisement and maybe we can help some of the consumers in this Province today.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Scio - I am sorry, the hon. the Member for Conception Bay East & Bell Island.

MR. WALSH: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Indeed, the Speaker was not incorrect in beginning with the word Mount Scio, because it was for some twenty-five years - I think it was the 1996 election that we changed the name to Conception Bay East & Bell Island.

Mr. Speaker, I just want to take a few minutes this afternoon to speak to this particular bill with respect to the need for an Advocate to be present at the PUB hearings to ensure that those who need insurance under the Facility Association program are represented.

Now we have to understand that, in looking at the individuals who require this insurance, we know two things. One, we know that the insurance rate for them is extremely high, and as it has been discussed earlier by one of the other members, that can be as high as 60 per cent in certain areas and as low as 37 per cent in others in terms of the increases being looked at. So, first, we have to realize that association is there to meet those who are facing horrendous costs for insurance. Second, we have to look at why it is that they are requiring such a high cost for their insurance. Well, I guess one part would be that for some reason or another they are constantly either involved in accidents, causing accidents, or been involved with people who are actually hitting them.

I feel for the people who fall into the category where they need Facility Association insurance. I feel for the people who fall into that category who suffer the result of an accident: the person who is stopped at a stop sign and finds out that someone is coming along not paying attention and smack into the back of the vehicle; someone on a parking lot who comes out only to find out that someone has backed into their vehicle, causing the accident. A lot of times, too, it is young people themselves who, I believe, in most cases - no, in the vast majority cases - are probably responsible drivers. Responsible in the sense that they realize what the machine is that they are riding on or driving in - that they are cautious in what they do. Yet, at the same time, we find out that it is the young people who are causing accidents that we hear about, or indeed they are those who are involved whether it is their fault or not.

There is no doubt that anyone involved in an accident, and has been repeatedly involved in them - and I know that conditions can cause accidents. I know myself, in one week here in the city a few winters ago, I was attempting to stop. There was plenty of ice and regardless, even though I was travelling at a very low speed, there was no way to stop because the machine was taken over by the highway. When I finally did stop, it was in the back of the vehicle in front of me. It was nobody's fault. It was one of those situations where climate conditions took over. I found myself, three weeks later, in another part of the Province on government business, on a highway barely doing forty kilometres which would probably get you a ticket under most circumstances, only to find out that, as I came around a turn, five or six vehicles ahead of me were already off the side of the road because of the conditions that changed dramatically during a short period of time, and I joined them off the side of the road. Two accidents in less than two weeks, a lot of explaining to be done in order to try to maintain a reasonable level of insurance for myself. Those who find themselves in circumstances where insurance will cover very quickly realize that the cost will climb.

This afternoon, in some of the debates that we have heard, we have heard people saying, that if you want to lower insurance to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, reduce the taxes; a simple, easy solution. However, I have seen many occasions where a tax has been lowered but the price never seems to change. I remember back when the GST was introduced into Newfoundland and Labrador, I remember at that time when we were wondering if costs would come down to those people where the taxes had been up to 19 per cent and 19.5 per cent. Do you know what happened? The tax came down but the price didn't. Far too many companies moved immediately to fill the gap on two or three percentage points. They filled the gap by assuming and taking additional profit. That happened on many occasions, and I would tend to think that with an insurance company you might see a similar situation take place.

I find, also, that it is so easy to say, reduce taxes, in a debate where we are talking about insurance and, yet, day after day after day after day, in this Assembly, I hear petitions coming forward, as I did today, saying: We need roads. In Bonavista North today they need to be upgraded. I have seen the Member for Baie Verte do the same thing. There are roads and many other issues that they need. There is no question about where the money is coming from on that day, when the need it there, but very quick, instead of looking to control the insurance company, take the easy road, take the road most travelled by, not the one least travelled by, come up with the simple solution that will play upon the people who are listening out there. Yes, boy, reduce the taxes, that will save me money right away.

However, we can control the costs of the insurance companies themselves. For every dollar that we reduce the insurance, sure another 15 per cent will disappear as well. If we reduce insurance by $100 at source, if we can reduce it at source -

AN HON. MEMBER: We are supporting it.

MR. WALSH: You may well be supporting it, but some of the arguments for supporting it - the member is telling me that we are supporting the legislation. Some of the arguments for how to support it are what I am challenging. So, here we are, that every $100 we can control to the consumer, common sense would tell you that the tax is automatically reduced.

The need for an Advocate speaks for itself. We have seen, in terms of the electrical rates in Newfoundland - I think that most people will agree with the Advocate in place, working on behalf of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, when it comes to electrical rates, has done a pretty good job. He has done a pretty good job on behalf of the people to make sure that rates are kept within reason. He tends to be on top of the situation very quickly, very easily and very knowledgeably. He has made himself knowledgeable in the team around him.

This one is a little different. The advocate that is being proposed in this particular piece of legislation will undoubtedly, and more than likely, change depending on the issue. That is fine because there are so many different aspects to insurance that to change the advocate at any given time is probably wise, because it allows you to call upon the expertise from different individuals. I would tend to think that an advocate, on behalf of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, at a time when general insurance rates are going up, it might be wise to select someone who maybe has been on the other side of the fence in terms of arguing on behalf of clients for larger settlements. Someone who knows it from the other side might be the ideal person to select at that point in time. Maybe the person that you want may not be available. They may find it is a conflict in their normal business, so you have to search for others.

The insurance industry itself, in terms of the times that they go to the PUB looking for increases, also tends to limit itself. To select one individual and expect them to concentrate totally on the insurance industry may not be beneficial to them or to that individual.

I think when we talk about the Facility Association, all of us agree that the association was put in place to meet the needs of those whose insurance was unavailable. So the insurance rates will climb, but what we are finding also is that this not-for-profit association, this group that was put together simply to meet a need and that it will probably be zero based, we have found that they have been very profitable; very profitable in terms of what they have been able to put aside. I am not sure of the exact number but it is in the many millions of dollars that has been set aside in what should have been zero rated.

I remember some time ago, in the last couple of months, there was an article saying that the fund that was now in place should probably be dispersed over the insurance companies who are participating. Well, I think not. I think the solution would be to leave that fund there. To use that fund to offset future increases to those people who are hard-pressed.

How do you decide, at the end of the day, what we should be doing in terms of the Facility Association? I do not believe that the hon. House can take its time on every occasion that an increase is being asked for. That is why, in the bill put forward by the minister, it says: Let's not look for an advocate each time, let's put into our legislation the fact that an advocate is available to the House of Assembly upon the call of the PUB or, indeed, upon the call of the House. One is simply appointed to meet with the PUB to argue on behalf of those, in this particular case, the Facility Association coming forward in December, but an advocate there to argue on behalf of the consumers of our Province at any given time.

Mr. Speaker, it is easy for me, and I believe the majority of Members of the House of Assembly, to support the concept of the advocate; to support the need for the advocate and indeed, at the end of the debate, hopefully today or in the coming days, to support the bill put forward by the minister requiring an advocate.

Mr. Speaker, with that I will allow other members to participate in the debate and to simply say that it is a good bill. It is a bill that we should move forward with and quickly, so that we can have someone in place by the time the PUB meets - I think some time in mid-December - to hear the Facility Association's request for increased insurance rates.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Trinity North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. ROSS WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I feel privileged today to be able to stand before this House and make a couple of comments about this bill before the House today, Bill 9, An Act to Amend the Automobile Insurance Act.

I say to the previous speaker, it is not the intention of anybody on this side of the House to vote against this bill but there are some significant points, I think, that are worthy of some mention. I would like to make a couple of those points. I make reference at the very beginning to point 61.(2) of this bill where it says, "The costs relating to the consumer advocate shall be borne by the board."

Mr. Speaker, not that the bill is intending to mislead anybody but that is a very misleading statement because the reality of it is, as the minister pointed to earlier, in the insurance business and when we are talking about premiums there is only one premium payer and that is the person who buys the policy. It is the people who are buying the policies in this Province who are going to bear the cost of this advocate. It is not the board, I say to the minister. I say to the minister that it is every single premium payer in this Province that is going to in fact bear the cost of this individual. I think it is important, when we start talking about costs, that we have full disclosure. I think it is important for the minister to ensure that people understand that it is not the Public Utilities Board, some entity out there who has its own pot of money, and it is not being paid for by the consumer. I think it is important that he point out that the consumers in this Province, the consumers of insurance, are the people who are going to pay for the cost of this advocate. Not that there is anything wrong with that, Mr. Speaker, but there is something fundamentally wrong when we do not have full disclosure.

I want to go to another point that was raised earlier by my colleague from Bonavista South, because there is another area of insurance that we do not have full disclosure of in this Province. A couple of days ago I received my renewal statement for my insurance. It lays out for me the coverage that I have. In each category of coverage there is a figure there which represents my cost. At the end of the statement it is summarized. Here is my total premium costs and here is a 15 per cent tax on top of that - it has already been referenced as a premium tax - showing my grand total.

Mr. Speaker, one of the things that we do not disclose is within that premium figure there is roughly - the insurance industry in Canada suggests that within that insurance premium cost roughly 23.3 per cent of that cost is insurance related. So, instead of sending me an invoice that says my insurance premium is $1,000 for the next twelve months to ensure my house, it should break it down to tell me that of that $1,000, $38 of it represents the 4 per cent surcharge that the minister's government is levying. The second thing it should show is that the insurance industry in this country is allowed to recover the full amount of the HST that they pay on all insurance claims. All the insurance claims paid out in Canada, the insurance industry pays HST on that amount. They are able to, by law, recover that full cost from each insurance policyholder.

So, I say, Mr. Speaker, when we are in fact reflecting the premiums on statements, it is important to provide full disclosure. Just like I said to the minister earlier, it is the premium payers who are going to cover the cost of this. We should be, in fact, enforcing the insurance industry to give us full disclosure on that premium statement. Show us: What is the cost of the risk for insuring me? What is the 4 per cent being paid to the provincial government? What is it they are recovering by way of HST? - so I fully understand what makes up that premium. Some of it is my risk, I understand that, but the rest of it is tax based. I think I would need to have that fully disclosed in my statement that I get on an annual basis.

Let's just talk about this 4 per cent that was referenced earlier. This has been on the go for quite some time. In fact, I have been paying insurance for a long, long time and it was not until very recently that I realized fire insurance in this Province - ever since 1949, when we came into Confederation with Canada, there has been a fire levy. Initially, when that 4 per cent came in it was called a fire levy. Over time the name has disappeared but the 4 per cent remains.

The intent, Mr. Speaker - and this is a significant point I think, and this is where disclosure becomes important. The intent in 1949 in introducing that fire levy was to ensure that the 4 per cent collected on all fire insurance policies in this Province went into protection, education, fire protection and prevention. That money was intended to be channeled through organizations, like volunteer fire departments in this Province.

So, on the one hand we introduce a levy that was intended for a particular purpose, to go into fire protection and fire prevention. Over time that has gone into general revenues, but people are still paying that 4 per cent. I say to the minister and to his colleague, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, of that 4 per cent charged on all fire insurance policies in this Province, I understand that the revenues to this Province that is going into general revenues is about $20 million associated with fire policies alone. When I travel throughout my district - I have ten volunteer fire departments in Trinity North - and meet with them and talk about the issues and challenges facing them, do you know what they are telling me? We are starving to death. We cannot get enough money to provide safe fire protection equipment for our firefighters, people who are risking their lives, their front line people going into dangerous situations and don't have adequate, safe fire protection equipment, because this government is saying: We don't have the money to give you. We recognize you need those things, we recognize there are things you have to have, but we just don't have the money to give you.

I say to the minister, if I am a consumer of fire protection insurance in this Province and I am paying a 4 per cent levy, that it was the full intent to have that money earmarked, in the same way, Mr. Speaker, that this government has already said to the auto industry: Every time you sell a new tire, there is a 3 per cent levy. It is money that is directed into a particular program. Does that mean, Mr. Speaker, that some time in the future, if this government were to continue with its current practice, that that $3 per tire would go into general revenues? Because that is what is after happening here, the levy for fire protection has gone into general revenues.

Mr. Speaker, the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Chiefs and Firefighters has been lobbying government for quite some time, for them to have earmarked for their membership, for the 6,000-plus volunteer firefighters in this Province who are dedicating their lives to the protection of property and the protection of health and safety in the communities - they should have some of this dedicated money earmarked for their program, their services, to ensure that their membership has safe fire protection equipment with which to work.

I suggest to the minister, that not only should we have full disclosure of what is built into an insurance premium in this Province, but government should, in fact, be upfront with the people of this Province and say to them, that there is a levy, yes, and here is what that levy represents in terms of a dollar amount. It is our intent to use that money for what it was initially set up to do, which was to provide adequate funding for fire protection, fire prevention, and to fund safety programs that are offered by our many volunteer fire departments throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

I say, Mr. Speaker, it is extremely important for this government to be upfront and honest with people and not only demand that the insurance industry, in fact, provide full disclosure, but also have the money that is collected from consumers in this Province directed and dedicated to the programs for which it was intended in the first place.

Mr. Speaker, this particular bill deals with protection of consumer interests. I think it is only reasonable and legitimate that this House would support such initiatives. I think also, Mr. Speaker - and the minister has continuously raised this point today, about the cost of insurance in this Province and how we can bring it under control. There are several ways. I say to the Minister of Works and Services, last week, during one of the first snow storms we had in this Province, I drove from my district, Clarenville, into St. John's, and between Clarenville and St. John's, for a full two-and-a-half hours of snow conditions, freezing temperatures, I had about five changes of climate. In that two-and-a-half hour drive, I did not see one vehicle from Works and Services on the highway, either plowing snow, spreading salt or sand. These are the kinds of safety issues that we need to be considering if the minister is going to be raising questions around, how do we reduce insurance premium costs? I suggest to the minister that one of the first things that the insurance industry will tell him is that we can reduce our premium cost when we reduce our claim costs. If you are going looking at claim costs, you need to start looking at those things that contribute to payouts.

As we heard when we debated the issue of cellphone coverage, we have had significant debate about what kinds of things can we do to reduce the cost of claim payouts. I think, Mr. Minister, that is where you are going to get the answer to your question about, how do we reduce the premiums to consumer?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. ROSS WISEMAN: Exactly.

You are absolutely right, I say to the Minister of Works and Services. We have to start spending consumers' money appropriately, we need to be accountable for that money, and we need to ensure that we provide a safe environment. That is the question. If we were, in fact, spending the money more prudently and more effectively we would, in fact, create a much safer driving environment and we would, I think, Mr. Speaker, reduce the amount of premiums that we are paying because our costs would be down. I think that becomes a significant issue.

I say to the minister, as the Minister of Youth Services and Post-Secondary Education was commenting earlier when she raised the question about wanting, in supporting the appointment of this Advocate, to ensure that the rates are justified, I think that is an important point. I would agree with the minister that the Advocate's role is to ensure that the rates are justified. The rates being justified are in the context of having an insurance industry who, I assume, would want to have a reasonable rate of return, I assume would want to cover their costs. I say to the minister, it is important also to ensure that the rates are justified, and looking at how government policy, and how good public policy, has impacted the claims experience in this Province.

I said earlier, as my example, with respect to the money that should be earmarked for fire protection and fire safety, I think we have the ability to reduce the property loss in a significant fashion if we were to, in fact, enhance the level of funding and the equipment that we provide to our many volunteer fire departments in this Province so they could provide appropriate education, could provide a faster response to minimize the costs and the property damage that is done as a result of many of those fires. I think that is the kind of thing that will help reduce the cost, I say to the minister. Then we can ask the question: Are the premiums justifiable? Are the increases in premiums justifiable?

If we are, in fact, doing the right kinds of things with how we are spending our money, putting it into prevention, putting it into education, I think we can have an impact on it. I say to the minister, we need to direct those funds for the intended purpose.

I will get back to the earlier point. In addition to this kind of legislation to protect consumers, I want to impress upon the minister as well the importance, as I said earlier, of full disclosure. I suggest to the minister, as he looks at regulations governing - and in this sitting of the House, I understand, there are several pieces of legislation to be introduced dealing with the insurance industry - I say to the minister, full disclosure becomes a very significant part of public awareness and ensuring that as your role, as the minister, in protecting the consumer and protecting the taxpayers of this Province, I think you need also to direct the insurance industry to ensure that they have provided us with a complete breakdown of that premium. Because I think many of the people in the Province, when they start to realize that there is some 4 per cent being built into every single insurance premium statement that they get, they are going to be asking you and your government: How are you spending that 4 per cent in addition to the 15 per cent that you are charging us? I think that is where you will start asking the questions. I think one of the things that we need to ensure is that there is a deflection here.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. ROSS WISEMAN: As we start blaming the insurance industry for the excessive rates that they charge, we need to be asking yourselves, and the people of this Province need to be asking this government: How are you spending the tax on the premium that you charge?

Any time anyone gets a bill for insurance premiums and they realize that some 23 per cent of it is related to some tax issue and some 19 per cent of it is coming into this provincial government, then really that is going to be a fundamental question that consumers are going to ask, and hold this government accountable for the excessive premiums that they are being charged for insurance costs in this Province, not just asking that question of the insurance industry.

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the opportunity to have a few comments on this bill. As I said to the minister, a couple of points for suggestions as to how he might improve the regulation of the insurance industry, but I suggest that this is the kind of bill that we need to be introducing to provide protection to the consumer, and that is what this legislation is about and that is what this Legislature should be about: providing full disclosure and full protection to the taxpayers of this Province to ensure that they have a strong sense and a level of comfort that their tax dollars are being spent appropriately and wisely.

I thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Government Services and Lands, if he speaks now he will close debate.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

That is what this bill is about, Mr. Speaker, protecting the interest of consumers; trying to make sure that automobile insurance rates in particular, and all insurance rates in this Province, are as low as they can be. Of course, this advocate will be able to be appointed for any rate increases that are applied for, but as you know, it is only automobile insurance prices that are regulated in the Province. That is all the advocate is likely to be hired for, unless we change the system. In the present case he has been hired to appear in hearings related to the Facility Association, but we may well have other hearings in the future from all of the other insurance companies on their own.

Mr. Speaker, this government is doing everything we can to try to make driving safer in the Province; try to cut down on accidents; try to improve the conditions of roads; try to educate people about driving and inform people. We are using the money that we are collecting for that very purpose. We are giving a lot of money to volunteer fire departments every year, but we have the other side today proposing that we reduce the insurance tax. It is typical of the position that they take. They want more spending on everything and lower taxes for all of our taxes. Well that is just voodoo economics, you cannot have that in life. You cannot spend more money unless you raise money, and if you reduce the amount of money you are raising you have less money to spend. So what do they want us to do? Do they want us to cut expenditures or do they want us to keep up our present level of expenditures?

Now, Mr. Speaker, there may be a case to be made for raising this amount of revenue, or a portion of this amount of revenue, in a different way and have it financed by general revenues and by all taxpayers, rather than simply by policyholders, because everybody is protected by insurance. Even people who are not policyholders and people who are not paying for the cost of insurance policies, are being protected by the insurance policies that other people buy. So I think looking at it from that perspective, you can make an argument that government would be justified in raising some of these funds through general revenues and general taxation policies rather than the specific taxation on policyholders. That is something that I will speak to the Minister of Finance about and determine whether or not government is prepared to look at making that kind of change. Of course, the tax that is collected is a tax on a service and we have a tax on all services in the Province, so there is no reason why there should not be a tax on the insurance service. That is the justification for that tax.

A number of speakers talked about different things that we should do to try to reduce the cost of insurance, including reducing the taxes, but something else, as I said earlier in the day, a lot of people in our Province wanted to - we did a couple of polls which indicated that at least a third of the people in the Province, and one poll showed that over 50 per cent of the people in the Province, wanted to restrict the right to compensation for pain and suffering, soft tissue injuries.

The hon. member on the other side spoke about the amount of fraud involved in insurance payments in our Province these days, and he is accurate. There is a lot of fraud but it is very hard to get at. Now there is fraud in all aspects of the industry I guess. Some people say that even the insurance companies are not treating consumers and the general public fairly in the way they operate their own business. For one thing, somebody referred to the windshield replacement business, and that is something that we are very concerned about, Mr. Speaker. I am told that if people go to a garage for a windshield replacement, they get asked if it is an insurance job or not. If it is an insurance job it costs twice as much as if it was a private job. I have written to the operators of these kinds of businesses and asked them if that is the case. I am going to look at whether there is anything we can do about that.

Also, Mr. Speaker, a lot of people feel that the insurance companies do not pursue people who intend to defraud the system; people who make claims that are not justified and particularly people making claims for soft tissue injuries and that sort of thing. I have discussed that with a lot of the insurance companies who operate in our Province and they agree, but they say that they make settlements because it is the cheapest thing for them to do in the long run, even though they know that a lot of the payments they make are not justified.

I had one president of one insurance company who told me that in order to try to do something about that, he picked out three claims that his company had which he thought there was no way they could lose in court. He picked out those three claims, went to court on the three claims, and lost everyone of them. Part of the problem that we have in the country, and in this Province in particular, is that the courts have set too high a level of payment and too easy a level of payment in some of these cases. There is not very much that we can do about that, Mr. Speaker. We have to try to work on that.

As I say, one of the unnecessary costs we have in automobile insurance claims is the cost of legal fees. The cost of arbitrations that people go through, inflated costs for different kinds of treatments, and that sort of thing. As we proposed last year, people look at the possibility, or the willingness, to restrict compensation for questionable injuries. As we all know, there was a very effective campaign carried out against that proposition to the extent that some people, led by some of the trial lawyers operating in our Province, some of the firms operating in our city - as I said earlier, the Leader of the Opposition's firm was one of the firms that was involved in this argument and they believe that we should continue with the existing kind of system. That is what people have a right to decide, but they have to realize that if we continue with this kind of system we are going to have expensive insurance.

Last year, Mr. Speaker, those parties misled people about what we were proposing. They called it No-Fault Insurance, which it was not at all. Fault would still be determined. The only thing we would do would be to restrict compensation in the case of questionable injuries in some cases, and in the case of soft tissue injuries and pain and suffering injuries. This is a way that some of our officials have calculated we could save policyholders some $40 million a year in our Province. If people want to reduce the cost of insurance they should be looking at supporting those kinds of initiatives.

Another thing members have referred to is bringing back annual inspections. A number of members on the other side of the House have proposed that we bring back the annual inspection program. A lot of people have encouraged us to do that, but I think most of the people in the Province still do not want to do that, to have that kind of program, so we have not moved in that direction. It is something that we should consider and that we will consider, Mr. Speaker.

In relation to the problem that some people have with the tax on insurance; I think the Member for Conception Bay East & Bell Island made a good point when he said that often when you reduce taxes the savings do not get passed along to the consumer. The companies involved, merely factor in higher prices and higher profit levels, so that is one of the considerations we have to have in mind when you look at the possibility of reducing some of these costs, Mr. Speaker.

The problems with Facility Association are well known. When the hearings were held before the board last year, our Superintendent of Insurance made the case that Facility should not get the profits that they were looking to get, but unfortunately that was overruled by the Public Utilities Board and they ended up getting those profits. Whether we can do something about that, is something that we will have to look at in the future.

The Member for Bonavista South said that a lot of people get insurance policies and then they do not keep up their payments on the policies and the policies get cancelled and they continue driving without insurance, and the point he made is a real point. We estimate there is something like 15 per cent to 20 per cent of drivers in the Province today who are not driving with insurance. We have to try to do something about that. We are trying. We are encouraging the insurance companies. I think he said that a former member of the House said that you could not require the insurance companies to provide information to the Motor Registrar but we are encouraging them to do that and they are supposed to do that. We are not in the process of trying to develop a computerized program, Mr. Speaker, that we think will tie it all into one system. That is what you really need to do, have one computerized system that ties Motor Registration into the insurance companies so that as soon as somebody has their insurance cancelled, it appears on the Motor Registrar's computers and we know that they have no further right to be driving on the road unless they get their insurance replaced.

The problem with seniors is a real problem, and a lot of seniors are being thrown into Facility today where they have to pay a lot more or they are having their premiums increased by a lot, or they even being denied coverage. We all know how the insurance industry operates. I think it is more of an art than a science or a business. They make projections about what they should charge somebody in order to finance the cost of servicing their policy, and often the judgements they make are not very accurate. We all know that you can gain a lot by shopping around. One insurance company might charge you one price, and if you go to other companies you might well get a better price, but the insurance companies - we need to be tougher. We are going to get tougher with them in the bill we will be bringing before this House in a few days time, I hope. You will see that we are going to be purposing a number of initiatives that the insurance industry is not going to like. We are going to force them to treat people in a more transparent fashion, in a fairer fashion, and to give them better value for the money they spend on the cost of insurance, Mr. Speaker. I am looking forward to the support of members when we bring in that policy.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I move second reading of the bill.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Automobile Insurance Act," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill 9)

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair would like to take this opportunity, in accordance with section

13.(2) of the Auditor General's Act, to table the Report of the Financial Statements of the Province for the year ending March 31, 2002.

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. LUSH: Mr. Speaker, Order 13, second reading of a bill, An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act No 2, Bill 20.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act No 2." (Bill 20)

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

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

With this bill, we are proposing to increase penalties for impaired driving in our Province and, if this bill passes, we will have one of the toughest and most progressive penalty regimes for impaired drivers in the whole country, Mr. Speaker. This we have been encouraged to do by a lot of people of the Province, and particularly the people involved with the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and even a private member's resolution in this House some time ago encouraged us to undertake the ignition interlock initiative in particular.

We set up a committee several years ago to study what may be done in this regard as a result of the changes that were made in the federal legislation several years ago. That committee has worked and produced a report that was submitted, I think, last winter some time, and that report is the basis of the initiatives being taken in this bill. The bill will increase driver licence suspension periods, bring in provisions for seizure and impoundment of cars of drivers who are caught driving while impaired, and introduce a pilot ignition interlock project.

I have to point out, Mr. Speaker, that when the committee made its report it recommended that we not proceed with the interlock project because, according to their studies, we just did not have enough interest in the Province, we did not have enough people in the Province, the population was spread too thin, and they thought it was something that would be a bit impractical for us to undertake.

I instructed officials in our department, Mr. Speaker, to look at the situation again and to bring me a proposal for bringing in a pilot project. They have done that and we pretty well have the plan together now. We are in the process, I think, or about to call tenders for proposals for providing this interlock system throughout the Province as a pilot project for a three-year period, Mr. Speaker, and I hope that we will be ready to move on that before very long.

The suspension periods are being increased significantly - very significantly, Mr. Speaker - including a ten-year suspension for impaired driving causing bodily harm and a new lifetime suspension for those convicted of impaired driving causing death.

All of the proposals are outlined and summarized in the bill, Mr. Speaker, and I guess I do not need to say very much about the details of the bill. I just want to thank the people who served on the committee that we set up, including the Newfoundland and Labrador Safety Council, the Department of Health and Community Services, the Department of Human Resources and Employment, the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Crown Prosecutor's Office and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I think they have produced a bill that is going to be well-received in our Province, Mr. Speaker. I hope it is well-received by the members of this House, and I hope that we can have prompt passage so that we can bring in the effects of the bill early in the New Year.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER (Mercer): The hon. the Member for St. Barbe.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. YOUNG: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I agree with the changes that are brought in with Bill 20 here today. I think it is a sign of the times, the needs, the requirements or the demands that society is putting on the safety issues of drinking and driving, and the concerns that they have. With those kinds of laws, it takes time. I think if we were to go back twenty years, to think about when we started off, it would be rather severe, I suppose, those kinds of things that we are putting in today, ignition interlock and whatnot.

It has progressed over the twenty years, the demand has come and our education has played a role. Although, I think if we had used education back in the beginning, or back twenty years ago, and had put its importance in its rightful place, I think we would have progressed a lot faster than what we did. I do not think that we brought on the industry. In this Province, I do not think that everybody was brought onside to have an appreciation for the dangers that drinking and driving pose to the people on our highways. So, I think that awareness was a problem and it has taken a while before everybody came onside to have an appreciation for how serious the habits in our society were when it came to drinking and driving. Gradually, over a period of time, we have come to appreciate it. I think the laws of the land have changed accordingly and have changed our habits and acceptable behaviour when it comes to drinking and driving.

Canada's number safety problem is drinking and driving. It is the leading criminal cause of death and serious injury. Even today, as we change, the fact is it is still there. There is a need to move on and society is pushing us to move on in this way.

One of the things that I would like to point out, coming from rural Newfoundland and being involved in the industry, is that I do not think the education of governments was there, as well. I think if they had gone out and looked at drinking and driving and looked at rural Newfoundland, they would have realized that rural is completely different than our urban centers. As we have moved along, our urbans had the means to adapt and change. The fact that drinking, in itself, was not the culprit in its entirely, it was the drinking and driving that we were trying to change, because that was the threat to our lives and our health. In rural Newfoundland we never had the means to adjust the same as you would in urban. There was no transportation. So I think what happened is that we looked at the urban society and moved along accordingly without taking into account the rural part of this Province.

I think it had an affect on the population out there, because so many times, I know, we have had a lot of problems in rural Newfoundland when it comes to jobs since the cod moratorium. If we had also looked at the fact that - today, when I go out there, I have the job at hand of saying, yes, I believe in rural Newfoundland, and I do believe in rural Newfoundland. When you have young people today who come and work in our fishing industry and live in small rural communities on the Northern Peninsula in my district, when the season is over they go to places like St. John's or Fort McMurray, and that is where they live because we cannot offer a society that has the social requirements and needs of young people, because we are a small, scattered out place, as a rule. I think that is one of the factors that was overlooked.

If we had gone out and taken some of the revenues - because liquor is a very highly taxed product - and had taken some of those taxes and put them into supporting transportation, so that our small communities would not have been affected as much as they were, I think maybe today we would have had an opportunity in those small communities for a society that would be acceptable for young people to settle in.

I suppose in many other ways - we look at our health care and having a means to get to a hospital that is an hour away. There are people who cannot find a way and have great difficulties getting to a hospital and other essential services that are needed. As we know, we cannot have a hospital. We cannot have every government service in every community. Yet, there are many people who just cannot afford to get to those services and have great difficulties in getting to those services.

If we had taken that opportunity, at that time, to put in place, to support, some kind of transportation that would have gone out there and taken the pressures off our highways - because in the rural parts, they were slower catching up to urban because there was no alternative. I think one of the things that it had an affect on was the alternative to move away, because society was not as sociable or had the means to be able to get into that society.

How effective can the policing be is an issue that has been brought up here, the number of officers that we have. Those are the things I go out about, as we bring in laws. People are concerned and when they come to the concerns: How can we have laws and enforce them when we do not have the force there to make sure that they are being followed.

People, generally, when it comes to the (inaudible), they are no longer carrying a big stick. The offender feels that it is more like getting hit in the dark with a dart, kind of thing. That has left people thinking: Well, you know, we are not as safe as we should be. Even though we are bringing in the laws, we are not really progressing along and making it safer on our highways.

Education has certainly been the key. It has to be the key if we are to move ahead. I think of circumstances where I have a principal telling me that the RCMP is no longer in such efficient numbers in his community, where they can come in and be talking to the children and be proactive continuously in our communities. If we are to really truly move ahead, and not have drinking and driving a part of our problem in the future, well then education is certainly being proactive in our schools with our children, and being there is where we have to go.

So, that is all I have to say.

Thank you.

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

MR. LUSH: Mr. Speaker, I am not speaking to the bill, I am standing to make a motion that hon. members, I am sure, have been waiting for. I am making a motion under Standing Order 11, and, Mr. Speaker, I will be moving that the House on tomorrow, Tuesday, not adjourn at 5:30 but that we carry on. That is the motion, Mr. Speaker, under Standing Order 11.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS THISTLE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS THISTLE: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand today to support my colleague, the Minister of Government Services and Lands, on bringing forward this very important piece of legislation, Bill 20.

During the past week, Mr. Speaker, we have stood in this House, all members, and spoke to various issues to support and bring safety to our highways. We have seen legislation come forward to ban hand-held cellphones, a Consumer Advocate to represent consumers at rate hearings, and this current legislation that, if passed, will make Newfoundland and Labrador among the toughest and most progressive Canadian jurisdictions in dealing with impaired drivers. To add to that, you know, we have mandatory seatbelts. Everyone in this Province must use seatbelts.

With all of that, Mr. Speaker, how do you tell a family that their loved one has been killed by an impaired driver? You know, government can bring forward all the safeguards, all the preventative measures, all the initiatives that a government can bring forward, and these are many today in all these different clauses in this bill, but people have to take responsibility for their actions. They really do.

I think there is a new consciousness out there today, probably not acute enough. People have changed over the years. Many today will not get behind the wheel of a car if they happen to be impaired, or be at a party or whatever, but for people who do not drive responsibly, I think government is doing the right thing here..

All of us who drive on our highways - and I mentioned it last week when I talked about the ban on hand-held cellphones - all of us who drive the highway, when you see those white grave markers on the highway, it is illuminous and it comes before you. They are not only a marker, Mr. Speaker, but somebody was actually killed there in that particular spot. Someone's family member was killed in that particular spot. We, as a government, have a responsibility to bring forward these measures.

When we just talked about a Consumer Advocate to represent consumers in trying to keep insurance rates down, prior to this legislation being brought forward in this House, a consumer who was buying insurance, all they could do was look at the competition, phone the next agent who is selling insurance. Really, you know, we need a Consumer Advocate to represent us, and highway safety is all contributing to high insurance costs. Making our highways safer will reduce insurance costs.

There are some hefty clauses in this bill and I was looking over them. Some of the things that we are trying to do in bringing in this legislation is to increase driver licence suspension periods, bring in stronger seizure and impoundments, and introduce a pilot interlock project. All of these are good things and I think the pilot project that is going to be in effect for some three years on the Avalon here in St. John's, because 50 per cent of our driving population are on the Avalon, I am sure that this pilot project will give us some good hard evidence as to where we need to go in even amending further regulations here.

You know, we have to develop a new attitude as drivers on our highway. We have a lot to deal with when we are on our highway. We have moose - I think of moose, being from Central Newfoundland, Mr. Speaker - we have changing weather conditions, we have tractor-trailer drivers who are using our highway now in high volumes. There is a lot of activity, tractor-trailer drivers driving from St. John's to Port aux Basques, over that highway, and we have to look at retread tires coming off. That is another thing with tractor-trailer drivers.

We want to know, when we sit behind a wheel, we have done everything in our power. When you have a young person, a son or a daughter, who has taken a safe driving course, and they feel equipped, once they sit behind the wheel, and they feel confident that the knowledge they have gained through a safe driving course will serve them well, what they do not know is, what about somebody who is coming towards them impaired? How do you react to that? You can have the best safe driving course in the world, you can have four new snow tires, you can have all the insurance you want, but you do not have any defence against an impaired driver. Not one thing can you do when you see an impaired driver coming across the highway, going to run into your car.

On all our auxiliary roads - I was going up to Buchans a couple of weeks ago, and there was even a marker on the Buchans highway, going from Badger to Buchans. Normally you will only see those grave markers on the Trans-Canada Highway. Every time I pass them, I will see probably someone will have fresh flowers put there, maybe it might be artificial flowers, or someone will have a name there, or they will say, Mom or Dad, or somebody like that. These are people from families like ours. It is gut wrenching and heart breaking to know that these are actually people who were killed on our highways. Those markers represent people; they are not just there as wooden crosses.

What can we do as government to make sure our highways are safe and the people who are driving behind the wheel are doing everything they should be doing? Of course, our goal as government is to reduce carnage and the cost of impaired driving.

I looked at the regulation here that says: The bill also calls for regulations to provide for automatic seizure and impoundment of a motor vehicle when a peace officer has reason to believe that a person is operating it while under suspension. Very important. That is key. Any peace officer who would apprehend somebody on the highway and have reason to believe that they are intoxicated, that now gives them authority to do this.

There are many clauses, eight clauses in fact, that will further enhance the Highway Traffic Act as we know it today. I am very pleased with the people who have supported this legislation. I know one group stands out above all others, and that is Mothers Against Drunk Driving. They represent the human side, the family side. I know there have been many others with regard to law enforcement officers and others.

In closing, I want to say to the Minister of Government Services and Lands, this is very important legislation. I will be supporting it and I encourage all members to do the same.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

It gives me pleasure to rise in the House today to support this bill that will impose stricter penalties on drunk drivers. It is a very good piece of legislation and, as my colleague just said, I would imagine that there is probably not a family in this Province who has not been affected by either injury or death that was caused by drunk driving.

I remember twenty-eight years ago, a very good friend of mine was killed by a drunk driver. That drunk driver killed not just my friend but five other people as well. I think any legislation that we can bring in that will reduce fatalities, or reduce injuries on our road, is welcomed and will be supported by, I am sure, all Members of the House of Assembly.

Any bill that we bring in is only as good as our ability to enforce it. I am sure that the RCMP and the RNC of this Province welcome a bill like this, but how many people do we have out there to enforce the bills?

I would like to speak to attitude by this government towards our RNC. I was at an Estimates meeting a couple of years ago and, shortly before going to the Estimates meeting, I had been visiting somebody over at the Health Sciences Centre. When I was leaving the Health Sciences Centre, there were two RNC officers just leaving the Centre as well. I said: Hello, how are you today? What are you doing over here? That type of thing. They said: We were just over here because there was an accident caused by a drunk driver and we came in. There was a gentleman killed in the accident. I said: My goodness, that is terrible. It must be very difficult on you. I thought that the amount of drunk drivers were being reduced here in the Province. Then, I said to them: We had a meeting with MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, shortly before that. They said: No, actually the numbers of people being apprehended is reduced but the actual numbers of people isn't reduced but it is our ability to apprehend that is stopped because of the lack of resources that we have in the RNC. So, when I went to the Estimates meeting I brought that up. I said to the people of whom I was asking the questions: Are we really short on the amount of RNC officers that we have in the Province? I related the story that had been told to me about the RNC officers at the Health Sciences Centre.

I would like to quote the comment by a Department of Justice official: Oftentimes, the representation that is made to individuals, particularly to politicians, may fall within the agenda of the police association. Of course, part of the agenda of the association is to, bluntly put, recruit more members and pay more dues. Now, that is a sad testament to the RNC officers who are out there working; who honestly related a story to me of concern that there were not enough officers to enforce the laws. There were not enough officers to keep up with the laws; that this was an attitude. Now, the Minister of Justice sat there. He was silent when one of his officials made this comment. I am wondering if his silence gave consent to the attitude of his official. Is this an attitude that permeates the whole Department of Justice? Do they think that the officers were in there making representation on behalf of our families about keeping safety on our roads, that they are making it because they want more members in their police association to increase their dues?

This is sad testimony about the attitude that a government would have towards its RNC officers. As I said, the Minister of Justice sat there during the Estimates meeting and he did not say a word. I am wondering if the attitude - I will repeat it again - one of the officials from the Department of Justice said - and I will repeat again in case it was not heard. I had asked a question as to whether we had enough RNC officers and related a story that RNC officers had given me about not enough forces, and an official from the Department of Justice said: Oftentimes, the representation that is made to individuals, particularly to politicians, may fall within the agenda of the police association. Of course, part of the agenda of the association is to, bluntly put, recruit more members and pay more dues. That was made at an Estimates meeting. The Minister of Justice was there and he did not have anything to say against that.

Since the mid-1980s we have less RNC officers than we had then, but where the RNC officers are patrolling much more territory -

MR. BARRETT: The crime rate has gone down.

MS S. OSBORNE: No, the reporting of our crime rates has gone down. If the minister of highways was listening to me, I just gave a story that the RNC told me about. The rates do not necessarily reflect what is happening. Their ability to apprehend because of their lack of resources is what is happening out there. We have less RNC officers now than we had in the mid-1980s. In the mid-1980s we did St. John's; now we do from St. John's to Holyrood. We do all the Northeast Avalon. We do Corner Brook and we do Labrador. That is policed by the RNC who have less people in their forces now and less resources. The fleet of cars that the RNC officers are driving are falling apart. The minister can check this if he wants to. Just check and see the downtime of some of the RNC automobiles. See why they are laid up, because Works, Services and Transportation do not have the necessary equipment. A car could be laid up because there are no wiper blades in stock. They cannot go out and get it done at a private garage. It would do the minister good to check that, seeing how you were interested in asking me the questions. Like I said, we have less officers on the road now and far more territory to patrol.

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

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

On a point of order, the hon. the Member for Torngat Mountains.

MR. ANDERSEN: Mr. Speaker, I just want to clarify something that the member has said, that the RCMP patrol Labrador. There are four regions of Labrador, four ridings, and three are handled by the RCMP. It is just the riding of Labrador West, including Churchill Falls, that is handled by the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

There is no point of order.

MS S. OSBORNE: Yes, Labrador West is patrolled by the RNC and the rest of Labrador is patrolled by the RCMP, you are absolutely, Sir.

As I was saying, there are not enough RNC officers to patrol. While this legislation is a good piece of legislation, and I look forward to it being passed in this House of Assembly, I ask the government - as the speaker prior to me said, they are bringing in legislation to keep our highways safe but you cannot do anything about a drunk driver. You are absolutely right, we have no control of any drunk drivers on the road but if we have more enforcement on the road and more officers out there to apprehend the drunk drivers then at least our safety will be kept up.

While I support this bill, I ask the government to have a look at the amount of RNC officers we have and have a look at the attitude that this government does have towards them so that not only do we have good legislation, but we have the ability to enforce the legislation.

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.

I would just like to speak briefly on Bill 20, An Act to Amend The Highway Traffic Act No.2. It is aimed principally at increasing driver suspension penalties for impaired driving and related offences. I have to say that there has been a considerable change. I know that - notwithstanding the previous speaker's comments about enforcement and the numbers of Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers in particular that we have policing the areas of the Province which are supportive - we have, in fact, across the country seen a widespread decrease in the number of impaired driving offences. That has been the result of two things. It has been the result of increases, generally, in penalties over the last twenty or thirty years, and also by considerable work done by organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

In fact, I read a comment recently from some federal official who actually attributed more benefit to the work of organizations like MADD in terms of effecting public opinion on the issue, effecting the social - I guess it is more like a social penalty. It is no longer socially acceptable to drink and drive. I think that is something that has happened over the years and organizations such as MADD has contributed significantly to public attitudes, driver attitudes, and to societies attitudes. People who have parties now are very concerned about making sure that people who are going home and driving are not impaired when they are doing so. We have, of course, legal liability issues that bars have been found liable for damages when somebody who leaves their premises in an impaired condition drives home and causes an accident. So, we have seen a number of significant changes over the years in that attitude as a result of a series of events: criminal punishment is increasing; social attitude is changing; publicity for organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and also civil liabilities for premises that serve alcoholic liquors.

I am not sure that I agree with every bit of emphasis we have here on lengthy suspensions, and there is not a lot of time to go into detail, but I think I support the measures to make it more unacceptable to get involved in drinking and driving and come to, particularly in the point of where you have impaired driving causing bodily harm or death, having very severe penalties for that.

If you dissected and analyzed it, it may not be that the increased penalties for certain activities can actually deter those activities, because whether impaired driving causes an accident, causes bodily harm or causes death, it is more often a result of circumstances as opposed to the degree of impairment in some cases. Nevertheless we do regard, in our society, the consequences of someone's actions as being more serious and more severe and therefore the penalty is normally higher.

I have advised the Government House Leader that I would try to be short here but I have only had a couple of minutes to speak on a bill that has eight clauses dealing with four or five different types of penalties, and it is not easy to deal with that in the very short period of time. I know if members want to stop the clock for another minute or so, so that I can finish up, I do not know if that is acceptable to the House.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Is it agreed that we stop the clock at 5:30 p.m.?

AN HON. MEMBER: Yes.

MR. SPEAKER: It is agreed.

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. LUSH: (Inaudible). I have also asked the minister to move second reading of the bill. He does not plan to speak, just to move second reading of the bill as soon as the hon. member is finished.

Thank you.

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I think it remains to be seen whether the interlock system can work in this Province. I am a little concerned that if we have a pilot project in this Province for the interlock system for people to get their licences back, it may well be that different conditions will apply in different parts of the Province. If the ignition interlock system is available, for example, in St. John's but not in Corner Brook, that there will be anomalies in the law so that if you happen to live in St. John's you may have the possibility of being able to get your licence back through that system. If you live in Burin, in Corner Brook, or in Conception Bay North, you may not have access to this particular provision.

I am a little concerned that, if it is a pilot project, it might not be available throughout the Province and that only in certain geographical areas will someone be able to avail of that. I think that would be an unfairness. I have a little concern, I have to say to the minister, about how this bill might be operated in practice throughout the Province. As I say, it is a pilot project. Sometimes these things get taken into policy without a full review and a full understanding of it. Once you go down that road, it is very hard to turn back, particularly if you have advocates out there who are very, very much pushing for these types of systems. You have to be very careful about these things. If we are not ready to do it, Mr. Speaker, it may be that we should not do it this way. We should perhaps do it a different way so that we do not have anomalies based on reinstatement available in some provinces but not in others.

I think the impounding of vehicles of a person driving while disqualified is a good thing. We have seen lots of times where people are driving while disqualified, getting away with it and eventually, perhaps, getting caught, but with the degree of enforcement that we have - it is quite often we do have people who have no right to drive because their licence has been disqualified, happily going about their business for many, many months. I have heard of examples of that. I think the impounding of the vehicle is a good deterrent to that. I welcome that. I welcome that approach.

Having said that, Mr. Speaker, I will end my comments on second reading to say that we support the bill in principle at second reading and reserve other comments for discussion during the Committee stage of the bill.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

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

If the hon. minister speaks now he will close the debate.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. NOEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would just point out to the last speaker that the interlock pilot system will be available to all residents of the Province. It is just that the one servicing centre will be set up in St. John's just for practical reasons. It would be impossible to have centres everywhere around the Province. We will see how it goes. If it proves to be a system that is used by a lot of people, then we can certainly make it permanent more quickly, Mr. Speaker, and provide additional service centres.

Honourable members do not need me to encourage them any further to support this bill. I want to congratulate them and thank them for the support for the three bills that we have dealt with here today. We are doing a lot to improve driving safety in our Province and to try to cut down on injuries and the cost of driving and the cost of insurance. I want to thank all members and urge them to support it on third reading as well, when the time comes.

I move second reading, Mr. Speaker.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act No 2," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill 20)

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

MR. LUSH: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House on its rising do adjourn.

On motion, the House at its rising adjourned until tomorrow, Tuesday, at 1:30 p.m.