June 1, 2004 HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS Vol. XLV No. 39


The House met at 1:30 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Hodder): Order, please!

This afternoon we would like to welcome some students from the St. John's Learning Centre in the District of St. John's South. We have twelve students, with their volunteers Pauline Careen and Neil Smith.

Welcome to the Chamber.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

Statements by Members

MR. SPEAKER: This afternoon we have statements by members, and the following members will be making statements: the hon. Member for Port de Grave, the hon. Member for Trinity-Bay de Verde, and the hon. Member for Humber Valley.

The hon. the Member for Port de Grave.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

I rise today to congratulate the GAIA Environmental Youth Group from Ascension Collegiate, Bay Roberts, on winning the environmental award under the category of youth or youth group at the 15th Annual Newfoundland and Labrador Environmental Awards Program yesterday.

This program is a joint initiative of the Department of Environment and Conservation, the MMSB and the Newfoundland and Labrador Women's Institute. Mr. Speaker, annual awards are presented to individuals and groups who make an exceptional effort to create a healthier environment and who help promote and encourage environmentally friendly practices. This program is designed to honour outstanding leaders in environment and conservation.

The GAIA youth group has done a tremendous job in cleaning up the Shearstown estuary and they are in the second year of a five-year project to purchase a BioGreen septic system which would reduce contaminated effluent entering the estuary.

The members of GAIA are also involved with a mentoring program with Ocean Net. They have put together a comprehensive education package which they deliver to the schools in the area telling them about their project and encouraging other schools to get involved. Only last week, Mr. Speaker, over 100 students cleaned up the beach in that particular area.

I commend the GAIA Environmental Youth Group for their initiative, hard work and commitment to protecting and enhancing our environment. Mr. Speaker, I hope the general public take a page from their book to see that they keep the back roads of our Province environmentally friendly.

I ask all hon. members in this House to extend sincere congratulations to each member and their dedicated teachers on this wonderful achievement.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Trinity-Bay de Verde.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Today I rise in this House to congratulate the Choir Group at Baccalieu Collegiate in Old Perlican. The forty-two members of the choir attended a national Music Festival this past weekend in Montreal. There were over 9,000 students in various choir, jazz and concert bands representing provinces all across the country. I am very pleased to announce that the Baccalieu Collegiate were awarded a silver medal in their category. I had the opportunity to hear the choir on several occasions and I can definitely see why they were awarded a silver medal. If I were the judge, they would certainly get gold.

A very special thank you to their director and music teacher, Ms Sherry Andrews, their teacher Mrs. Au Coin, and School Principal Mr. Gillingham, who accompanied them on their trip, and also to chaperones Tina and Joanne Barrett.

Once again, a very big congratulations to the Baccalieu Collegiate Choir. Their hard work and dedication has made us very proud here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS GOUDIE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This past Friday, May 28, the School Sport Newfoundland and Labrador Awards Banquet was held in St. John's.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Charlie Barker of Elwood High in Deer Lake, who was named the School Sport Newfoundland and Labrador Coach of the Year. As you may recall, I congratulated Mr. Barker on winning the 4A Provincial Basketball Tournament earlier this year.

Mr. Barker has a long history of coaching involvement in school sports. He has been involved for the last thirty-two years. The past few years, in particular, have been very successful for Coach Barker. This is Mr. Barker's last year coaching and it is heart-warming to see him go out at the pinnacle of his career.

Also, Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate Mr. Andrew Casey of Regina High in Corner Brook, and Danielle Stacey of St. Joseph's Academy in Lamaline, for being named Male and Female Student Athletes of the Year respectively. 2A School of the Year was awarded to Holy Name of Mary in Lawn. 3A School of the Year was Baie Verte High, and 4A School of the Year was awarded to Stephenville High.

Mr. Speaker, this past weekend's awards ceremonies demonstrate the athletic abilities our young people have. They are competitive and dedicated to their sport.

I ask all Members of the House of Assembly to join me in congratulating Charlie Barker and all winners at this year's School Sport Newfoundland and Labrador Awards Banquet.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Further statements by members?

Before we proceed to statements by ministers, I notice, and it was brought to my attention by an hon. member, that we have in the gallery the former Member for Fogo, Sam Winsor.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: I would like to welcome him, and tell him that we are always appreciative when former members join us in the House.

Statements by ministers.

Statements by Ministers

 

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to advise this House of a very significant event in the development of the petroleum industry offshore Newfoundland and Labrador. Yesterday, Husky Energy announced its plans to study the commercial viability of producing and exporting natural gas from the White Rose field.

Currently, our offshore petroleum industry is characterized by the development of conventional light crude, which I might add, will grow to close to half of Canada's production of light crude when White Rose reaches peak production.

With the announcement that Husky Energy is looking for expressions of interest to assess natural gas development on the Grand Banks, this is a very important first step toward positioning the Province as not only a significant player in the oil industry, but also as an emerging and significant producer of natural gas.

To date, exploration has confirmed natural gas resources offshore totalling almost 10 trillion cubic feet. Our undiscovered potential is significantly greater, with more than 50 trillion cubic feet of natural gas awaiting discovery. It is an untapped energy potential strategically located adjacent to the large U.S. energy markets which are very hungry for new energy supplies. Furthermore, strong gas prices, further exploration and emerging technologies all point to the fact that natural gas can be developed sooner rather than later.

Mr. Speaker, one of the concepts that has been closely looked upon for producing natural gas is a marine transport system using compressed natural gas, CNG technology. I am pleased to advise this House today of a commitment of $100,000 to the Centre for Marine Compressed Gas at Memorial University. This support will assist Memorial in establishing a world-class centre for research and development in the advancement of technology in the marine transport, storage, handling and utilization of CNG.

Mr. Speaker, much work has already been done. On behalf of the government, I want to say that we are confident that this facility will solidify the Province's position as one of the leading stakeholders in this emerging method of natural gas transportation. The Centre will be integral to furthering the research, education, development and training opportunities in the area of natural gas development for Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, earlier this year I announced, on behalf of the government, that this government will proceed with the development of a comprehensive Energy Plan. Clearly, the development of natural gas will be an important and essential element in our Energy Plan as we look for options to have natural gas as an energy source for the Province and subsequently, lead to the development of the necessary land-based infrastructure. It will also provide the opportunity to assess and expand our service and supply sector which has proven it can meet the demands of the offshore oil and gas industry; with a view of how we take full advantage and maximize every opportunity for Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, I commend Husky Energy on taking this initial step towards the development of natural gas. Our experience tells us that Husky is a company that delivers on its commitments to the Province and to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. We look forward to the development of this industry. We look forward, as a government, to seizing each and every opportunity both in research and development, secondary industries, supply and service sector to support a growing economy for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to thank the minister for an advanced copy of his statement. It is, indeed, a pleasure at any time to hear in this Province when our offshore industry will be promoted and expanded in any way because no doubt, taking full advantage of our resources on land or offshore would be, and can only be, beneficial to the people and to various support industries in this Province.

I noticed when the current Administration were in Opposition they were strong proponents that any development vis-á-vis of natural gas in our Province would see that the benefits were maximized for this Province, including the fact that the natural gas should be landed here in this Province after extractions. So, we certainly would like to see that this Administration would hold Husky, or whoever becomes the developers in future, hold their feet to the fire, as it were, to ensure that does indeed happen here so that the resources landed here and the benefits to support industries, as has been proven in the oil industry, are maximized for the residents of this Province and for the Treasury of this Province.

I would also like, of course, to see that the government makes sure that local consumption vis-á- vis natural gas is examined and to ensure that we have guarantees and appropriate securities in place to ensure that the residents of this Province can avail of the resource if it in any way can be utilized for lower prices here. For example, for heating homes and so on, or in industry in commercial natures.

It is also nice to see, in particular, that the CNG technology being referenced here was indeed first talked about and was an initiative of the former Administration. It is nice to see now that Husky, and I am assuming government, are putting some money into seeing that this technology is going to be advanced for the benefit of this Province. It is good news, again, to see that someone is finally - Husky - taking a very serious look at the natural gas potential. Hopefully, it will indeed lead to monies in the Treasury and employment for this Province in the future. I just hope the government is taking us up on our offer earlier, because this does form a part of that big parcel called the Atlantic Accord Initiative.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The member's time has expired.

Does the member have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: Yes.

MR. SPEAKER: Leave has been granted.

MR. PARSONS: Just to clue up, Mr. Speaker.

It would have been nice to see if the government had taken our suggestion of including the Atlantic Accord into a proposal that had the federal leaders sign on, because this natural gas thing fits in with our resources, fits in with the Atlantic Accord problems we are having in being the principal beneficiary. We should have pushed together, as one, to see that all federal leaders had committed to the maximization of the benefits for this Province.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We certainly welcome the news that Husky Energy is interested in looking, very, very seriously on a commercial basis in the development of natural gas for a very forward looking company with lots of resources behind it. So that is very positive, and the government's role in supporting a centre for marine CNG at Memorial is also very positive. Mr. Speaker, the CNG technology that is being developed by individuals right here in the Province - the compressed natural gas technology is very exciting, because not only is it likely to be able to get hold of what they call stranded natural gas, that maybe in small amounts not only in the offshore of this Province but also elsewhere. It is the kind of technology that could lead to a significant manufacturing effort in Newfoundland and Labrador. I think that Husky's interest is certainly going to spur that development -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The member's time has expired.

MR. HARRIS: By leave, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Does the member have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: Leave.

MR. SPEAKER: Leave has been granted.

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you for leave. Husky's interest is really going to spur that development because it is on the cost (inaudible) development and I think we will see a significant investment in that kind of technology. So, it is very good news, indeed. I know the government is well aware of it and I hope that they will see ways of spurring that - continuing to excite that development because it can offer tremendous potential for this Province.

I will say though, Mr. Speaker, if we are going into the excitement of a new technology, a new era of development in the offshore, that we ensure when the development takes place that we do better in the royalty schemes than we have done in the past on the oil, that is a step that this government will certainly have to take, to change the rules to make sure that we are the principal beneficiaries of the resource as it gets developed.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SHELLEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased to rise today, as the Minister responsible for sport and recreation in the Province, to inform hon. members about SummerActive 2004, a national promotion that is organized by Health Canada in partnership with provinces and non-government organizations. The event, which runs until June 19, provides Canadians with information and support to improve their health through regular physical activity, healthy eating and tobacco-free living. In this Province, the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation works in partnership with Newfoundland and Labrador Parks and Recreation Association to co-ordinate this campaign.

Mr. Speaker, each year, as part of SummerActive, my department hosts a Sneaker Day Walk to create awareness about the benefits associated with an active and healthy lifestyle. This morning my colleague, the Minister of Health and Community Services, and I, participated in the annual Sneaker Day Walk at Confederation Building. Approximately 100 people turned out to participate in the walk around Kent's Pond and back to the building. I am pleased to say, Mr. Speaker, in an unbiased way, that the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation deserved the award for most participation this year.

Mr. Speaker, physical inactivity is a major concern for this government and for all involved in the development and delivery of recreation and sport programs in this Province. Recent statistics indicate that the health of two-thirds of Canadian children is threatened by increased obesity rates caused, in part, by physical inactivity. Type 2 diabetes is now being diagnosed in children as young as nine years of age. In addition, due to the onset of obesity in childhood, the Heart and Stroke Foundation is predicting that heart disease in this generation will likely occur twenty years earlier than previously dictated by experience.

Mr. Speaker, as a government we are concerned about the negative consequences associated with physical inactivity and we are committed to providing opportunity for increased participation. For this reason, my department is pleased to have recently partnered with the federal government, through Sport Canada, on a bilateral agreement to help young people in junior high school and in rural areas benefits from participation in sport.

Mr. Speaker, the three-year $1.1 million agreement will support three programs - Regional Games, Travel Subsidy and a Festival of Sport. I am particularly excited about the Festival of Sport Program and the opportunity this program will present for junior high school students to participate in physical activity through organized sport. The program will be administered by School Sports Newfoundland and Labrador and will involve a series of multi-sport competitions between junior high schools throughout the Province. Mr. Speaker, there are approximately 21,000 students in Grades VII to IX in our Province. The Festival of Sport Program will encourage participation from all junior high school students, regardless of their athletic ability.

Mr. Speaker, government recognizes the importance of working in partnership with the federal government to increase the opportunity for all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to participate in physical activity and sport. We are committed to supporting initiatives that increase physical activity levels and developing further opportunities for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to participate in organized sport. We recognize that such events such as SummerActive go a long way in promoting the benefits of a healthy lifestyle gained through regular physical activity.

This year's partnership between the Department of Health and Community Services and the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation is an important first step in working together to recognize physical inactivity. I am confident that we will continue to build this partnership as we address this important issue. On behalf of the minister and myself, I would like to thank all MHAs this morning and government employees who took time out of their busy schedules to participate in today's walk. Together we can help increase physical activity in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the minister for an advanced copy. I know the minister, personally, is very much involved in active living and the promotion of lifestyle for the youth. I know the minister, on many occasions, has provided that.

Today we are celebrating two events, the SumerActive campaign which was kicked off by Sneaker Day by the minister - both ministers, actually - and I say congratulations on that. Anything that we can do here to promote active living is very beneficial to all of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador: our youth, our middle-aged and our seniors.

As we go through the notes that the minister made in his speech, diabetes is a major concern. My wife is a dietitian, and she is well aware that diabetes is a major concern for youth. If we can get the youth active, it is very important.

The thing that I like about this, Mr. Speaker, this program itself, this bilateral agreement between the provincial and federal government, the most striking thing from a coach is that the kids who usually fall through the cracks of an athletic program will now be picked up. I think that is the most important thing. If you take away all of the initiatives that coaches do in this Province, all the programs that are offered, there are some who just cannot make it to that level. Some just cannot do it. This program will allow youth who have fallen through the cracks to be able to participate, to get involved somehow, somewhere along the line, meet other kids, other groups, and just remain active in their communities. I think this is a great, great, great program, actually, for the youth and I commend both levels of government.

Mr. Speaker, before I conclude, I would just like to concur with the Member for Humber Valley on Mr. Charlie Barker as Coach of the Year. I have to take a bit of credit for Charlie being such a good coach.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, Charlie Barker's early days of coaching were chasing myself and his brother Bob off the basketball court with our outdoor shoes on.

To Charlie, congratulations!

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the minister for an advanced copy of the statement. We certainly support any initiatives that lead to increased physical activity among the young people of our Province. I say to the minister, this is really important for the rural areas of the Province where much infrastructure is needed that would allow young people to participate in sporting events and activities within their home towns. It is important that the infrastructure be in place in the various communities throughout this Province in order to allow for it to be facilitated, for physical activity to increase.

It is also important, Mr. Speaker, that the interaction between different communities, different schools in our Province take place so that it brings people in the Province closer together. I know the minister announced in the Budget, I think, $150,000 or $160,000 in Labrador for the sports federation to take part in events throughout the Province, and this additional funding will certainly -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The member's allotted time has expired.

MR. COLLINS: By leave, Mr. Speaker?

MR. SPEAKER: Does the member have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: Yes.

MR. SPEAKER: Leave has been granted.

MR. COLLINS: This additional funding will increase that activity, hopefully, and bring about people so that they can relate to each other and they can build friendships that will go on into the future.

Mr. Speaker, anything that increases this activity for our young people is certainly appreciated.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: Further statements by ministers? Oral Questions.

Oral Questions

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My first question is for the Minister of Government Services.

Maybe today we can get some answers. God knows, the public certainly deserve to have some of their concerns addressed regarding this auto insurance reform package that we have before the House.

Minister, could you explain to the House, and to the consumers of this Province, what rationale was used by yourself to justify a change from a $2,500 cap to a $2,500 deductible?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, the deductible was recommended in a select committee back in 1998. A cap would restrict compensation for people who were injured in car accidents. The only fair and simple way to go was to put a deductible of $2,500 in this reform.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, anyone you might wish to talk to today, who has knowledge of this plan since last Thursday, is opposed to the plan. The biggest insurance consumer group in the Province, in today's The Telegram, is condemning the plan. Insurance companies are crying out against it. The only one quiet, it seems, is the legal profession, maybe because they have the most to gain.

We know that this legislation will call for a one-year freeze but, Minister, why are you using this band-aid approach now by Bill 30 when you, yourself, acknowledge that you are going to have to do a major consultation and what you have here in Bill 30 is only for one year? Why are you doing this now, before you have done your public consultation on the rest of the major issues that are outstanding?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, the reason that this is being done now is because we have already had a claims study done a fair time ago and it is outdated data right now so we need a new closed claims study. In the meantime, we are bringing in these reforms because the people of Newfoundland have been asking for eight years now for reforms for the insurance. The premium rates have been, I guess, going sky-high, rocketing, and they have been asking to get reduced premiums so we are bringing in the reforms today. I am very proud to present this bill today.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, Minister, in addition to your pride, maybe you can give the consumers of this Province some assurances and some explanations as to why you are doing what you are doing. For example, government did not even put the deductible in this legislation. It calls for the deductible amount to be determined by a regulation of Cabinet, which is pretty well lawyer dominated we can see. It is no wonder people are calling this the Williams, Roebothan, McKay, Marshall insurance plan.

Why, Minister, has government reserved the right to make the crucial decisions about the amount of the deductible in hiding, free from public scrutiny, but you put the responsibility, once some bungling takes place, on the Public Utilities Board to explain to the Province what happened? Why, Minister?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, we wanted the ability Cabinet to - if the deductible eroded over a period of time, and it may not, but if it did, we needed the ability to be able to increase the deductible.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My next question is for the Premier.

Premier, you stated as recently as today in a The Telegram article that you consulted widely with people of interest and stakeholders in this particular issue of insurance in this Province and that you have received a lot of support. Well, Premier, I received today a copy of a draft letter from a lady, President Power of the Aviva Canada Group who functions here in the Province. In fact, they have 24 per cent of the auto insurance industry in our Province. President Power states that she has been trying for three months to get a meeting with yourself, but have not been able to get a meeting. How could you, personally, be involved in this and have played a major role in this when according to the President of Aviva - who, by the way, in the same letter has put this Province on notice, that effective tomorrow they will not be underwriting and selling any new auto insurance in this Province, and as of January 1 they will be withdrawing from this Province totally; 24 per cent of the insurance industry now withdrawing. Add that to general, which is another 10 per cent, we have 35 per cent of the insurance industry gone.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the member now to complete his question.

MR. PARSONS: Premier, how can you say you consulted widely when the president of this major insurance company in the Province says she has not been able to get a meeting with you for three months?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Obviously, the hon. gentleman opposite has a draft letter which is a letter that we may or may not have seen. I do not know what draft it is, draft one, draft two or draft three. That is really meaningless for the purpose of this House, but perhaps he would like to table it, after which we can certainly have a look at it.

With regard to consultation, I indicated yesterday in the House - and I indicated outside the House, actually - that consultation has been done with several government officials as well. I have been speaking to the Premier of New Brunswick, the Premier of P.E.I., the Premier of Nova Scotia. As he knows, as he very well knows as a lawyer, the experience in Ontario has been a difficulty one. When you talk about caps and you talk about deductibles, Ontario have actually changed their plans and changed their legislation at least three or four times because this is a very fluid problem that is changing all the time.

As the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi knows, New Brunswick is even considering public insurance. So, you really have to be open here. You have to look at all the alternatives. Now, if one particular company decides that it does not want to do business here, well, that is its choice. We do not want to interfere with those companies. But, the very fact that we have people in the legal profession who do not like this -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the Premier now to complete his answer.

PREMIER WILLIAMS: We have people in the insurance industry who do not like this. We have some consumers who do not like it. It tells me that we have probably come up with a very, very good compromise and a very good solution because we are not there to try and please the big insurance companies. That is not what it is all about. It is to try and get better rates for consumers!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I do not have a question other than a comment to say that maybe the Premier does indeed - he is not too worried about insurance companies and the ninety-five employees they have in this Province. Maybe he is only concerned about the legal fraternity. I do undertake and will immediately table the letter to which I have referenced, where this company is pulling out of this Province and 24 per cent of the insurance industry has gone down the tubes because of this government.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair did not hear a question, so we will go to the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I invite the Premier to name some member of the legal community who is complaining about this legislation. I will bet he cannot name one.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again, it shows the level of seriousness, or lack thereof, of which the government caucus treats these issues. Mr. Speaker, the Opposition House Leader is treating and dealing with this issue as an elected member of our party.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the Leader of the Opposition now to complete his question.

MR. GRIMES: Mr. Speaker, yesterday in this Legislature - they can relax, we will get to our questions - the Premier indicated that he was hopeful that his meetings with the Allied forces would result in a long-term military future for 5 Wing Goose Bay. The Premier indicated that he was hopeful his recent meeting with the German Ambassador to Canada would produce results. He described the meeting as a good meeting, right here in this Legislature yesterday. Yesterday, in the presence of four other government caucus members, the same German Ambassador emphatically stated there would be no future military presence in Goose Bay for Germany.

Mr. Speaker, the question for the Premier is this: Did the Ambassador tell the Premier something other than that, so he could describe it as a good meeting, or has the Premier, again, chosen to mislead the people of the Province about this issue?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I have indicated to the House, and hon. members opposite, that we did attend in Europe; that we met with the German officials. We met with the German Minister of Defence. We were very, favourably received. He indicated in that particular meeting that the door was closed, but as a result of our meeting that the door was opened. Although, he admitted, it was opened a little bit, but that is better than where it was before we attended the meeting.

With regard to the Ambassador to Canada; yesterday the German Ambassador certainly did not indicate to me, in our meeting, that there was not going to be any other German presence in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Now, it is obvious, that is what the hon. member opposite would like to happen, because that would mean that we probably have not succeeded as a government in tying to correct his problems and his mistakes, and his inaction and his government's inaction over the years. We continue to try to clean up his mess, and we will try to do that to the best of our ability, with or without his help.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, maybe if he consulted with the four members of his caucus who heard the German Ambassador emphatically state and go on for five minutes to explain why there would definitely be no German military presence in Goose Bay after 2006, he might have a different answer.

Mr. Speaker, the Premier left the impression in the House yesterday, and in the media, that Germany - and he just repeated it - left the door open to more military training. In fact, Mr. Speaker, the real facts are that Germany has invested $40 million over the past few years in infrastructure, like new hangars in places like New Mexico. At home, they are closing bases and reducing the sizes of their air force and their full military.

What, Mr. Speaker - because the people want some real commitments - what, if any, assurances did the Premier of our Province receive - and has he ever received any - from Germany, or any of the other allies that he visited recently, with respect to their real, active, future involvement in Goose Bay beyond the year 2006? Could he give the people of the Province an honest answer as to real commitments that he has gotten from any of the allies, other than the real statement from Germany that there will be no presence after 2006?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, what we faced when we took over this government was the reality that the allied forces were leaving Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Two had already indicated that they were leaving, and two were indicating that they were possibly going to leave, so we went in and we were trying to turn that around, and that is exactly what we did. We went and we visited the officials in Europe. The Member for Lake Melville was with me on that particular trip. We talked to them about alternatives. We talked about other types of maneuvers. We talked to them about tactical transport. We talked about unarmed vehicles. We talked about absolutely any possible maneuvers that they may be interested in. As I said in the meeting in Germany, the German Minister of Defence indicated that the door was still open and that they were prepared to negotiate.

My colleague tells me that in a meeting yesterday, when various caucus members were present, that the Ambassador indicated that I was dealing at a higher level in Germany and he was not aware of those discussions. So, do not attempt to try to put words in my mouth. I do not know if you were at that meeting. If you were, you could probably state exactly what was said at that meeting. I was not there, but I can go by people who were at that meeting and they are not saying what you are saying.

I can only go by the conversation that I had. There was no indication that the Germans would never show up in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Maybe that is what you want. That is obviously what you want. You want that to shut down, so you can try and hang it around our neck.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Well, we are going to continue to try and clean up your mess, and we will talk to the Italians and we will talk to the Dutch and we will talk to the Brits and we will talk to the Germans.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We will talk to DND and we will see if we can get greater Canadian participation at 5 Wing Goose Bay. We will also talk to the Americans, as the Member for Lake Melville is.

We have lots of alternatives and we are going to try and do absolutely everything we can to keep that base in operation. That is our commitment.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

In the last several exchanges we have been way over our usual time. The schedules are, the comments back and forth between the Leader of the Opposition and the Premier are running about a minute-and-a-half. I ask the members for their co-operation. Keep our questions and our answers around fifty seconds.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, we are not interested in anything other than the Premier, on behalf of the government, telling the people of Newfoundland and Labrador the truth about these matters.

Mr. Speaker, if the Premier does not get some real commitments some time soon, now, Goose Bay may become another Stephenville Air Base or former Argentia military site. We pointed out last week that the issue is not necessarily in Europe; it is in Canada.

In yesterday's The Telegram, his Director of Communications is quoted as saying: The Province is not willing to put any money into the long-term future of Goose Bay because it is a federal responsibility.

I ask the Premier if that is his position, if he agrees with that statement? What is he going to do, then, as the Minister of Business, to partner with the Government of Canada to ensure the long-term viability of 5 Wing Goose Bay?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As the Leader of the Opposition knows, Mr. Speaker, we inherited a fiscal mess from the previous government. We have a situation where our consolidated deficit is over $800 million. We have a situation where our cash deficit is $362 million. He and his Cabinet and members of his government have left this Province in a very, very, very serious financial state. We are going to do everything we can to turn that around, but that is going to take a little bit of time.

We do have a commitment to 5 Wing Goose Bay, but the first responsibility is the federal government, so we are not just going to step up to the plate and write out a cheque that we do not have, or write out a cheque when we do not have any money in the bank, because you have not left us with a cent in the bank. That is not what we are going to do. We are going to work with DND. We have already successfully gotten $40 million out of them. We did not have to put anything up for that, and we hope to get more, but we do have a commitment to Lake Melville and we do have a commitment to 5 Wing Goose Bay. We do have a commitment to the member. We do have a commitment to Labrador, and we will fulfill our commitment. When the time comes for us to step up to the plate, we will assess it within our limits and we will deliver.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Torngat Mountains.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. ANDERSEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I say to you, Premier, I hope the $40 million is not a closure fee.

Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Transportation and Works, and Aboriginal Affairs.

Minister, I have been receiving a number of calls from concerned municipalities and construction companies regarding roadwork for this year. Can you explain to this House why no tenders have been called, no work is on the horizon, and people are being left unemployed due to the slow actions on the part of this government?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, it is not correct, as the hon. gentleman puts it, that no tenders have been called. In fact, there are several tenders that have been called over the last number of weeks and months, but the $30 million Provincial Roads Program is ready to be finalized and it will be finalized very shortly.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: A supplementary, the hon. the Member for Torngat Mountains.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. ANDERSEN: Minister, the Lewisporte and Area Chamber of Commerce is promoting ticket sales for an evening cruise on the Bay of Exploits aboard the motor vessel Northern Ranger. Most people are aware, the motor vessel Northern Ranger is a passenger vessel that services the North Coast of Labrador with all expenses coming from the Labrador Transportation Fund.

I ask the minister if he approved this cruise and will he tell this hon. House if the associated cost for this trip to promote Lewisporte, including salaries for the crew, the cost of fuel, is coming from the Labrador Transportation Fund or other government funds?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: Mr. Speaker, some years ago, long before this government came into power last November, the government of the day instituted a policy of offering, at the beginning of the season, the Northern Ranger to the Lewisporte and Area Chamber of Commerce and the Happy Valley-Goose Bay Chamber of Commerce. For years that was done as a run up for the vessel. The vessel needs to have a day run up before it goes to Labrador.

For a number of years, both Happy Valley-Goose Bay and the Lewisporte Chamber of Commerce took advantage of that, if there was enough time after refit to do so. The Chambers have requested that again and we have given permission for the vessel to do it, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: A final supplementary, the hon. the Member for Torngat Mountains.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. ANDERSEN: Mr. Speaker, again, I guess, the funds are coming from the Labrador travel fund, the same as the $700,000 to do repairs for the ferry service that is coming from the Labrador Transportation Fund as well.

Minister, people on the North Coast of Labrador are more dependent on marine transportation to receive their goods and services than anyone else in the Province. Well over a month ago in this hon. House, you said you would consider sailing the motor vessel Trans Gulf out of Lewisporte if that was what the people on the North Coast wanted. Well, Minister, they are adamant, as they always have been. By the way, Minister, the Trans Gulf is the only vessel that does not have a confirmed schedule for the coming year.

Minister, will you confirm today that you will grant the people on the North Coast of Labrador their request, and announce today that you will sail the Trans Gulf out of Lewisporte?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: Mr. Speaker, I should add, in response to the previous question as well, that it was tradition that the Northern Ranger used to also do this day for the St. Anthony Chamber of Commerce. This is not something new that was invented just this year.

Mr. Speaker, in terms of the Trans Gulf -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. RIDEOUT: I am attempting to answer the hon. member's question.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

A question has been asked, the minister has the floor.

MR. RIDEOUT: In terms of the Trans Gulf, Mr. Speaker, I have given very serious consideration to the request from the hon. gentleman, from the LIA, from business communities and so on, on the North Coast at every conceivable manner to improve the distribution of freight to the North Coast. We have indicated that we are going to put a full-time manager in Cartwright this year. We are going to do that. We think we can do a better service with a full-time manager in Cartwright on a seven-day cycle to the North Coast of Labrador than operating fourteen days out of Lewisporte. Mr. Speaker, we are going to try that and we think that will work and provide a better, more efficient and faster service for the people of the North Coast of Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My question is on automobile insurance. If you listen to the Premier's answers today in the House, Mr. Speaker, you would think the Premier is of the opinion that if nobody likes his insurance plan then it must be a good one.

My question though is for the Minister of Government Services. We had a complaint from a consumer, to my office, who has to pay $500 to insure his daughter on his car for a couple of months coming home from university. What I want to know from this minister, is this legislation and her plan going to do anything substantive to change that, given that the minister and this government are not doing anything about discrimination on the basis of age in her plan?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, those reforms will benefit all of the people in this Province who are carrying an automobile insurance premium, on an average of 15 per cent savings overall, depending on the type of coverage they have and where they live in the Province.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, on a supplementary.

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

At 9 per cent on the comprehensive, that will be $450 for a couple of months instead of $500.

Mr. Speaker, given the fact that the Consumers' Association of Canada has recognized that the public automobile insurance system has consistently delivered, across the country, the lowest rates and the fairest type system, why isn't she and her government undertaking a comprehensive study with full public consultation and full resources available to it of a public system for Newfoundland and Labrador - the way the New Brunswick government did - with an all-party committee of the House to do a good job and to produce a comprehensive report for this Province?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Government Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, this is the first step in those reforms. We are going to have a full-blown public hearing and all of this can be addressed in a public hearing. We are not ruling out public insurance as well.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. JOYCE: We will get to the survey, I say to the member, we will get to the survey.

The Minister of Tourism and the Premier have been touting their new million dollar investment into tourism marketing. I just found out that a part of this investment is for jobs in Nova Scotia. I was astonished to find out this morning that the Tourism Minister has hired a Nova Scotia firm to conduct a survey of provincial tourism chalets, another visitor information services in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Can the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation tell the House why he has commissioned a Nova Scotia company to do work that could have easily been done by a Newfoundland and Labrador firm who has the local flavour and expertise?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SHELLEY: Yes, Mr. Speaker, indeed we are doing a survey right now and we hope that in very short order we will have very good information on visitor information services in this Province, and it is a company from Nova Scotia. We are looking forward to what they are going to report to this Province. At the end of the day, Mr. Speaker, we will improve visitor information services in this Province, therefore grow tourism in Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair recognizes the hon. Member for Bay of Islands.

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I finally got to the roots of the glossy report that the minister presented last week: Tourism coming into Newfoundland and Labrador, because it says here in a letter from the Department of Tourism: The consultants will soon be visiting a number of Visitor Information Centres across the Province. That is where we are going to get our influx in tourism, from outside people hired by the Department of Tourism.

Will the minister now admit that there are local companies which could have completed this survey and provided local employment and give a true picture of the tourism? My question for the minister: How much will this Nova Scotia survey cost taxpayers of Newfoundland and Labrador, and were the local firms considered to do this work?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SHELLEY: Mr. Speaker, I wish I had made it back to the House in time yesterday to answer the previous survey that the member put forward yesterday. The fact of the matter is, one of the biggest deterrents to tourism in the Province is the hon. member putting out false information when, in fact, he knew the information he gave yesterday was incorrect. The fact of the matter is this, Mr. Speaker, tourism in Newfoundland and Labrador is growing, whether you like it or not. You are the only deterrent to tourism in Newfoundland. We will continue and consult on Visitor Information Centres in this Province and we will do the right thing for tourism in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, thank you very much.

Once again, the minister is saying I put out false information but he cannot produce the information as usual.

I ask the same question: Will you table how much it cost to provide this survey done by a Nova Scotia firm, and will you provide what local companies were asked to provide these services? Will you table the cost and what local companies were requested to do this work?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SHELLEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I have no problem tabling the exact amount. I will certainly give it to the member the next day of the House.

Mr. Speaker, as of yesterday, with his accuracy on numbers, he talked about the huge increase. We are starting to promote this Province within the Province. Ads started just a couple of nights ago to tell people in this Province throughout Newfoundland and Labrador -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask members for their co-operation. The Chair has recognized the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation. I ask him to finish his answer to the question.

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

They are a little testy today, Mr. Speaker. They do not like to hear the facts. The fact is, Mr. Speaker, it was misinformation the member gave yesterday. Here is a huge increase that went into the provincial parks. It went from $9 to $10. By the way, if the member would check his information, he would know that Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador, who represents 700 businesses in this Province for tourism, made the request for the increase in the fees.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: A final supplementary, the hon. the Member for Bay of Islands.

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, I do not mean to be skeptical of the minister, but the government has a horrible track record of saying one thing and doing another. There has not been a study commissioned by this government yet that has not resulted in job losses, service reduction or increased rates. This survey talks about new technologies. This means using computers to replace people to do the work. Will the minister admit that part of this study is just another way of legitimizing further cuts and service reductions that will hurt the tourism industry? How many chalets will close, are in the master plan, I ask the minister?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SHELLEY: Mr. Speaker, if you listen to the hon. member, the critic for Tourism in this Province, of all the people throughout the Province who is so positive about this industry this year. We are simply doing this to improve the situation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. SHELLEY: Visitor Information Centres, the Web site, the 1-800 numbers are all ways to improve, of course, marketing this Province as a whole. Whether you like it or not, I say to the member, we are up 15 per cent on indicators for this Province already this year. So, if you hang on tight, maybe there is some worst news for you next week when we see a bigger increase in tourism in Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

We have time for one brief question.

The hon. the Member for Twillingate & Fogo.

MR. REID: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I have a question for the Premier.

Mr. Speaker, as I said last week, many people in this Province are concerned about the potential sale of the marketing and the value-added division of FPI, and the impact that would have on people and communities in this Province. I remind the Premier, on May 2, 2001, the current Minister of Fisheries when he was Opposition Fisheries critic said, and I quote: That government should "...ensure that not all, not substantially all, not even a little bit all, of the assets of FPI, particularly its marketing arm in the United States, are sold to competitors or otherwise."

Mr. Speaker, your House Leader, the Minister of Natural Resources, said at the same time: That government should not stand by if FPI chooses to sell its marketing arm. I ask the Premier: Why has he softened his stand on FPI by saying it is a private company and we cannot say much about it? Why is he softening his stand on FPI? I ask him: Why doesn't he stand here today and assure the people of this Province -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the member now to complete his question.

MR. REID: - that he will not permit the sale of these assets like the Minister of Fisheries and the Minister of Natural Resources said in 2001?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

We have time for a brief response.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I say to the hon. member opposite, we have not softened our stand. We have firmed up the stand of this government, unlike the previous Premier who, as you remember quite well, quite frankly was not interested enough to ask any questions. Do you remember saying that?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: You did not ask any questions. You were just going to let them do it.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Well, we are not going to let that happen. We have asked all the questions. We are going to ask more questions and we are going to be consistent with the statement by the Minister of Fisheries.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: When you were Minister of Fisheries, you know what your statement was?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Your statement was: I am sorry. I am just as much -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The time for Question Period has expired.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind members that, when the Chair is standing, the House should be silent.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind members again, when the Speaker is standing the House should be silent immediately.

Presenting reports by standing and select committees.

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!

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I table 2002-2003 Annual Report of the Treasury Board Secretariat.

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

MS WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, in accordance with the government's commitment to accountability, I am pleased to submit the 2002-2003 Annual Report for the Department of Government Services. This report addresses the department's activities from April 1, 2002 to March 31, 2003.

Mr. Speaker, it is also my pleasure to table for the hon. members, the Annual Reports for the following public bodies: Consumer Protection Fund for Prepaid Funeral Services, Credit Union Deposit Guarantee Corporation, Petroleum Products Pricing Commission, and the Public Accountants Licensing Board.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to, at this time, Mr. Speaker, present the 2002-2003 Annual Report for the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

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

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table in the House of Assembly today, the Annual Report for the Department of Municipal and Provincial Affairs for the year ending March 31, 2003.

MR. SPEAKER: Further reports?

The hon. the Minister of Human Resources, Labour and Employment.

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I hereby table the Annual Report for the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women, Newfoundland and Labrador, for the fiscal year 2002-2003.

This annual report is dedicated to the memory of Nellie Nippard Murphy, a survivor of violence and an outspoken advocate for victims rights. Her ten-year fight to allow victims the opportunity to confront their abusers at National Parole Board Hearings was a victory for all Canadian women. Mr. Speaker, on a personal note, in my former career, I certainly saw the benefit of her fight for women in this country.

I would also like to take this opportunity to recognize the Advisory Council and their ongoing work to advance the status of women in Newfoundland and Labrador. Their efforts to advise government on issues regarding equality ensure women across the Province have a voice when key decisions are being made.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: Tabling further reports? Notices of motion? Answers to questions for which notice has been given? Petitions.

Petitions

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to present a petition on behalf of people in my district with regard to the decision regarding the Labrador Marine Services, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair has recognized the hon. Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair, and I ask that she be heard in silence.

The hon. the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair, on a petition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to present a petition on behalf of my constituents with regard to the Labrador Marine Services.

Mr. Speaker, I have presented petitions similar to this on many occasions in the House of Assembly, and that is because the people of my district, and many others in Labrador, Northern Newfoundland and Western Newfoundland, feel that the decision that government has made to relocate services of the Sir Robert Bond out of Labrador to Lewisporte is a wrong decision. It is an extreme waste of money and it is being done at the expense of the people who depend upon money from the Labrador Transportation Fund.

Mr. Speaker, I was at a Viking Trail Tourism Association meeting when I heard the Member for St. Barbe stand up in the annual meeting of the Viking Trail Tourism Association in Rocky Harbour, and he said to the gathering there: I did not want to see the Sir Robert Bond move to Lewisporte. I know the benefits that can accrue to my district from having the Sir Robert Bond operate between Cartwright and Goose Bay.

Mr. Speaker, I thought that was really admirable of the member, to stand up and to tell how he really felt, and that he did not support the decision that his government had made; but, Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate when you have backbenchers in a government and their voices and their opinions are not even being heard by the crowd in the front benches, by the people who are sitting at the Cabinet table making the decisions.

Mr. Speaker, it is the people on the Northern Peninsula and the people in Southern Labrador who will pay the price for the loss of opportunity and the loss of jobs that will occur as a result of moving this vessel out of Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, we saw yesterday in the House, through questions that I asked, and questions that I asked the minister in the Estimates Committee, that almost $700,000 of the Labrador Transportation Initiative Fund will be used just to keep the terminal facility open in Lewisporte, the ticket offices open, and run the on-the-ground handling operations of the marine services.

This is certainly not an expenditure that the people in Labrador would approve, Mr. Speaker. In fact, they would rather see that money put to use in their own communities to do things like snow clearing on the roads, which the minister says he cannot do; to look at extending the season for the ferry across the Strait of Belle Isle; to put a year-round reservation system in place in Labrador for marine services, and to see upgrading on the road between Goose Bay and Northwest River. Mr. Speaker, this is the kind of expenditure that people in Labrador want to see out of the Labrador Fund. They want to see a road built in places like Williams Harbour, but that is not to occur because the money will be used to meet the minister's own political commitment that he made during the election to have the service based in Lewisporte, operated out of Lewisporte, using Labrador money to supplement the economy in that area and not using it for the benefit of Labrador communities.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The member's allotted time has expired.

MS JONES: May I have leave, Mr. Speaker?

MR. SPEAKER: Does the member have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: Leave has been granted for a few more seconds.

MS JONES: I appreciate some leave, Mr. Speaker, because this is an important issue. I am sure I will have other opportunities in the House to present petitions on this issue on behalf of my constituents over the next three years, as I serve them in the House of Assembly. I can guarantee you, Mr. Speaker, this is a wrong decision that has been made by the government opposite and I will continue to represent the people in Labrador, Northern Peninsula and the West Coast of the Island who oppose that decision over the next few months and years ahead, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further petitions?

The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate the opportunity to present a petition on behalf of the citizens of Ramea, Grey River François and Burgeo concerning the closure of the HRE office at Burgeo.

It is signed by about 600 people and they express their total utter amazement and disgust with this decision that has been made to close this office which served the region of the South Coast, Burgeo and surrounding areas. These services will now be available only in Stephenville, which is, as everyone knows in this Province, at the end of 180 kilometres from Burgeo, if you can get out during the winter months. They are very disgruntled and upset with this cost-cutting measure. Let it be understood and there be no mistake about it as to why this was done. This was done to pinch pennies. The minister was obviously told that you must save some money so go about finding a way to do it.

I asked the minister on May 18, in fact, in the Estimates, if there had been a cost-benefit analysis done to justify the closure. For the people in TV land who maybe want to get a - I am not using technical terms here of cost benefits. The question basically meant: How much more are you going to pay, as a government, now, for your clients to have to go to Stephenville to offset what you are going to save from closing the office? A pretty straightforward question. Did you figure that out before you decided to close the office? The minister's response was: No, the cost analysis that we had done is on a provincial basis. We do not have it broken down into the individual offices.

An admission from the very minister who closed the office that, no, we did not look at Burgeo and see what it is going to cost us now to ship everyone from Grand Bruit and Ramea or Burgeo up the highway, from François to Stephenville. We did not do that. We looked at it and said we are going to save at least the cost of three employees, the cost of pen and paper and light and heat, and based on that we are shutting you down. Get your own way to Stephenville. We will figure out the cost of that later.

It just goes to show, Mr. Speaker, exactly why this decision was made for the wrong reasons. It is not even being made for financial responsibility reasons. That is why the people are utterly disgusted and upset with this decision having been made. The minister, herself, has acknowledged in the Estimates that she did not do a cost-benefit analysis. I ask this government and this minister: How can you justify putting this hardship on the people of this Province when you, yourself, do not do your own homework to justify the decisions that you are making? It is no good to wreak havoc and harshness upon the people of this Province if you cannot justify what you did from any perspective, let alone financial.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My petition today 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 Grand Falls-Windsor is the location of the family physicians of most residents of Robert's Arm, Pilley's Island, Port Anson and Miles Cove; and

WHEREAS the medical records of most residents of Robert's Arm, Pilley's Island, Port Anson and Miles Cove are not accessible at the Springdale Hospital but are kept in Grand Falls-Windsor; and

WHEREAS the residents of Robert's Arm, Pilley's Island, Port Anson and Miles Cove have to pay $115 for ambulance services to Springdale Hospital and an additional $115 if they have to be transferred to Grand Falls-Windsor Hospital;

WHEREFORE your petitioners are hereby requesting the Department of Health and Community Services to take immediate action to change the present policy and permit patients to choose to attend either the hospital in Springdale or the hospital in Grand Falls-Windsor and, if attending the hospital in Springdale, for the Department of Health and Community Services to absorb the extra cost of ambulance services to Grand Falls-Windsor should such a transfer occur.

And as in duty bound your petitioners will ever pray.

Mr. Speaker, this is a policy that has been here for several years. I think the policy needs to be revisited and that the people in Green Bay South are complaining of not having the choice of where to be taken in the case of emergencies.

Mr. Speaker, we realize that not every case would apply to this petition because of the severity of the cases of the emergencies, but I do recommend to the department that a committee should be struck, to have people go out into the area of Green Bay South and have input from the people of Green Bay South to make recommendations, and also to explain the current policy so that people will understand that when they do make this choice it could be affecting not only the patients but the families of the patients, because right now it is incurring a big cost for the patients and their families to have to travel either from Springdale to Grand Falls-Windsor or from Green Bay South to Grand Falls-Windsor. Also, it could be detrimental to the patient's health if the wrong choice is made.

What we need is more input through the people of Green Bay South and Springdale area, and call upon the department to strike a committee to do that, Mr. Speaker, so that we will make sure that the best health care services are provided for the people outside the Grand Falls-Windsor area. Not only that, but the cost of it is so enormous that even in one case, for one family, it has cost them up to $345 just to see one physician, because of the transfer from one hospital to the other. That went right from Springdale to Grand Falls-Windsor to Gander. It is a big cost, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The member's time has expired.

MR. HUNTER: By leave?

MR. SPEAKER: Does the member have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: Leave has been granted.

MR. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I just wanted to say to the minister and the department that I think she should take the responsibility of striking that committee as soon as possible.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Torngat Mountains.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. ANDERSEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to present a petition again on behalf of all the people in Labrador regarding the auditorium in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Mr. Speaker, as I said before, the importance of such an auditorium in the Upper Lake Melville area is essential for students, especially, from all over Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, I was surprised today to hear the Minister of Transportation, when he said that the motor vessel Trans Gulf would not go out of Lewisporte. By putting the Bond in Lewisporte this year, it is going to cost $700,000 extra a year plus the cost of fuel. The cost of the auditorium was budgeted for and approved by the previous government at $2.4 million.

Mr. Speaker, if they made the right choice - because I attended a meeting with members of the town council and the Chambers of Commerce from all over Labrador about two weeks ago and they expressed concerns about the Bond running out of Lewisporte.

Mr. Speaker, I believe that if government took the right approach here, we would find the money for the auditorium in the Upper Lake Melville area, which parents from all over Labrador have asked this government to do.

Mr. Speaker, because we have such a short construction season in Labrador, if we go past July or August this year, we are going to go into another year, which will mean it will probably be two years before the auditorium becomes a reality.

Mr. Speaker, the children all over Labrador deserve an auditorium. As I said before, there are different groups who are travelling all across the Province to put off different shows and so on, but they do not have a place to put off some of these shows and concerts in the Upper Lake Melville area. Government should approve this cause. As of February this past year, the Minister of Municipal Affairs said yes, the money was still in the Budget. I know that government has to make choices, but this is a building not just for Upper Lake Melville; it is for students and people all over Labrador, and that is why it makes it such a vital thing to make sure that it is done.

Mr. Speaker, again, I encourage government to reconsider some of the things that they have done, because I honestly believe that if they look at some of the projects that they are doing, there are ways they can save money. The auditorium in the Upper Lake Melville area certainly needs to become a reality, because the children in Labrador deserve a lot better than what they have now.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MR. SPEAKER: A point of order has been called. We are not finished with petitions yet, but a point of order has been called by the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation.

MR. SHELLEY: Mr. Speaker, I want to stand on a point of order today because I think it is very important, especially as Tourism Minister in this Province, in promoting tourism, that we have correct information; because any time there is wrong information, that is a deterrent to tourism in Newfoundland and Labrador.

MR. GRIMES: (Inaudible).

MR. SHELLEY: Mr. Speaker, I will tell the member - and if the Opposition Leader will listen, and he should know, as a matter of fact - I will give you some dates. It is, in fact, true that EPG, Economic Planning Group of Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been awarded a contract to do consultations of the Visitor Information Centres in Newfoundland and Labrador. That is correct. Also, it is correct that the tender was called in June. It was awarded in August of 2003.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SHELLEY: In August of 2003.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

As the Chair noted several days ago, after Question Period we should not be using points of order to extend the commentaries made in Question Period.

There is no point of order. It might be on a point of explanation but it cannot be a point of order.

The Chair is continuing petitions, and I think we have one from the Member for Grand Falls-Buchans.

MS THISTLE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MS THISTLE: If you could only restore order in this House.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS THISTLE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Today, I am presenting a petition on behalf of the people of Grand Falls-Windsor, on behalf of the constituents, the business -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair has recognized the hon. Member for Grand Falls-Buchans. I ask members for their co-operation.

MS THISTLE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As I said just a moment ago, today I am presenting a petition on behalf of the people of Grand Falls-Windsor, the business community of Grand Falls-Windsor, and area. This is the first of its kind. I have never had occasion to present a petition like this one before. The petition, I will not read it out, I will table it for the Table. I want to basically give you a gist of what it is.

The petition is concerning the proposed consolidation of the health care boards that are currently in Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor. It has come to the attention of the business community, and the people in general of Grand Falls-Windsor, that there was no criteria used in the recent consolidation of schools boards in the same area of Grand Falls-Windsor, and also of Gander. We are not going to sit and wait for a decision to be made by this new government, which proclaims they are going to make every decision based on the best of evidence. We know exactly what happened to the consolidation of school boards. We did not see any evidence whatsoever, but for the people in Grand Falls-Windsor - particularly, the Chamber of Commerce - who have put forward a very strong business case as to why both boards should be consolidated and located in Grand Falls-Windsor.

We already know that 85 per cent of the population between Baie Verte and Eastport are only one hour's drive from the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor. We also know that the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor Central West Health Care Board can provide administrative space to accommodate two of these boards at absolutely no cost. How can you refuse something that is free? No cost. No renovation cost and no rental cost in the future.

We already know that this consolidation is basically for administrative purposes only. The administrative wing of both boards will be located in one location and they will oversee the day to day running of all facilities. That day to day running is done 99 per cent road based. We also know that Grand Falls-Windsor, or the Central West Health Care Board has a stellar reputation.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The member's allotted time has expired. Does the member have leave?

MS THISTLE: May I have another few seconds?

MR. SPEAKER: Does the member have leave to continue?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: A few seconds to clue up. Leave has been granted.

MS THISTLE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We already know that the Central West Health Care Board has a stellar reputation both in fiscal management and recruitment and retainment of specialists. In the interest of fairness, Mr. Speaker, I would urge the Minister of Health and Community Services to develop a proper criteria so that when the final decision is made both communities will have equal opportunity to participate and the best decision will be made based on evidence and fairness.

Thank you very much.

Orders of the Day

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

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

On the Order Paper today, Mr. Speaker, Order 5, second reading of a bill, An Act To Amend The Automobile Insurance Act, The Insurance Companies Act And The Highway Traffic Act To Effect Certain Reforms Respecting Automobile Insurance, Bill 30.

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 30, An Act To Amend The Automobile Insurance Act, The Insurance Companies Act And The Highway Traffic Act To Effect Certain Reforms Respecting Automobile Insurance, be now read a second time.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Automobile Insurance Act, The Insurance Companies Act And The Highway Traffic Act To Effect Certain Reforms Respecting Automobile Insurance." (Bill 30)

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister Government Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to introduce Bill 30, An Act To Amend The Automobile Insurance Act, The Insurance Companies Act And The Highway Traffic Act To Effect Certain Reforms Respecting Automobile Insurance.

This is a very proud day for me as minister, and for our government. We are introducing legislation that will result in average savings of 15 per cent on consumers auto insurance bills.

Bringing in reforms to control the rising cost of insurance was one of the first priorities of this government. I announced these reforms at a news conference on March 17, less than six months into our mandate. I am pleased today to now bring them before the House. These reforms will save consumers $25 million a year in premiums. This is money consumers can spend in the economy on other things.

I am glad to have this opportunity to outline the merits of this package and our plan for the future. The cost of auto insurance has been an issue in this Province for over a decade, the first Select Committee was appointed in 1995. That is how long the people of this Province have been waiting for a solution.

I am proud today that this government is delivering on a plan in a reasonable time frame of taking office. The members opposite had this file for eight years, and failed to implement any meaningful reform.

Reforming auto insurance is a priority for the people of this Province, and it is a priority for us.

We have developed a starting package of reforms that will provide for average savings of nine to 20 per cent, depending on your coverage and where you live in the Province. Our target has always been to reduce rates by up to 20 per cent. With the starting reforms in this legislation, and our plan to hold a full hearing into the insurance industry, we believe this number can be achieved. Our reform package is based on sound actuarial advice. We have released the Public Utilities Board study so everyone in the Province can see how we came up with this package. This is part of our commitment to openness and transparency.

The savings will be achieved through a combination of reforms, including a $2,500 deductible on claims for pain and suffering. We did originally talk about implementing a cap on minor soft-tissue claims. Given the difficulties of defining ‘what is a minor injury', along with the experiences in other provinces, we have gone with a deductible. A cap severely restricts compensation to those injured in car accidents. A deductible is simple and fair. It simply means $2,500 will be deducted from any claim paid out by insurance companies.

The Opposition will talk about how these savings will be eroded over time, and how lawyers will tack on an additional $2,500 to the claim to recover the deductible. The insurance industry is in the best position to prevent this from happening. They know what they paid out for a particular injury in the past.

The actuary took this possibility of erosion into account when calculating the savings to be achieved from the deductible. The actuarial study was based on a closed-claims study completed in 1998. We will do an updated closed-claims study to get more current information. This will tell us what is causing the claims to go up. Our hands are not tied. If we have to make additional reforms to achieve real savings, we will. However, we think this is the best combination of reforms, based on the information we have now.

Lost wages will be based on 100 per cent of net wages instead of gross. This just makes sense. A person's true income is their net take home pay, not the amount before all the various deductions are taken out, such as your income tax, employment insurance and Canada Pension Plan premiums.

A person will also have any compensation they received from other plans deducted from their award. This ensures the claimant doesn't earn more being off work because of an accident than if they were working. Again, these are the types of reforms that will return the auto insurance industry back to what it was originally intended to do. Insurance should fairly compensate people for their injuries.

We also want to encourage people to wear a seatbelt, which reduces the severity of their injuries if they are in an accident. Claimants will have a 25 per cent reduction in their award if they were not buckled up. They still have the right to argue that not wearing a seatbelt did not contribute to their injuries.

I will not speak to every reform at this time. There will be time for that during debate. I do want to touch on the reductions in premiums for third-party liability, collision, comprehensive and uninsured motorist protection.

People with full coverage will realize the most savings, up to 20 per cent. If someone only carries third-party liability, the savings, of course, will be less than that, around nine or 10 per cent.

We have also frozen rates until a full public hearing can be held. The Public Utilities Board study indicated that premiums for collision, comprehensive and uninsured motorist were on the high side, and could be reduced by these amounts.

We are not trying to cause hardship on the insurance industry. Any concerns they have about these reforms can be raised at the hearing. We've taken a balanced and a fair approach with these reforms.

I want to give this House an idea of what these reforms will mean for people in this Province. A driver in St. John's, age twenty-five or older, with full coverage, will save an average of $188 on their insurance bill. That is a reduction of 13 per cent. The same driver living in the rest of the Island, or in Labrador, will save an average of between 18 per cent and 19 per cent. Mr. Speaker, these are significant savings no matter where you live. A twenty-year-old male, who has been four years accident free, will save an average of $510 on his full coverage policy. The greatest portion of that is off the third-party liability. The savings for a young man living off the Avalon is greater.

Fairness is what we want to achieve with these reforms. We are making significant changes to the underwriting guidelines insurance companies use to determine rates and whether to insure a person. An insurance company will no longer be able to refuse coverage or rate individuals solely based on not-at-fault claims, minor damage where no claim is paid, NSF cheques, another company refusing to insure a person, or a lapse in coverage. This will keep our drivers out of Facility Association, thus substantially reducing their premiums. An insurance company will only be able to refuse to insure a person for a lapse in coverage if the reason for the lapse is: a cancelled policy for failing to make payments; failing to disclose a conviction or a claim that would result in a higher premium; or a driver's license is suspended for driving without insurance. This will result in additional savings for young drivers.

A company will no longer be able to refuse coverage based on age, gender or marital status. We are not eliminating rating based on age, gender or marital status at this time. This is something that the Opposition has criticized us for, but we have reasons for doing it this way. We are not finished yet and we want to do it right. Eliminating rating based on age, gender or marital status will cost drivers over twenty-five years old up to 6 per cent more, and some seniors will lose discounts. We are deferring these measures to the hearing to find out what the public thinks is the fair thing to do. We have tried to achieve a balance, and I think we have done this with this starting package of reforms.

We are addressing the problems with Facility Association. Approximately 60 per cent of the drivers in this Province in Facility Association have never had an at-fault accident or a driving conviction. They should never be in Facility. We have taken measures to ensure that only the drivers who should be in Facility are in Facility. The new underwriting guidelines should go a long way to achieving this. We are also requiring companies to tell drivers why they are in Facility and what they must do to get out.

We want to reduce the number of uninsured drivers on the road. The presence of uninsured drivers raises the cost of insurance because everyone must carry coverage to protect themselves from these drivers. We are increasing the minimum fine for an uninsured driver to $2,000 for the first offence, and $3,000 for the second offence. The vehicle will also be impounded for ninety days upon conviction and the driver's licence suspended, also for ninety days. Mr. Speaker, we believe these measures will deter people from driving without insurance.

When we announced our auto reform package on March 17, one particular measure delighted parents of driving-age children. Drivers will now be able to exclude anyone from coverage. This means parents will now be able to exclude driving-age children in the household from their policy. Right now, many parents have to claim any children under twenty-five, whether they drive the vehicle or not. If a household has two or three-driving age kids at home, this can cost parents thousands of dollars a year. Our excluded driver endorsement provision will reduce the premium paid by the parents. If the excluded person drives the car and gets into an accident, the vehicle is considered uninsured and the driver is subject to the penalties for driving without insurance. Mr. Speaker, we think this is fair.

We are making several changes to the way companies are required to handle claims. Companies must make interim payments to individuals whose claims are being processed, and where liability is not in dispute. Companies must inform policy holders of claims made against them, and the amount ultimately paid out. We have had instances in this Province where drivers were not aware a claim was made against their policy until it was time to renew. It was then that they noticed their premiums had gone up, and a claim had been made. This practice does not allow the driver to contest the accident. It just assumes that they were at fault.

We also want to ensure the financial stability of companies starting up. This is why we are increasing the minimum amount of capital required to start a company to $3 million from the current $1 million. We think this is a more practical figure in this day and age. The capital requirement has not changed in about twenty years. Mr. Speaker, increasing the requirement ensures companies starting up have significant investment behind them, and that they are serious about undertaking the business venture. Companies must also give six months notice before withdrawing from the auto insurance market in the Province. If not, the penalty is a minimum fine of $100,000, up to a maximum of $1 million.

This is just a starting package of reforms. We are not done yet, Mr. Speaker. Other measures will be discussed at the public hearing on auto, homeowner, marine and commercial insurance. This bill gives the Public Utilities Board the authority to conduct the hearing and a closed-claims study into what is causing claims to go up. The hearing will require full disclosure from the insurance industry. It will also give us a change to investigate other possible measures, including: penalties for claimants who give false testimony; measures to combat impaired driving; preventing claims from impaired drivers and uninsured motorists involved in a not-at-fault accident; prohibiting insurance companies from rating based on age, gender and marital status; and mandatory accident benefits.

 

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud of this package today, and of this reform, and of the work done by my staff over the past six months. These reforms will result in meaningful savings for the people of the Province. Government is acting in a fair and balanced way by bringing in these initial reforms and holding a hearing.

Mr. Speaker, people want adequate coverage at reasonable rates, and our plan achieves that.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate an opportunity to made a few comments in second reading on this most important bill. I gather from the public reaction so far, since this bill was tabled here in this House last Thursday, that it is indeed a very important piece of legislation to the consumers of this Province, virtually all of whom, at some time or other in their life, have to purchase auto insurance. The issue, I should say, is important. I might not take a whole hour to address the matter at this time, but I would like to make a few comments.

The issue of auto insurance is indeed very important to consumers of the Province. I am not so sure that anything in Bill 30, vis-à-vis the deductible issue, does anything to allay anyone's concerns. I am still somewhat amazed, as well, by the minister's opening comments here in second reading where she says she looks forward to the debate on this issue of Bill 30 in giving us some answers to this insurance issue.

Well, Mr. Speaker, I have asked the minister two succeeding days, yesterday and today, in this House, questions about Bill 30 and, quite frankly, I have been sloughed off, not worthy of a response, not worthy of being given any information. In fact, I asked the minster a question yesterday and she said: I cannot tell you the answer now because we will get into it when we get into the debate - and the minister left her chair in this House and walked outside to the media and gave them the very answer that I was looking for. Now that is not only disrespectful to any member on this side who asks a legitimate question in Question Period; that is disrespectful to the people of this Province.

I would like to think that I am asking questions in here not for my benefit and enlightenment all the time, but hopefully it can be of some help to the people of this Province, many of whom watch this thing on TV. It is an avenue of education; it is an avenue of information for these people. Yet, the minister did not see any need to give the answer to us yesterday. Just tell the media when it suits our purposes. Then the minister stands up today in Question Period and again sloughs off the answers. We will get to it in debate when we get down to it. Now she stands up here in second reading and says: We will get into the issues of this more when we get into debate.

Maybe the hon. minister does not know the rules of this place, but I always thought that second reading was a part of the debate. Minister, we are engaged in debate. Bill 30 is on. So, please, do not detract, do not deflect, do not stall any longer. Please enlighten the consumers of this Province when we ask you questions and we would like to get some explanation, not simply reading from a prepared text and nobody gets any understanding of the background and the rationale behind why you adopt a certain policy position. Let the people of this Province understand, this is what our position is, this is where we came to this position, and the logic and rational reasons why we came to this position.

You have gotten your opportunity now in second reading and you chose not to do it. For God's sake, we look forward to, at some time, this minister educating us and the people of this Province in terms of giving us information on this most important issue.

Mr. Speaker, just to go back and set the grounding here, the background behind all of this, and why we ended up here today with Bill 30. Last year - there has been an outcry for many, many years in this Province about the escalating cost of insurance premiums. We all have insurance ourselves. We have a public liability component, which you must have by law, and then there are a number of other types of insurance that you may or may not want on your vehicle. You may want specified perils, you may want comprehensive. There are all kinds of things that you can buy. Now, public liability you have to have. The law says you have to have it or you cannot drive a vehicle in our Province. The other matters of insurance, you decide whether you want them or not and you pay based upon what you want.

The public liability thing, the rates generally have been going through the roof. Some people blame it on the insurance companies and say: Those insurance companies are gouging. That is why the rates are going through the roof. They are making too much money. The insurance companies show their annual statements, their books and whatever, and people say: You have made a killing on the backs of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. What can we do to stop this escalation in the premiums?

There have been committees of this House struck in the past, on the go since 1995-1996, looking for ways and options on how we might be able to fix it. So far, nothing definitive came out of it. Other people pointed a finger at lawyers and said: Ah, it is a money-making racket for the lawyers. One time, if you went and had an accident, a fender-bender with somebody, you might have had a stiff neck for a few days or whatever and home you go. Nowadays, your insurance company is going to pay a buck for that, a few bucks. I think the average settlement in the late 1990s was $32,000 or $33,000. I was involved in it myself, as a lawyer. I often acted for people in personal injury actions in Western Newfoundland in my law practice for twenty years. A lot of people blame those money-grubbing lawyers for wanting to make money, and that is why the rates went up, because every Tom, Dick, Harry, Mary, Joseph and Josephine who wanted to have an accident, or had an accident, was going to recover some money. We want to adopt the American way. I am your lawyer, who will fight for you. If you slip and fall, give me a call. That was what we heard on the airwaves. We have law firms who even got into advertising on our TV programs, on our televisions and radios - never, ever, heard of it - sponsoring Open Line shows and everything.

Mr. Speaker, I am, I think, fair enough to say that maybe it is a little bit everybody's fault. Maybe there has been a fault that this has escalated because of lawyers' actions in promoting. I am not saying that is bad. If somebody gets an injury you ought to recover. There is no question about that if you have a legitimate injury, and there is nothing wrong with an insurance company making a reasonable return on their investment. They have shareholders who put money into their companies and they are entitled, like any company who has shareholders, to get a reasonable rate of return. But, wherein lies the balance of the insurance company interest and the lawyer's interest but most importantly, the interest of the consumer. That is the big one here. It is not only between lawyers and insurance companies. The main one that we, as legislators, have to be concerned about, is where does the consumer fit in this puzzle?

I cannot get up here and talk because I might wear a lawyer's hat sometimes, or I have two sons who wear lawyer's hats. I have to speak here because I believe in something that is right for the people. That is why I am here today. I am not here as a lawyer, I am here as an MHA; as a representative of the people, the consumer. So, what was the approach that different parties took to this dilemma of increasing cost? What did we do?

The former Liberal Administration came up with a plan. They said, here is our plan. We will give you an option. We will give the option of continuing to pay for what - these injuries, by the way, are called soft tissue injuries. It is called non-pecuniary loss. You hear lawyers flipping around these words all the time, but basically, you get in a car accident, if you have a soft tissue injury or some - usually of a minor nature and there was compensation paid for that, for those types of injuries. This government said: look, if you want to maintain your right to sue because you have gotten those types of injuries, we will allow you to do that. That is up to you. You can walk into the insurance company of your choice and you can purchase that kind of insurance, if you wish. You can maintain all the rights, the benefits that you now have, but, of course, the downside to that is you, the consumer, if you want to have those rights you are going to have to pay whatever rates and premiums it is that the insurance companies charge you. It is like if I want to drive a Jaguar versus I want to drive a bicycle, I am going to pay for what I want to purchase. So, that was part of the Liberal Administration plan; option A we will call it. You buy want you want in terms of coverage.

You have to have public liability, yes, basic minimum amounts, but if you want more, if you want the right to sue somebody for soft tissue injury, you can buy it. The other part, option B, of the Liberal plan was: If you do not want to have that and you do not want to buy it, we will legislate a system whereby we will mandate, by law. There will be public liability for everybody and insurance companies must give a 30 per cent reduction in the premiums that they charge; 30 per cent on public liability. But, in order to get that 30 per cent, you had to restrict the rights of the person to sue. You can have the cheaper model if you want, but do not think once you had an accident that you can come back and sue because you had a soft tissue injury. Now, you could still sue if you had a serious, permanent disability, not a problem. Under either option A or B, you could sue, but for the small minor, soft tissue injuries, no recovery but you get 30 per cent less on your rates; or you can take B option, or A option I call it, pay for what you like and maintain all of your rights but you paid more. That was called the Liberal plan.

What do we get then? We had the Williams plan, I call it. That was when the present day Premier was Leader of the Opposition, last August I believe it was. The Premier and the Member for Conception Bay South, who was the then critic of Government Services and Lands, sat here in Confederation Building in the media centre I believe, and made a big announcement about: Williams introduces policies to reduce automotive, home and commercial insurance. Now, under that system, that this current government told the people of this Province in this written release, which I have taken off their news press, off their wire, they said: A cap of $2,500 on minor soft tissue injury claims.

What that group said, the Tories said last August: We will give you a 20 per cent reduction on average in your insurance premiums, and we are going to institute a cap, so that if you get injured, no matter - before, for example, someone might recover $1,000 or $5,000 or $10,000 or $25,000 or $30,000, what they called the minor types, not the extreme permanent disability type of injuries. But for minor sprains and minor injuries, you would be limited to $2,500. That is pretty good too, because what was happening there is that at least the insurance companies had some consistency. The insurance companies could say in that case: Yes, we can give you a reduction now on your insurance costs because we know for all of those soft tissue injuries of a minor nature, the most we have to pay out is $2,500. That is why that was a manageable, doable system.

I did not agree with a $2,500 cap. To me, personally, I thought it was insignificant. I prefer the option of either you have it all, if you want to buy it, or you have none. Why stick in this $25,000 cap, which I thought was an appeasement to somebody for $2,500? To me, you either got a serious injury and you are going to recover or you have a minor injury and you are going to recover or you do not have one. Anyway, that was their proposal on the cap. The insurance companies did not seem to mind the cap. The consumer would have benefitted from the cap. So, off we go with the two plans - and the NDP, of course, had a third plan called the public insurance system. Governments should get involved, public should get involved. A whole new comprehensive system should be devised called public insurance, which would again be under the control of government.

We had three plans out there as of last August. The then Opposition agreed that within 120 days of taking office, their plan of August of last year, would be implemented. Now, I think we are a far cry removed from October 21 when they became the government last year, and what do we get? We get Bill 30, which is a watered-down version.

That is the background of what we had, three different plans. The government have gone from a cap which would limit what you recover for soft tissue injuries to $2,500, to now, in this Bill 30, this government is now, today, saying that there is a $2,500 deductible. In other words, if you have an auto accident today and your claim works out to be, once the lawyers and the insurance companies and the medical people are all involved, and if, at the end of the day, the parties feel that claim is worth $10,000, for example, the law will say: You do not get $10,000 back. There is a deductible of $2,500. So, in that case, you are only going to get $7,500 back even though your claim is $10,000.

Now, the question is: What does that do for rates for the insurance companies? What does that do for rates that the consumers pay? Who wins? Who gains? And, is that any way to try to bring the rates down? Well, it is quite obvious that it is not, and there are a lot of reasons why. For example, I think the silence is deafening from the legal community. I might be ostracized for making such comments, being one of the fraternity, but I am certainly entitled to my opinions as well. It is amazing how silent the legal fraternity have become now. The only people who you have not seen in the media talking about auto insurance in the last three months, or four months, is the legal fraternity - other than one gentleman. I have to hand it to him, he is very forthright. He had the guts and the gumption downtown here in St. John's -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. PARSONS: No, no, a St. John's lawyer had the nerve to come out one day and say: Well, we do not mind that system, the deductible. Why would we? All that means is that we are going to tack 2,500 bucks onto the claim. Now, there is a very honest lawyer, a man who admitted, a member of the practicing fraternity in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, who said: We do not mind that. If the claim is $10,000, we simply put in the claim for $12,500, thank you very much. So, that is why we have not heard from the legal fraternity. In fact, the idea of a deductible - anybody who wants to go back and check the records on that House committee we talked about back in 1994, 1995, 1996 and again in 1998 and whatever, you go back and look around. There is a proposal floating around in one of those committees in submissions from a firm called Williams, Roebothan. In it, no doubt, there are suggestions about maybe we could use a deductible. I think we got some idea where the minister got her idea of a deductible from. No question. In fact, not to malign the man - he is obviously there and ought to pick up for his profession and his job; it is his income - but the first person to call into the Open Line show when the deductible was announced was Mr. Steve Marshall of Williams, Roebothan. The first called to the Bill Rowe show Open Line, saying the deductible was a great idea. So we know where the lawyers stand on this.

MR. E. BYRNE: He had a right (inaudible).

MR. PARSONS: I say to the Government House Leader, and as I just said if he had been listening intently, Mr. Marshall has a right to defend himself, his company, his occupation, and do whatever he feels, but that does not take away from my right to comment on what he did or did not say, I say to the Government House Leader, and I shall continue to state what I know to be the truth and the facts. He came on the Open Line show and said he was in favour of and liked the deductible. He was the first caller of the morning, and since that you have heard zilch from the legal community about this deductible. I say to the Government House Leader, the reason you have not heard from lawyers is because this is what lawyers want. We are not concerned in this House, not to be concerned only about what lawyers want. We ought to be concerned, as I said from the beginning, with what is in the best interests of the consumer. Never mind the lawyers, never mind the insurance companies, but what is right for the consumer. Mr. Speaker, this Bill 30, using the deductible formula, will not give to the consumers of this Province the premium breaks that they deserve and want. The deductible will not do it.

Mr. Speaker, you asked about reaction. Again, do not get the impression here by anybody's imagination that I am pro insurance companies. I have concerns, too, about: Do insurance companies disclose their information properly? I do not think they do. I say to the Member for Lake Melville, I do not think they do. I think there ought to be full, complete, verifiable disclosure and accountability to the insurance companies who operate in this Province and sell the products to the people of this Province. Absolutely. If it takes putting teeth into Bill 30 to do that, which it will, if it takes changing the Public Utilities Board's authority to demand information and disclosure, it should be done. Absolutely. The insurance companies should not get off and be allowed not to give disclosure. Whatever is necessary for anybody, whether it be government or Public Utilities Board in this Province, to arrive at what is fair for the consumer ought to be done. No question about it. That is what this is all about, the balance I come back to between the insurance companies' right to make a reasonable return and the lawyers' rights to do what they are doing, but most importantly what the consumer is allowed to do.

Now, we talk about reaction. I say to the minister, maybe she is not concerned about the reaction. So far today, in twenty-four hours - this hit the House here last Thursday and no doubt copies of the Bill 30 went out to the insurance companies, and they have had a chance to look at it.

We only have a certain number of providers of auto insurance in the Province, and in the last twenty-four hours we have two companies, one Aviva of which the president is a lady by the name of Jennifer Power, herself a Newfoundlander and Labradorian, I believe. That company Aviva Canada sells 24 per cent of all the insurance policies in this Province, 24 per cent. One company has ninety-five employees in this Province. Here is another company called Dominion Insurance. They have, I believe, 8 per cent to 10 per cent of the market in Newfoundland.

If you had those two companies together, 35 per cent of all auto insurance in the Province - these two companies have put the government on notice that, number one, we are not selling any new policies. In fact, Aviva made it quite clear, as of June 2, tomorrow, no new policies. We will honour what we have out there, no question, but as of January 1, 2005, we are out of here, because under Bill 30, under the deductible, they can't exist. Now, I believe, as well, it is up to them to prove that they can't exist. We shouldn't give them any breaks just because they come to us with a big stick either, and say: We are out of here, if you don't do what we want. I have no problem with that. There are ways around that. That might be just a threat on their part too. Let's put their feet to the fire when it comes to saying - you say you are going to leave, let's see if you will.

There are some things wrapped up in this, Minister, that are concerning, very concerning. The Premier, for example - the media expressed to me, when I just died a scrum, that the Premier didn't seem too concerned, that 35 per cent of the auto insurance providers in this Province are going to be withdrawing, are even threatening to withdraw. I am not concerned about the threat they are making to withdraw, as much as I am about the Premier's refusal to even meet with them. I understand they managed to get a meeting with the minister. They managed to have a meeting with the minister after several attempts to do so, but cannot get a meeting with the Premier. No disrespect to the minister, in her capacity as a minister, but this is of major importance. The Premier, you must remember, is also the Minister of Business. I don't believe he is the Minister of Business only for the purpose of growing business. He is the Minister of Business to ensure, I believe, that the climate exists so that the businesses we have will continue to stay here and continue to grow, not to just bring in new ones.

When the Minister of Business and the lady - Mrs. Power, President of Aviva, said in her letter, this is her quote: We have been attempting to discuss automobile reform with you - this is addressed to Premier Williams - for the past three months.

MR. SKINNER: (Inaudible).

MR. PARSONS: As a matter of fact, I say to the Member for St. John's Centre, I tabled the letter. It is on the table if you would like to get a copy and read it. I can only table you what I have, Sir. This is a letter that was provided by the President of Aviva and it is only draft form, or whatever. I can only give you what I have. I am sure, draft or no draft, President Power has signed her name to this letter. I am not going to question the lady's credibility. Maybe you will, but I am certainly not going to question President Power's credibility and honesty in making those statements.

She says that she could not get a meeting with the Premier for three months. Maybe the Premier does not mind, but I would hope the Minister of Business would mind if we got ninety-five employees of one company who could be out the door, if we have 24 per cent of our options as an insurance provider out the door. I think that is very serious. I think that is, at the very least, deserving of a meeting. Whether it is a threat on their part or not, the minister and the Premier of this Province ought to be sitting down and talking with these people. If they have anything worthwhile to say, they should be listened to. If there are concerns that the minister and the Premier have about disclosure, openness, accountability and competition, the Premier and the minister should make their concerns known.

You talk about reaction of the consumer. We dealt with the lawyers reaction. None. We have dealt with the insurance company's reaction. They are out of here. The biggest one is left, the consumer. What does the consumer say? The president of a provincial insurance consumer group, Craig Rowe - Mr. Rowe has been around for awhile, very informed about insurance issues. He has been involved in this debate for a long time. He knows his stuff. He is very well respected. He represents a major insurance consumer group in this Province. His comments are: it is going to have very little or no impact on the insurance market. The $2,500 deductible will be totally useless. All they will do is just add the deductible onto the amount of a settlement. Window dressing.

I ask the minister, you can stand up here and toot the virtues of Bill 30 all you want, but, Minister, if the head of the consumer group, a major consumer group, is saying that Bill 30 is window dressing, particularly the deductible piece, if the insurance companies - at least 35 per cent of them who do business in this Province, and we are only into this yet by a couple of days. We will see where the other insurance companies are going to stand in the next few days. I am sure we have not heard from all of them yet. If you take these two major groups, surely there must be some concern that Bill 30 does not cut it in terms of looking after the consumer.

There are some things in it, some minor changes in Bill 30, which are good. In fact, a lot of the stuff in there was put forward by the former Administration. There are no concerns about that, like the Facility insurance, for example, the fact that Facility now just cannot deny you and throw you out the door or put you in Facility if they feel they want to, without giving you any reasons and explanations. That is good stuff. Make them accountable. The Facility Association must file a report with the superintendent. That is good. Again, openness and accountability. Brokers must make disclosure, so that if you walk in through a door and you are trying to negotiate an insurance package, they have to tell you. Who is to know? You do not know if the insurance agent has a particular arrangement with a certain broker, and why they recommended one broker to you over another. Now they must disclose to you how many brokers they represent. If they have ten brokers in their stable, and you walk into see agent Joe, Joe has to tell you now: I deal with ten brokers. This is my relationship with them, and this is the deal that I asked all ten. I put your quote to them, and this is what I got back. Obviously, the one here from company x is the best for you. Total disclosure. Good stuff. Ought to be there. Giving notice of claims and so on is there. Settling your claims, putting an onus on the insurance companies to settle claims in a reasonable time limit, that is all good stuff. No problem. The issue of the seat belt reduction, absolutely no problem. If anything in legislation is going to encourage people to wear their seat belts, we have to and ought to do it. No questions about that. That is good stuff.

Where Bill 30 differs is two major aspects. One is the deductible. Again, you can call it what you want, government members. You can call it what you want, but the people of this Province - and remember them - they are your voters. They are your constituents, as they are mine. They have sons and daughters and they have their own cars and vehicles that they insure. It is not lost on the people watching this on TV or when you are asked a question in Tim's and I am asked a question in Tim's to explain where you stand on insurance coverage. It is not lost on them that they are not getting a break. All they want to know, quite rightly, is: What are you going to do to give me a break in my pocket in terms of my premiums? That is the essential question of the consumer. We do not want to get wrapped up in a PC plan versus a Liberal plan or an NDP plan. What is going to save me some money right there?

Maybe you do not want to face the facts of it. Maybe this government does not want to own up to what is the truth of the situation, but there are two very obvious comments to be made. Number one is, you broke your commitment again. In the last two months or three months since this House convened, there have been at least fifty incidents said about where this government have broken their commitments. Here is another one. We say, in August, a $2,500 cap. We say, in February, a $2,500 deductible. Now, I have explained the difference between one and the other. One would have guaranteed you, under even a PC plan, a 20 per cent reduction. All of a sudden, we are to a deductible which, according to Bill 30, only mandates a 9 per cent reduction on the public liability. We have gone from 30 per cent, that the Liberals would have allowed you under a mandated system, to a 20 per cent reduction on public liability, in a Tory plan announced last August with a cap, to a 9 per cent public liability reduction in a plan with a deductible and no guarantees. The 9 per cent, by the way, is only guaranteed for one year. One year we have a guarantee on the public liability reduction for 9 per cent.

That is where the questions are being asked. I am not saying that this side had all the right answers. Surely, we do not. I am sure that if the Liberal plan had been adopted and put into law and become the Liberal plan in Bill 30, that we would probably be back here in a year, two years' time, saying: We have to tinker with this again. We have to change this because we have found, from our experience, that it is not working.

There is always going to be that, no matter what plan you adopt, but to go from a stated intention and commitment of a $2,500 cap to a $2,500 deductible is a breach of commitment. You broke your word. No questions asked, you broke your word. You can fudge it, you can call it anything you want, but Joe Blow public knows that the PC Party broke their word. You said a $2,500 cap and you have now taken a $2,500 deductible. I do not care how you want to shade it. I do not care how you want to package it. I do not care how you want to spin it. You people, the government now, the PC Party of Newfoundland and Labrador, broke your word. You broke your stated, written, black-on-white commitment to have a cap. I will say it here today and nobody can challenge what I am saying. You broke your commitment of a $2,500 cap. I will say it again tomorrow, and I can assure you the people of this Province will know from now until the next election that it is another example of this group saying one thing when it serves their purpose, but once they got into office they said something and did something else. That is incontrovertible, what I just said, because it is black on white from your own press releases last August. The Member for Conception Bay South knows because he was there. He was there when it was said.

Now, you talk about hypocrisy, I do not know. It is all about the pocket, there is no doubt about it. It is also about being responsible, and this Administration holds itself out to be responsible. I have no problem. I tout anybody on the back who is prepared to make the tough decisions, if they make the tough choices in making the tough decisions - no problem with that at all - but I have to question sometimes when I am prepared to make a decision, I am prepared to be tough, but I do not want to take the flak. I have problem with that. I will give you an example of why. Not only have you gone from the cap to the deduction, having a deductible of $2,500, but you have not even said that in Bill 30. The minister did not say in Bill 30, and nowhere will you find it in Bill 30, that this government is going to have a deductible of $2,500. It is not there.

Now, maybe members opposite are hearing this for the first time, but it ain't there folks. Even your commitment to a $2,500 deductible in Bill 30 is not in Bill 30. That comes from a press release that the minister put out, saying: It is our intention to have a $2,500 deductible. That is where it is. It has to be done by Cabinet. Going to be done, a Cabinet decision, and we are going to impose, by regulation, a $2,500 deductible.

Well, I say to the consumers of this Province, I would have some concerns about commitments from this government. I would be as concerned about the $2,500 commitment to a deductible as I was about their commitment to a $2,500 cap. If they were so committed to it: Why did they not say, in Bill 30, the deductible for this term will be -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. PARSONS: We will be proposing the amendments.

Why don't we put into this bill right now, no questions asked, we are going to stand by our commitment and we are going to put right in here - the $2,500 deductible is going to be put right into Bill 30 -

MR. E. BYRNE: (Inaudible).

MR. PARSONS: I thank the hon. Government House Leader. Now there is a man of gumption, right there! Somebody makes a sensible suggestion and he is taking me up on it right away. Thank you very much. Now, that is good to see. If we can move from that point to getting it to be a $2,500 cap, I will say we are really making some progress here today. I doubt if we will get that far, but we will keep trying.

Now, back to my comments about commitments and keeping them, and taking the flack for your tough decisions. We now have a commitment that we are going to have at least a deductible of $2,500 being put in Bill 30. That is a little, tiny step forward, I would call it. Nowhere near we need to go because it avoids the total, bigger picture issue of money in the consumer's pocket. It still does nothing. We can put in $5,000 if we want into Bill 30. It does nothing for the consumer in his pocket in reducing his premiums that you pay for yourself, for your son or for your daughter. It does not do a thing in your pocket by having this deductible, and the figures and facts will show it. By the way, we will know it in this term of this government. If this becomes law this month, 2004, we will have the track record and history on this within a year. We will know. We will not be sitting here and I will not be standing up saying: What if? I will be standing up again. I will not say I told you so, but I will be standing here again dealing with facts and figures to show that the insurance premiums in this Province have not declined one iota based upon a deductible. Not a bit!

This government, by the way, has taken it upon itself: we are going to let the Public Utilities Board, as they have always done, decide the rates that insurance companies charge. In the Province, for example - again, a lot of people do not realize how it works. There are different zones. There is a zone in St. John's area, there is a zone in Labrador, and then there is a zone on the Island outside of St. John's. The insurance companies that operate in those three zones can charge different rates for different products that they sell for their autos, based upon rulings made by the Public Utilities Board. The insurance companies go to the board. The insurance companies looks at them and says: What are you making? What are you charging? Where are you operating? What part of the Province are you operating in? And we tell you what your rates are going to be. That is going to continue to be done by the Public Utilities Board. No big magnificent changes here in Bill 30. That was always the case.

You will notice that this government did not give the Public Utilities Board the right to set the deductible. Somewhat strange! They did not give - we are going to set what kind of system we are going to have, whether we are going to have a cap or whether we are going to have a deductible. We will leave that in the hands of government. We are going to set the amount of the deductible by way of Cabinet decision and by regulation. Yet, when it comes to the rates that anybody is going to pay in this Province, we are going to leave that to the Public Utilities Board. They are the people for that. They have the expertise. They have all the information. We will not take any responsibility for what the rates are going to be, but we will just slide in this little bit of information here about what your deductible is going to be.

I say to the government, if the deductible is such a good idea, if the deductible is workable, and if it is going to take some time to see if the deductible is workable, why not make the deductible amount be determined by the Public Utilities Board, too? The very people who are deciding the rates. What is unfair, if we are going to trust the Public Utilities Board to make the decisions on rates so that the government - when anybody comes to the Member for Stephenville East, for example, and complains about the insurances rates out in her area, she can say: Don't blame me. Or the Member for Port au Port: Don't blame me. That is the Public Utilities Board that set those rates. I did not have anything to do with it. They did it.

What happens then when the same person out in Port au Port says to the hon. member: What have you done about it? What was this all about, this deductible? I am still paying $600 now, the same as I was last year. I got a break for a year on 9 per cent, but what happens now? What happens next St. Paddy's Day, March 17 next year? Where are we then? Why not give the control of the deductible to the Public Utilities Board, the same way that we are giving the Public Utilities Board the control vis-á-vis setting the rates? At least the fairness, the propriety of how the rates are done, takes it out of the hands of a bunch of politicians. If we are setting the rates by the Public Utilities Board - they have all the information. Surely, they would be the ones to decide what a deductible should be. Why have a disconnect between this most important piece, the deductible, and the setting of the rates? God forbid, that my Machiavellian mind might suggest that there is something wrong in why a government would want to retain the control within Cabinet to make that decision. God forbid! Believing that there is an honest, open and transparent government. Why wouldn't they put the rate control, or the deductible mechanism, over into the Public Utilities Board, too? No, they did not do that.

It comes back to why I have major concerns with the design of this bill. This is what we are supposed to do here in second reading, is get at some of these design issues. I am concerned because you have gone past your commitment to a cap, which - albeit, I did not agree with - was far better and perceived by everybody, lawyers, insurance companies, and consumers alike, to be a better method to cap; even better than what the Liberals suggested. The cap was deemed to be better, except for the lawyers, of course. The lawyers wanted this deductible. That is the ultimate for them. In fact, they are the only winners in this. Bill 30 is the lawyers' bill. There is no question about it. In fact, it has been dubbed the Williams-Roebothan bill. Whether people like to hear that or not, that is a fact on the streets. It is called the Williams-Roebothan bill, in rural Newfoundland at least. When I was home on the weekend, that is what it has been called.

MR. RIDEOUT: (Inaudible).

MR. PARSONS: I say to the hon. Member for Lewisporte, a lot of people know about Williams and Roebothan. They are a very good and reputable firm in this Province, I would say to the minister. In fact, they advertised on the Bill Rowe show everyday for the last year or so. Anybody in Newfoundland who has not listened to Bill Rowe's Open Line Show in the last year, I do not think they are in Newfoundland and Labrador. They have heard about Williams and Roebothan, I assure you. Albeit, I had 99.9 per cent of the market when I was in business. There was a scattered bit that sneaked into St. John's, that I did not get control over, and went to Williams and Roebothan. They know about Williams and Roebothan.

I have indicated that some of the parts were good and some of the parts were bad. The lawyers reaction being none, the Public Utilities Board and so on. Just to give this idea, the government members, I think the members sometimes think that the public operate in a vacuum of what happens in here. I assure you, it is not a vacuum. It is not a vacuum at all. I would think there are more people who watch the House channel now than ever before. In my experience, the percentage of people who watch the House proceedings now has gone up more than ever. When it started it was an experimental thing, but I actually think people watch now and are interested to see what the members are saying, if it is informative and so on. This is an issue with the public in rural Newfoundland, and in urban Newfoundland, who watch this on the channel.

For example, the VOCM Question of the Day even concerns this insurance issue. The lead news story on VOCM, CBC and in The Telegram today dealt with this insurance issue. We are not in a vacuum on this issue. Yet, members opposite - I assure you and I sincerely state that this insurance issue impacts virtually everyone in this Province in one way or another because if mom and dad have to pay more for insurance it is less they can pay for something else. That is why it is an important issue. The moms and dads of this Province realize that it is not fair what is happening. Something has to be done to give them a break on their insurance. The deductible just will not cut it. We cannot act as if this is my plan and because it is my plan we are going to push it through without any consideration and thought for people. We are supposed to be about people.

For the minister to stand up, and he has not given me an answer on two occasions, and did not give me an answer in second reading today. What is the logic behind going with the deductible? That is a very simple question. I cannot explain to Jack, who lives in Burnt Islands, when I go home. What is this deductible all about, Kelvin? What is this government getting on with, with a deductible? How does it work? What is it going to do for me? I can't explain it to them. I honestly don't see the benefits of the deductible to the consumer. If I don't see it myself and I can't understand it, the only thing I can do is ask questions of the minister, like: Is there something I am missing here in terms of the logic and the rationale as to why we are going with a deductible? Make a connection for me between the deductible in Bill 30 and the savings in my pocket. I honestly cannot do that. I cannot explain to the consumers in my district how the deductible is going to save them some money. Maybe it is going to take some history, maybe it is going to take until next year when the Public Utilities Board comes back and says: Yes, we tried it and this is how the deductible is working, and now we have some rationale. In order to go down this road of a deductible, somebody came up with the idea. Somebody had some reasons why we go deductible versus having a cap.

My question was quite simple to the minister: Why? I haven't been given an answer. Why are we going with a deductible? I will hear all kinds of reasons from the Leader of the NDP, I am sure, in the next several days, as to why the public insurance system is the best one. He is going to give me, I am sure, at least a dozen reasons why we should have a public system. I am sure that the Leader of the NDP, as much as he is in favour of public insurance, cannot tell me anything about why the deductible is helpful to the consumer, because he doesn't know anymore than I do. I don't know if the members over there know. Is the Member for Bonavista North going to know and explain to the people of Greenspond when he goes home on the weekend, about why the deductible has been used rather than a cap? I don't think so, unless he has information that I don't have, and I asked the minister twice to explain it to me.

Therein lies the basic flaw. If you can't explain, as a minister, why you are doing something, that is a major, major problem. That is the first hurdle we have to get over here, is have the Minister of Government Services explain to the people of this Province why the deductible. In fact, I would appreciate the explanation from anybody over there. It doesn't have to be the Minister of Government Services. It can be anybody.

What about the other missing piece, the discriminatory piece against age and gender, that was proposed? That was in the Tory plan too, I do believe, I say to the Member for CBS. That was in the Tory package, in the Liberal package. We have a system in this Province right now that, if you happen to be of a certain age you pay more. Forget about the fact that you are a good driver. The Member for Placentia & St. Mary's might have a son or a daughter who has been an excellent driver for five years, but because he or she happens to be twenty-two years of age, bang, you insurance bill is gone up. You ask the insurance companies why, and they say, well, they have a poor track record amongst adolescents when it comes to driving. His son or daughter have to pay the shot because of some history. I call that discrimination. I think everybody has agreed that it is discrimination based upon your age.

The Liberal package, the PC package, had put provisions in there to change that and say: Do not discriminate against any person because of their age. Is it there now in Bill 30? No. Where is that commitment? That is not in there. What about the discrimination based upon sex? Based upon your gender in this Province, you pay more or less for insurance. If I had a son who was twenty-two years of age, I paid a certain rate, but if I had a daughter who was twenty-two years of age, I would pay far less. Discrimination. Where is that in Bill 30?

Now, I say to the minister again - and I am not saying this in an unkind way, to the Minister of Government Services. I think this is the place to have these debates and pose these questions. It is her responsibility, as the minister responsible for this bill. It is her name on the front of the page. It is her name that is carrying Bill 30. Why do we not have these clauses in Bill 30, on discrimination, based upon gender and age? Why isn't it there, Minister? Tell the people of the Province why, if it was good enough for your party back in August as a platform, if it is acknowledged by everybody to be a winner for the consumer, particularly the young consumer, and it takes away these discriminatory practices, why isn't it in Bill 30?

Now, the only explanation we have gotten from the minister is, stayed tuned because we are going to have the Public Utilities Board do a public hearing. We are going to listen to all of these issues and concerns again and make a decision.

I say to the minister, the information is already in, on those discriminatory practices. If there was anybody upset about putting in the clauses on the discriminatory pieces, it was the insurance company. That is who was upset. That is why they did not want them in there. The insurance companies did not want them in there, because they said right now, if you take out those discriminatory clauses based upon gender and based upon age, we lose some of our profits, because then we have to treat everybody alike. Whether you are twenty-two or twenty-five and have an accident, or you are fifty-five, we have to pay all the claims and we have not charged them any more because you told us we could not. You took away that right to charge them more. Yet, you are making us pay all the claims. So we are going to lose money and we have to delve into our profits to do that. That is why the insurance companies did not like it. I could not care less whether the insurance companies did not like it for that reason or not. The problem is, we cannot have discriminatory practices.

Again, our concern is for the consumer. That is why it was in all parties' plans, I thought. Why do we need to break commitments? Why do we need another study when everybody agreed to this? Who are we pacifying? Who are we appeasing, by not putting this into this bill right now? It was in your platform. It was in our platform. The NDP have no problems with it, because it helps the consumer. Why isn't it in Bill 30? I ask the minister again, just explain it. Maybe there is a very good reason. I am usually pretty accepting and open-minded. If somebody has a reason why you ought to, or ought not to, do something, I can accept that. When you ask the minister, can you tell me why it is not in there? and you do not even get an explanation, and she says we will do it in debate, well, Minister, I believe we are about one-third of the way through debate now, and two Question Periods where I have asked you those questions, and I have gotten no answers. I do not know why we are delaying, unless you are trying to come up with an answer. I suggest to the minister, she should have had her answers long before now. You should have had your answers before you dropped Bill 30 in this House last Thursday.

Yes, Mr. Speaker, I do have some serious problems with Bill 30. Bill 30 is not complete. Don't get me wrong. I do not have a problem because it is not perfect. Nobody demands perfection of anybody, but there is absolutely no reason to introduce a piece of legislation in this House which, number one, breaks commitments that were made and, number two, excludes principles that everybody agreed to; for example, the discriminatory practices piece. There is absolutely no reason to have a bill in this House which hides certain information, vis-à-vis who sets deductibles, whereas you give the other rate-defining authorities to Public Utilities Boards - no reason whatsoever - and that is what is faulty about this legislation. That is where the government will be brought to task by the people of the Province.

The insurance companies are and ought to have their meetings with the ministers, with the Premier, with any member over there if they want to try to influence them. Every lawyer in this Province should have a right to talk to any member of this House, or minister or Premier, to try to influence them, if they want, to impose, to suggest, to explain, their positions to them - not a problem - but at the end of the day it is not the lawyers and it is not the insurance companies we have to look out for. It is the consumer.

Bill 30 does not protect the consumer. That is the bottom line. We still have a chance to correct it. There is no rush here. We do not rush to judgement, particularly when there is no judgement at the end of the rush. There is no need to rush if you are not doing what it right. There is nothing wrong with accepting different people's opinions, getting some input, and doing what is right. I say to the members opposite again, we are not doing in this House, on this Bill 30, what is right, we are not doing what is just, and we are not doing what is fair for the consumer. That is all I ask.

We can spend the next three days and three nights in this House debating about trying to justify Bill 30, but I say that Bill 30 cannot be justified in its current form. You know, anyone listening to what I say, I do not think I have been unfair here in my comments. I am not chastising anyone. I have been accused of lecturing quite often. I am not chastising anyone. I happen to have an opinion which I think is reflected by many of the consumers in this Province, that their major concern is what is good for my pocket. I do not think we, as MHAs, and I do not think this government is on the right road to doing the right thing for the consumers with this Bill 30.

Now, there is no question that we can stand up and say: Let's try this, and we are going to have the public hearings. You will get a chance to say all this at the public hearings, and we will get a chance to fashion something that is better. There is nothing wrong with that, and that is admirable, too, and I commend government for doing that, having the public hearings, because anything we can do or garner from the public to make it better, we should, but that does not take away from the government's responsibility to do today what they know today.

You know today about the discriminatory practices based on age and based on gender. You do not have to wait for the public hearings for that. It should be in here. You do not have to wait until the public hearings to find our if you want more disclosure provisions for the insurance companies. That can be in here. We do not need to have public disclosure to determine that the cap, which this very government was the promoter of not one year ago, was going to give better savings to the public. You talked yourselves about 20 per cent. We are down now in Bill 30 to saying: We are going to give you 9 per cent on public liability.

Yes, there are bigger savings on the other stuff, the comprehensive, the 37 per cents, the 29 per cents, but that is assuming that Joe consumer buys it. If I do not buy collision on my car, the 30 per cent does not mean anything to me. In fact, because the public liability rates are so high, I may not be able to buy those other things. That is the problem here. We can stand up and say: Oh, we are going to save - I do not know the percentages. I have them right here in Bill 30. If you have full coverage in this Province, 27 per cent in the Avalon district; 37 per cent in the other district, which takes in the part of the Province called Bonavista-Burin; 29 per cent in Labrador. That is on collision.

What the minister does not know is that probably I cannot afford collision because my mandatory purchase of public liability is so high that I do not have the bucks left to buy the collision, so what is the good of the 37 per cent to me in Port aux Basques, or Bonavista-Burin, if I do not have the money because I did not make enough savings based on Bill 30 on the public liability piece?

Why wouldn't you go with the cap? If you went with the cap, we would get 20 per cent savings on the public liability. That is acknowledged by your own press releases. That is your own program. Forget about the 30 per cent that the Liberals would have given. If we can get 20 per cent by going with the cap versus 9 per cent going with Bill 30, why would we not go with the cap? We do not need any further input. I say to the Minister of Education, he is a lawyer as well, he is in tune to this. He has seen all of the statistics, the studies. Why are we - again, based on numbers - and I cannot even say here you are pushing your own agenda, because you are not pushing your own agenda. Your own agenda was announced last year in August, 20 per cent, capped. You have another agenda since last August.

I say to the members opposite again, the issue is not only being dealt with in this fish bowl here, if you want to call it, of the House of Assembly where we face each other two-third lengths apart or whatever. This debate - I do not know if it is raging at this point. I would not say it is raging right now like it was six or eight months ago, but I will tell you, the pot is coming to a pretty good boil in this Province right now by the consumers about when our government is going to do something for us. I agree, you can look up until the cows come home and say: You never did anything for eight years. Well, I think we were all positioned at a point last August where we all had a plan. The Liberals had a plan which they publicly announced, the NDP had a plan that was publicly announced and the Tories had a plan that was publicly announced. I think it was understood by the consumers of this Province that whoever we voted for was going to adopt their plan. I do not think that was too much to expect, that if I voted for the Member for Grand Falls-Springdale, if I voted for him and he said he was going to give me a $2,500 cap on insurance, I think if he got elected I would expect him to stand up and vote for that.

AN HON. MEMBER: Grand Falls-Buchans.

MR. PARSONS: Grand Falls-Buchans. No, I am not talking about Grand Falls-Buchans. I am talking about the Member for Windsor-Springdale. I know where the Member for Grand Falls-Buchans stands. She would have taken the option approach that our party would have had.

I say to the Member for Windsor-Springdale, I am sure the people of your district, when they voted for you, those who voted based upon the insurance issue, they voted based upon your plan announced last August, a $2,500 cap. That was your publicly stated position. They did not vote for any $2,500 deductible. You can fudge those words all you want, but it is not me. It is the Member for Windsor-Springdale who has to go back and explain to the people in his district: Why did you change your mind? Why did you change your mind, Mr. Hunter? I hope he gets a better answer than I did to explain the deductible.

I see the Member for St. John's Centre is shaking his head. Maybe when I am finished he can educate me as to why a deductible, because I am sure his minister certainly has not educated me any in two days of asking questions. I can manage to read or listen pretty good when somebody wants to take the time to explain it to me.

Anyway, I am sure we will have more to say. It will be interesting for all of us. We are here for at least another little while in the House, this week at least. I think it would be very informative to all of us to see what other insurance companies come forward in the next few days with their reaction to this.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order please!

I remind the hon. Opposition House Leader that his time has expired.

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate the opportunity to address Bill 30 in second reading and look forward to further debate in the Committee stage.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Mount Pearl.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DENINE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I was quite intrigued by the Opposition House Leader in what he had to say for the last few minutes. Some of the things he said was that we basically did not live up to our commitment. Mr. Speaker, we did. We lived up to our commitment. We said to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador: Our goal is to reduce the premiums, to reduce the cost of insurance, car insurance. We are doing that by this bill. Now, not only did we do that but we are looking at other bills, other insurances, like house insurance and commercial insurance. Something that the Opposition, when they were in government, did not look at. They did not bring that to any type of fruition in terms of bringing it to this House to vote on or anything like that. They sat back and waited.

Mr. Speaker, the Opposition House Leader said: The only thing the people of Newfoundland and Labrador can be concerned about is what is in their pockets. What is in their pockets by this bill, is going to be savings; savings on their insurance policy. They laugh at it over that there, but that is the intent of what this bill is supposed to do. Not only the intent, it will achieve that because they are realistic goals. I believe - and I stand to be corrected - when the Liberals presented their case, they wanted a savings of 30 per cent on liability only. That is a good point. It did not address anything on collision or other parts of insurance, comprehension or anything like that; 30 cent on liability only. It did not touch any other parts of the insurance at all.

Mr. Speaker, we are living up to our commitment. I congratulate the minister for bringing this bill forward and I congratulate her on doing it in such timely fashion. We made a commitment that we would do it within 120 days of being elected. In early March, a little bit behind schedule, we made that commitment. We came forward with the savings that people were going to achieve through this bill in Newfoundland and Labrador. We are going to make sure that the savings will go back to the people and pay less premiums, because no one will disagree that car insurance was getting out of control. It was out of control, not getting. It was out of control. This will curve this escalating cost in premiums. It will curve it. If you want to be skeptical about it, and say: Well, that is not going to save it. That is not going to do it. Mr. Speaker, this is a major, major step forward for this government. It is a part of a commitment that we made and a commitment that we are going to keep. We are doing that by this bill today.

Mr. Speaker, not only that, there is going to be further dialogue. There are going to be open consultations. There is room there for the public to become involved in this process. Now, the Opposition will say: Well, you have not done this, you have not done that. Well, to be quite honest with you, Mr. Speaker, the Opposition, when they were in government, did nothing anyhow. So, we are taking the initiative. We are taking the initiative to bring this to fruition; to bring it to a reality here. We did not just talk. We were not just saying: Well, we will do this and do this and this. Action, Mr. Speaker, speaks louder than words, and this is what this bill will do.

Again, I go back to what the House Leader said: Well, all the people of Newfoundland and Labrador care about is what is going to be saved in their pockets. What is going to be saved in their pockets. The minister said a driver, aged twenty-five or older, with full coverage will save an average of $188 on their insurance bill. That is $188 that they can spend somewhere else. That is a reduction of 13 per cent. Did we take 50 per cent savings? No. Did we take 70 per cent savings? No. Mr. Speaker, we are being realistic. When you try to bring forward something to the public you have to be realistic and try to live up to that realism and the achievable goal. This is achievable and it is doable.

Also, there are significant savings no matter where you live. For example, a twenty-year-old male who has four years of accident free will save $510 on a full coverage policy. Most teenagers at that age are probably, number one, on their parent's insurance policy or number two, if they purchased a car, because of requirements by the bank, they are required to have full coverage. That is $510 in their pockets next year. Starting now, $510.

When the Opposition House Leader said the only thing that they care about is what is in their pockets. Well, this puts money in the pockets of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Again, there is some skepticism about whether or not the $2,500 deductible is what should be there. We have a commitment that that will be put in the legislation.

Now, the Liberal policy restricted compensation, totally restricted compensation. Our policy does not, because we, through consultation and listening to the people in Newfoundland and Labrador, they wanted - they did not want to be restricted in their compensation policies. That is what they have here, Mr. Speaker. That is what they have here.

Mr. Speaker, when we talk about other things that have gone on, and the other thing I really want to touch on, if you go back to the elections vote in the Atlantic Provinces, New Brunswick came out with an insurance policy and that government almost lost the government on the insurance policy alone. That put the scare into the Liberal Party prior to the last election. It put the scare into them. They were trying to move as fast as they could to get something in place to offset that, because they knew they were going to the electorate in October and they had to have some ammunition. They had to have some fuel to say, we are going to do that.

Mr. Speaker, not only did they have it in their power to do it, not only did they have it in their power to enact legislation, but they failed to enact it. They failed to put in legislation that would put savings and reduce costs of insurance to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

There is no question. I, myself, my wife and I, pay extremely high rates to have our two sons, and myself and her, insured on all the cars, the two cars that we have. No question, we needed to do something and we took the bull by the horn. We did not say: Well, what are we going to do? and say: Oh, gee, we should do something about this. No, we acted upon it. We acted upon it and we are doing what we committed to do. We are doing what we committed to do prior to the election. We made that commitment and we are following through on it.

Mr. Speaker, again, just to go through some of the savings - because some of things they are saying: Well, it is not going to be achievable. We cannot do it. We cannot achieve what we want. The savings on third party: 9 per cent on third party liability; 27 per cent to 37 per cent on collision; 19 per cent on comprehension; 11 per cent on uninsured motorist coverage. They are savings, and we did not inflate those savings. We did not increase those savings to make everyone happy. We are trying to bring in reasonable savings in premiums, reasonable costs for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. There is no question about that.

Mr. Speaker, this, I said before, is the first major step. Later on in the fall there will be other avenues in which the people of Newfoundland and Labrador can have input into this. Again, as the Premier stated, we have not ruled out anything else. We have not ruled out anything else that may come to fruition after the public hearings, but the Minister of Government Services, to me, did an excellent job in presenting this. Yes, there will be criticism from the Opposition. That is exactly what they do. That is what they have to do. You have to get out of this saying that everything is wrong, that there is no good. There are a lot of good things in here, Mr. Speaker, and, as I say to the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair, that will come in time, and you will come back and say: Member for Mount Pearl, you were right.

I expect to see that coming to me later on. I will mark that down now, so do not forget it. Don't you for that; you are going to come back, and I will do that to you if I am wrong in certain incidents, but I am never wrong. Anyhow, Mr. Speaker -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. DENINE: I figured that would get a smile on your face.

Mr. Speaker, there are a lot of things happening in this policy. For example, a 25 per cent reduction in award for not wearing your seat belt, that in itself, I think, is progressive in terms of - and it is being proactive. Although I have to say, in Newfoundland and Labrador we comply very, very well, I think, with the seat belt regulations. There is no question about that, most people do it. There are still a few not buckling up, and that is safety, and this will address that.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible)

MR. DENINE: Thank you very much.

Mr. Speaker, this type of policy which we are doing here today is a policy that we have made a commitment on. We made things that we stood by; we made things in our Blue Book. We came and made a commitment, and we followed through on it.

Now, someone said that we have been slow on doing it. Well, Mr. Speaker, when we became government on October 21, there were a lot of things to take care of. A lot of things to take care of. We were saddled with the huge debt that was left by the previous government. We were saddled trying to address that issue. Then we were saddled with trying to come up with a reasonable answer to the insurance. I think, Mr. Speaker, we have come up with a reasonable response to that. I think the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, over a period of time, will see the benefits of that.

Mr. Speaker, this reform package which we are introducing here today, the legislation, will certainly - again, certainly - save the people of Newfoundland and Labrador money in their pockets. If you are concerned with what we are saving here, the answer to that is: We will be saving money, no question.

I know other speakers over there are going to say that we should have done that and we should have done this. Mr. Speaker, again I say to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, this is a giant step forward in trying to save money for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador on insurance premiums. It was an issue in the election. We are following through on a promise. You can cherry-pick what you want, but the reality here, Mr. Speaker, is that we are living up to a commitment. We are living up to a commitment with savings in the pockets of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador on their insurance.

Mr. Speaker, the major thing - and I want to repeat it again because some people do not understand it. They will go out and say, well, you have done this and that is all that is going to move. Mr. Speaker, the Public Utilities will be conducting hearings in the fall. It will be open to every Member of the House of Assembly to present their views on insurance policies, every member on the East Coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. The people of Labrador will be able to put their input on it - issues that affect Western, Northern, Central, wherever you may live. The things that are in our area may be different from other areas of the Province. They will be able to bring their concern - their concern - to the hearing and influence any decisions that will be made henceforth.

Mr. Speaker, I hate to belabour it but this policy here, yes, people may get up and criticize it from their perspective. I know the member of the NDP Party will say we want a public owned system. Again, Mr. Speaker, we have not ruled that out yet. We have not ruled that out completely - not to say that is the area where we are going to go, but we have not ruled it out. We are open, we are transparent, and we are going to do that.

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the Minister of Government Services for introducing this. I think it was a bold step forward. It is a step that the Opposition, when they were in government, did not venture into. They had it in their hands. They could have done it but did not do it, did not react. They thought they were going to go, put their policy out, and expect the people of Newfoundland and Labrador to vote on it then. They had it, and they did not act. Mr. Speaker, that was the downfall, because of the inaction, the non-proactive approach which the Liberal Party had in solving the problems of Newfoundland and Labrador. That is what led to the downfall. That is what led to this elected government here on this side of the House.

Mr. Speaker, again, congratulations to the minister. I will venture to guess the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair is going to come back on June 1, next year, and say to the Member of Mount Pearl: You know, Dave, you were right and I was wrong. That is what she is going to say. You know, I am not going to take any satisfaction in doing that, Mr. Speaker. I am going to say: She is a fine individual to come forth and to be honest with me.

Mr. Speaker, thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair.

MS JONES: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

The Member for Mount Pearl has got me up on my feet today, Mr. Speaker. I have to say, he got me up on my feet today to talk on Bill 30, the insurance reform; I can guarantee you that.

Mr. Speaker, I have to say, though, that the Member for Mount Pearl has done an admirable job this evening in trying to defend a piece of legislation that offers very few benefits, very little savings, for any defence, I might say to the hon. member. For that I have to commend him at least.

Mr. Speaker, I want to make my own comments on Bill 30 today. I can guarantee you that some of the points I am going to raise are quite different than have been raised by the member opposite. First of all, what I want to say is that the people of this Province, when they were discussing insurance reform, when they were coming to the political parties in this Province looking for a fair insurance program, something that was reasonable, something that was in their public interest and something that could offer them some real tangible benefits, they approached all the parties looking for that. Mr. Speaker, they did so, they accepted the information, they accepted the plans that were put forward.

What we are seeing today from the Conservative Party, the Conservative Government, is something that does not contain meaningful savings, Mr. Speaker, for insurance consumers in Newfoundland and Labrador. It is a watered down version, in fact, of what they presented to the people last summer, and what they presented to people in the Province this fall, when they were out looking to be elected as the government. I can tell you, it is quite a watered down proposal in comparison.

I am going to indicate to you some of those changes, some of those different policies, that they are implementing under Bill 30 now that they certainly didn't commit to at that time. Mr. Speaker, when you look at this entire bill, the first thing you have to ask yourself is: Does it adequately address the very high insurance costs that we currently have in the Province today? I have to say that this plan won't do that. I don't see how it can possibly bring down the high insurance rates that are being experienced by consumers. First of all, you have to look at the fact - the minister stood up today and said it is going to be a 15 per cent savings. Most people, or a lot of people, in this Province, Mr. Speaker, can only afford public liability. I know quite a few who don't carry comprehensive and collision, and they only carry public liability. It is, in fact, a 9 per cent savings for people who are in that particular group.

Mr. Speaker, it is only if you have, I guess, the affordability to be able to have full coverage, full comprehensive, full collision on any vehicle, that you can, in fact, enjoy what the minister says and is so proud of, her 15 per cent reduction. Mr. Speaker, I can tell you that in most cases this will translate into possibly a 9 per cent savings for people out there.

Mr. Speaker, when they were out campaigning, they said to people in the Province: We will make sure that you get a minimum of 20 per cent savings. That is what they said. There was no mention of the fact that you would only have a 9 per cent saving on public liability. They said: We will guarantee you a minimum of 20 per cent savings, likely 30 per cent. Who knows? It could even be 30 per cent savings.

Well, Mr. Speaker, that is not what we are seeing today in this legislation. Bill 30 will not provide for those kinds of savings that they commited to in the election. It will not allow consumers to be able to make those kinds of savings.

The other thing they said, Mr. Speaker, is that they would have a cap of $2,500. It is not there. It is not in Bill 30. It does not exist in this legislation. In fact, what we are seeing is a deductible of $2,500. Quite different, quite the opposite, not what consumers of auto insurance were asking for.

I can tell you that in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, they have both implemented a $2,500 cap. Do you know what happened, Mr. Speaker? They achieved substantial savings for insurance consumers in their provinces and it could have worked here in Newfoundland and Labrador, but they did not implement it. In fact, with the cap in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, they had a savings in those provinces initially of anywhere from 20 per cent to 30 per cent range or more, but the government here has chosen not to go with a cap. Instead, they have chosen to go with a deductible which, in fact, will have other implications.

I want to tell you what some of these implications are, because they were outlined today in The Telegram by the provincial insurance consumer group for the Province, and the president, I am going to tell you, did not mince his words when he talked about auto insurance. He said that Bill 30 that is proposed by the government today for auto insurance would be totally useless. That is what the insurance consumer group said in this Province. They said it would be totally useless. In fact, Mr. Speaker, they said, in the long term, "It won't have any long-term effect on the rates - the $2,500 deductible will be totally useless." That is a direct quote from the president of the provincial insurance consumer group in Newfoundland and Labrador. That will tell you how they will feel about it.

In fact, what they are saying is that all that will happen is that, when there is a settlement, the amount of the settlement will increase and the $2,500 deductible will just get added on. So, in fact, if you are going to have a lawsuit for $5,000, or a claim, you would just tack on the other $2,500 to make it $7,500. This is what is being said by the consumer insurance group in the Province. Mr. Speaker, they are not happy with Bill 30 and how it is going to be translated and implemented.

Also, when the government was out campaigning, when they were hot on the campaign trail, Mr. Speaker, telling the people of the Province we are going to make sure that you get fair and equitable insurance rates, they also said they were going to eliminate the rate discrimination based on age, sex or marital status. Well, that has not happened in this bill, Mr. Speaker. The only thing the minister said today is that they cannot refuse you insurance based on age, sex or marital status. She did not say anything about restricting the rates, and they will still be considered as part of the rate structure, which means that in cases like we have heard, many of us have heard, I am sure, in our districts about families who have a young son or daughter who is going out to get insurance and the cost that they have to pay for insurance is outrageous. Actually, one of my constituents told me that their daughter had a car and her insurance payments were higher than the car payments. That is the norm, Mr. Speaker, it really is. That is how much people are having to pay to have insurance on vehicles in this Province.

The fact that this has not been eliminated is going to continue to have an impact. I know of many families that are impacted by it, Mr. Speaker. This will certainly do nothing to help advance their cause and lower the premiums that they are paying to have their sons or daughters insured on vehicles or to carry individual insurance on vehicles.

Mr. Speaker, what is really unfortunate about this is that when the Premier went out - and he did it twice. He went out twice last year. In August he went out and he said to the people in the Province, and again in the election he went out and he said to the people in the Province: We will make sure you get a minimum of 20 per cent savings. We will make sure that you will get a cap of $2,500. We will make sure that we eliminate rate discrimination based on age, sex and marital status. Is any of that in Bill 30, Mr. Speaker? No, it is not. None of it is in Bill 30. None of the things that he committed to in August of last year or during the election are in Bill 30.

Mr. Speaker, that is disappointing for people in this Province, because once again they trusted the Premier. They trusted him when he went out and told them that. They trusted the government that they would do the right thing, that they would honour their commitment, but they did not. Again, it is another broken promise. It is a normal action that we have seen from this government on a number of fronts, Mr. Speaker, and now they expect that they can bring this bill into the House and that the consumers are going to trust them; that, as a Cabinet, we are going to fix and amend all the little things that need to be done. Trust us and we will make sure that you get the insurance savings, the Member for Mount Pearl was up saying today. Well, the public did trust them. They trusted them when they made the commitment to do these things as part of an insurance reform bill in this House, and now it is not there and it does not exist in Bill 30.

Mr. Speaker, this particular break to consumers could have been done at no cost to the government. It is goodwill. It would have been a little goodwill on behalf of the government to the consumers of automobile insurance in this Province, to allow them to have a cap, to eliminate rates being set based on sex, age and marital status. These things would have been goodwill on behalf of a government to ensure affordability of insurance to people in the Province; but, no, that did not happen. That was not the choice that they made.

Mr. Speaker, I want to read a couple of other things because it is important to understand how other people in the Province feel with regard to Bill 30. I can tell you, when I looked at the comments by the president of the provincial insurance consumer group today, I can certainly tell you that this group, that represent people who use automobile insurance in the Province, are not happy. They said, "...any money taken off claims at first sight, will be added on anyway in the shape of a higher claim." That is what they are saying. They are saying that the deductible will be totally useless. They are also saying that, "...the rate reduction..." - that is being proposed under Bill 30 - "...is ‘window dressing' because if companies lose money in one year, when they apply to the Public Utilities Board the following year reporting losses, he said the board will most likely approve them for a higher rate to get back to profitability."

Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak on that for a few minutes because it seems that the actions of this government have been, both with oil and gas regulation and also with the insurance bill, that when they do not want to make the real tough decisions that are going to affect consumers, well, we will put it out to the Public Utilities Board.

Mr. Speaker, I can tell you that, as one member in this House, I probably had more experience with the Public Utilities Board than I would say almost every other Member in this House of Assembly, because I live in a district where I have had to go before the Public Utilities Board on a regular basis, to try and stop rate increases for the people of my district. I can tell you what you have to go through when you go to the Public Utilities Board, I can guarantee you that. The Member for Labrador West knows. He has gone through it this year, along with myself. I did not see the Member for Lake Melville there, though, I can guarantee you that. Let me tell you, I went into the Public Utilities Board on a regular basis, and I have had to go in and represent the people in my district to stop them from having rate increases on their electrical bill. Do you know what I am confronted with, Mr. Speaker? Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro with a full team of lawyers, a full team of accountants, about a million dollars in salaries, sitting next to me, fighting me and my district on a rate increase. Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro over here with their full team of lawyers and accountants, Newfoundland Power over here with their full team of lawyers and accountants, the industrial companies over here, Mr. Speaker, with their full team of lawyers and accountants, and here I am representing the people of my district.

Mr. Speaker, I did not have any lawyers with me. I did not have any accountants with me. I did not have a million dollars to invest to argue a case on behalf of my constituents. Where was the fairness in that particular process? This is the same process that the people who want to see fair rates on automobile insurance will have to go through. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that I have been ten years going before the Public Utilities Board. The first time I ever went there it was the most intimidating experience that I ever had.

Mr. Speaker, I do not have a legal background. I do not have any experience with the law and to be placed in a situation like that is always intimidating. Now, we are going to ask the consumers of automobile insurance in this Province that if you want to get a fair rate hearing, if you want to make sure that the insurance companies do not gouge the consumers then you will have to go before the Public Utilities Board. You will have to fight the teams of lawyers, the teams of accountants who are going to be present in that room and are going to argue the case against you.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I have to say that on two occasions I did win the case for my district. I am very proud of that. I worked hard and I provided good arguments to do it, but not every time have I been successful. I can tell you, in the last round I was not successful, but I still feel that the people in my district did not get a fair ruling from the Public Utilities Board. There was nothing that I could do about it. I had provided the best case that I possibly could and there was no way that I could predict or change the outcome that was going to happen.

Mr. Speaker, that is where I have a problem. Now we have referred the oil and gas regulation to the Public Utilities Board. Now the government is looking at referring the rates for automobile insurance to the Public Utilities Board, and that is the problem. The problem always is when you have companies, industrial companies, large privately traded companies that are sitting in the same room who have the financial resources to stack the expertise, provide the documentation and the research to argue against you. That is why it is always more difficult for consumers.

Mr. Speaker, I feel, as the president of the provincial insurance consumers group feels, and that is that this insurance will not do what it was intended to do. It will not do what people were led to believe it would do, and that is to provide fair, reasonable insurance rates in the interest of the public.

Mr. Speaker, I think that most people in this Province did trust the government. They trust the commitments that were made by the Premier. They trusted that when this government took office and insurance reform was brought forward that they would get a minimum of a 20 per cent reduction. They trusted that they would get a cap on their insurance of $2,500, like has been done in Nova Scotia and in New Brunswick. That did not happen, Mr. Speaker. Most importantly, they were led to believe that they would eliminate the rates being set on sex, age and martial status, and that did not happen. People are disappointed. People are disappointed because they trusted them. There was a commitment made. The plan was outlined. It was part of the campaign and now they have reneged on it.

I cannot believe that the minister today could walk into the House and stand up and say how proud she is to bring in Bill 30; how proud she is to tell the people of the Province that we are not going to give you a 20 per cent reduction. We are going to give you 9 per cent on public liability. That is what she said. She was proud to stand up today and say: we are not going to eliminate the setting of rates based on sex, age and marital status now. We are going to leave that as it is. I could not believe it, Mr. Speaker, the minister to stand up and say: I am so proud of Bill 30, because now consumers in the Province will have to go to the Public Utilities Board and fight the teams of lawyers and accountants, that will be present, to try and get a regular decent rate for automobile insurance. That is not a whole lot to be proud of, I say to you, Mr. Speaker. It is not a whole lot to be proud of. When you have been there and you know how it works, it is a whole different experience, I say to the minister.

Mr. Speaker, I am going to conclude my comments now because I think I have outlined quite clearly where I stand on this insurance bill. I feel the deductible will not give the consumers the break that they deserve. I feel that the bill fell short of what government's commitments were to the people only months ago. I feel that the people of the Province are going to be significantly disappointed. They expected more. They trusted there would be more. They have been let down. This insurance will do very little, if anything at all. You will see the rates increase again over the next few months. We have seen the rates increase. Actually, since they decided they were going to bring this into the House the rates have gone up. The savings that you are going to see are going to be a lot less than even was anticipated back in August of last year. I have to say, I think the bill fell far short of what was committed to, of what people expected, and I do not think it will achieve fair and reasonable insurance rates for consumers in this Province. For that reason, Mr. Speaker, I cannot see how this bill will meet the intentions and the obligations that they committed to people. It is certainly not one that I would stand up in this House and say that I am proud of.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Trinity-Bay de Verde.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am very pleased to stand up here today and talk to this automobile insurance reform. I am very pleased to have worked with the minister and her department on this over the past six, seven months since I have been elected here. Again, I am very pleased to be part of a government that, in only four short months, has brought in changes for the people of this Province.

With the information that we have had available to us, we have taken some great steps, and great first steps, in bringing down rates for the people of this Province. People will realize savings right now of about 15 per cent on average, and some will see savings up to 20 per cent. I would just like to point out that this government said we would see savings up to 20 per cent, not a minimum of 20 per cent. I just want to clear that.

It is true that some people do carry the minimum third-party liability, but also it is very true that a lot of people in this Province purchase new vehicles and very many people carry full coverage, so they will see very significant savings.

I will also point out, Mr. Speaker, that accident benefits, which isn't even a mandatory coverage, up to about 70 per cent of the people in the Province cover that. So there are very many savings for people to be seen.

As I said, this is just the beginning. The second step, as we know, is a hearing. Before that can be done, a closed claims study needs to be carried out. For those people listening who don't exactly know what a closed claims study is, that is a study to look at the amount that is paid out due to accidents versus what is paid in, in premiums. It is a look at what it is really costing insurance companies and, ultimately, what it is costing us as consumers.

The information that we have today, the Closed Claims Study that was conducted in 1998, this is based on information back in 1996. Therefore, we need more timely information. When that is completed, the public hearing will be carried out. There will be an opportunity for lawyers, companies and, most importantly, the general public, to have input on what they would like to see.

Following this closed claims study and a public hearing, we will then have some accurate, more timely information, so that we an implement a long-term strategy. This is something that is being addressed for the very first time, a long-term strategy for automobile insurance. As the Opposition House Leader had said, they had a plan. Yes, that plan has been there for awhile. It has been there for nearly eight years. Unfortunately for the people of the Province, this plan has not been taken into action. This government has taken action and, for that, people will see savings.

Automobile insurance is not just a problem that came up this year or last year. It is, in fact, a problem that is about a decade old. It is not just a problem in this Province only. This exists right across the Province and particularly in Atlantic Canada. Certainly, we are learning from the experiences of other provinces. We know New Brunswick underwent some reforms, and also Nova Scotia. From my reading experience, in New Brunswick they have implemented a cap but they did not mandate reductions so the people in New Brunswick actually are only seeing reductions of about 12 per cent to 14 per cent. That is why the serious threat is there in New Brunswick to bring in public automobile insurance, so we are learning from that.

We also see in other provinces, with the cap that is brought in, there are some difficulties with the definition of minor injuries. Because of that, they often end up in legal cases because of the definition. When you have legal cases, that increases the cost for insurance companies which then translates into a cost for individuals. We are learning from all of that.

Based on that, this government brought in a deductible. The question has been asked, why deductibles? Hopefully, those will be some of the answers for you. There is a lot of difficulty with the cap, the definitions. A deductible is something that is very fair, it is simple, it is something that people understand, because with your comprehensive or collision there is a deductible. It is very easy to understand. That is the reason for that at this time.

Like I said, most of the people will see, on average, a 15 per cent reduction. This is a far greater success than the previous Administration had been able to accomplish. In fact, what they did was watch rates go up and, in fact, they did not do anything about it. There was a plan there, as we said. We saw the draft legislation and, as one of the members opposite pointed out, a lot of the things in this legislation are similar. That is very true. If it is good for the people of the Province, it does not matter who planned it or who had the thought on paper. It is actually who carried it out and implemented it. That is why it is important that we did that.

Like I said, this plan was on the table for about eight years with the previous Administration, but suddenly, when the election came up, it became a hot topic. At that time, a 30 per cent reduction on TPL was proposed. When I heard that, I sort of questioned, where is the data to support if a 30 per cent reduction on TPL could be possible? I sort of asked myself how that was possible, and I wondered why they had not explored other options, and why they had not looked at reductions, comprehensive, collision, and specified perils and those types of things. That is, in fact, what this government did. Rather than pull a number out of the hat, rather than pull out a 30 per cent reduction number on TPL, the PUB actually hired an actuarial company and models were run, and, based on the deductible, we have achieved savings of collision anywhere from 27 per cent to 30 per cent, again depending on the territory that you are in. On comprehensive, people will see savings of 19 per cent in all territories in the Province; specified perils savings of 16 per cent, and TPL, which was discussed, a savings of 9 per cent there.

Like I said, rather than plucking numbers out of a hat, this was based on sound actuarial information. Because of this information, the savings that we see today are the results of those studies. These are a savings that are realistic. Again, they are a very first step. There is a lot more to be done.

I just want to comment a little bit - the Opposition House Leader talked about their plan. From my reading of that plan, to me it seemed like a plan for the rich and for the poor. If you had chosen to opt out of being able to sue for pain and suffering, then you would see savings, but if you wanted to purchase that right to sue for pain and suffering, you would not see any savings. With the plan that we have proposed, you still have that right to sue for pain and suffering, and you will still see savings. That is something that is very important and that we are very proud to present.

When somebody gets in an accident, I think it is very unfair that they cannot sue for pain and suffering. Some people are legitimately hurt and they should have that right, but under the previous Liberal plan, if you wanted to save in a year, you would have to give up that right to sue and that is not something that we were about.

I want to talk a little bit about Facility Association. A lot of people actually do not even know what Facility Association is. For people listening at home, I have had lots of calls about insurance. When they state their rate, I ask them if they are in Facility, and they say: What is Facility? Basically, what Facility Association is: It is coverage for people who cannot find coverage in the regular market.

Now, Facility is supposed to be for the high-risk market, for people who have convictions and fines or have been in several accidents. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Sixty per cent of the people who are in Facility Association today are there because they have perhaps bounced a cheque. They may have been somebody who did not have automobile insurance for, say, a period of a year; there is a lapse in time. It may be because of your age. It may be because you are very young or very old or you have an old vehicle. There are lots of reasons why people are in Facility, and they should not be there. About 8 per cent of the people insured in the Province are in Facility Association and, realistically, that number should only be around 1 per cent. Facility should be for the people who have the convictions and the fines. I will say that the Opposition House Leader did agree with our plans for Facility Association, to let people know why there are going in there, how they can get out. He agreed that people should not be put in there.

The one thing that they failed to mention or they failed to acknowledge, I guess, is that Facility Association, their rates are designed so that they are greater than what is in the regular market. There is a much greater margin. So, when the twenty-year-old who would automatically be put in the Facility Association now will no longer be put in there because they cannot be refused based on their age, they will come out of Facility Association and they will go into the regular market, which automatically means significant savings.

Most of the phone calls that I get, and in talking to the other members on this side of the House, most of the calls they get - and, in fact, the Superintendent of Insurance - come from people who are in Facility Association. Like I said, when they call, they have no idea that they are in there, but those are where the majority of the calls are coming from. In fact, in Facility, when you are insured through there, you have to pay your rates up front. Just as a side note, one of the things proposed in this legislation is that they can do monthly payment plans, which makes it easier for the consumer.

Most of the complaints that are coming in are from people in Facility Association. Like I said, because you cannot refuse based on age or based on your bounced cheque - all those reasons why those 60 per cent of people are in facility - they will now be written in the regular market, which means huge savings.

In the short term, what we have done is, we have addressed the majority of the complaints that we are receiving. These people will see significant savings, and that is something that is very important. There is more to be done, but that is something that we could work with right now, addressing the problems of Facility Association.

Like I said, this legislation will ensure that those people who should be in Facility will be in Facility. Those people who are in there now and come out, they will see significant savings, upwards of 20 per cent, do doubt, and certainly will help the very young people who are trying to get an education or trying to pay for a car, which probably is not new when you are that age. It is going to help the people - if a student did not have insurance for a year and then wants it, they should not be penalized because they did not have it for a year. That is a very good initiative. Yes, some of the things were proposed by the previous Administration but, like I said, it is a good thing for the people. It is not who proposed it, it is actually who implemented it and that is what we did.

Finally, I want to talk a little bit about uninsured motorists. In the legislation we have proposed increased fines. The minimum fine now for the first offence is $2,000. The maximum fine will be $4,000. The minimum fine for the second offence is $3,000 and the maximum fine being $5,000. Again, these were all proposed by the previous Administration, and we all realize that there is a problem with uninsured motorists out there. There are far too many people driving on the road who do not have insurance. The previous Administration proposed that their vehicle will be impounded for thirty days and that their driver's licence will be suspended for thirty days. We are proposing stiffer penalties. We are proposing that the vehicle be impounded for ninety days and their driver's licence be suspended for ninety days.

To me, this is a good start but it is absolutely not enough. We have more to go and that is what we plan to do in the hearing. In actual fact, there is about - I cannot remember the exact percentage right now, but there is anywhere from 10 per cent of the people on the road driving without insurance, which equates to approximately $10 million that could be put back into the insurance pot. That money being put into the pot for premiums means that there is potential there for other people to save. So, it is definitely something that we have to address in the future. You know, there are all kinds of options that could be looked at. We are certainly looking forward to input in the hearing, whether it be when a lot of people go get their insurance card and then they cancel it immediately, whether there would be a system set up to link, when they cancel it, to Motor Registration and then the vehicle be impounded or the licence plate removed. Those details need to be worked out, but certainly we need to do something. Getting these uninsured motorists insured will increase the amount of money going into the pot which will turn into significant savings for people paying into that pot.

One of the other things that people do not realize about uninsured motorists - this was new to me when I started reading this, and people are, in fact, a little bit bewildered by it - if I go out and get into an accident and I am insured and the accident was my fault, if I hit somebody who did not have insurance, that person who I hit, because it was my fault, can still sue me for damages. That person did not pay into the pot but they can take money out of the pot. That is something that needs to be looked at, it needs to have further discussion in the hearing as well. Whether that is fair or not, whether they should not have been on the road in the first place, those are some of the things that need to be discussed. It is absolutely something that needs to be looked at because it is just not fair that they are not paying into the pot but they can take money out of the pot.

The same is true for drunk drivers, actually, Mr. Speaker. Even though a drunk driver may have insurance, if I were out on the road again and I hit somebody who had been drinking and driving and it was not their fault, but if they were out drinking and driving when they should not have been, they can still sue me and get a lot of money and probably put me much further in the hole. They can still do that, and that is something that we need to look at down the road.

The minister and I, and her department, have talked about this. Again, it is an issue of, you should not have been on the road because you are drinking and driving, but you carry the insurance so should you be compensated for it? It is something that we need to address in the hearing.

Personally, we need to get much stiffer on drinking and driving. I am sure Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and Students Against Drunk Drivers, and the general public as a whole, would be very happy with where we are going to take this down the road because it is certainly an issue. It is something that I am sure everybody in this House has been hit home in one way or another, by somebody being killed by a drunk driver.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say that I have talked to a lot of people in my district about insurance and I, in fact, talk to a lot of people about insurance. It is something that I am passionate about, something that I am very proud that this government has taken and put into action in a very short time. Most of the people, actually, in fact, all of the people that I talk to, are very happy that we are doing something to put money in their pocketbook. They are very pleased that we have acted promptly, and we are committed to doing more in the future.

There has been a lot of discussion about a deductible. As I said, a deductible is a very fair, it is a very simplistic, it is a very easy to understand concept, and that is why we are going with this at this time, in the short-term. We do have a long-term plan, and if something should come up in the hearing that we realize is better, then of course we would look at that to implement changes in the future. It is all about what is best for the consumer. Talking to people in the district, they pretty much say to me: we do not care if it is a deductible, or if it is a cap, or term it whatever you want, all we care about is the savings in our pockets. So whatever you have to do to achieve those saving, then do it. The deductible is a step for now, but we will look at it and we will see what happens after the hearing, with input back from that.

I would just like to say again, and stress again, the people who are seeing the most significant savings are the people that we received the most complaints from. Those are those in Facility Association, I cannot stress enough for people to find out if they are in the Facility Association. I cannot stress enough to people to shop around. A lot of people stick with an insurance company because they have been with them for twenty years, but shop around, ask questions and call your member, call the insurance company. I do know that a lot of the calls we have received, or 90 per cent of the calls that I have received, I have said to the people: Go back and check and see if you are in the Facility. Again, like I said, they ask: What is that? They go back and they actually find out that they have been in Facility, so that is an explanation for the increase in rates. Because we have made changes to Facility, companies now have to advise that you are going to be in Facility and the reason why is going to be stamped right there on your pink slip. You are also going to be updated on, as to how long you have to stay in there and what you have to do to come out. The monthly payment plan is another thing I talked about.

When these people come out of Facility they are going to see significant savings and that is what we did in the short-term to address that. Which is, by far, and I am sure any member will say here that that is the most of their calls, because these people do pay significant amounts of money. I have talked to people who have paid $5,000 a year for insurance upfront to carry it, and no doubt that is a huge burden to have to carry. Because of that margin between the regular market and the Facility Association market, because you can no longer put somebody in there based on their age, if they are eighty years old and the insurance company will not rate them because they are eighty years old, now they will be wrote in the regular market.

A lot of the calls you get are people who were put in Facility Association because they have been involved in several accidents, which were no fault of their own, or if they have been in an accident where there was no claim and they automatically get put in Facility Association which is not fair. Those people are going to see significant savings. As we said, on average, the savings will be about 15 per cent. Somewhere from 9 per cent upwards to 20 per cent, which is what we said in the beginning, which is what we are going to hold true on. It is not going to stop here. We are going to carry out the closed-claims study. We are going to conduct a public hearing. We are going to hear from the people in this Province. We are going to hear from the insurance companies. We are going to hear from the lawyers. We are going to hear from the MHAs who want to represent their district. We will take all that into account.

Certainly, at that hearing we are going to address the fact that they cannot rate based on - certainly, it was brought up in the House today by the Opposition members, that you cannot rate based on age, gender or marital status. Well, the purpose of these reforms right now were to achieve savings, and if we were to do that today, people would, in fact, see increases because this will be spread across the board if younger people or very much older people were to get reduced rates. This will be spread across the board which could, in fact, mean increases for people in the middle-age category. They could be increased up as far as 6 per cent. In fact, right now there are discounts in effect for seniors. If we were to rate right now based on age, gender or marital status, those discounts would be eliminated. So, it is a decision that we had to make to hear more discussion, hear more input on this in the future because we want to make the best decision. We do not want to make quick decisions just for finding reductions or being popular right now. We want to make long-term decisions which will -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind the hon. Member for Trinity-Bay de Verde that her time has expired.

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I just want to end by saying I am very pleased that I am part of a government that has finally taken steps to bring in a solution in the short term and work towards (inaudible).

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Twillingate & Fogo.

MR. REID: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to speak to Bill 30, An Act To Amend The Automobile Insurance Act, Mr. Speaker, a very important bill. It is being brought here today by the Minister of Government Services and the Premier, in a bill that affects every single individual over the age of sixteen years who drives a vehicle in this Province because it talks about automobile insurance. You would think that because it is going to - or as the government says, supposedly - reduce the cost of automobile insurance that I would be happy and that the people out around the Province would be happy about a bill that will affect, and have a positive effect on the automobile insurance by reducing the cost.

Mr. Speaker, having read the bill, I can honestly say that I am not happy, and I am sure the more that the general public in this Province finds out about the bill, we will also find that they are not very happy about it because it is not what the Premier of the Province and the party opposite promised the people of this Province prior to the election and during the election. In fact, it goes back to last August when they first brought down their program for reduced automobile rates. It was put in their Blue Book. I challenge anybody on the opposite side and anyone in the general public to read what was committed to in the Blue Book that became the blueprint and compare that to what we have before the Legislature today.

That is not a surprise to me, Mr. Speaker, because yesterday afternoon - I think you were in the Chair at the time - I rose in this House and I talked about the broken commitments that this Premier has made to the people of the Province. I was up to number twenty-four of the broken commitments when I ran out of time and you told me that I had to sit down and I would live to speak another day. Well, we were up to number twenty-four of the commitments that this Premier made that he broke, and he did it for one reason, Mr. Speaker. I think he honestly knew when he made all these commitments - because wherever he went and somebody asked him for something, or about an issue, he said: We will do this. We will do that. We will do something else. Because he knew, at the time, that he was never going to honour any of these commitments. The twenty-four of them, I discussed yesterday, were only some examples. I will have another opportunity to talk about more of these broken commitments.

Mr. Speaker, to say that I am happy about this insurance bill, no, I am not. I am sure that the people of the Province will not be happy when they get a chance to examine it because it is not the promised reduction that the Premier and his group opposite promised the people of this Province when they were looking for their vote. I guess it was a case of we will do anything to get your vote and we will deal with that afterwards.

Mr. Speaker, another reason I have very keen interest in this bill is because I just renewed my automobile insurance myself. My wife and I both pay insurance, and we pay a lot of insurance. In fact, when I called my insurance broker just last month when my renewal slip came and I noticed how much it had increased - I called my insurance broker, who happens to be in Grand Falls because I lived on New World Island at the time that I originally took out the policy with them. I asked him why my insurance had gone up so much or what was the reason? Well, he said, for one thing we have had two rate increases this year; 7 per cent each time. So that is a 14 per cent rate increase this year. It went up considerably, I would say. Anyone who has had the unfortunate circumstance to renew their insurance in the last two or three months, or will in the next two or three months, will find that their insurance rates have gone up considerably since they last renewed it a year ago.

The other problem I have, besides my wife and I having to pay insurance, Mr. Speaker, I have two teenage sons. One has just turned nineteen and is just about to get his license, not that we prohibited him from getting his license when he was old enough, but he just didn't want them. I have one who is nineteen years old and I have another one who just turned sixteen, and under the law right now he can get his permit and he can have his license at sixteen years and seven months if he does the Young Drivers course. I have two young males, teenage boys, who want to get their insurance in the next few months, want to get their license and get their insurance.

The member who represents Holyrood is smiling and shaking his head because he knows where I am going with this. In speaking with my insurance company about my eldest son, not mentioning my youngest one, I was told that to insure him on my vehicles would cost me $2,500, and I have another teenage boy who is about to be looking for the same thing. I can honestly say, Mr. Speaker, I really and truly don't know how the people of this Province manage to pay the insurance premiums for young male teenagers in this Province.

What really bothers me is that we talk about discrimination in this country. In fact, there was a prime example of it in the Northwest Territories a few days ago. I was listening to the head of the Legion in the Northwest Territories, and he happened to be a Newfoundlander, when he was talking about the comments that were made by a Cabinet Minister in the Northwest Territories the other day and how discriminatory these remarks were about the people from Newfoundland and Labrador.

As far as I know, it is illegal to discriminate against people in this country. If that is the case, why do we let insurance companies continue to discriminate against young teenage males? I saw someone rise today and talk about the fact that some young teenage female had her insurance premiums of $500 for three or four months, but if you look at it on the record, Mr. Speaker, you will find that a young girl in this Province pays considerably less, far, far less, for insurance than a young male. There is nothing in this piece of legislation that is going to address that, absolutely nothing.

What we proposed prior to the election was that we would not, in our legislation, discriminate based on age or sex, Mr. Speaker. Therefore, young males would be treated the same way as young females, and that elderly people in this Province would not pay added insurance premiums simply because they were older than some of the rest of us. There is nothing said about that in the legislation, Mr. Speaker, even though the Member for Trinity-Bay de Verde tried to leave the impression that young males were going to be better off under this legislation. I challenge her to show me how that is going to happen.

Mr. Speaker, I had the occasion back in 1996 or 1997 to sit on an insurance committee with Rick Woodford, who was a previous MHA here, the Member for Bonavista South, who sits opposite here now, the Member for Labrador West, at the time, who was Perry Canning, and Anthony Sparrow of Placentia & St. Mary's. We spent some time examining insurance in the Province, and I know that my colleague, the Member for Bonavista South, knows more about it than I did because I think he may have sat on an insurance committee prior to that.

We took the committee on the road, like the minister is talking about doing in the fall - we are going to do more consultations with people - but I ask the minister to go back her office and ask her officials to examine how many times politicians have taken the show on the road to determine what the people of this Province feel about insurance. What they are going to tell you is what I am telling you here now. They are going to give you examples about how they are personally being shafted. That is not going to change. You can take what shows you want to on the road. You are going to hear what I am telling you now. Nobody out there wants to pay the premiums that they are paying. Nobody wants to pay the premiums, and everyone will give you a horror story about how much they are paying because something happened to them. They had an accident, or they have a teenage boy who needs to be insured, or so on.

You do not need to go on the road to find out that we are paying too much for insurance. That is just another waste of time. That is another smoke screen. That is only a way to say to the people: Oh, we are bringing this in now. We will do much better for you later - and hope that they forget, just like the Premier did in the election when he made all of these commitments that things were going to be better in this Province, they were going to create jobs, they were going to create employment, and have not will be no more. We found out what happened after the Premier got elected. After seven months, he gutted the place.

Mr. Speaker, I say to the minister and to the Premier, there is really no need to take the show on the road again and spend taxpayers' money, taking five or six MHAs around the Province, wining and dining them, putting them up in hotel rooms, to come back with the information that you already know. We do not want to pay higher insurance premiums. We have had enough.

I did learn a little about insurance during my time on this committee, even though it was a short period of time. We all pay insurance. When it all started out, it just meant that if an individual paid insurance and he or she had an accident, an insurance company would pay for that. So, if you had a $4,000 accident, rather than take that $4,000 out of your pocket, the insurance company did it. Because we all paid into the insurance pot, and not all of us had accidents; therefore, we were not charged that amount of money.

What has happened over the years, one thing that I am sure my colleague from Bonavista South, the Deputy Speaker of the House, can tell you, is that we sat in this House and we held hearings here, for example. We had a number of people appear before us, and one of the things that I learned was that one of the reasons, or the main reason that I determined for myself - maybe he determined another reason - one of the main reasons that our insurance premiums have skyrocketed in the past five to ten to fifteen years is because we are doing something in this Province that we did not do twenty or twenty-five years ago. It was unheard of. In fact, up until I sat on the insurance committee, I did not know it was happening in our Province. What is happening that we were not doing twenty years ago is, we are suing people. We are suing people. It was unheard of. You see it on TV. You see it on the American stations all the time, and you are always talking about taking someone to court. We are always talking about taking someone to court. If someone says something to you, you take them to court. If someone does something to you, you take them to court.

Well, what is happening now is, the minute you have an accident, all of a sudden, in a car, if it is someone else's fault, some lawyer - if you do not call a lawyer yourself, he will probably call you and ask you: Are you all right? Are you sure you do not have whiplash? Are you sure you have not injured yourself? Because, if you have, we will fight for you.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. REID: The members opposite can yell and scream. If you had the opportunity to sit on the committee and watch people from all walks of life come into this House of Assembly and present their case, you would know what I was saying was true. Because we are suing people, where we normally did not sue people, then the insurance companies are paying out. I will get to the insurance companies after I am finished with the lawyers; because, believe me, they are at fault just as much as the lawyers. Don't forget, it is the lawyers who want you to sue. It is the lawyer - because you have gotten into a car accident and you might have a whiplash - they will tell you: Don't be hasty. Don't make the claim yet. You have a year, I think. Any lawyers in the audience here now will probably tell you how long you have before you file a claim. I think it might even be two years. Is it, my colleague there?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. REID: It might even be two years before you have to make a claim.

If you make a claim and the lawyer takes it to court for you, you could receive $30,000 for a soft tissue injury. You could receive $40,000 for a soft tissue injury, but who pays out the money? The insurance company pays out the $30,000 or $40,000 because it is the money that we have all been paying in together, collectively, into the pot. They do not mind paying out the $30,000 or $40,000 because they know that if they pay out enough of these claims, they go to the Public Utilities Board in a year from now and tell the Public Utilities Board: Listen, we paid out all of this money last year. Here is what we paid out, here is what we made in profit, and you can see on the paper that we did not make much of a profit last year.

What does the Public Utilities Board do? They will examine it and say: Yes, you are right. Your profit ratio was not great enough this year so we will allow you to raise your premiums. We will allow you to raise the cost that you charge your clients for insurance.

What I am saying is, because we have all of these claims and all of these litigations by lawyers in the Province, it is driving our insurance claims up. It is driving the cost of our premiums up in the Province. In fact, one individual who appeared in this House before us, told us that, on the average, some firms in this Province, 90 per cent of the business that they have, 90 per cent of the money that they make, to put in their pocket, comes from automobile accidents, and litigations, and the work that they do on behalf of clients who have had automobile accidents.

I say, Mr. Speaker, there is nothing in this to address what the legal firms in this Province are making - nothing. I know that when we talked about putting a cap on claims last fall, I know a lawyer, myself, who personally came to me and said: Gerry, if this piece of legislation passes in the House of Assembly, the next day I will take down my shingle. I will retire from the law profession, because I will not be able to make a living.

I can tell you the individual's name, but I do not think he would appreciate it. I am sure my colleague who just walked in through the door would know, because he was a lawyer himself.

These individuals, if we were to cap the amount that you could sue for in this Province today, I would hazard to guess that half the legal firms in this Province would go out of business. The reason for that is because they have no business outside of automobile insurance business. The thing about it is that if you make a claim against an insurance company, and you have a lawyer represent you in that claim, he can charge you somewhere between 25 per cent and 40 per cent of that claim. If, for example, you sue an insurance company for $30,000 and your lawyer is successful in winning that claim for you, then automatically he takes up to 40 per cent of that, which is $12,000. So, you are left with $18,000 for yourself. Not bad, but the lawyer also made $12,000, and that is rampant here in the Province.

In fact, when we were sitting in this very House, we were told by professionals in the industry that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, even though we did not sue fifteen to twenty years ago, we have caught onto it very quickly and that, on a per capita basis, we have more litigations with regard to insurance claims than any other province in Atlantic Canada. Now, I could not believe it when I heard it first, but then I hear the RNC telling me, at the same committee meetings that we were attending, that there are, on average, 350 car accidents in St. John's each year, and that was six or seven years ago; 350 automobile accidents in this city. Even if only 50 per cent of them made a claim against their insurance company and sued the insurance company, that is quite a number of litigations. That is quite a lot of money that is coming out of that insurance company each year, but they do not really care because they will be go back to the Public Utilities Board and the Public Utilities Board: Yes, you paid out the money. We will allow you to increase your rates.

Now, do I believe everything the insurance says? No, I certainly do not. Because insurance companies are also making a lot of money, but I do not see anything in this legislation that prohibits insurance companies from making a killing, and I certainly see nothing that is going to stop the law firms in this Province from making millions of dollars either. I am not saying they are all making millions, but collectively they are certainly making millions and I would hazard to guess that some firms, the larger ones like the ones with the slogan, who will fight for you, are in the millions of dollars every year, I guarantee you that. If you listen to the VOCM Open Line show, that show is brought to you, by the way, by that company: who will fight for you. I forget the name of it now because it has changed recently, but I know there is a Marshall and McKay and somebody else in it. I think Williams used to be in that, too.

AN HON. MEMBER: Roebothan.

MR. REID: Roebothan, right on. That used to be in it, too. I can guarantee you, Mr. Speaker, that these individuals in that company have made a considerable amount of money in the past few years in the automobile industry, and you do not have to take my word for it. If you do a little bit of research on your own, you will find that they made a tremendous amount of money in automobile claims.

The minister tells us, last year, that she is going to save us all 20 per cent or 25 per cent in our automobile insurance claims, in our premiums. Well, if you look closely at the bills, Mr. Speaker, you will find that, under the law in this Province, everyone who drives a vehicle must have public liability, under the law. The rest of it, collision, comprehensive, is an option. No one has to buy it if you do not want to. No one is forcing you to buy it, but -

AN HON. MEMBER: Unless you have a new vehicle and you are paying for it.

MR. REID: Pardon me?

AN HON. MEMBER: Unless you have a new vehicle and you are paying for it, and the banks (inaudible).

MR. REID: Unless the bank tells you. You are right. Because the bank also tells me I have to have insurance on my house because they hold the mortgage on it, but if I own it myself I would not have to insure it. Exactly. The bank tells you.

Mr. Speaker, what I am saying is that when the government says they are going to give you a 20 per cent reduction in your insurance rate, they are not being entirely truthful. They are not being entirely truthful to you because if you look at the number of people who only purchase public liability - and I would hazard to guess it is the majority, because they cannot afford to buy any more. The only reduction you are going to see in that this year or any other year under this policy is 9 per cent. So, if you are paying $1,000 for public liability, all you are going to get is a reduction of $90 under this bill. Whereas what the government would lead you to believe, what they continually mislead people in this Province with what they say, and it is quite different from what they do, because we have been led to believe, like the public, is we are going to see a reduction of 20 per cent. On a $1,000 you would get a reduction of $200, but instead these people are going to see a reduction of $90. Quite a bit of difference, Mr. Speaker. That is what you are going to see.

Then they say if you have a complaint with your automobile insurance under this new legislation, you take it up with the Public Utilities Board. Well, if you have ever seen them operate on television, I have never seen them operate in person, these individuals walk in - it is like you are going to a Supreme Court of Canada - and three or four of them sit up there on a bench that is higher than you and you have to present your case. Now you are going to fight the insurance companies and lined right across in front of the Tribunal you have eight or nine lawyers representing the insurance company, and then on this side you have eight or nine lawyers representing the legal firms in this Province, and then in the middle you have yourself, not represented by a lawyer. You are supposed to convince the Public Utilities Board that you are right and you are getting shafted by an insurance company or you are getting shafted by a legal firm in this Province when you are standing there alone and you have seven and eight and ten lawyers on both sides of you. So, Mr. Speaker, I doubt very much if you are going to be very successful in convincing the Public Utilities Board that you are right and the rest of these legal beagles are wrong.

MR. SPEAKER (Hodder): Order, please!

The member's allotted time has expired.

Does the member have leave?

MR. REID: We will have an opportunity, I am sure, Mr. Speaker, to speak to this bill again.

I thank you very much.

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

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

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

A point of order, Mr. Speaker. Earlier today in Question Period I asked a question of the Premier and made reference to a letter from Aviva Canada Insurance Company and tabled at that time what I referred to as a draft letter from President, Jennifer Power. I have since received the official, final letter from Aviva. This one, in fact, is signed by Igal Mayer, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Aviva. I would just like to table that here for the information of all those present as well, to verify that indeed this company has put the Province on notice. That they will no longer be taking auto insurance effective tomorrow -

MR. GRIMES: Twenty-four percent of the market.

MR. PARSONS: - and 24 per cent of the market will be withdrawn as of January 1.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: To the point of order, the Government House Leader.

MR. E. BYRNE: Private members are under no obligation to table letters, or I am not sure if they can, to be honest with you. The best thing to do in order to accomplish the same thing is that if the Opposition House Leader would give me a copy as Government House Leader, I can circulate it to everybody so that we are not breaking any rules. How does that sound? All right, Mr. Speaker, does that satisfy the requirements of the House?

MR. SPEAKER: Yes, that would satisfy the requirements of the House. The Government House Leader has mentioned that private members are under no obligation. In fact, the rules do not permit them to table things in the House but with consent, we can arrange to have a distribution take place. I do believe that has occurred.

The hon. the Government House Leader.

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

Before we move recess, I want to move Motion 1, that pursuant to Standing Order 11 that the House not adjourn at 5:30 p.m., and Motion 2, that pursuant to Standing Order 11 that the House not adjourn at 10:00 p.m. tonight.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I do now move that the House recess between now, back at 7:00 p.m. to continue the debate on Bill 30.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

My understanding is that a motion has been made and that we now have three motions on the floor. To the first motion that the House not adjourn today at 5:30 p.m.? If we could - ready for the question?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

MR. SPEAKER: Contra-minded?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Nay.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is carried.

Motion carried.

MR. SPEAKER: To the second motion. The hon. Government House Leader has moved, pursuant to Standing Order 11 that the House not adjourn at 10:00 p.m., today, Tuesday, June 1, 2004.

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Nay.

MR. SPEAKER: Carried.

Motion carried.

MR. SPEAKER: In accordance with the wishes of the members, the House will now recess until 7:00 p.m. this evening.


June 1, 2004 HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS Vol. XLV No. 39A


The House resumed sitting at 7:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Hodder): Order, please!

Continuing debate on Bill 30, An Act To Amend The Automobile Insurance Act, The Insurance Companies Act And The Highway Traffic Act To Effect Certain Reforms Respecting Automobile Insurance.

Continuing debate at second reading.

The hon. the Member for Fortune Bay-Cape la Hune.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. LANGDON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am glad to have an opportunity for a few minutes to speak on the bill on insurance that is in front of the House, Bill 30. I guess when we look at the bill in itself and we look at insurance, insurance for a lot of people - people do not break it down, they just think about coverage.

The full insurance package that people have on their vehicles is divided into a number of components. The first component, which is compulsory in Newfoundland and Labrador, is public liability and property damage, which everybody must have. It is an essential part that everybody must be insured. If you are not insured for that, then obviously you are breaking the law.

The other part of it is collision, where if you did have an accident and you ran off the road, whether you were at fault or not, then you get your car done. The other part of it is a comprehensive part, and that comprehensive includes glass, fire, theft and everything that is associated with it. There are a number of options that you can have there. You can have glass, you can have what is called 13-c, where there is comprehensive without glass coverage; whereas if you ran into a moose it could be covered. So there are a lot of things included in that. There is fire included in that. There is theft included in it. So there are a number of components that are in that particular insurance bill.

When we talk about insurance we look at it in a generic term, the whole term itself. What we are talking about here, Mr. Speaker, is a situation where - before the election last year there were a number of scenarios, a number of situations where the governing party at the time, the Liberal Party, put forward a plan for insurance reform for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. There was also a package that was put forward by the then Opposition Party, which is now government, what they would do if they became the government as far as insurance reforms were concerned. Then, of course, the NDP and the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi talked about public insurance, which I am sure he will have an opportunity to expound on later in the debate tonight.

I just want to look at, first of all, the situation we are in. I think it has been demonstrated time and time again where - I think the Opposition House Leader said it right this afternoon, when he said we get into this particular Assembly here and it is like being in a bubble and sometimes we figure that we are cut off. We are not part of the - as John Dinn said: Every man is a part of an Island, part of the main. But we get in here and somehow we are disconnected with the public. Well, the public is not disconnected on this particular issue. It is a major issue for people in Newfoundland and Labrador. I guess when we look at this particular bill that is before the House and we look at again another broken promise that once the Opposition party, at the time, and now the Conservative party formed government, they were going to bring forth their particular legislation. It had a number of things in it that would be all marks for the people in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, because insurance - and it has already been said by a number of speakers - is very, very expensive. It is a part of the Budget that seems to be escalating, almost to the point of getting out of hand, for the people in the Province.

One of the things that is there, Mr. Speaker, and not there - but the Government House Leader said they would make an amendment to the legislation - is the $2,500 deductible versus the cap. That is quite a difference, because when you talk about insurance again, and you talk about collision insurance - by the way, collision is not mandatory. You can decide, yourself, the amount that you want to pay, whether it is $100 deductible, $200 deductible, $300 deductible, $400 deductible or $500 deductible. If you were to have your car demolished and you were going to use the collision part to claim, you will have it. The difference, Mr. Speaker, and just think about it, for the people who are involved in it - I remember one morning listening to Open Line. It has already been referenced here today that one of the people who was a first caller to an Open Line program one morning was a lawyer from St. John's who said he was glad about this particular insurance proposal that was brought forth by the government and praised it. I can understand why, because if you are going to have a deductible, a $2,500 deductible, that can easily be passed along to the insurance company. There is no doubt about that. That can be part of the total package that can be given and can be claimed.

What happens in the long run then, if we are going to allow that to happen, that deductible to be a part of the process that the lawyers can claim and then pass that back to the insurance company? At the end of the day it is going to mean more cost to the insurance company and then it is going to be passed along to the general public people who buy insurance.

Someone said to me - when we talk about the cap and the $2,500 - it is not for serious injuries, it is for minor injuries. Someone said that about 6 per cent of the people who are insured go the route of ligation and suing and so on. Then the other part, which is very important, accounts for - someone said - about 87 per cent of the cost to the insurance companies. That is phenomenal! Six percent of the population accounting for about 87 per cent of the cost. That means the other 94 per cent of the people are responsible for about 13 per cent of the cost. It is a major, major issue. Obviously, the party opposite, government opposite, promised that there would be a cap and we do not see it here. Another, as I said, broken promise.

One of the other things that we were looking for and did not see here, Mr. Speaker, is the ‘unrecognition', I guess, of the young people for gender and also for age. It is just unbelievable the amount that a young person, especially a young male, would have to pay when they buy insurance. It should have been addressed here. It has not been addressed.

If we look at it, it says it is the first step. It is going to be done later on in the fall. By the time it is studied you are looking at two years or at least a year - a year-and-a-half, probably two years - before these particular savings are going to be brought in to the family who have younger drivers that want to be insured. That is a major, major cost to the public. The Member for Twillingate & Fogo talked about it earlier today. When you have young males who have to be insured on the family insurance, it is just a tremendous amount of money that they have to pay.

One of the other things that I see with it, Mr. Speaker, and refer back to it again, is the amount of percentage of decreases that we have in this particular bill. I think the Member for Mount Pearl referred to it earlier today, under the policy or the plan that was put forth by the Liberal Party at the time in government, would be a 30 per cent saving on public liability. I think, at the time, there was a 20 per cent saving that was suggested by the Conservatives. Now, when we look at - by the way, the major cost of insuring a vehicle is public liability; no two ways about that.

I just checked on my own today and for me, for the two vehicles that I have - and the age of the vehicle that you have or the price of the vehicle has nothing to do with the public liability. It has to do with your driving record and if you had no accidents. I am looking at, for the two liabilities for me, about $1,700. Seventeen hundred for two liabilities. So, if I add 30 per cent of that, I am looking at a saving of about $510. Now, if you take the $1,700 and take 9 per cent of that, you are looking at a $130 savings. There is a major, major difference, because the other part where the percentages are a bit higher that is in this particular bill comes from the collision and comes from the comprehensive. But, collision and comprehensive, first of all, is optional. You do not have to have it. I would venture to say - I do not have the statistics to prove it, but probably the minister would, or some people over at Motor Registration - that 50 per cent of the people in Newfoundland and Labrador do not have the full coverage. They do not have collision and they do not have comprehensive because it is too expensive for them to buy the liability part of it because the increases are going up and up.

Even if you did have full coverage, even if you did get a 20 per cent increase in it, the collision and the comprehensive costs vary from vehicle to vehicle. It depends on the year and it also depends on the make of the vehicle. If you have an SUV, a new one, it is going to cost much, much more than if you have a Chevy Malibu because everyone of the vehicles has a number and they are rated in that particular case, but it is not half the comprehensive on the most expensive car and the collision is not half of what the public liability is for a family. So, the 30 per cent on the public liability, the part that was mandated, the part that you have to have, would have meant significant savings for the people who were to have bought the mandatory part of the insurance. So, that is a very, very important part to remember here and one that, I am sure, the people in the Province are very disappointed in, that you only have a 9 per cent premium reduction in your mandatory part of your insurance, the public liability, versus what was promised first, the 20 per cent, and what the Liberal government proposed at the time, a 30 per cent. So, there is a very, very big difference in that.

The other part, too, Mr. Speaker, that - we are just talking about the overall part of the bill. We will get into the discussions of it when we get into Committee stage and talk about it clause by clause. I am not sure the Facility part of the insurance bill, that we see in front of us tonight, is going to really do what it is intended to do.

I had a person phone me a couple of days ago and he said last year him and his wife - they had an accident each and the two accidents totalled $5,000. When he got his insurance renewal, he saw that his rates had tripled. He said: What is this about? Why have my rates tripled? He said I do not understand that. So, he called the insurance company. The insurance company explained to him that it had gone to Facility. He said: What is Facility? I do not know anything about insurance. What he was told was this, that his rates had tripled, his premiums had tripled and he was in Facility and he had to stay there for six years before he could get out. Six years! Now, I can see a person going into Facility if you were charged with imprudent driving. If you are driving way, way faster than you should be on the highways. If you have been charged with impaired driving, I can see that. This is what this is for, to deter a person from getting and doing these things and being a danger to the people on the highway, but a person - just think about it. I had an accident myself not too long ago and I hardly knew that I had touched the vehicle, but when the estimate had come in it cost $1,700. I could not believe it. So, $5,000 for two accidents is not a lot of money, and then for the next five to six years you have to have your rates tripled.

Now, here is a situation that I will ask the minister to clarify, not tonight but when we get into debate. Who decides if the person is coming out of the Facility? Does the individual have to decide? Will the individual have to appear before the Public Utilities Board, as was already said here today? What is it? I do not know. It is not explained to us.

The other thing that is very important for us to remember, Mr. Speaker, that in the neighbouring Province of Nova Scotia there is just 2 per cent of the driving population that are in Facility. In Newfoundland and Labrador there is 8 per cent of the driving public that are in Facility. That, again, brings forth a major question. I think about the seniors, and I think about my own father who is still driving a car at the age of eighty. If he wanted, tomorrow, to go and change insurance companies, to look for a different rate and so on, he cannot get it. He cannot go because, if he were to leave the particular insurance company that he was with, they would put him into Facility because he is over the age of sixty-five. Now, what assurance does the person who is at that age have, that that will not happen? Because, I am telling you, you have to tighten up the rates on Facility because it is very, very important for people to realize that. In the legislation itself, is it the insurer who is going to go and appear before the Public Utilities Board to have his rates changed, or is it the person who is insured who would have to go in front of the Public Utilities Board to have his rates done? These things, hopefully, will be cleared up as we go through.

The other thing, when we look at this particular piece of legislation, or the bill that is in front of the House, sure, there are some things here that everybody would agree with, and there has been one particular thing here that, for a long, long time - if you are a parent and you have a young person living at home and you do not want them to be a part of your insurance, right now, as it stands, you would have no choice. They would have to be covered. Under this here, if you want to sign off the fact that the person is not going to be driving, then obviously that would bring the rates down for the parent and protect them in some capacity, but there are a lot of other things that, as we go through, that obviously need to be cleared up.

Obviously, Mr. Speaker, again today we heard about where two companies that sold about 35 per cent to 40 per cent of the insurance in the Province have decided to move out or pull out because they cannot make any money. I do not know, but probably not many people have any sympathy in the public out there for the insurance companies, but what it does do, though, it creates a problem for the people, especially new drivers who are going to look to have insurance coverage.

If you have two major companies that write about 40 per cent of the volume of business now in the Province are deciding to leave, then what happens to a young person in the meantime, or an older person, who, for the first time, is looking for insurance? Are they going to be able to find it with the other carriers, with the other underwriting companies? I do not know. These questions are not answered here as well. Obviously, Mr. Speaker, when we get into Committee and talk about all of these things, then we can make sure that indeed we will get some of these things answered for us.

The other thing, also, it is very important for us to remember that the penalties have been increased for people who, for example, are convicted of being impaired, and I am sure that Mothers Against Drunk Driving are pleased with that, to make the highways safe for us, but the thing that I have to go back to for this particular piece of legislation is the shortcomings of it, and there are a lot of shortcomings, because obviously there is going to be a bit of savings. There are no two ways about that, I suppose, but, as has already been indicated here today, the insurance has already increased a number of times this year, to the consumer, probably 15 per cent or 20 per cent, and here we are going to get 9 per cent for most people on the essential part of the insurance, which is called public liability.

It is obviously a concern for the people who are out in the Province. Insurance is a big issue, there are no two ways about that, and people in this Province feel they have been done by, by insurance, and it has been an issue right across the Province. In fact, last year in New Brunswick, when the election was called for their Premier McKenna, people were thinking that he would swipe the whole province and probably win every seat within New Brunswick itself, and it happened that it was almost a dead tie. What was the issue that really, in a sense, galvanized the people against the government? Insurance.

Insurance is a major issue, and what we have said to the people of the Province, and rightly so, is that you should not be driving a vehicle without insurance, even though there is still a percentage of people who do that. I am sure the minister will probably look at and probably make an amendment to this legislation, or after, to be able to identify those people who do not have, or have cancelled, insurance and put at risk those people who have their own machines. It is a very, very important issue for the people in Newfoundland and Labrador; one that they expected, whatever party formed the government last year, to be able to take and deal with, and deal with expeditiously, deal with fairly, and at the end of the day give them, the motoring public, a break on insurance. This has not happened here, not sufficiently, not to what the people were expecting of whatever party formed the government. They have - in here, I think - been very disappointed and I think we will see that over the next number of days as the people look at what this piece of legislation is, what are its shortcomings, and what it does not do for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I will stop here. We will have some more opportunities to deal with it in Committee, when we do it clause by clause, and want to find the different explanations for things that are not here and things that are here, why it has happened. Like, for example - I will not go into detail - why there was a promise of a cap and then, diametrically opposed to that, you have a deductible which is not going to bring insurance costs down, and at the end of the day is not going to be able to do it for the people in Newfoundland and Labrador, bring the premiums down in line to what people expect.

With that I will stop here, but I will have an opportunity again later on to come back to this particular, very, very important bill, one that I am sure the people of the Province are watching with interest, want to see some considerable movement in rates for them, which, in this particular bill, especially for a family, is not happening, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Terra Nova.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. ORAM: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am not going to take much time tonight, but I am pleased to speak on this bill today. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased because we have made positive inroads on insurance reform. The fact of the matter is, I know that we can look at everything and find negatives. Of course, that is the prerogative and the job of the Opposition to do that. The fact of the matter, Mr. Speaker, is that people need to save money on insurance. For years and years the government of the day let the insurance issue go and go and go until it escalated to an unmanageable level. Tonight, I am pleased that we have taken the initiative to do a positive thing with the insurance bill. As I said, you know, the very fact that we are trying to help people save money, that is what it is all about. We want to help people save money. Yes, we will see a difference in the cost for insurance for younger people, for older people, and for middle-aged people, for everyone. Everyone will see a savings with insurance. As I said, we have started the process.

What I like about this, Mr. Speaker, is the fact that we have not said: This is it. Whatever this is, this is it. It is carved in stone. Nothing else will be done. This is it. We have said that we are going to implement this today to help people, to give them some savings right now and then we are going to study this. How are we going to study it? Well, we are not just going to get an all-party committee together, as has been suggested. We are going to go out there and we are going to talk to the public, the people who really care, the people who want to know and want to see savings for themselves. That is what we are going to do. As a result, we are going to see savings, on an average, of about 15 per cent to consumers. We are absolutely going to see 15 per cent for consumers. Not only that, Mr. Speaker, but the fact of the matter is, for people in my district, they are going to see even more savings than that, and I am pleased tonight.

When I go out in my district, people talk about insurance reform and they say: Paul, when are you going to do something on insurance? What are you going to do about insurance? I have explained what we are going to do with insurance, and they are very pleased, but the biggest problem is they are saying: When is it going to happen?

Tonight, I am very pleased, as I said before, to be able to speak and to say that we are going to make it happen very, very soon. People will see and realize this savings. This will save consumers $25 million a year in premiums. Now, that is nothing to laugh at. Twenty-five million dollars a year will be saved in premiums.

The cost of auto insurance has been an issue in this Province for over a decade and, as I said before, the members of the opposite side have not done anything about it. They have talked about it, yes, for eight years. They have talked about this but they did not do anything about it. Tonight, we are taking a pro-active approach and we are going to do something about insurance. Will this fix the problem totally? Of course not. Whatever we do cannot fix the problem totally right away, but we are going to work towards that, and I want to compliment the minister tonight on taking a stand and bringing this legislation forward because it is very important legislation to the people of this Province.

Mr. Speaker, as I said before, reduced rates of up to 20 per cent for the people in my district will mean they will have money to put in other areas in their lives, and that is very important, of course, given the situation that we see in front of us today. Even as a government, the financial situation that we find ourselves in right now is a sad situation. Yes, we have had to make some tough decisions as a government - we really have - but I am glad and pleased tonight that we are going to show some initiative to help people save money. As I said before, the very fact that we are going to hold hearings across this Province, we are going to talk to people who really count. We are going to ask them what they feel, and we are going to make a decision based on that.

Mr. Speaker, the $2,500 deductible on claims for pain and suffering, of course, has been an issue here during the day as we have been debating this bill. The people from the other side, of course, continue to talk about a deductible. The fact of the matter, Mr. Speaker, is that, in speaking to my constituents in my district, they are not worried about a deductible of $2,500. In fact, a lot of people in my district, on their house insurance, have $1,000 deductible, just on house insurance alone. They feel that this is - they will take the $2,500 deductible to see 15 per cent, 20 per cent, savings on their insurance, and maybe more as time goes on, so I certainly find that to be very encouraging.

The other problem, of course, with the fact of saying, why don't we put a cap on it? Well, Mr. Speaker, my question is: Who will define what a minor injury will be, or a soft tissue injury, how serious it is? Who will determine that? Will it be a lawyer? Will it be a doctor? Well, yes, most likely it will be a doctor, but then we are going to have a situation where one doctor is going to say: Yes, this is a soft tissue issue, and then we are going to have another doctor who is going to say: Oh, this may not be; this may be a more serious thing - and it will go on and on and on. We want to put something in place that is fair and equitable for everyone. I believe that we have done that today and, as I said, I am very pleased with that.

Mr. Speaker, the fact of the matter is, we believe that we will see savings and we will see reform in insurance, and we are going to see it now. That is what people are asking for now, Mr. Speaker. We could have waited. We could have said, we will wait for another few weeks or we will wait for another couple of months. We will wait for another year or so before we study this completely. Then, maybe later on, in a year or a year-and-a-half, or two years, we will just start to work on this then; but, no, we listened to what the people has to say and we decided we would do something right now.

I kind of chuckle when I think about the people from the opposite side who talk about the fact that you are doing this now and you did not do it before. I remember when insurance became an issue in New Brunswick. That was a big thing. In fact, they almost lost the government because of that. In New Brunswick, the government of the day, almost lost the government because of the insurance. When did I hear about insurance in Newfoundland and Labrador? Just before the election. Mr. Speaker, just before the election. That is when they started talking about insurance reform. We have to do something with insurance reform now because, oh my goodness, New Brunswick almost lost their government. Election time was coming up so they started to talk about it then. Do you know what, Mr. Speaker? We are finished with talking about what we are going to do right now, presently. We are going to do something right now, we are going to save the consumers money.

Insurance, Mr. Speaker, should fairly compensate people for their injuries, that is the fact of the matter. Insurance is for that. It is to be able to compensate people when they have a loss. I believe that our plan is a two-fold plan where it helps the consumer. It also does not gouge the industry so much so that they cannot provide the service. Of course, there are many opinions on that, to think that: Oh, the industry is going to pull out of Newfoundland and Labrador and all these kind of things, but I am sure tonight that the industry is not going to completely pull out of Newfoundland and Labrador. I am sure the industry is going to stay in Newfoundland and Labrador, and the reason they are going to stay here is because it is profitable. They are going to make money and that is what business is all about.

I also like the fact that this legislation encourages people to wear seatbelts. I have seen many people, over the past number of years in my previous profession, who have not worn seat belts. Maybe we have not enforced it enough, I do not know, but I have seen many people who have not worn seat belts. I will tell you right now, the result is very, very sad when you walk into a funeral home and see an eighteen or a twenty-year-old in that funeral home that night because they did not wear a seat belt. I am glad we are going to take the initiative to try to do what we should do to make sure that people will buckle up. A 25 per cent reduction in their award if they were not buckled up. That, I believe, will be a positive thing to make sure that people do buckle up right away.

Mr. Speaker, another thing that has come up tonight and during today is the fact that - a lot of people are saying: Well, we are not seeing enough on liability insurance. Most people do not have full coverage. They do not bother to have full coverage, they only have liability. Yes, I agree, there are a lot of people who only have liability insurance because they cannot afford any more than liability insurance they say. The fact of the matter is, Mr. Speaker, a number of people this day and age - and you would be surprised at the phenomenal number of people who are leasing vehicles today. Guess what? When you lease a vehicle you cannot just have liability. You have to have the whole gamut of insurance when you lease a vehicle. There are more and more people leasing vehicles today which means that there are going to be even more savings for the people; not just liability insurance but for - as I said before - all of the insurance. Leasing a vehicle you have to have full coverage. You cannot just say I will not bother to take so much, I will take - you have to take all of the coverage.

Another wonderful thing that I see, and a lot of people see - more specifically, the people who I talk to in my district - is the fact that the rates will be frozen. They are frozen as we speak and that is another great thing because insurance companies, of course, have been escalating rates. They have continued to escalate rates over the past number of years. The very fact that we are going to freeze rates right now, Mr. Speaker, is a positive thing. As I said before, because this is an approach that will help both the consumer and will not put too much hardship on the industry, this is a good thing. We have taken, as far as I am concerned - and, of course, the minister said this in her statement. We have taken a fair approach and a balanced approach with these reforms.

Mr. Speaker, drivers in St. John's - as I think the hon. Member for Mount Pearl already stated - twenty-five years or older with full coverage will save an average of $188 on their insurance. There is going to be even more realized, as I said, in my district. People will save real dollars and that is where it comes from. These are significant savings, no matter where you live, no matter what kind of vehicle you drive, whether you have full coverage or you have a small bit of coverage as liability. There are still savings for the people of this Province.

Another great thing, Mr. Speaker, is the fact that no longer will an insurance company be able to refuse coverage or rate individuals solely based on not-at-fault claims, minor damage where no claim is paid, NSF cheques, another company refusing to insure a person, or a lapse in coverage. No longer can an insurance company decide: We are not going to give you insurance. How many times have I heard that from people when they have called me and said: I can't get insurance. The fact of the matter is, this will change that, Mr. Speaker, and that is a wonderful initiative.

People will no longer be able to be refused coverage based on age, gender or martial status. Some people will say: That is not an issue. That never happens. It certainly does happen and it did happen. We want to change that for the people of this Province. As I said before and I will say it again, to reiterate it over and over again, we are not finished yet. We are going to continue and we want to do this right. We do not want to put a band-aid solution here just to satisfy everybody: Well, we will come up with some idea right now and later on we will see what happens. The fact of the matter is, we are going to do this right and we are going to take the time that is necessary to make sure that this is right for this Province. As I have said before, we have tried to achieve a sensible balance and I certainly think we have done that.

Mr. Speaker, another issue that concerned me over the years are the number of uninsured drivers on the road. More particularly, I have a story really of a person in my district who was riding a motorcycle one day, a young fellow. As he was coming up to an intersection a car pulled in front of him and he hit that car. Mr. Speaker, his leg is injured for the rest of his life. Guess what? The driver was uninsured. He did not have any insurance. What happened to that young fellow? His life is practically - not ruined, of course, but certainly on hold in a lot of cases. He cannot do the things that he had hoped to do as a young person, and that is very sad.

I am very happy tonight to be able to speak to this and to say that we are going to increase the fines from $2,000 for the first offence and $3,000 for the second offence. Of course, the vehicle will be impounded for ninety days upon conviction and the driver's licence suspended also for ninety days. I believe that these measures will deter people from saying: Oh, I will not bother to have insurance. This is one of the steps that we need. Is this going to fix the whole problem? Absolutely not! I agree with the hon. member across the way, it is not going to fix the whole problem, but it is a step in the right direction. The fact of the matter is that this government will not fix everything in four years or eight years or twelve years. Neither will anybody on the other side fix everything in four, eight or twelve years, but we are going to fix most of the things. I believe that. I believe we have a plan that will help fix the problems of this Province, and certainly with insurance.

The hon. member across the way had said, just a few minutes ago, that he was pleased and happy with one of the things we had here in the insurance bill, and that was that drivers will now be able to exclude anybody from coverage. Right now, as he said - and I will reiterate it again - many parents, they may have two or three kids, and right now they have to insure the kids that are in their household, their children. Now people will be able to decide whether or not they want to insure their children within the household. If they do not want to, they do not have to. This can save parents and families thousands of dollars a year. Again, another savings for the public. What is it all about? It is about saving money for the public. Not only saving money, of course, but we are still cognizant of the fact that we have to provide sensible coverage for when people need that coverage. Again, we think this is a fair and equitable idea.

Another idea, Mr. Speaker, and another plan within this legislation, within this bill, that I like is the fact that companies must make interim payments to individuals whose claims are being processed and where liability is not in dispute. A lot of times people have to wait to get the money that they need for daily operations because of an accident. Some people just cannot wait. They do not have the money. They do not have the cash to be able to wait. Well, this will give people money when they need it, right now. When they have injuries they will be able to access those funds and that is very important as well.

Companies must also inform policyholders of claims made against them. A lot of times I have had calls where insurance companies have decided that they would go out and show a claim against an individual, and that individual does not even know anything about it. They have no idea that there was even a claim put against them. All of a sudden they find out when they get their bill: Oh my goodness, I had a claim. When was this? But now, Mr. Speaker, this will not happen. From here on in, the fact of the matter is that insurance companies must and will inform people of what will go on and what will happen to their record. This practice does not allow the driver to contest the accident. It just assumes that they are at fault a lot of times. Now people will be able to contest an accident and that will give, again, further savings for individuals.

As I said before, Mr. Speaker, this is just starting the reforms. We are not done yet. The fact of the matter is that I am very concerned about insurance increasing for homeowners, for marine and for commercial insurance. We have a responsibility to look at that as well. We all know insurance is increasing in every sector of our Province, as I said, but more specifically marine. For people who have longliners and enterprises, they find it very difficult to pay the high insurance premiums that are coming out there, but we are going to look at that. That is a fantastic thing because it means that we are not just going to leave this as it is. We are going to continue on. We are going to save money for homeowners. We are going to save money for fisherpeople. We are certainly going to save money in commercial insurance and we are going to help small business in that regard as well.

I really do feel good about this legislation. As I said before, I want to say to the minister, congratulations for doing such a great job here, and her staff. It is not easy because when you try to do something like this there are so many nays because you can never fix everything for everybody, as we all know. There is always going to be a thing where: Well, I would have done it this way or I would have done it that way. But the fact of the matter is, again, I believe that what we have done here will result in meaningful savings for the people of this Province. I want to be able to, and I will be able to, walk out into my district this weekend and I will certainly be able to stand by the people who have asked me: What are you doing about insurance? They will be able to see the savings that are going to be realized because of this. Not only that, Mr. Speaker, but the fact of the matter is that we will still maintain adequate coverage for reasonable rates. We are not going to cap anything off so that people cannot go out there and get their fair share for an injury that they have sustained. It is not going to be capped off and say: Oh, you are only allowed to get this much or you are only allowed to sue for this much or you cannot get this much. The fact of matter is that people will still be allowed to go out and get the coverage and get the compensation that they should and do require.

I believe, Mr. Speaker, as I said before, that this is absolutely, totally, completely a positive step in this Province. I believe it is a positive step for the people of this Province and I look forward to what we are going to see in the future on insurance reform in this Province and I want to be a part of it.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased to have an opportunity at this time to speak to Bill 30 at second reading. Bill 30 is, of course, the automobile insurance reform package put together by this government. Second reading is the issue of approval in principle. We debate the principles behind the legislation and the scheme that is being proposed by this government to reform automobile insurance.

Mr. Speaker, first of all I want to make several specific points about automobile insurance in this Province and, first of all, why it is that government has to concern itself with the issues of rates and fairness, particularly for automobile insurance. The principal reason, Mr. Speaker, is because automobile insurance is compulsory. You are not allowed to drive a car unless you have automobile insurance. In this Province that means you are forced to go to one of a number of different companies to buy that product. You do not have any choice. You do not have the option of a public system, or a not-for-profit system. The result of that is that government has a responsibility.

The only part of insurance that is compulsory is the public liability part. That is the part that most consumers only have. They do not have the other stuff. Someone said earlier, because they cannot afford it. Well, many people cannot afford the public liability either, Mr. Speaker, and therein lies a significant problem. So, we have a cost issue and we have an issue that is being driven up. The costs have gone up considerably in this Province - and in other provinces with private systems - over the last number of years.

The second issue is fairness. Fairness is really important, Mr. Speaker. Consumers who are treated unfairly, whether they are discriminated on the basis of age, gender or because they are a young male, the age and gender, or martial status. Do you think your insurance should go up because your martial status changes, because your spouse divorces you? Should you have to pay higher insurance because your spouse divorces you? Is that something that members in this House think is fair? Do your driving habits change? Do you become a bigger risk because you are in one category versus another? No, Mr. Speaker. So, fairness is an issue. Fairness is an issue and cost is an issue. As a result, governments have an obligation to do something about the problem. What about cost, Mr. Speaker? What about cost? In this Province we have seen significant cost increases over the last few years. A report released last year - this time last year - talked about insurance rates across the country. This is last March, as of last March and April, the one year change in car insurance premiums across the country - and these are Stats Canada figures, not mine, Stats Canada - on the whole, they rose 26 per cent. In Newfoundland and Labrador they rose 40 per cent, as of last April. They have risen more since, and I will get to that in a moment.

What is very interesting, Mr. Speaker, if you go across the country, the rate increases that you saw - 26 per cent is the average rate of increase, but if you go across the country - the places with the private systems, like Alberta, went up 50 per cent. Ontario went up 27 per cent. Newfoundland and Labrador went up 40 per cent. Nova Scotia, 40 per cent; New Brunswick, 40 per cent - all private systems. When you get to the public systems, in British Columbia, they had rate increases, too, but their rate increases were 7.3 per cent in British Columbia, 9 per cent in Saskatchewan, and .01 in Manitoba.

So the public policy, the public insurance programs, went up a much smaller amount, and that is consistent with other figures from Statistics Canada which show that over the twelve years, from 1992, the average increase for the private systems was significantly higher than the public systems. The public systems went up an average of 4 per cent per year, whereas the private systems went up about 11 per cent per year on the average. In Newfoundland and Labrador, it went up the second highest of all of the provinces over that twelve year period, an increase of 127 per cent compared to the public system about 40 per cent.

The Consumers' Association of Canada issued a report last fall, and I have it here. They came to this Province and introduced a report, tabled a report that they had commissioned, an independent report, studying automobile insurance rates across the country, in forty Canadian cities, in ten provinces, and guess what, Mr. Speaker? They drew the same conclusion. They drew the same conclusion. The issue that was asked was: How much would the same driver pay for the same coverage with the same vehicle, the same driving record, the same claims history, and lived in each of the forty cities surveyed in the study? So, it is was a very independent, very objective, study comparing apples and apples, not some kind of malarkey here; a very important study, done objectively. This Consumers' Association did not have any (inaudible) with anybody. They made key findings, and finding number one was that public auto insurance systems offer the lowest rates for consumers.

Another key finding was that the rates are consistent between Canada's public auto systems. Another finding: that under private auto systems, good young male drivers pay more than bad older drivers, driving higher priced vehicles. Now, what does this tell you, Mr. Speaker? What it tells you is that we have a serious problem in this Province with price, and because we have a private system that discriminates on the basis of age, gender, martial status and other factors unrelated to driving records, we have an unfair system.

Do you know, Mr. Speaker, that in this Province 8 per cent - and I was told this today by an industry representative - 8 per cent of the drivers are forced into Facility Association? Eight per cent, an enormous number. Half of them are there for reasons that have nothing to do with their driving record. They are there because they may have bounced a cheque. They are there because they may have interrupted their coverage; they lapsed their coverage. I remember having a call last fall, during the election, where a woman's husband died and the car was sitting in the driveway. She said, I don't really feel like driving right now - after the spouse had died and she was going through a mourning period - so she let the coverage run out on her insurance. Three or four months later she phoned up and said: I am feeling better now. I would like to drive that car that my husband and I used to drive around in six months ago, before he died. She picked up the phone, to phone the insurance company, and guess what, Mr. Speaker? All of a sudden she was in Facility Association and had to pay $4,000 or $5,000 for coverage that she had for one-fifth of that six months before. That is the kind of thing that is going on in this private insurance industry that we have here in this Province.

In New Brunswick they made some changes to theirs, and not the kind of changes that we have here. They made some changes to theirs, and less than 2 per cent of the drivers in New Brunswick are in Facility Association. There is nothing here to stop you from being put into Facility Association, in this legislation, Mr. Speaker. There is nothing to avoid that. They have tell you, by the way, we are doing this to you. They have to tell you, but there is nothing that says they cannot put you in there. That is the kind of thing that is happening in the system that we have today.

Another very interesting thing, Mr. Speaker, about the private system versus the public system is that people actually like the public system. You know, there was a survey done last year, not by us, not by the NDP, not by the public system, but it was done, and reported in The Globe and Mail, done by a research marketing group, and they show that more than half of the people who lived under the public systems were satisfied with the status quo. It does not sound like much, 52 per cent. Fifty-two percent are satisfied with the status quo in British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, but, by comparison, only 26 per cent of those in Alberta, Ontario, and the Atlantic Provinces were satisfied with the private system in their provinces.

These are the facts. This is the experience of people who have the public automobile system. They know that it is good for them. They know that they are protected by a non-profit system that, in fact, deals with issues related to driver safety, deals with issues of premiums being related to your driver experience, and does not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, marital status, or these other category issues that we find here in this Province that are not being dealt with by this bill. So, there is a question: Why is it that public automobile insurance is cheaper? That is a question that needs to be answered. It is an important question. Well, there are a number of reasons. There is no profit. There is no built-in profit. You know, you can get your Public Utilities Board here on the floor of the House and ask them: How do they deal with Fortis, when they go for a rate increase? If you ask them the question: When you are setting the rates, do you guarantee they will make a profit, that they will make a return on their investment? Do you do that when you set the rates? The answer is yes, they do. The Public Utilities Board will guarantee that Fortis will make a return on its investment in the range of 10 per cent to 14 per cent. That is because that is the job of the Public Utilities Board, to ensure that the rates are as low as they can be for Hydro or whatever, consistent with a profitable corporation. So there is going to be a guarantee of profits if the PUB actually gets into the books, which they will not, by the way. So you take the profit out - and we all know about insurance companies profits. I talked about it the other night. The National Post, or the Globe and Mail, reported last September that profits were up 70 per cent, $1.1 billion. They had a 500 per cent increase by September. By January it was up to a 650 per cent increase in profits year over year, so profits are there. They are doing all right, thank you very much. In the public system there are no profits, a not-for-profit system, because this government and every government across the country forces people to have automobile insurance.

They can talk all they want about their 15 per cent decrease, or their 20 per cent decrease, which they promised last August. The reality is, for the compulsory insurance that everybody has to have, they are only promising a 9 per cent increase; but the insurance industry representatives I talked to today said their measures cannot deliver that. They cannot deliver that, so there will not be even the 9 per cent that they are planning.

The second reason, Mr. Speaker, that we have lower rates in the public system is because there is lower overhead. Yes, we hear all this stuff: Oh, governments cannot do things more efficiently. Well, the reality is - based on the experience of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, and studies have shown that. In Nova Scotia, the Public Utilities Commission studied some of these issues last year - that the overhead rates for the private system runs between 27 per cent and 29 per cent, and that pays for all of the things that go into the cost of overhead, duplication, running head offices, carrying on the adjustment services, doing all the things that have to be done to run a business, paying brokers, and all of the things that go with that. For the public system, based on this study, the overhead is between 5 per cent, 6 per cent and 15 per cent, depending on whether brokers are paid commissions or not. So, at the highest end - that is ICBC, because they pay commissions to the private brokers - it is one-half. So the overhead is one-half and we do not have any profit.

The third reason why the public system is cheaper, Mr. Speaker, is because these public corporations actually invest in safety. Do you know that the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia actually fixes up intersections that cause accidents? Now, why do they do that? They do it because it makes economic sense. It probably saves lives, too, and I am sure that is part of the reason why they do it, and they have a public policy mandate. So, if there is an intersection, for example - and I know of some cases, because I read through the British Columbia annual reports and you can go on your Web site and look at this stuff - and they decided, in this particular incident, there were four or five accidents, and we are after paying out claims for this particular intersection. There is a problem there. We will get somebody to study it and we will fix it. They will spend several hundred thousand dollars fixing an intersection, to avoid accidents, because it pays in the long run from a safety perspective. They have done it, and it works.

I am not saying that all these insurance companies that we have operating in this Province - I think there is something like twenty-four or twenty-six of them - do not care about safety. I am not saying they do not care about safety, but if I am an insurance company, I am not necessarily going to invest my money to fix up this intersection if my savings do not come back to me. The savings might be gained by another insurance company, so there is no incentive for them to get involved in this sort of thing, except in a general way. For PR perspective they might support some sort of safety initiative, but they will not have the same kind of stake as a public corporation does, and they do it on an ongoing basis over time.

They also promote driver education in the schools, and they pay for the program. So ICBC, in addition to providing automobile insurance in British Columbia, pays for safety programs and safety education in the schools, out of the same amount of money, out of the same premium, the cheaper premium than we are paying here.

The fourth reason, Mr. Speaker, why public automobile insurance is cheaper is because they have rules that work. They have rules that actually do provide incentives for new drivers, because you might start off at this level but every year of safe driving gives you a reduction in rates. It is transparent. It is known. You can go on their Web site and look at it, and you would have no trouble finding out exactly how much it is going to cost you to get the kind of coverage that you want. Instead, what we have here, we have a hodgepodge. We have, in fact, an inability of people to change from one insurance company to another.

I got an e-mail today, and the minister got one, too, from an individual who said: I just got my renewal notice and I am going to be renewed for July 1. My rates have gone up and I wanted to have a look around, but then I discovered they had already taken the first two months. The first two months of my premium had been taken out of my account on June 1, and it is not due until July 1. I asked them: Can you change this? They said: No, we cannot change that unless you cancel your whole insurance - but, then, if you cancel your insurance, you have no insurance and then you are a new policy holder. You might end up in Facility, Mr. Speaker.

That is the danger that people have, and this person got so fed up with that - and the minister has a copy of this e-mail - he said: How can the government allow insurance companies to operate like this? What we need is a good, fair, public system - this person said.

That is what I am advocating here tonight, Mr. Speaker, a system that is cheaper, that is fairer, that works for people; that, when people have it, they like it. Not only do they like it, Mr. Speaker, when governments like the Campbell government in British Columbia, who decided they did not really like public automobile insurance - they had ideological reasons why. We have a new government. We are going to try and privatize this thing. There is something wrong with this, obviously. There has to be, according to the Campbell government that got in power.

They decided to put somebody in charge, a good hard-nosed businessman in charge, and we will get him to shake this up and fix it up. So they hired, for this job, a guy named Nick Geer, a former vice-chair of the Jim Pattison Group. He was ICBC's chair and later president. This is a quote from Maclean's magazine, "Geer and a new board were asked to assess whether the Crown insurer ought to be fixed or sold for parts....".

Well, guess what, Mr. Speaker? They had a good look. They found a few inefficiencies and they fixed them up, but what he said was that he had a good look at it and he said this is a company that works. This is a company that provides a service. Here is a quote from him, "This company has hidden its light under a bushel for many, many years. We found things going on inside this company that I had no idea existed." He went there, he says, not with an agenda. "I came with the instructions from the premier to do the right thing for the people of this province. And if that was to head off on the privatization route, I would have taken it". But, no, Mr. Speaker, he said what he found was a company that works for the people of British Columbia.

They operate the driver's licence operation for the government. They collect traffic fines. They carry the entire cost of overseeing motor registration, some $90 million of overhead, carried within the premium for automobile insurance. They spend $40 million a year on road safety activities. These are the things that this public corporation has done to increase road safety in British Columbia, to provide cheaper automobile insurance and make the life easier for people in British Columbia, who are required to have compulsory automobile insurance, as we are here in this Province.

What we want to see is a fair chance for the public system, a fair hearing. We know the Public Utilities Board is going to have hearings next fall. They are going to talk about -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind the hon. Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi that his time has expired.

MR. HARRIS: If I may have leave to finish this thought, Mr. Speaker?

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

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you, members opposite.

My final thought is this: What we want in this Province today is to know that there is going to be not just hearing by the Public Utilities Board, because we know they will have hearings, and they are going to have hearing - and list the whole gamut now. We are going to talk about automobile insurance, but we are also going to talk about commercial insurance, we are also going to talk about marine insurance, and we are going to talk about home insurance and all of that. I do not have a problem with hearing about all of these things. Let's hear what people have to say about it, but the Public Utilities Board is not the vehicle to make public policy. Public policy is made in the House of Assembly. Public policy is made by politicians. The public utilities commission is an arm's-length body, and I have been there. Just like the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair, I have been there before, representing consumers on rate hearings for the telephone company and the hydro company, and Newfoundland Power. As she said is right; the big hitters will be there with their lawyers and their actuaries and their accountants and all of that stuff, and the public will only have their opinion. We know what their opinions are. We are paying too much money and they are not treating us fairly. Those are the two opinions they are going to hear.

What we really need to do, Mr. Speaker - and we need to have a debate, and we are going to have that debate over the next few months, I know we are - but what we really need to is something like was done in New Brunswick a few months ago, or they reported it a few months ago, and that was to ask a very publicly-spirted body, like a select committee of the House, if we were going to have public insurance, what kind of system would we have? Let's look at British Columbia. Let's look at Manitoba. Let's look at Saskatchewan. Let's look at the cost. Let's look at the needs of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. What kind of a system could we craft that would work for us and would answer our needs?

That is what they did in New Brunswick. The committee did not have any perceived notions, other than to say: Okay, if there were going to be a public system, let's have a look at it; and they looked at the cost benefits, they looked at how many jobs would be created, they looked at the cost of setting it up, all of the questions that keep being rolled around. You can throw them out there, Mr. Speaker. We can have a debate on Open Line. We can have a debate in this House, and I can marshall a few facts and the insurance companies can do their PR. I understand that they spent $8 million or $10 million in New Brunswick on guess what, Mr. Speaker? On trying to influence public opinion. During the whole course of the hearings of this select committee, the media benefitted enormously because the insurance company was out there propagandizing the public against public insurance and in favour of the private system. In the meantime, this committee was doing its work. They had experts, they had consultants, and they devised a system. They came up with something that they thought was good for New Brunswick if a decision was made to go to the public system.

While we want to have that debate here in Newfoundland and Labrador, we also want to have a good, solid basis for comparing the public system as it could operate in Newfoundland and Labrador with the private system that we have now, with which we know people are very dissatisfied.

Mark my words, Mr. Speaker, people are going to be very dissatisfied with the private system after this bill goes through, after it is put into effect, because the decreases that they are talking about in public liability insurance, the 9 per cent, if they are achieved - and I do not think they will be; the insurance industry is saying that they will not - they will come after the increases have been put on this year by the insurance companies themselves; in some cases, as much as 33 per cent that has been put on in the past year. If you took 9 per cent off of that, you still have a 20 per cent increase.

There is not going to be public satisfaction with this legislation. Mark my words, Mr. Speaker. It is going to have to be revisited, and to have the Public Utilities Board do it without the public having the tools that they need is not going to work. We need to have a good, solid investigation of the kind of public system that might work for Newfoundland and Labrador.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Grand Falls-Buchans.

MS THISTLE: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

I stand tonight to talk on Bill 30, that was introduced today by the Minister of Government Services. We all know that insurance is a very complex issue. I think the most that the general public are interested in, in insurance, is actually when they get their bill from the insurance company and they just want to see what it is going to cost them to insure their vehicles. That is about the only interest that the general public has, in insurance. All of us, I guess, are the same; we always feel that we are not affected by any of these measures until we are affected ourselves.

Mr. Speaker, I find it unusual. I was listening to the Minister of Government Services today, introduce this bill. When you consider the fact that the minister had the advantage of all of the information sessions that were conducted in the past number of years on insurance, she had the advantage of looking at all the consultation that was done, and, of course, we all know there are Tory governments in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. She and the leader of this Province, the Premier, had the advantage of talking to their counterparts and they could ask them how the experience has been since the other Atlantic Provinces implemented new measures on insurance reform. On top of that, during the Estimates Committee two or three weeks ago, I questioned the minister myself and asked her - because one of the commitments by the Tories was to go ahead and commission an independent study after 120 days in office. This study was carried out, at the taxpayers' expense, naturally, almost another $300,000 spent since November, at the taxpayers' cost, to do an independent study directed by the Public Utilities Board in this Province. Now, with all that information at the fingertips of government, the new government that was elected on October 21, 2003, when they presented Bill 30, I am sure the people of this Province were expecting something wonderful, but we did not get it. We did not get something wonderful, as they promised in their blueprint and leading up to the election last fall.

Today we are seeing that this bill, when it is passed - and it will be passed, because it will be passed by the majority of government members. We are in a minority here, the Official Opposition, but that does not prevent us from speaking out about what we consider to be not good business for the people of this Province.

What we are also hearing today is that members across the way are touting this as the first step. Now, this is an unusual stance by a new government - they are touting this as the first step - because the normal procedure in any legislation that comes before this House, is that you go out, you do your consultation, you hear from people in the industry - the people, the users of the system - and you take into account what it would cost to implement system, and you certainly take into account the well-being of the people of the Province, and you try to provide a service, to the best ability that government can provide, to the best benefit to the consumer.

Now, what this new government are planning to do, they are calling this a first step. Can you imagine? Bill 30 is considered to be a first step, when it should be a step that is all-inclusive in everything they said they were going to do. Now, they want to pass this minor bill, as they are calling it, and then go out and engage in public consultation after the fact, after passing the bill. Then they want to go out and get the Public Utilities Board to examine general insurance, marine insurance, home insurance and commercial insurance, and this particular automobile insurance, after passing the bill in the House.

That is an unusual event because, basically, what they are going to do when they pass the bill this week, in their minds, they are delivering on a promise they made prior to and during the election, but that is not entirely correct because they are not delivering on the promise that they stated they would do. What they stated they would do - and, of course, the now Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier, the Member for Conception Bay South, said, on Wednesday, August 27, 2003, that the Tory plan will also contain some kind of cap on soft tissue injuries.

Do we see a cap on soft tissue injuries today? No, we do not see that. Now, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier would not be able to provide that information unless that was sanctioned by the leader of the party, so I am sure the leader of the party at that time was willing to say anything prior to an election, but now, today, we see a different matter.

People are saying that the average soft tissue injury, prior to recent years, was about $7,000 or $8,000 and now the norm, for the past year, soft tissue injuries are in the range of $22,000 and greater. New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have decided to place a cap on soft tissue injuries. Why this Province is not following suit is beyond me, because we have seen ourselves, today - and our own newspaper, our provincial paper, The Telegram, said that the proposed $2,500 deductible for pain and suffering, auto insurance claims, is just window dressing.

That is absolutely correct. This bill is only window dressing. They are not getting at the heart of the problem, and consumers will not be paying less, as the Tory Party had said prior to and during the election.

We are also seeing that people have to have the basic coverage of liability insurance. You cannot drive a vehicle without liability insurance. What we are seeing now is that - one time people would take the Cadillac model of insurance because it was rare for insurance premiums to change to any great amount from one company to another on an annual basis. It is only in the past, I guess, less than five years, that we have seen the enormous changes to insurance premiums. I am seeing people taking a chance. At one time people would go with glass coverage. People today - most of them whom I am hearing from - are not even bothering to buy glass coverage, because if you have the unfortunate situation of having a windshield broken through flying debris or gravel or salt or sand, if that happens, you might be as well off going and replacing your windshield than actually paying for the difference in the insurance premium. I know that happens to me all the time. I have a crack in the windshield now, since this winter, on a car that I bought last fall; in fact, two, on both sides of the windshield. It is not preventing me from driving yet, but if it starts to go any further, I am going to need to replace that windshield. That is because of the sand and salt combination on the highway, and a lot of big trucks do not have the proper rubber - what do you call them, there behind the wheels?

AN HON. MEMBER: Flaps.

MS THISTLE: Flaps - that is what it is - behind the wheels. That should be outlawed for sure, especially for big tractor-trailers.

When you look at what was promised and what we have here today it is a different story, but that is a continuation of a long saga since this House opened and we have uncovered, as the Official Opposition, what this new government had promised and what was actually delivered.

What has public reaction been so far? I would surmise that the public, in general, are not certain about what is happening with this insurance. They know that there is a new bill being brought to the House and it is being debated back and forth by the Opposition parties and the government, but they will not know for sure until they get their next bill whether or not there has been any progress made on reducing insurance rates.

We have already heard today that Mr. Craig Rowe, who is the President of the Provincial Insurance Consumer Group, is the individual who would represent consumers' concerns on insurance matters in this Province. He said he studied the bill. The bill was actually given out in the House of Assembly last Thursday and he has studied the bill on behalf of the consumers he represents. Of course, as the Official Opposition, we have studied the bill. We were very familiar with the insurance reform bill, not until we saw this one come on the table last week but we had our own that was pretty much ready to go had we formed the government last fall.

Mr. Rowe goes on to say it will not have any long-term effect on the rates. The $2,500 deductible will be totally useless. I would suspect that he has done his homework on this. What he is saying, he is giving an example. The example he is giving is that if there is a soft tissue injury and there is a deductible like this government wants to bring forward, $2,500 is the deductible. The lawyer who is representing the claimant will say: Well, alright then, you have to get your $2,500 back. You are not going to lose out on that, certainly goodness. What we will do now, if we were going to put in a claim for you for $10,000, we will up that to $12,500 so you will not be out of pocket for $2,500.

That is exactly what they are saying. In effect, they are not going to save money whatsoever. That will not do one thing for reducing the actual premiums for the ordinary consumer in this Province.

I know, when the Premier campaigned, he was reporting that insurance premiums could go as low as 30 per cent less than what people are paying today, but what are we hearing today in this bill? What is the real true savings? It could be anywhere in the range of 9 per cent, they are reporting, 9 per cent to 20 per cent. No guarantees. That is what they are saying.

As other speakers have said, from this side of the House, the legal community are relatively quiet on this whole insurance issue, because we all know from the legal community that the majority of their money is made by dealing with small claims and real estate issues. We all know that general lawyers in the system, most of their business expenses or office expenses are paid for by small claims and real estate matters. That is how most of them get by, and for any of them to come out and actually be opposed to this bill, well, they would be losing a lot of money. They would be losing a lot of money.

I remember, too, others of my colleagues today recounted how one of the lawyers from the firm of McKay and Marshall was the first on board to support this particular bill. I also remember that individual was the first to call Open Line during the NAPE strike, when the Premier was in trouble with the public and had a very bad image out there. He was the same person who called Open Line and supported the Premier in his character assessment of the Premier.

Now, two companies have already given notice to this Province that they are going to withdraw -

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS THISTLE: I am hearing from the Member for Trinity North and the Member for Mount Pearl that - they are trying to rebut what I am saying there. They know the truth hurts, but I am going to tell it like it is because that is my job to do that. That is my job, to do that, and I will do that as long as I am standing here.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) nasty about it.

MS THISTLE: No, I am not nasty. I am telling the truth. I think you should take notice of that and you should govern yourselves accordingly, because I would say the truth has been the biggest casualty of the new government. The truth has been the greatest casualty of the new government. We find that out day in and day out, and I am pointing out what the new government promised. This is what they are delivering today, which is not what they promised.

We have heard from two companies today that have given the Province notice that they are going to pull out of this Province and they are not going to provide any more new insurance. So, anyone new coming to the system who wants coverage, they will not entertain their application whatsoever. One of these companies has been in this Province since 1912, since 1912. Now, that is a long time to be providing peace and security, peace of mind and security to residential and commercial business in this Province. This company has already been announced today. It is Aviva Canada, who have had a long connection with this Province. They were satisfied that the Provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island had taken the challenge in hand and went with the $2,500 cap on soft tissue injuries, and they could not understand why this Province would not follow suit.

We already have heard, as well, from Dominion Insurance. VOCM reported that today. Dominion Insurance, the Chief Executive Officer of the Dominion of Canada General Insurance Company - and I want to say that I know about that company because they are the broker for the insurance company where I have my personal insurance on my car - they are saying that they are going to pull out of providing new insurance coverage for new applicants here in this Province. This company is already the broker for the personal insurance that I have on my car, so I know that others are affected in the very same manner.

What does that say to you, when two long-established companies that have done business here in this Province for a long, long time, have seen the move by this government to bring about wrong insurance for the consumers of this Province? They are saying this with their feet: they are going to pull out of this Province.

What does that mean to consumers in this Province? Number one, the people who work for these companies, first of all, are going to be out of work. The stability that was here with competition in this Province by two long-established insurance companies that had a pattern, a record of providing insurance to a great number of people in this Province, we know that, between the two companies, they provide insurance to 35 per cent of the population of our Province. You cannot just sneeze at those numbers. So, if they are coming out with this kind of information just one day into the new government bringing forward this bill, it must be serious. It must be serious. Are we going to be left in a position where there is no competition and nobody will bid on providing insurance coverage to the people in our Province? What is that going to do to insurance rates for people in this Province?

We had a plan, a very good plan, I thought. It was plan of giving people choices in the insurance that they wanted to buy. We also had a plan that we would not be discriminating against age, gender or marital status.

Now the Tory government, who was a Tory Party looking to be the government last fall, said that they would not discriminate against any of these matters: age, gender or marital status. They also said that they would provide a cap on insurance for soft body injuries. What did they do? They did the opposite. They did not give any kind of break to young drivers, to seniors. They did not give any break when it comes to gender, and they gave no break when it comes to marital status. They did none of that, and they did not put a cap on soft tissue body injuries like they said they would, so there are a series of things that they said they would do that today we see in Bill 30 they have not delivered upon.

How can we feel comfortable in this Province, as consumers, knowing that it is a frightening experience when you get your insurance bill? I could not believe, when I received my own bill, the massive increase in the premium, and I have not had accidents. I have a safe driving record. I do not even think I ever got a speeding ticket in my life, to be truthful. I do not believe I did. I do not think I ever got a speeding ticket in my life. I have a good driving record, and I do not know why I have this massive increase in my insurance premium. I cannot understand it. Is that because there have been a lot of soft tissue body injury claims? Maybe so. If it is, why didn't this government put a cap on it? Why didn't they put a cap on that part of it? They said they would, but they did not do it.

These are the kinds of things that are before us today, and the new government that was going to do all of this, they have reneged on every promise they made. What comfort is out there for consumers today, people who are paying insurance monthly, people who are paying it annually, and people who are in Facility, who do not have the benefit of paying it through payroll deductions and so on? People sometimes who are into Facility through no fault of their own - and many of those situations have been recounted tonight by members from both sides of the House.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind the hon. Member for Grand Falls-Buchans that her time has expired.

MS THISTLE: Would you like to give me thirty seconds just to clue up, Mr. Speaker?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) to clue up.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. member has leave.

MS THISTLE: Thank you very much. You are really generous. I appreciate that.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS THISTLE: That wasn't nasty. Don't you know how to accept a compliment? I know you have been hearing a lot of barbs lately, because they have been due, but sometimes you will get a compliment.

I want to say, Mr. Speaker, that this insurance matter is complex to the ordinary consumer out there today. It is only one thing that the consumer of this Province is interested in: making sure that when they get behind the wheel of their vehicle they are covered, they have insurance, and can they afford to write the cheque to pay for the insurance?

There are young people out there today who are hoping to get their licence. This is the spring of the year. You will see a new crop of young people graduating this year. They are trying to get their licence and they are hounding their parents: Mom or Dad, can I get my licence this spring? The first thing mom and dad have to worry about is, can they afford to make the payments on the insurance? They do not want to remortgage their house to make the payments on their insurance.

Mr. Speaker, in conclusion, I have to say there is something sadly lacking from this plan. The new government has not addressed the concerns they said they would, and this is why we are upset tonight. That is the reason why I have to bring to the forefront all of the promises that were made but yet broken again.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise tonight to have a few words on Bill 30, An Act To Amend The Automobile Insurance Act. Mr. Speaker, we all know in the past couple of years that insurance premiums, and the escalating cost of insurance premiums, has been a major problem for all of the MHAs in this House. When I went around in my district in the last year, particularly just before the election, I heard from many people about the insurance premium costs, and we made a commitment that we would do something about it.

I do not think people in the Province were expecting miracles right up front. I think the people in the Province wanted something done. They wanted a commitment that we would do something, and today we are. We are doing something about it.

I congratulate the Minister of Government Services for this bill, introducing it, and I congratulate the people who had input into it, because some of these decisions that were made were based on input from a lot of people, maybe not as many as probably the Opposition would like to see, but there were people who had input into it, and particularly our Cabinet and caucus had some input into it. We all brought back concerns from our districts. We brought back concerns around our table, to our caucus, concerning insurance, particularly after we took over the government. We knew we had to do something, a commitment that the Premier made, and the Premier was honourable enough to keep his commitment.

I say to the Leader of the Opposition, he and his party, in the last eight years, had the ball in his court, in his hands, and dropped the ball; but, because the election was looming and the election was coming, they made that a priority in their election campaign, too.

I say to the Leader of the Opposition, it took eight years to even consider doing something about it. We are in power now around seven months and now we are doing something. Is it the final document? Maybe not, because we are going to get more input and we are going to have more consultation. We are going to have to make changes. When the times comes, this government is not going to be afraid to make changes. That was what we were elected to do. We were elected to give the people of this Province the best service that we can and, in providing the service to the people of this Province, we committed to an insurance act to freeze insurance premiums and to deliver to the people of this Province a viable and a fair insurance act, and that is what we are doing.

Mr. Speaker, there are going to be savings, and we know that. Previous speakers have alluded to some of the things that we see in the act, and we see that there is going to be an average saving there of 15 per cent for the consumers of auto insurance in this Province. I think that no one can deny the efforts that we are doing to achieve that; because, even though the percentages are different in different categories of insurance - we may find 9 per cent in third party liability and 27 per cent to 37 per cent in collision, and probably 19 per cent in comprehension and 11 per cent in uninsured motorists - overall, to the people, particularly if they have full coverage, it will be up to 20 per cent savings. That is a substantial amount, considering that the premiums are frozen, even though they might have seen some increase in the premiums just before the freeze, because the Public Utilities Board had already approved some increases before the freeze was put forward.

With the rising cost of insurance, there was a priority of this government, because of the commitment. On March 17, the minister made her news conference and told the people of this Province that we would be putting forward a comprehensive insurance policy on that. These savings would amount to almost $25 million to the consumer. That is a substantial amount of money. That is money that consumers could spend on other things. I know not all consumers are going to be availing of all the products that insurance companies have to offer, because a lot of people in the Province today are only going to avail of public liability because of different reasons. Some people do that and some people do not, because sometimes their hands are tied and they have to have full coverage. If they are buying a new vehicle or if they are leasing a new vehicle, then they are expected to have the full coverage. So, in that case, they can save up to 20 per cent of their insurance premiums.

Mr. Speaker, even back thirty-seven years ago when I first started driving, the insurance premium rates were a problem then. I know when I first started working, I was working for seventy-five cents an hour, when I was only a teenager. To buy insurance at that time, it was hard to do because the premiums at that time were high. They were probably about $450 at the time. That was a lot of money for a teenager who wanted to drive a vehicle back at that time. So, we can only imagine, I guess, over the years where the premiums evolved from that up to the high cost now.

It is hard on families. It is hard even on my family. When my son first took his licence seven years ago, I was paying $2,400 a year for his insurance. That was a lot of money then. My daughter, when she started driving - that was a couple of years ago - that was, for a year, about $2,800. It is hard to come up with those kinds of dollars for your family, for your children. In my household we have several vehicles and the insurance is a big cost. I can only imagine how hard it is for people who are out there on lower incomes and fixed incomes to try and buy insurance. Now, when it is mandatory to have public insurance, people have to realize that they have to have it, and to come up with the money is not easy to do that.

By freezing the rates and having fixed costs to insurance products, then these savings can be achieved by some. We are not saying this is the end of the insurance act, because we want to improve on it. We want to find better ways to do it. We want to make it more feasible and a better product to give to the customers in this Province.

It should have been done a long time ago, Mr. Speaker. We have been talking about this for a number of years and insurance companies were driving up the costs. Of course, the amount of claims, and the substantial amount of claims, is what was causing the increase in the premiums. That all goes back to our responsibility, as users and drivers participating in driving on our roads in the Province. We have to be more responsible to keep our claims down, to keep the number of accidents down, and you can go back to a lot of things that can cause that.

With the mandatory public liability, it protects the people who are involved in accidents, but there are a lot of uninsured drivers out there, Mr. Speaker. If we only knew how many, I guess we would be really frightened, but there are a lot of uninsured drivers out there and government was putting forward legislation where any benefits to uninsured drivers would be deducted by 25 per cent.

We need these reforms in this legislation, Mr. Speaker, to have full hearings on the whole aspect of the insurance issue, because people do want a say, even though we have all, as elected politicians, heard in the last two years from people all across the Province in our districts what they think is the best policy to have. Of course, we had to start somewhere and we came up with a plan and a policy as we have here tonight. With this policy, we will be looking at it in the next while to come and making sure that if there is any better way to do it, then this government is not afraid to take on the challenge of making this better. The Premier and the ministers have already said that we are willing to do that when we find a better way of doing things.

The Opposition are complaining that we said we wanted a cap a year ago and now we are going with a $2,500 deductible. I would say, Mr. Speaker, that this is not new in the Province. The people in the Province are used to deductibles in their insurance costs, and with respect to a lot of different types of insurance. There are all kinds of insurances in which you do have a deductible. That is a pretty simple way of doing it, and people feel that it is a pretty fair way of doing it.

We looked at that and we found that it could be acceptable by a lot of people in the Province. If that is the way that it should stay, then it will stay that way. If not, then we will find other and better ways to do it.

Mr. Speaker, when you look in the third party liabilities, when you are talking about lost wages, I had personal experience with this a couple of years ago when a member of my family was killed in a car accident. Of course, the insurance companies are going to try every way possible to give you less. You have to fight; there is no question about it. You have to have legal help. You have to have good advice, when you are taking on an insurance company, to make sure that you are getting the maximum benefit to which you are entitled.

We need to look at aspects like that within legislation. We need to make sure that the policy that we put forward is better for the claimants, that they will get what they are entitled to. We feel lost wages will be based on 100 per cent of the net wages instead of the gross, which is a fairer way of doing it, we figure, and that could be a challenge for a lot of people, too, depending on what the income of the victim was. It could be a very wide range of different incomes, but we want to do it fair, Mr. Speaker.

Other issues that we feel are important, we feel that the drivers should be responsible enough to make sure that they do stuff in a safe manner. We encourage seat belt use. We encourage the people to wear their seatbelts and, if they do not, then they could be in for a 25 per cent reduction in their awards by not buckling up.

Mr. Speaker, the people with full coverage will realize the most savings, as I said. They will save about 20 per cent. If someone carries third party liability, the savings, of course, will be less than that, I guess, around 10 per cent or 9 per cent, but it is still going to be a saving. Of course, the important note is that the rates are frozen and we will have full public hearings that will be held until we find out what other changes we have to make.

We are not trying to cause hardship for anybody, especially in the insurance industry. Any concerns that they have about these reforms can be raised, of course, in our public and in hearings that we are going to have, and we want to take a fair and balanced approach to these issues in reforms.

Mr. Speaker, the big thing is, there are going to be savings no matter where you live in the Province today. If there are areas in the Province where some insurance companies charge more - and, of course, there was because of the regional premiums based on where you live - then we want to make something that it is going to be right across the Island so that people can have the same percentage of savings, that is going to be fair to the people. We want to make significant changes to the underwriting guidelines of insurance companies that would determine the rates on whether to insure a person or not.

Insurance companies will no longer be able to refuse coverage or rate individuals solely based on issues like no-fault insurance claims, minor damage with no claim as paid, NSF cheques, another company refusing to insure persons for a lapse in coverage. We want to make sure that people are given the same ability and the same coverage that they deserve. Of course, that brings us into some of the people who are in Facility Association, and that was pretty unfair to a lot of people because a lot of people were in the Facility Association who should not be there, and were paying a lot of extra premiums and high rates, so we want to make sure that the people who are in Facility Association are the people who should be there, and not people who are there because of certain minor details, things that happened in their insurance coverage that put them in Facility Association. We want to make sure that insurance companies will only be able to refuse to insure a person for a lapse in coverage if the reason for the lapse is, of course, a cancelled policy or failing to disclose a conviction or a claim that would result in a higher premium, or, I guess, driver's licence suspension; then they deserve to be in Facility Association.

We want to make sure that companies will no longer be able to refuse coverage based on the age and gender and marital status, because we wanted to do things as right as we can. We are not eliminating ratings based on age or gender or marital status at this time. Of course, we are not finished yet, and we want to do this right, so it is going to take time for us to add on, as I was saying.

Of course, we are addressing the problems of Facility Association. We know that 60 per cent of the drivers in the Province in Facility Association have never had an at-fault accident or driving conviction, so they should never be in Facility Association and we have taken measures to ensure that only the drivers that should be there are there. The new underwriter guidelines should go a long ways to achieving this.

We are also requiring companies to tell drivers why they are in Facility Association and what they can do to get out. That would be a significant saving to a lot of premium payers because, when they are in Facility Association, their premiums are a lot higher. It is unfair that they should be there for these other reasons I have mentioned.

Mr. Speaker, I did allude a bit to the uninsured drivers on the road, and the presence of uninsured drivers. They do raise the cost of our premiums because everyone must carry a coverage to protect themselves from these drivers. We decided that we would increase the minimum fine for uninsured drivers to $2,000 for the cost of the first offence and $3,000 on the second offence. Of course, that it up from $1,000 previously. People do not realize the seriousness of this. Some people take it lightly and try to take a chance, but, more often than not, a lot of people are caught doing that. Then they cannot figure out why they have to pay the fine. Really, they broke the law and they should know the difference in that. Now we are going to make sure that it is going to be more known and more punishable by higher fines. Also, we plan on impounding the vehicle for ninety days upon the conviction, and the driver's licence suspension for ninety days. We believe that this will deter people from driving without insurance, because we all owe it to the pedestrian and the public to make sure that, if there are any accidents, they will be covered, and it is our responsibility to make sure we have coverage. If not, then we should not be driving, because as a government we are responsible to make sure that there are laws put in place to do this and make sure that people are protected.

Another big issue, I guess, with families who incur high insurance premiums is with respect to the excluded driver endorsements. Drivers will now be able to exclude anyone from a coverage. This means parents will now be able to exclude driving-aged children in the households from their policies. I found that particularly in my case, where I did not want my daughter or son to drive my pickup. I wanted them excluded from the insurance but I could not have that because the vehicle was available, even though they had no intention of driving the truck, so it stuck me with a higher cost of insurance for that pickup, which I did not use very much, and none of my family used very much, but I was stuck with a high insurance premium because of that. Now we could see in cases like that, if you wanted someone excluded from the insurance coverage on your vehicle, you could do that, and that is going to be savings there for the consumer.

We hope that, over different aspects of this act that we are going implement, we will see different areas where we are going to see lots of savings. We are going to see endorsements that will be changed to fit the customer, where the customer can say: This is what I want. Now, because of a different category, they are going to save premium costs, particularly with this exclusion endorsement.

Of course, Mr. Speaker, if there is an accident with an excluded person driving the car, then this vehicle is considered uninsured, of course, and the driver is subject to all the penalties for driving without insurance, so that is going to be deterrent to anybody who feels that they could take a chance on driving a vehicle, even though they know they are excluded from the policy. That will be a little deterrent for them.

We need to make a lot of changes, and we need to make several changes in the way companies are required to handle claims. Companies must inform policy holders of claims made against them, and the amount ultimately paid out, because a lot of policy holders do not find out that they are in a situation where they are in a claim, or they are probably in an insurance claim that they do not know about, and when they go to renew their policy, of course, they are being told that their premiums are a lot higher and they find out for the first time that they were included in a claim that someone made. We have had incidents where drivers were not aware of the claim that was made against their policy until the time they renewed. Of course, Mr. Speaker, as I said, then their policy would have gone up because of that.

Mr. Speaker, this is just the starting of the package of reform for insurance premiums for automobiles in this Province. We are not done yet. Other measures would have to be discussed in public hearings. The auto and home owner, marine and commercial insurance, have to be dealt with, and we are prepared to do that. We are prepared to look at all aspects of insurance policies where we can deliver a cheaper and a better level of service and product to the consumers of the Province. This bill gives the Public Utilities Board the authority to conduct hearings and closed claims study into what is causing the claims to go up. The hearings will require full disclosure, Mr. Speaker, from the insurance industry, and it will give us a chance to investigate other possible measures -

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order, please!

I remind the hon. member that his time has expired.

MR. HUNTER: Just a minute to clue up, Mr. Speaker?

MR. SPEAKER: By leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It will also give us a chance to investigate these other possible measures, Mr. Speaker. What would it do? It would give extra penalties to claimants who give false testimonies. It would give us measures to combat the impaired driving issue and prevent claims from impaired drivers and uninsured drivers involved in no-fault accidents. There are a lot of other issues that we could get involved in by getting this bill up and running and getting it passed so that we can build on it. Reform will come for meaningful savings to all of the consumers in the Province, Mr. Speaker. People want to have adequate coverage at a reasonable rate. We will address these issues in the future with consultation and not being afraid to take on any recommendations that are made. If they are good recommendations, then this government will certainly see a way to implement them in the future, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. JOYCE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise tonight to have a few words on this Bill 30 and offer my disapproval of this bill. I heard the Member for Windsor-Springdale mention what is in the bill. The most glaring omissions is what we should be looking at in this bill.

Mr. Speaker, I will go back before the election. Once again, I say to the members opposite, living in Corner Brook, you get a full perspective of the Blue Book commitments than what you do when you are out around and not in tune with the Blue Book policy, in which obviously a lot of the members opposite had very little input.

To me, Mr. Speaker, it is another broken promise. It is a broken commitment by the Premier. Before the election, his commitment was to legislate the deal, the proposal that he put forth back last August. We hear, over the last eight months - this is their ninth month now that they are in government - we hear over the last seven or eight months all the reasons why they had to break their promises. We heard the lack of funds. We heard: We did not know the finances were as bad. We knew we had to cut savings. Mr. Speaker, we heard that. We heard about the long-term care facility, that it cannot be built right now. The money could not be put forth. We heard about the no layoff policy, but we had to have the no layoff policy because of the finances. We heard about the Grand Bank hospital that the member spoke so many times about, about the broken promise, but here is a broken promise made by the Premier that is not going to cost the taxpayers any money. It will not cost the public purse any money. We always hear of the broken promises; it is going to cost us too much and we cannot afford it. So, my question is: What is your reason for breaking this promise that the Premier made before and during the election?

Mr. Speaker, I am just going to do a little comparison. The August, 2003, Blue Book: A minimum 20 per cent savings, likely 30 per cent. That was in the Blue Book. Today, they are saying a 9 per cent savings. Most people involved with insurance companies these days are saying this is not achievable.

Look at the second one. They are going to put a cap on soft tissue injury at $2,500. That is the Blue Book commitment. That is how they are going to lower their rates from 20 per cent, possibly 30 per cent. Now we see that we have a $2,500 deductible for soft tissue injury; a glaring, glaring, betrayal of the people who voted for the PC government because of the reform policies for the insurance, Mr. Speaker.

Another glaring omission in their Blue Book in 2003, eliminate rate discrimination based on age, sex or marital status. Eight months later, Mr. Speaker, eight months later, there is no elimination of the rate of discrimination based on age, sex or marital status. Once again, Mr. Speaker, we see a betrayal of the commitments that were made in August, 2003, with the big announcements of how the Premier said: I have been in that industry for a number of years. I know what is best for Newfoundland and Labrador, and here is my policy to reduce rates. Completely opposite, Mr. Speaker, from what was in the Blue Book of August, 2003.

In 2003, a review will take place to further examine insurance rates. Today, there is no indication of future reforms, Mr. Speaker. We hear we are going to put it to the PUB, Mr. Speaker. The PUB are the ones now who are going to say: Go out and hold hearings. Go out and do our work.

The government should set the policy, not the PUB. The PUB is not there to set government policy. The members opposite were elected to do that. They made commitments in August of 2003, Mr. Speaker.

Here is another one, Mr. Speaker, August, 2003, in the Blue Book: 120 after a PC government took over power they would have in the new reform. Mr. Speaker, that is four months. We are into the ninth month. June is the ninth month that this government has been in power, and there is no commitment right now, Mr. Speaker, nine months.

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of the broken promises that were made by this government over the last six or seven months were blamed on our fiscal position. Taxpayers cannot afford it. They left us with no money in the pot. I cannot wait to hear what the Premier is going to say, why, because he has not spoken on this bill yet. I cannot wait to see why the Premier is going to say why he broke this promise, the commitment that he made to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, that in 120 days he would have this legislation in and approved, rates up to 20 per cent to 30 per cent. That was his commitment.

Mr. Speaker, I heard the Premier today, and on the news also - in the House of Assembly and on the news tonight - talking about where he consulted other Atlantic Canada Premiers, and he boasted how he consulted the other premiers and the consultation process he had. Speaking to people in those provinces, speaking to people who were in the industry who deal with those provinces, they say that, with the cap that they introduced in those Atlantic Provinces, there is a reduction of 20 per cent to 30 per cent in premiums. So I ask the members opposite, and the Premier: If you are going to consult, if you are going to have meaningful consultation with premiers in other provinces, and if they can tell you how they lowered the premiums by 20 per cent to 30 per cent, and if you are truly committed to reducing premiums, why didn't you listen? Why didn't you follow the steps that those premiers said they implemented, and they have lower savings? This has been confirmed by the industry itself, that there are lower savings in those provinces.

We hear all about this consultation process, that I consulted, we consulted, and this is the best. Yet, we can see where the Premier personally consulted, according to the Premier; yet, he would not follow the example of the other Atlantic Canada Provinces, which have a reduction of 20 per cent to 30 per cent in these premiums.

Mr. Speaker, I have a lot of friends who are lawyers, and I know we all know people around who are lawyers. We all know the effect that some of this may have on lawyers, and we may know some of the effect it will have on their practice. We know that. We are not sheltered by that. We are all faced with that, and I am sure every Member of this House of Assembly has lawyer friends who give us their opinion of what should happen. Some may be for personal gain, some may be for the true concern of the consumer, and some may be in the middle.

Mr. Speaker, I have no doubt in my mind that this legislation being brought forward here today will benefit one group, and that is the lawyers in this Province. We heard the Premier say: We have everybody upset. We have the consumer groups upset. We have the insurance company upset. We have the local companies upset. We have the brokers upset. We must be doing something right; we have everybody upset. How come there aren't any lawyers upset?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. JOYCE: I am not knocking lawyers. I have some good friend who are lawyers, but my role here is to protect the consumer. The consumer here, Mr. Speaker, is who we are elected to protect, and that is what we are trying to do here as the Opposition.

Mr. Speaker, we also hear of the companies pulling out of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. I saw the Premier tonight on the news, and I heard him on the news tonight, saying: So what, if they pull out? There are others going to fill in. So what, if Dominion of Canada and Aviva pull out? That is just two. That is just a start. How many more are there? How many more will pull out? How many more will they offer the services to insure people of Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker?

We heard today that 34 per cent, they gave notice they will not take any new clients. They gave their notice of 120 days, I believe, 120 days that they will be pulling up stakes out of Newfoundland and Labrador. The Premier, that does not bother the Premier. There are more to come. What if they do not come, Mr. Speaker? What if the consumer in this Province has only one or two, and these one or two have a monopoly on the insurance coverage in Newfoundland and Labrador? How can anybody in this Province, how can any member opposite, tell me, with one or two companies offering this type of service to Newfoundland and Labrador, that they are not going to have a monopoly and they can charge what they want because there is no one else going to come in and fill the void. The rationale just does not hold water, no matter where in Newfoundland and Labrador you want to try and explain that. The rationale is just not there.

Competition helps pricing. Competition is what keeps the prices lower in Newfoundland and Labrador. If we look at the fishery, Mr. Speaker, competition is what keeps prices to a minimum and we get better prices. If there was only one buyer in Newfoundland and Labrador, the fishermen would get lower prices because there is only one person to sell the fish to, and then whoever owns the monopoly, whoever controls the product, they can charge what they want. If you do not want to sell it to me, there is no one else to sell it to. Mr. Speaker, that is going to be the same thing with the insurance companies. If there are only one or two in Newfoundland and Labrador that will offer this service, there is lack of competition. Lack of competition means higher prices, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I heard the Member for Windsor-Springdale talk about the refusal to provide services. In some cases, you say you cannot refuse services; but, then again, you can charge what you like. If some young person comes in - age, sex, marital status, whatever, Mr. Speaker - they can say: You have to provide services. We do not care what your rates are, but you have to provide services.

Even in this legislation, Mr. Speaker, it just shows the heavy-handed approach of this government, a $250,000 fine. Who cares what the reason is, as long as you offer the service. You can charge what you like for the service, but you have to offer it. If you do not, we will charge you up to $250,000. Once again, we see the heavy-handed approach, the big stick of the government, and we have seen that through the unions. We have seen that through the public sector strike. Once again, instead of trying to find a solution, it is the big stick approach: If you do not do as we tell you, we will make you.

I think the legislation again must somehow address some of the concerns of the youth, the marriage status, age and other discriminatory policies that are not in this legislation. Then, Mr. Speaker, you bring in this piece of legislation that is here. Here we see - here is our legislation. If we have any further consultation, we are going to go through the PUB. We are going out and telling the general public that the plan that I put in - the Premier, the government, the members opposite, and I am sure some of them have probably seen the plan before he presented it, but I am not sure - we can see that the plan that we put in on August 20, I believe, of 2003, forget that now. We are going to come in with a skeleton plan - not what we committed to, not what we promised, not what we said in our Blue Book, not what we saw last August - but here is something right here now, just to put in, just to say we have something for you. We are going to take our position now and give it to the PUB and say: You go and hold hearings for us and let us know.

This government was elected to make policy. They were elected on a certain commitment they made to get electorate back in 2003, Mr. Speaker. One of the commitments they made was to lower the rates by 20 per cent to 30 per cent. That was a commitment. That was in their Blue Book, Mr. Speaker. If you go back to the Blue Book, which is now the blueprint, obviously, if you go back to it and you look at all the things that they committed to, which are not in this legislation, Mr. Speaker, and all the different items that were great back in August, 2003 - age, sex and marital status. Despite their promises, Mr. Speaker, this government has failed to address insurance rates for those being discriminated against because of their age, sex and marital status. That is not what they committed to in August, 2003. That was not what they went around with their Blue Book and promised to do. Within 120 days, we will have legislation brought in here.

Mr. Speaker, it is almost eight months later - almost eight months later - when the Premier promised to have the legislation in front of this House of Assembly in four months. That was the Blue Book commitment, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, we talk about the consultation process. We look at the consultation process, that the Premier said we consulted. We already have one from Aviva, the company itself, saying they have been three months right now trying to get a meeting with the Premier. I believe they met with the minister for a while, or the Chief of Staff or Parliamentary Assistant, whoever sat in on the meeting, and there are still waiting for a response for a meeting with the Premier.

Then we have Mr. John Cooke, President of the Dominion of Canada. Here is his press release that he put out, Mr. John Cooke: Mr. Cooke emphasizes that he has tried, but not successfully, at engaging the government in discussions regarding options to address rate inflation in the Province.

Yet, Mr. Speaker, we hear the Premier stand up and say: Well, we consulted with the industry. We consulted with the other Atlantic Canada Provinces. We consulted with the stakeholders. My question is: Who did you consult with? When the Minister of Government Services was questioned - where did the $2,500 deductible? - her initial response was: Well, a few of us got together. A few of us got together and came up with the $2,500 deductible.

Well, here is an opportunity for the minister, in this debate - and it is the minister's bill - to stand up and say who we are that sat around that table. Who are the two or three? I know the minister is listening. I know the minister wants to answer the question. She made the statement. It was not me who made the statement. It was her, in defending the $2,500 deductible, who said, two or three of us were sitting around.

I ask the minister: Will you stand up during this debate and tell us who was around that table when two or three of you came up with the deductible? Because it is a glaring omission and it is a complete betrayal of what the Premier promised in 2003. Mr. Speaker, it is a complete betrayal.

The minister can get over there now and say that we got together, but the general public would love to know who are the two or three who got together and, instead of putting the rates down by 20 per cent to 30 per cent, all of a sudden, down to a possible 9 per cent. It is a glaring omission, and the minister should stand on her feet. If this is what is causing this reduction to be 9 per cent, she is to say who was at that meeting, who sat around that table, and when did this meeting go ahead. That is what the minister said herself. So, during this debate, she should stand up and say who influenced her decision to change the Blue Book policy. Who was it, Mr. Speaker? The general public, the people we are here to defend, the consumers, are the ones who are going to suffer through this.

Here is what Mr. Cooke, the President of Dominion of Canada, also says. This is the same group that the Premier said he spoke to. It is the same group that the Premier said he consulted. Here is what Mr. John Cooke, President of Dominion of Canada, said in his press release: Recent experiences with reform in Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick clearly demonstrate how government should proceed to reduce rates for consumers.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind the hon. Member for Bay of Islands that his time has expired.

MR. JOYCE: Just one minute to clue up, Mr. Speaker?

MR. SPEAKER: By leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. member, by leave.

MR. JOYCE: Mr. Speaker, this is a very important issue, and I am sure I will be back up speaking again. I ask the members opposite to live up to the Blue Book commitment and follow up on the survey that was done before the election, that consumers wanted lower rates.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

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

MR. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I rise tonight to make a few comments on Bill 30 and talk about the campaign promises that were made during the past election, by this government, and how they fell far short of what is being delivered by way of legislation in the House here tonight.

Mr. Speaker, I think everybody in this Province will acknowledge that the cost of obtaining motor vehicle insurance in this Province in particular has certainly gone out of control. I think that every single person in this House of Assembly, either themselves or family members, or people they know, have paid exorbitant rates of insurance premiums during the past few years, and everybody here is aware of the impact that is having on people's ability, number one, to purchase insurance, providing full coverage, and, secondly, in some cases, to look at the very possibility at all of having any coverage on your vehicle and probably having to park their vehicles.

I know many young people, particularly here in this area but in all areas throughout the Province, who found a job, saved some money, needed a car because of necessity, and purchased a vehicle, Mr. Speaker. They can afford to do that. They can afford to buy a car. They can afford to put gas in it, even with the high price of gas today, but their vehicle today is parked simply because they cannot afford to keep up with the insurance that they are required to pay. That is certainly shameful. It is something that should not be permitted to be allowed to happen in a Province like ours, or in a country like ours. People should not be held ransom by insurance companies who are reaping high profits at the expense of the consumer.

Mr. Speaker, we have all heard people who have been dumped into what is called Facility, for so-called high-risk drivers, but that is not the only way, I say to members opposite, that a person can end up in Facility Association, paying these high rates. I have heard stories where people have ended up in Facility simply because of NSF cheques, or failure to pay on time, or other reasons, Mr. Speaker, and they end up being put, or dumped, I should say, into this association called Facility and paying exorbitant rates.

I know, Mr. Speaker, as a result of a couple of accidents that I have had myself, in my own family, on two vehicles, my insurance premium for total coverage was about $7,000 a year. That was prior to my becoming involved in politics. I can tell you, that is a very high price to pay, but it is one that we have to pay sometimes. It is fine to say that you can have limited coverage, such as public liability, but if you have a new vehicle for which you have a loan from the bank, or if you are leasing a vehicle, then you are going to be required to have full coverage, Mr. Speaker. Then it is not an option any more; it is a requirement. Sometimes you get caught in that situation, halfway through purchasing a vehicle, before it is paid off. There is no option in a case like that, Mr. Speaker. People are caught in the situation where they have to pay.

The other thing that most of us who have kids know, Mr. Speaker, and it has been mentioned many times here today, is there is a huge difference in a person's or a family's son obtaining insurance to drive, and a family's daughter. That discrimination should end, and it should end immediately, because there is no basis for it whatsoever. It certainly smacks of discrimination in its rawest and purest form.

Mr. Speaker, this legislation that is before the House today talks about savings, and people on the opposite side of the House have been getting up talking about the savings that consumers in the Province are going to realize because of this legislation. Mr. Speaker, that is not going to happen. Last year, the insurance companies in this Province were granted premium increases, as much as 33 per cent on their insurance, that they could charge to consumers. Mr. Speaker, that insurance premium increase that was granted for some companies, for some companies that premium increase will still be effective for anyone who is renewing their insurance in June, July, August, and in some cases September, so people are going to be hit. Depending on which insurance company they are with, they could be hit with as much as a 33 per cent increase, Mr. Speaker, if they are renewing their insurance at the end of September in 2004. That hike in the insurance premium will carry them all the way through September, 2005.

I think, when people in this Province start to renew their insurance premiums as we go forward, they are going to be very, very upset with this government when the public of this Province have been told and believe that there is an actual freeze on insurance premiums in our Province. That is far from the truth. That is not the case, and they are going to be pretty upset consumers with the people opposite when they find out that there is absolutely no protection for them whatsoever being offered in the legislation that we are discussing here this evening.

Mr. Speaker, I say to this government that the people of the Province, once they find out the very little protection that Bill 30 is going to offer them, I would not want to be on that side of the House trying to explain to residents of this Province why what was promised is not going to happen and, in fact, in many cases, people will be worse off than they were before.

Mr. Speaker, we have heard yesterday and today about a couple of insurance companies who will no longer be providing insurance, they say, and will be leaving this Province. Well, there is not much that we can do about that. Maybe if more insurance companies left this Province it would be a faster road for us to have a public insurance program - something that I believe, and I am convinced that people of this Province want, and people of this Province deserve, and would certainly offer them more affordable rates and better protection than what they have under our present system.

We know, Mr. Speaker, and I know from a personal basis of having insurance for a long number of years, the fact that you can shop around sometimes and save a few dollars, even by changing insurance companies on a regular basis, works for some people, where they can save money between what they pay one year to a company and what they would have to pay in a following year. Mr. Speaker, I really do not understand that, why people should be subject to being able to do that, because if we had the proper system in this Province then you would pay the same rate. If we had a public system in this Province, you would pay the same rate and there would be no way that you could shop around and try to save a few dollars when, in the final analysis anyway, you are paying much higher premiums than you would under a public insurance plan.

Mr. Speaker, I looked at a news story recently. Before I get to that news story, I would just like to look at the automobile vehicle insurance premiums in jurisdictions that have a public insurance plan versus jurisdictions like ours, which has a private system. In Newfoundland and Labrador, since 1992, our insurance premiums have increased by 127.4 per cent, whereas the three public systems, B.C. at 41.6 per cent, Saskatchewan at 42.2 per cent, and Manitoba at 44.2 per cent - a big difference, Mr. Speaker. The places, the provinces, that have a public system insurance policy in this country have insurance increases that are only one-third, I say to the Minister of Finance, one-third of the increases that have taken place in this Province over the same period of time. I think that speaks well for itself, Mr. Speaker, the fact that we need a public sector insurance plan for the residents of our Province.

Mr. Speaker, talking about the poor insurance companies, I was also reading a transcript of a CBC news story that said - this is March 16, 2004, and I ask members to pay attention to this - that Canada's insurance companies are coming off a record year with a $2.63 billion profit in 2003 - get this, Mr. Speaker - a 673 per cent increase over the previous year. A 673 per cent increase, and they are crying poor. Well, if they are upset now, Mr. Speaker, if they are upset now, after recording a 673 per cent increase, they are not upset enough for me, I can assure you of that. They are going to have to be a lot more upset than they are now before I have any sympathy for them, with recording profits such as this.

We must remember, Mr. Speaker, that in the years that the insurance company recorded low profits, it is a direct result of their investments. It has little to do with the amount of money that people pay in to buy policies, and the amount that they pay out in claims. It has more to do, I would suggest, with their investment schemes and the high risk that they play in the stock market in order to achieve the highest returns if indeed they are lucky. So there is no sympathy there from me, on the amount of profits that they have.

By the way, Mr. Speaker, in case somebody thinks that was a one-year fluke, the $2.63 billion in profit in 2003 beat the previous record profit of $2 billion that was set in 1997. Six years prior, it was $2 billion, and in 2003 it was $2.63 billion.

Now, the insurance companies have an answer for that, Mr. Speaker. They explained that some parts of their industry are just more profitable than others. Isn't that a shame. I would say it is a good thing they are less profitable, because that 673 per cent would probably be 1000 per cent. That is the same thing as saying you have a corner store and you are selling one item for a fair price and you are making a profit, and you are selling a separate item for a lower price and saying that we would not have made a profit last year if it was not for the high-priced item. At the end of the day, at the end of the month, at the end of the year, all of the money from all of their sales go into the same till, and if they can record profits that have been identified here, then I do not think that the public of this Province, or the public of this country, have any need to feel sorry for insurances companies by virtue of them, by virtue of the people, wanting a better plan that offers better protection at more affordable rates, at lesser premiums. If the insurance companies are upset about that, Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, they are going to have to be a lot more upset before I start shedding any tears for them.

Mr. Speaker, one of the other statements that I found interesting in this story is that some advocates are calling on governments to rein in the insurance company profits, but that is unlikely to happen, the story says. The Insurance Bureau points out that the entire insurance industry in Canada still made less profits than the Royal Bank. What are they saying? That they should be making more money than the banks?

I can assure you, again, it is my opinion, and many others, that the banks in this country make too much money as well. If we look at the absolute ludicrous rate of interest that they charge to people with credit cards, then it is highway robbery. It is loansharking, really, Mr. Speaker, legitimate, legalized, loansharking.

The insurance companies want to be the top profit earners in the country. They want to be ahead of the banks, and they want to be ahead of everyone else, but I do not think that the people of this Province want it that way. If we had a public insurance plan in this Province one that was healthy, one that more than paid its way, one that charged us more affordable rates for the same coverage, or better coverage, then I think the people of this Province would be more than happy with that and they would be more than willing to go in that direction.

I certainly do not like the idea that this legislation proposes, with a review being conducted the fall by the Public Utilities Board to have hearings into the insurance issue. The Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair summed it up pretty good today, I thought, Mr. Speaker, when she talked about the Public Utilities Board, and the role they play in this Province with our utilities. I tell you, if they perform in the same manner with the insurance, and I am sure they will, as they do with the other utilities that we need in this Province, such as Hydro and other utilities that they govern, then I am very much afraid, Mr. Speaker, that the end will justify the means, and that, whatever the insurance companies want, the PUB will grant, and the sole purpose of them, in my opinion, is to justify how to get there. Not whether you get there or not, but how to get there with rate increases on a regular basis.

Mr. Speaker, I would be very much afraid of leaving the future of insurance in this Province to something like the Public Utilities Board, something that I do not think a lot of people in this Province have a lot of faith in, myself included, because I have had a number of dealings with them as well on the Hydro issue over the last number of years. They totally ignore - the Public Utilities Board, many times, will totally ignore - any evidence that is put in front of them. Their ruling does not reflect the evidence that has been put there by consumers, or the Consumer Advocate at many times. They go ahead and make their own rulings based on, not what the industry needs, what the industry wants, because there is a difference.

Mr. Speaker, I do not think that consumers will be served very well in this Province if we have to rely upon the Public Utilities Board to determine whether or not the insurance companies are granted increases and, by way of doing that, increases passed on to the consumer in the way of premiums.

Mr. Speaker, we also know, and it has been mentioned by previous speakers today, that there are probably people on our highways without any insurance at all. The system that we operate under, the private system that we operate under, Mr. Speaker, sometimes - not that it is right, and not that anybody can justify doing it, but - the system leaves itself to force people to do that. Mr. Speaker, some people have said that 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the vehicles on our highways and roads do not carry any insurance at all. If we had a public affordable insurance scheme in this Province, it would be more affordable and that number would greatly reduce because people would have the ability to purchase at least the public liability part and it would be better off for all of us.

Mr. Speaker, I will have other opportunities to address this issue before the other side of the House, the government side, forces it through, and I look forward to doing that.

Thank you for the time allotted me tonight.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER (Hodder): The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. GRIMES: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to make a few comments and pass on a few remarks at second reading of Bill 30, which I guess the people of the Province basically have been awaiting; the long-promised reform, I guess, is the word that has been used, reform of automobile insurance.

Without any suspense, let me say that it is quite clear to ourselves, as the Opposition, and I believe to the people of the Province, that there is no reform in this. This is far from a reform. There is a little bit of tinkering, which falls far short of what was promised, so it will very quickly settle into another commitment made and another commitment broken by the new government with their new approach. This time, unfortunately, and I know other speakers have said this in the debate, Mr. Speaker, but this time they do not even have the crutch, the excuse, because what we have seen for seven months - well, at least since January 5, since the big myth was put out there about the desperate financial circumstance in the Province, which just is not true - so far, for other things like in the most draconian Budget that was presented since Confederation, they had at least a story to tell. They had created a story, saying: We had no choice, you know, folks. We really would have liked to have done something else, but we had no money.

Well, would somebody like to get up on the government side and tell us what changing their minds completely about a promised insurance reform last August, when the Premier and the current Parliamentary Assistance to the Premier, the Member for Conception Bay South, held a press conference and laid out the fundamentals of a reform, that they said: We have taken our time. As a matter of fact, they delayed - if you remember this - their announcement a couple of days. When they finally made it, they said: We did not want to rush into it. This has been well researched, this has been well planned. We wanted to make sure we did it right. We do not want to do something in a half-baked manner, like the government sometimes does.

That was their speech that day. They said: We took our time. We thought it out. We made sure we did it right. We made sure we all agreed what the right approach was. Guess what the right approach was? The right approach was for a cap on soft tissue injuries. They had researched it. They had thought about public insurance that our colleague, the Leader of the New Democratic Party, the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, has been proposing, because he held his own press conference. Mr. Speaker, the then Opposition, the then Opposition Leader, the then critic, the now Parliamentary Assistant, the now Premier, said: We have taken our time. We did not rush into this. We have studied this for months and we have come to the conclusion, with all of the research that we have had available, that the right approach is an approach that caps soft tissue injury because what it will enable us to do - this is what they said - is guarantee a reduction on compulsory coverage.

There is only one compulsory coverage; that is third party liability. That is the only thing that the government insists that you have on your vehicle in order to legally be entitled to drive a vehicle in Newfoundland and Labrador. You do not have to have collision. You do not have to have comprehensive. You do not have to insure the glass. You do not have to have other accident coverages, but you must have third party liability. The whole debate was around making sure that the mandatory insurance was affordable because the rates - not only in Newfoundland and Labrador, but across the country - had gone out of control. They had been sky-rocketing out of control, not in the last eight or ten years, as the Minister of Government Services wanted to talk about today when she introduced the bill. The government, she said, had it for eight years and did nothing about it, and there was a study started.

Let me tell you, Mr. Speaker, what the study was about when the committees were put together in 1995 and 1996. They were not about sky-rocketing rates. Guess what it was about? Does the Member for St. John's South, the Minister of Environment and Conservation, remember? It was about contingency fees and it was about no-fault insurance. We had an all-party committee travel the Province and study whether or not no-fault insurance was the right kind of insurance to mandate in Newfoundland and Labrador; not because there were concerns all over the Province about the rates getting out of control. There were no concerns being registered about the rates, but I can tell you, there have been concerns registered about the rates in the last couple of years. It became a huge issue, as everybody knows, in an election in New Brunswick, where a Conservative government that went into it in a landslide position won the election by about thirty votes total, one seat hanging in the balance, and everybody in the country knew that the election turned, and a government almost changed, because of sky-rocketing insurance rates on mandatory third party liability; not your comprehensive, not your extra coverages, not your collision. That is all voluntary, by the way, optional.

In this sector, Mr. Speaker, in Newfoundland and Labrador, I think the insurance brokers in Newfoundland and Labrador - anyone who studies it will tell you - in our Province today, 60 per cent of the people only carry the mandatory coverage. They do not have any comprehensive coverage. They do not have any accident benefits. They do not have any collision coverage. They do not buy any options. They have a pickup truck that they use to get back and forth in the woods to get a bit of wood to go into the cabin, and they have to have third party liability on it or they are not allowed to drive it. That is what the insurance is that they put on their vehicles. If they have a fairly new vehicle, a year or two old, they will probably put some extra coverage on it, but in the third and fourth year, if they keep the vehicle that long, they will drop the options, because by that time they are starting to get close to owning the vehicle, getting close to having it paid off at the bank, and they go to just the mandatory insurance.

So the minister introducing the bill today, reading from her carefully prepared script, reading from the script, she said: The government did nothing about it for eight years. Well, there was not an issue about these rates to deal with eight years ago, but there sure was when they made a commitment and when they announced that they had studied it and they laid out their plan last August. There sure was, when they presented a Blue Book to the people of the Province, a Blue Book in the election in which they said, we will do insurance reform. The Tory Blue Book now turned into a blueprint, it was called now in the Throne Speech, they took book off it and put in print. So they are now living to the blueprint, and in the Throne Speech it said: We will deliver on the blueprint, which used to be the Blue Book that they all trotted around the Province with during the election.

Guess what was in the Blue Book? So, even in October, when they were knocking on doors and surfing around on the coattails of the great one, even when they were doing that, guess what was in the book? They did not talk much about the book. They did not have to. They just had to make sure the coattails hung on long enough to get in there; but, for the few people who looked at the Blue Book, which was the blueprint, they had looked at it again from August month, and in October they were still saying to the people: We will do automobile insurance reform and we believe the answer is a cap on soft tissue injury claims.

Now, there is a major feature of this bill that the minister introduced today and it did not say a cap. It said another word. It said deductible. Now, deductible is not in here. Deductible was not mentioned by the Parliamentary Assistant, the Member for Conception Bay South, who was proud to sit there with the Premier and say we have studied this in absolute total detail and I can tell you that we have examined every model in the world. We have looked far and wide. We have looked everywhere, and we have determined that the best solution for the consumer is a cap. So, there was a cap last August. There was a cap in the Blue Book. There was a cap in the blueprint and, all of a sudden, on March 17, there is a statement made by the new minister and the Premier down in the press facility downstairs in this building and the cap mysteriously disappeared. A word that had three letters c a p, changed into a great big long word beginning with a d: deductible. The first time we heard tell of it, so we came to the Legislature and the questions were asked.

Here is what is telling, too, Mr. Speaker. Questions were asked, because that is our job as an Opposition, to pose some questions. Hopefully they are probing questions. We do not get many answers. The strangest part is, the minister, yesterday - the bill was circulated in this House Friday past, I believe.

AN HON. MEMBER: Thursday.

MR. GRIMES: Thursday past.

The Government House Leader gave first reading, notice of motion, first reading, so he could actually give us the bill so we could study it through the weekend and prepare for debate.

A question was asked yesterday about the bill that we were given on Thursday, so we could read it and know what was in it. A question was asked for clarification and the minister says: Oh, I will answer that tomorrow when the debate starts.

I cannot believe it. What kind of an answer is that? They gave us the bill that it took them six months to put together, and then, after refusing to answer the question in the Legislature, and giving an answer, saying: Well, I will give you the answer tomorrow when we start the debate - the media asked the same question outside those doors right there and she answered the question. She would not answer the question in here. She would not answer the question in the people's House, where the people who were elected in forty-eight districts were given the responsibility to come in here and enter into a debate, ask some questions, and she refused to answer the question in the Legislature.

MR. E. BYRNE: A point of order, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: A point of order has been raised by the Government House Leader.

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

I am going to use the Leader of the Opposition's word. It is important that we always be, I think he says, truthful in the House of Assembly.

The fact of the matter is that what we are looking at right now, and what the Leader of the Opposition has alleged on the minister is completely incorrect. For three weeks - for three weeks, Mr. Speaker - in the lead-up to the insurance legislation, the Leader of the Opposition and some of his colleagues stood up in this House and asked questions: Where is the insurance legislation? For that three weeks they knew when it was coming, because I advised the Opposition House Leader when it was coming and when it would be put here. Now he stands up and says - trying to create this story which he tends to create about everything, I guess, which contains seeds or threads of truth, but not the whole truth.

The fact of the matter is this: The minister that he has called into question, saying that she gave us a bill on Thursday and we asked the question on Monday, and she said: Well, we will answer that in debate tomorrow - that is not entirely true. The fact of the matter is that any honest, sober and truthful look at what transpired in Hansard that day will tell a different story.

Maybe the Leader of the Opposition is not really interested in that, but I can tell you that I am, the members on this side of the House are, and I believe the public are too. Do yourself a service, Sir. When you are speaking about other members of this House, put it in the context and tell all the truth, not just one little kernel to suit your own political agenda.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. PARSONS: Mr. Speaker, I do not feel it is a point of order that has been raised by the hon. Government House Leader. It is probably more, as he is apt to do, whenever someone over here makes commentary in a speech that becomes embarrassing to the government, they tend to slow down the commentary by interjecting with these so-called points of order.

To the comments made by the Government House Leader - and he is a fine one to get up and talk about who said what - I happen to be the person who asked the questions yesterday, of the Minister of Government Services, and I asked the minister to respond to certain questions dealing with Bill 30, and the minister said - and did not respond - she would not respond until they got to debate.

That very same minister, the Minister of Government Services, left this Chamber, walked outside these doors, fifty feet away, and answered the same questions for the media that I had put to her. I do not know what is untruthful about that, but that is the fact. That is what transpired in this House yesterday, and that is what the Leader of the Opposition has said here tonight.

It is quite clear what was said. The bottom line was, and the point that is being made by the Leader of the Opposition here is that this minister has, on several occasions - forgetting about when the bill was coming into the House and we received several different answers on several different days - the bottom line here was, this minister did refuse and is stilling refusing to answer questions that are being raised in this House. I asked them again today and the same minister refused today to answer the questions. That is the bottom line here. Maybe if the minister would answer some of the questions, we would not have to deal with these so-called points of order here in this Chamber.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair has listened to both sides. There is a disagreement between two members as to the circumstances and the happenings. The Chair cannot respond to events that happened outside the House. The Chair can only respond to what happens inside the House.

Members know that it is always the choice of the minister as to whether or not she answers the question in Question Period, or does not answer.

There is no point of order.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate the interruption. It gives me a chance to catch my breath and carry on with the point that I was making.

Mr. Speaker, the fact of the matter is this. Even earlier today, with the minister introducing the legislation on behalf of the government, if members want to check Hansard, which is the verbatim record of what was said in the House, they will find that the same minister who was entitled to one hour on behalf of the government to speak at second reading about the merits of this bill, spoke for fifteen minutes or so, maybe a bit longer, sixteen minutes, read a prepared speech, and in the prepared document, Mr. Speaker, said this -

MS WHALEN: There is nobody listening to you.

MR. GRIMES: The Minister of Government Services might wish there was nobody listening to me. She will find out that there are lots of people in Newfoundland and Labrador listening to everything that goes on in the Legislature all of the time, and then some.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. GRIMES: Mr. Speaker, the comment that she made again today, because I was even tempted, actually - rare for me, but I was tempted - to rise on a point of order. Very rare for me, as people would know. The comment that was made was this one. She was introducing the bill and she said - Bill 30, this bill - I will not go into a lot of details now because we will leave that for the debate.

The thought crossed my mind: But she is starting the debate. This is the debate. That is the exact quote that she made today. That is not the point that I want to make, because that is not directly to the content of the bill, but it happens to be a fact.

I would ask the Member for Mount Pearl, who spoke in the debate earlier today, to check the record. The record will show what the Opposition Leader said yesterday and what I said about what transpired yesterday in Question Period was accurate, and it will show it is accurate what I just said about her opening comments today.

MR. E. BYRNE: A point of order, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

A point of order has been raised by the Government House Leader.

MR. E. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, the record, I have in my hand. I am going to deal with two points, Mr. Speaker. First of all, what he said and alleged again is not correct. Let me read it so he knows what we are talking about.

The Opposition House Leader asked a question and said, notwithstanding the fact that this matter might be debated in the House - which the member did respond, saying it would be debated tomorrow - it is not uncommon, the Opposition House Leader said, to ask questions that are of importance to the general public. Fair enough. I ask you again, if you are now moved from a cap to a deductible scheme, why don't you at least have the intestinal fortitude to say, in this piece of legislation, what the deductible will be rather than leaving it blank and for the public to understand and for your Cabinet colleagues to decide the amount? That is fairly a straightforward simple question.

Here is what the minister responded: Mr. Speaker, the deductible will be in the legislation tomorrow, but if the hon. member would like to know, it will be a $2,500 deductible. A pretty straightforward answer to a pretty straight forward question, right?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. E. BYRNE: The second point, Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition gets up again, in a very interesting way - I will use that word as an adjective - saying that the minister stood in here place today, saying: Oh, I am going to start debate. I am not going to get into too many details because... - trying to leave the impression, again incorrectly, and it does not become hon. members in this House because what happened is absolutely different.

He knows that second reading of a bill talks about the general principles of the bill that every member deals with in second reading. What the member was referring to, and the minister was referring to, was that she would be introducing the bill, the principles behind it, why we are moving in that direction, a general explanation, and she referred to tomorrow when we would be in Committee debate, where we would actually debate the details clause by clause.

You see, the Leader of the Opposition is not interested in leaving correct impressions, does not necessarily have the backbone to say what he wants to say, but tries to leave the impression otherwise.

Again I say to members opposite, if that is the way that we are going to proceed, then every time, from here on in, that you leave those impressions, I am going to stand on behalf of the government and correct them, because that is exactly what we should be doing.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair rules that there is no point of order. There is a disagreement between members on a set of circumstances.

There is no point of order.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Government House Leader seems to be a little testy tonight. Maybe it is the time of the night or something; I do not know. In any event, I am sure that he has demonstrated that he can do a fairly effective job, most times, of defending just about any of the ministers on that side, because they do need a lot of defence. The real test will be when they stand on their own two feet and defend themselves, which they do not do.

Mr. Speaker, that is not the point that I want to make, but just again to finish, because I do have the floor and I am recognized, the point that he makes is this -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. GRIMES: - the question that was raised yesterday, that he wanted to take some time about, wasn't: What was the size of the deductible? Everybody knew that, Mr. Speaker. That was already in the press release they had put out before. The question was: Why isn't the deductible spelled out in the legislation? Why are you leaving it to a regulation?

She refused to answer that question in the House, and went outside and gave an explanation to the media as to why it had to be in a regulation and not in the legislation. You talk about getting your facts straight. I have a great deal of respect for the Government House Leader, but again he was a bit too much in haste to try and make that point and he missed the point completely, Mr. Speaker.

Now, back to what I was saying, Mr. Speaker. Here is the whole point. Again my good friend, the Member for Mount Pearl, shakes his head because he is probably wondering how we ever got into this, how we ever got into supporting some certain things - again, just like with the Budget - based on a set of premises that are false. Because he wasn't around, he wasn't part of that caucus, when the Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier, the Member for Conception Bay South, who was a sitting member, went to a press conference and said, we have examined every option in the world, and I, as the Premier, thirty years in the business, thirty years in this particular business - claiming that he knew as much about auto insurance as anybody in the world, and certainly, before he got into politics, was involved in what is advertised to be the greatest and most profitable personal injury insurance company of lawyers in the Province. Now, that was the basis -

MR. DENINE: You can't take the high road, can you?

MR. GRIMES: The Member for Mount Pearl can take his time and relax. He had his speech, and he got sucked in again into defending something that is indefensible, and he does not like to hear it, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. GRIMES: All I am recounting is what the Premier himself said to the people of the Province, and he says: Why aren't you taking the high road? Well, if I am repeating what the Premier of the Province said was why people should believe him, he said: I have done this for thirty years. I know more about this than anybody in the Province and, I am telling you, I have checked out every single model and the best model is a cap on soft tissue injuries, and the cap should be $2,500.

That was said in August, and I was saying that was said in the Blue Book.

MR. DENINE: (Inaudible).

MR. GRIMES: Settle down I say to the Member for Mount Pearl. He had his speech. He made a fool of himself, making his speech.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. GRIMES: He should relax.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

There is too much shouting across the floor. The Chair is having difficulty hearing the hon. Leader of the Opposition.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Then, even with further research, what the Member for Mount Pearl did not know was that he ran in a campaign with a Blue Book attached to him, along with the coattails, saying that the best model was a cap.

You ran on that platform, by the way. Would you like to know the platform you ran on? A cap on automobile insurance for personal injury, for soft tissue injury, that is what you ran on. I know you are embarrassed today.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. GRIMES: I know you are embarrassed tonight. I know you are embarrassed to tears, but that is the platform you ran on. That is your problem.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. GRIMES: Mr. Speaker, so that the people who have spoken in the debate, like the Member for Mount Pearl, who was so proud to speak, and the Member for Trinity-Bay de Verde, who was so proud to speak and support this so-called reform, which is no reform at all and a complete abandonment of what was talked about on August 27 - here is the press release talking about the Member for CBS, and talking about the fact that the plan would also contain a cap on soft tissue injury, and then, of course, they researched it further. The Premier himself, talking about - here are the quotes - thirty years' experience in this very area, and the Member for Mount Pearl says to me: Why don't you take the high road?

I am quoting what your leader said. Do you remember this? He said: That is why the people of the Province should trust me. Trust me. Trust me, because I know this better than anybody, and, having researched it, the answer is a cap.

Before I was interrupted, I had gotten to the point of saying: We asked the question in the Legislature of the minister. Because, on March 17, the cap vanished and got replaced by a deductible. The first question was this. This first question was to the minister. They say they have these discussions in the caucus. The Member from Windsor-Springdale got up tonight and said about all the input they had. They must have asked a few questions in the caucus. Surely goodness, after the Member for Conception Bay South and the then Leader of the Opposition saying, we have researched the world over and the best answer is a cap, and after the Blue Book, blueprint, saying, we will introduce a cap because it is the best plan in the world, they stood up on March 17 and said: Guess what? You know that cap? Forget all about that. A new plan: deductible.

Now, surely goodness, the Member for Windsor-Springdale put his hand up and said: Can I ask a question about that? The Member for Mount Pearl must have said: I would like to ask a question about that. Can I? Can I? So, what happened to the cap? It must have blown off, in a gale of wind, gone in a big storm. The perfect storm came up and blew off the cap. The cap is gone. I am sure you have discussed it in detail in your caucus. That is what you want us all to believe, isn't it?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. GRIMES: Oh, you did not ask any questions about it. Oh, they did not ask any questions about it. They did not ask any questions about what happened to that cap. As a matter of fact - and I guess the Government House Leader will jump up in a minute now and correct me - I would suggest that they heard about the cap on the news, just the same way they heard about the wage freeze on January 5. They heard about it on the news.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. GRIMES: I can see the smiles. I got it right, guessed right again.

They heard about it on the news, and now, stay tuned. To use a quote from the Minister of Justice: Stay tuned.

Mr. Speaker, they can relax a bit. I am not going to prolong this. I am just going to make a couple of points. They understand that the cameras may not be on. I do not perform for the cameras. I want to say my piece. Mr. Speaker, I get elected to say my piece and I can tell you, by the way, I say to my friend from Mount Pearl, who is in such a good mood tonight, having embarrassed himself that much he can hardly go home and face his family, I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, I was in this Legislature for thirteen years before it was televised, and those members who were here will tell you that I insisted on making my points then, just like I do now. I always did and I always will. Not only that, I did it inside of a caucus, I did it out in the public, and I even had to apologize sometimes because the Premier did not like what I said, but I stood up and said what I believed in. I stood up and said what I knew the constituents who voted me in believed in, and what they wanted said, and I did not kowtow to anybody, I will say to the Member for Mount Pearl.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. GRIMES: It was not a matter of putting on a show. It was a matter of standing up for what the people wanted you to stand up for, and he, just like others, Mr. Speaker, stood up with a Blue Book that said we are going to have a cap, and then they find out that the cap disappeared and becomes a deductible. The question to the minister, because I want to get the answer -

MR. E. BYRNE: I'm going to have to send you a Frank Sinatra tape, saying: I did it my way.

MR. GRIMES: No, no, it is not a matter of my way. It is the way that the people asked me. It is a matter of -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. GRIMES: Mr. Speaker, the question was asked: Where did this mysterious deductible come from? Because I am sure - I am trying to give you credit, now - I am sure that was the question you all asked in the caucus, although from the looks I am getting it has never been asked, I guess - found out on the news like everybody else - but, Mr. Speaker, I am giving your House Leader now a chance to get up on point of order and correct me again and say: Oh, no, it was all discussed in the caucus, just like the letter that was passed out in the caucus from Mr. Harper. Just like the letter that was handed out in the caucus from Mr. Harper. We all know that happened, too, don't we? We all know that happened. Yes, we do. We sure do, and we had a Minister of the Crown willing to stand up and say what happened in the caucus, and the only way the Premier could not embarrass somebody was to get up and say we do not talk about what happened in the caucus, when the Minister of Transportation and Works already got up and bragged about it. We had a minister get up, did not mind talking about what happened in the caucus at all. Oh, Stephen Harper passed out this letter when he was here, boy. He gave us all the letter.

Then the Premier almost fell into having to say yes, he passed out a letter, even though the letter was not even written until two weeks later. The only way he could avoid that embarrassment was to say we do not talk about what happens in caucus; it is private. Well, it was not private for the Minister of Transportation and Works when he wanted to tell a certain story about something that did not happen.

If I am telling something that is incorrect, I am sure he would be jumping to his feet and correcting me. He would jump to his feet right now and set the record straight in this Legislature, Mr. Speaker.

I can tell you, I do not know - I confess that I do not know - whether or not the question was asked in the caucus as to how and why the cap vanished, but it was asked in this Legislature, Mr. Speaker, and guess what the answer was? It is in Hansard. I am sure the Government House Leader will dig out Hansard for that day now. The answer in Hansard, what happened to the cap and where did the deductible come from? The Minister of Government Services stood to her feet and said: A few of us got together and had a chat about that.

Do you remember that answer? Do you remember that answer, I ask the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs? A few of us got together and had a chat about that. That was the answer. Of course, we followed up and said: Would you mind telling us who the few are? Then, the minister did not stand anymore because the Premier got up. The Premier said, it does not matter about that. We have done some research. We have sent it off to the PUB and there was some mention of a deductible so we decided on a deductible.

I believe it was yesterday, again the issue of the deductible - no, it was today - was raised again today. Where did it come from? Guess what? A different answer today, Mr. Speaker. Guess what the minister said today. The minister said the deductible came from a 1998 government report.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. GRIMES: No, we were already told by the minister responsible. We do not need another answer. I am just pointing out, Mr. Speaker, I do not need another answer from another minister. We have the answer.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: We seem to have a lot of discussion going from side to side. The Chair recognizes the hon. the Leader of the Opposition. I am asking members to keep their conversations down so we can all pay attention to the hon. member who has the floor.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is an important point that will be recorded in the record of the House of Assembly, that the minister responsible was asked on two different occasions: Where did the notion of a deductible come from? The first answer was: A few of us sat around and had a chat about that. We asked: Would you mind telling us who the few were? Because we assumed it would have been some serious stakeholders, some consumer representatives, maybe some broker company representatives, maybe some members of the legal community who represent people who have claims. We got no answer on that, other than it was a few people who sat around. We never did get an answer as to who the few were. Yesterday and today it has changed again. It says it comes from a 1998 report.

Now, the Government House Leader got up a few minutes ago and talked about me using a kernel of truth. Well, there is a kernel of truth in that second answer that the minister gave about where it came from, because in a 1998 report from the all-party committee there was a recommendation that talked about a deductible, but it said two things. Let me read it for you, Mr. Speaker, for the record, because it is important. It did not talk about a $2,500 deductible that is just going to be added to the claim. These claims that we are talking about are considered in the parlance of the business as nuisance claims. They are $5,000 and $6,000 and $7,000. They are soft tissue injuries. They have driven the cost up, they have driven the experience up, and that is why the premiums have gone up. That is the biggest issue that has contributed to it. They are considered these small and not permanent or serious injuries. They are soft tissue injuries, and they have become part of all the claims in the last few years.

Well, the committee a few years ago said, one way around it is to put in a deductible. Guess what deductible they recommended? Not $2,500, which is just going to drive a $5,000 claim up to $7,500, as was already said by the insurance representatives today in the media. It was a recommended deductible of $15,000, which was, on average, $5,000 more than the claims were, so that somebody would not bother, because if the first $15,000 was deductible, why would you go in with a soft tissue claim of $7,000? Because you were not getting anything. So the committee looked at it and said: If you are going to put in a deductible, make it big enough that it will be a deterrent.

Guess, Mr. Speaker, who the biggest lobbyists were against the notion of a deductible? I bet the Minister of Government Services knows. It was a well-known law firm. It was a well-known law firm in St. John's and in Newfoundland and Labrador. Williams, Roebothan, McKay and Marshall presented a brief to the government, saying: Do not bring in that deductible because it is too big. The $15,000 deductible will deter anybody from making these soft claims.

Now, I say to the Member for Mount Pearl, that happens to be a fact. I can send you over the brief that was presented by the law firm. It was done, and they said: Don't bring in the deductible.

The other thing, by the way, that the minister left out today when she said, in 1998, it was in a report. Sure, it was, but it recommended two things. It said: A $15,000 deductible, which was higher than the claims would be, so that the claims would stop. That was the intent of the deductible. It was to make the claims stop, to make them become non-existent. That was the whole intent of the recommendation.

The second part of the same recommendation in this same sentence also talked about the legal community, and it said: and that any of these claims not be allowed to have any contingency fees for lawyers.

AN HON. MEMBER: When was that brief presented (inaudible)?

MR. GRIMES: The committee started in 1995. The report was published in 1998. I can actually get the date. I will pass it over to the Government House Leader because, in fact, it is a matter for the public record. It was done at the time, and remember this. They take some comfort in talking about the eight years. The whole genesis of the study was to study no-fault insurance. That was no issue in Newfoundland and Labrador about sky-rocketing insurance rates for mandatory third party coverage. It was a non-issue. It did not happen. As a matter of fact, if you want to talk about issues, prior to the election, the now Premier, the Leader of the Opposition, was asked about the insurance issue. He said: Not that important. On a scale of one to ten, I would rate it one or two.

It is not like up at the top; it is down at the bottom. I should say maybe nine or ten, I guess. Say one or two being the first and second most important issues - in an election, he said, it might be in the top ten, but I doubt it.

So he did not even see insurance reform as being an important issue, and now they want to stand up and try to criticize the former government by saying: You people were dealing with this for eight years and you did nothing about it. The Premier, himself, before the election, was saying it is not urgent because it is not really something on the agenda. I tell you, Mr. Speaker, he felt it was urgent enough to put in the Blue Book, which is now the blueprint, and talk about a cap.

Mr. Speaker, again the issue is, when they have broken commitments before - and this is all about making commitments and breaking them, and losing the confidence and faith of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. I would suggest to you that, just like the public sector issue was an issue in which there was some confidence lost, just like the Budget itself was an issue in which there was a lot of confidence lost with this particular government, this issue will cause a lot of people to lose faith and lose confidence with this government because they promised something, they said they had it researched, they said they had the answers, they put out some solutions, and then they changed their mind. This time they cannot look across the House and say: Because you people left us in a financial mess - because automobile insurance rates for mandatory insurance have nothing to do with the Treasury of the government unless they want to take the 15 per cent tax off it and give the people a real break, which they have already said they will not do, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, there are huge issues with respect to this that need to be dealt with in this particular debate. The other thing is this, and they are very touchy tonight, unfortunately. I guess they just do not like being reminded again of commitments they made and commitments they did not keep.

Mr. Speaker, the other issue again, another important issue with respect to this, is that they promised, when they had done the research, that on the mandatory insurance there would be a minimum 20 per cent reduction for everybody, and that it could go as high as 30 per cent. Now, in this sorry excuse for a reform bill, guess what the mandated reduction is going to be? Nine per cent. When they talked about it in August, and when they talked about it in the Blue Book, they said it would be at least 20 per cent and it might be as high as 30 per cent. So, what is the minister saying today? I am proud to stand up and present this bill. The Member for Trinity-Bay de Verde says: I am proud to be associated with this bill. The Member for Mount Pearl says: I am proud to be associated with this bill. The Member for Windsor-Springdale says: I am proud to be associated with this bill; I commend the people who had their input into it.

They promised a minimum 20 per cent saving on the compulsory insurance and are going to deliver 9 per cent, which the companies say might only be 5 per cent. It might only be 5 per cent. Who are they going to blame this one on? Are you going to blame it on the former government? Because they are trying to suggest there is no money in the Treasury. It has nothing to do with the Treasury. It has nothing to do with their own Budget. It has all to do with policy, philosophy, principle, believability, making a commitment and delivering on it. Instead of that, we make a commitment and we abandon it again and this time do not even have the specter of a half decent excuse to put up. At least before, I would suggest that some people did buy into their excuse about the Treasury - not many, but some - because if you tell that big myth that we have talked about many times, some people will actually believe it because they do not want to believe that the Premier would tell anything other than the truth. So they might believe that, but there is not even an excuse for this one. There is not one member - the minister cannot stand up and give any reason why this group abandoned the cap and is replacing it with a deductible that does not give any guarantee of any significant reduction in premiums for the consumer.

Mr. Speaker, let me talk about one other thing. Let's talk about the stakeholders involved in this. This has been discussed a bit in this debate already, as well. The primary stakeholder in this, of course, is the consumer; the consumer who was promised a 20 per cent reduction on the mandatory insurance, which might be as much as 30 per cent. What are they finding out today, that they might get as a result of this great reform? Nine per cent, maybe. They might get 9 per cent. Some of the people, by the way, who are well off enough and have enough money to buy some of those other options that you do not have to have to drive your vehicle - you might choose to have them because you want to protect it, because you have some money that you do not mind spending on insurance - they are not mandatory. This law is not making them mandatory. This law is not suggesting any change. So, if you have some of these other options, if you have some of these other options which 40 per cent of the people in the Province happen to have - I happen to have them because I choose to purchase them, not because I need them to drive my car, but I choose to spend some money on that insurance just like I choose to have certain options on my home and I choose to have life insurance. I choose to do that. Nobody makes me do that, but the government makes me have third party liability if I am going to drive a vehicle; or, in this law they are going to penalize them, rightfully so, a whole lot more, if they are caught driving without the mandatory insurance.

What they were promised was that they would get at least a 20 per cent reduction, and what they are finding now, for no reason that the government can blame on anybody because all they have is the great blame game: Oh, it is not our fault. We had no choice. Somebody else made me do it. Well, nobody made the government change their minds on this one, except maybe the Premier - except maybe the Premier - because all of a sudden the cap disappeared and a deductible is in and the savings is 9 per cent, maybe 5 per cent, according to the companies. Not twenty and maybe thirty, which the Premier promised, which is the campaign commitment they made, which the Member for CBS bragged about in a press conference before the election. It is going to be at least twenty, he said, and it could be thirty.

So, they did not take care of the consumers. They abandoned the consumers, and we have a little bit of a fix, a little, tiny, 9 per cent fix, maybe for a year. Then in comes the deductible and the minister is outside the House saying: We might have to change the deductible, by the way. The phrase she used is: The deductible might get eroded. Eroded was the phrase she used. The deductible might get eroded, so we might have to change it.

Do you know what erosion means? It means that the $5,000 claim, these small, so-called nuisance claims that have now been almost automatically a part of every single accident - because if you call one of these 722-hurt or something, someone will say: Well, you were in an accident; I will get you some money. You do not have to be hurt. You do not have to have a real injury but, if you let me get involved, I can get you some money.

That is what has driven up the claims, and that is what has driven up the rates, and that is what has driven up the premiums.

Now, what is going to happen because there is a $2,500 deductible? Instead of going out and getting $5,000 or $7,000, because there is a $2,500 deductible, they have to claim an extra $2,500. If I am injured and I decide to call a lawyer, which I have not done -

AN HON. MEMBER: You don't have to call them. They call (inaudible),

MR. GRIMES: They do; they call you. I am sorry about that. They call you. If they hear there is an accident, they run up to people and say: Do you want a lawyer? They call people and say: I can get you $6,000 or $7,000 for that. In order to get them $6,000 or $7,000 now, they have to get them $8,500 or $9,500, because there is a deductible. The minister said that deductible might erode. So, next year what are they going to do, make the deductible $5,000? So, in order to $6,000, now there has to be $11,000 paid out. Guess what happens? They go to the PUB, which is their great answer, and because they had to pay out these extra claims, guess what happens to the rates next year this time? They go up. So that 9 per cent saving that they might get, which insurance companies say is likely to be closer to 5 per cent, where it was promised to be at least 20 per cent, might last until the first PUB hearing, and then it is right out the window and the rates go up because they are going to pass it over to PUB, and the PUB, because these are companies that have to make some level of profit, just like they did with Hydro recently, they give them a rate of return. They said: We have to let you cover your expenses. So, we show what we paid out. You have to be able to make some kind of a small profit or you cannot stay in the business, and the rates go up.

That is what this bill is going to do. That is why this bill is a disaster. That is why this bill does nothing that it was really intended or purported to do. That is why this bill, in its major feature of the deductible in particular, is dead wrong. It is a complete abandonment, for no good reason, of what the government promised to do, and they have, this time, no one to blame it on, not a soul. They cannot look at Roger Grimes this time and say: You left us in a mess and we had no money so we had to change what we were doing about insurance. Insurance has nothing to do with the provincial Treasury, not one thing. Insurance has to do with the companies, and the claims, and the lawyers, and the drivers, and the people. The only role that the government has had in it up until now is to mandate that you are not allowed to drive a car in the first place unless you have third party liability coverage. That is all they had to do, was talk about the one issue, but no, no.

Here is the other big smoke screen, Mr. Speaker: Oh, it is bigger than that. There is business insurance, there is marine insurance, there is life insurance, there is house insurance. Well, guess what the big difference is with all of those? They are not mandated by law, that you have to have any of them. There is no legislation in Newfoundland and Labrador, not in Canada, not in North America, not in the world, that says that I must purchase life insurance.

MR. J. BYRNE: Did you ever get a mortgage?

MR. GRIMES: There is nothing in the world that says that I must have it. There is not a piece of law - the minister, the great Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs, another one of the brilliant ministers down there in the corner, calls from his seat: Have you ever gotten a mortgage? Yes, and I can tell him I have gotten a mortgage. I have one now.

MR. J. BYRNE: You had to have insurance (inaudible)?

MR. GRIMES: This is the third one I have had, and there is no law in this land, in this Legislature, that says that I have to have insurance on my house.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. GRIMES: There is no law, there is not a piece of legislation - I ask him to stand up. I ask him to stand up and tell the world whether or not there is a law on the books in Newfoundland and Labrador that says that I must have home insurance in order to have a mortgage. The answer is no.

Now, Mr. Speaker, depending upon where I am borrowing the money, and how much I am borrowing, the lender might say: Well, I will lend you the money but I would rather that you have the property insured, but it is not the government. It has nothing to do with the government, Mr. Speaker, and that is where they get carried away. He thought he was making a wonderful point then. Oh, wonderful, you have to have insurance on a house.

The point is this, Mr. Speaker: The government doesn't tell you that you have to have insurance on a house. The government tells you that you cannot drive a car unless you have third party coverage. It is the only mandatory insurance in the Province, in the country, in North America and on the planet, that I am aware of. That was the only issue that started off. Now, to excuse the lack of action, what they now do, Mr. Speaker, is this: We have to study all of these other issues. It is going to be more comprehensive than that. We are going to study business insurance now.

What you have is a Premier of the Province who stood up yesterday or the day before and said I have to be really careful what I do with FPI because that is a business out there in the private sector, even though there is a piece of legislation here, so I have to be careful what I do and what I say. I have to be very careful what I do and what I say because we do not interfere with that. Guess what he is going to say now? He is willing to say that I am going to have a look at being the only jurisdiction on the planet that decides whether or not people - whether or not the law of the land dictates that people have business insurance, and what the rates would be. That is what he is saying. He is saying: I am going to have a look at that.

Why would you have a look at that? Why would the government want to get involved in that? I bet you that question has not been asked inside that caucus either, why it is that they want to confuse a very straightforward issue about mandated third party liability coverage with business insurance, home insurance, marine insurance, life insurance, completely non-related.

As a matter of fact, if the Premier were consistent, he would say there is no place for the government interfering into those kinds of businesses; but, because he wants to suggest that there are more studies needed, and bigger issues, because he is not dealing with this one in any kind of an effective fashion, he wants to confuse the issue, muddy the waters. Mr. Speaker, obviously they did not take care of the consumers like they promised, and no one to blame it on this time.

There is another part that goes back - today we talked about the companies, and the fact that two companies who already are involved in almost 35 per cent of all the insurance carried for third party liability in the Province have put the Province on notice that they are leaving the Province. The Premier gets up and says: Oh, we are not worried about the companies. We are standing up for the people. Guess what? There is a big impact on the consumer if two of the biggest companies who are carrying, now, 35 per cent of the whole portfolio disappear, because there will be less competition. When someone like myself goes out to renew my coverage when it is due, and if two of the biggest insurers in the Province are not available, the options are very limited for the consumer. They do not get any choices. They advise you to shop around.

Who are you going to shop around with, if they are all telling you that we are leaving the Province? You are not going to shop around with anybody, and you are going to have your current insurer saying to you: You do not have any choice but to stick with me, pal, so here is your rate. How is that to the benefit of the consumer?

Here was the big, brave Premier again today, pooh-poohing the fact that the biggest insurer in the country, by the way, in this Province - 24 per cent of the whole marketplace with one insurer - sent a letter to the government today, saying: We are not writing up any new claims - effective tomorrow, by the way.

So, if my insurance is due tomorrow, the company that is now doing 25 per cent of all the coverages in the Province, says: Don't call me. I am not interested in insuring automobiles in Newfoundland and Labrador any more for third party liability because this legislation is not workable. This legislation is going to drive up the rates, and by law you are going to tell us that you have to give a 9 per cent reduction to the consumer. They know that their costs are going up and therefore they know that they must lose money. They say, out of responsibility to our shareholders and the owners of the company, we cannot operate in a business environment where we know before we start that we must lose money.

Now, that is in writing, by the way, to the minister, to the Premier, to the others who got involved in it, those who the Member for Windsor-Springdale talked about, all of those who had input. That is in writing, saying that you have made a mess of it.

Not only that, but also very telling in the letter, it says: By the way, we have been asking to meet with you for three months. That is why we asked the minister: Who did you meet with when you sat down and came up with this deductible scheme? Oh, a few of us sat down, she said. We said: Who was it? I can tell you who it wasn't. It wasn't the people who actually provide the insurance, because they are writing - two of them, today, Dominion and Aviva, 35 per cent of all of the claims, all of the coverages in the Province, are in the hands of those two particular companies, and they both wrote the Premier and the government today, saying: We have been trying to meet with you for three months to suggest to you that a deductible is a huge mistake and will make the whole system in the Province totally unworkable. Not only that; they have now gone as far as to say: We are leaving. We are not insuring anybody else, effective tomorrow, and your new law which says you are not allowed to leave - the law says, by the way, you have to give them the 9 per cent break. Never mind the rest of it. Don't talk about the rest of it. The only thing that is guaranteed is the 9 per cent by law. You have to give them the 9 per cent, which they know means they have to lose money. Then the law says you are not allowed to leave unless you give us six months notice, 180 days.

Guess what they gave today? Six months notice. They said: We are not taking any more claims. We are not taking any more people in for insurance. We are not covering anybody else, effective immediately, and we are out of there. They might not be the only two. The minister will probably get up and say: Oh, we are not worried about the big companies. Well, you had better be worried about some company operating here because somebody has to provide the insurance, unless you are finally going to agree with my friend from Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi that public insurance is the way to go and that the government should run it.

I can tell you right now, with the sinking level of confidence in this government in Newfoundland and Labrador, there is nobody who has any confidence that this government could manage a public automobile insurance plan in Newfoundland and Labrador. There is nobody who has any real level of confidence, after the bumbling, stumbling and bungling that they have seen in the first seven months in office. I can tell you that for a fact, and I believe that will be verified, Mr. Speaker, to be true over and over again in the days, weeks and months ahead.

They said they are - oh, leaving the option open was what I heard today. He is going to have this comprehensive thing, going to go out and have this public consultation. Meanwhile, they pooh-poohed the fact that there were Committees of the House that went on for seven or eight years. What are they going to do now? They are going to do a closed claims study. Maybe the minister, in one of the questions tomorrow or the next day, will tell us how long she thinks that is going to take. The last one took over one year, so the study on which they are going to base their next decisions which they keep talking about - oh, we might do some more in the fall. It is going to take them over a year to do the study. That is next spring.

Mr. Speaker, in the meantime, the companies leave. There are no choices for consumers -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The member's allotted time has expired.

Does the member have leave?

MR. J. BYRNE: No leave.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak and we will raise specific issues at the Committee stage.

MR. SPEAKER: No leave. Leave has been denied.

MR. GRIMES: I appreciate the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs denying leave. I did not ask for any leave, Mr. Speaker. I will speak in Committee.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Is it the pleasure of the House that the said bill be now read a second time?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Nay.

MR. SPEAKER: Carried.

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Automobile Insurance Act, The Insurance Companies Act And The Highway Traffic Act To Effect Certain Reforms Respecting Automobile Insurance. (Bill 30)

MR. SPEAKER: This bill has now been read a second time. When shall this bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House? Now? Tomorrow?

AN HON. MEMBER: On tomorrow.

MR. SPEAKER: On tomorrow.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Automobile Insurance Act, The Insurance Companies Act And The Highway Traffic Act To Effect Certain Reforms Respecting Automobile Insurance," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill 30)

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

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

Order 2, second reading of a bill, An Act To Amend The Professional Fish Harvesters Act. (Bill 25)

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 25, An Act To Amend The Professional Fish Harvesters Act, be now read a second time.

Is it the pleasure of the House that the said bill be now read a second time?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

MR. SPEAKER: Contra-minded, ‘nay'.

Carried.

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Professional Fish Harvesters Act. (Bill 25)

MR. SPEAKER: This bill has now been read a second time. When shall this bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House? Now? On tomorrow?

AN HON. MEMBER: On tomorrow.

MR. SPEAKER: On tomorrow.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Professional Fish Harvesters Act," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow.

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

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

Order 6, second reading of a bill, An Act To Amend The Schools Act, 1997. (Bill 31)

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 31, An Act To Amend The Schools Act, 1997, be now read a second time.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Schools Act, 1997." (Bill 31)

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I just wish to rise for a few moments and speak briefly to Bill 31, An Act To Amend The Schools Act, 1997.

Essentially, Mr. Speaker, what we have here is perhaps, in some respect, a continuation of legislation that was put in place by members opposite when the Schools Act of 1997 was introduced and subsequently passed.

As the explanatory note indicates, Mr. Speaker, what this bill attempts to do is to clarify the situation of successor boards because, as all members are aware, once the transitional boards take effect on September 1 they will, in fact, become the successor boards to the present boards who will cease to operate on August 31.

What this amendment does, Mr. Speaker, is to give certainty to and to clarify the provision of successor boards to ensure that any debts, liabilities, any property rights, contractual rights or employment rights that may exist from the present boards are extended to and carried over into the successor boards.

Mr. Speaker, it essentially gives certainty and clarification to that point. As I have indicated, it essentially elaborates on an issue that was envisaged in 1997 when the Schools Act was introduced and passed in this Legislature.

Again, the purpose of Bill 31 is to clarify that issue. The legal advice that is presented is to ensure that there is the transition dealing with successor boards and successor rights that this particular amendment was necessary.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Twillingate & Fogo.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. REID: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, we will not debate this long tonight because we will have an opportunity again tomorrow to talk to this in third reading.

Seeing that the minister is talking about school boards tonight, and successor rights, the employees of those school boards that he is now about to axe, I would like to make a few comments about the fact that he is axing these school boards. It is another example of how this government operates, in fact, in that they do not consult with anybody, because it appears that somebody on that side of the floor thinks that they know, or he knows, more than anybody else in this Province and that they do not need to take advice from anybody. That is the Premier I am talking about.

I do not think for a minute, Mr. Speaker, that the Minister of Education thought up the idea of cutting out these school boards. I think that was dictated to him by his leader and that he had no choice in the matter but to follow out the orders of the Premier. I can tell you why, Mr. Speaker, because last January, in talking about school boards in the Province - no, this January, when he was on the West Coast - he assured the people of the West Coast that he would not touch the school boards this year. He would not amalgamate the school boards. He would not reduce the number of schools boards. He made that commitment to the people on the West Coast, and he made that commitment in many places between January and when the Budget came down. In fact, Mr. Speaker, just one week prior to the Budget in which his colleague, the Minister of Finance, the Member for Ferryland, that great Finance Minister we have, who brought in the Budget, the week, one week to the day before he did that, where he said that he was going to axe six school boards in the Province, the Minister of Education stood in front of a group of intelligent, educated individuals who represent the students of the Central Region, the board which also represents the schools in my district, and I am talking about the Gander School Board, the Gander and East School Board - no, I am sorry, the Lewisporte-Gander School Board, Mr. Speaker.

At that meeting, in front of these individuals who give freely of their time, I might add, who were elected a couple of years ago, like the member opposite was elected, and because his leader, the Premier, decided there was no need for these people, what did he do? He abolished them. This member, Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Education, said to this group of individuals in Central Newfoundland: Don't worry. Nothing is happening to your school board this year.

Seven days later, he sat there quietly in the House of Assembly while his colleague, the Minister of Finance, stood and announced - the people in the Central Region, the individuals who sat in the room with him, watched it on the TV and found out that their positions were gone, that the Premier had decided, without consultation with the minister, that there was no need for these people any more. There was no need for them to give freely of their time. There was no need to use their experience, no need to use their knowledge and their education about what the youth in the area of the Central Region needed, what the people in Tizzard's Harbour, the people in Moreton's Harbour, the people in Whale's Gulch and Herring Neck, the Premier did not think that the people who came from this area had enough sense, enough knowledge or enough education to make a decision on what was best for their children when it came to the education system.

AN HON. MEMBER: The grassroots don't matter.

MR. REID: The grassroots of the Province.

The Premier, on his rant and his tear around this Province a year ago, talked about rural Newfoundland and Labrador, and how the Liberal Party or the Liberal government at the time was doing nothing for them. How many speeches did he make? How many speeches did he and his colleagues make about doing nothing for the people on the Northern Peninsula? It was a wasteland, and I am going to rejuvenate it.

He went to Central Newfoundland, in my district, and said the same thing. Then, what does he do? He says: You are not intelligent enough to make your own decisions. You are not intelligent enough to decide what is best for your children. I can make that decision better, and I will tell you that you do not need a school board.

Mr. Speaker, I cannot believe that the minister actually sat in the Cabinet and said: That is okay, Mr. Premier. That is okay. I only made the commitment to the people on the West Coast. I only made the commitment to the people on the Avalon. I only made the commitment to the people in the Gander region, but that does not matter, Mr. Premier, because my word means nothing. My word, as an individual, as the Minister of Education, means nothing.

That is what he said. You have your own way, Mr. Premier. That is okay. I will sit there, because you are right. I am wrong. After all, I do not have the knowledge that you have. You are the Premier.

Between the Premier and the Minister of Finance, to save a few dollars on the backs of the children in the Central Region, on the backs of the volunteers in the Central Region, what did they do? They said: Go home - and you sat there. You did not say anything, did you not, Mr. Education Minister? What did you say to the Premier? What did you say to the Minister of Finance, when he told you to go back to your department and tell your officials to prepare the paper to axe these individuals, after a week prior to that you actually stood in front of them?

I tell you, Mr. Speaker, I would not have done it. I would not have done it. You said in the House, Minister, that I know how budgets are done. I do know how budgets are done. I know exactly how they are done. You also said I could not go out a week before and tell the people of the Province, I could not go to Gander and tell the people there we were going to cut their school board because that would be leaking the Budget. I will tell you what, though, Mr. Speaker. I would not have gone to that meeting and told them that they were not going to be cut. I would not have told them that they were not going to be cut, knowing - I was going to say knowing that they were, but I know you did not know, because I happen to think you are an honourable man and I happen to think there are some honourable men over there with you, but I know one who is not. I know two who are not honourable men. I know two who are not. They did not care about the commitment that you gave, because it did not matter. It did not fit in the scheme of things with your member, your Finance Minister. It did not matter what you thought, because he wanted to make himself look good.

Mr. Speaker, I can talk at length tonight about school boards and education in this Province, because I taught in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. I taught there for seven years. I know what it is like for kids to be bused. I know what it is like to amalgamate schools. I also know what it is like to amalgamate school boards, because we went from twenty-seven to eleven in 1996. We went from twenty-seven to eleven in 1996, and we thought at the time maybe we had gone too far, but we figured eleven in a Province with the geography that we have, that we could not go any further than that.

To save a few bucks - but I think it was more than to save a few bucks. I think, if you watch what is going to happen, you will see the real reason. It is not about dollars. It is about dollars and control. It is about control; because, the fewer boards you have, the fewer individuals you have to deal with and the more control you can have over them.

Not only that, Mr. Speaker, but this Education Minister and the Minister of Finance and the Premier, not only did they eliminate school boards but they eliminated elected school boards. Now they are going to appoint these school boards. Who are they going to appoint to these school boards? They are going to appoint their political cronies, their yes-men and their yes-women around this Province. That is who you are going to appoint. All you have to do is look at - and you talk about the qualifications of these individuals. All you have to do is look at some of the ones that you have appointed already as interim chairs of these boards - the individual in the Premier's own riding who looked after the finances for his election - and then you have the gall to stand in this House and tell me that it was based on qualifications. The President of the Federal PC Riding Association, a member of the PC Association in the Premier's district, and the Chief Financial Officer for the Premier's campaign.

AN HON. MEMBER: And no involvement in education, at any level.

MR. REID: No involvement in education at any level, and she knows what is best for the boards and the youth of the West Coast? Give me a break. Give me a break. She knows what is best. She is there because she is a political crony and the Premier can pick up the phone when there is a decision to be made and call her up and say: Here is the decision you are going to make. Get out there and tell them what to do - and she will do it because she is a good foot soldier for the Premier and the Finance Minister, but does that make it right? No, it does not.

The minister goes out and tells everybody: Oh, this is going to be a smooth transition. There are no complaints. The member for Marystown sits back and laughs at me; an individual, ladies and gentleman, who, eight months ago, was working for a school board, but I guess he was tipped off. I guess he was tipped off and that is the reason he entered politics. That is the reason he put his name on the ballot. He was tipped off because, do you know what? He was probably told: Your board is not going to exist if we are elected.

They knew it a year ago, Mr. Speaker, because the President of the PC Party, a Mr. Lundrigan, told people in this Province that when the Tories take the government of this Province they were going to eliminate school boards. They knew. It was said at conventions. It was said at meetings at conventions. They knew what was going to happen, and the member for Marystown scattered out of the board as fast as he could go, because he knew his job was gone. I will get myself elected so that I do not have to take the pink slip and do what members on the Bonavista Peninsula who worked for the school board said to me out here when the Budget was said here in this House. One of the individuals who works for the school board in Clarenville came to me and said: Gerry, I guess I will be going with my sons to Alberta to find a job, because I just lost mine.

How does that make you feel? How does that make the MHA for Marystown feel? He did not get the heads up. He was not given the opportunity to run in an election. He was not given the opportunity for the Premier to throw his support behind him to ensure that he got elected.

Then they talk about, who are they going to hire in education? The reason you have not heard from the boards is because they have just fired - they got their pink slips in their hands - six of the boards. They have the boards, six of them, and now they are going to have five left. Now they are saying, we are going to advertise for your jobs.

The reason you are not hearing from the directors, the assistant directors, and the program co-ordinators, even though I know they feel the same way about the cuts to the board as I do, the reason you are not hearing from them is because they are all applying for the few jobs that are left. They are frightened to death to speak out against the Premier, the Finance Minister and the Minister of Education. Do you know why? Because the cronies that you have just appointed to chair these boards will ensure that they do not get jobs.

You should be ashamed of yourselves. You should be ashamed of yourself, to sit here and grin and laugh at me while I talk about this, while you sit there in your comfortable seat tonight, while some individuals who work in your very same board same board will be packing their bags in their U-Hauls and going to Alberta and other places in the country.

I say, Mr. Speaker, there was no thought put into education. There was no thought put into individuals. There was no thought put into anything, only giving the Premier more power. That is all that was there.

Mr. Speaker, it is getting late but, believe me I will be back tomorrow.

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 do want to say a few words about Bill 31, An Act to Amend the Schools Act. When the minister introduced this act, he tried to suggest that this was just a little refinement of what was there in 1997; but, Mr. Speaker, that is not what is here at all. When I look at Section 57 of the Schools Act, 1997, which does, in fact -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair has recognized the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi. I wonder if we could keep the Chamber a little more quiet.

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

MR. HARRIS: This Section 57 of the current act does, in fact, give the Lieutenant-Governor in Council - that means the Cabinet - the right to dissolve school boards, but I do not think it was ever intended, Mr. Speaker, to allow for the kind of wholesale destruction of democracy that this government did by an Order-in-Council of the Cabinet, because we do have other sections of that act, like Section 53, for example -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. HARRIS: There is still Section 53 of the act, which says that there shall be a school board elected for each district.

We had elected school boards, and they were elected for a term. That term has not expired, so the kind of respect for democracy that is shown by the Cabinet, not only passing an Order-in-Council but then amending the law to make it more effective, what they have done with a stroke of their Cabinet meeting is destroy the fourth order of democratically-elected people in the Province. We do not elect very many people. We do not have a lot of experience with democracy in Newfoundland and Labrador. We went for eighteen years; we did not even elect the House of Assembly. We had the King in Great Britain, through his Cabinet, appoint six people to run this place for eighteen years. The only people elected, I think, was the City Council in St. John's. Now we are back in old St. John's, as the saying goes, and the Cabinet sits down and destroys elected school boards with a stroke of the pen. Now they are passing legislation saying this is just a minor piece of housekeeping here, just to facilitate this destruction of democracy that we undertook in the Cabinet meeting some weeks ago.

People who went out and ran for public office were, all of a sudden, stripped of their rights to represent the people who elected them to represent them. That is the kind of respect for democracy that this government has shown.

Mr. Speaker, when we talk about school boards, elected school boards play a very important role in democracy. The whole point of elected school boards is so that the parents have some say - some say - at the relatively local level in the operation of schools, because - and this is where democracy comes in - it was thought by people in a democracy that the schools should not be run and controlled totally by the government, on high. Elected school boards gave the parents, through their elected representatives, some control over the decision making about what should happen in schools and what should go on.

MS JONES: Accountability, anyway.

MR. HARRIS: Accountability, the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair says.

When you have twenty-seven, you have a bit more accountability, I guess, because there are more people involved, and it was thought that it made sense to do that. There was a big debate about that, but elected school boards were not the norm then. It was a big deal when we had education reform in this Province, that, all of a sudden, we were going to have elected school boards, fully elected school boards. That was a big transition. It took many years to get to that point. The churches were no longer going to run the schools. That was the big deal. That was the big deal that we changed the Constitution for, Mr. Speaker. We were not going to be dictated to by the churches. Well, now who are we being dictated to by? We are being dictated to by a bunch a people over there who happen to have a piece of legislation that was designed to facilitate some reorganization, and what did they do? They did it to wipe out school boards and now we have one giant board. Let's look at this now. We have 56,000 children in one school board: the entire Avalon Peninsula, the entire Bonavista Peninsula, the entire Burin Peninsula and the Clarenville area, all in the one school board.

Now I want to ask you, Mr. Speaker, what say and what influence is someone from St. Bernard's, down on the Burin Peninsula, going to have over what happened to the school board that is sitting in St. John's, that represents people from Bonavista, from Carbonear, from Northern Bay, Gull Island, and everywhere else on the Avalon Peninsula, the Burin Peninsula and the Bonavista Peninsula? What say are they going to have over the closure of their school? They had little enough under the old system, (inaudible) little enough there. What influence and what say are they going to have on what goes on in this giant, mega board called - I think it is called Avalon East or Eastern Newfoundland Board?

We are losing that sense of ownership of the school boards that the communities had to some degree - to some degree - not perfect, but to some degree people had some influence over school board elections, people had some influence over policy, and people ran for these things. I know it happened in this district, in the Avalon East Board. People ran, because they ran for school boards, they campaigned for school boards. The people who are there now, who are there until the end of August, they campaigned for those boards because they believed they had something to offer the public education in this district. They ran because they had opinions about the way things were being organized, about what programs were being offered in what schools, about making sure that French Immersion was available, for example, in certain areas where parents wanted it, about making sure that we continued a commitment to neighbourhood schools. People ran on these policies, and what did this government do? They said: No, no, we are going to get rid of all of you. We are just going to hand-pick people to be the trustees, and you are gone. Never mind the people who voted for you. They went out the same time as the municipal elections, and cast their ballot. What would people feel, Mr. Speaker - and I do not have the constitutional power to do this, but - how would people feel if somebody up in Ottawa, if Paul Martin, decided, no, no we have too many people sitting in the Legislature in Newfoundland - forty-eight. We do not need forty-eight. We will only have thirty-four, and you and you and you and you are going to be them, and the rest of you go on. I do not care if you were elected six months ago. We don't care if you were elected six months ago, if people went out there and voted for you. If you had the authority to run for a public office, for a term of four years, we do not care about that. We are going to take away the people who were democratically elected.

Mr. Speaker, if this government has said: Well, we are very concerned about the size of school boards and we are going to consult and we are going to study the issue and, at the end of this term of office, when the next election comes around, we are going to have a reorganization - if they consulted on that issue, if the Minister of Education who - I was not there. I wasn't there in Gander when the Minister of Education assured the people in Gander that nothing was going to happen. I can understand why he would. I can understand why the Minister of Education would assure the people of Gander that nothing was going to happen to their school board, because he did not believe anything could possibly happen to their school board without the kind of consultation that I am talking about, without the kind of notice that I am talking about, that at least the people who were elected for four years would get to serve out their term, instead of being yanked from public office by Order-in-Council of this Cabinet as a Budget measure. It is not as a measure for the improvement and the betterment of education. It is not being done to improve education in the Province. It is not being done to achieve any educational objectives. It is not being done because the system was not working. It is not being done because the democracy that we just introduced only five years ago or six years ago in the education field was failing, that people were not running. The people were very interested in seats on the school board. They ran for those offices because they believed they were important to people.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I am wondering if members could keep their conversations down a little. It is difficult for the Chair to hear the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi.

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is a pity the television cameras are off, because I think the people of Newfoundland and Labrador should know and should understand that what has happened by this government's measure is something that is pitiful and wrong and ought to be fought against. If we have to stay here another few hours to debate second reading, I think we should do so, because I think this is important. It is an important point about the democracy of our Province. We have precious little democracy and we should cherish it and recognize that elected school boards play a very important role and function in our society.

We got away - I will not call it the tyranny of the churches, Mr. Speaker - from the control of the churches. We got away from the control of the churches in education, and now we have the control of a dozen members opposite who did not get elected to do this work. They did not get elected under a mandate to destroy the elected school boards and elected people who are elected to public office.

I think what they are doing here is wrong. Even as a budget measure they have not even demonstrated where the savings are going to be and what it is going to do, but they have already sowed tremendous confusion, they have sowed a lot of dissent, and they have introduced a political element into the whole school board operation, that the people who they have appointed - I do not know who they all are. Members on this side of the House seem to be able to identify people here and there and everywhere who have associations with the Tory Party and the Tory District Associations. I do not know how many of them are. I am sure some of them are, and lots of them are not. Regardless of that, they have created an awful lot of political dissent about it, taking away elected officials and replacing them with appointees, nominated by this government. That stinks, Mr. Speaker. It smells of something that is wrong. I am not going to get into chapter and verse, and say: Oh, this person is really a Liberal. This person is really a - whatever they are. I do not care what they are, but the process stinks, Mr. Speaker. The process smells of power and control, and abuse of power and control, and abuse of Section 57 of the act because the act was not sufficient to do what they are doing; otherwise, they would not be bringing in this legislation here today. They would not be bringing in this legislation, because if the legislation was designed to allow them to do this dastardly deed, they would not have to bring this piece of legislation before this House in order to make it work, in order to make it work properly.

Yes, Mr. Speaker, I oppose this legislation. I think this legislation is wrong. I think it is a form of tyranny. It is an abuse of power, and it is an abuse of Section 57 of the Schools Act to undertake what this government has done to the elected school boards without any consultation, without waiting until the end of the term, without developing a proper transition before anything could happen, and not for means and reasons that have to do with the betterment of education in the Province but rather, instead, for the betterment of their control - what they think will be better control - over the budgets and the operations of schools in the Province, and that is wrong, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I actually was not planning on making many comments with respect to Bill 31, but I rise just for a few minutes, actually, to take exception to the characterization of it presented by the minister in his introduction. I must say, I agree almost fully, completely and totally, with the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, the Leader of the New Democratic Party.

The Minister of Education would have had us believe - because, again, he only spoke for a minute or two and tried to give the impression that this was no big deal, that this was kind of routine. I think the phrase that I noted here - because I try to listen to him closely - was that this is a follow-up to some provisions that we put in the legislation when we brought in the real education reform in 1997 - because I was the Education Minister at the time - and the fact that we went, for the first time historically in the Province, to elected school boards. A very, very significant and meaningful change, Mr. Speaker, one of the main reasons why a vast majority of the people of the Province supported components of the reform: because, for the first time in history, they were going to get to elect their school boards.

The point is this: We were then led to believe, by the Minister of Education, that this was a routine little matter. There was no need to talk about it much. We are just going to facilitate what the government has decided to do.

It is much more than that, because there were already provisions in the existing act to facilitate appointment of members to boards if less than a full slate of candidates run for office - just like there are, by the way, with municipalities. The former councillors who are here, former mayors, would know that if there are elections and less than a full slate run, the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs, actually, can appoint some members to town councils. As a matter of fact, they can appoint full councils if nobody runs. They can actually put in administrative authorities.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

There appear to be far too many conversations going on in the Chamber. I do notice, as well, that some members have turned their back to the Chair. That is an unparliamentary tradition. I ask members to abide by the rules of the House and respect the parliamentary traditions of this House and all Houses.

I recognize the Leader of the Opposition in his commentary.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Again, as I say, this is far from routine and far from a little follow-up, a bit of housekeeping that needed to be done to facilitate a budget decision. The fact of the matter is, it does abolish, for all intents and purposes, right now, in the short term, elected school board. It wipes out one of the major provisions in the act that led to the people of the Province, including members of the current government who were members of the Opposition then, because the vote, by the way - just to remind people historically - the vote in this Legislature for the current Schools Act, which was the reform in 1997 which established elected school boards for the first time, was unanimous.

I have a signed copy of the bill, myself, that every single member of the Legislature was proud to sign. I kept it as one of the few mementos, because it was meaningful, it was significant, it was historic; and we have a minister today wiping out elected school boards, which is one of the fundamental features of it, and trying to introduce it.

I do not mind the fact that they have to do it to facilitate what they have done as a Budget decision, but it is somewhat disingenuous to try to describe it as a routine matter. It is a very serious matter and it should be treated as such. Again, I do not believe - and I keep making this point, Mr. Speaker - they have had this level of discussion inside that government caucus about the serious nature of this particular bill. I believe, just like the minister did tonight, that if it were discussed at all - he said: We have to do a little routine amendment to this now, so we can take the eleven school boards and bring them down to four. We are going to leave the Francophone one alone, so there will be no impact on that. They will stay elected. They will stay with their full authority, but the other ten will go down to three. So we are going to make away with ten elected school boards.

AN HON. MEMBER: Labrador is (inaudible).

MR. GRIMES: Two are going to stay the same. Labrador will stay the same. I stand corrected, and I am glad to see it.

The other nine will be brought down to three, their elected status wiped out. I am assuming there will be an election again at some point in time. That is confirmed - I always understood that - but, in the intervening period, all the elected members are told: No, thanks.

By the way, they appointed - my colleague from Twillingate & Fogo has said it very strongly - some hand-picked representatives. Some have some credentials in education and some have none - none whatsoever - but they have been asked to chair the transition teams and to actually conduct the business of selecting the new directors and so on, going through that, because they are appointed to do that job, and the elected representatives are taken out of the position.

In the act - to make appointments when they were not enough elected members - there were already provisions that dealt with successor rights. I can tell you one thing: There was never a contemplation when the successor rights section of the current Schools Act was put in place that this kind of radical change would occur. It contemplated that maybe a couple of boards might merge sometime because of declining enrollment, that maybe the Burin Peninsula Board, for example, might go together with the Clarenville one. If the rural part of the Province kept declining and maybe people, together, might decide - the elected boards might decide, as they do sometimes - that we are better off having one board out here. But no one contemplated that the government would come in unilaterally, with no discussion, and say: You are gone. We have a new plan. Here is the new plan: 56,000 students in one board. No elected representatives. No elected people in charge of the transition. A few people are going to be involved.

I understand why it is being done, Mr. Speaker. I disagree with the whole concept. Not surprising, however, because the current Government House Leader, at least he was honest about these things. When he was the leader of the party, and when he led the party into an election, he did not talk about school boards. I remember him being in front of, I think it was St. Clare's Hospital, with a placard saying one of the parts of our mandate is to abolish hospital boards. He actually used, what is referred to in the House, Mr. Speaker, as a prop. He used a prop. He used to use a chalkboard, put up a slate and said: Part of our commitment is we will do away with hospital boards.

MR. E. BYRNE: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: A point of order has been raised by the Government House Leader.

MR. JOYCE: Here we go again!

MR. E. BYRNE: This is very important, I say to the Member for Bay of Islands.

There were no chalkboards in the 1999 campaign used by me. There were contracts signed by me, I say to the Leader of the Opposition, and they were well thought out, well researched. Myself, as leader of the party, put my signature on them for all to see. It went some ways to working. Another week or so it might have worked a little better.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair rules there is no point of order.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. GRIMES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I concur with the hon. member because his signature had some real worth and some real credibility because people believed in him -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. GRIMES: - unlike the full page ad signed by Danny talking about no layoffs and walking out to a picket line saying: I signed this! - and practically got laughed out of the parking lot because the current Premier's signature means nothing to anybody. I was commending him for the fact that he said to the people when he was asking to get elected, he wanted a mandate to do it. He said: Vote for me and I will abolish hospital boards. Nobody heard - where is that blueprint? Where is that Blue Book? Nobody heard anything in the Blue Book, which is now the blueprint, which said: Vote for us and we will make away with the school boards. We did not hear it.

As a matter of fact, as the Member for Twillingate & Fogo was pointing out days before the Budget, which was several months after the election - an election in October and a Budget in March. November, December, January, February, March, five months later. It is not in the Blue Book. He was not asking for a mandate to do it, but five months later the Education Minister was going around the Province meeting with school boards, saying: We have no plans to eliminate school boards. Unlike a credible leader, like the Government House Leader, who sought a mandate and said to people: Vote for me. Knowing that if you elect me, I am going to abolish these boards. Now, that is the problem. The only real objection I take to this, Mr. Speaker, other than objecting to the whole notion in principle, because it is another - I do not know if it is right to call it a broken commitment. It was one of those sort of sins of omission, because they did not talk about doing away with the boards. I guess it was an issue that they just did not really address in the election. It was sort of left aside. It was sort of like when the Premier was asked: How come you did not talk about a wage freeze during the election? He said: Oh, nobody asked me. The sin of omission.

What did they say when they were asking to get elected about what they would do with school boards? Nothing. What did they say five months after they got elected just before the Budget? No plans to do away with school boards. What did they do less than a week later? Wipe them out! Then to bring in a bill - for the same minister, who has very little credibility, I would suggest, with those people in the education sector and the school boards, because he met with them a few days before and said: No, no, you are okay. There are no plans to do anything with the school boards. You are fine. We do not have any plans.

Now, the Minister of Health and Community Services has put people on notice in the health care sector. I am having some studies done. I am going to reorganize and streamline and look for efficiencies in the health care sector. That was not in the Blue Book either, by the way. That was not in the platform either, but at least she has gone out to the boards, unlike the Education Minister who went out to them and said: No plans for change. Trust me! Hear that phase again, Mr. Speaker: No plans for change. Trust me! - and three or four days later boards wiped out, read out loud by the Minister of Finance in a Budget Speech. There is actually debate in our caucus because we have them. Most of our caucus - because they have known the Minister of Education for some time - come down on the side that he did not know, that when he went to places like Gander and said the boards were safe that he did not know the Premier and the Minister of Finance had already decided to do away with them; that he was out there telling the truth, as he knew it, because he was not involved in putting the Budget together.

There are others in the caucus - and I will not name them - that even though they know him as a person and have a great deal of respect for him, are wondering: Why did he go out and tell them that? Because he is a minister he must have been involved in the Budget process, so he must have known. The Budget was already decided. It was only a couple of days before. The Budget was already being printed. Why would he be in Gander, with the Budget already down at the Queen's Printer, telling people that the boards were okay when the statement in the Budget was the boards are abolished?

I will not dwell on that, Mr. Speaker, other than to make the point for the record so that when people look back on this in years' time - I think there has been a little bit of an disingenuous approach to try and suggest that this is a routine matter, because there are already provisions which guarantee that a successor board is the legal board if it takes over from a board that is being dissolved. There are already provisions in the act that allow for the disillusion of boards, but this change is so massive, this change is so huge, this change is so unwarranted and this change is so much of a surprise that the government does not want to take any chances that anybody might find a loophole in the provisions of the current act and resist the change. So they are going to try to copper fasten it and try to cover off the initiative that was put forward by the Minister of Finance and the Premier that I do not know if the Minister of Education knew about it or not. I am one of those who still does not know, but the people of the Province now know. They know for a fact that the elected status has gone for the time being, that there will be a transition which the minister tries to say will be seamless and smooth, but most people in the Province are predicting there will be quite a bit of chaos.

We know, again - we are realists - the government will pass this despite our objections. They will pass this. This will become the new law, but I do not believe there has been much of a discussion inside that caucus about it at all. As a matter of fact, Mr. Speaker, I can make a prediction. I can tell by looking at their faces that they have not had any discussion about this. They do not recognize the seriousness of it. If they heard anything, they heard what was said in the introductory comments tonight, that: Oh, it is a routine little bill to change the education act. Do not worry about it. You do not need to debate it. There is nothing for you to get concerned about. It just facilitates a budget decision. No big deal! Well, it is a big deal, and the people of the Province know it is a big deal. The people of the Province are going to suffer the consequences when that smooth, seamless, wonderful, easy transition that is predicted for September sees a fair bit of chaos in the school system, in the board structure, because it is almost virtually impossible - you can write whatever piece of legislation you want, but it is virtually impossible to affect the size and scope of change that this government rushed into for their own ill-founded reasons and to have it up and running by a school year in September. We wish them well on behalf of the students, but my prediction is it will be far from a smooth transition in September. I say for the record, that this bill is far from a routine matter, just a little followup, a little amendment that does not need and should not warrant much debate or attention.

I will not prolong it. The point has been well made, Mr. Speaker, and I appreciate the opportunity to add my comments to this particular debate at second reading.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Is it the pleasure of the House that the said bill be now read a second time?

All those in favor, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Nay.

MR. SPEAKER: Carried.

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Schools Act, 1997. (Bill 31)

MR. SPEAKER: This bill has now been read a second time. When shall this bill be referred to the Committee of the Whole House? Now? On tomorrow?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: On tomorrow.

MR. SPEAKER: On tomorrow.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Schools Act, 1997," read a second time, ordered referred to the Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill 31)

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

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

Order 4, second reading of a bill, An Act To Amend The Provincial Offences Act. ( Bill 27)

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 27, An Act To Amend The Provincial Offences Act, be now read a second time.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Provincial Offences Act." (Bill 27)

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

MR. OTTENHEIMER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Bill 27 is An Act To Amend The Provincial Offences Act. It amends the act by repealing and replacing subsection 32, and it deals with the provision of late penalties. The late payment penalty, in the case of a fine which is $50 or less, will be $6. A fine which is between $50 and $100 will be $12, and a fine which is greater than $100 will be $12, plus an additional late payment penalty of $12 for each increment of a $100 fine to a maximum late payment penalty of $120.

Mr. Speaker, these late payment penalties have not been increased in the Province since introduced in 1991. The increase to late penalty fees brings the Province in-line with fee structures for similar services in other jurisdictions across Canada. These are just a few introductory comments, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you.

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

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I will not belabour the point. Just to say here at second reading, concerning the principal of the bill, another example of this Administration nickel-and-diming the people of the Province to death. Whether it is $2 or $5 or whatever, it just goes to show, again, that this Administration will do whatever they can to nickel and dime the people of this Province.

We will have more to say on this again in Committee stage.

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am struck by the remarks of the Minister of Education, speaking on behalf of the Minister of Justice, when he talks about this as a fee for service such as similar services across. This is not a service. This is a penalty imposed on people who - for example, if you get a parking ticket in St. John's for not paying your parking meter and the fine should be paid within thirty days, if you pay it on the thirty-first day, instead of your fine being $15 it is now $21. Now, if that were an interest rate, Mr. Speaker, it would be illegal under the Criminal Code to charge $6 interest on $15 after 30 days. This is a penalty, and it is an exorbitant penalty, Mr. Speaker, for the so-called late payment of a fine.

It is one thing to have people charged with offences and having to pay fines and penalties as the result of that. We just jacked them all up. There are a whole bunch of them in the piece of legislation currently before the House. There is a bill - I am not sure what number it is. The one with thirty or forty pages. Bill 21, An Act To Amend The Highway Traffic Act, which goes on for page after page after page of increases in fines, and minimums and maximums. We are now, in addition to increasing the fines, doubling them in many cases, Mr. Speaker. We are now doubling the penalty for late payment. There is a limit, Mr. Speaker, on which we should be doing this kind of thing.

It is very fashionable. Law and order is very fashionable these days. They have the insurance legislation in and they think it is very fashionable to say: Well, if you drive without a seatbelt we are going to take 25 per cent off your compensation. Mr. Speaker, there are already laws there in place for that, for example. There are already laws there in place that says if you are in a car accident, if you have a seatbelt and your injuries are enhanced by not wearing a seatbelt, well you do not recover for that. You get a deduction. But this crowd opposite, they want to take the punitive approach. What we will do is, we will say: Anybody who does not wear a seatbelt we are going to take 25 per cent off their compensation, regardless if whether wearing a seatbelt had anything to do with their injuries or not. The punitive approach. They are going to increase the fines for uninsured people driving instead of having a system which encourages people to have insurance by having reasonable fees. They are going to say: No, no, we are going to make it worse for people who do not have insurance.

Here we are again, Mr. Speaker, another punitive measure. A poor person who cannot pay the fine within thirty days or within twenty-one days or within ten days or whatever the days happen to be, we are going to whack it to that person. So, if you do not have the money to pay a fine we are going to make you pay more. If you have lots of money, no problem, just write out the cheque. If you have lots of money, no problem, you just sail through life. If you happen to get a fine: Well, what odds, I will write the cheque. But if you are a poor person and you do not have the $100 to pay the fine that you have, and if it takes you two months to pay it, well it is going to cost you $12 more. It is going to cost you $12 more because you cannot afford to pay the fine on time. This is what this is all about, Mr. Speaker. This is not providing a service to anybody.

When the minister describes it as a service, I am really surprised at this minister. I know he is doing someone else's work here and he is probably just reading out a briefing note but I am surprised at the people - because the same people writing the briefing notes, Mr. Speaker, are the ones writing the legislation, and this crowd are telling them to do it. I think we have a problem here, Mr. Speaker, and it sounds like another little housekeeping matter, just another little housekeeping matter.

Any fine less than $50 the late fee is $6. If the fine is $10 for a parking meter, well it is $6 for a late fee. So instead of $10 it is $16. So, 60 per cent in penalty for not paying your fine within ten days.

MR. COLLINS: Loansharking.

MR. HARRIS: My friend from Labrador West was talking about loansharking earlier when he was talking about credit card interest rates. Well, this is a form of government. The government says: Okay, if you are too poor to pay your fine or somehow you forgot about it, we will whack an extra $6 on you, and if it is $100 we will make it $12. It sounds like it is only 12 per cent interest but if this happens after thirty days well it is really 144 per cent interest. If that were interest that would be illegal under the Criminal Code. The Opposition House Leader knows that and the minister knows it too. The Minister of Education knows it too, although he did not practice criminal law very much but I am sure he knows that. I am sure he understands that, that it is a criminal interest rate to charge more than 60 per cent or some number like that.

That is what we are doing here, Mr. Speaker. We are saying if you are too poor to pay your fines we are going to charge you more. If you cannot pay your fines on time we are going to charge you more. That is what this is all about here, Mr. Speaker. It is not about bringing a service into line with anything else anywhere in the country. It is about penalizing people more who happen to run afoul of some regulation or some law and they are not able to pay their fines on time.

AN HON. MEMBER: Don't break the law.

MR. HARRIS: Don't break the law! Here we go, that's it. That is exactly the problem, Mr. Speaker. The member's response is: Don't break the law! Don't break the law!

MR. E. BYRNE: I did not say that.

MR. HARRIS: What did you say? Well if I misquoted the member I would be quite happy to sit down and have him correct it. I thought he said: Don't break the law.

MR. E. BYRNE: No, I did not.

MR. HARRIS: Well, he is going to get up and give a speech. I am glad he will.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. HARRIS: Mr. Speaker, I think I have made my point here, that this is not something that is routine. The fact that they are trying to pass it at 11:30 at night when the TV camera's are off and suggest that this is something which is just routine is not going to stop me from getting up and making the points that I am making here, that this is in fact a piece of legislation that is punitive in nature and should not be brought before this House. We should not have this kind of thing. If people cannot afford to pay their fines within the time period provided there should be arrangements made. They should not just penalize them more.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Is it the pleasure of the House that the bill be now read a second time?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Nay.

MR. SPEAKER: Carried.

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Provincial Offences Act. (Bill 27)

MR. SPEAKER: This bill has now been read a second time. When shall this bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House? Now? Tomorrow?

MR. E. BYRNE: Tomorrow, Mr Speaker.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Provincial Offences Act," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill 27)

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

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

I say to my friend from Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, I said to the Leader of the Opposition that I never knew what a nuisance claim was tonight really until I witnessed it when he was up speaking.

Anyway, having said that, order 3, Mr. Speaker. Second reading of a bill, An Act To Amend The Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act. (Bill 26)

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 26 be now read a second time.

Is it the pleasure of the House that the said bill be now read a second time?

AN HON. MEMBER: Yes.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act." (Bill 26)

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Human Resources, Labour and Employment, and Minister Responsible for the Status of Women.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I wish to introduce tonight amendments to the Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act. These changes are designed to provide an alternative price-setting mechanism in the fishing industry. The amendment enables auctions to be used to set prices for fish species and prohibit strikes and lockouts when auctions are used. The strikes and lockouts are prohibited only when the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture requires the sale of fish species by auction.

Since 1998, collective bargaining in the fishing industry has been conducted under the Final Offer Selection Model. The Final Offer Selection Model introduced a very significant innovation for the fishing industry; a mechanism to ensure dispute resolution that did not resort to strikes or lockouts.

Mr. Speaker, my colleagues will remember that in the few years before the Final Offer Selection Model was introduced relations between harvesters and processors in this Province had deteriorated sharply. Price disputes were commonplace and strikes became increasingly prevalent resulting in delayed openings of fisheries and unreliability in the marketplace. There were labour relations problems in every major fishery, with major disruptions in the crab and shrimp fisheries.

In 1997, for example, there was a strike in the crab sector that lasted for three months. As a result, almost half of the crab landings took place in late summer at a time when the fish was at its worst biological condition and after the markets peak demand. It is a matter of record, that since the implementation of this approach to dispute resolution, stability has returned to a vital sector of our economy and our society. Without this model, it is likely that some of these price disagreements would have become disputes and resulted in a strike or lockout, which could have impacted on employment levels in the processing facilities.

Mr. Speaker, and hon. members, government processors and harvesters understand that price settlement without strikes and lockouts presents a strategic business advantage for this Province's fishing industry. It enables fisheries to start on time and it provides stability for the industry as on-time supplier of high quality fish products to the marketplace; however, it has unfortunately become clear that the Final Offer Selection model is no longer viable in the fishing industry. The processing sector has indicated that they no longer wish to negotiate under that model. As a result, the legislation regulating the Final Offer Selection model is no longer operative.

In addition, the processors' organization that traditionally engaged in collective bargaining in the fishing industry no longer exists. What continues to be necessary, however, is dispute resolution that avoids strikes and lockouts, facilitates timely fisheries, and reinforces the industry's place in the market.

In 2003, government commissioned two fishery related reviews: a review of the collective bargaining regime in the industry, and a review of provincial fish policy. The Commissioners reports have been released and we are considering the many recommendations they have made. One of the recommendations from Mr. David Jones review of the Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act was to enable auctions for price setting.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce the amendments to the Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act that will provide stakeholders in the fishing industry with a dispute resolution mechanism that continues the prohibition on strikes and lockouts. This model provides auctions to settle price on a per species basis. When a price is settled by auction, strikes and lockouts will be prohibited. It will expedite price setting and help us to avoid the need for individual agreements between the FFAW, CAW and processors, that had become necessary and unattainable under the traditional strike lockout model of collective bargaining this year.

I want to say thank you to the stakeholders who have worked diligently to recover and maintain their industry's place in the market. I urge all hon. members of the House to support these amendments in the spirit of continuing labour peace and prosperity in the fishing industry.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Twillingate & Fogo.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. REID: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This bill is a very, very important bill, Mr. Speaker, because not only does it affect every single person involved in the fishing industry in the Province, but it also affects most communities in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

Considering it is 11:36 or 11:38 in the evening -

AN HON. MEMBER: Thirty-six.

MR. REID: Thirty-six, I am sorry - and that the government members opposite, especially the Cabinet ministers, appear to be very tired after being beaten up on all day by the Loyal Opposition, I would suggest, Mr. Speaker, that I will withhold my comments until tomorrow when the ministers have had a chance to sleep, get rested, and be on their toes, because we have a lot of questions to ask about this bill and I certainly hope that the ministers opposite have the answers.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. HARRIS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

First of all, let me echo the comments of the Member for Twillingate & Fogo. This is a very substantial piece of legislation. He remarked on the hour, but I notice he did not refer to it as a family-friendly hour to be bringing this kind of important legislation before the House of Assembly.

AN HON. MEMBER: With the cameras off.

MR. HARRIS: With the cameras off. This is real pro-democracy legislation that we have here. We are now here at 11:30 at night, introducing legislation for second reading. The minister made a very good speech that was prepared. It is too bad the people of the Province did not hear it, because it was well prepared and well presented.

AN HON. MEMBER: Well read.

MR. HARRIS: Well read and well presented to the House.

People should understand the history, because there is a big debate about how the fishing industry should be organized in this Province. The Minister of Fisheries has discussed it with members opposite, and myself. It is a very important piece of legislation, but it is not the kind of legislation that we should be debating at 11:30 at night. It is not emergency legislation. I do not know if there is any big emergency that cannot be debated tomorrow. I am not going to spend twenty minutes debating it either, because I think, as the previous speak said, this is something that needs -

AN HON. MEMBER: Under the cover of darkness.

MR. HARRIS: Yes, under the cover of darkness. We need to have the light of day shining on this kind of legislation, Mr. Speaker, because there may well be questions that have to be answered. This is going to determine - this is the law that is going to affect whether or not fishing that occurs, and the sale of fish, is legal or illegal, will be subject to injunctions or not, whether it is written properly to accomplish what it set out to do, whether or not is it supported. This is imposing a system on people. I understand the Fishermen's Union has gone along with it pretty well, I think, as an option. They think it maybe should be there. We need to explore all of these issues, Mr. Speaker, but not at 11:30 at night. This is not the time we need to be exploring them.

I know that the Blue Book mentions something about family-friendly hours. I think this is probably the third or fourth night that we have been here - or more - at this hour of the night. I understood we were sitting late hours this week. I thought we were going to sit from 7:00 to 10:00 on Monday night and Tuesday night and whatever, but I did not realize we were going to be having second readings at 11:30 on Tuesday night on very important pieces of legislation.

I am not going to belabour the point, Mr. Speaker, but I made the point, and the Member for Twillingate & Fogo made the point, and I hope that we will have further opportunity to debate this bill during the light of day, before this House is being asked to pass it.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I, too, wanted to rise just to make a couple of comments, and that is to say that this is a very important piece of legislation that has just been introduced in the House of Assembly. It is rather late at night, Mr. Speaker, and I want to make sure that the minister is bright-eyed when I make my official comments for the record.

MR. HARRIS: And bushy-tailed.

MS JONES: And bushy-tailed, the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi says.

Mr. Speaker, this legislation is, no doubt, important legislation, and one that requires some very active debate in this House. It is related to a shrimp auction that will be implemented in the Province; the brainchild of the minister, I say to you, the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, that has been introduced. I think that when we have a debate on this we need to ensure that we have a good, active debate and that the public is well informed of what is happening. I think that we need to ensure, Mr. Speaker, for the record, that this is indeed a step in the industry that is going to be welcomed by processors and by fishermen. I am not convinced that is the case, Mr. Speaker and that is why we have to be sure that any legislation we bring to this House and pass is in the best interests of the industry and the people who participate in it.

I will reserve my comments, Mr. Speaker, for another time when we enter into Committee, and I would welcome the opportunity to have some remarks on the bill at that time.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Is it the pleasure of the House that the said bill be now read a second time?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Nay.

MR. SPEAKER: Carried.

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act. (Bill 26)

MR. SPEAKER: This bill has now been read a second time. When shall this bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House? Now? Tomorrow?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Tomorrow.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Fishing Industry Collective Bargaining Act," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House on tomorrow. (Bill 26)

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

MR. E. BYRNE: Mr. Speaker, I wonder, what else can we do tonight? Is there anything else we can do tonight? We are going to go home tonight, are we?

Mr. Speaker, before I move the motion to adjourn, I just want to compliment members on obviously what I believe to be a good day's parliamentary work.

I appreciate the comments by the Member for Twillingate & Fogo, the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair, and the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, on second reading.

We try to operate in terms of the parliamentary agenda and calendar, by consensus and by co-operation, and that is something, I think, so far, generally speaking, that myself and the Opposition House Leader have been able to do, and we have been able to do again tonight.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I do now move the adjournment until tomorrow at 2:00 p.m.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is that this House do now adjourn.

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Nay.

MR. SPEAKER: This House now stands adjourned until 2 o'clock tomorrow, Wednesday.

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