December 6. 2006 HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS Vol. XLV No. 35


The House met at 2:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Hodder): Order, please!

Admit Strangers.

Statements by Members

MR. SPEAKER: This afternoon we have members' statements as follows: the hon. the Member for Windsor-Springdale; the hon. the Member for Port de Grave; the hon. the Member for Trinity-Bay de Verde; the hon. the Member for Burgeo & LaPoile; the hon. the Member for St. John's West, and the hon. the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair.

The Chair recognizes the Member for Windsor-Springdale.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUNTER: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to congratulate -

MS MICHAEL: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I believe the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi is standing on a point of order.

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

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

I am standing to raise a point of order regarding the use of Confederation Building grounds. Today at 1:30 there was a small news conference on the steps of the building, the East Block. It was held by members of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, two members, along with a woman who has Multiple Sclerosis. They had to stand out in the snow in order to hold the press conference.

I have a couple of concerns about what happened. First of all, they sent in an application for use of Confederation Building grounds to hold their press conference last week, on November 30. Initially, when they called back to find out about their application they were told that everything was fine, that there was nothing wrong. They would be able to hold their press conference in the lobby of the East Block. They were later notified that, in actual fact, they could not hold their press conference in the lobby of the East Block, that in order to do that they should have applied, along with a ministry in order to hold the press conference in the lobby.

Now, a couple of concerns here. Number one, I have looked at the application for use of Confederation Building grounds and there are two conditions for use of the grounds. The reason that was given to the MS Society for not using the lobby, that is not listed as a condition. There is no way that they could have known that this was a condition.

Number two, this was not a demonstration. This was just to hold a small press conference to talk about their concerns with regard to drugs for people suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. They were told by Transportation and Works that -

AN HON. MEMBER: What?

MS MICHAEL: Yes - that they could not do it. When they pushed with their questions, they were told who they were speaking to had to go further, even though the person they were speaking to was in charge. The person said: Well, I have to consult on this and I will come back and let you know.

The long and the short of it is, these people were denied standing in the lobby of our building instead of having to stand out in the snow as they did.

I have two concerns about that, Mr. Speaker, that I would like to put to you to consider. One, this is the House of the people and I find it really unacceptable that this should be a rule. If we are going to have rules, even if they are unacceptable, I think people need to know what the rules are and application forms should show that.

I guess I am asking, Mr. Speaker, to deal with the issue of why citizens of our Province, or citizens in general, cannot stand in the lobby to hold press conferences. If they do have to have somebody with them, in terms of somebody who is working inside of this Assembly, why does it only have to be somebody from the government side, somebody from ministry? Surely, any MHA should be able to co-sponsor a press conference with them, but that is not what they were told.

My two issues, Mr. Speaker, one with regard to the rule itself, and then two with regard to the fact that if the rule is there, why aren't citizens being shown or told upfront that this exists?

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair will take the matter under advisement. The Chair is responsible for what we refer to as the parliamentary precincts, and the lobby of Confederation Building is not included. That is the responsibility of the executive branch of government. We will take the matter under advisement and we will discuss it and get back to the hon. member privately.

There is no point of order because points of order have to deal with the parliamentary procedures of the House as contained in our Standing Orders. However, the point is well taken and we will deal with it in a different forum.

The hon. the Member for Windsor-Springdale who was speaking to his member's statement.

MR. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to congratulate the Springdale Fire Department on their forty-third Annual Firefighter's Ball. The annual firefighter's ball is an event held each year to thank the hard-working firefighters who put their lives on the line everyday.

Fire Chief Sheldon Hillier presented Deputy Chief Rennie Noremore with the Roy Manuel Firefighter of the Year award.

The Ford Rolpe Memorial Dedicated Service Award for 100 per cent attendance went to firefighter Kent Reid. Other awards were presented to honourary firefighter Dean Wiseman for ten years of service. Three service pins went to Peter Young for five years, Bernard Sheppard for twenty years and Evertt Pitts for thirty years of service.

When these dedicated men and women are not volunteering their services to fight a fire or assist in a traffic accident, they keep their skills sharpened by attending training in all aspects of emergency response and firefighting.

Our firefighters are always in need of any and all donations to help with the daily operations of their department.

Howard Wellman of Newfoundland and Labrador Vegetation Control presented Springdale Fire Department with a portable heart start machine, to help with cardiac arrest patients; a $5,000 donation which I am sure was very much needed. The Springdale Co-op also donated $500 as well.

I would like all hon. members to join with me to thank and congratulate the firefighters of the Town of Springdale for a job well done.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Port de Grave.

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, on November 28, 2006 the Conception Bay North AIDS Interest Group held its Annual AIDS Memorial Service at St. John the Evangelist Church, Coley's Point.

To take part in the service with representatives from family, church, youth, caregivers, community, board members, health and individuals living with HIV was indeed significant and the evening had a profound effect on all those in attendance.

Mr. Speaker, the Conception Bay North AIDS Interest Group, under the leadership of Sister Rosaline Hynes, works tirelessly to support and care for persons living with HIV and AIDS. Their dedication and policies will protect the human rights and civil liberties of all persons living with HIV and AIDS and other disabilities.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all hon. members to remember and make the theme of the AIDS for 2006: Stop AIDS - Keep the Promise, become a reality.

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.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate Dr. Otto Tucker who was appointed to the Order of Canada on July 24. Dr. Tucker will be accepting his award on December 15.

Dr. Tucker is a well-known educator and author who has endeared himself to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. He holds degrees from Memorial University and the Universities of Alberta and Toronto. Dr. Tucker originally hails from Winterton, Trinity Bay, a community in my District of Trinity-Bay de Verde.

Mr. Speaker, Dr. Tucker is also a well-known advocate and is quite passionate about preserving our history, our way of life. In recent years Winterton, his hometown, has become known for preserving its wooden boat building tradition, an accomplishment of which I am sure he is quite proud.

Mr. Speaker, even though I knew of Dr. Tucker's accomplishments for many years, I had the pleasure of meeting him personally just a couple of years ago. He is to be admired as an educator, an historian and an individual who believes in our people and is an inspiration to all of us.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask that all members join with me in extending our congratulations to Dr. Otto Tucker on his induction into the Order of Canada on December 15.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Burgeo & LaPoile.

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to congratulate Sergeant David Payne, a Port aux Basques native, who has been awarded the Governor General's Meritorious Service Medal.

Sergeant Payne is based at 9 Wing Gander where he and other members of the 103 Search and Rescue Squadron are on twenty-four-hour standby. They provide services throughout the Province and Northeastern Quebec.

Payne and Sergeant Jason MacKinnon were part of a team that responded to a distress call in July 2003. A thirty-four foot sailboat had lost its motor and the vessel's mast was failing. Winds over thirty-five knots threatened to capsize the disabled vessel.

Mr. Speaker, these conditions made it extremely dangerous for the helicopter to get close to the vessel and its five stranded persons - two small children and three adults. Sergeant Payne determined the best available option was to be lowered into the water, whereby he swam to the vessel. After several attempts the rescue was successful and the crew persons were transported to safety.

The Governor General's Meritorious Service Medal is awarded to individuals whose "specific achievements have brought honour to the Canadian Forces and to Canada." In this case, "Sergeants MacKinnon and Payne displayed perseverance and outstanding professionalism in the performance of their duty as search and rescue technicians."

Mr. Speaker, before joining the search and rescue squadron, Sergeant Payne was an aviation technician. He wanted a change in his career and became interested in search and rescue. He has served in the Canadian Forces for almost twenty-five years. His parents, Claude and Kathleen Payne, reside in Port aux Basques.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this House to join with me in congratulating Sergeant David Payne upon receiving the Governor Generals's Meritorious Service Medal.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to Gene Noftall, a resident of St. John's West and a friend of mine, who passed away last week at age sixty-seven.

Mr. Speaker, Gene was a wonderful individual who also happened to be one of the top five-pin bowlers in our Province's history, with a competitive career that spanned over thirty years.

He was a member of three provincial championship teams and on ten other occasions bowled on teams that finished in the top three. Gene was also a member of teams that won multiple city championships and was a devoted member of a number of bowling committees within the community and the Province.

For his skills and dedication to the sport, Gene was inducted into the provincial Bowling Hall of Fame.

Mr. Speaker, Gene was often described as a gentleman on the lanes, but he was also a true gentleman within his family and within the community.

I know that Helen, his wife of forty-six years, and their children, Paul, Karen and David, and the grandchildren, Katie, Robyn, Andrew and Reegan, as well as his extended family and a large circle of friends have been left with many wonderful memories to be treasured.

I ask all hon. members to join me in paying tribute to Gene Noftall, a gentleman and a gentle man.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to congratulate Susan Chalker Browne on the release of her new book The Land of a Thousand Whales. I was pleased to be part of her book launch yesterday at Bonaventure College here in St. John's.

Mr. Speaker, Susan is an award-winning writer, journalist and teacher. The Land of a Thousand Whales is her sixth book for children. Her other books include: Marconi's Secret, The Amazing Adventures of Captain Bob Bartlett, and At Ocean's Edge. Her other books Thomas Doucet - Hero of Plaisance, Goodness Gracious and Gulliver Mulligan were each named by the Canadian Children's Book Centre as Our Choice of selections.

Her newest book, The Land of a Thousand Whales, is set in the historic community of Red Bay, on Labrador's South Coast.

Mr. Speaker, Red Bay, originally known as Butus, was first settled by the Spanish and the French of the old Country in the 1500s. They came to discover what became one of the most lucrative whaling industries of the century. While many historic papers and archival information exist to document this series of Basques events at Red Bay, few of them would be of interest in a Grade 6 classroom. Susan has used her creative energy to capture the children of the Province in a wonderful tale of Sebastian, a young boy who discovers the adventures of a whaling community.

The people of Red Bay and the people of my district are honoured that she has chosen our community or one of our communities for this adventure and this literary piece of work for children.

Mr. Speaker, it is my wish that very soon these literary works for children depicting historic adventures around our Province from Cape Spear to Placentia to Red Bay will be available in the classrooms all over Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, I ask my hon. colleagues today to join with me in congratulating Susan Chalker Browne on the release of her new book, The Land of a Thousand Whales, and wish her every success as she continues her work on the next child's adventure in historic Newfoundland and Labrador.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Before the Speaker calls for Statements by Ministers, we would like to welcome some special guests in our gallery. I notice that we have Mayor Boyd Noel from St. Anthony, and we welcome Mr. Noel.

We also have members of the Combined Council of Labrador visiting today. More specifically, we welcome Mayor Ford Rumbolt, the President. We welcome Mayor Nath Moores, the Vice-President for Labrador Straits. We welcome Councillor Alton Rumbolt, Vice-President of Labrador Southeast; Mayor Arthur Williams, Vice-President of Labrador Central; Mayor Jim Farrell, Vice-President of Labrador West; and AngajukKk Sarah Erickson, Vice President of Labrador North, Nunatsiavut, and Mr. Waylon Williams, the Executive Director.

Welcome guests to our House.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Statements by Ministers.

Statements by Ministers

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to inform this House of our government's commitment to our public servants and to inform you that my department has initiated a borrowing program which will put the Public Service Pension Plan on a solid footing. A $400 million infusion to stabilize the plan will be made this month. A further payment is expected before the end of the fiscal year.

This financial commitment, Mr. Speaker, is something that we have been preparing to do for some time but we have been awaiting the results of the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses' Union ratification vote. We are pleased to announce that their members have voted 76 per cent in favour to accept the collective agreement we negotiated, and in turn we will keep our promise to the Public Service Pension Plan to put their pension plan back on stable ground.

Mr. Speaker, just last March we invested $1.953 billion into the Teachers' Pension Plan. Today's borrowing rates are substantially lower than they have been historically and we felt that this is indeed the right time to move ahead to do the same for the members of the Public Service Pension Plan.

Because of the prudent financial moves by this Administration, we have received credit rating upgrades from all three credit rating agencies in the past year. These upgrades allow us to borrow money at a lower rate. We have just borrowed for a term of thirty years at a rate of 4.5 per cent. I have never witnessed a lower rate.

I am happy to say that our public service employees will no longer have to worry about the stability of their retirements, and this government can continue to reap the benefits of better credit ratings by addressing our significant unfunded liability.

I would like to take this opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to say that this government remains committed to making sound financial decisions. We have to stop passing the burden on to the backs of our children and our grandchildren, and look ahead to a day when this Province can be in a significantly better financial position.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS THISTLE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you to the minister for giving me a copy of this good news today. I must say that I am always glad and I will compliment government when they do good things, and it is good to see that you are using the low interest rates to put an injection of cash into the Public Service Pension Fund; however, I have to say to you that it was our government, the previous government, that started to put the first money back into the pension plan. We did that in 1998, and from 1998 to 2003 there was an injection of $840 million into that plan.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS THISTLE: It is interesting that you said you were waiting for the outcome of the nurses' vote before you decided to make this move. So, were they threatened into the fact that they might not have gotten this if they had not voted in your favour, a 76 per cent ratification vote? It is unfortunate that you didn't use the same treatment for the biggest union in the Province when you pushed them back to work. You didn't do anything for pharmacists. They had to hide behind the boards.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's allotted time has expired.

MS THISTLE: By leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: No leave.

MR. SPEAKER: Leave has been denied.

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

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

I, too, thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement and I, too, congratulate the minister and the government on seeing the need to put an infusion of money into the Public Service Pension Plan. It is obviously a step in the right direction, but we all know there is a long way to go.

What I look forward to, and I do not know if I have to wait until the next Budget to get this but I keep talking about it, and it is what I want to see from government, I want to see the long-term plan. We are getting bits and pieces. I want to see a long-term plan of where the government is planning on going.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's time has expired.

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, I am finished.

MR. SPEAKER: Further statements by ministers?

The hon. the Minister of Education, and Minister Responsible for the Status of Women.

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize December 6 as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Established in 1991 by the Parliament of Canada, this day coincides with the anniversary of the death of fourteen young women who were tragically killed on December 6, 1989, in Montreal.

They were targeted, Mr. Speaker, simply because they were women and had chosen to study engineering, a field traditionally dominated by men. I was studying Social Work in Ontario at the time and I remember that day clearly - the shock and disbelief over the senselessness of such a crime.

While we remember this tragic event today, we must also recognize that, unfortunately, violence against women is still all around us. In 2006, 76 per cent of sexual assaults reported to the RNC were against women. Spousal assaults experienced by women tend to be more severe, occur more often, and cause more serious physical injury and psychological harm.

However, the statistics don't often reflect the real tragedy of abuse and violence. Nellie Nippard, Mr. Speaker, is the face behind the statistics. In 1990, Nellie was stabbed by her estranged husband thirty-three times, in the face, stomach, back, even slicing open her liver. Nellie was left for dead, but survived to become a powerful voice for victims' rights.

She fought to get the federal government to provide money for victims to attend parole hearings. She has been credited with winning victims the right to read their impact statements at parole hearings. She played an important role in the creation of a National Office for Victims within the Department of Public Safety and Emergency. Nellie died in Gander in 2003, at the age of fifty-four, after a ten-year battle with cancer.

Mr. Speaker, I have seen first-hand the incredible impact of Nellie's efforts while working as a parole officer. Her actions have made a very real difference in the lives of many women.

This is also a time to reflect on what each of us can do to prevent and eliminate violence against women. We are now well into the first year of our Violence Prevention Initiative, which is a six-year $7.2 million commitment by this government to fight violence. This initiative is a community-government partnership to stop violence. There is a lot of good work underway by many people who are dedicated to this cause, and I have the highest confidence that this work will make a difference.

Mr. Speaker, as a memorial to those fourteen young women, and to all those who have lost their lives to violence, the flags outside Confederation Building will be flown at half mast. In addition, I would like to acknowledge all those who are wearing purple ribbons today. They were distributed. I also have extras in case someone wanted one today. This is an important symbol of remembrance to the lives that have been lost to violence and the work that remains to be done to fight violence in our Province.

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to take a minute to read through the names of the fourteen women who lost their lives that day:

GeneviPve Bergeron, HlPne Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse LaganiPre, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, MichPle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte, and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz.

Thank you.

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I certainly want to rise and join with the minister today in recognizing December 6 as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

I think all too often in our society we see violence against women simply because we are women, and that is unacceptable. When you look at the statistics today, with 76 per cent of sexual assaults being reported to the RNC in our Province against women, we know that the challenges and the battles that face us are great and they are tremendous.

Mr. Speaker, with statistics like that, and with the blatant examples of violence that still occur in our society today - and we have seen it just recently in Bay d'Espoir, we have seen it in Hermitage, where there have been homicides, suicides, against women. Mr. Speaker, as long as those statistics exist, and as long as there is violence in the home, in the community, in the workplace, no government, regardless of political stripe, can ever turn a blind eye or turn their back. The investments have to be made to counteract violence in our society, and we all have a role to do it.

I want to remind members, Mr. Speaker, that violence towards women is often perpetuated by disrespect and dishonour, not only in the community but in the boardrooms, in the offices, all around the world. Those kinds of examples start with all of us setting them from this day forward.

I say to the minister, Mr. Speaker, whatever she can do, inside of her government or outside, to counteract violence in our society, I will be there to support her and to lobby side by side with her to ensure that we eradicate violence against women in society once and for all.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

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

I thank the minister for the advance copy, and I join with my sister colleagues in speaking in memory of the fourteen women who died, and of all the women we know who have died at the hands of violent men.

It is really sad that we have to have a day called the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. I would hope to think that some day we are going to be able to have a national day on the end of violence against women. I fear that I will not live to see that day, unfortunately, at the rate that we are going.

As the minister has said, and as the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair has said, we all have a role to play in making our communities a safer place to live, and only by speaking out and working together - and this is one place we have to work together - can we bring awareness to this issue and help put an end to the violence. The speaking out, the breaking of the silence, is the best thing that we can do for our sisters who are living in violence to help them break the violence; communities have to break the violence.

I urge all members of the House, and all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, on this day to join forces and let our voices be heard to say, stop the violence, because women deserve to live with dignity, respect and equality in our society. They all go together. It is the lack of dignity, respect and equality that leads to violence.

I would ask all hon. members to think about coming tonight to the Engineering Building at the university and to further remember the women who died, and all other women who died, at the vigil that will take place at 7:30 in the Engineering Building, Room 2006.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to inform residents of our Province that today applications are being accepted for the new Low Income Drug Program, which will be officially launched on January 31, 2007.

Mr. Speaker, as part of our Poverty Reduction Strategy -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Sorry to interrupt the minister, but I just noticed the clock has turned to 2:30 p.m. It being Wednesday, we have to get leave to proceed beyond 2:30 p.m. I assume leave has been granted.

MR. PARSONS: (Inaudible) Mr. Speaker, on the assumption that Question Period will not be cut short at 3:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER: Yes, that would be the condition, that we would have a normal Question Period. I apologize to the minister, and I will invite him to start his statement over again. I did not want to continue without the leave necessary to be granted.

The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

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

I will start the statement again.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to inform residents of Newfoundland and Labrador that today applications are being accepted for the new Low Income Drug Program, which will be officially launched on January 31, 2007.

Mr. Speaker, as part of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, our government announced in Budget 2006 that we would be expanding the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program to include an additional 97,000 individuals. We are investing $32 million annually to provide drug coverage on a co-pay basis to residents who are in need of financial assistance in paying for their prescription drugs.

The new program is designed to help those with low incomes. It includes families with children with an annual net household income of up to $30,000; couples earning up to $21,000; and singles earning up to $19,000 a year who are not currently covered by the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program.

Mr. Speaker, applications and information sheets are being mailed to all households during the month of December to ensure that everyone who may be eligible has the ability to apply. Additionally, the forms are now available on our Web site, which is www.gov.nl.ca/health.

Mr. Speaker, I am also pleased to announce that the new office for the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program is now open in Stephenville to accept applications and to respond to inquiries. Our government announced the creation of this new office to accommodate the increased demand for service with the new program. And, in keeping with our commitment to provide economic opportunities in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, we have created fifteen brand new jobs for this new office in Stephenville, providing meaningful employment in a rural area of the Province.

Mr. Speaker, we are accepting applications now so that we can process as many applications as possible by the date of the program launch, and it is expected that cards will be issued in the latter part of January for those deemed eligible. However, we ask for the public's patience as we process the large volumes of forms.

Mr. Speaker, it is a fact that one of the main determinants to health is economic status. Through this new program, it is our intention to improve health outcomes for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador through improved access to prescription drug coverage.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to thank the minister for an advance copy of his statement.

Obviously, this is not new news. I mean, this is a government initiative that was announced in the budget last year in March. It is only now that government is finding it appropriate to roll out these additional drug coverages to the residents of the Province.

Mr. Speaker, what does this do for a lot of people who are out there in our Province? I am going to talk about a couple of them. I have a lady up in my district, for example, who is a mother of two children. She is a patient of Multiple Sclerosis. Her medication on a monthly basis costs her $2,000 a month. Her family income will be at $32,000 a year. What will her eligibility be for drug coverage? Absolutely none, and the minister knows that. Where 60 per cent to 70 per cent of her family income will be taken just to pay for medication to be able to see her through a critical illness in her life so that she can maintain some form of health to raise her two children.

Mr. Speaker, when you have over 600 people out there in the Province today just looking for Multiple Sclerosis therapies alone, you need to make sure that any program you bring in is going to be able to address what the real need is for a lot of these people, and that is that many of them will still be left to have to provide their own medications on a relatively low income.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I want to say with regard to -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the member's allotted time has expired.

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: Leave has been granted.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I also want to raise another issue as it relates to Labrador, because people in Labrador pay $3,000 to $4,000 on transportation and accommodations alone for one round of chemotherapy here in St. John's, and the maximum that they get back, besides their $500 deductible, is 50 per cent of their expenditures. Well, Mr. Speaker, many of them who need radiation treatment have to spend up to six weeks in St. John's doing that treatment.

This program, the minister announced last March and is prepared to implement come January, will do nothing to be able to help these people from Labrador who seek this chemotherapy treatment or the many Multiple Sclerosis patients out there who are living not within the income levels prescribed by the government.

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I, too, thank the minister for the advance copy.

Again, I know that changes have been made and a new table is put in place and more people will access drugs, but as with my colleague from Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair, I, too, have stories of people for whom this is not going to a help.

A man in his eighties, for example, who has been writing me - he is not in my district but he has been writing me as leader of the party - has an income of $20,099. He has to live in a home because of his physical condition. He is widowed. He has $217 left a month after he pays the $1,500 to live in the home for senior citizens where he lives. His drugs are $476, yet he is going to be $1,000 above the plateau.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's allotted time has expired.

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave? Leave has been granted.

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This man has only $217 left after he pays the home to pay for $476 in medications, including no other expenses that he might also have, and he does have others. The plan that is in place so far is not showing me that he is going to be able to be helped by it. Even if he only had an income of $19,000, the co-pay plan means that in January he would still have to pay 70 per cent of his drugs and he still would not have enough money.

Mr. Speaker, the government has to go a much further distance to deal with the reality of people out there in this Province. I am waiting to hear from the Department of Health about how it is going to consider dealing with the people who are just above the line. Accessing their liquid assets and making them become even poorer than they are in order to get money for the drugs is not the way to go, and that is how I see our system at the moment.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: Further statements by ministers?

The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HICKEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to inform my hon. colleagues that the Department of Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs has commenced the annual Air Foodlift Subsidy Program for Labrador for the 2006-2007 winter shipping season.

Communities in Northern Labrador became eligible to access the program between November 23 and November 25. The communities of Black Tickle, Williams Harbour and Norman Bay engaged in the program on November 29 and will have another opportunity on December 10. The remaining Southeastern Labrador and Labrador Straits communities will access the program once the marine crossing between St. Barbe and Blanc Sablon ends for the winter season.

Mr. Speaker, the Air Foodlift Subsidy Program was developed in 1997 and ensures the people of Coastal Labrador receive nutritious and perishable items during the winter months.

The shipping season generally runs from early June to mid-November for the North Coast, and from early May to mid-January in Southeastern Labrador and the Straits. The Air Foodlift Subsidy Program begins ten days after the marine shipping season is completed for each region, when consumers must rely on air delivery of perishable goods.

Mr. Speaker, currently there are twenty communities involved in this program. Since the Department of Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs took over the administration of the program we have implemented measures to make the program more efficient, with options such as automatic bank deposits for claims and electronic versions of the claim forms to assist retailers. We are open to receiving input from retailers and community members on ways to continuously improve the program.

The North Coast of Labrador has access to the Air Foodlift Subsidy for a longer period of time since Southeastern Labrador and the Labrador Straits have a longer shipping season and road access. In these latter areas, the subsidy usually starts in mid-January and runs until early May.

Government is aware of these challenges and we have demonstrated a firm commitment to the people of Labrador in the 2006 Budget.

This year, Mr. Speaker, we have increased the Air Foodlift Subsidy funding from $300,000 to $400,000 by working in conjunction with the Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Mr. Speaker, our government will continue to explore options for the shipment of perishable nutritious goods to coastal communities, and we are committed to administering the Air Foodlift Subsidy Program.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It reminds me of the VOCM broadcast, A Little Good News Today, I say to the minister. A Liberal initiative started in 1997 -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS JONES: - ongoing in Labrador for nine years, and this is the best the minister can come with to bring a statement into the House of Assembly.

What I would like to see, Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the government opposite, is some new good news for Labrador. How about reducing the ferry rates, Minister, going into Norman Bay and Pinsent's Arm and Williams Harbour? How about building a road into the community of Williams Harbour, that your government cancelled three years ago?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the minister has made a statement, and the hon. the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair is replying. I ask members for their co-operation.

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What I would like to hear is an announcement from the government that they are going to build a road into Williams Harbour, that they cancelled three years ago. Build a regional airport in Port Hope Simpson, that they have had on hold for three years, I say, Mr. Speaker. How about some of these initiatives? How about some money for Black Tickle, the $15,000 they are looking for, to have clean water in their community, that your government has put on hold right now?

Mr. Speaker, we love to have good news in Labrador, but I want to remind the minister and thank him for bringing up another initiative for Labrador done by a Liberal government, carried on by a Tory government. You never know, Mr. Speaker, before his term of office finishes, he might have a little good news for Labrador. We will wait and see.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. R. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I, too, thank the minister for an advance copy of his statement.

We acknowledge as well, Mr. Speaker, that this is a very important program for isolated northern communities in order to access nutritious food for the community during the winter months. Without the subsidy for the airlift program, Mr. Speaker, it would impossible to buy anything in most of these communities.

I can recall just a few years ago being up in Nain and a small pack of tomatoes in the cellophane packs, four in a pack, was $7.20, or something like that. So, you can imagine the cost, the price, if you had to bring it in by yourself without the help of a government subsidy to bring it in by air, which is the only way, Mr. Speaker, during a significant portion of the year, so we commend the government for carrying on -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. member's allotted time has expired.

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: Leave is granted.

MR. R. COLLINS: We commend the government, Mr. Speaker, for continuing on with the airlift program because it means a lot to the communities that are affected.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: Further statements by ministers?

Oral Questions.

Oral Questions

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. REID: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I understand that there is another group of Premiers in our Province today meeting with our Premier. I also know that our Premier gave Ralph Klein and his wife two fur coats in the middle of July. I was just wondering what kind of gifts he had in mind for today. I hope he is not considering Ski-Doos.

Mr. Speaker, yesterday I asked the Minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development to provide a breakdown of the investment being put forward by the three proponents into the fibre optic deal. The minister refused to answer the question, either because he did not know or he was trying to hide something.

I ask him today: Now that he has had the opportunity to go back to his office, talk with his staff overnight, can he please stand and provide a breakdown of how much Persona, MTS Allstream and Rogers each individually are putting into this project?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I didn't need to go back to my office to have a chat with my staff, or to spend a night reviewing the file. Unfortunately, that is probably what the Leader of the Opposition should do because we have been talking about this now for about three weeks and he still has not educated himself on what this deal is all about, what it means for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, what it means for rural communities, what it means for the business community, what it means for the research community.

The fact of the matter is, there is a $37 million private sector investment in this fibre optic link with mainland Canada. The fact of the matter is, $15 million will be put in by the provincial Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. The fact of the matter is, this is not an equity position in a consortium; this is the purchase of an asset called fibre optics, and that will enable us, as I said on numerous occasions, to provide government and its various agencies with its telecommunications requirements for the foreseeable future.

That, Mr. Speaker, is what is important in this.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. REID: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The minister just rose and said he does not need to go back to his office to get the information, but I suggest that he should because he obviously did not answer the question.

I will make it even simpler for him this time. I will ask the minister the question: Can he please tell us how much one of these companies is putting into this deal? The company I am talking about is Persona Communications Incorporated. Can you tell us how much they are putting in?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, there is a consortium involved in building a fibre optic link between St. John's, Newfoundland, across the Island, across the South Coast, into Cape Breton, across Cape Breton and into Halifax. There is $37 million in a commercial agreement between three private sector companies. The fact of the matter is, it is irrelevant to the deal that is being put in front of government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. TAYLOR: It is irrelevant as it relates to the $15 million investment that we are making. What is important is that we achieve what we require, we achieve what we have been advised by independent consultants, as to the number of fibre optic strands that we should have in this cable, and that asset that we purchased is worth $15 million and will provide government a return on investment. That, Mr. Speaker, is what we will achieve.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. REID: Again, Mr. Speaker, for all those out there listening, the minister still did not answer a simple question: How much? He did not say it once.

Mr. Speaker, all last week, and even the first two days of this week, the minister stood on his feet and said: The answers to all of our questions are basically in the report compiled by Electronic Warfare Associates. Well, Mr. Speaker, with regards to the financing of this project, Electronic Warfare Associates says the only financial information that they could get came from Persona Communications Inc. Here is what they said about it, too, Mr. Speaker. This report said: This information is so vague that they cannot even determine if Persona is solvent or bankrupt, cannot even determine it with the information that was submitted to them.

I ask the minister: If we are putting $15 million into this, are we subsidizing Persona's investment or their share of this project?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, as usual, the Leader of the Opposition chooses to disregard the facts of this deal.

The fact of the matter is, Electronic Warfare Associates, as he refers to them, EWA Canada,

have done a determination as to the value of this asset. They do not need the information from Persona, Rogers and MTS Allstream to determine the value of a piece of fibre optic cable. You can find out how much a piece of fibre optic cable is worth, how much a foot of it costs, and how much, therefore, 900 miles of it costs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. TAYLOR: The fact of the matter is, that is the assessment that they did on the fibre optic cable and how much our $15 million should be able to purchase.

The other component of it, Mr. Speaker, as for the solvency of Persona, EWA said that there are two ways of dealing with that. Number one, we can get access to the books, which Persona have readily agreed to provide to EWA, as I said previously in this House, and secondly, they said in the absence of that a bond could be posted; and they have also agreed with that, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair recognizes the Leader of the Opposition.

MR. REID: Mr. Speaker, I cannot believe what the minister is saying. He is saying that the financial status of these companies is immaterial to this project, or irrelevant. I cannot believe what I just heard.

Mr. Speaker, the minister is hiding from something, obviously. In the financial analysis completed by the Department of Finance that you refused to release yesterday and last week, was it determined if Persona was solvent or bankrupt, or if they have the ability to live up to their commitments with regards to this deal?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I said in this House before, and I will say it again, that any project that comes before government is looked at for input by the Department of Finance, regardless of what department originates it, if it has a financial implication. I will say, and I said it before, my department recommended to Treasury Board that somebody with expertise in the communications industry be hired and a CA firm, EWA, was hired.

I went back and read the recommendation in my Treasury Board file in Cabinet and here is what my department recommended, verbatim: Finance officials recognize the need and note that the financial and economic benefits outlined in the paper support this level of investment.

That is the conclusion that was recommended, that I move forward through the department and Treasury Board. That is the gospel truth and it is recorded in the presentation to Treasury Board and Cabinet, and Cabinet documents are not required to be tabled (inaudible).

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair recognizes the hon. Leader of the Opposition.

MR. REID: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Now we know there was a report that he refused to - now we know there was a report.

Mr. Speaker, the Finance Minister has risen on two or three different occasions and said that his own department recommended that government hire an outside consulting company to do a review of this project. That is what he said. Now, this government hired EWA, Electronic Warfare Associates, to do an evaluation of the project. The company has stated that they did not have enough information provided to them to determine whether or not Persona was even solvent.

Mr. Speaker, now that we know the Department of Finance did not do the financial analysis and EWA says that they did not have the information to be able to do it: Can the minister, please, advise me then, who did the financial analysis of this project, or are you saying that we are about to put in $15 million of taxpayers' money when we do not even know if the companies that we are doing the project with are solvent?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, as I have said, and as EWA said in the report - and the Leader of the Opposition chooses to ignore it again today - the fact of the matter is, EWA has access to all the information that they require to determine -

MR. REID: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, will you gag the Leader of the Opposition so I can answer the question?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair asks members for their co-operation.

The Chair recognizes the hon. the Minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development.

MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, the fact of the matter is, EWA has no problem - and it is in the report - documenting and evaluating how much fibre optic costs, what the value of the asset is, and what we should get for our $15 million. It is in the report, even though he chooses to disregard it.

As for the solvency -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, am I going to be allowed to answer the question?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair recognizes the minister.

MR. TAYLOR: Shortly, Mr. Speaker, you will be stopping me from speaking when I am not getting a chance to answer the question.

MR. REID: You haven't done that yet.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair is having difficulty, not hearing the members but getting co-operation from members. The Chair will permit the minister another ten seconds or so to complete his answer.

MR. TAYLOR: Mr. Speaker, Persona have agreed, as I have said in this House before, to provide the financial information that is required to determine the solvency of the company. Furthermore, and I said this in the House, EWA said that even if they did not have the required information we could -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Again, the Chair is asking members for their co-operation. The Chair has no power other than to ask members for their co-operation. You are all parliamentarians. We are all here as colleagues and I ask you again for your co-operation.

The Chair will, again, ask the minister to complete his answer very quickly.

MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The fact of the matter is, EWA said that a bond should be posted. They said in the report, written by EWA in black and white, Persona agreed, and they have informed us that they agree to the posting of a bond to cover all costs associated with the building of this infrastructure. Full stop.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

There has to be respect on both sides of the House.

The Chair recognizes the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My questions are for the Minister of Health and Community Services.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister: Why did he contact the Provincial Association of Childcare Administrators and licensees yesterday, known as PACAL, threatening to disclose the names of child care operators and any and all violations against them if they did not stay out of the media?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, that is absolute nonsense. I did not do that. I did not threaten anybody, Mr. Speaker. I did not call and threaten anybody.

What I did do, Mr. Speaker, is - the only one call that I did make was to the president of the association yesterday. I did indicate - because she was in Montreal - that the issue was raised on Open Line last week. I did indicate that I had responded on Open Line and I had offered a meeting to the association, in good faith. I had also indicted to the Open Line host that I commended him, the show and the callers, for raising and highlighting this issue.

The call that I did make to the association president, I should point out, was to say that I was truly hoping that we could solve some of these issues through the meeting. I did say that, while individuals have the right to call Open Line, it was unfortunate that while some of the callers, some of the daycare operators, were absolutely accurate and had put forward absolutely very positive information to help solve this issue, some of the operators were putting forward inaccurate information and I had no other choice but to contact Open Line to bring balance to the issue, because there were some very serious violations against some of the daycare operators and they had to be highlighted as well.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The minister calls up the president of PACAL, who is in a meeting with her board, and during the conversation, as I am being told by board members, I say to the minister, there were threats saying: I know who is calling the Open Line show. I am going to go public. I am going to disclose these operators and what violations they have against them.

I ask the minister: Why are you choosing to drag out forms and files in your department, and cast negative aspersions upon child care centre operators in this Province, simply because they bring their issues to the public forefront?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, again, this is absolute foolishness. It is the same as other members of the Opposition who put out news releases that are full of inaccuracies.

Mr. Speaker, again, what I did do, I said that some of the information that was brought forward - and if there are frivolous complaints made against child care operators, I fully intend to address that. I fully intend to address it, and I fully intend to work with the association to make a better relationship between the association and government.

Mr. Speaker, one side of the story could not get out on Open Line, and I did call Open Line this morning, which very accurately reflected the conversation that I had with the president of the association yesterday.

I would certainly be happy to table a copy of the transcript of that, Mr. Speaker, because I did not threaten the president of the association. I did say that I had no other choice but to bring balance, that there were some very serious allegations and violations (inaudible).

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair recognizes the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair.

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Premier.

When you have a minister who calls up a board or a group like this, of female child care operators in the Province, threatening to release the names of their companies, their child care centres, a list of violations that are against them, and order them to back off on the issues related to child care in this Province, I have to ask the Premier if he sees this as an appropriate behaviour for a minister of the Crown.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, again, I did contact the president of the association. I told her that it was a courtesy call, to giver her a heads-up that I was going to be calling Open Line because the information that was put forward again by some of the child care operators was very accurate information, and I intend to address the frivolous complaints against the child care operators, Mr. Speaker, and I intend to work with the association, but some of the information that was put out there was inaccurate and unfair, and that had to be corrected.

I said that I was concerned, because - by me calling in to say that there are two sides to the issue - one side of the issue is that there are very serious violations and I think the parents of the Province have a right to know, the parents of children who are going to child care centres have a right to know, that government is doing a diligent job in making sure they have a healthy and safe environment in which they are going to.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, I say to the minister, it is great that you are prepared to deal with frivolous regulations but the real problem is about the shortage of Early Childhood Educators in the classroom of our daycare centres.

One centre in the Goulds is now being forced to close up classroom space and turn away children who are in the program unless this operator can find an Early Childhood Educator in the next ninety days. She can, however, recruit teachers - who are not qualified, apparently - to work in the centre. So, this is the beginning of what daycare operators are saying is a serious problem.

I ask you, Minister: How many more centres will be given notice when their licences are up for renewal?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, it is not my intention, as I indicated to the Leader of the NDP yesterday, to bring in a public system. It is not my intention to shut down child care operators, Mr. Speaker. It is our intention, as was outlined in the May plan that we released in this Province, to try to improve recruitment and retention, to try to improve the subsidies that children are receiving to attend child care centres, and to try to improve the relationship between child care operators and children and government.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My questions are for the Minister of Natural Resources. To paraphrase Shakespeare: She doth protest too much.

I heard her on Open Line this morning and, the more I hear, the more contradictions we get regarding the Bull Arm Site Corporation security building contract: specifications changed, contracts split, public tendering versus RFPs, forms not filed, core certification requirements deleted.

Mr. Speaker, I have been asking for information, as you know, here in this House for the last four or five days. I understand from the minister that she is going to table it at the end here, so I will go on to my second question, the first being: Did she have it? She tells me she does, so I will get that later and have a chance to analyze it.

My question concerns the core certification. Now, it is my understanding that virtually every contract let by the Province must have and does have the core certification requirement as a part of it. Very, very exceptional circumstances if it is not there. It was in the first time around in this bid; it wasn't the second time around. This is not an oversight. Somebody says: It is not going in. The rule is, it goes in. If it is out, it is out because somebody took it out.

I ask the minister, like I asked her yesterday: Who took the requirement for core certification out of the Bull Arm contract, which allowed your Tory friend to bid, which they could not do the first time around? Give us a name, please.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, as I have stated in this House for the last two days, nobody gave any instruction to anyone with regard to core certification. It is a policy of government that construction companies have core certification. It was overlooked in this piece because there was a request for bids under the emergency provisions under the Public Tender Act.

There were one-on-one meetings with the site manager, with the limited call for bids, with the three groups that were going to bid for the second piece of work. Nobody instructed anybody other than ensure the lowest tender on the first bid, a good friend of our friends opposite, absolutely ensure that lowest bidder is included in the limited call for bids on the second piece of work.

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

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This smells of patriotism and cronyism all over. We know that Ms Cleary -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair recognizes the Opposition House Leader, and asks members for their co-operation.

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate that.

The president of the Bull Arm Site Corporation, I would presume, is in charge, the ultimate administrative officer. This is either a case of - somebody took this out. Now, it is either patronage or it is incompetence. Either way, this is unacceptable, what happened here, and this contract being awarded in the way that it was. Either Ms Cleary was incompetent in seeing that this core requirement did not make into the bidding, which is the normal, usual, standard practice, or it was deliberately left out. She is ultimately responsible.

I say to the minister again: When are you going to remove this person from this position, seeing what has happened here?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I say, Mr. Speaker, I am ultimately responsible for what happens in this department, not Ms Cleary, and I am satisfied in terms of my investigations into this matter that there has been no impropriety. Ms Cleary removed herself once she realized that there would be the appearance of a conflict in terms of awarding the second number of bids.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS DUNDERDALE: Nobody took it out, Mr. Speaker. It was an oversight, probably due to inexperience of the site manager in letting work.

Mr. Speaker, I am satisfied that the Public Tender Act was not contravened in this case.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

My question is for the Minister of Health and Community Services.

Newfoundland and Labrador has the dubious distinction of being the only Province that does not provide universal coverage for new MS drugs. These drugs can cost a person up to $27,000 a year. In this Province, people are forced to use up their savings, sell their homes, quit work and go on income support to be eligible for this drug coverage.

Mr. Minister, is this government going to do the right thing and add MS drugs to the catastrophic drug list?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. OSBORNE: Mr. Speaker, last year, or in this year's Budget, I should say, we added $180 million of new money to the health care budget, an increase of 10 per cent. We have put tens of millions of dollars into new drugs, including $32.8 million into the new drug program expansion that I talked about just earlier again today.

Mr. Speaker, we cannot do it all at once. I understand that there are patients in the Province with cancer, with arthritis, with MS, and with other diseases that obviously have catastrophic drug costs. I have been working with the federal government to try to develop a National Pharmaceuticals Strategy, of which one of the pillars is a catastrophic drug plan.

To more directly answer the member's question, Mr. Speaker, I am prepared to consider that in this year's budget as I am other issues as well.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I have to say, that this government had a lot more money to deal with and make decisions about in this year's Budget than, for example, P.E.I. did, and yet P.E.I. can cover this drug.

Mr. Speaker, MS is a serious disease. It has devastated lives. It is not fair that people also become poorer paying for MS drugs or become sicker because they cannot afford them, like the woman who was at the press conference today. There are 600 known people in this Province who should be taking this medication and are not.

Mr. Minister, I want you to tell me: Are you going to do the right thing? Don't tell me you may be thinking about it. Are you going to do the right thing and stop this discriminating against these people and cover these drugs?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair recognizes the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Mr. Speaker, there were a number of issues that the Leader of the NDP raised. I will try to address them all in the short time that I have to answer the question.

First of all, P.E.I. are not covering 40 per cent of their population under a drug program. We are doing the right thing, Mr. Speaker, we are doing that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. OSBORNE: Secondly, Mr. Speaker, we have drug therapies in this Province, that we are the only Province in Canada that are covering them, such as some of the cancer drugs. We are doing the right thing.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. OSBORNE: Thirdly, I will not lead this department the way the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi would on making decisions by the seat of your pants. I will bring it forward in the Budget process, Mr. Speaker, and we will make an informed decision based upon the fiscal means of this Province and our ability to pay for it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS THISTLE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is interesting that the Minister of Health thinks he is doing the right thing, and the Minister of Natural Resources thinks she is doing the right thing, but the general public do not think so.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS THISTLE: Mr. Speaker, during the last federal election, the Premier and his caucus campaigned for the Conservative candidates in this Province. The Premier had a commitment from Stephen Harper in a letter on January 4, 2006, where he stated that non-renewable resources would be removed from the equalization formula and that no province would be adversely affected by changes to equalization. Mr. Speaker, the Premier neglected to get that pre-election commitment put into federal government policy. It should have been priority number one, but, Mr. Speaker, he waited for a political moment to discuss this important issue. He waited until the Tory convention this fall, and we all know what happened at Gander. Real problems are surfacing.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MS THISTLE: I ask the Premier: Is he such a poor negotiator that he cannot even get a deal when it is in writing?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair asks the member to put her question immediately.

MS THISTLE: Mr. Speaker, I ask the Minister of Finance: It appears in recent days that our equalization plan is in jeopardy. Would you stand up and tell the people of this Province is it at risk?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

If we had to leave that side in power any longer we would be all at risk of surviving in this Province, I can tell you. That is where the risk would be.

They laughed at us when we were going to get the Atlantic Accord. In the campaign they said, that is an election promise, you are not going to get delivered on that. We built a campaign on getting more money out of the federal government and delivered a minimum of $2 billion bucks on that issue.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SULLIVAN: There has not been one bit of information -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. SULLIVAN: If they do not want to hear, I will sit down, Mr. Speaker, and we will end Question Period.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

A question has been asked and the hon. the Government House Leader is replying. I ask all members for their co-operation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Colleagues, time is passing quickly.

The hon. the Government House Leader, a few moments to complete your answer.

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

After listening to a dissertation for about a minute and a half, I want an opportunity to answer the particular question that she posed, after over a minute with the question being asked.

My answer to that is quite simple. I have not heard anything, or read anything, since the last federal election that would indicate they are not going to deliver on their promise. Absolutely, there has not been one statement made by the federal government at this point in time.

I am going to a finance ministers' meeting, Mr. Speaker, next week in Vancouver to sit down with the finance ministers.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

We have one minute left, thirty seconds to put the question and thirty seconds to reply.

The hon. the Member for Grand Falls-Buchans.

MS THISTLE: In the government's own economic annual review dated November, 2006, it clearly shows how dependent this Province is on oil revenue, but you have to look twice. Construction investment this year is down $240 million, and housing starts are down 12 per cent, manufacturing and employment is down 6 per cent.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS THISTLE: Mr. Speaker, our equalization deal is so important, why can't you get the commitment from Stephen Harper?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Order, please!

MR. SULLIVAN: I do not know if she wants me to talk about a commitment from Stephen Harper or if she wants to talk about construction. The reason, on last year, is that the White Rose project and the Voisey's Bay construction phase had moved from construction into production phase. We have employed in our Province, right now, the highest number of people ever working in our Province's history at 214,900. The last three years before that were second, third and fourth most years in the history of our Province. During their era, they sent people out of this Province, Mr. Speaker - 11,984 one year and 10,157 another year.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The time for Question Period has expired.

The Chair seeks the guidance of the House in that there are a number of other matters under routine proceedings. Shall we continue with routine proceedings?

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MR. SULLIVAN: Mr. Speaker, what we could do: It is now moved to 3:15 p.m. and on private members - I know the minister wanted to table something there. She can put it on the table and then if we could move on to the private member's motion because we have already gone sixteen minutes over. If the minister could just table that, with leave, and then we could move on to the regular orders of the day.

MR. SPEAKER: That is agreed. We will move directly to Tabling of Documents.

Tabling of Documents

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair recognizes the Minister of Natural Resources.

MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am tabling the documents as requested by the Opposition House Leader on Monday of this week.

MR. SPEAKER: Orders of the Day.

Orders of the Day

Private Members' Day

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We now call the Private Member's Resolution submitted by my colleague from Humber Valley.

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair recognizes the hon. the Member for Humber Valley to put forward the resolution which stands in her name.

The hon. the member.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS GOUDIE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It gives me great pleasure to stand here today and introduce this resolution in support of the Poverty Reduction Strategy. I would like to point out, right from the outset, that our government is fully committed to the vision, the goals and the objectives of this strategy.

The 2005 Speech from the Throne signaled government's Blue Book commitment to transform Newfoundland and Labrador, as stated here in the resolution, over a ten-year period from a Province with the most poverty to a province with the least poverty.

Mr. Speaker, during the last election I went door-to-door, the same as many individuals here in this House of Assembly went door-to-door -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair has recognized the hon. the member, but there are a lot of conversations going on.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair has recognized the hon. the member, but there are a lot of conversations going on which prevents the Chair from hearing the member adequately. I ask members for their co-operation.

The Chair recognizes the hon. the member.

MS GOUDIE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, during the last election I went door-to-door, the same as many individuals here in this House of Assembly, and we heard firsthand of many situations out there in the community that required some change. I went door-to-door, Mr. Speaker, with the Premier, and we knew that the problems we were facing were not going to be changed overnight; we knew. We have said time and time again to individuals and groups that it will take time to make the necessary changes and see the results.

Mr. Speaker, the consensus with this poverty reduction action plan is that the systemic causes of poverty cannot be addressed overnight. Under the direction and leadership of the Premier, a broad-based ministerial committee was established to ensure that poverty reduction received the highest attention within this government.

In June of this year, our government released Reducing Poverty: An Action Plan for Newfoundland and Labrador. As a health care professional for twelve years working on the frontline, I took the opportunity to read through this plan here, and everyday as a registered nurse on the frontline, Mr. Speaker, we go through a nursing care plan, the same as a teacher does, the same as someone who does up a business plan. We go through the proper process here and basically, as a nursing plan, you go through, you assess your situation, you diagnose the patients, you develop a plan, you set your short-term goals, you set your long-term goals, and then you go through and evaluate your plan. Then, if you need to revise your plan, you revise your plan.

Mr. Speaker, this action plan that we have here, that we have put before the House here under this resolution, is a plan that will be constantly going through re-evaluation. It is a long-term plan. This plan was also the accumulation of a year of intense work that included broad consultation, research and work by over ten departments and agencies. We heard from hundreds of people through a series of workshops, focus groups and submissions.

Mr. Speaker, I also took the opportunity - first when I got elected as the MHA for the Humber Valley District, I identified that there were some very serious social issues in our society and in my district. I took the opportunity to make a submission through the Social Policy Committee to be taken into account when we developed our Poverty Reduction Program. I have to say, if you look at this program - and people can take the opportunity to go on our Web site and look at this action plan and they can certainly e-mail us at povertyreduction@gov.nl.ca to make comments on our plan and make suggestions as we move throughout the process of implementing this plan. We listened, we incorporated all the advice that we were given, and we used it to strongly guide the development of this strategy. The result is positive and progressive and I am proud to note that Newfoundland and Labrador is only the second jurisdiction in Canada to move forward with a Poverty Reduction Strategy.

The Poverty Reduction Strategy has been very positively received by individuals and community-based agencies, a number of whom have met with government to express their ongoing interests in working collaboratively with government to meet the goals outlined in the action plan. If you look through the plan here - take the time to look through the plan, I suggest all members do - you can see where there is a consultation process here, where we are going to have biannual Round Table for poverty reduction, and through the budget consultations people will have the opportunity to have input into this strategic plan.

Throughout the country and other provinces, groups are particularly impressed and supportive of government's integrated and comprehensive approach and the strong recognition it provides to the community-based sector. Community was also very pleased with government's commitment to annually invest $30 million in 2006 and 2007, and $64 million annually. Mr. Speaker, this is the biggest infusion of money ever into poverty reduction in our Province.

We have met, for example, our commitment to expand eligibility for the Prescription Drug Program; eliminate school fees; increase supports within the Income Support Program, and enhance Adult Basic Education offerings. These investments help answer the call to make resources the strategy and enable the initiatives to move forward.

Mr. Speaker, equally important, community recognizes that the overall approach and guiding principles of the strategy are a solid means upon which to move forward with a shared agenda to embark on a long-term process to meaningfully address this very complex and multi-dimensional issue.

It is interesting to note, that other jurisdictions are paying close attention to the work that this Province has undertaken. The other Atlantic provinces, Quebec and British Columbia, have expressed an interest in meeting with Minister Shelley to discuss our Poverty Reduction Strategy and approach. Others are also taking notice. The National Council of Welfare has received a presentation from officials and is holding their next board meeting here in the Province to hear more about our progress in order to inform the rest of Canada and learn from what we are doing.

As a frontline health care provider and MHA for the District of Humber Valley, tackling poverty is essential to ensuring a healthy future for our Province. It is about both improving the well-being and equality of life of those living in poverty and ensuring a strong and prosperous future for all citizens in our Province.

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all members of this House offer support for this resolution and I look forward to the remainder of this debate.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Port de Grave.

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

It is a pleasure to stand today and make a few comments with regards to the private member's motion that was put forth by the Member for Humber Valley.

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by saying that from day to day some members opposite, they will stand in their places and say: All we hear from the Opposition is bad news. All you hear from us on this side is the good news. Mr. Speaker, I want for us to take a little reality check. Let's go back to 2003 when the Blue Book came out and just see where we are today and where we stand with this issue. In the Blue Book, the Premier stated very clearly that he felt it was time, and he felt he was the person from a business background, to see that each and every person in this Province had a good job and found employment. I believe that is the essence of really eliminating poverty if we are going to do it within ten years. Mr. Speaker, I know there are other issues that people look at when they try to determine what poverty really is.

He also mentioned about all of our young people leaving this Province. If we have young people - and I believe the figure is somewhere around 16,000 people in this Province who live in poverty - if we train them, I do not think it is good enough for them to have to go to Alberta to find a job to survive. It should be dealt with here in the Province.

With all due respect to the Minister of Human Resources, Labour and Employment, I remember at our Estimates last year when I asked him and his officials to define for me what, really, poverty is. He admitted, and I appreciate his comments that time, when he said it is very difficult to determine what it is and to find out what position you are in if you are living in poverty. He went on to say that I guess it has to be something that you have to be comfortable with. He noted people probably who are living with an income of $20,000, and if they feel they are comfortable there, well that is probably the bracket that they live in with regard to living in poverty.

We all know that in our country back in 1988, in Canada, the government of the day in Ottawa stated that they were going to eliminate poverty by the year 2000. We all know what happened there. We didn't get very far with it. UNICEF, they come out from time to time, said that Canada was doing too much to define what poverty was rather than dealing with the issue.

Mr. Speaker, I believe that is what is happening here today. I am glad that there is a ten-year plan, but I think more has to be done to deal with the issues as we face them today.

In the report that the minister put out, Reducing Poverty, I think it gives a clear outline of what poverty really is. They talk about the low income cut-in point, and they reference that a low-income household is defined as one that spends 20 per cent of its income on food, clothing and shelter.

Then they go on the say, through the Family Expenditure Survey, FAMEX as they are called, in 1992 they stated that an average Canadian family spends 44 per cent, after tax income, on food, clothing and shelter. Then you add the 20 per cent that I just noted. They claim that anyone who spends less than 64 per cent, after taxable income, on food, clothing and shelter are low-income families.

Mr. Speaker, they go on to explain what that equates to here in the Province. Statistics Canada, they listed in 2004 that a family of four living in rural areas such as Baie Verte is considered to be living in low income if after tax income is less that $20,844. If you move into Grand Falls-Windsor, that figure is increased to $23,856. Here in St. John's and on the immediate Avalon, the figure is $26,948.

Mr. Speaker, after reading those numbers, I can assure you, in my area and the surrounding area - we are fairly close to St. John's - there are many people, if that is the case, living in poverty, because many of them are below the $26,000 bracket.

Mr. Speaker, in the Budget of 2004 the government brought in a good program, a new tax reduction for low-income individuals and families. Just to touch on the basis of what some families must be making here in our Province, because they state that the provincial income tax will be eliminated for individuals with net income up to $12,000 and for families up to $19,000, those numbers are a far cry from the numbers I just listed, when you reference the $28,000. Something major has to happen to get a family from this $19,000 or $20,000 bracket up to the $28,000 and $30,000 bracket, to say that they are not in the poverty system.

In 2004, Mr. Speaker, we had 62,000 individuals in this Province in 33,000 families. Included in that were 17,000 children and 18,000 single adults. I know the minister, last week, admitted those figures are startling and it is a major problem, probably, to deal with, but overall in this Province in 2004, 12.2 per cent were living in poverty but child poverty was 16.7 per cent. I believe we have to do something to advance this major concern rather than - there is nothing wrong with a ten-year strategy. That has to be done, and plan it, but I believe a lot of things have to be done to take care of the issue before then.

We have the highest per capita use of any food banks in the Province. We have one of the highest rates of child poverty; 23 per cent of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians do not have enough disposable income to buy basic necessities.

Mr. Speaker, we saw this week the Hunger Count report that came down, and the people who look after the food banks here in the Province cannot get over the numbers of people going to the food banks. At first they thought it was because the schools had just opened up, but it has continued, Mr. Speaker. Here in St. John's alone, the two dozen food banks that look after the people here, 16,000 people every month go to food banks here in the city. I mean, let's face it, with all of the resources that we have now, the major part of it is here on the Avalon Peninsula. I do not know what the numbers are out in rural Newfoundland and Labrador of people who use the food banks, but I am sure they must be startling as well.

I have to reference a comment that the Minister of Finance made during Question Period last week - and I know it is not in Hansard, it was just a jest across the floor - when he said why there were so many people going to the food banks is because, when we were in government, we forced them there. That is a sad comment to make, regardless of what party is in power. Poverty is an issue that is going to be very difficult to deal with, and I believe that more has to be done.

If the Minister of Finance believes that, I just want to relate one story. I had a call last week from a family who received an invoice after twelve years for school tax, and there was an agreement made. The individual is on a disability, his wife just a low-income earner. They had an agreement with the Department of Finance on this school tax issue. The amount owing was $190-some odd and they just could not come up with the money in the time frame, and all of a sudden they had to pay $1,700 or $1,800. The bit of income they have coming in goes in direct deposit to their bank account, and I guess some of their other bills are paid the same way. About a week-and-a-half ago, they went to the supermarket to pick up their groceries for the weekend. When they went to the cash register, to the lady there, she checked it through and they gave her the direct card that they had, and she said: I am sorry, we cannot do it. There is a stop put on your bank account because of school tax.

Now, we know where that family had to go. They had to put the groceries back on the shelf and there was nothing left for them only to go to a food bank.

Mr. Speaker, that is where I am coming from when I think more has to be done now. Yes, there is nothing wrong with a reduction in poverty strategy, but more has to be done. When I think about - and I know I will probably be criticized for this again - the $200,000 that was spent recently on a convention to wine and dine other people. Nothing wrong with it, we see that, and that is a part of our system, but when we look at how many people have to go to a food bank, surely goodness we can match that dollar for dollar to help those people at a crucial time. Maybe after this year the thing might be resolved and better off than what it is.

We talk about the gift that was given to the Premier of Alberta. I do not see anything wrong with giving the gentleman a gift, but a pair of sealskin slippers, $150, he probably would have enjoyed as much as the $8,000 fur coats - and what that could have done for some young person this time of year, not only because it is Christmas but because they find it difficult. It is not only the people who receive social assistance, it is the low-income workers, the low-income earners as well, who are depending now upon the food banks more than every before.

I said it before - and I will conclude briefly, Mr. Speaker - that we cannot wait for ten years down the road. Hopefully, we will not have to wait that long, things will be resolved, but 62,000 individuals in this Province, including 19,000 children, cannot wait that long.

As I began with: The Premier said we have a plan. Regardless we heard the Member for Humber Valley mention the prescription drug plan, the school fees, the training for young people, all of that is wonderful, but you can have all of that, it does not put the bread and butter on the table for those individuals who have to go to the food banks. They have to have a job to go to once that kicks in.

Mr. Speaker, I do not know what the plan could be. All I am saying is, with regard to the strategy that the minister has put forward, and what is in that, I can assure you, I think we on this side of the House agree that something has to be done. What I am saying is, I think government should step in and see that this issue is dealt with on a more immediate basis, rather than see 16,000 people lining up and going to the foods banks, just here in St. John's alone.

With those few comments, Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity and hopefully government will see to it that something is done on an immediate basis as well as their long-term plan.

Thank you very much.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

I want to start with a quote, Mr. Speaker, that was given to me by somebody during the consultation process for this particular strategy. It says: People do not choose to live in poverty. Mr. Speaker, this issue is so complex and so important to every single person in Newfoundland and Labrador, not just the people who are living in poverty but to every single group, every political party, every part of the business community, all community organizations - poverty is a concern for every single individual in this Province and in this country.

Mr. Speaker, one thing about this particular strategy - and I am going to start by saying this, Mr. Speaker: People have seen this, they have seen me hold this up a few times, and it is on website. There are all kinds of ways. I say to my hon. colleague who just made some comments, read it and read it again and read it again.

Mr. Speaker, there are things in this document that we have always said. It was stated by the member when she opened her comments on this particular issue today, that the fact of the matter is people throughout the Province had input into this particular strategy. One of the most important, if not the most important, Mr. Speaker, was focus groups of people who live in poverty; people who live in poverty to give us suggestions. One of the first overriding things that every single group, every person that we talked to, Mr. Speaker, over the two years preparing this document, was saying was that we understand this will not be solved overnight. Nobody believes that, Mr. Speaker. We know it will not. We said ten years, we set a vision, we set a strategy that would take us in the right direction. I am certainly not going to stand here today or any time and say what I have in my hand is going to solve those problems, but, Mr. Speaker, I can say that it is a significant step in the right direction.

Mr. Speaker, I have been in the House fourteen years now talking about different debates across the House, and I appreciate most of the comments my hon. critic made today because he understands it, obviously. We deal on a daily basis, members in this House, with people involved with poverty. I do know it very well, Mr. Speaker. It has been probably the most major issue that I have dealt with in my lifetime, not just as a member in this House of Assembly. So, I understand it very well. I can say to the member, Mr. Speaker, that of all parties in this House, all citizens in this Province, it has to be a concern for all of us.

Mr. Speaker, the solutions are not going to come overnight. It is going to take some time. If we believe in what is being started as a process here, a strategy that is going to go on - and I can say to the member and all hon. members here today that there is more to come. I understand the member when he said more - he said it at least ten times; more. Well I can tell the member, there will be more. This is a strategy that we will see grow and evolve.

I have talked to the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi and we have a lot of very common concerns, I will say to the member, and have had some good discussions to date. I can tell her, as I said to her in those meetings, that, yes, I understand we need more. I guess, like any minister in government, I would like to take the whole budget into my department and do the things I need to do, but we know that is not how it works, that each minister and each member has their own challenges and are looking for the almighty dollar, but the almighty dollar does not go all the way. I have had it said to me in consultations too, Mr. Speaker, that throwing money at this is not the way to do it. It has to be strategic, it has to be well thought out, and it has to have a vision.

Mr. Speaker, what better way to have a vision than have people, community groups that we have dealt with, people living in poverty as I said earlier, focus groups of people who actually live with poverty, tell you what the solutions are to get you on the right track to put together a document like this.

Yes, Mr. Speaker, we can even use the word brag, brag about the poverty reduction strategy as it is, but I do not look at it as that. Yes, the member mentioned that British Columbia has called our office to ask us - because they have the document - if we could go to their province to talk about this strategy. As we all know, there is only one other province in Canada, Quebec, that has a poverty reduction strategy as all. As a matter of fact, Mr. Speaker, I have had a request from Quebec to come talk about their strategy and what we have here. I have had requests from my Atlantic counterparts, at a labour ministers' meeting of all meetings, when I brought over some copies of the document, to ask if we could go back there to talk. As a matter of fact, this Friday I am speaking on a CBC show in Nova Scotia because they want to talk about the Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Mr. Speaker, I think this is just a real indication of what this document is doing. As I said many times; more, yes. I heard the member say a number of times, more, more and more. I understand that, and there will be more. We will put it in order, it will be strategic, it will be focused on what people in the Province see as solutions to poverty, but at the same time it will not be all done overnight. It will be strategic, it will have vision.

Mr. Speaker, I could go on and on about this and talk about the initiatives. I am not even touching the initiatives today. I could take this booklet and go through the initiatives, and there are some concrete ones that have happened, like, for example, the largest increase very in Income Support, 5 per cent. Not only that, Mr. Speaker, but for the first time in the history of this Province an indexing of Income Support. That is direct to the people who are hurting the most. Believe me, I know all about Income Support.

When we reduce fees; still direct help for people on low income. I could go on. The Prescription Drug Program - and I am sure the Minister of Health and Community Services could have a lot to say on that. There are a number of initiatives, Mr. Speaker, and they are in the right direction. Catastrophic drugs is another big issue that came up today. There is more and there will always be more.

As long as we all recognize, Mr. Speaker - not just me as the minister of the lead department and some seven ministers who took part in this strategy, but every single one of us, and that is my message to all members here today on both sides of the House - the constructive, well thought out ideas that will help us evolve and make this a reality ten years from now when we say we would like to eliminate poverty.

Mr. Speaker, who knows who will be around in this House ten years from now? I would say to all members, at least we can look at a year from now and two years from now because this particular strategy is going to talk about indicators, that in one and two and three years from now we will be able to monitor, to look at our progress, to see what things have worked and what things have not worked.

I can say, I am very proud today of this particular strategy. I am glad to see where it is going. Yes, I want more and there will be more. We are going to work with all my colleagues in Cabinet. The Premier has been very supportive of this initiative since day one. As we said in our Blue Book, we are going to continue this.

On that note, I invite every single member here and every member of the public, especially the business community, especially all the community groups, to get involved and co-operate and collaborate with us as we move forward this strategy that I think we should all be very proud of.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I am happy to speak to this motion that is on the floor. I do not want, in any way, to belittle the Poverty Reduction Strategy. You know, there are a lot of good things in this document. As a person who has spent at least thirty years doing socioeconomic analysis, on an academic level, on a conceptual level, as well as on the level of community development and working with people, I look at this document and I see a lot of good ideas and a lot of good things that are going to happen, but I still do not see a plan for changing the number of people living in poverty. That is what I want to talk a little bit about today.

When I look at this document, I see a plan for making life better for people who are living in poverty, there is no doubt about that. Being sure that people who live in poverty have full access to drugs is going to make their life better, there is no doubt about that. Being sure that children and families living in poverty can have dental care is going make their life better, there is no doubt about that. Being sure that people living under the low income cut-off have good housing is going to make their lives better, there is no doubt about that. The bottom line is, they are still not going to have any more money in their pockets based on this Poverty Reduction Strategy. That is how I see it.

When I look at things like the dental plan for children, if that dental plan is not in place, it does not mean that people in poverty have more money. It just means that their children will now have their teeth taken care of, whereas before they did not have their teeth taken care of. When I see that everybody, for example, on income support gets access to free drugs, it does not mean that gives them more money in their hands or in their pockets. It means that their health is going to be taken care of, whereas if they did not have free drugs, their health would not be taken care of.

The increase in programs, for example, that were in this year's Budget, and the things that are talked about in the Poverty Reduction Strategy, are things that will improve lives. There is no doubt that there will be some improvement in the lives of people living in poverty, but if our unemployment rate does not change, if the number of people in minimum wage jobs does not change, if our minimum wage does not go up, they will still continue to live in poverty and we will have to be sure that we have a good social safety net. I see this strategy as a move towards improving that social safety net, but we still will have people who will not be able to access things that we take for granted here in this House; things that we, as individuals, and our families can take for granted.

For me, the bottom line for reducing poverty is putting a strategy in place whereby we increase employment and we increase what people make for the work that they do. When we look at the numbers of low-income families who are going to food banks - and we learned this week from Hunger Count 2006 that those numbers are going up across the country and here as well - when we look at those numbers we know that our minimum wage is not working.

I have said before in the House, and I will say it again, that the step-by-step by twenty-five cents every quarter is not going to get us anywhere. By the time people are up to the $10 - that a lot of people in this country are asking for at this moment, and that we promote as the NDP - by the time people in this Province get to $10 an hour, that $10 is not going to be worth the $10 that it is now. We are saying $10 an hour now based on the needs now.

When I look at the Poverty Reduction Strategy and I see goal 3, the third goal, and the third goal is to improve earned incomes, and when I read, undertake policy development related to wages and benefits including ongoing research on minimum wage to keep mandatory rates on par with the rest of Atlantic Canada, I get very discouraged. If that is all that the Poverty Reduction Strategy plan is going to include, is ongoing research, I do not see any hope with regard to raising the minimum wage in this Province.

There has been untold research done in this country alone with regard to minimum wage and the

benefits of raising minimum wage. There has been untold research done with regard to the fact that raising the minimum wage so that people are above the low income cut-off brings benefits back to government, because as people move into being above the low income cut-off they now have more disposable income.

When you are in poverty you do not have any disposable income. There is absolutely none. So, increasing the social safety net, while that is important, making sure that programs are put in place, like the dental care for children, like the drug program for people on Income Support - and I do not agree with a co-pay program for low income people, I think it should be a 100 per cent drug program for low income people - doing those things is not going to change the fact that people will not have disposable income.

We have to start thinking in this House in a different way. We have to start realizing that putting more money into people's hands and putting more programs in place for people is not an expense for the government. It is an investment in the future, and money starts coming back. If people are above the low income cut-off, they are going to be paying taxes, income tax. Right now they do not pay income tax because they do not have enough money to be accountable. Money gets taken out of their cheques if they are in low income jobs but that money comes back to them. They do not have disposable income. If people are moved into a category where they are above the low income cut-off, money does come back to the rest of society. Money comes back to the community. Money comes back into the government coffers. So, it is not a loss.

It is the same way when we look at raising the minimum wage from the business perspective. There are all kinds of studies which show that this is positive for business. Number one, you have happier workers. Number two, again the economy that those businesses are part of is better off because the workers are earning more money. Number three, in spite of hearing this notion, and I hear it all the time, that, oh, businesses are going to close down, that is not what happens, and studies show that. Studies in this country have shown businesses do not close down.

I remember when the City of St. John's had hearings on the minimum wage that were part of, I guess - no, when the provincial government had the last round of hearings on minimum wage and the City of St. John's put out this scaremongering document. Not the city, I am sorry, I do want to correct myself, it was the business people of St. Johns' who put out this scaremongering document about what would happen to small businesses if the minimum wage went up to $10 immediately. There were witnesses who came to the hearings, small business people from the downtown of St. John's, and a number of them were women, I have to say, who have their own businesses, who came to the hearings and who spoke out and said: I would never pay one of my workers less than $10 an hour. These were small business people and, as I said, for the most part that I saw, small business women who recognized that if I cannot run my business paying $10 an hour then I should not have the business. They were proof - because they were small businesses, four and five staff - they were proof that yes, it can work, that we can have a minimum wage of $10 an hour and still run a business that works.

For me, if we really want to reduce poverty then we put our minimum wage up significantly right away and we plan for that. We do not do more research. We do not need more research. The proof is there. We already know.

It is the same way with the issue that I brought up today in the House with regard to the catastrophic drugs. Somebody who, for example, requires MS drugs, right now if that person chooses to go on social assistance, like give up a job, sell their home, get rid of their assets in order to be able to then go on social assistance, what have we done? We have taken a person who was in a job, earning money, but not able to pay, say, $20,000 a year for their drugs, so we are asking government to pay that $20,000 a year; but if the government continues to say no and that person then has to go on social assistance through the route that I talked about, then what is the government paying for? The government is paying for the $20,000 for the drugs, the government is paying for the person's income support and everything that goes with that income support: the dental care for the children, all the other drugs that the family may require. Because they are on social assistance, they will get those free as well.

Government, by forcing an MS person, a person with MS, to go on social assistance, is costing itself more money than just paying for the drugs. I mean, it is so clear. I cannot understand why my colleagues on the other side of the House cannot see it. It is not rocket science. It is just so clear. Putting more people into income support and paying for their drugs makes absolutely no sense. It seems to me that we just have a lot of confusion about what poverty is all about.

As the Minister of Human Resources, Labour and Employment said, and I totally agree with him - he quoted, I think, from a document or from a witness who appeared before them in preparing the document - nobody wants to live in poverty. Nobody chooses to be there. So, to force somebody to live in poverty in order to have free drugs makes no sense, because people are drained, they are drained when they are living in poverty. Their lives are taken away from them when they are live in poverty. People I know, whom I worked with over the years, who live in poverty and have the ability to do so are trying to get out of it. They are not trying to get into income support. They are trying to find a way out of having to be on income support. Here we are saying that, in order to have your drugs covered, the system is making you move into income support.

I ask my colleagues to realize, you have to realize, that does not fit with what you are calling a Poverty Reduction Strategy. It does not fit on the one hand to say, oh, we are reducing poverty because we are paying all the drugs for people on income support, and we are putting in place a co-pay plan for low-income people, while at the same time we have hundreds of people in the Province who are being told to go on social assistance and then you will have your drugs taken care of.

There are so many inconsistencies in what is going on in our government right now, and what is going on with our policies, that I do not have a lot of hope in the strategy, I have to tell you. Until these inconsistencies end, then I do not see a reason for hope. Until we take seriously the minimum wage, until we take seriously the fact that we have to put more money in people's hands, it is not going to work. We have to put more money in their hands.

When we look at any plans that we start putting in place for diversification of the economy, and through diversification of the economy increasing employment, we have to make sure people are going to make enough money, because it will not make any difference if the person has $14,000 a year, as a family, whether they are working or not working; $14,000 a year is $14,000 a year. The difference for the family is, if they are not working and they are on income support they are better off. In many, many ways they are better off, but they are not better off because not having a job is not good. Yet sometimes we are forcing people to stay there because we are tying-

MADAM SPEAKER(S Osborne) :Order, please!

I remind the hon. member that her speaking has expired.

MS MICHAEL: May I just finish my sentence?

MADAM SPEAKER: Does the hon. member have leave to clue up?

AN HON. MEMBER: Yes.

MADAM SPEAKER: By leave.

MS MICHAEL: Thank you.

People, whether you have $14,000 a year or $15,000 a year, I said it does not matter whether you are on social assistance or income support or you have a job, but it does matter because if you are on income support you do have other programs to help you. However, nobody, as I said earlier, wants to be there, they want to have a job. Fifteen thousand dollars a year, between $14,000 and $15,000, is what you would make on a full-time job at our minimum wage at the moment. We all know a family of one, two, three or four cannot live on that.

I ask the members of government, in particular, to think seriously about what I am saying. To reduce poverty we have to put money in people's hands. The Poverty Reduction Strategy will help with the effects of poverty and that is fine, but we have to do more then take care of the effects of poverty, we have to get rid of poverty.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

MADAM SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Topsail.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS E. MARSHALL: Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise in this House. I would like to speak to the private member's motion on reducing poverty.

I would like say first that the department and the minister's officials have done quite a bit of work on analysing the poverty issue. Madam Speaker, it started back I think even in 2005 in the Speech from the Throne when the government made the commitment that they would work towards a strategy for poverty reduction. In June of 2005 the background report was presented, and then, of course, early this year the actual strategy was released, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker, we all know that poverty is a problem in this Province, and in order to address a problem the first thing you have to do is you have to analyse the problem, and you have to find out what exactly is this problem comprised of. There are several documents, Madam Speaker, which do quite a thorough job of analysing the problem of poverty. I think that we have to do that. We have to understand the nature of poverty and we have to understand why people are poor in order to address the problem and start working towards solutions that will address the problem.

The first thing I would like to speak to, Madam Speaker, is the profile of poverty and the supporting document, the background material that is provided by the government, gives quite a good analysis of poverty in Newfoundland. As we all know, we have the highest rate of poverty in the country. It is our objective over the next ten years that we will become the province with the least poverty.

Madam Speaker, I would just like to go through a few facts that would demonstrate the issue of poverty in Newfoundland and Labrador. These numbers are based, I believe, on 2003 figures. Those were the most current numbers available at the time when the background material was done and when the strategy was released. As of that time, there were 61,000 people in this Province and 33,000 families that lived in poverty. We need to know that if we are going to address the problem of poverty.

Fifteen-and-a-half per cent of children that live in this Province live in poverty. The issue of child poverty is, in itself, a problem. Twenty per cent of the people in the age group, age fifty-five to sixty-four in this Province, live in poverty. I was very surprised to learn that. That is quite a significant number of people in that age group. Then, of course, when you look in the age group over the age of sixty-five years, 2.1 per cent of that group live in poverty. I think why the number is reduced in that age group, Madam Speaker, is because by the time people reach age sixty-five they are entitled to Canada Pension Plan and other types of pension benefits, so, of course, the percentage drops.

Another factor that is very important is that 44 per cent of single parent families live in poverty and most of those families are headed by women. Almost 60 per cent of those living in poverty have not completed high school. Another issue, 55 per cent of adults with disabilities live in poverty. We need to know, we need to have a profile of who lives in poverty in this Province if we are to come up with a solution to address the issue of poverty and to reduce the number of people who are living in poverty.

There are many, many reasons why people live in poverty. It is outlined in the report. It could be attributed to your education level, it could be attributed to disabilities, it could be attributed to poor health, but the important thing is, to solve a problem you have to analyze the problem. If we look at the background material, there has been an excellent job done of that.

Madam Speaker, the actual Poverty Reduction Strategy, the actual strategy, looked at the depth that people were in poverty and the duration of poverty. It also outlines goals and objectives for the government. One thing we are very clear on, once you read the strategy and the background material, is that poverty is a multi-faceted problem. There is not one solution; it is not an issue of throwing money at a problem, Madam Speaker. It is multi-faceted, so the solutions also have to be multi-faceted.

Before I get into the things that this government has done, Madam Speaker, to address the issue of poverty, I would like to speak to one page in the strategy that is very important, and that is a page that is headed up Measuring Support. One of the things we have to do is that over the next ten years we have to reduce the amount of poverty in this Province. Madam Speaker, if we are to do that, we have to know where we are going and we also have to be able to measure it. That is one thing that governments historically have not been good at. They throw out a strategy, they throw out a plan, but there is no way to measure whether they are making any progress. Madam Speaker, what we are trying to do is say, we are now the Province with the highest ratio of poverty in the country; in ten years time, we are going to be the Province with the lowest. The baseline data has been established and the minister, in the report on Measuring Success, has indicated that he will be coming back to the House every year annually and making a statement of progress each year to the members of this House of Assembly.

The other commitment, Madam Speaker, that the minister has indicated is that every second year the report on indicators to measure progress, that this will be released. There are many, many ways that poverty can be measured. The strategy itself outlines three ways, but in the report, the preferred method - I will not get into the technicalities - is indicated and it is laid out very quickly as to how we are going to measure poverty. We will be able to see over time, as reports come in each year, whether we are actually making progress towards our objective.

Madam Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity now to talk about some of the things that this government is doing to reduce poverty in this Province. The first area I would like to look at is a link with education. One of the things that we do know from the background material that is being provided is that people with a low education level have a more likely chance to live in poverty, so one of the things that this government has done is put additional resources into our education system. Because of the strong correlation between education and incomes - in other words, low education low incomes - we are trying to improve the education level of people who are living in this Province.

Now we do notice, Madam Speaker, that over the past number of years there are some good signs that our education levels of the general population are increasing, our achievement levels are improving, and our high school graduation rates are increasing. We, in the last number of years, have taken a number of initiatives to increase the education level and to encourage people to stay in school.

One of the first things we did in last year's budget was, we increased the instructional grants to schools, and that cost $6.3 million. This enabled this government to eliminate school fees, and I know that many parents have indicated that this was quite a burden to them. Every year, come September, they were expected to provide additional funds to the schools to pay for certain aspects of their children's education.

One of the other things we did was that we provided an education incentive to tenants of the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation. For example, there was a $25 rent reduction each month for adults in that household who are in a full-time post-secondary institution. There is also a $25 rent reduction monthly for children in that same household who continue to remain in high school.

One of the other things that this government has done is continue the tuition freeze at the post-secondary level, and we are all familiar with the White Paper on Post-Secondary Education. Madam Speaker, when I was in university - that was back in the sixties - at that point in time, education was just becoming accessible to the middle class and the lower middle class, and it was at that time that many people from around the Province, especially in outport Newfoundland, came to Memorial University in St. John's and got their education. Madam Speaker, we were part of that generation.

Over the years, the cost of going to university steadily increased, and now we are sort of rolling it back so that more people within the Province have the opportunity to go to university, avail of the educational opportunities throughout the Province and, of course, that also will help to decrease poverty in the long term.

This government also has provided additional funding for post-secondary students with a disability. I am sure we all know students in the university and in the college system and other post-secondary courses who have disabilities and who are struggling to get their education, and we recognize that. The Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment is providing additional monetary support to those students. Again, it goes back to the comment that I made earlier, that people with a disability have a greater likelihood of living in poverty than those who do not have a disability.

Madam Speaker, some of the other things that we have done as a government, for example, in income support there have been a number of initiatives. We provide additional assistance during transition to jobs, so people who are on financial support through the Department of Human Resources will be provided with additional financial assistance sort of to bridge them while they go into their employment.

We have also increased the social assistance rates, and this is something, Madam Speaker, that we should be very, very proud of, because I am familiar with those rates. Those rates, Madam Speaker, are not increased very often. In fact, Madam Speaker, we may go for a number of years when those rates have not been increased. The last budget announced a 5 per cent increase in the social assistance rates as of June 2006.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MADAM SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS E. MARSHALL: I think that is something that we should be very proud of, as a government. In the future, we made a commitment also, Madam Speaker, that, instead of letting the social assistance rates stay as they are, we will be providing -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MADAM SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair is having difficulty hearing the Member for Topsail.

MS E. MARSHALL: Thank you, Madam Speaker.

I was speaking about the increase in the social assistance rates as of June, 2006. I would like to say also, Madam Speaker, that this government has made a commitment -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MADAM SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS E. MARSHALL: - that the social assistance rates are going to be indexed to the consumer price index starting in the fiscal year 2007-2008, so that people who require financial assistance will not have to wait each year wondering if they are going to get an increase. They know now that in each of the next five years they will be getting an increase in their social assistance rates.

Madam Speaker, I would like now to speak about some of the health initiatives that this government approved in the last budget. The first one is the expanded drug coverage for low-income people. I know some of the other members in this House have said, well, that does not provide additional money in people's pockets. Actually it does, Madam Speaker, because many people who are on low income -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MADAM SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask hon. members, if you wish to continue with this conversation, would you take it outside the Chamber, please?

I recognize the hon. the Member for Topsail.

MS E. MARSHALL: Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker, I was speaking about the expanded drug coverage that the Minister of Health announced earlier today, and which was announced in the budget in the earlier part of this year, and it is aimed towards low-income people. I was saying, Madam Speaker, that some hon. members on the other side of the House were saying, well, really it does not put any additional money in people's pockets. Well, I do take issue with that, Madam Speaker, because I know of people, low-income people, who have paid for drugs out of their own program and this new program will actually benefit them. The cost of this program in this year is going to be $8.3 million. The annual cost of that program is going to be $33 million and it is going to provide coverage for almost 100,000 extra people.

There is one point I would like to make, Madam Speaker, with regard to this program, and that is that this is the first expansion of this program since 1980, and I think that is a significant achievement for a government. I would like to say that I am very proud that we have been able to do this.

One of the other health initiatives that will contribute to reducing the level of poverty in this Province is the children's dental program, and I have spoken on this before, Madam Speaker. There was about - I believe the number was $4.4 million that was in the budget before this year, and effectively the budget has doubled. I know that, as a former teacher, I have seen a number of children in the schools who have very poor dental health. Many of these people had to dig deep into their pockets to come up with the money for their children's dental work. I am very, very proud. I have seen pictures of children's dental problems, and I think this is something that we can be very, very proud of, as a government, that we put additional-

MADAM SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind the hon. member that her speaking time has expired.

MS E. MARSHALL: One minute to finish up, Madam Speaker?

MADAM SPEAKER: Does the hon. member have leave to clue up?

AN HON. MEMBER: Yes.

MADAM SPEAKER: By leave.

MS E. MARSHALL: Madam Speaker, I would like to mention also, in the area of taxation, that when we first came to power in 2003, shortly after that, in our first budget, we did eliminate provincial income tax for low-income people, individuals with a net income of less than $12,000 and families with a net income of less than $19,000.

Madam Speaker, I would like to say that the Minister of Finance has indicated that the entire tax structure for the Province is under review, and I look forward to more tax reductions in next year's budget.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Madam Speaker.

I am certainly pleased to stand today and speak to the motion put forward by the member for Deer Lake.

Madam Speaker, I think that poverty is no doubt a very important issue that faces us in society. I listened intently to the Minister of Human Resources, Labour and Employment, the Member for Baie Verte, today when he spoke to this motion, because I think he really believes in the strategies that his government is putting forward. He believes that over a period of time they will have an impact. I say this, Madam Speaker, that poverty was not created yesterday and it will not be fixed tomorrow. It will be fixed if people put the resources, the time and the energy into being able to address problems like this.

I have statistics here that were put out by the dietitian's association of Newfoundland and Labrador when they were dealing with reducing poverty strategies. They said: One out of ten people living in this Province worries about not having enough food to eat. That is a ratio of only one out of twenty across Canada. That is a statistic that none of us would like to have to deal with, but the reality is, it is out there and we do have to deal with it, all of us.

In 2005, it says: About one out of ten people receive financial assistance each month in Newfoundland and Labrador, and 32 per cent of single mothers in households in Newfoundland and Labrador experience food insecurity; things that no family should have to deal with, in my opinion.

I know that poverty is there. I see it everyday. I see it in my hometown. I see it in my district. I see it here in the City of St. John's. Often, people think because you are in an urban centre that poverty does not exist, and that is very much a fallacy. Even in cities like this, and probably more so in cities across the country today, you find full neighborhoods of families and children who live in poverty every single day. It is not just a situation that exists in rural or outport areas, but exists right here in the capital city and sometimes amongst some of the wealthiest cities in our country.

That is what is unfortunate, Madam Speaker, because wealth should be shared. It should be shared to all people in society, all people in the country, and all people in our Province. That is why when we stand and ask the government to invest more money into housing programs, into employment initiatives, into drug coverage, into home and oil heating rebates, we do so as a means of asking the government to spread the wealth of our Province to the poorest people in our Province who need it.

Madam Speaker, often when we talk about poverty we talk about women, in general. I think that it is no secret that a lot of women in our society definitely live in poverty. In fact, I have statistics here with regard to income levels of women. In our Province nearly 30 per cent of all working women make less than the minimum wage, and 50 per cent of all working women on a full and part-time basis earn under $12,500 a year. It is not very much money.

Madam Speaker, I do not have to tell you what the impact of low income is on a woman with children. I think every member in this House of Assembly will know how difficult it is for them on a day-to-day basis to make ends means. In fact, most of the calls that I get of a family nature are with regard to women with children who are living in poverty.

I had a call last week, actually, from a woman in Black Tickle in my district who has two children. She lives on social assistance and she wants to work. She is a young woman. She wants to go to work but there are no jobs available to her because she does not meet the CEP criteria and those other programs. Madam Speaker, if there was a program through the department of social services in which she could access funding to do on-the-job work with a company, a business, or something in that community, it would do wonders for this woman's self-esteem and for her confidence level. I think that is very important, because a lot of women that I know who live in poverty in Newfoundland and Labrador are so consumed with being able to feed their family, warm their houses and provide a good standard of living to their children, that quite often they do not take the time they need for themselves. As a result, they have low self-esteem. They have less confidence than someone who is out there working every day and they have very little time to focus on education or other things that would help them progress in society to be more employable.

There has to be special programs developed for people like that. I really believe that single women out there today who live in poverty should have those options, the option of working for pay, the option of being able to better themselves, to be able to access a higher income bracket through employment. I think that there should be programs there to do just that.

Let me tell you about another group of people that I run into often, and most of these are women, women between the ages of fifty-five and sixty-four who are widows, many of them living in poverty. Their spouses have passed away. They only have either a supplement or a partial pension. They are trying to maintain a family home - all the children have gone - and they are doing so, in most cases, on $500 a month. It is very difficult to do that. They are trying to provide heat for their homes, food and clothes for themselves and maintain their homes, and they cannot do it.

In fact, if I were to look around my district today, I would think that it is women who are widows between the ages of fifty-five and sixty-four who are amongst the poorest people that I know in my district and throughout the Province. That is really sad, Madam Speaker, but there is nowhere for these people to turn. There are no incentive programs. There is no kind of allowances. Many of these women, especially in the traditional outport communities, have not even worked throughout their lives. They raised their families, they provided for the family and they looked after the home, and once their husbands passed away they did not have the experience of being in the workforce. They did not have that kind of training to go out there and get a job. As a result, it has been very difficult for them. I talk to a lot of them and I know that winter is coming on. I know it is going to be hard for them this year to be able to buy fuel on a month to month basis to heat their homes. I know it is going to be hard for them to maintain their homes. This is probably one of the most difficult times of the year for a lot of them.

If there are programs within the Department of Human Resources and Employment that could provide some kind of supplement to people who fall into this category - I am talking about women now, but there are also families that are similar. I know a number of families in my district where it is just a husband and wife right now, who are between the ages again of fifty-five and sixty-four who, because of illness or disabilities, are not able to work anymore.

As you know, I have a fishing district. I mean, people work very hard. Some of these men went into a fishing boat when they were twelve and fourteen-years-old and today, at fifty-five and sixty years old, they find themselves crippled up with Arthritis or with other problems which do not allow them to participate in the workforce anymore. I know a number of couples in my district who fall into that category. They do not have an opportunity to access any supplements from the government so they try and maintain a household and live on $625 a month themselves, which is very, very difficult. I know the minister understands that and I am sure he has people in his own district, many cases that he could talk about that are similar.

I think when you are looking at poverty you have to look at the people who deal with poverty on a day-to-day basis. I had a call back a couple of months ago from this lady in one of the communities in my district, she and her husband and their children were on social assistance. She did not have a washer or dryer. She was scrubbing clothes on an old-fashioned washtub and a scrub board. She went to the department of social services to try and get a washer, but she was not eligible to get it. Under our regulations, because she did not have a sick child, or a child who needed laundering on a day-to-day basis, she was not eligible to get any money to buy this washing machine.

Madam Speaker, that is unfortunate. I know that we need regulations. I know that you have to set guidelines around spending, and money, and supplements, and all this kind of stuff. Sometimes, perhaps we get a little too carried away and do not have enough flexibility within the system to look at particular cases or particular needs. As a result, this woman never got her washer and dryer, unfortunately, through social services, but through the help of the local parish and other individuals she did end up getting a washer and spin dryer.

It is hard when you live in poverty and you have to have money for a capital expenditure like that. For many of us who have a job, we have to contemplate whether we are going to go out and buy a new car or a new truck. Well, for a lot of people who live on very low incomes, they have to make decisions about whether they are going to pay their light bill and their heat bill this month or buy the washing machine that they need, because they cannot do both, and that is very difficult.

I know a lot of these people personally. Even then, it is still hard to approach someone and to ask. It is very hard, because there is a stigmatism that is attached to it. I would think that there needs to be some more flexibility in programs for social services recipients, because it is not a situation where, in a lot of cases, people are not working or cannot find work. In lots of cases it is a situation where, because of illness or disability, they cannot find the work or they are not able to work, and that makes it very difficult.

I know for a lot of other couples in my district this year, where seniors live on a fixed income - and I am sure it is the same in the St. John's region and any other region of the Province - where the fuel rebate does not apply to people who have electric heat in their homes. A lot of these seniors do have electric heat because it is more convenient for them. They do not have to be getting the oil tanks filled up, or having someone bring their wood, so you have electric heat put in your home. The fuel rebate program does not cover people who fall into that category. Although there is a rebate program, it does not extend to all the people who need it. I think that they need to look at changing the program so that people who are heating their homes with electric heat, as well as with furnace oil, are able to qualify for that kind of a rebate. I think that would certainly go a long way to helping the situation of poverty in a lot of our seniors.

Also, you run into situations like this one: I had a gentleman call me a while ago, who is disabled. He is in a wheelchair. He owns his own house. He get home care services. He gets a subsidy from the department of social services and he gets a drug card. You would think he is being well looked after. This is his problem - and I have not been able to fix it for him, and I have tried - he has a fuel tank on his house and he has to have his fuel tank inspected. To get an inspector in to the Coast of Labrador is not cheap. He is on a fixed income of $530 a month, or whatever it is for a single person living on their own, and he cannot afford to pay for an inspector to come out of Corner Brook, or Goose Bay, to inspect his oil tank. Newfoundland and Labrador Housing is not going to cover it. The department of social services is not going to cover it. He does not have the money to cover it, so therefore, whenever the new regulation comes into place on refuelling oil tanks, he will not be able to get refuelled. So, whose responsibility is that, if you are living in poverty and you are disabled, and you are in your own house and you have a need like that, that arises, and there is nowhere to go to get it looked after?

There are gaps. No matter how many programs you put in place, or how much money you put in the programs, you are always going to find gaps in the system. It is when you find those gaps, being able to identify them, then being able to address them.

I certainly leave that with the minister because it is an example - and he is nodding his head and he is paying very close attention to this because I know he is concerned about it. There are examples like this that you do not always foresee when you are developing a policy or a program inside of every department. So, again, it is another reason why you need to have a little bit of flexibility on the front lines with the financial administration officers and social workers who deal with these clients every day, to allow them to do some of these things.

Madam Speaker, we are seeing more and more poverty in this Province simply because of the economic situation that exists.

MADAM SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind the hon. member that her speaking time has expired.

MS JONES: Okay, I will just take one minute to clue up, Madam Speaker.

The only thing that I am going to say is that poverty is increasing in the Province simply because of the economic situation that exists today. Every time that you have a decline in the fishery, that you have more fish plants closing and more people displaced in the fishing industry, every time that you have less exploration in the oil and gas sector, whenever you have a mill operation like you had in Stephenville close down, all of these things impact on the local economy. When you have that job loss and that amount of revenue being taken out of the local economy, what you have left are lower-income jobs, people struggling for those jobs, and less money to be circulated. So, I do not see, unless the economic situation in the Province starts to improve, I cannot see the poverty levels being eliminated or reduced to the levels that we would like to see them.

It is unfortunate this year, Madam Speaker, that they are at the levels that they are, to the point where you have food banks that are running out food, where you have people in Newfoundland and Labrador Housing who do not have enough budget any more to be able to look after the low-income people who need work on their houses.

All I can say to the minister, in looking at your strategy towards poverty, I know you are not going to fix all of the problems tomorrow but at least take a good look at all of those that are out there and see where you can best redirect your money to help the most people possible in the Province.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

MADAM SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Bonavista North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HARDING: Thank you, Madam Speaker.

I am pleased today, as well, to stand here and say a few words on the resolution as put forward by my colleague from Humber Valley.

I would like to compliment the speakers thus far, and I would just like to say, too, to the Members for Port de Grave and Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair, with respect to some of the statistics that they have mentioned, these statistics that they have mentioned is the exact reason why we brought in this Poverty Reduction Strategy in the beginning. That is what we are trying to do with this thing, trying to make it better for all the people in the Province who are suffering in poverty.

I would like to say from the outset that, just because the speakers on this side of the House are standing up and saying positive things about the initiatives that our government is taking does not necessarily mean that we, as a government, believe that everything is perfect. That is not the case at all, Madam Speaker. I know that some people on the other side, if I did not say that, would probably take it that way.

Madam Speaker, the fact of the matter is, we do recognize that poverty is a very serious concern in our Province, and we have put a plan in place now to deal with that. Regardless of whatever you come up with, there is never anything that is perfect. Whether you are dealing with health care or poverty or education or the fishery or whatever it is, there is never anything perfect. There are certain things where we find mistakes as we go along the way.

Madam Speaker, you can come up with whatever you want there will always be issues, there will always be concerns, where the circumstances that are being addressed are not done so in a manner in which you probably would like to see them done. I think most of us will acknowledge that.

As a government, Madam Speaker, we recognize the fact that if we are to deal in an effective manner with poverty, then we have to do it with through partnerships. We have to do it through partnerships with unions, with business, with volunteer community groups, with individuals who suffer in poverty, we have to do it with labour and all levels of government. That is the way it has to be done and that is the way we are addressing it in our Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Over the past several years, Madam Speaker, a large volume of information has been gathered through different surveys and consultations and whatever, and after that was all put together, this past year now, in June, this all culminated in the document that we referred to earlier, Reducing Poverty: An Action Plan for Newfoundland and Labrador. That is what we are talking about today with respect to the resolution that was put forward by my colleague for Humber Valley.

Madam Speaker, in the opening WHEREAS in the resolution it is said that we are following through on a commitment to transform Newfoundland and Labrador, over a ten year period, from a Province with the most poverty to a Province with the least poverty. That is the purpose behind all of this strategy.

I would like to follow up on some comments that were made by my colleague for Topsail. She made some reference to some things that we are doing with respect to education and poverty reduction. I think that if we are successful at all in curbing the concerns with respect to poverty, then education has to be a key.

I would like to make reference to a few of the things that my colleague from Topsail did not mention with respect to education. One of these is: We are continuing to support partnership with the Canadian Tire Foundation for Families on the JumpStart program.

Madam Speaker, this was started last year by our government and we partnered with the Canadian Tire Corporation. It is a program whereby children in low-income families can participate in sports and recreational facilities. It was developed, as I said, by the Canadian Tire Corporation. Canadian Tire - last year and this year again - put $100,000 into this program in addition to another $50,000 or so that they put in indirectly through promotion and things like that. Our government, like I say, has partnered, Madam Speaker, with Canadian Tire to the tune of $250,000. This was an initiative that was started last year and continued again this year.

Another program that we have in place, and following up from previous years, is our funding grant for the Kids Eat Smart program. With this program we are partnering with the Kids Eat Smart Foundation to support their work in partnering with communities and schools to provide nutritious food.

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the senior high school in Mount Pearl filling in for Minister Shelley, and I saw first-hand that Kids Eat Smart program. I know the success of it because I have it in my own district, in three of the schools in my district. It is in Centreville, it is in Phoenix Academy in Carmanville, and it is Riverwood Academy in Wing's Point.

Like I say, Madam Speaker, talking with the volunteers, the teachers, the students, they were telling me it is just wonderful to see that program and how they all work together in making it such a success.

Another area where we put a considerable amount of money, Madam Speaker, is with respect to high schools, skilled trades an technology programs. This year, Madam Speaker, our government is putting $1.5 million into that program.

Another area where there is major emphasis being placed, Madam Speaker, is with respect to literacy and transition programs. This year our government is putting $1.85 million into literacy programs. We have expanded the number of Adult Basic Education offerings, particularly at the College of the North Atlantic campus. We have expanded the arts and science program at the College of the North Atlantic.

Madam Speaker, I would also like to say that, this year alone, our government is putting an additional $1.3 million into literacy grants and programs that is over and above what was going into those programs when we assumed office as government three years ago.

There are a couple of more programs that I would like to mention. Last week I had the privilege of visiting the Independent Living Resource Centre, just up the road here. I am very pleased to say that our government last year started this program. We put $80,000 into the additive technology program. We also added, this year, another $51,000 to hire a coordinator for the Living Resource Centre to help people with disabilities to find employment.

While at the Independent Living Resource Centre last week, I had the privilege of being taken around to see all of the new technology that they are using there that they purchased, a lot of it from the money that we have been giving them in the last two years. It is just amazing to see some of the technology that is in place today for the benefit of people with disabilities. Anyone who finds it difficult to control a keyboard, there are special keyboards with large print on them, and some keyboards that can be used by persons with disabilities who can use just one hand and things like that. There are different kinds of mouse that are used, techniques designed that make them easier for people with certain types of disabilities. There are Braille impulses used for printing text for people who are blind. There are a number of different switches on the keyboards and the joysticks that people with certain disabilities are able to use.

Like I say, Madam Speaker, it would do you good to go through that place and see the benefits that people with disabilities are receiving from some of the funding that our government has put to help them.

I spoke with the Executive Director of the centre and -

MR. SPEAKER (Hodder): Order, please!

Under Standing Order 63.(6), at 4:45 on Private Member's Day the member who is the mover of the motion has the right to close the debate unless there can be some sharing of time.

The Chair is looking for direction.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The Chair is looking for direction from the House Leadership. I am wondering if the Member for Bonavista North has leave to continue to conclude his commentary?

AN HON. MEMBER: Yes.

MR. SPEAKER: Okay. I do believe that he has been extended by five minutes.

The Chair recognizes the Member for Bonavista North.

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

I just want another couple of minutes to clue up anyway.

As I was saying, I was talking to the Executive Director at the Independent Living Resource Centre and he was telling me how pleased they were to have the funding to be able to provide the services and the technology that they are using.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. HARDING: But, like everything else, Mr. Speaker, while they are pleased with the funding provided and while they are pleased with the additional monies they have been receiving from our government over the past two or three years, there is never enough. Hopefully, this year we can do something to add to what we have already started.

In closing, Mr. Speaker, I would like to refer to one other program that our government is involved with, and that is the Supported Employment Program; which affects, no doubt, an awful lot of people who are experiencing poverty and people with disabilities. That program, our government provides funding to cover the cost of a co-worker who will work with a person with disabilities in the workplace.

This past summer I had the privilege to visit Wabush, Labrador City, at the invitation of the Supported Employment Corporation in that area. I spoke with IOC and I visited the IOC and saw first-hand some of the people who are working in IOC, and they are there because of the program, the Supported Employment Program, that we have in place.

Mr. Speaker, in conclusion, I would just like to read a comment from a co-worker who was involved with this Supported Employment Program. She says this: Having a job means much more than simply having a paycheque to bring home. An important benefit of working is that it puts you in contact with so many other people in the community, people who might become your friends or simply acquaintances. For many consumers and their families, the potential for building support networks is a very attractive feature of supported employment. It may mean the difference between a life of loneliness and isolation and a life rich with friends, acquaintances and social support.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS GOUDIE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to thank all members today for their input into the debate on the Poverty Reduction Strategy. As we see here today, we had some very constructive debate on this topic. We recognize that the strategy is very complex and multi-dimensional. The minister mentioned, as we go through the process of implementing this plan, we will certainly re-evaluate and implement any changes that we need to in the future, and I encourage everyone to continue to have input into the plan and to continue debate on this plan.

I would just like to thank everyone here today for their input.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The resolution is, and the Chair will dispense with the WHEREASes: BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that this hon. House reaffirm its support for the Poverty Reduction Strategy and its objective of transforming Newfoundland and Labrador over a ten-year period from a Province with the most poverty to a Province with the least poverty.

The resolution as put forward to the House has been debated.

All those in favour of the resolution, the adoption of it, would you please say "aye".

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

MR. SPEAKER: Contra-minded, nay'.

The motion is carried unanimously.

Motion carried unanimously.

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

MR. SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This being Wednesday, Private Members' Day, I think at the conclusion of this the House would automatically adjourn, so I do move that it adjourn.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Government House Leader, I understood that perhaps he had some comments to make, but on Wednesday the Chair adjourns the House automatically under the Standing Orders.

This House now stands adjourned until tomorrow, Thursday, December 7, at 1:30 of the clock in the afternoon.