April 23, 2008            HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS               Vol. XLVI   No. 15


The House met at 2:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order, please!

Admit strangers.

Statements by Members

MR. SPEAKER: Today the House welcomes members' statements by: the Member for the District of Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans; the Member for the District of Burgeo & LaPoile; the Member for the District of Topsail; the Member for the District of Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair; the Member for the District of Humber Valley; and, the Member for the District of Placentia & St. Mary's.

The hon. the Member for the District of Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to recognize and congratulate Port aux Basques native, Mr. John Ford, on being nominated to receive an honorary doctor of laws degree from Memorial University on May 29, 2008.

The award is presented to honour Mr. Ford for his determination to survive and to commemorate the war in the Pacific and its victims. Mr. Ford enlisted in the Royal Air Force in 1940, and after basic training in England was posted to Singapore. He was taken prisoner by the Japanese in 1942 and placed in a prisoner of war camp in Nagasaki. During his incarcerations, he and his fellow prisoners suffered brutal treatment at the hands of their captors. When the American forces dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Mr. Ford witnessed and survived the explosion. He was rescued and returned to Newfoundland where he resumed his employment with the Newfoundland Railway. He retired from the Railway in 1976.

Since that time, Mr. Ford has lobbied for the rights of veterans and is a very active member of the Royal Canadian Legion. He has provided valuable contributions to the Legion activities, including the annual poppy campaign and both the Caribou Legion Pavilion and Manor. For twenty-five years, Mr. Ford has appeared at Remembrance Day ceremonies where he speaks of the horrors of war and lobbies for world peace.

The Royal Canadian Legion presented him with the Meritorious Service Medal with Palm Leaf, the highest award granted to members. In 2006, he was honoured with a Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation for his contribution to the care, well-being and remembrance of veterans.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this House to join with me in extending congratulations to Mr. John Ford on being chosen to receive an honorary doctor of laws from Memorial University.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Topsail.

MS E. MARSHALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the Town of Town of Conception Bay South is home to many of this Province's finest athletes.

On April 21, my colleague, the MHA for the District of Conception Bay South, and I attended the 2007 Athletic Awards ceremony to recognize the achievements of the town's athletes. During the evening, Mr. Speaker, all nominees for the five award categories were honoured and the following athletes were the recipients of the 2007 awards:

Coach of the Year was Mr. Basil Crosbie, for his involvement in rugby. Junior Female Athlete of the Year was Megan Tilley, for her outstanding achievements in soccer. Junior Male Athlete of the Year was Ian Martin, who holds the provincial record in the fifty metre backstroke. Senior Female Athlete of the Year was Danika Gulliver, who represented Team Canada on the Under 19 Women's Rugby team in December. Senior Male Athlete of the Year was Robert Spearing, who was last year's Athlete of the Year at Queen Elizabeth Regional High School.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate all of the athletes for their individual achievements and commitment to their particular sport. I would also like to recognize Mr. Rex Hillier and his Selection Committee, who I am sure had to make very some difficult decisions when making their final selections from the twenty nominations submitted. Mr. Hillier was recently inducted into the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Fame.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this House to join me in congratulating all the recipients of the 2007 Conception Bay South Athletic Awards.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise in the House today to congratulate two outstanding constituents, who are brothers, Justin and William Moores from L'Anse au Clair, who recently graduated from Memorial University and are both embarking on careers as doctors.

Mr. Speaker, these young men grew up in a small community in Labrador and were educated in a multi-grade school system, which is something their parents are particularly proud of, both of them whom are former teachers.

Mr. Speaker, Justin received his Ph.D. in biology from Memorial University, and is currently residing in Ottawa where he is doing research in the field of genetics. William received a degree in medicine at Memorial University, and is currently participating in his first year residency in the orthopaedic surgery department at Memorial. His work primarily takes place at St. Clare's Mercy Hospital, the Health Sciences Centre and the Janeway.

Nath and Barbara Moores are proud parents of Justin and William, and they were overjoyed to attend both convocations which took place only a day apart.

Mr. Speaker, it is with great honour that I recognize these two determined and ambitious young Newfoundlanders and Labradorians on their academic accomplishments, and I ask all members in this House to join me in acknowledging their achievements.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KELLY: Mr. Speaker, I stand in this hon. House today to pay tribute to the life of Graham Blundon, a long-time friend and colleague from Deer Lake.

Graham passed away on March 13, 2008, at the age of sixty-three. During his career, Graham made an outstanding contribution to his community and to his Province.

Graham was born February 19, 1945, in Bay de Verde, and graduated from St. Barnabas Anglican School in 1963. Graham completed both a Bachelors and a Masters degree in Education. He began his teaching career in Deer Lake in 1967 and I was so very fortunate to have had him as my high school mathematics teacher.

Graham served as school principal, program co-ordinator, assistant superintendent and superintendent with the Deer Lake, St. Barbe South Integrated School District.

Mr. Speaker, Graham was an exceptional human being who touched the lives of everyone with whom he worked and taught. As his obituary stated, he was in all aspects sympathetic and dedicated to his work. His ability to communicate with students, colleagues and friends classifies him as one of our great educators. He graced our lives with his presence, and our world is a better place because of it.

Graham was an active member of the community; the Masonic Lodge was dear to his heart. He held many offices and was a past master. He was also a very devoted member of the Anglican Parish of Deer Lake, serving in numerous church capacities.

Graham will be sadly missed by his wife Ruth and their children. He will also be sadly missed by his Masonic brethren, his friends and his church family. Graham's legacy will be remembered for many years to come: a legacy of being a resourceful, responsible, contributing member of our region and society as a whole.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this hon. House to join me in paying tribute to this outstanding individual.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to the Dermot Lee Memorial Royal Canadian Legion Branch 62, in Riverhead, St. Mary's Bay.

Branch 62 serves the entire St. Mary's Bay area and received its Charter in 1968 with the late Dermot Lee, after whom the Branch is named, as its first president.

At a time when legion clubs are having difficulty in many parts of this Province, Branch 62 is still one of the most active and successful.

Mr. Speaker, since my first election in February 2006 I have attended many functions at Branch 62, and I am always impressed with the welcoming atmosphere, the efficient organization and the tremendous co-operation and participation of its members, not to mention the great food. It is truly a social centre in every sense of the word.

I had the pleasure, Mr. Speaker, on Saturday, April 19, of bringing greetings on behalf of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador at the fortieth anniversary celebrations. The dinner was attended by a number of dignitaries, including representation from the Provincial Command. A number of long-service awards were also presented during the evening.

Mr. Speaker, the Riverhead Legion is indeed the social hub of St. Mary's Bay, bringing together residents from North Harbour to Peter's River. Service organizations such as Branch 62 are vital to sustaining the vibrancy of our rural communities.

Mr. Speaker, much of the success of Branch 62 can be attributed to the hard work and dedication of Comrade Eugene Breen, who has been president for the past fifteen years. Unfortunately, Mr. Breen was ill and could not attend the celebrations; however, his praises were sung by all of those at the gathering, along with prayers for a speedy recovery.

I ask all hon. members to join me in congratulating Branch 62 on forty years of growth and service, and extend our continued best wishes as they carry out their valuable work.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS SULLIVAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Earlier this year, the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor, in partnership with the Regional Chamber of Commerce, paid tribute to its business community. Several awards were handed out, but there is one winner that I would like to highlight in particular today.

The Small Business of the Year Award was given to Essential Coding Inc. of Grand Falls-Windsor. What is particularly striking about the recipient of this award is that the owner and president is sixteen years old. His name is Scott Oldford. Scott's business is a successful Web design and development company that he has been managing and masterminding since the age of thirteen.

Today, while still attending high school at Exploits Valley High where he is an honours student, Scott successfully employs some forty programmers worldwide from his downtown Grand Falls office. Scott manages numerous contracts that extend throughout the United States and the United Kingdom, and he is currently working on engaging the Newfoundland and Labrador market.

In addition to the Small Business of the Year Award, Scott has also won two provincial Youth Venture Awards and was just honoured as one of the top twenty under twenty Canadian entrepreneurs, and I suspect this is only the beginning. Just recently Scott formed and incorporated a sister company to Essential Coding called Essential Hosting. I would suggest that the Ministers of Business and of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development should record Scott Oldford's name for future reference. He will no doubt prove to be an entrepreneur from whom we will all hear.

I ask all hon. members in this House to join me in congratulating a truly inspiring young man, Mr. Scott Oldford.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Statements by Ministers.

Statements by Ministers

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS. BURKE: Mr. Speaker, a group of students from Newfoundland and Labrador have once again shown that they can compete and succeed on the national stage.

Each year, the Department of Canadian Heritage sponsors a national video competition called: Racism. Stop it! This contest encourages students to create a video that speaks to the elimination of racism. On March 21, a team of five students from Gander Collegiate was named one of the top five high school winners. This is the first time that a team from this Province has been named as one of the winning teams.

The five team members are Laura Gushue, Mike Mosher, Zack Healey, Rhea Simms and Nida Najifi. They wrote and produced the video as part of their work in a local technology education course offered at Gander Collegiate.

The winning videos were selected by a panel of judges for their originality, audiovisual quality and effectiveness. Mr. Speaker, the message from the Gander students' was - it only takes one to make a difference. It is a simple message, but true and one that clearly resonated with the judges.

The winning videos will be shown on national television. Even better, Mr. Speaker, the Gander Collegiate video will be the only one broadcast on both French and English CBC TV.

This is a tremendous accomplishment for these young students. They developed the idea for the video, as well as acted in and produced the final piece. What's more, Mr. Speaker, as Christmas holidays began, they got together to create and record an original score for the video.

Efforts like this to stop the racism and inequalities that are faced by the most vulnerable are exactly what we are working hard to promote through the Violence Prevention Initiative. We have committed $9.2 million over six years to reduce violence in Newfoundland and Labrador, and to eliminate the attitudes that continue the cycle of violence in our Province. It is extremely encouraging to see our students embrace this important effort.

On behalf of this hon. House, Mr. Speaker, I extend my sincere congratulations to these talented young people and to their teacher, Mr. Brian Mosher. I am sure we have not heard the last from them.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to thank the minister for an advanced copy of the statement, and to say that we, on this side, want to congratulate the five students and their teacher, Mr. Mosher, on this very worthwhile accomplishment that they have made.

Mr. Speaker, we look forward to seeing the video. Hopefully, we will find out what time it is going to be displayed on our national television and we look forward to seeing that.

Mr. Speaker, all too often, as you know, as we listen to the news, whether it is local or national, all too often we hear about racism and inequalities that face many of our citizens, not only in our Province but in our nation. Hopefully, the day will come, through projects like this, when violence prevention initiatives will not be so high on our priority list and this issue will be resolved once and for all.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

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

I, too, thank the Minister of Education for the advanced copy of her statement.

I am very pleased to say congratulations to the five team members from Gander Collegiate on being the first team in the Province to win a: Racism. Stop It! award. Unfortunately, systemic racism exists everywhere and must be addressed everywhere. It is very important for the government, too, to ensure that as it continues with its programs that the immigration strategy and violence prevention initiatives are working together in order to promote and ensure a true role for diversity here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further statements by ministers?

The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS DUNDERDALE: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to inform the House of an important event in the calendar for our agriculture industry, one that highlights the importance of developing and supporting initiatives to help our farmers get the most out of their soil.

The event is the National Soil Conservation Week.

Mr. Speaker, every year in my department, along with our farmers and their community of supporters, we dedicate extra time and effort to highlight the importance of healthy soil to provide fresh local products. Conserving soil means enhancing it and protecting it through effective programs and by sharing knowledge and best practices about soil management. Through these efforts, we are helping our farmers expand this industry and make more locally-grown farm products available to consumers.

This government knows that agriculture is very important to this Province economically, socially and for the health of our residents. In many parts of the Province, our soils are very acidic and limestone plays a key role in balancing that acidity. This government has significantly increased funding in our Limestone Program to help more farmers access limestone and improve soil productivity.

My department also operates the Soil, Plant and Feed Laboratory where our expert staff provide soil analysis and advice to farmers. Our staff also provides soil mapping services to identify areas most suitable for land development, as well as advice on land clearing techniques and topsoil conservation methods.

Mr. Speaker, Soil Conservation Week is a great opportunity for the people of the Province to see what is happening in agriculture. The Forestry and Agrifoods Agency is participating in a three-day Forestry Fair at the Pepsi Centre in Corner Brook this weekend, from April 25 to April 27. We will have booths providing information on soil conservation and related programs and services. I am looking forward to attending the fair and encourage all of my colleagues here in the House to drop by as well.

Mr. Speaker, a healthy and safe food supply is more than an industry; it is a key to self-sufficiency. This government is working with our agriculture partners to ensure this renewable resource can nourish and sustain the people of Newfoundland and Labrador today and into the future.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the minister for an advanced copy of her statement.

Mr. Speaker, anytime that you can draw attention to conservation in the Province and be able to educate people of the importance of conservation is always a noble thing of any government or any agency. I think the showcase they will do at the Pepsi Centre, I am sure, will be of tremendous benefit to the people on the West Coast this weekend.

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the minister's statement, that we need to have a healthy and safe food supply within the Province but I think there are many in the industry who feel there is a way to go before we are truly sustainable in that regard. It is important to give real profile to the issues affecting forestry and agrifoods within the Province. Quite frankly, Mr. Speaker, I felt that encompassing that department with the Department of Energy and the department that governs oil and gas in the Province have oftentimes led it to have less profile and not be seen in the way we have seen it in the past in terms of the public image that goes with it.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, there are lots of issues that are confronting the forest industry and the agrifoods industry in this Province today. Most recently, we have heard of the situation with regard to the lead that is in the ground in St. John's. I think it has been determined that large numbers of properties in this area have high lead content, although they have been educating people in the region about this. I do not know if the minister has been engaged in that issue or not, and maybe she can give an update to the House at some point as to what government's involvement has been there in providing some supports to those people.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to conclude her response.

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

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

I, too, thank the minister for an advanced copy of her statement.

It is extremely important that we do recognize the need to conserve our soil and I am very pleased with the event that will be taking place in Corner Brook next weekend. Unfortunately, I will not be in Corner Brook, so I will not be able to go. I would have liked to.

In order to have a healthy and safe food supply we also need to protect the agriculture land that we have in this Province. So, saving the land we have and even getting more land involved in agrifoods is extremely important. I know the minister knows that. In doing that, too, in the education that we do with people, we also need to look at our food supply needs in the context of the international needs; involving that in educational work that we do with, not just farmers but also with consumers in the Province is extremely important.

Thank you very much to the minister for this statement and for the work that is happening.

MR. SPEAKER: Further statements by ministers?

Oral questions.

Oral Questions

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

MS. JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

A couple of weeks ago I raised an issue in the House of Assembly related to the lack of ICU beds and admitting beds at St. John's hospitals. Patients were being housed in corridors and surgeries were being postponed. Since that time, Mr. Speaker, I informed the minister that I have received more phone calls, more e-mails from people who have been frustrated with this system. In fact, I spoke to a gentleman this morning that has had his bypass surgery postponed eight times. I think he has made that aware to the minister and to the department as well.

I ask you, minister: Have you since investigated this problem with ICU bed availability and will anything be done to help these patients whose surgeries are now consistently being postponed?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

As I had indicated last week or the week before last in response to questions from members opposite around the closure of beds at Eastern Health, and more particularly at the Health Sciences Centre, I reported back to the House that that was not in fact the case. All beds were open. There may be periodic times when some beds may be closed for a very short period of time because of some staffing change issues, but, for the most part, all beds at Eastern Health are open.

With respect to the ICU, Mr. Speaker, in recent past Eastern Health has found that they have had a lot of critically ill patients who have been admitted to hospital. One of the unfortunate realities that physicians find themselves in on occasion is trying to establish priorities. Many people may be on waiting lists, many people may be booked for procedures and all of a sudden an emergency will crop up and physicians will have to make that judgement call to respond to the most urgent and the most life-threatening situation first as a priority and, as a result, they require some rescheduling on occasion.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, the minister has failed to answer my question around why we are seeing all of these surgeries postponed and why there is not more availability of ICU beds.

This particular gentleman was told this week that we will admit you into the hospital after five weeks of surgeries postponed, eight different occasions for bypass surgery. He was then told: we will admit you into the hospital, that way we can get you into surgery quicker. When he went to the hospital to be admitted, he was told: I'm sorry, but we have no beds available to admit you either.

Now, I have to ask the minister: Has he checked to see if there are enough beds available within our hospitals in the St. John's region? Is this going to be a consistent problem or is it not?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

One of the things - in terms of the issue of how long this will be a problem, as I said earlier, in recent past we have had a real flurry, a real increase in the number of people who come in acutely ill, and as a result of that there has had to be some prioritization taking place.

With respect to the total ICU beds, all of the ICU beds are open. So, in terms of capacity issues, we are at a peak capacity right now with our intensive care units.

One of the things the member might recall as well, last year our government made a commitment to look at acute care services in St. John's; to look at the kinds of services that are currently provided now, the kind of facilities we need to provide those services. So, in terms of the long-term piece, I say, Mr. Speaker, we are very much actively engaged in a process now looking at the future needs of acute care services in St. John's and in the region.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is quite obvious that in the last two weeks since we have raised this issue the minister has not taken any action to deal with the problem. It remains to be a problem. We are also being told, Mr. Speaker, by nurses that some of these beds are remaining closed because of a nursing shortage, not just the admitting beds but the ICU beds as well. We know that there are nearly 400 vacant positions in the nursing profession, just in the Eastern region right now.

So I ask the minister: Is the availability of nurses contributing to this problem at all, or is it just simply that we do not have enough ICU beds in the St. John's Region?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: As I understand from officials, as recent as an hour or so ago, all of the ICU beds in St. John's are open. So additional pressure that may be brought to bear on the current number of ICU beds that we have in the system is coming about as a result of more acutely ill patients presenting at the hospital who require admission to an Intensive Care Unit.

In terms of capacity - I want to go back to a point I made earlier - there will be periods of time when, in fact, as we are experiencing right now, there will be increased pressures on intensive care beds.

The long-term piece, as I said a moment ago, we are very much in the midst now of looking at acute care services in St. John's, looking at the current capacity, looking at future needs, trying to identify what might our acute care services look like in St. John's for the future to respond to a changing population, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister: Does he think it is an acceptable level of service when people are travelling from one region of the Province to the capital city, waiting for up to five week periods, having surgeries postponed seven or eight times? Is this an acceptable level of service? At what point, Minister, will you intervene to make improvements in the system immediately?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: One of the things that you find yourselves periodically - and as a government we have done this in the past. When we, in fact, have pressures like we are finding now - unfortunately, the number of ICU beds are a fixed number right now today. We do not have the flexibility to open ICU beds or close them at a moment's notice, so periodically you will end up with pressures like we are experiencing in the recent past. On occasion, in the past, as a government, we have sent patients outside of the Province when we have had increased pressures for acute care services. If that need arises, we will do the same thing again.

One of the challenges you run into, though, in trying to transport ICU patients, is the stability of that patient and their ability to be able to be transported out of the Province for some kind of service. Eastern Health are trying to manage with what they have there right now to be able to ensure that the most acutely ill patients are dealt with as a priority and dealt with earlier.

One of the challenges you run into in that kind of

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister to conclude his answer.

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

When that happens, sometimes individuals may have their appointments postponed. The time frame that you are talking about, the reference to several weeks and having it delayed eight or nine times, no, I would not agree that is an acceptable process.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Yesterday, I asked the Minister of Health to confirm for me if there were 3,000 cases of grievances outstanding at Eastern Health. Since then, I have now confirmed that the number was correct. I have also been told that many of these cases have been on the list for a number of years to be heard and, in fact, on average, they have 350-400 new grievances filed on an annual basis.

I ask the minister if he is now aware of the issue, and what action will government take to deal with this backlog of grievances?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In response to the member's question yesterday, I had indicated in the House that I would undertake to find that information I do not have it yet - and when I have it available I will provide it to the House.

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I think it goes without saying that high morale in the workplace has some very successful impacts when it comes to the recruiting and retention of professionals. Any grievances that are filed are obviously discontent in that workplace, and we would like to see it dealt with.

It is our understanding that the process for grievances is a long and trying process. I want to ask the minister if his government will undertake to devise a process that could be more simple and could get the same result, so that these people can have their cases heard in a more timely manner and hopefully improve the morale in our health care system.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: I do not want to repeat myself, Mr. Speaker, but as I said yesterday to the member opposite she asked me a question about the number - I said I would undertake to find out the status of outstanding grievances.

In that process I will gain an understanding of what they are doing to deal with it, and if there is something necessary or something that is available to us as an instrument in the labour relations process to actually expedite the process, then we will explore those options with Eastern Health to ensure that they are settled as easy as possible.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Even with our limited resources, in twenty-four hours we can confirm information, I say to the minister. With probably the few hundred employees you have, you might be able to confirm it before the week is over.

My next questions are for the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs.

Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that fire inspections of the Province's health facilities is of great concern. Despite government's attempt to play down the seriousness of the issue in the past couple of months, specifically last month, we know now that there are significant fire and life safety issues at public institutions that have gone on notice.

I ask the minister: Why has government downloaded this responsibility for timely inspections, thorough inspections, to volunteer fire departments that, as we know, are underfunded, in many cases, without the proper training to be doing this work?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DENINE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The thing here is this: I said yesterday in this House that the protocol system that we operate today was the one that was in place thirty years ago. It has continued on. It was in when the Liberal Party was in power, and it continued on.

Today, Mr. Speaker, what we have found out is there are deficiencies within the facilities that we inspected. Our government has been committed to correct those deficiencies as efficiently and effectively as possible. There are sixty to ninety days to do that and, Mr. Speaker, twenty-four months to put in the sprinkler system.

Mr. Speaker, we are acting upon the recommendations of the fire commissioner, and it will take time to do that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, the fact that the policy may have been there for thirty years holds no relevance. The Speaker now knows there is a problem here; the minister now knows there is a problem. We are only asking: What are you going to do to fix it? It is a recognizable problem that needs the attention immediately. Why download this responsibility continuously on these non-profit, underfunded, under trained fire departments?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DENINE: Mr. Speaker, just let me inform the Opposition Leader, just over thirty days ago, I directed the fire commissioner to go out and do the inspections. He came back and he found some deficiencies there. Our government is committed to look at those deficiencies and make sure they are corrected.

As far as what we are going to do, Mr. Speaker, yes, we found that there were deficiencies in those facilities. We found there were differences in protocols that it was under for the last thirty years. We are committed to look at those protocols to make sure that the security is in place for the future, from now on in.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, we also understand that the same process that was used for inspections in these health facilities is also being used for inspections in our school system. I would like to ask the minister, in regard to what is happening now within the health care system, if they will now conduct a full inspection program of our schools in the Province to ensure that they are indeed in compliance with fire safety regulations?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, we are certainly very concerned about fire safety in our schools, and all schools are required to have a fire safety plan and do a number of fire drills throughout the year.

Mr. Speaker, I had the opportunity to speak to ask the department to speak - with the fire commissioner's office, and there were no outstanding orders from that office. I went further on March 12 in a meeting with the CEOs of the school boards and the chairs of the school boards as well to ask if there were any fire safety issues, anything that needs to be brought to our attention. I was assured by both the chairs of the boards and by the CEOs that there were no outstanding issues. Any issues or orders that they had had a time frame on it, they were working within those time frames, Mr. Speaker.

In addition to that, Mr. Speaker, in last year's budget we also increased the maintenance to our schools by 67 per cent. So, we are concerned about fire safety. We have increased maintenance and I have certainly checked with the chairs and the CEOs and have been informed that there are no outstanding issues.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to remind the minister that back in March her colleague told us there were no outstanding life safety issues in the health care facilities either, but upon review and inspection by the fire commissioner's office we see a different result.

A simple question minister: Will you now undertake to have the fire commissioner do a full inspection of the schools in this Province?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, in a department as decentralized like Education, where we depend on school boards, they are tasked with the day-to-day functions of operating the schools. One of the responsibilities that they have is fire safety.

Mr Speaker, I have spoken with, as I said, on March 12 with both the chairs and the CEOs or the Directors of Education and it is my understanding that there are no outstanding issues with regards to fire safety issues. I will take it upon myself to go back, to check with the boards to ensure that the policies that they have in place are being followed. I understand there are daily reports that are done by staff at the school. They are submitted to the board on a monthly basis.

So, Mr. Speaker, we are concerned about fire safety. There are protocols in place. I will double-check, although I have checked on March 12, I will check again to ensure that the protocols are being followed.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Let me ask the minister this, Mr. Speaker. The fire commissioner is the independent recognized professional that does this in our Province, oversees this process. Why would you not want him to do a review and inspection of schools in the Province? Answer that for me.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, let me be perfectly clear. I am not opposed to the fire commissioner doing a study of the schools. What I am saying is that there are established protocols in place. We do have a maintenance budget. We have people who do maintenance. We also have chairs of the board and we also have Directors of Education who are accountable to make sure that these protocols and fire safety is in place. I have checked with these people, I will check again. If they bring any issues or any concerns that the work or the protocols are not being followed, I will certainly follow up on it.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. JONES: Mr. Speaker, again, to the Minister of Education.

The protocol she refers to did not work in the health care sector. It did not work when it came to inspections of life and fire safety issues in our health care facilities. Why do you have so much confidence in the fact that they are working in our school systems?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS. BURKE: Mr. Speaker, there is a process in place and I have spoken with the people who are charged with the accountability to ensure that the protocols are in place. Each school does a fire safety plan. I have been told and it is my understanding that these reports have been filed. These are done in conjunction with the local fire departments. There are people who do daily reports regarding the fire safety in our schools. They are submitted to the boards on a monthly basis. When I checked with the Directors of Education on March 12 they indicated that any outstanding orders that they had, they were within the time frames. They gave examples of some of the issues that they had to deal with, primarily storing materials, or whatever, under stairwells and they had a time frame they had to deal with it.

So, Mr. Speaker, I have spoken to the people. I have been told that they are following the protocols. I have said right now that I will go back and double-check to see if there are any issues or anything we need to do, just in case that protocol is not being followed, but -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister to conclude her answer.

MS. BURKE: Mr. Speaker, fire safety is something we are concerned about in our schools. It is something that is practiced throughout the school year, but I will go back and make sure and ask if there is anything, any concerns that we need to address.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS. JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

If the minister was so concerned she would be committing to have that done now. It would be concern enough for her to have that done.

Mr. Speaker, the fire commissioner today gave a technical briefing this morning and some very informative information, very factual information and very technical in nature. Mr. Speaker, I think the Premier would agree with me that the fire commissioner is a well-respected, knowledgeable individual on fire safety in this Province.

I have to ask you, Premier, today: Will you at least relieve the gag order that this commissioner has been placed on as an independent officer in this Province, responsible for fire safety in the public, and allow him to talk?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, the hon. Leader of the Opposition is obviously frustrated by the answers that she has gotten from both ministers.

The recent Minister of Education just stood up and said she has asked everybody responsible the right questions and will follow through and will ask again, and if anything comes up, she will come back and report to the House. If there are any problems, we will deal with it.

There are no gag orders in place on anybody. We do not put gag orders in place. The fire commissioner is not under a gag order. The minister is responsible for the fire commissioner and the minister will speak for the fire commissioner. When matters relate to education, that minister will speak for the fire commissioner. The fire commissioner is not out speaking publicly. He has a right to do technical briefings and everything else, but he acts under the minister. He has a responsibility to that minister and the minister will speak, and that is the way it is going to be. It is as simple as that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My next question is for the Premier as well.

Yesterday AbitibiBowater announced that thirteen of its managers in Grand Falls-Windsor were being laid off. The Minister of Natural Resources complained to the media that she was not notified, only an hour before these lay-offs, I think, were announced. Yet, in February the Premier had a meeting with AbitibiBowater's CEO, David Paterson.

I ask you today, Premier: What was discussed at this meeting, and was any indication given that these layoffs were actually coming?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: No, Mr. Speaker, there was no indication that any layoffs were coming.

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

It is my understanding from discussions that the mayors of both Grand Falls-Windsor, Botwood and Bishop's Falls were not informed of what was happening with AbitibiBowater, and certainly not kept in the loop by government on any action you were taking on this issue.

I have to ask: Is there any particular reason why, in light of the fact that there were cuts coming within this company, that there has not been consistent dialogue between government and the mayors in those regions and communities affected?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Premier and I met with Mr. Paterson in February. We met with local members of the CEP union in Grand Falls shortly after. I have met with the union local again, as late as Friday. The conversation that took place in February talked about the state of the industry, that phase one review was complete, the company was now entering into phase two review, they did not know what the outcome of that was going to be and that they would keep us informed. Unfortunately, that did not happen, in terms of the layoffs. I have expressed my disappointment with regard to that in the strongest terms to the company. I have been told that we will be briefed early next week on what the future plans might be.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.


I do not think the minister came anywhere near answering my question.

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, government knew since 2007 that there was a revenue loss in this company of $490 million. They also knew there were demands being placed on the AbitibiBowater in Grand Falls that they were asking for a $10 million cost reduction.

I ask the minister: Why did government not engage at a more, I guess, powerful way within the company to try and curb any particular job loss that could be occurring as a result of that announcement?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This government was engaged with company officials at that time in terms of what they were looking for in the Phase 1 review. We were deeply engaged with the mill employees, through their union, as they went through that forty-five day process, found the $10 million in savings that the company was looking for.

Mr. Speaker, this government has been very proactive with both the pulp and paper companies in this Province. In the last two years, we have provided approximately $40 million in help to both of these companies, almost $20 million of it to Abitibi, in the face of the crisis that the pulp and paper industry faces worldwide. We have been very proactive. We have been very supportive. We have been very engaged, and we will stay that way, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

For a minister who claims to be so engaged, I do not know why she was left out of the loop and that is by her own admission, Mr. Speaker. It obviously went off the rails somewhere, and the minister was not included in the loop.

Mr. Speaker, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers estimate that there could be eighty to one hundred layoffs of unionized workers at the Grand Falls-Windsor mill expected in the near future.

I ask the minister: Will you now fully engage in the process to ensure that we do not see another hundred jobs lost in this industry under the watch of your government?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS DUNDERDALE: Mr. Speaker, this industry might have disappeared from Newfoundland and Labrador all together, except that we were on watch over the last (inaudible).

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS DUNDERDALE: We have provided, as I said, over $40 million assistance to both of these companies.

Mr. Speaker, as I have said, I expressed my strong disappointment to Abitibi yesterday. We have been very open with them. We have been very accessible. We have been extremely supportive. We have a very good relationship with the CEP union in Grand Falls and in Corner Brook.

Now, Mr. Speaker, my disappointment has been strongly conveyed; the company has responded and said that they will engage with us. They are meeting in Montreal over the weekend, and hopefully we will have something of substance to hear from them next week, about their future plans.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I would just like to continue some questions for the Minister of Natural Resources.

I think we all agree that we have a worsening situation there. We had fifty-six people laid off in 2005, thirteen yesterday, probably dozens more of unionized workers in a few weeks.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the Minister of Natural Resources: What are the particulars of what you are trying to do to ensure that we will see a continued commitment, or even to find out if there is a commitment, from AbitibiBowater to maintaining operations in Grand Falls-Windsor? What are you bringing to the table next week? Are you just going to sit and listen, or what are you going to be bringing to force this commitment to happen?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS DUNDERDALE: Mr. Speaker, as I have just said, we have brought $20 million to the table, approximately, over the last two years, to Abitibi, to sustain that operation in Grand Falls. We need to know where the company is in terms of their Phase 2 review, what their plans are and what their expectations are. Until we know where they are, and what they are planning to do, it is very difficult for us to respond.

They have committed to inform us about their plans. They did not live up to that commitment, in my estimation, yesterday. I reminded them of that, and I certainly expect something better of them early next week. Then, at that point, we can engage once we know what it is the company is going to need.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Just to follow that a little bit, to get a bit more particulars, last year AbitibiBowater announced that it needed to save $10 million, as we know, and then the union announced in March 2007 that it had negotiated a plan with the company for saving that $10 million. The company said it did not come quite up to the $10 million as they saw it.

When you heard from them this week, Minister, did they give you any update on that plan that they put together with the union last year, and where that plan went to save the $10 million?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

By the union's estimate, in their forty-five day review, they found closer to $12 million. They built in that cushion.

We have a very good relationship with the union there. There is a great source of knowledge and expertise for us, as government, to call upon from time to time as we engage in dealings with the company.

We know that Abitibi has the best energy price in North America. We know that they have very reasonable fibre costs in the country, in North America. We know that their productivity is an issue for them. A big piece of the issue around productivity is because not enough capital investment has been made in the mill. To achieve productivity that they are looking for needs a capital investment in that mill, so we want to know: What is your plan?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: I guess I really do want to follow up on that, then, because that was my third question. How do you intend finding out next week what their plans are with regard to investing in the Grand Falls-Windsor mill's production facilities?

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

MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I wish there were some other means available to me, but unfortunately all I can do is ask. We have dealt with this company in good faith. The people of Grand Falls-Windsor, and all of the eighteen surrounding communities, the 944 people who are engaged directly with that company through the mill and through their woodlands operation, I feel, have dealt with them in good faith. We are asking them to do the same. We know it is troubled times. We have worked with you in the past, we are prepared to work with you in the future, but you have to talk to us and lay out your plan.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My question is for the Minister of Environment and Conservation.

We know that the Multi-Materials Stewardship Board is a self-financed Crown agency which derives revenues from levies on such items as beverage containers, tires, and the sale of recycled material. In accordance with the Transparency and Accountability Act, the MMSB issued a strategy plan for 2007-2008. This was the first one that has been public since 2003.

I ask the minister: Why were there no annual reports provided to the public since 2003?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Environment and Conservation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I have been assured by the MMSB that those reports will be forthcoming in the very near future. I have also been assured that they will be filed on a timely basis, on a go-forward basis.

I would also like to point out for the member opposite that, although the reports have not been filed, certainly the financial information of MMSB is certainly available through the public accounts of this House.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The time allotted for questions and answers has expired.

Presenting Reports by Standing and Special Committees.

Tabling of Documents.

Notices of Motion.

Answer to Questions for which Notice has been Given.

Answers to Questions for which Notice has been Given

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

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, recently the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, the Leader of the NDP Party, asked for some information with respect to the external quality assurance surveys that were conducted at Eastern Health in the ER-PR area of the labs. I have those for tabling today.

MR. SPEAKER: Further answers to questions for which notice has been given.

Petitions.

Petitions

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

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I wish to present a petition today with reference to a long-term care facility for the Conception Bay North area.

We know back in 2002 there were recommendations made by government that the Conception Bay North area would be on the top priority list, and we know there are other centres which have received information and have work started on some of the long-term care facilities. Mr. Speaker, we are not arguing against them having a facility; however, we are asking government if they will reassess their decision as to why the one in Conception Bay North has not proceeded.

Mr. Speaker, we know at that time the recommendations called for, I think it was, a 240-bed facility and there were various towns in the area at that time which made presentations for it to come to their town, which I know was not finalized. Through Estimates Committee meetings, I was told by a former Minister of Health that there was $500,000 for an assessment to be done and I am just wondering, Mr. Speaker, when that will be made available.

We hear people like the Mayor of Carbonear and others who are coming out and referencing the Harbour Lodge and the Interfaith Home in Carbonear. Hopefully, government will reconsider and see what can be done.

It was only this week, Mr. Speaker, that I had an opportunity to visit the Harbour Lodge, and the staff there are doing a wonderful job in caring for the people but the facility is outdated now, Mr. Speaker. So, with regard to this petition, I am calling upon all my hon. colleagues in the Trinity Bay de Verde district, Carbonear-Harbour Grace, Harbour Main-Whitbourne and Bellevue, if they would join me in asking government to reconsider the decision and hopefully in the upcoming Budget there will be an announcement in relation to a long-term care facility for the Conception Bay North area.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further petitions.

Orders of the Day.

Orders of the Day

 

Private Members' Day

 

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

MR. RIDEOUT: Mr. Speaker, this being Private Members' Day, I believe we proceed to the Order Paper, Motion 1, standing in the name of my friend, the Member for Burgeo & LaPoile.

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

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased to rise today to have a few words on this private member's motion which I put forward yesterday concerning a requested reduction of tax on gasoline.

First of all, I would like to preface it by saying that, albeit it is this private member's motion, it in fact reflects the questions that have been raised by literally hundreds of people in this Province to me directly, not counting the requests that have been made through e-mails and correspondence and phone calls to the Opposition office - literally hundreds of people whom I have met in the last three months, who are talking about this issue of gasoline and the tax on it.

Just for the record, it says:

WHEREAS this Province has seen a huge increase in offshore oil revenue as a result of increased oil prices; and

WHEREAS many people, especially those on fixed incomes, are suffering the consequences of the increases in fuel prices; and

WHEREAS this Province has the highest tax on gasoline in the country and this puts undue hardship on consumers and makes it more difficult for businesses in this Province to compete;

BE IT RESOLVED that this House of Assembly urges government to reduce the tax on gasoline in this Province.

Mr. Speaker, we already know where the Premier stands on this, so I have little doubt, I say right up front, where this motion is going to go today in terms of being accepted. Given the Premier's lead, which I heard, or I read at least on VOCM, that they are not in a position to do anything on the gasoline tax right now, I feel pretty certain that this resolution is going to be defeated. I understand there are only going to be two Opposition members in the Chamber by the end of the day, others having to leave for medical reasons. The vote will be whatever Conservative members are in the Chamber versus the two Opposition members. Only two people, out of the people who are here at the end of the day, I would suspect, are going to vote for this, a reduction in the gasoline prices.

Now, you will get all kinds of reasons why. This member would say that some of those reasons are going to be legitimate, why you could not and should not reduce the gasoline tax. I am sure the Minister of Finance is going to be on his feet responding to this, and telling us about how we have so many needs and urgent things that we have to do, and we cannot do all things for all people, and we cannot be all things to all people, and we have to get our priorities straight. We have to have a balance. We cannot do everything at the one time. There is his speech. His speech, I just gave it in thirty seconds, I would surmise. When the Minister of Finance gets on his feet, that is what he is going to tell you.

By the way, another thing he is going to say is, we cannot give you the reduction on gasoline tax because - maybe he is even going to go so far as to say, well, we gave you a cut yesterday; we eliminated the insurance tax yesterday. We cannot do everything for you at one time. Don't go getting greedy. Don't go coming here now today - they are out there, that crowd, with their hands out all the time. He might even suggest that those Liberal Opposition members over there are so irresponsible that these fellows would give away everything and we would find ourselves back in the days of poverty again, if you were to give them everything that they want. No doubt, all of that is going to get said.

Not one piece of that comment that is going to come from the government members today is going to take away from the fact that this resolution is a good resolution, is a just resolution, and is a needed response by this government to the people of this Province.

That does not take away from the fact that what the government did yesterday in the tax on insurance piece, being a good thing. That was a good move. The Leader of the Opposition stood here yesterday and applauded it. It was definitely a good move. I am somewhat confused in the figures. I am hearing $75 million was the cost of that initiative, and I think the Premier said $94 million or 95 million, but, regardless, it was a good move. It is a substantial move, and it takes money from the provincial coffers to do that, and this Opposition applauded that. It is a good move.

There was a move made last year on income tax reduction, for example, all of which is good stuff, leaving a few dollars in the pocket of the taxpayers and the people of this Province, the consumers. Anything that leaves a few dollars extra in your pocket is a good thing. The question always, of course, is: Can you afford to do it, as a government? That is the question. It is like keeping your bank account. You get your paycheque, you take it home, and there is only so much you can do. As much as you might like to do, you might want to do, there is only so much you can do. You have to budget so that at the end of the day yeah, you might have a bit of money owing on your credit card, you might have a bank loan out, and you might have a mortgage, because you cannot pay it all with your paycheque, and you can carry a certain amount of debt. Sometimes, of course, when your debt gets so high, you have to say, well, we just cannot spend any more; we have to do without some things.

The question becomes, of course, and the Minister of Finance is right in that regard, the question is the balance. Let's go back, first of all, and decide, where are we going to get the money from if you were to even consider doing such a thing, and what would it cost?

Now, it is my understanding, we are going to be in pretty good shape financially this year, and we are going to be in pretty good shape financially on a go-forward basis for a number of years. In fact, the Minister of Finance gave a mid-year statement, I believe, in October or November of 2007, and at that time the estimated surplus surplus being, of course, money that you got, that you have not budgeted, you have it there to spend if you want to spend it, is going to be in the range of $875 million. Now, that was based back in November 2007. Wrapping your ears around that kind of figure, $875 million in your bank account that you did not expect to have, that brings good tunes. I would surmise that is going to go much higher than that. It will go much higher than that, there is no question. It will go far beyond $875 million.

I mean the minister himself knows that the price, I do believe, was based on a barrel of oil getting $76 a barrel. I believe that was his projection he used on a go-forward basis up to end of March, $76 a barrel. He said we will have $875 million. But, of course, we all know that - I do not know the last time a barrel of oil traded or sold for $75 a barrel. We know it is very fluid. We know it is very flexible, but I think yesterday, April 22, there was a point when it hit $117 a barrel. Ever since November, even though the Department of Finance used the figure of $75, $76 a barrel, it has been well above that; in the nineties for sure. Since the last month or so it has been above the hundred mark. So, that figure of 875 is going to go way up. The question is: Do you have the money? The answer is going to be yes. There is going to be at least for this year. Now you can say we are not going to spend it in this year, we are not going to give you any tax break this year because we do not know what it is going to be next year, and we do not know what it is going to be two years out or we do not know what it is going to be five years out, but that is where planning comes in. That is where you decide what your priority is and where the immediate need is.

So, if you extrapolate from that $75 a barrel figure to the end of March, I would make a guess - and we will see when the Budget comes out, depending again on the figures that the Finance Minister is going to use in his projections. I would hazard to guess that our surplus up to the end of March, 2008 - and that is when the government year ends, the fiscal year for the government. It did not end on December 31. It goes to March 31, which gives the government five extra months beyond their mid-year thing. He gave it in November or late October. So, November, December, January, February, March, there is five months gets added on to that surplus. So, I would think we are going to be somewhere well over a billion dollars. I would estimate about $1.2 billion. That is what I would estimate that this government is going to have in its coffers, at least. When the facts all get tallied up and when the money gets tallied up come the end of March, at least that.

The question is: Where are we going to spend it? Well, we know where we are going to spend, at least for this year, $75 million to $90 million of it. We are going to spend it on the insurance tax reduction because that is not coming in next year. We know that that is going to be in round figures. We will say there is $100 million gone there. We still have over $1 billion, and how do we use it? So the money is there.

Now the minister, of course, is a big advocate - and I do not disagree, by the way, that you have to put some of that money on your debt. I have no problem with that. I believe that the government would be fiscally prudent, financially wise to take some of that surplus and put it on our debt, no question about it. The trick is going to be: Where do you draw the line and how do you do the balance?

We know there are a lot of infrastructure needs in the Province. We know our hospitals, for example, are talking millions and millions of dollars needed for hospitals. It came out recently in a report. We know there are always programming needs, drug prescriptions and health care programs. There are always all kinds of needs, and it is not going to be an easy task. The question is we have an immediate concern. Yes, government gave a rebate on fuel taxes, for example, to people who have homes. I think it is $300 or $400 this year, and that is good. That helped, but the $300 does not compare to the hard hit that people are taking.

I do not think it is fair and justified for government to say: We can't do something for you this year because we don't know where we are going to be to next year. Right now, on a litre of gasoline, for example, in this Province right now, I do believe that as of the pricing commissioner's office, which set it down on April 17, was the latest one - that is the agency that regulates gasoline prices in the Province. A litre of fuel, the pump price as of April 17 - and this was in the Avalon region, it gets higher if you go to other regions. In the Avalon region it was $1.276 per litre. That was the set price, and that was five days ago. That is the figures I am using here. Out of that $1.27, forty-one cents of it is tax. The breakdown on that, because different levels of government take their cut of it, of that forty-one cents in tax, the provincial government takes sixteen-point-five cents a litre, the federal government takes ten cents a litre, and then there is an HST tax of 13 per cent, which works out to be fourteen-point-sixty-eight cents. So if you add all that together, the HST - by the way, the Province and the feds both share in that percentage. You cannot say: Oh, that all goes to the federal government. That gets split, too. I believe 8 per cent goes to the Province of the HST, I do believe, and 5 per cent goes to the federal government, or vice versa. In any case, forty-one cents out of every $1.27 that you pay at the pump per day goes to some level of government. We know at least sixteen cents of that goes to the provincial government.

We need not talk about who it is hurting and how bad it is hurting. If you drive a vehicle, you get hurt if you have to go to the pump and pay that. If you live in a home that has heating fuels, you pay that. If you have to travel on an airline, their prices have gone up. I can notice it even in the last month. The cost of flying from Deer Lake to St. John's, for example, has gone up to reflect the increase in fuel prices. If you are a trucker in the trucking industry it costs you more. If you want to travel on the ferry from Port aux Basques to North Sydney, ticket prices are gone up to reflect the increase in fuel. If you go to the grocery store and buy groceries, you pay more; all as a result of the increase in fuel.

It is not a case of who this affects. I would go so far as to say that as good and noble as the elimination of the tax on insurance was, there are even more people impacted negatively by the price of gasoline than was negatively impacted by insurance. If you do the numbers, the number of people who are going to benefit from the tax reduction on insurance - there are even more people who are negatively impacted by the increase in fuel prices because it touches everybody's life.

For example, you may live in Grey River, not even own a car, but every time the price of gasoline goes up that person who lives in Grey River is impacted. If you happen to live somewhere where you drive a car, you are doubly impacted. If you live in St. John's, for example, you are paying more to put it in your car to go to work, or whatever you have to do, in your vehicle, but you are also paying when you go down to Sobeys. You are also paying when you go anywhere to do any shopping to get a consumable good because the vast majority, the bulk of the goods that come into this Province are trucked in, and of course the truckers pay the gas. The truckers have to recoup the gas costs, therefore the truckers charge more for their transportation. Therefore, the grocery store charges more when they put it on the shelf for the customer. It is pretty simple.

Everybody, if you eat or live or drive -

MR. SPEAKER (Osborne): Order please!

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

MR. PARSONS: Leave, Mr. Speaker?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: The member has leave.

MR. PARSONS: Thank you.

Everybody who lives or eats in this Province is impacted by this tax. The question is - there is no doubt there is money to do it, there is no doubt that there is a need to do it, there is no doubt that it negatively impacts a lot of people. Forget about the tourist industry that is going to be impacted where we are not going to have people coming in here. Forget about the business, even, of businesses which are not able to operate their trucks and so on. Even if you think about it on the level of people who are trying to feed themselves, and look at people who are on fixed incomes, you take a person on a fixed income right now, besides just the inflation rate itself, what are they going to do to deal with this? Only a few people can deal with it. Only some people are in a position to deal with it. Government is in a position to deal with it.

If the government of this Province - by the way, it is not only the highest in Atlantic Canada, the tax charged by this provincial government is not only the largest tax in Atlantic Canada, provincial tax, it is the largest in the country of Canada. You can imagine what that does in terms of our competitive positioning in Atlantic Canada.

Right now, that 16.5 per cent, we know what that generates to the provincial coffers. That is why, of course; that is one of the big reasons why we have so much money. We got it because the price of a barrel of oil has gone up; we are collecting it in taxes. Put her all together and that adds into the surplus.

If the Province were to reduce the 16.5 per cent tax that they currently charge on every litre of gasoline, it would hurt the Province to the tune of $20 million a year. A 4.5 per cent reduction, from 16.5 per cent down to 12.5 per cent, would cost this Province $20 million.

Our proposition, and the reason for putting this resolution forward, is: We might not be able to afford to do this next year, we might not be able to afford to do this two years out, but we cannot and should not refuse to do something that is extremely painful, harmful to people in this Province right now, business, individuals, consumers, just because we might not be able to do it in the future. We can afford to do it today.

I would suggest that $20 million, if it is only for the 2008-2009 fiscal year, and the government have to look at it next year and say, sorry, we just cannot do it any more, we do not have the big surplus we thought we had, we have to put that 4.5 per cent back on, I have no problem with that, no problem at all.

It is a proper, appropriate response by government to an urgent need. That is what I call wise and prudent fiscal management, the same way as we have to put a portion of it on the fiscal debt, on to our debt of this Province, and look after our long term there, we also have to look at some extremely punishing short-term problems that the people of this Province are facing.

Now, maybe I am all wrong in my figures. I don't think I am; I think I am in the ballpark. The minister might say it is not $20 million, that it is $21 million or $19 million or whatever, but I think I am in the ballpark, and I will not, for the life of me, and I do not think anybody in the public of this Province will accept that we as a government, we as a Province, can have a billion dollars in our bank account and we cannot justify taking $20 million of it for this year to knock the provincial tax from 16.5 per cent to 12.5 per cent, and 100 per cent of our population benefits 100 per cent.

It is not a case of only those who buy insurance who benefit. It is not only a case of those who pay personal income taxes who benefit. One hundred per cent of the populace gains by that move.

For example, the government, in 2003, when they became the new government, said: Whoa - in their first Budget of 2004 - we have to do a bunch of draconian stuff here because we do not have the money in the coffers to do things and they did a lot of things. They did a lot of tough things back in 2004, a lot of tough things. A lot of people did not like it, but the government said: We had to do it. We did not have the money and we just had to do it. They put the brakes on things and said, whoa - slash, burn, that was it - had to do it.

Now we find ourselves and the people accepted that. The people accepted that, albeit it was hard on them. The government sold that story to them, and they accepted that. The government explained their case and said, this is why we have to do it, and the people accepted it - like it or lump it but they are also in a frame of mind now that they are saying, if the government can do things when the times are hard, why can't they do things when times are not so bad, and still maintain the balance?

We can still take a significant chunk of that money and put on our debt. Now, I realize there is another issue here looming in the wings, that we do not know right now maybe the government knows, but I don't know and the public doesn't know, I am sure and that is the issue of the public sector. You have to be careful what you say these days when you talk about public sector bargaining. We wouldn't want to be accused of interfering in public sector bargaining, but it is not off the radar. It is a fair comment, and I will not be muzzled in making a fair comment, and it is a very fair comment in this context because it plays into the picture of what the government is going to do with the surplus.

We know a chunk of it is going to go because they eliminated the income tax piece. The next big question, I would think, on government's mind, and the Minister of Finance is waiting anxiously to get a number, too, is, where are we going to go with the public sector unions? We have at least the Nurses' Union, we have NAPE, we have CUPE, we have the Teachers' Association, and we have Allied Health, some pretty significant numbers in terms of the government employees who are justifiably into negotiations. It is none of my business what they are negotiating and whatever, but the bottom line is, whatever they negotiate is going to end up with this government having to give some kind of contract to these groups. That is going to cost money. The question is going to be, what is it going to cost? I do not know, and probably government does not know. I am sure government, if they do know, and when they do find out when that all comes to an end, that figure has to get plugged in somewhere and then somebody is going to say: Okay, we don't have a billion dollars any more, plus; we are only going to have x-number of dollars, because that has to get factored in.

Notwithstanding the public sector bargaining that has to go on, and that figure that has to be plugged in to take some of that surplus away - and not only for this year but on a go-forward basis, because whatever you negotiate, I would think, is going to be there next year and the year after. It is very unusual except, I think, back in the days of Mr. Wells when they rolled back wages, back in the 1990s. Other than that, you don't see that very often. So, that has to be factored in.

Yes, we have to factor in the insurance piece. Yes, we have to factor in the infrastructure needs piece. Yes, we have to factor in the debt reduction piece, no question, but this private member's motion is based upon the fact that we are still in a position, I would submit, to give some kind of relief to 100 per cent of the population of this Province in the short term.

It costs $20 million to knock 4.5 per cent off that provincial tax rate. If it is only for a year, then that is all you can do. You can't say I can't do it - $20 million off a billion. I don't think that is a big sacrifice. I don't think that is irresponsible management. There is no doubt it would be appreciated. As they say out my way, it is better than a rock in the pot. It shows, I think, the goodwill on the part of government to say: Yeah, we are in a pretty flush situation right now and if that is what it costs, yes, we are prepared to do that. We are not going to get the debt paid down as quickly as we would like, but that isn't a bad move. It is going to help everybody in this Province to the tune of 4.5 per cent, and that will pay dividends, because it all comes back.

It is not like these people will keep the 4.5 per cent. If I do not pay 4.5 per cent provincial sales tax on my gas, it is not like I am going to take it and put it in the bank, it is going to be spent somewhere else. It is going to be spent, I would suggest, on some other consumable. It is not like people do not have debts. All you are doing is helping people who are strapped and just do not have the money to face this crisis; and it is a crisis by the way. It is getting to be a crisis.

I think, other than 2005 when the gas prices spiked back in the Hurricane Katrina times and whatever, and things went really out of whack down South and it spiked, I think there was only once in the history of the gasoline price regulation piece that we have in this Province that the gasoline price ever went down. That was after Katrina got straightened out and so on. She dropped by about 22 per cent. Since that, it has been constantly rising and there is no end in sight; no end in sight. It is $1.27 in the City of St. John's as of today for a litre of gas. Can you imagine what the person down in Grey River and down in Ramea is paying, in an isolated community? You have transportation costs built into that. Even here in the City, it is predicted by all of the pundits to go to $1.40 per litre unleaded fuel within the next month or so. That is pretty drastic.

I would like to conclude by saying this motion just did not pop out of thin air. I would like to think that it was thought out. I would like to think that it was reasonable. I would like to think that the rationale for why we would consider it as a government has been given. I would like to think that the money is there to do it. I would like to think that it falls within the balance act that government has to do with all of the demands and needs that exist in this Province. There are very few things, of all of the things you can do - there are all kinds of interest groups out there, but this to me is something that, for minimal cost, $20 million, for 100 per cent of the population could be achievable if only for a year. If it is something that has to be evaluated on a year by year basis to see if it can be sustained, do it.

To not make the decision because we do not know if it is sustainable - this is not like the public sector bargaining, that when you go down that road and agree upon a figure you are pretty well expected to stick with it for the rest of your life. People understand that if I have a rough time and government is giving me a break this year I might have to put it back on next year. If that is explained up front to people, that we are going to help you because it is a crisis situation but it might not be there next year - it is like the Premier said, I believe it was in the Throne Speech, he gave remarks saying, we try to do what we can, there are all kinds of competing needs. We try to deal with it as and when we can.

If it is an unfair request, because there are two levels of looking at this: one is to say we are not going to do it. That is fine, and obviously the government has made that decision because the Premier has already said we are not going to look at the gasoline tax issue this year. Now, that conclusion has been reached. I am interested in finding out what was the reasoning for it. Is it because of the debt reduction? Is it because of the competing needs? Is it that we can't afford it? Is that the issue? I am just looking for the rationale, because the public will decide in their heads whether this resolution is crazy. The public will decide whether a request to have a reduction in taxes is loony-bin and I am bonkers for even asking for such a thing. I am not going to make that decision.

I think, based upon the complaints we have heard and the requests we have gotten to put this resolution to government - and government members have gotten it, I am sure. Every single member of the government side, I am sure, has had constituents asking about this issue. It impacts everybody.

At the end of the day, I think the resolution is well-grounded, I think it is a good move that government could make and it is not a political move. You, as the Opposition parties, would say, ah, you're going to do that because it is politicking. It is not election time. You do not have to worry about that. Nobody is going to accuse the government of doing something because it is politically astute to do it. But, as the Premier is used to saying, we did it because it is the right thing to do. I would think this is one very right thing to do.

The Minister of Finance, I think, could do this, with the monies that he is going to have in his coffers. He can sleep very, very easy knowing that he did it. If it is one need that needs to be looked after, albeit maybe on a short-term basis, I do not think it would be misplaced. The people of this Province would be particularly grateful. Whether you are a consumer, whether you are on fixed income, whether you are a worker, whether you are old, whether you are young, it impacts everybody positively and it would be a darn good move.

Mr. Speaker, I thank you and the members for the leave.

In conclusion, this member will be voting in favour of the motion and I think it is certainly justified. Thank you.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. MARSHALL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I guess I should say, as a Finance Minister for a little over a year and as a Finance Minister in the government of Premier Danny Williams, that government has done more to lower taxes for the people of this Province than any other government in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. MARSHALL: I am very pleased to be able to have an opportunity to speak to this, because there is no Finance Minister in history who lowered taxes as much as I have in one year, in the one Budget I have done.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. MARSHALL: Yesterday we announced that we are going to continue on that trend, when we announced that we are going to eliminate the mandatory and unfair and hated 15 per cent tax on insurance premiums.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. MARSHALL: This is going to put, this year, about $94 million or $95 million back into the hands of the people of this Province, and then annually thereafter another $75 million a year back into the pockets of the people of this Province.

It was a tax that was mandatory. People had to buy insurance. You need insurance for your home, you need insurance for your vehicle and you need insurance for your cabin. A 15 per cent cut is going to do one heck of a lot to put money back into the pockets of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador who can then use that money the way they want to spend their money, not the way government tells them how they have to spend their money. They can now use that savings to help them deal with the high energy costs and to help them deal with inflation. That is what this government has done and that is what this government will continue to do.

Mr. Speaker, I saw in the paper today a young lady who was quoted as saying that she wished there were no taxes. Don't we all, of course, wish there were no taxes? Government does not have any money on its own. Government only gets money from what it takes from the people of this Province, so it is the taxpayers' money. I know people talk about, we are going to go to the government, the government should be doing this and the government should be doing that, but it is the people's money, it is the taxpayers' money. Government taxes people, government taxes companies that are doing business in this Province, government taxes the oil companies doing business in this Province, government charges fees and we also get money from Ottawa. That is the revenue. There is no machine in the basement of this building or up there that is cranking out money. I wish there were, but there is not. We have to deal with the revenues that we take in from the people and we then spend those revenues.

I will never forget when I did my first pre-Budget consultation. I think it was the Mayor or the Deputy Mayor of Stephenville Crossing who said to me, it is the people's money and that is why it is extremely important. You have to take extreme care and you have to be wise in how you spend that money. You have to spend it carefully.

What the Opposition House Leader did not do, was that he talked at one point of prioritization or priorities, and for the perspective of government, everyday we receive requests from the people of this Province who want us to do things, who want us to lower taxes or lower fees, who want us to spend money. When you deal with those items one at a time, Mr. Speaker, they are all good. Now, maybe there is one or two that would not pass muster, but most of them are good and you want to do them all. The problem, of course, is that you cannot do them all.

The Opposition had a notice that they wanted us to lower taxes on insurance, we did it. So today they are now saying they want us to lower the taxes on gasoline. There are other taxes out there we would like to see lowered. Personal income taxes we would like to see lowered. Payroll taxes, it is called a tax on tax. Nobody likes taxes. As a young woman quoted in the paper today, she does not want to see any taxes. We all agree with her. The only problem is we then have no revenue to build hospitals, to pay our nurses, to pay our police officers, to provide education, to provide educational services. We would have no revenue at all. So taxes will always be with us.

I remember a quote from Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the US Supreme Court, he said: Taxes are the price that we pay in order to have a civilized society. We do have to tax and we do that for the purposes of raising revenues. Then we do what government likes to do, spend those revenues to try to bring about a betterment and quality of life for the people of this Province.

We spent $2.2 billion on health. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador, on a per capita basis, spend more per capita on health than Prince Edward Island, than Nova Scotia, than New Brunswick. Maybe that does not surprise you, but the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, on a per capita basis, spend more on health care than Ontario. We spend more health care than Quebec. Yet, if you look at the papers lately, if you look in the media lately, there is tremendous number of requests for more spending on equipment, more spending on infrastructure, more spending on resources; yet we do spend. Are we spending it wisely? That is something that we are going to get advice on. The people of this Province do spend on health care $2.2 billion. Sometimes I think if we had $1 billion tomorrow and we put it into health care, people would not even know it is there.

We have reached a milestone this year in education. We are now spending $1 billion on education.

So what is wrong with this motion today, it is not that we would love to cut taxes on gasoline, but we have to think of priority. Of all the things we want to do, we have to prioritize and we have to make a decision. That is why we were elected as a government to do that.

I know when I did the pre-budget consultations a number of groups, and I think of the Federation of Labour in particular, they said no, do not cut taxes. We do not want you to cut taxes any more. You cut taxes last year. You cut personal taxes last year. You indexed tax brackets last year. We removed people from the low end of the income scale last year; 5,200 people received the low-income tax benefits. Four thousand people were removed from the tax rolls, completely. The provincial tax roll, that is.

I remember the Leader of the NDP made a speech in this House and talked about how someone making $13,000 a year only got a tax cut of a certain amount. I saw a letter to the editor or a form piece in The Telegram talking about a person making a low income and only getting a certain break, but the reality is, is that person was removed from the tax rolls. That person pays no provincial taxes at all. That person received 100 per cent tax rate.

Mr. Speaker, we also last year, in addition to giving the biggest tax cut in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador, we indexed the tax brackets, a lot of the tax benefits so that people could keep pace with the cost of living. We also helped our seniors. Now there is a thing called a low-income seniors benefit. That is a cheque that is paid to seniors in this Province in October. What was happening is that you had a number of senior couples whose income, even though they are only receiving the old age security and the guaranteed income supplement, when you combined the two incomes they were above the threshold and they therefore did not qualify for this seniors' benefit. So we raised the threshold. As a result of that, 3,800 couples who were not getting the benefit before now get that benefit, and another 3,200 couples were getting a partial benefit. So, do the math, 7,000-14,000 seniors now sharing a cheque of $780 that they were not getting before. That is a revenue measure, and that certainly helped.

This year we dealt with the tax on insurance. We heard a lot of - as I did the pre-budget consultations a lot of people said that is an unfair tax. We are the only ones in the country - I think two other provinces were doing it but a much lower rate than we were charging. An unfair tax, but they had to buy insurance. It was mandatory insurance on their vehicles. They said, do away with that particular tax, and we did. That is putting, as I said earlier, $94 million this year, $75 million a year back in the hands of people. Now, it might be helpful to review that tax. We have been charging, the Governments of Newfoundland and Labrador have been charging the people of this Province a tax on fire insurance premiums since 1952. So, it goes back one heck of a long way. It later became part of the insurance premiums tax, it later became part of the Retail Sales Tax Act, and it was 12 per cent. The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador was charging a 12 per cent tax on insurance premiums in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Then the federal government brought in the Goods and Services Tax, and the Goods and Services Tax was a value-added tax that was based on a certain tax base, but it did not cover insurance.

So you have the GST in effect. That was not on insurance, it was on a number of other things. You had the provincial sales tax that did cover insurance. Then the decision was made, I believe it was in 1997, by the government of the day - I am not sure, I do not know if that was the Tobin government or the Wells government, it was the Liberal government of the day. They decided, with Ottawa, and with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, they would harmonize the GST with the Retail Sales Tax. It was agreed that the tax base - it was agreed by Newfoundland and Labrador, and by Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, and Ottawa, that the tax base that will be used for the new HST would be the tax base under the Goods and Services Tax, which did not include insurance. So, with the harmonized tax, the HST - and I should point out for people watching, I think the original intent, they were going to call it the blended sales tax, the BS tax. For some reason they decided not to call it that, and they changed the name to the Harmonized Sales Tax.

So, insurance would not be covered. What the government of the day evidently decided to do, they looked at the HST - now the HST is a federal tax. It is legislated under the Excise Tax Act of Canada. It is administered by the federal government. It is collected by the federal government. The tax is collected. What they collect in Newfoundland and Labrador, eight-thirteenths today, it used to be eight-fifteenths, would be sent to the Government of Newfoundland Labrador. So, we cannot change that tax. We cannot eliminate that tax. With respect to the tax on heating fuel, we cannot eliminate the tax. We can only rebate an equivalent amount of money.

The government of the day, recognizing they were going to lose the revenue on insurance, they continued the Retail Sales Tax on insurance. They left it in place. They covered insurance premiums and they also covered the sale of used cars. What they also did is they increased the rate from 12 per cent - and that is what the Retail Sales Tax was at the time. They increased the tax rate to 15 per cent. Some would say by doing that there was an attempt to hide the tax and let people believe it was part of the HST, which it was not. Now, some would say it may have been an attempt to hide, others would say it was an attempt to get more revenue. Because, remember, under the Harmonized Sales Tax the Province of Newfoundland was getting 8 per cent, whereas before, under the Retail Sales Tax, it was getting 12 per cent, but that is what happened, and that has been the case for many, many years. It really came to light when the Harper government reduced the federal share of the HST from 17 per cent down to 6 per cent, so the total HST became 14 per cent. People wondered, when they paid their insurance premiums, well, the HST is 14 per cent; why is the tax on my insurance 15 per cent?

Now the answer, of course, is that it was not HST; it was Retail Sales Tax. There was a bit of an interest, there was a bit of media coverage, and then it died away. Later on, the Harper government reduced the federal share of the HST down to 5 per cent, so we had a total HST of 13 per cent. Then there was interest again.

When I went around in pre-Budget consultations, I think this year what I heard more from people than anything else was, eliminate that tax on insurance premiums, eliminate the 15 per cent on insurance premiums - and the Williams' government listened. We did not write a press release and we did not write a bunch of speeches, but we eliminated the tax, and that is the difference between talking about it and doing it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. MARSHALL: In talking about priorities, this is not a priority. The priority for this year should be helping people pay for their heat.

Mr. Speaker, everybody has to heat their home. This would benefit people who have cars, but everybody has to heat their home, and the way we do that - as I said earlier, we cannot eliminate the HST on heating fuel. As I say, the federal government collects the HST in this Province and they send to us every year eight-thirteenths of what they collect. Out of that eight-thirteenths, we pay a rebate to people of this Province, and what we do is, we target that rebate. We do not give it to everyone. It is not universal. We target it to people who need it the most. We target it to people who are at the low end of the income scale, people on fixed incomes, people like seniors, people who need help, and that is where we target, but each year we have improved it.

When we became the government, the rebate, the HST rebate, was $100, the same as it is in New Brunswick today. It was $100 and it went to about 11,000 people. Today, we are giving that rebate, under the Williams' government, to 75,000 people, and the rebate amount is not $100 dollars like it was then and like it is in New Brunswick today. The rebate for those who heat with home heating fuel is $300, and in Labrador, in Coastal Labrador, it is $400.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind the hon. minister that his time for speaking has expired.

MR. T. MARSHALL: Thank you.

I will just take a few minutes to wrap up.

MR. SPEAKER: The minister has leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. T. MARSHALL: In Coastal Labrador, Mr. Speaker, as I said, they do not use home heating fuel. They have to use stove oil, which is much more expensive, and because the temperatures are colder the amount of litres that are needed in the course of a year - because our rebate is based on, according to Natural Resources, 3,000 litres is what is needed to heat a home in this Province, it is higher than that in Labrador. Therefore, the correct thing to do, the proper thing to do, and the right thing to do, was to provide a $400 rebate to people in Coastal Labrador.

We are going to continue to monitor that very carefully. We make the decision on the rebate in November. We will watch prices. We will see what will happen. I have reports on my desk that say oil prices are going up. We know they are volatile; they could go up. I have reports on my desk that say oil prices can be down to $65 within two years. What the future is going to be, I have no idea.

The hon. Opposition House Leader made lots of predictions, and very confidently predicted what our oil revenues were going to be; because, he said, he looked at what I predicted at the time of the fiscal update and then he said, well, oil prices have been higher; therefore the surplus is going to be higher. That is what everybody says. Everybody questions me about oil prices. Everybody talks about oil prices, but the oil royalties that we receive are a function of not only oil prices; they are also a function of production levels.

As the Auditor General has pointed out, the Government of Newfoundland, we can control neither. Oil prices are set in the world market. We do not control them. Production levels are not set by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. They are set by industry. They operate in a very tough environment out there. We saw what happened with the Terra Nova FPSO. We saw what happened this year when the Husky FPSO went down for a few days. We saw the massive revenues losses when they were down for just a few days.

We do not know what the future is going to be. That is why we have to be prudent, that is why we have to be careful, and that is why we will continue to when it comes to spending money, we have to take a moderate approach and we have to take a balanced approach. We have to ensure that we put money in the pockets of the people, and that we have a very competitive tax rate. That is one thing we have to do. We also have to spend money on government programs, in particular health, education, justice, and programs to help people.

We have committed to a poverty reduction initiative. We are spending $91 million to help fight poverty in this Province, a program that has been referred to as a model right across the country, a program that is considered one of excellence, to be emulated by other provinces. Representatives of other provinces have come here to look at our program. I know that the Minister of Human Resources, Labour and Employment will have much more to say about that.

We also have to pay for our infrastructure. We have a crumbling infrastructure. If we are going to have economic development in this Province, we have to start to renew our infrastructure and not go into debt when we do it. We have to fix our roads. We have to build hospitals. We have to build long-term care facilities. We have to build broadband, which is the roadways of the Twenty-First Century, and we will do it.

What we will do out of that surplus that the Opposition House Leader talked about, we are going to pay for it. That is the difference. We are not going into debt any more. We are doing to take a chunk of that surplus and we are going to pay for our infrastructure. We are going to take another chunk of that surplus - some people think, from some of the comments that the Opposition made during the last session of the House, that we had a surplus and we were leaving it a bag here in the House of Assembly. The reality is, the surplus is being spent. It is being spent to pay for infrastructure, hospitals, long-term care facilities, roads, wharfs, airports, new ferries, and the list goes on and on - hospital equipment. We budgeted last year $23 million in hospital equipment, but we spent last year $40 million on hospital equipment for the hospitals and people of this Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, I can tell you, we are going to spend a lot more.

Also, one of the key strategies of this government is to leverage our non-renewable resources, our non-renewable energy into renewable sources. If oil prices are going to rise, we want to be in a position where we are not dependent on oil. Right now, in our system, Hydro is burning a lot of oil at Holyrood. When oil prices go up, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have to pay because we cannot isolate our people from what is happening with oil prices throughout the world. We do not control those prices. What we can do, and what the Premier is working on, is a plan to bring the hydro from Labrador, to use that to make life better for the people in Labrador, to increase economic development in Labrador, and to bring surplus hydro over to this Province so that in the future, regardless of how high the oil prices go up, we are going to have a renewable source of heating, a renewable source of energy, that will last for the people of this Province as long as the river runs to the sea.

Mr. Speaker, that is the plan, to diversify the economy, to lower - first of all, to provide a tax rate in the Province, to provide a tax scheme in the Province, that makes us competitive, that helps us attract investment, because if investment comes in that means new jobs, people create jobs. A low tax rate is important to attract and retain our skilled workers. It is after tax income, it is what is left in the pocket after the taxes are paid, that people look at.

When you cut taxes, when you cut personal income taxes, Mr. Speaker, that is equivalent to giving people a raise. We did that last year and it was very well received as the biggest tax cut in the history of the Province.

We will fix our infrastructure, which is a pre-condition for economic development. We have invested in the hydro corporation, so that in the future our energy will be based on renewable hydro as opposed to oil and gas. We will continue to invest in poverty reduction to help the people of the Province who need help. We will continue to invest in health and we will continue to invest in education to provide the workers who are going to be needed for the booming economy that we have.

We have an optimism in this Province, Mr. Speaker, that has not been seen in generations. The Federation of Independent Business came to me and they said, optimism, confidence in the future of this Province, is higher in Newfoundland and Labrador than it is in any other province in the country other than Alberta. We are on the right plan, we will make the right decisions, we will prioritize, we will have a balanced approach, we will lower revenues, we will invest in infrastructure, we will invest in hydro, we will invest in health and education, we will invest in poverty reduction, and we will take a moderate approach, we will take a balanced approach that will lead to a better Newfoundland and Labrador.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KELLY: Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to stand in this hon. House today in the footsteps of the hon. Minister of Finance. I am certainly proud to stand and support his comments regarding the proposed motion.

Yesterday was a great day, Mr. Speaker, for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, when notice was given that the insurance tax in this Province is going to be reduced by 15 per cent. We all know that that will put money into everyone's pockets, the working poor and the average family. It will put more money into their pockets, more resources. That was a great day.

As the minister said, the savings will be $94 million this year, followed by $75 million years down the road. That was certainly, certainly significant.

Again, Mr. Speaker, who benefits? Individuals, the average citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador, small business that employs the average individuals of Newfoundland and Labrador, corporations that employ people in Newfoundland and Labrador, municipalities that charge taxes and provide services to towns throughout this Province, of course the insurance premiums are an expense that they have to budget for on an annual basis. Some municipalities, of course, struggle to find revenues, and I think this was a great announcement yesterday for the municipalities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador. I am confident that the umbrella association for municipalities in this Province, which is Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, would certainly look at this announcement yesterday as being very favourable, because they recognize that anything that puts money back into municipalities is a great thing. Of course, that means that they do not have to charge the residents of their communities money to get that money to pay the insurance premiums. That is great news.

Community groups this year, the Premier announced that there will be a minister responsible for the volunteer sector. The volunteer sector in this Province has many buildings. Many of these buildings and facilities have to raise money to offset the cost of this tax. That was a great announcement yesterday for those individuals as well. This tax we know was started back in the 1950's 1952 I believe, as the minister said and I am proud, so very proud that this government yesterday decided to eliminate it after fifty-six years. Congratulations! A job well done!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KELLY: As the minister said, we need taxes. We need taxes for programs, we need taxes to support health care. The health care budget in this Province, as we all know, is somewhere in the area of $2 billion. We need revenue to support education. The education budget in this Province is approaching $1 billion. These are two of the most significant expenses that this government has, and to do that it needs revenue.

A famous philosopher, John Shed, said that a ship in a harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. In this Province, I am so very proud of the captain of our ship, the Premier, and his crew, and the job that they are doing at this time in our history -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KELLY: - the most significant job, I think, that I have seen in my lifetime, in terms of programs and making changes for the benefit of every Newfoundlander and Labradorian; no doubt about it. We have a lot to be proud of. This ship, under this captain, is doing an admirable job. This ship is not stuck in the harbour. This ship is on course. This ship recognizes that there is a future ahead of us and there are things to be done.

Just look at what this government has done in the last number of years. They have spent more money on infrastructure, more money on hospitals and more money on long-term care facilities throughout the Province. Improvements to schools - I was a school principal or vice-principal for thirty years. I started out as principal in the 1976-1977 school year, in Howley, Newfoundland, and for my thirty year career the most significant changes in education came at the end of my career. There was more money spent in maintenance for school facilities in the last couple of years. We know what the schools were like prior to that. We know about the mould, we know about the leaky roofs, but this government has taken the problem and is addressing it, and I am so proud of the work that they are doing.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KELLY: It takes money to do things. Sure, it would be nice to reduce the tax on oil, but yesterday's announcement will put hundreds of dollars into the pockets of average Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Also, it will help the business community. It will help the economy of this Province and I think that is what makes it so very significant, a very significant decision indeed.

The Auditor General just made a release. He talked about not our deficit; we know what the deficit was in 2003. The deficit was approaching $1 billion but we still have a debt of $11.5 billion and he is advising us that we have to take steps to do something about that debt. What is the opportunity cost now that we have the funds to be able to address it, of putting that decision off somewhere down in the future? What is the opportunity cost? What is the opportunity cost to the working poor? What is the opportunity cost to families? Let's get that debt under control. Let's reduce the debt so that we can spend more money for families in this Province by providing the services that our constituents are looking for.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KELLY: Income tax, I never thought I would see the day when I could proudly say that in Atlantic Canada we have the lowest income tax. My good friend and colleague, Mr. Minister Marshall, from Humber East was minister when that decision was made. That was a very significant time in our history. I never thought that we would see it.

Mr. Speaker, this government has demonstrated that it does have a very strong social agenda. They have a plan. They have a plan to address poverty. We all know about poverty, when we run our constituency office. We know about the calls. We know about what the conditions are out there, but this government is committed to doing something about it, and you can see it: things like doing away with the cost of buying textbooks in high school, from Grades 10 to 12 from Grades 9 to 12, actually.

When I started out as a school administrator thirty years ago, it was free textbooks for K8. When I retired, it was still free textbooks for K8. One of the most uncomfortable positions that you can put a principal of a school into is when a student comes to your office with a slip, a social services slip, for his books, and he or she knows that they do not want the rest of the group to know that they are getting their books from a social services slip. They no longer have to worry. It is gone, thank God! It is now free textbooks from K12.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KELLY: Doing away with school fees was significant, and that has all happened recently, very significant.

One of the calls that I received when I decided to run in 2007 was from people concerned, the working poor, concerned about the minimum wage. The minimum wage went from $6 to, recently, $8. That is a $2 increase in the last couple of years, very significant. The government is also planning to increase the minimum wage from $8 to $10 by 2010, very, very significant.

There is a strong focus by this government on the needs of families and children. The Prescription Drug Program, for example, what a wonderful thing. So many families in our Province, and individuals, were worried about the cost of medication. Sure, there was a program there for those who need it the most, but the government finally recognized that there are others too, the middle class. There are others in our society who needed the assurance that they would not lose everything they had to cover the cost of medication, and this government did that.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KELLY: Seventeen million dollars has been spent to help low-income families. The government spent $650,000 to increase the Newfoundland and Labrador Child Tax Credit by $5 a month; $300,000 to increase the Mother Baby Nutrition Supplement; $1.4 million for insulin pumps to deal with Type 1 diabetes; helping women who are vulnerable to poverty, $250,000 in legal services and $200,000 for Women's Centres. This government, I think, is doing an outstanding job, there is no doubt of that, and I am so proud of the Poverty Reduction Strategy helping people of low income improve their quality of life.

To do things requires money. I think the leadership of this government and the astute negotiating skills of the Premier and the government have led to a better deal, have led to more revenues, and now there is an opportunity here for us to spend it, but spend it wisely. We have to listen to, obviously, the Auditor General, and take his recommendations seriously.

Ladies and gentlemen, members of this hon. House, it is not easy growing up in poverty. I can talk about my own circumstances. When I was an individual going to school, I was raised by my grandparents. My grandfather died when I was only a teenager. My mother got $100-and-some-odd a month, I think, social services, and, of course, she supplemented that by taking borders and by doing other things. I used a social services slip to buy my books in high school.

In my thirty years, nobody has done any more than this government. There are people out there who are so proud of the job that you have done. That is why this government got the support it did in October. There is no doubting that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KELLY: I find it a little frustrating sometimes when my colleagues get up and talk about the support for government on that side of the House. I can assure you that the majority of the people on this side of the House also support you, no doubt about that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KELLY: We are in this together, and we are going to make improvements to the lives of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Reducing the debt will ensure the oil is going to run out. It is not going to be around forever, no doubt about that, so let's make the right decisions now. There is a significant opportunity cost of not making those decisions by wrestling down the debt when we can do it, because people will pay down the road.

Going around the district you see so many people with so many needs, sometimes it is families or it is seniors. This government, with many of these residents, is recognized for the job they are doing and the support they are giving. They are very, very thankful, Mr. Speaker.

I am grateful as an MHA, and I am so proud to be a part of the Danny Williams team. There has never been a better captain of a ship in this Province, as I said earlier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. KELLY: The hon. Premier.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I remind the hon. member that we should refrain from using names. We refer to members of the House by their titles or their districts.

MR. KELLY: I am sorry, Mr. Speaker.

In conclusion, I am very pleased to stand here this evening to support the hon. Minister of Finance and to support this government with the initiatives that they have been involved in. Budget 2007 was a highlight in the history of this Province and I am confident that Budget 2008 will be an even more significant highlight.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to certainly have a few words on the motion that was put forward by the hon. Member for Burgeo & LaPoile today.

After listening to the Member for Humber Valley, one thing I am certain of is that he loves his government and his Premier.

SOME HON MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS JONES: The other thing, Mr. Speaker, I can only draw some conclusion to is that I don't think he is supportive of a tax cut in gasoline for the residents of his district. That was the other thing I concluded, Mr. Speaker, from this.

Mr. Speaker, those were the two messages that I got, that the Member for Humber Valley today is not going to stand and support a reduction in taxes on gasoline for the people in the District of Humber Valley. That is what I understand from the speech he just gave. That was the long and short of it.

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the Minister of Finance today when he rose and debated this particular motion and talked about tax cuts that were introduced by his government. It was only yesterday that we stood in our place and applauded the government opposite for taking some action on insurance tax, a tax that was heavily laden on people in this Province and probably one of the few provinces in the country that actually paid taxes on insurance. We felt, Mr. Speaker, that with surplus budgets at this particular time, it was a good opportunity for government to be able to bring that in and to provide for those savings for people in the Province.

We also know, Mr. Speaker, that it will cost $95 million this year for government to introduce that incentive and we also know that it is going to be a $75 million cost over the long term to be able to sustain that kind of reduction in taxes. We have absolutely no problem with that and we were supportive because we had asked for it and we had lobbied for it. I think when I went back and looked I think we had sent out twenty-four releases over the years on that particular issue alone. We had it as part of our platform in the last election, I say to the Member for Gander who is over there shouting at me, Mr. Speaker, from across the floor today. Anyway, we also introduced it in the House of Assembly, we asked questions on it and we certainly pushed the government as did many other people, people from the Federation of Business, from the Board of Trade and others throughout the Province, to try and ensure that this kind of tax relief was going to be offered to our residents.

Mr. Speaker, we move on to another chapter and the other chapter that we have chosen to look at today is asking government to give some consideration to a tax reduction on gasoline. We ask that simply because we pay the highest provincial tax on gasoline of any province in the country today. We pay 16.5 cents tax on gasoline. Mr. Speaker, there are some provinces that have other surtaxes but according to the schedule that I have here there are some provinces that are paying as low as 6.4 cents on gasoline tax throughout the country. We are in the higher if not the highest bracket of taxes being charged to consumers at the pumps right now.

Mr. Speaker, what we are asking and what we have been debating is having a reduction in that tax from 16.4 cents placed on a litre, 16.4 cents down to about 12 cents which would meet within the national average of provincial taxes being charged on gasoline throughout the country. What we are asking is that that reduction would be around 4.5 cents. We know that it will be at a cost to government. It will be $20 million going back into the pockets of people in this Province based on the numbers that we were given and what the cost would be to government.

Mr. Speaker, that is what we are proposing and we are proposing that government look at that. We want to know if there was any analysis done around it because it is our understanding that it has not been looked at and given full consideration inside of government, and we ask if it will be. Although you are telling us today you do not support a tax reduction in gasoline for the constituents that elected you and sent you here, maybe you could tell us if you are at least going to look at this, look at it and do some analysis on it to see if there is room to make this reduction from the 16.5 cents that we pay on provincial taxes today down to a lesser amount, at least reducing it by 4.5 cents.

Mr. Speaker, in the last number of weeks all we have seen is consistent increases in gasoline prices at the pumps. Obviously, it is an issue that is debated a lot out there in the public. I am sure that every single member at least gets someone in their constituency who says to them: Gosh boy, the gas prices are going really high and I wish there was something that we could do about it.

Not only are the gas prices at the pumps getting higher, but so is the cost of living for all of the people in the Province as a result of it. For example, Mr. Speaker, we have seen some statistics that the Canada Consumer Price Index has done in their tracking system. They looked at thirty-one different classes of food at grocery stores across this country. In fact, Mr. Speaker, it showed that baked goods have increased by 43.5 per cent, a tremendous increase. They have also looked at the price of things like chicken and milk that we consume a lot of in this Province and those prices have actually increased by another 20 per cent. It is increases right across the board. When you are grocery shopping that increased price in gasoline and that tax that the Province charges on gasoline is contributing to a higher cost of food in the stores and a higher cost of service that we pay.

Mr. Speaker, for those people who may not know how gas prices are regulated in this Province, I just want to point out that gas price regulation came into effect in 2001. In 2004, government moved to place it under the Public Utilities Board regime, in which they would listen to, advise, look at market price indexing and set prices for gasoline. As we know, that board is now being chaired by the Premier's good friend, Mr. Andy Wells, the former mayor of St. John's, Mr. Speaker, who went into the position with a great deal of fan fair, I say to hon. members. We will have to see how he makes out when he gets there.

Mr. Speaker, they also set prices on everything, not just gasoline but also for furnace oil and for propane and home heating oils and so on. The way the price is set, as I understand it, the pricing information is received daily in U.S. volumes and currency, then the appropriate conversions are made on a daily basis using the Bank of Canada's exchange rate and the average of these figures for the period is taken to arrive at what they call a benchmarked price. When we get the benchmarked price is where our pricing really starts to add up in the Province, because for each of these benchmarks, which is the base price, it is broken down by zones and different zones in the Province have different costs. In fact, I think in our Province we have something like sixteen or eighteen different zones in which gasoline prices are set and you can actually see a difference between one zone to the other.

For example, if you go out and check the pricing of gasoline today in the Province you will find out that the difference in the price between Fogo Island and St. John's today is about twelve cents more on a litre, so it is substantially more. Even within my own district, Mr. Speaker, from one end of my district to the other end of the district there is a zoning price difference of six cents to eight cents on occasions and that is just to take in the cost of transporting the fuel, storing the fuel and things of this nature. Now, I do not agree with all the zoning pieces that are outlined in the price differentials that are set there in these zones, because I have always had some problems with that. In fact, I think when you look at one zone to the other, you have anywhere from six to eight cents or ten to twelve cents of a difference in the price. It is a substantial difference. I think that zoning piece would certainly need to be looked at.

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, that is pretty well how the prices are set. Then, once that is done you add in your federal excise tax, which is 10 cents on a liter, the provincial fuel tax which is 16.5 cents on a litre, and then you add in the HST which today is at 13 per cent. Mr. Speaker, you have those particular three different taxes being added on to the benchmark price, which is also adding on to what the zoning price is within each zone and that is how you make it up, and that is why you have such a difference in the price of gasoline at the pump in St. John's as opposed to the pump in Grand Falls or the pump in Pasadena or the pump in Rocky Harbour or the pump in Cartwright. That is because of how these prices are done.

Mr. Speaker, we are introducing the motion today because we think there is an opportunity for the provincial government to be able to look at some relief for people in the Province at a time when we are reaching the peak gas prices at the pumps that we have ever seen in our history, and we think there is an opportunity.

For example, Mr. Speaker, back in 2003 when this government took office, they increased the fees for motor vehicle registration in the Province. They increased it from $140 annually to register your vehicle, up to $180 a year to register your vehicle. Based on the number of vehicles registered in the Province, which is about 258,000, I say to the member for Gander, who has not stopped squawking since I stood up here, Mr. Speaker. Anyway, he will get an opportunity to get up now in a few minutes to make his speech.

Mr. Speaker, according to the statistics that we have, there are 258,000 vehicles registered to consumers in the Province. That is what I refer to as family vehicles, vehicles you use to get to work. I am not talking about transport trucks and all that stuff, but the registration fees for these vehicles was increased by the government opposite. They were increased from $140 a year to $180 a year. In fact, Mr. Speaker, as a result of it, the government ended up putting about $10 million more each year into the general revenues of the Province because of it. They added $10 million more a year to their general revenues. What we are asking, the incentive that we are asking for in reducing gas taxes will cost the government $20 million, but look at how much they have collected just in motor vehicle fees alone in the last few years. They have collected $40 million just in those fees alone in the last number of years. So there is opportunity for them to be able to give this money back, and this is what we are proposing.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, if you listen to when the federal budget came down, the federal government announced that they were going to take revenues from gas taxes and put it back into the hands of Canadian municipalities throughout the country. We know that the federal government has substantial revenues in gas taxes, exceeding more than $5.2 billion this year. I think if you add the GST onto that, you are looking at well up over $6 billion, almost $6.5 billion in revenues being collected by the federal government on gas taxes. What the federal government has done is they have doubled up their investment into highways across the country. In fact, Mr. Speaker, their budget has actually completely doubled from where it was two year ago. In addition to that, they have taken a substantial amount of the money, billions of dollars, and they have transferred it back into Canadian municipalities. In this Province alone, our local municipalities will see an influx of millions of dollars this year under the gas tax program.

What I laughed at, Mr. Speaker, was when the federal government introduced their budget this year and talked about taking this gas tax money and giving it to municipalities throughout the county, the provincial government was out saying: Oh, what a wonderful idea! What a great idea! We are happy about the gas tax money going to municipalities, but they are not happy enough to follow the example that has been set by their good friend and their Tory cousins in Ottawa, to fall in line with that tax regime, Mr. Speaker. To fall in line with that tax regime and to give gas tax money rebates to the people of this Province. That is what we are asking. If their cousins and their fair family in Ottawa, Mr. Speaker -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER (Collins): Order, please!

MS JONES: - their good friend, Mr. Harper, can see fit to put gas tax revenues back into municipalities throughout the country and the government members can go out and applaud them for doing it, maybe they will now take so many cents off the gas taxes that we are paying to the provincial government and give it back to the consumers in this Province. That is what our motion is about today and, Mr. Speaker, we think it is a good motion.

I heard the Minister of Finance when he got up and said our priority this year is for people who heat their homes, and I was glad to hear that. I was really glad to hear that because I acknowledge that there has been a broadening of the program for home heating rebates to people in this Province. I also acknowledge that the rates have increased, but I was pleased today when I heard the Minister of Finance say that this is our priority. I will be looking forward to seeing substantial increases in the home heating rebate come this time around because the price of home heating fuel is continuing to climb in the Province and it is causing a burden for many people -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MS JONES: May I have leave to clue up, Mr. Speaker, please?

MR. SPEAKER: By leave to finish?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

What I was saying is that I was happy he said that, because in my opinion that means there will be an increase in the home heating rebate program, that it will be broadened to be able to capitalize and help and assist more people in the Province.

Mr. Speaker, I do not think it has gone unnoticed to any elected member in this House of Assembly that there are people still out there in the Province, although the rebate has increased over the years, there are still a number of people who are struggling with it. They happen to be seniors, they happen to be low-income earners. Mr. Speaker, they are the people who have been significantly raising this issue and bringing some profile to it in order to be able to enhance the program to better serve their needs. I have no problem with that. I would be all there for that. The fact that there is recognition that Labrador consumes more because of cold temperatures and that they pay a higher price because they are in the Northern region of our Province did not go unnoticed by me. I say to the hon. member, I picked that up immediately. I am certainly all for that kind of rationalization of rebates when they are being handed out because I think they should reflect the true cost of what is being incurred by residents in this Province, regardless of where they live.

Mr. Speaker, the fact that the Minister of Finance is truly supporting increased rebates for home heating fuel does not take away from the fact that we have a problem in this Province. The problem is the high price of gasoline that we are paying for at the pumps and how it is contributing to the overall increase in the cost of living that we have to endure in the Province as a whole. Our motion today is simply calling on the government to take the tax that you now charge to every single consumer at the pumps, that sixteen-and-a-half cents that you are now charging today every time someone takes a nozzle and puts it in their car, we are saying reduce that. Reduce it to a level that is more acceptable, that is within the norm of the Canadian average right now. We are asking you to reduce it by about four-and-a-half cents. It will put about $20 million back into the pockets of the taxpayers of this Province and give them a break on their gas tax.

I hope, Mr. Speaker, the members opposite will have a revelation before the day is over and that they will rise to support a reduction in gas tax for their constituents, the people who elected them and sent them to the House of Assembly.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

It is my pleasure to speak today to the private member's motion which has been brought forward, which basically deals with eliminating or reducing the tax on gasoline that we pay here in our Province.

I will not read all of the motion, Mr. Speaker, but I will reference the fact that it refers to the hardship that people are suffering and it specifically mentions those on fixed incomes. So I am going to spend a few of my minutes, the few that I have, to talk a little bit about what this government has done for people on fixed incomes and how the motion, as proposed, really does not address alleviating any of the financial stress that people on fixed incomes would feel.

Before I get into the specifics of what I wanted to say, Mr. Speaker, I will just sort of put some context into the conversation and into the debate that we are having here today.

My hon. colleague, the Minister of Finance, I believe, gave us a very good overview, a very good big picture of what this government has been doing and is doing in terms of the strategy that we have, a strategy to tackle poverty, a strategy to be able to balance receiving of income from the constituents of the Province, which we call income tax, and other forms of taxes, and being able then to spend the money as a government, use the revenues that we generate to be able to spend the money to provide the public services that are required. I think the Minister of Finance did a good job of trying to put some perspective around that.

What I want to talk about, Mr. Speaker, is that we still have - and it is important for people to understand this, and sometimes because we say it so much I think people tune out to it, but it is important for us to understand that we, as a Province, still have - the highest per capita debt in the country. I am not sure of the exact figure, but around $24,000 or $25,000 a year is my understanding. We are somewhere in the mid-$20,000 that every individual in this Province is carrying as part of our provincial debt. It is the highest in the country. Regardless of what happens with oil prices, whether they go up, whether they go down, that debt is not going to change, because we have to put money down on that debt. The price of oil does not matter.

People like to say we are raking in the money because we have high oil prices, we have surpluses in our budget because of the oil prices, but as the Minister of Finance so rightly pointed out, the fact that there are high oil prices does not mean that we have a surplus. It depends on the production levels as well. Don't forget that the oil prices increased very dramatically in a short recent period of time and could just as easily decrease in a very short period of time. We could be standing here in six, twelve or eighteen months and oil could be at $60 a barrel.

The Government of Alberta, yesterday, brought down its budget, and it is my understanding that they budgeted $78 for a barrel of oil. When people talk about oil being at $117 or $120 a barrel, a sister province in this country yesterday did a budget projection based upon a $78 barrel of oil. Oil prices can go up and down. The point I am trying to make is that the debt that we have is stuck. We have it. We have to find a way to manage it down. The long-term planning that the Minister of Finance talked about is what is going to help us do that. The oil prices fluctuate. They can fluctuate very high, and we happen to be going through a period of high oil prices right now, but they can also fluctuate very downward.

Based upon that, we have to be very careful how we manage the money. I am glad to hear the Minister of Finance talk about the big picture, about the strategy that we have, and how we have to be very, very careful in the decisions that we are making, because the decisions we make today will affect us for a long time to come. We have to be very, very careful that things we do today to eliminate taxes for people, which basically also means eliminating revenues for the government, which also means eliminating monies to be able to provide the public services that people want, that is the connection I want to draw, of course, Mr. Speaker. Taxes that we pay are revenues for the government, are expenses that we spend, monies that we spend in providing public services.

We have to understand that if we are going to eliminate taxes for the people of the Province, we are also effectively eliminating a source of revenue, a revenue stream, and we are also effectively limiting the amount of money we are going to have to provide for public services, so we have to be careful when we do that. I am not saying we should not look at it, or we should not do it - we did it in this House yesterday - but we have to be careful how we do it. We have to make sure that we do it for the right reasons.

Mr. Speaker, when we came in as a government - I just want to make another point before I move on to some of my more detailed remarks - when we formed government in 2003, the financial picture in this Province was not very good. We have taken four years, almost five years now, to make sure that we have turned that around. It took us five years to get to where we are today, and we do not want to do anything that is going to damage the work that we have done, or impair the ability of this Province to continue to put itself on solid footing. So, when the hon. members opposite talk about the fact that we have had to increase some fees, we have had to have people pay a little bit more, I think the results of that are being shown today in terms of our Poverty Reduction Strategy, in terms of our road investments that we have made. We have gone from investing $6 million and $8 million and $10 million a year into the roads, to - last year, I believe it was $65 million that we spent on our road network. So we have spent a lot of money, Mr. Speaker.

Have we taken in money? Did we increase some fees and services to people? We certainly did, but we made sure that we also put the money out there for that. It was taken in and spent out, in terms of providing public services to people.

Now, Mr. Speaker, I do want to talk a little bit about, as is referenced in the motion, those on fixed incomes. What is it that we are doing as a government for people on fixed incomes? What are we doing to try and help people? What are we doing to try and give people more income, more money to spend, more money in their pockets?

Some of it has already been referenced. My hon. colleague across the way, who is with this government but happens to be sitting across the way, I would like to point out, my hon. colleague from Humber Valley, mentioned the textbook issue, just as one example. That put money in people's pockets. It allowed people to keep money there without having to spend, but I do want to say, Mr. Speaker, for people on fixed incomes let's talk about some of those people. Let's talk about the Poverty Reduction Strategy, and some of the initiatives we made there to help people on fixed incomes.

Who is on a more fixed income than somebody who is on income support, I would say to you, Mr. Speaker? Who else is on a fixed income any more than someone who is on income support? What did we do for those people? Well, we increased the income support rates. This government, through its Poverty Reduction Strategy, increased income support rates by 5 per cent, and that ended up putting $7.4 million into the pockets of the people who are on income support.

We further went out and indexed the income support rates to the Consumer Price Index. In 2007, that indexing increased the rates by 1.8 per cent. Well, what does that mean, 1.8 per cent? It means $3 million, Mr. Speaker. That is what it meant. So people who were on income support last year had an extra $3 million. Those are the people referenced in this motion. Those are the people who are on fixed incomes. You are no more fixed than if you are receiving income support, I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker.

Now, let's talk about what we are doing for some other people. Let's talk about people who are in receipt of the Newfoundland and Labrador Child Tax Benefit, Mr. Speaker. What did we do for those people? Well, we increased that benefit on a monthly basis by $5. Now, that may not sound like a lot to most people, but that $5 comes out to be, on an annualized basis, $650,000 that goes back into the pockets of the people who are receiving the Newfoundland and Labrador Child Tax Benefit.

That is what we are doing to put money into people's pockets. That is what we are doing for people on fixed incomes. We are targeting our investments and we are targeting our initiatives for people who need it.

If we look at this motion and say, let's do something about the gas tax that affects people who drive vehicles. A lot of the people who are on fixed incomes do not drive vehicles, I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker. They are not going to benefit from a reduction in the gas tax. They are not the people who are going to benefit. The ones who should be targeted and the ones who should be benefiting from the initiatives of our government are not going to be affected, I would suggest to you, by that.

Who else do we help, Mr. Speaker? Let's have another look here. The Mother Baby Nutritional Supplement, we increased that by $15 a month, from $45 to $60 if memory serves me correctly. What does that do? Well, I will tell you what it does. It puts $300,000 more into the pockets of new mothers to be able to raise their children, to give them milk and give them healthy food. That is what that does, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SKINNER: It allows new moms to be able to provide the essentials to their babies.

We are putting the money through the initiatives that we put forward into the pockets of the people who need it. That is what we need to do. We have to continue to do that.

We also have an additional $2.08 million, roughly $2 million that we have put in for people who have special needs and circumstances. It could be dietary allowances, it could be medical needs - there are a whole host of things that would be affected by that - but the point I am making is that we recognized there were people who needed help; we recognized that there were people who had special needs and special circumstances, and what did we do? We put $2 million more into their pockets. That is what we did. That is money that they can spend to address the needs that they have.

Just going down through, I made some highlights here. There are pages and pages of it. I will never get through it all. If I try to go through it all, I will never get through it. That is the challenge that I face sometimes when I get up here, is trying to be able to get out all of the things that we have done as a government to address the kinds of things that need to be done. We have pages and pages of it here. So I am conscious of the time. I am conscious of the fact that I have to give the member opposite time to conclude his motion. Mr. Speaker, whenever you give me the nod I will sit down, but I have pages of it here that I want to get through.

Let's just talk a little bit about some of the other things that we have here. Our Supported Employment Program, people who are out there are trying to find employment to become engaged in the labour market, people who are currently receiving services from the Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment. We have a budget of $4.4 million that we have put forward to engage people in the labour market. Now what does that do? I will tell what it does. It sounds like a nice thing, supported employment, but what the heck is that? I will tell you what it is.

It is people who currently are at home on Income Support who cannot find work, who are not working, who have no source of income other than the Income Support that they receive from the provincial government. What does the Supported Employment Program do? What does that $4.4 million of investment do for us? It allows those people to be able to go out and find employment in their communities. It allows them to earn an income. In some cases, they come off Income Support. They stop taking from the provincial government and start contributing by the way of taxes. So what it does is it allows those people, not only to have an earned income, not only to have a place to go and a place to contribute in terms of their mental health and all of those kinds of things, but it also provides needed labour for our businesses out there, our employers out there who find it difficult sometimes to find people to do the jobs that need to be done. That is the kind of investment we made.

We targeted $4.4 million last year into a program to get approximately 500 people working in this community, in this Province, who are not now receiving Income Support, but are actually out earning income and paying taxes. They are contributing back into our Province. That is the kind of initiatives we are doing.

Now let's talk about the minimum wage for a little bit. If you want to talk about putting money into people's pockets, let's talk about the minimum wage. When we took office the minimum wage was around $6 an hour. We have brought it up to, as of April 1 this year, $8 an hour. That is a 33 per cent increase in minimum wage. Now, $6 to $8 may not sound like much to a lot of people, but I can tell you what, I have talked to people who earned $6 an hour, I talk to them pretty well every week, almost every day of the week, and they are now earning $8 an hour. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that a 33 per cent increase in their income made a big difference to them. That put money in their pockets. That was a targeted initiative to put money into the pockets of the people who needed it, the people on fixed incomes. If you are earning minimum wage, you are on a fixed income, let me tell you. So that was an initiative that we had to do that. As has been mentioned, we have undertaken a review to see whether or not we should increase their minimum wage on a go-forward basis.

Now, Mr. Speaker, as I said, I have many pages. I am not going to bore you with all the details of what I have there, but I do have some things that I have to get through. I want to make sure that I get through some of the things here because as the motion mentions, they highlighted people on fixed incomes. Well, let's talk about some other things. How do we get money into the pockets of people on fixed incomes?

Well, Mr. Speaker, let's talk about the Home Heating Rebate Program. Since we are talking about gas, let's talk about home heating. Everybody in this Province has to heat their home, whether it be oil, whether it be propane, whether it be electricity, wood, whatever it is that they are using. The Home Heating Rebate Program that we brought in for 2008 is benefiting approximately 75,000 families and individuals, 75,000. How much money is that putting into the pockets of those people, Mr. Speaker? Seventeen-point-two million dollars. That is how much money we targeted on that initiative. It was not something that we did willy-nilly. It was something that we looked at and said: Who needs the help and how can we help them? That, again, was targeted to people who have fixed incomes. People who have a fixed income needed help and we helped them. It was actually an increase of approximately $6 million over the previous year. Every year that we have been in government we have increased the benefit that we have had on that. More and more people are receiving the benefit from the Home Heating Rebate Program.

I do not have financial numbers in front of me for the provincial drug program but I can tell you just from my experience as an MHA, there are thousands of people who are now benefiting from the various provincial drug programs that we have in terms of the access to drugs, the Low Income Drug Program. I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, probably tens of thousands.

MR. T. MARSHALL: Ninety-seven thousand.

MR. SKINNER: Ninety-seven thousand. Thank you very much.

My colleague, the Minister of Finance who has all of the facts and figures before him, tells me it is 97,000 people. Ninety-seven thousand people, one fifth of the population of this Province, Mr. Speaker, are benefiting from that targeted initiative that we have.

We also looked at - I mentioned the school books and the school fees, Mr. Speaker. Who better to target than people who are in school in terms of - my hon. colleague across the way there mentioned the slips that we used to have to use for the Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment to go in and get your textbooks. Just think of that now, having to walk in and show a slip to be able to get your textbooks and how that made people feel, how that made the younger children feel who are going to school. Well, Mr. Speaker, we do not do that any more.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. SKINNER: Mr. Speaker, if I could have just one minute to clue up, please?

MR. SPEAKER: By leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: Yes.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MR. SKINNER: Thank you very much.

The last point I will mention, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the hon. members opposite for a minute to clue up, I just wanted to go back to something that was all the rage a little while ago and people had a lot of discussion about, and it seems to have been sort of forgotten about now but I think it is very important that we mention it: auto insurance, all the rage a few years ago. Everybody was up in arms about auto insurance. We were paying the most in Canada. We were being ripped off by the auto insurance companies, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Well, Mr. Speaker, what did we do? We had another initiative there, and the initiative was that we reduced the auto insurance premiums in 2004 by 15 per cent, and we did not stop there. We reduced then by 15 per cent, and we went further in 2005 and reduced them another 5 per cent. Twenty per cent we reduced the auto insurance rates.

The other thing we did was we looked at the classifications in terms of how people were rated. They were rated based upon their age, they were rated based upon their gender, they were rated based upon their marital status, and all of that was eliminated. You could not be penalized now because you happened to be an eighteen-year-old male, or an eighteen-year-old female, or whatever the case may have been, or you were single or you were married. You were based now upon your own record, not upon some statistical analysis that was done.

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the minute or two to clue up. I won't take advantage of it any more than that. I do want to thank the House for the opportunity to speak. This government has done a lot in terms of targeted initiatives to help people on fixed incomes, and I think that the record will show that we have done much.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader, to close the debate.

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate the comments of the government members and the Leader of the Official Opposition in regard to this private member's motion today. I guess this is my opportunity to conclude.

I will say right off the top it looks like I certainly did predict the speeches from the government members. I think everything I said in the forty-five seconds when I started introducing the motion came to pass. Not only did the Minister of Finance heckle what I had said, but the Member for Humber Valley and the Member for St. John's Centre all three of them got up and said the same things. In fact, the word that I would use, and I don't say this in a nasty sense, but the word that I would use to describe what they said is: excuses. We have heard excuses.

I used what I thought was the most telling comments, of everything that I said, the most important piece of what I said, and it was not contradicted, and I am sure it would have been if the Minister of Finance had any contrary figures or information, and that was my statement that to reduce the gasoline tax that the Province currently charges every person in this Province on a litre of gasoline, this Province charges 16.5 cents per litre, and I used the figure and said that if this government had the will and the gumption to reduce that tax from 16.5 per cent down to 12 per cent, a 4.5 cent reduction, it would cost this government $20 million. I did not hear any contradiction of that figure; not a one. There is nobody in this Province who is going to believe and accept that a government that has $1 billion - that is with a b as Bill Rowe says on the Open Line, that is billion with a b - nobody is going to accept that a province that has a $1 billion in its coffers cannot spend $20 million to give everybody in this Province a 4.5 per cent reduction in that tax. I cannot believe it and nobody else in the Province is going to believe it.

You can talk about your infrastructure needs, you can talk about your personal income tax reductions, you can talk about what we did under the poverty strategy, you can talk about the tax on insurance yesterday, all good stuff, all needs, but the minister used the word priority. I do not know what in this Province today, other than what we have going on in the health care system, I cannot think of anything that is a greater priority. I would put some kind of relief on the tax piece ahead of a lot of things. There are a lot of priorities. The minister used the words - I believe he said it is not a priority, but I would think it is a priority and it is pretty high up on the priority list. It is pretty high up.

MR. T. MARSHALL: Health is a priority.

MR. PARSONS: Yes, I say to the minister, I agree as well that health care is a big issue and it is a priority, but the fact that we have a top priority does not mean, should not mean, that we do not have other priorities. This will come back to bite the government, I say. The fact that this government is not going to do something for the short-term pain of the people in this Province, and it may turn out to be a long-term pain if it keeps going through the roof, if this government does not do something to help the people of this Province on a short-term basis to the tune of even spending $20 million of a $1 billion surplus to give a 4.5 per cent tax reduction for the year, they are going to get bitten at the end of the day because of it. They are going to get bitten, I say to the minister.

The minister used a quote. I believe he said it was Oliver Wendell Holmes who made a quote and said: Tax is paid so we can do the things which make us a civilized people. I say to the minister, I agree with that statement too by Oliver Wendell Holmes. I think there is nothing more civilized that this government can do today with some of the money that it has than to pay down this tax that people in this Province are paying on gasoline, that they are paying for home heating oil and everything else. The $300, I say to the minister, does not cut it either. The $300 that we are paying on fuel rebates, that does not cut it.

MR. T. MARSHALL: Talk about your rebate

MR. PARSONS: I say to the minister he says, talk about our rebate. That is exactly the point I am making, Minister. Circumstances have changed. You people are famous for saying, on the other watch, and the minister is good with fact and figures. Minister, you know yourself that prior to 2003 we did not have a barrel of oil at $115 a barrel. We did not have oil, I do not believe, at that point at $50 a barrel.

Now the minister also quoted, too, and said: We have predictions that say two years out, the barrel of oil might go down to $60. There is no problem with that statement either and that is why when you give tax relief to people, and that is why I made the premise and said, you give it based upon your financial circumstances of the day. Today, Minister, we do not have $60 a barrel for oil, we have $115. Today, Minister, we do not have empty coffers, we have $1 billion and if we ever see the Budget of this government - and I said to the Government House Leader, if we soon do not see the Budget from this government, we will have the Interim Supply used up. We will be back here in the House getting more Interim Supply if we do not soon see the Budget.

We see all kinds of announcements coming out of the Budget. The Minister of Justice announced some today being spent. We had the tax thing yesterday. Maybe we are not going to get a Budget. Maybe we are going to get it all piecemeal. We do not need a Budget Day. The minister will not even have to get up and give a speech.

I will just conclude with one comment. Because your Budget is delayed, because the Premier said yesterday we cannot finalize things because the price of a barrel of oil was so fluid - that was the reason he gave yesterday why we could not get a Budget. Anybody who saw that clip - by the way, I think the price of a barrel of oil has been fluid since there have been barrels of oil and I have not seen too many Budgets delayed because of the fluidity of a barrel of oil. Anyway, that was the Premier response as to why we do not have a Budget.

In any case, Minister, because your Budget date announcement is a floating target and because there are certain figures, according to the Premier, that we still have not got plugged in because of the price of a barrel of oil, there is lots of time for this government to do the compassionate, to do the proper, to do the necessary thing, and that is to give some relief to the people in this Province from the onerous tax rate that is currently in place by this Province on a litre of fuel.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order, please!

Is the House ready for the question?

Shall the motion as put forward by the hon. the Member for Burgeo & LaPoile carry?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Nay.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is defeated.

This being Private Members' Day, this House is now adjourned until 1:30 p.m. of the clock tomorrow, being Thursday.