May 6, 2008                HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS              Vol. XLVI   No. 22


The House met at 1:30 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order, please!

Admit strangers.

Today the Speaker would like to extend a warm welcome to the hon. Todd Broomfield, Speaker of the Nunatsiavut government, and Ms Mary Sillet, the Clerk of the Nunatsiavut government.

Welcome to the House of Assembly.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The Speaker would also like to recognize and welcome forty-four Grade 9 and Level I students from E.A. Butler All-Grade, Belanger Central High, and Piccadilly High in the Districts of St. George's-Stephenville East and Port au Port. The students are accompanied by their teacher Mr. Strickland; guidance counsellors, Ms McDonald and Ms Greene, and chaperone, Ms Morris.

Welcome to the House of Assembly.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

Statements by Members

MR. SPEAKER: Members' statements today will be from the hon. the Member for the District of Bay of Island, the hon. the Member for the District of Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair, the hon. the Member for the District of Ferryland, the hon. the Member for the District of Bonavista North, the hon. the Member for the District of Lewisporte and the hon. the Member for the District of Port au Port.

The hon. the Member for District of Bay of Islands.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. LODER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise in this great House today to recognize 2840 Templeton Collegiate Royal Canadian Army Cadets.

Mr. Speaker, forty years ago the above school opened in the North Shore of the Bay of Islands, of which I became a member of the cadet movement.

Mr. Speaker, the inspection will take place on May 10 and will be conducted by Captain Robert Wheeler another past member of the Corp. Captain Wheeler of Meadows returned home last year after serving six months as a reservist in the war torn country of Afghanistan.

Upon his return, Mr. Speaker, Captain Wheeler took up a position with the regular forces as Captain.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members here today to acknowledge the great work of the cadet movement and in particular to the fortieth anniversary of the Templeton Collegiate Corp. and best wishes to Captain Wheeler in his new capacity.

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 recognize the life of Dr. Peter Roberts, who passed away on the 29 April, 2008.

Mr. Speaker, Dr. Roberts was a well known, respected doctor who served his entire medical career caring for patients in Northern Newfoundland and Labrador. His contribution to this region and the residents of my district in particular will certainly have a lasting impact and his legacy will live on for years to come.

Mr. Speaker, Dr. Roberts later served as the Executive Director of the International Grenfell Association and was the only person from this Province to hold that position. He also had the honour of serving as President of the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association and as the founding Chair of the Community Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, there were many more layers to Dr. Roberts that went beyond just being a medical doctor. He was a man of many talents and had great determination. His will power was evident when he taught himself carpentry, welding and sailmaking skills. He was also a painter and printmaker and took gratification in recording our Province's coastal landscape.

However, Mr. Speaker, Dr. Roberts was above all a fantastic and dedicated medical doctor. He was passionate about the Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that he served and he sincerely wanted to enhance services to them.

Mr. Speaker, his triumphs and contributions are immense; however as a modest man, he never sought recognition for his achievements. This may be because his father, Dr. Harry Roberts taught him and his brothers that much was expected from people whom were given much.

Mr. Speaker, it is with great honour today that I recognize the life of an inspirational Newfoundlander and Labradorian. I ask all members of his hon. House to join me in acknowledging the Province's immense loss and extend our sincere sympathy to the family of the late Dr. Peter Roberts.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise today to recognize and congratulate the Fermeuse-Port Kirwan Volunteer Fire Department on their twenty-fifth anniversary. On Saturday, March 22, I had the pleasure of attending a dinner to mark this occasion.

The Fermeuse-Port Kirwan Volunteer Fire Department consists of twenty-three members and serves the area from Port Kirwan to Cappahayden. The contribution that has been made by volunteers both past and present over the past twenty-five years is indeed commendable.

Rural Newfoundland and Labrador in many places face challenges with recruiting new volunteers and maintaining past levels. It was indeed encouraging to see a good mix of young volunteer firefighters and experienced fighters in the volunteer fire brigade that now make up the fire department. It certainly bodes well to the future fire protection services in this area.

These individuals give freely of their time to the residents of our communities so we can have someone to rely on in the event of an emergency. The volunteer firefighter never knows what awaits when the alarm sounds, but they respond without a moment's hesitation - day or night.

Mr. Speaker, much can be accomplished by co-operating and working together in our rural communities. Joining together, taking up a common cause, working as a unit for the benefit of others is what it means to be a firefighter and no doubt the members of the Fermeuse-Port Kirwan Fire Department have done so for the past twenty-five years.

I ask all hon. members to join with me in congratulating the Fermeuse-Port Kirwan Volunteer Fire Department on their twenty-fifth anniversary and to thank them for the contribution they are making to our communities.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for the District of Bonavista North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HARDING: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to offer support and best wishes to Elizabeth Button. Elizabeth, a sixteen-year-old Level II student from Wareham, will be representing our Province in the National Air Cadet Speak-off taking place on June 19 in Quebec City.

This skilled orator won the right to carry the Newfoundland and Labrador banner by taking top honours at the Provincial Air Cadet Speak-off held at Gander - an event which pitted her against cadets from St. John's, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and Springdale.

Elizabeth's topic at the event was: A Canadian who has made a difference - Nellie McClung. Elizabeth spoke with such passion and eloquence, that it is safe to say that Ms McClung herself, one of our nation's most important leaders in the suffrage movement, would indeed be extremely proud of her efforts and the manner in which she carried herself throughout the competition.

Elizabeth is a student at Jane Collins Academy in Hare Bay, and she currently holds the rank of Flight Sergeant in the 840 Indian Bay Air Cadet Corp.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this hon. House to join with me in congratulating Elizabeth Button on her achievements and wishing her the very best as she prepares to represent our Province in Quebec City.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. VERGE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Last week was officially recognized by the Minister Responsible for the Volunteer and Non-Profit Sector as Volunteer Week, and I want to rise in this hon. House today to recognize the tremendous work done by the many volunteers in all our communities.

Since becoming an elected member in October, last year, I have attended numerous community events throughout Lewisporte District. Whether the event is hosted by a town council, a local service district, fire department, a Lions Club or otherwise, there is one common element always present. Yes, there is one stabilizing influence at each and every function - that is the volunteer.

Mr. Speaker, the safety of our citizens depends on the tremendous volunteer commitment made by men and women in their respective fire departments. The efficient operation of our towns depends on the volunteer service of its citizens and the care of our people is made a whole lot lighter, thanks to the huge contribution made by the many volunteers in the many service organizations.

Members of this House, please join with me in recognizing and showing our appreciation for our volunteers.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. CORNECT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in this hon. House to congratulate the winners and the nominees at the recently held Stephen Awards Banquet in Stephenville. The Citizen of the Year Award went to Dave Rex of Stephenville, who devotes extraordinary time and effort to building and maintaining the community, making this the second time he receives this award. Dave Rex is involved with the Lions Club, St. John Ambulance, Duke of Edinburgh Program, Kindale Public Library Board and the Indian Head Co-op Board of Directors.

Mr. Speaker, also presented was the Masters Athlete of the Year Award, of which Don Cormier was the recipient. Don was recognized for his many years in the sport. He is a power lifter and has competed on the local, regional, provincial, national and international stage.

Other Stephen Awards presented that night were: Bryan Downey was named Male Athlete of the Year; Kristen Cooze won the Female Athlete of the Year Award; and Hillary Stacey was honoured with the Youth of the Year Award for her outstanding voluntary work.

Mr. Speaker, sixteen Outstanding Volunteer Work Certificates of Merit were also presented to individuals for their outstanding work in the community. Congratulations to: Josephine Bennett; Larry Bentley; Kathleen Bourgeois; Norma Childs; Muriel Chislett; Pansy Hayward; Michelle Heath; Dianna Kung; Bernice McLean; Bob Miller; Lloyd Pye; Warren Quinton; Martin Simon; Chris Tiller; Alva White and Bernadine White for their hard work and dedication and their contribution in making our area a better place to live and work.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all hon. members of this hon. House to join with me in congratulating all the award winners and nominees of the Stephen Awards on their invaluable contributions to the community, their region, and the Province.

Fιlicitations et merci, Monsieur le Prιsident.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Statements by Ministers.

Statements by Ministers

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Deputy Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: Thank you.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to inform hon. colleagues and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador that Ocean Choice International, OCI, will be reopening the fish processing facility at Fortune in July.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: Mr. Speaker, it is certainly very positive news that OCI will reactivate the Fortune facility. It has been a difficult three years for the community, but today we have some reason to celebrate. There is certainly new hope for the people of Fortune, and our government looks forward to the good things that lie ahead for that community.

OCI will be resuming a groundfish operation, focused on salt fish, at the Fortune plant. Initially, the company will re-hire approximately thirty-five to forty workers who were displaced when FPI closed the facility in 2005. Depending on raw material availability, as many as seventy workers may be re-hired at a later date.

Today's news is just another indication of how the sale of FPI is restoring stability to the fishing industry. When the transaction was finalized, we knew that our efforts would result in positive developments for all communities and workers involved; and today the Fortune facility, for which FPI had no future plans, has been given new life. While we recognize the challenges facing the global seafood sector, we are certainly pleased to celebrate any gains and successes that are achieved.

In addition to the Fortune facility, the plants at Burin and Marystown have already recommenced operations since the provincial government signed MOUs with OCI and High Liner in May 2007.

Mr. Speaker, since the Fortune facility closed in 2005, our government has worked with the Town of Fortune to find a new operator for the plant and to ease the difficulties endured by the residents.

From day one, we have been behind the displaced workers at Fortune. While we explored future options for the facility, the community was able to benefit from new workforce adjustment measures that were initiated by our government to assist individuals affected by permanent plant closures.

Under the Fishing Industry Renewal Strategy, we have allocated $2.5 million dollars over three years for workforce adjustment measures. Fortune, Port aux Basques and Trouty have all benefited from this initiative.

This is another example of our government's commitment to respond in a timely manner to the needs of fishery-based communities in rural regions.

Mr. Speaker, the provincial government will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the communities and the workers who depend on the fishing industry. We have helped to secure new futures for Harbour Breton, Marystown, Burin and now Fortune, among the many others who continue to benefit from our focused approach to fisheries and aquaculture development.

We will continue to implement this approach as we move toward a renewed, self-sustaining fishing industry for Newfoundland and Labrador.

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 want to thank the minister for a copy of his statement today.

Mr. Speaker, we are very pleased for the people of Fortune. We know that since 2005 there has been a very difficult transition for the people in this community. I have been there several times myself and had opportunities to be in town hall meetings there with well over 100 plant workers, I say to the minister, and hear their frustrations first-hand of what it was like when that plant closed, and the transition that they have had to make.

We are very happy for them today, to know that there is a company that is prepared to go back in, to take risks, to put more capital in, and to reopen this plant and create jobs in the community. We certainly would applaud the efforts of OCI and wish them tremendous success in this Province; because, Mr. Speaker, if they are not successful then neither will be the communities and the individuals that depend upon the kind of opportunities that they create.

Having said that, Mr. Speaker, we have to realize that we are in an industry that is tremendously volatile on many occasions; today we are dealing with issues around the shellfish industry and the crab pricing in particular.

I think, Mr. Speaker, while government may not have a role in directly setting prices for crab in this Province, they have a role in finding out why, on a global market basis, we are not able to purchase and export our product at the same rates happening in other Atlantic regions in Canada.

I do not know why, in Newfoundland and Labrador, fishermen should have to settle for a lower price than they are doing in Nova Scotia or in Prince Edward Island, or in other places.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to conclude her answer.

MS JONES: I certainly will, Mr. Speaker, and I would suggest to the government that they may want to have a look at that and see what is contributing to a lower price in this Province, and how we can increase the price that we get in the market, Mr. Speaker, so that we are able to -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

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

I thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement.

It is indeed very good, a wonderful announcement, an announcement that will bring –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask members for their co-operation.

The Chair has recognized the hon. the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi.

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

As I was saying, I want to thank the minister for the advance copy and to say it is indeed a very good moment for us here in the House and in the Province, and especially in Fortune.

I would like to congratulate, actually, Ocean Choice International and the Fish, Food and Allied Workers' Union, because they obviously worked well together to come to this agreement, an agreement which has the workers beginning, I think, at just over $11 an hour, which is a very good starting rate.

It is a moment of hope for the people in Fortune. While government does not have a direct role in running the fishery per se - we understand that - it does have a role in working with the partners who are in the fishing industry. Doing everything that we can to keep our renewable resource going is one of the things that government has to become very, very serious about. This resource has always been the backbone of our Province and when everything else is gone, when there is no more mining, when oil is gone from that ocean and when gas has been started and gone from that ocean, the fish should still be there.

Let this be a sign of hope that we can do that. I ask the government to work with the partners involved in building on this for the future of the industry.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Since we are talking about the Town of Fortune, the Chair would like to recognize Mr. Pat Parsons, councillor for the Town of Fortune, who is visiting the Chamber today. Welcome.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Further Statements by Ministers.

The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I rise in this House today to recognize National Mental Health Week which officially runs from May 5 to May 11. This year the focus is on the role of businesses and employers in supporting good mental health in the work place. This year's theme is, "Mental Health: Make it Your Business."

We now know that good mental health is not just the absence of a mental illness, but the overall ability to feel, to think, to communicate, to live and to be happy. When we experience good mental health we are better able to reach our full potential and have a good quality of life.

Our government recognizes the importance of good mental health as a part of overall health and well-being and we have made significant progress since supporting mental health in Newfoundland and Labrador. One of the first steps we took as a government was to introduce a new policy framework for mental health and addictions services. Most recently, we introduced our new Mental Health Care and Treatment Act to help make our Province responsive to the mental health needs of our residents. We have also invested, Mr. Speaker, $14.6 million for mental health and addictions services in the Province since we formed government in 2003, including the most recent Budget with an investment of $1.7 million.

Mr. Speaker, as the provincial government is the largest employer in the Province, we are committed to ensuring that our work environments are supportive and address the needs of our employees. Through programs such as the Respectful Workplace Program, the Workplace Wellness Initiative and the Employee Assistance Program, we support employees experiencing various kinds of difficulties and promote safe, respectful work environments.

Mental Health Week presents an opportunity for employers across our Province to reflect on how their organizations support mental health needs of their employees, by providing a healthy work environment. Supporting the health of our people leads to a productive workforce and helps our Province sustain prosperity.

I encourage all residents to be mindful of how they can take care of their own mental health and use this week as an opportunity to take the necessary steps to ensure that they live a healthy, balanced life.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the minister for an advance copy of his statement.

We are certainly pleased to associate ourselves with the recognition of National Mental Health Week. Mr. Speaker, while we live in a society of tremendous stresses due to the high pace of life that we engage in these days, we often find that there are more stresses in the workplace than probably there were in previous years. In fact, I think out of the ten leading causes of disability in the country, I think in the top five is mental illness, and it is something like 30 per cent of Canadians in the workforce today who collect disability pensions because of mental illness.

Mr. Speaker, I want to use this as an opportunity to highlight the many stresses that we find our own employees in, in this Province, especially those who are part of the public service. We look at nurses, for example, Mr. Speaker.

When you talk about how you can reduce stress levels in the workplace, the Mental Health Society recommends to employers that you look at flexible hours and that you look at having staff control their schedules more, and that they have a supportive work-life balance. We certainly have not seen that in the nursing profession in this Province in quite some time.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, last year many nurses in this Province could not even take vacation time with their families because of the workload placed upon them, the demands being placed upon them, in that profession. So, if we are going to have a healthy balance we need to strike it here, within government first. Maybe then we can lead by example.

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement.

I, too, am happy to recognize the National Mental Health Week. It is very important, as it is with other issues in our society, that we take time to focus on particular issues, and mental health is certainly one of the things that we should be very concerned about.

The minister noted that this government did bring in, last year, the Mental Health Care And Treatment Act, and I was very pleased that act was brought in. During the discussion around that act we were able – I was able, I guess, in consultation with the minister of the time - to ensure that act had in it the need for supports in community if people were institutionalized and were going to be put back out into the community.

I think the same concern about supports in community needs to be made again when it comes to even good mental health in the workplace, because the workplace can do so much, and there can be programs to help people, but there are times at which they require assistance outside of the community as well.

While we do have some programs here in this Province, we are weak when it comes to programs to help people within the community, so I encourage the minister during this week to look at what exists in other places, what could exist here, and maybe this time next year we might have some more services in our Province.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to inform my hon. colleagues that this Province has received yet another national award recognizing excellence in our education system.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Memorial University's Distance Education and Learning Technologies, known as DELT, and the School of Music, were chosen for this year's leadership in educational technology award by the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education.

The award recognizes the work done by DELT and the School of Music for students to complete their application for admission, including the practical portion, on-line. It can now be done, Mr. Speaker, from anywhere in the Province, or indeed anywhere in the world. It means that students no longer have to make the often time-consuming and costly trip to the university campus just for the application process.

Mr. Speaker, Newfoundland and Labrador faces the challenge of offering both K-12 and post-secondary education in a vast geographic area. Not all students can make the move to one of the university's campuses. Distance education or e-learning helps us bring the courses to the students. To this end, last year the provincial government committed $1.5 million over three years to help MUN finance new programs through e-learning.

We are also increasing our investments in K-12 distance learning. Budget 2008 provides an additional $1.6 million for our Centre For Distance Learning and Innovation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: CDLI is an award-winning provincial e-learning program that offers thirty-eight high school courses in 106 schools, bringing diverse learning courses in art and music, and science and math, to students in rural, remote and isolated areas.

Government recognizes the importance of education to the Province's sustained economic growth and social vitality. We are investing an additional $70 million in education in this year's Budget. Advancing technology, especially to benefit rural areas of the Province, is one of the goals of our government. Increasing accessibility through distance learning means students can advance their education, regardless of their physical location. Distance education open a whole new learning dynamic as individuals can study anywhere on the planet.

I applaud DELT and the School of Music for developing this unique initiative, and offer congratulations on winning the national award. We are very proud that MUN is recognized nationally once again as a pioneer and leader in distance education initiatives.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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 advance copy of her statement, and to extend congratulations to DELT and the School of Music.

No doubt, from time to time, when we talk about education in the Province, we do bring up various issues that relate to concerns of parents, teachers, and students as well, but we all agree, I can assure you, with the work that is being done through distance education and e-learning, as it benefits students in rural areas of this Province.

Mr. Speaker, advancing technology, and in particular distance education, I have to say, truly works. I know of one individual in my district – I don't know if he is a retired teacher or not, but – he, himself, is now teaching music throughout not only this Province of ours but throughout this great Country of ours.

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour and we, too, congratulate them on winning this national award.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the minister for her advance copy.

I, too, congratulate DELT and the School of Music. It is wonderful when we receive recognition for initiatives that are going on here in the Province. I am pleased that we do have a Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation, and that we have a program that is moving ahead.

The one thing - it is not a concern, it is just something I would like the minister to think about - it would be very interesting to see an evaluation done of how our program is going to date, with regard to the academic achievement of students who are doing education through distance learning. It would be very interesting to see if they are on the same level academically as students who are getting in-class instruction in the same area. I have not seen any evaluations yet; and, Minister, that might be something for you to think about. I see you nodding and smiling. I think it would be something to pursue.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

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 Education.

Mr. Speaker, back in March, the Minister of Education announced a new teacher allocation model and it gave the impression that the new model would be needs-based or program-based, and not on numbers, and that schools around the Province would not lose teaching units.

I ask the minister today: While allocations are now being put out to the various schools in the Province we are learning that there is indeed a reduction in units. I ask her why this is the case.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, one of the most important areas that I had to address as Minister of Education certainly was the teacher allocation and how we allocated teachers to our schools. We were handed a formula that was based on numbers only. As students came out of the system, teachers would be reduced. We felt that was not working for Newfoundland and Labrador. So, Mr. Speaker, we had commissioners go out, there was a broad consultation across Newfoundland and Labrador, there was a report that was submitted to government and we certainly did analysis on that report to ensure that when we look at the teacher allocation in this Province, it is done in a fair and equitable manner. There are a number of issues. There are a number of points that we have to consider as we determine how many teachers are allocated to a particular school. Certainly, it is not just based on numbers. As numbers reduce, it does not mean that teachers come out of the system. If we look at some of the areas that we felt were important, we can look at class size. We have put a cap on class size from Grade 1 to Grade 3 at twenty-five. Based on the new -

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, there is a quite a bit of information involved in this new allocation. I am hoping I will get some supplementary questions so I can further explain what we are doing in this Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I have lots of questions, minister.

Teachers in small schools around the Province are already struggling to meet the demands of curriculum that is being placed upon them by the Department of Education and yet we hear this new model is going to further reduce units in a lot of these schools. I talked to a school this morning that will go from a classroom size with one teacher from K-3 in one class, now to K-6 in one class.

I ask you, minister: Why have the rural schools been targeted for reduction and more multi-grading in those classrooms?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, the new method for allocating teachers will actually assist the schools in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. Let me explain. Prior to our class size - with the old formula and with our cap size at twenty-five, if we had a school that had thirty-seven students in Grade 2, the previous formula would say that you would have one point four-eight teachers. Granted, if you had two classes of Grade 2, you absolutely needed two Grade 2 teachers, but the old formula provided only point four-eight if the number happened to be thirty-seven in any particular school.

One thing that this new formula, this new allocation model does is it puts a cap size from kindergarten at twenty, K-3 at twenty-five, four to six at twenty-five, and seven to nine at twenty-seven. What it does importantly, Mr. Speaker, is that if there is an elementary or a primary class that meets that cap size or exceeds, that instead of having a point four-eight position, we will actually have two positions. So, Mr. Speaker, this should actually help the schools.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Again, Mr. Speaker, I will ask the minister my question. I will ask her the question again, minister, because I have a list right now of schools that are losing units and I am sure you have a list as well, but let me just say this.

Why is it that small schools were targeted here to reduce units? Why is it acceptable to have schools with K-3 grades in one class, now expanded to K-6 in one classroom with one teacher?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask members for their co-operation.

The hon. the Minister of Education.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, the new allocation model allows the school boards and the schools to work together to determine the needs of the school. We also anticipated in this Budget that we would not be losing any teacher positions in Newfoundland and Labrador. This is not about reducing teachers in Newfoundland and Labrador. This is about being able to provide a fair, equitable means of deciding how many teachers go into each school.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, there was additional money in the Budget this year, $3.6 million, because we anticipated there would probably actually be more teachers in Newfoundland and Labrador next year than what we have this year. Mr. Speaker, we were handed with a formula that if we did not bring in a new formula this year, and the fact that we did not reduce teachers last year, that this year there would have been 144 less teachers in the system this year and the previous formula that was brought in by the previous Administration would have saw an additional 124 positions eliminated this year.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The minister knows that formula was not working and we admit that, and she knows that it has not been used. She knows that it has not been used in this Province for nearly five years -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, yesterday I ended up leaving here after Question Period with a strained throat because I was trying to ask questions. I would appreciate it if they could keep the noise down today.

Minister, there may not be a layoff of teachers here but there is a reduction in the number of teachers in the classroom in certain schools in this Province. It is making it more challenging to deliver programming in these small schools and I ask if you are prepared to take another look at those allocations?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, we will certainly, as we move through this new allocation formula, be able to look at it and see how it is working for our particular schools and ensure that we have our schools resourced to the point that they are able to offer the courses and the programs that they need.

Mr. Speaker, it is surprising that the Leader of the Opposition said that the previous formula did not work because her Administration brought it in. If they did not think it was going to work, they should not have brought it in, in the first place.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: If we want to talk about reductions in teachers, Mr. Speaker, during their time in office, whether it was on whatever formula they used or the old formula, they actually eliminated more than 2,000 teachers; 2,105 teachers came out under the previous Administration. Mr. Speaker, we were prepared to look at that formula to ensure that our schools are resourced in a more appropriate manner.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The problem that minister has is she cannot admit when she is wrong and something is not working. This formula, minister, is not going to work for small schools in this Province. Let me give you this example. There are cases where teachers would have five periods of prep time in the first fourteen days -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask members for their co-operation. The Chair is having great difficulty in hearing the Leader of the Opposition and I ask members if they would allow the member to ask questions and listen to the answers as well.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, no trouble to know the Premier is away. The boys are going to play now. They are all out on the playground now, Mr. Speaker.

Let me ask the minister this question. Teachers have been cut now in their prep time. In fact, in some cases there will be no prep time for these teachers in the classroom. This is not advancement, minister; this is a step backwards. I ask if you have any concerns about the fact that there are many teachers in the Province under this formula that will have no prep time for the multitude of programs and grades that they now have to take responsibility for?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, let me begin by saying there are more than boys on this side of the House, and to be referred to as boys is an absolute insult.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, this new method of allocating teachers has been able to provide more services to the schools than what we had in the past.

Prior to this new method, Mr. Speaker, there was no allocation for specialists in the K-12 system. Mr. Speaker, we brought in a method so that we could not just have classroom teachers in the primary and elementary grades, but also specialists as well. We have also enhanced administrative positions, which mean principals, in our schools throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

So, Mr. Speaker, just to conclude this, we have cap sizes throughout, from K-9 that we will be implementing over three years. We have a specialist allocation for K-6. We have more administrators. Mr. Speaker, on top of that, we anticipate more teachers in Newfoundland and Labrador, but we also have 2,200 less students in our system.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, I intended to give the women on the other side of the House a little bit more credit than that, but obviously I was wrong. I will group them all into one category if it makes the minister happy.

Mr. Speaker, I am glad she raised the issue on administration, because what you have done, minister, is recognize there is a need for full-time administrators in many schools in the Province - and I certainly compliment that - but what you failed to recognize, was to add the extra time for them to do this work. So many of the principals that were at half-time, that will now go to full-time, their half-time instructional time will have to be allocated to other teachers in the school, causing more workload for those teachers.

Are you prepared to add the extra units of time to make up for the full-time administrators?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

If there is a question, who is the question - is somebody going to answer the question?

The hon. the Minister of Education.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I was waiting for you to take your seat before I stood to answer the question.

Mr. Speaker, what we have done in the Province with our new method of allocating teachers, is taken an old antiquated formula - it never made sense from the day it was brought in, that took thousands of teachers out of the system; that would have seen thousands of more coming out; would have seen at least, almost 500 more out of the system, that this government was not prepared to take out.

Now, Mr. Speaker, we have a more appropriate allocation. We will roll it out this year, we will keep with our class sizes, and we will increase the number of positions for administrative units in Newfoundland and Labrador. Mr. Speaker, do you know who will benefit from this formula? It will be the teachers and the students of this Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, one example I want to give the minister is of how special needs students will be impacted by these changes. The impact on the literacy and numeracy support teachers that have been put in place in the schools in Central Newfoundland - this special support program will now be eliminated was what we were told this morning.

I ask the minister: How can this be called progress when many of these students who need the additional resources are now going to be negatively impacted?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, last year, under our Excellence in Mathematics Strategy, we increased teacher units in Newfoundland and Labrador by thirty-eight. That was thirty-eight numeracy specialists who went into the system. They will remain in the system, Mr. Speaker.

The other thing that this allocation method that we have developed allows schools to do is it allows them to assign a specialist position based on the particular needs of the school, and the needs of the school are based on student performance. So, if a school has a particular need, whether it is in numeracy or literacy or other areas, it can use the specialist allocation to make sure that they target the areas based on student performance so they can meet the needs of the school.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the minister to table for us a breakdown of the 282 schools in the Province in terms of their teacher allocations for this coming year versus what their teacher allocations were last year.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, once the school boards have made the determination of the number of teachers for particular schools we can certainly table that in the House.

What we have done this year is we have asked the boards based on the new method of allocation to determine what the needs are in their schools. We have not decreased the resources or funding for teachers in Newfoundland and Labrador. In fact, we have anticipated there will be more teachers in Newfoundland and Labrador than there was last year, Mr. Speaker. Once we have the allocations down we can certainly table that information.

What we haven't done this year is, we haven't gone out and arbitrarily assigned a number to the board and said, now, make this work. What we are saying to the board this year is, tell us what your needs are, tell us how you are going to have your schools, what needs you are going to address this year, how many teachers you need based on the criteria that we have set out and we will provide teachers.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I don't believe this is the minister who yesterday was going to oversee all the inspections in schools in the Province. Now, today she wants to wipe her hands of teacher allocations.

Minister, many of the schools already know what their allocations are, and I would like to get it tabled in the House of Assembly, and I would ask that that be done within the next couple of days.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, as I just said, once that information is available and the boards have their final numbers submitted to the Department of Education I will certainly table that information.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

There are a number of families in the Province who are not pleased with the way government is bringing forward the new baby bonus program. I know that he has received a number of e-mails and calls, because I have received them as well.

One woman told me her son was born on December 25, premature because of medical complications, and she will receive nothing under this particular program; however, other women who had their children within ten days after that will receive the bonus plus the $100 benefit throughout that period.

I ask the minister: How do you justify exempting those particular women who are currently on maternity benefits?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. WISEMAN: I am delighted, Mr. Speaker, that the Leader of the Opposition has taken such a keen interest in one of our Blueprint commitments of last year.

I want to repeat something I said in this House yesterday. Last year our Party, the Progressive Conservative Party of Newfoundland and Labrador, laid out a platform as a part of a provincial election. In that platform there was a series of commitments, a series of commitments that we plan to implement over this term and lay the foundation for some of them to be implemented over the next term. I say, Mr. Speaker, that was just one of them.

When we rolled that out in the fall, it was not an announcement of a government; it was a platform of a political party. What has happened now in this Budget - the Budget was released earlier this week.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister to conclude his answer.

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This time, now as a government, we decided that there was going to be an implementation date, and that implementation date was January 1, 2008.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, last week when I asked the minister if women who are currently on maternity leave would get the $100 a month payment he said yes; then he backtracked and said no. Well, I think his first answer would have been the more appropriate answer.

I ask you again, Minister: Women who are currently on maternity leave today, and will be for the next four, six or eight months, will they be eligible for the $100 benefit? Will you change you mind and ensure that these women are eligible?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, I want to be very clear about this so there is no misunderstanding.

I stood in the House and I indicated to the members opposite, and to the members of this House, that I misunderstood the Leader of the Opposition's question when I had answered it the day before. I want to be clear for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador particularly, so there is no confusion at all.

This program was introduced effective January 1, 2008. Anyone who had a child, or adopted a child, on January 1 will be entitled to the $1,000. They will, in addition to that, be entitled to $100 per month for twelve months. It starts on January 1, 2008.

With any program - there has never been a program introduced by this government, or any government prior to us, or will be by any government in the future, that will not have an effective date. Those who made the –

MR. SPEAKER: I ask the hon. minister to conclude his answer.

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

With that effective date comes the benefits growing from that program. Unfortunately –

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, there were about 1,100 babies born in this Province who will be exempt from this benefit, meaning that there are approximately 1,100 women in this Province who were on maternity leave - and most of them still are - as of January 1, 2008, when this program came into effect. We know they will not get the $1,000; but, Minister, will you at least approve the $100 monthly benefit for those 1,100 or so women out there who are still on maternity leave?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Mr. Speaker, I am not really certain what the member is trying to get at. I am not sure if she understands –

MS JONES: (Inaudible).

MR. WISEMAN: I want to give a definition, Mr. Speaker, a definition of effective date. That is the time on a calendar or on a clock which something comes into force. The effective date of this program is January 1, 2008.

Mr. Speaker, many people were born last year. In fact, the party opposite was in power for ten or fifteen years. I suspect that there were probably - at 5,000 births a year - 50,000 or 60,000 children born during their tenure in government. Do they want us to go back and pick them up because they failed to introduce progressive legislation? I don't think so, but when we bring in programs we have to have an effective date, I say, Mr. Speaker.

Let me repeat again, the effective date is January 1.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Member for the District of Port de Grave.

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, last Monday the Minister of Environment and Conservation announced changes to the Butter Pot Park reservation system that came into effect, I think it was yesterday. In particular, the minister announced that twenty-five seasonal sites would no longer be set aside for some patrons, leaving all forty seasonal sites available for reservation.

I ask the minister: How and when did you make the twenty-five affected families aware of this change in policy?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, this reservation system came into effect in 2007 and, as a result of being in operation for one year, we thought it best to do a review. There were some complaints that came in over the year.

As part of that review, one of the issues raised was the campers at Butter Pot, and that there were twenty-five sites set aside for these campers. So, as part of that review we looked at that. We wanted to provide equal access to all people in the Province to have access to that public resource. Those people were notified the day of the announcement, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: In 2005 the then minister worked with the Butter Pot seasonal campers committee to establish a grandfather clause to recognize those families, their long-term investment in Butter Pot Park, and they were there, Mr. Speaker, for twenty-five to thirty years.

I ask the minister: Why did you decide to revoke an agreement that was made by your government, with no consultation with those affected?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS JOHNSON: Mr. Speaker, governments review policies all the time so that we make them better for people, for all people, of the Province.

One of the things that stood out was that there were twenty-five sites that were not available through the reservation system. That was something that set off an alarm, and we looked at that to make it fair and equitable to all people of the Province.

The hon. member mentioned that some of these people have been there for twenty-five to thirty years. In some cases, Mr. Speaker, some of them are only there a couple of years. In fact, what happened was the people who were camping there in 2004 were automatically allowed to be grandfathered in, in 2005.

It was not a fair system that was put out to all of the people, to the public, and in the interest of fairness that is why I changed the policy, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, despite being given a last-minute chance to make their case, those twenty-five grandfathered clause campers were told they would have to reserve their sites on-line.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. BUTLER: I ask the minister: Why would these senior campers be only offered on-line registration as a means to secure their sites?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS JOHNSON: Mr. Speaker, I have to tell the member I did not quite get the question at the end, but these twenty-five people did have the same opportunity as all of the other 500,000 people in the Province, to have the opportunity to book this site at 7:00 a.m. on Monday morning, of this week.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, I overheard someone say that I agreed with this when the minister made her statement last week. I agreed with many of the changes, but I can assure you I did not mention the one on Butter Pot Park.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask members for their co-operation.

Ministers are having difficulty hearing the question in order to provide an answer. I ask members for their co-operation or the Chair will have no other choice but recognize members.

The hon. the Member for the District of Port de Grave.

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

I ask the minister: How did any of your decisions actually solve the problem of high demand for park spaces? Why would you not eliminate seasonal passes all together, because they still can have seasonal passes?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS JOHNSON: Mr. Speaker, I am not sure where the hon. member stands on this, but this is a public resource and because it is a public resource that is paid for by the taxpayers of this Province, every single resident in the Province should have access to those sites.

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure where he is. We did have a conversation on the phone about it after and my understanding - I did meet. I did provide an opportunity to the people to come in and express their concerns. I told them where I stood on the issue but I did give them the opportunity to hear them out.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

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

Many seniors need home care right now, as I spoke to the minister about yesterday on the floor, but cannot afford it because the co-pay is too high, or they are one of the 40 per cent of applicants who are denied any subsidy at all. Government has admitted that the financial assessment tool is too restrictive and needs to be replaced and I know that there is a study going on.

Mr. Speaker, will the minister, in the short term, replace the home support financial assessment tool right away with the assessment procedure now used in the low-income Prescription Drug Program as a model for making assessment?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: The financial assessment tool that is currently being used for home support services, for placement in personal care homes, and other kinds of supports for seniors and persons with disabilities has been on the go for a long, long time; implemented long before our Administration formed government.

One of the things that we are committed to, Mr. Speaker, is making some significant change and reform in our long-term care and community support sector. One of the pieces of that, and as I said yesterday, one of the pieces of that is the financial assessment tool that is currently being used. We want to do it right, Mr. Speaker. We just do not want to do it in a piecemeal fashion. We want to do what is right. We want to do what is right for today's generation. We want to do what is right for future generations to make sure that what we have are programs and services that are responsive to the changing needs of seniors, and also that are sustainable in the long term. Our financial assessment tool is one of the cornerstone pieces of that, and when we have the analysis completely done and we are ready to move forward, then and only then will we make any change.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I think the minister would know, as I do, that short-term and long-term planning is part of all planning and sometimes one has to have interim steps in a long-term plan. Again, the minister also knows, the financial assessment for home support is far more restrictive than the financial assessment that is done when a person goes into a long-term care or personal care facility.

Will the minister immediately direct the regional health authorities to replace the home care financial assessment tool with the one used to qualify for assistance in a long-term care or personal care facility?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: The member opposite can frame the question in multiple ways, but there is only one answer, and that is the one I gave yesterday, the one I gave two weeks ago, and the one I am about to repeat again - which is, fundamentally, we are in the process of revamping our long-term care and community support system, and we are looking at all aspects of that. The financial assessment tool that we currently use is one aspect of that. I say, Mr. Speaker, and I repeat again, we are - as she has acknowledged - in the middle of an evaluation of that tool as we speak. When we are finished that assessment and we have clearly defined what might be an appropriate financial assessment tool for the future, then, and only then, will we be prepared then to roll anything new out.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I will point out to the minister that I am not the only one unhappy with the same answer that he gives to my question, no matter which way I put it - I realize what I am doing - but there are many people out there unhappy with his answer. It is clear to them now that he is not going to do anything to meet with the needs that are in place at the moment that people are suffering from.

Okay, I will ask a question with regard to the long-term. Mr. Speaker, jurisdictions across Canada are recognizing that demand for home care will only increase and that the level of care must be based on need, rather than ability to pay. Government cannot continue to heap great pressure on the shoulders of one of the most vulnerable groups in our Province.

Will the long-term care and home support strategy, the long-term plan that he is looking at, include home care based on need, and not on ability to pay?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. WISEMAN: Our government has clearly demonstrated in the last four years that we are committed to enhancing home support services in this Province. We have grown from some $85 million of four years ago, to some $115 million today. In fact, there was $10 million, I think my colleague introduced in the Budget recently; $10 million to enhance further capacity in the home support system, I say, Mr. Speaker - all very clearly a reflection of our government's commitment to enhance the programs and services to an aging population and persons with disabilities in Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Time allotted for questions and answers has expired.

Presenting Reports by Standing and Select Committees.

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

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Opposition House Leader on a point of order.

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I waited until the end of Question Period because I understand that is the proper protocol to make a point of order rather than disrupt during Question Period.

I would make a point of order, Mr. Speaker, concerning our Standing Order 7, which deals with order and decorum. The point of order is that for anyone who just watched this session we had here today and the session that we had yesterday, it is absolutely disrespectful and disruptive what we have seen here, and I am talking about the decorum. Nobody in this Chamber is unable to defend themselves, I am sure. Everybody is here. Everybody is big enough and strong enough and voiceful enough to stand up and say what they have to say. Nobody here is opposed to a bit of humour. That goes with it too, anybody can accept that.

What we have seen in the last two days, Mr. Speaker, is absolutely, I would suggest, unacceptable. Some of the comments flowing back and forth across this House are nasty. You, the Chair, yourself, seven times today had to call for order on seven different occasions. I am sitting here, I would like to hear not only the questions that are being asked, but as a member of this Chamber I have a right to listen to the answers that are being given. Quite often, the answers are good, no question about that. It is pretty difficult, as a member of this House, to listen to the questions and to listen to the answers when you have calls.

I will not get into naming anybody because that is not the point of my raising the point of order; it is not about naming people at this point. That responsibility and onus falls upon the Chair, if you feel that you must do so. My point is to say that I think it is disgraceful, the public are watching this, probably the most watched procession of the House of Assembly is the Question Period time and people are noticing this.

Mr. Speaker, I would call upon you again -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. PARSONS: Again, Mr. Speaker, even while I am in the process of trying to make a point of order there are disruptions and catcalls coming across this House. There are people over there - I can stand on feet anytime if I want to speak for myself, as can any member here. All I am saying is I think it has gotten out of hand when you have answers being given and there is no way - I was sitting here with an earpiece yesterday and today, which I have hardly ever used since we started this sitting. I cannot hear, even with an earpiece in, because of the disruptions that are coming.

I think, Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, it has gone off the rails, and I would call upon the Chair to enforce Standing Order 7 so that all of us who have a right to be in this Chamber, a right to be heard, can be heard and not have the catcalls and so on get to the extent that it is now.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Deputy Premier.

MR. RIDEOUT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I just want to make a brief comment on the point of order raised by my colleague, the Opposition House Leader.

First of all, let me say this: If there is an issue of decorum, it is up to Your Honour to notice it, as I am sure Your Honour does, and it is up to Your Honour to do something about it, as Your Honour attempts to do every time the matter surfaces here in the House. That is the role of Your Honour. It is not the role of anybody else to stand and suggest that – really, in essence, what is happening is that the suggestion is that Your Honour is not doing your job, and I find that kind of offensive, in a way, to be honest with you, Mr. Speaker. It is probably not the intent, but that is the way it sounds to me.

There is plenty of blame to go around on that whole decorum issue. If the Opposition House Leader cannot hear, and has to put in his earpiece, it is probably because his leader is shouting right alongside of him. If I cannot hear over here, and have to put in my earpiece, it is probably because some of my colleagues are shouting behind me.

All I am saying, Mr. Speaker, it cuts both ways and it is incumbent on all of us, from time to time, to realize that we do all have a responsibility to – we are not in a junior Red Cross Society here. We are in an elected Parliament. If you want to see decorum, go to the mother of Parliaments in Westminster where they have been known to take the Mace and face each other, so we are not all that bad. We are not perfect; we are not all that bad.

I think the hon. gentleman's point is well taken, I understand that, but to enforce the rule is up to Your Honour, when Your Honour notices or believes that the matter is getting out of hand, and it is up to all of us then to have the good sense to respect Your Honour's ruling, when Your Honour brings it to our attention.

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair certainly concurs with what is happening, I guess, on both sides of the House, and the comments made.

Question Period is an intense time when members ask questions and government gives answers. The Chair attempts to try to keep it to a level where ministers can hear what is being said and members ask their questions.

These last couple of sessions have been disruptive, I have to admit, and it is not where the Chair would like to see the decorum go in this House, so I ask members for their co-operation. It makes it difficult for both sides, and both sides have played a part in causing the disruption as well, so I ask members for their co-operation.

The Chair is reluctant to identify members when they make a shout across the House. That is the nature, I guess, of the forum that we operate on, but the Chair will not sit here and allow members to cause disruption for questions asked or answers that have been given, that are important to the general public of this Province.

I ask members for their co-operation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Presenting Reports by Standing and Special Committees.

Tabling of Documents.

Notices of Motion.

Answers to Questions for which Notice has been Given.

Petitions.

Orders of the Day.

Orders of the Day

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

MR. RIDEOUT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to call Motion 1, the Budget debate, and I believe the debate was adjourned by our colleague from Port de Grave yesterday.

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

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

Some of my hon. colleagues across the way were wondering why I did not have a petition today. I wouldn't be able to carry a petition off in fifty-two minutes.

AN HON. MEMBER: Too much (inaudible).

MR. BUTLER: Too much.

Mr. Speaker, I must say, it is a pleasure to be able to stand again today and bring forward some comments with regard to the amendment that we put forward when it comes to Motion 1 on the Order Paper, the Budget Speech.

Mr. Speaker, as you listen from day to day and listen to hon. members, their comments, very informative, it amazes me sometimes about how, when we bring up topics or we ask questions about any particular topic, it is all the fault of the former Administration or Administrations. Even though this government has been in power for five years, Mr. Speaker, it is still their fault.

It is amazing, when we look at the wonderful Budget we have this year, with all the millions and billions of dollars, nobody can give credit beyond last year; and, Mr. Speaker, that amazes me.

I know hon. members are honourable when they make those comments, because I am the type of individual - I recognize that there was a $6.8 billion Budget this year, wonderful, but we have to realize how that money was derived. It is over issues of former Administrations of all political stripes, to see what happened in this Province, and thank God today the government in power is there to see to it that this money is administered properly and we find ourselves even estimating a surplus in March 2009 of $544 million.

Mr. Speaker, as an Opposition, we will continue to bring forward issues on behalf of the people of this Province, and bring their concerns before the House of Assembly. I have to say, and I think I speak for my hon. colleagues, that any time we have issues, when we meet with various ministers in this government, we have received excellent co-operation, no doubt about that.

I paid particular attention over the last number of weeks to the hon. Minister of Transportation and Works, and the Minister of Municipal Affairs, who I have had to deal with, and you give credit where credit is due. The same can be said for other ministers. I have had issues when I had to go to the Minister of Human Resources, Labour and Employment, the Minister of Government Services, and others – the Minister of Education – and they do what they can for you. I believe in giving credit where credit is due, but it is a two-way street.

Mr. Speaker, I guess in my comments, when I started addressing the Budget Speech, I did mention the long-term care facility in Carbonear. I just want to make a couple comments on that as well. It is very important because it is an issue, not only an issue that I am bringing forward, but it is an issue of great concern with the people in that immediate area.

It was only recently, and I think it was when the hon. Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board travelled to the Conception Bay North area, I think the Mayor of Carbonear spoke very highly about this facility that they had hoped they would see coming to that area. Hopefully, down the road, Mr. Speaker, we will see that.

I am sure my hon. colleagues who represent districts adjacent to the Conception Bay North area and the Trinity Bay Shore, I am sure they are hearing the same issues. They are hearing the same issues that people would love to see nothing more than a new long-term care facility for the Conception Bay North area.

Hopefully this government, over the next number of weeks, will see to it that possibly a new assessment will be done to see if the need is there, and to verify what was to take place back in 2002, Mr. Speaker.

Yesterday, I just touched on the issue of workers' health, WHSCC, the Workers' Compensation Board, with the new report that came down which mentioned there will be changes with claim duration, early and safe return to work, and various injury prevention, and that has to be done, Mr. Speaker, and I touched on some cases with regard to the client services end of it.

We know that this system has to be preserved, to be accountable and a sustainable system. After all, Mr. Speaker, that is funded 100 per cent, totally, by the employers here in our Province. We know that. Then again, when injuries do occur, the program is there so that those people will be looked after until they come to the point where they can return to work once again.

All too often, Mr. Speaker, dealing with various constituents on issues that sometimes have to go to the review commission, we hear stories where some employers even pay thousands of dollars so that they can travel around any community, watching an injured worker, getting him on video, costing thousands of dollars. No doubt, there are probably some people out there who do abuse the system, but they are not all the same and I think it is unfair to know that you are being videotaped to see if you do something, just to try and get you out of the system, Mr. Speaker.

I think in that review it was also mentioned and recommended that possibly the Auditor General should go in, and have the rights to go in, and review the books with workers' compensation. I think, Mr. Speaker, I wholeheartedly agree with that and I think it has to be done.

Like I mentioned yesterday when I spoke, Mr. Speaker, in 2006, 61 per cent of the cases that were rejected by the commission, when they went before the review board, 61 per cent of them were allowed or referred back to the commission. In 2007, Mr. Speaker, 65 per cent were either allowed or referred back to the commission. That alone, Mr. Speaker, I believe, is justification that it has to be reviewed, and the recommendations that were put forward, I think, are very fitting.

I also touched briefly yesterday about, in my immediate area, how important the fishery was to the area, the communities of Upper Island Cove, Spaniard's Bay, Bay Roberts and Port de Grave. I guess we never know when something can happen.

I know the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture was involved with the union and some of the people in an incident that is taking place now on the pricing, so we never know from one day to the next what can happen in any given area to upset the economy that we look forward to each and every year. It affects the harvesters, who are finding it very difficult with the increasing costs, and this is what it is all about: the price that they have been offered.

Not only that; it affects many other people in the given area, people who go to the plants to work there and process the various products before they are shipped overseas, Mr. Speaker. You never know. Yesterday I was on my feet saying how wonderful it is, and I am sure it will work itself out. It is like the Minister of Fisheries said, there is very little they can do about it, even though maybe a consultation with them can speed up the process.

Having said that, I also touched on out-migration, which is a thing that really bothers me. I know that no one can stop anyone from going away. If people get it in their minds that they are going out West because the offers are that much greater, Mr. Speaker, that is going to happen, but it is very troubling.

Only yesterday I was told a story about, in my area, where one contractor there had twelve to fifteen people working and ten of them left the one day and said: We are going out West. Not that we have anything against you, but we want to go out where we can make more money than we are making here in this Province.

Hopefully, the time will come when that will be turned around, when we will see - we know the minimum wage has gone up in this Province, and that will help people to stay here, but when it comes to the people in the construction industry of various trades, they move on because it is so lucrative for them now to go back and forth. For some of them, their ways are paid and they come home to visit their families after so many weeks.

I fear, Mr. Speaker, that the day is coming when that part of it is going to end, because I believe when their children get out of high school many of them are going to say we are going to move our families out West. No doubt, it is a better place here to raise your family and that is why many of them are going back and forth today.

Another issue I wanted to touch on, that bothers a lot of people - and I know this goes back to the early 1990s and beyond that - is the school tax. I get so many calls where people are so frustrated with the billing system that they have now and the amount that they have to pay. It is not that they were against the school tax in the beginning, even though they admit that it should have been paid at that time, but it was left unattended to for so many years. I am not laying fingers on anybody, but it was left there and a lot of people just forgot about it. Lo and behold, after eight or ten or twelve years, finally they began to receive invoices in the mail again, and some of the stories are very sad.

I know I can relate one: a lady who was eighty-eight years of age, from my district, who had a business back twenty some-odd years ago, received a bill in the mail for $5,800 and she was just devastated. When I went to visit her, I took all of the information. When I came in, I believe that bill, the actual principal of that bill, from the day when it was supposedly hers, was somewhere in the vicinity of just under $1,000, and here she was receiving this invoice for $5,500.

Mr. Speaker, another case I can relate to, is where this young lady received an invoice on behalf of her parents, and both of them were deceased. One was deceased for eight years and the other one approximately four years – and here she gets an invoice in the mail saying that you have to pay this school tax.

I believe that the system should be looked at. It is still ongoing today, Mr. Speaker, and I know for a fact, just this past Christmas, I had a call from a gentleman in another district, adjacent to mine, where a gentleman was off on workers' compensation, getting a very low amount, and his wife was not working at the time. They went to the supermarket to pick up their groceries - and everything he did, he did with his debit card - and when he went to the cashier he passed in his debit card and she said: I am sorry, we can't take your card; there is nothing there.

When he went to check it out, what it was, the department had gone to the bank and taken the money that was deposited in his account. Thank God, it got corrected. Here was a guy with his groceries up on the counter, to be checked in, and was told that he had to put them back.

There are cases like that, Mr. Speaker, and many of those people, many of them, when they were working, back at the time the school tax was ongoing, they had deductions taken from their wages, no receipts or anything for it now - probably the employers are even gone out of business – but, lo and behold, after so many years they begin to get those invoices with a tremendous amount of interest on them, and here they are now trying to defend their cases as to why they are receiving a bill.

I know, for a while, government - I will call it, for a better word, a day of grace, with interest relief. There was one gentleman who, I think it was just two days prior to when the interest relief was put in place, he went to the bank. He was trying to build this facility for his business, and he was told that he could not get his loan because he owed the government $4,300. A tremendous amount of that was interest, Mr. Speaker, but what he had to do, he had to pay it. Lo and behold, two days after, they came in and the interest on anyone's school tax bills would be deducted. He came to me, and we went and met with the officials, but to no avail. Even though it was only two days, he had to bear the burden.

Mr. Speaker, another issue I want to touch on is the home heating fuel and the rebate program. I don't think there is anyone out there against the Home Heating Rebate Program, because this year government, in their wisdom, extended it to many other families beyond what it was in previous years, and to some degree the rates were increased based on their income. Many people say to me, that it is too bad it doesn't come out a little bit earlier in the year, when they can, I guess, fill up their tanks just prior to the winter season starting. Mr. Speaker, I have to say many people are affected by this. I know we have called for a reduction in the tax on the home heating fuel, and government at this particular time didn't think it was necessary or didn't proceed with it. Many families, when you go visit them on various issues, I can assure you find it very difficult to heat their homes. It is sad to say this, but I have been in houses that when I went there they told me, you might find it cold because we have the heat turned completely off. That is sad in this day and age when people either have to heat their houses or eat, when they find themselves in those situations. I can understand why. It is because of the tremendous increase in the cost.

I will just give you a brief example, Mr. Speaker. One individual, when I met with them, told me that in February month it cost $428 to heat their home. In March month it was increased to $539 to heat that same house. There may have been one or two days in the difference but the cost of the heating fuel had risen. In Newfoundland it is not all fine weather in April month, but in April month it cost $643. The cost of the fuel had escalated from $0.88 cents back in February to $1.08. The tax paid at that time I think was somewhere in the vicinity of $74.

Mr. Speaker, I call upon government – hopefully, we will have a home heating fuel program again next year.

AN HON. MEMBER: No doubt.

MR. BUTLER: No doubt we will, the hon. member says. Once again I say, hopefully that will happen and hopefully they will look at it in such a way that it possibly can come out a little bit earlier in the season for the individuals.

Mr. Speaker, another thing I want to mention – I know it was in the Budget this year about recruitment and retention for nurses and doctors. I am not going to refer to it in such a way of bargaining, because those people are still bargaining for their various contracts. I know personally, from individuals in my district and from individuals I speak to at the Carbonear General Hospital from time to time, those individuals are going through a very stressful time. We hear it in the media and I am sure we all get the e-mails and the letters about people who are working twelve-hour shifts on many occasions, only to get home when they are called back again. They have a tremendous workload.

I know, Mr. Speaker, from travelling to the Carbonear General Hospital to visit constituents from time to time and to see on a floor with probably sixteen or seventeen patients, there were evenings when there is only one or two there to care for them. Really, if one has to go anywhere or go for their lunch break, there is only one person left on that floor. I have to say, Mr. Speaker, they do a tremendous job, we all know that. They are trained professional people, but it is sad when you see people on the floor of a hospital caring for those who are sick, actually running from room to room to try to keep up with the needs. I guess when there is only one or two of them there it limits their ability, what they can do for the patients. I know the medical needs are looked after from that perspective but there are many other issues that arise when those people need immediate attention.

I heard an individual say the other day that - an individual who is a nurse here in one of the hospitals in St. John's. She mentioned that one of the people who worked with her - there was a vacancy and that vacancy has been vacant now - that position has been vacant for two years. Nobody has been hired on a part-time basis to go and give her a hand there.

It is also amazing the number of people who will be retiring in the next few years. Hopefully, the retention program that we hear about will work. I know there are things happening. I know two young individuals who live in my district have returned to this Province from the United States and have taken up practice here in St. John's. Hopefully, that will continue to happen.

Also, with the people who are in training, as they graduate they will see fit to stay here. Mr. Speaker, it comes down to one thing again, they would love to remain at home and work at home but the salary issue comes into force again. I know we cannot pay everybody what we would like to pay them or what they are getting in other places but we know for a fact that the nurses here, from what I have heard, are the lowest paid. Some of them are 30 per cent less in what they receive than in nurses somewhere else in the Maritime provinces.

We hear talk about all the job fairs, where people are coming in from other provinces and other countries trying to attract our nurses to travel there. I have to say, Mr. Speaker, unfortunately they are successful. I say unfortunately because we are losing them, not that those people are going to different places to benefit themselves.

Mr. Speaker, we do very little, I guess. Even though the last job fair that was here the government did have a system in place advising people what was available here in the Province, but listening to some of the people who were taking part, they were very discouraged because very few people came in to see what they had to offer.

All too often we hear different stories about individuals. We heard only recently in the media about a lady who is a nurse here in St. John's. She went to Toronto for a two or three day vacation and in doing so, she checked out what it would mean to her if she went to, I think it was Boston. They were looking for nurses in Boston. She went there and said the only reason she stayed here was because there were relatives belonging to her that were sick and she did not want to leave the family.

I know issues with health care go back over the years, and I guess they will be with us for many years to come. I can remember when we were in government, members opposite who were in the Opposition at that time, let me assure you, they brought up many cases on health care issues, and rightly so. It seems to be more of a troublesome thing today, now that the issue of the major work opportunities that is in other provinces where they are paying so much more money.

Mr. Speaker, this same lady, when she was visiting her friends in Ontario, mentioned that at the airport she met three or four young individuals from this Province who had just returned from the States and were interviewed, they were going to return there and take up their duties.

Mr. Speaker, the same can be said for the recruitment of our doctors. We know full well, Mr. Speaker, we hear it since the inquiry has been on, the regret that people - specialists are deciding that they are going to move to other provinces for various reasons. That is unfortunate.

I know in the Conception Bay North area, we have the same problem when it comes to general practitioners. I have mentioned this on numerous occasions and brought in petitions from residents who are really concerned about the lack of general practitioners. The doctors that we have there, not a problem, they are all good individuals doing the best they can, but for various reasons they move on. Some of them who are residents of this Province, some of them move here to the City of St. John's, and that is their prerogative to move here. Some of them have taken their patients with them. They travel in here to Mount Pearl. I know of one case where many patients - many residents of my district travel to Mount Pearl to see the doctor that they had when he was stationed in Bay Roberts. That is unfortunate for some of them, because many of them have difficulty even getting to St. John's. It is not a problem -

AN HON. MEMBER: What is wrong with Mount Pearl?

MR. BUTLER: There is nothing wrong with Mount Pearl, I say to the hon. member. That is not the issue, but unfortunately their doctor left our area and went to Mount Pearl, and our residents are left without a GP. Hopefully, through the recruitment program of this government that will take care of itself.


Mr. Speaker, we also have many GPs who come to our Province from various countries. As a matter of fact, I saw my doctor this morning in the clinic in Spaniard's Bay, a gentleman from South Africa, excellent doctor. My only hope and prayer is that he is here for the long haul because I know over the past seven years - I can speak from personal experience - I have had six different general practitioners in that clinic in Spaniard's Bay. They move to the area and it almost seems like when their probationary period is served, they up and leave. That is unfortunate, and that is why we are left in the dilemma that we are in. I know we cannot force them to stay here but hopefully, through a good retention program, we will see an end come to this situation that we find ourselves in.

I guess the most heart wrenching thing that comes out of all of this by not having a general practitioner, is the residents when they have to come to St. John's or go to Carbonear to have some specialty work done, whether it is an X-ray, ultrasound, an MRI or what have you, they do not have a general practitioner to send the reports back to. That is unfortunate. However, I think many of them now are finding doctors in different areas. Some doctors that moved from our area to St. John's even travel back out, whether it is once a month or twice monthly, but they do travel back and visit the homes of our residents to see them. So, that is all very well.

I think the biggest concern and the biggest problem with a lack of general practitioners is the burden that it places on the emergency units of our hospitals. I have heard it said that even though there are probably many general practitioners here in the city, but the emergency units find it very difficult to cope. The problem with it, Mr. Speaker, is that - I know from the area that I represent, when they do not have a general practitioner, when they do not have one they will try and call and they will get a recording saying: In case of emergency, go to the emergency unit at the Carbonear General Hospital. Naturally, Mr. Speaker, no matter what your complaint is, how minor or how much of an emergency it is, everybody feels that it is an emergency and I am going to Carbonear hospital.

We have a tremendous backlog of people waiting at the emergency unit. Really, the staff who are there are overworked, but they cannot help it. You have to go there, and I have had cases where people had to wait as long as eight and nine hours to get in to see the doctor in the emergency unit. I am glad to report that this year in the Budget - I know it is not going to do with any staffing, but there is $4 million that has been allocated, I think, for the Carbonear General Hospital to make some major changes down there, and no doubt major changes need to be made. I know for a fact for people who go there to have an ultrasound there is no waiting area and they have to take a chair, while they are waiting for another patient to come out, and sit in one of the washrooms. Hopefully this is going to correct itself. It is unfortunate that people have to do that but I can assure, Mr Speaker, that is definitely happening.

I know we are always talking about our heath care. I believe, and have no problem in saying, that when we look at the health care we have in this country, I think we have a health care system that many other countries would want to have. Just two or three years ago while vacationing in the eastern part of the United States, when people asked us where we were from and we told them we were from Canada and Newfoundland, they said: one thing we would love to have is your health care system. Even though we complain about the issues, the long wait lists and the shortage of nurses and doctors, the system itself I think is a wonderful system, when we can go to a hospital at any given time and basically it is free of charge. That part of it I have no problems with, but what happens is when issues arise where things cannot be done, I guess, the way that we would like to see them done.

I had a call just last week from an individual who is a prostate patient and he is on the emergency list. He advised me that he has to wait until September of this year. September of this year! Like he said, if it was problem, an emergency, back three or four months ago, what is it going to be listed as by the time he gets to see the specialist within another five or six months.

Many people, when they are patients at the hospital, they are given their various medications. I know I had a call from another family who have a resident who is a cancer patient and 80 per cent of their medications are covered. I think this young gentleman even wrote a letter to the paper asking government to look into it. Like he said, 80 per cent of his meds are covered but his medications cost an additional $470, plus his transportation, plus the hospital he has to come to, plus his meals when he comes to St. John's. He called the department to see if anything else could be done for him. This is the response that he received, and this is unfortunate. I am not saying every case is like this but it has to be checked out. He was told that he must take his ex-wife to court for child support in order to get additional help. He advised me that he and his wife had been divorced for six years. That is an unfortunate situation to find yourself in, that you have to go and take a lady to court that you divorced six years ago for child support in order to get the additional medications due to being a cancer patient.

Mr. Speaker, the other thing is the Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Drug Program, a wonderful program. There are four or five different areas now where you can apply for your medications. One thing that is surfacing now, and I get numerous phone calls and I am sure other hon. members do as well, is when you go to your specialist and he writes out a prescription for you to take to the drug store to get your medications and it is rejected by the drug program. What those people have to do is take an application back to the specialist once again to make out a paper that is known as the authorization form. Here is the same signature going on a larger piece of paper rather than the prescription form that he had. When he takes that back in he will get his medication. Mr. Speaker, I think that is unfortunate and it has happened in so many cases that it is becoming a problem for many people.

Another issue that we encounter – like I said, we have a good health program but there are little glitches, I guess. There are patients who receive prescriptions from their specialists and from their general practitioners telling them to take two pills per day. When they go and get it and they get the little pill bottle back from the drug store: Sorry, you cannot take two pills a day. We checked with the drug program but they are advising you that you are only allowed to take one pill a day. Here we are in a system that is so good going against what the specialists and the general practitioners are asking for.

We hear from time to time about the issue about oxygen. I know the Minister of Health and Community Service answered those questions. This year, I know there were some improvements with the oxygen issue, but many people, Mr. Speaker, who find themselves having problems it is with the small canisters. What it is, when they become of age - I know the cases that I am referring to - when they become of age and receive their old age pension and the supplement, they do not qualify any more, even though their financial means cannot provide them with that help, and they find themselves in very difficult situation.

Mr. Speaker, over the past several months, and even prior to the last general election, we had an opportunity to sit down and meet with the seniors of our area and throughout the Province, the Newfoundland and Labrador 50 Plus Federation. They sat down and expressed many concerns that they had. I guess they are too numerous to mention here today. One of them was that they had not had a raise in their pensions since 1989. I know the government at this time has stated very clearly that nothing will be done in that regard. They were looking for indexing in their pensions, and it is unfortunate that something could not be done for those people. Because I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, when you hear the stories that they have to tell, and what the value of the dollar was when they went on their pensions versus the value of the dollar today and what they have to do to survive, it is very amazing how they even make ends meet, Mr. Speaker.

Another issue that they had is affordable housing. I believe there are programs now coming out from Newfoundland and Labrador Housing that will see additional units change, and hopefully they will be there to benefit the people that need them the most.

One of the issues they bring up is doctors in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. I guess I covered off on that. They find it a major concern having some of our older residents travelling either to St. John's or other centres throughout the Province from the community where they live because they do not have a doctor. I guess one of the things government did listen to from them is, they wanted to see a reduction in the registration of motor vehicles, and that did take place. Government increased it to $180, and saw fit now, when the times are better, to bring it back to $140. I am sure the seniors of this Province appreciate that, because that was one of the issues they brought forward, not only to us, but brought forward to government as well.

Mr. Speaker, I cannot help but make a few comments on federal relations. I mentioned in the Budget yesterday - and I hope my figures are correct - that 27 per cent of this year's Budget is federal funding. Mr. Speaker, we hear so much of the past, and I know when we were in government, the opposition of the day used to say, look, why we are not getting anything from Ottawa is because you have such a poor relationship with Ottawa; the former administration. Today we hear battles back and forth. I know ministers on the opposite side meet with their counterparts in Ottawa and good things are coming from it, but I think overall there are some issues that are probably not being dealt with because of what happened, back some time ago.

One of the issues I want to refer to is brought up fairly often, and that is the ferry service to our Province, either from Argentia in the summertime or North Sydney year-round. Hopefully the day will come, and I am hoping that the Minister of Transportation and Works and other officials, whether it be the Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, in dealing with various federal issues, will see to it that the service that is provided to the people of this Province should be next to none. After all, it is our Trans-Canada Highway, when we look at from Port aux Basques to North Sydney, and I can assure you that, travelling at least once a year on that system, it leaves something to be desired. I know they are referring to a new ferry that hopefully will come into the system fairly soon. All I am asking is that our government here make sure that whatever can be done will be done to see to it that our residents - and not only our residents but the people from all over Canada and the States who come to visit us, at various times of the year - have a reasonable means of transportation coming to this Island.

The other one, Mr. Speaker, we hear so much about - and I am sure the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture is well-known on this one - is the custodial management, and how the federal government are dealing with that. I think more can be done there, Mr. Speaker. We are doing fine now because the crab fishery and the shrimp fishery and other species are to a point where it is carrying the day for us; but, then again, I believe that in years to come, when all the oil is gone - and I hope they will keep finding oil wells - that we can keep in the position that we are in, and have a Budget like we have this year.

Mr. Speaker, the day will come when we may have, and want, to go back to the fishery, the way it was since we moved on this Island many, many years ago. The cod fishery - I will always say it, I believe it - the cod fishery is the life and the backbone of rural Newfoundland and Labrador. Even though we can bring different industries there, and the oil will bring benefits to various areas of the Province, the fishery is far and foremost the most important.

Mr. Speaker, I just want to touch on a few issues, I guess, when it comes to the environment and conservation, some of the major issues that face us on a daily basis here in this Province. I know one that has been in the media for quite some time, and that is the one that is known - and I know my hon. member, the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs, told me the other day that it is a landfill; you can't say dump. When I refer to the New Harbour issue, I have to call it the New Harbour dump. It is a landfill all right; it is filled up with everything that shouldn't be seen.

AN HON. MEMBER: It is engineered.

MR. BUTLER: What?

AN HON. MEMBER: It is engineered.

MR. BUTLER: It is engineered.

I have to say, Mr. Speaker, that is an issue that is of grave concern to the people on the Trinity Bay side, the New Harbour landfill that is on New Harbour Road.

I know for a fact that the Minister of Environment and Conservation has attended meetings, even before becoming a member of the Cabinet, about that issue over there, and how it is a major concern for the residents.

I know it has been ongoing for quite some time. I remember full well when the site was cleaned up in Makinsons. I know, at that time, not knowing what was going to come forward today, the canisters, the PCBs, were supposedly all cleaned from those cylinders and they were taken there, they say, under the cover of darkness.

It is not only that; it is not only the PCBs that are there. It is everything being dumped in that facility. It was supposed to be closed down quite some time ago. I know various ministers - and the hon. Speaker himself was a minister at one time, when it comes to that facility, and he said: It has to be cleaned up. It has to be closed. Money is not the thing; it is the safety and the concerns of the people - but today we are still waiting for that to happen.

By closing that dump, which should be done, and the sooner the better, it creates a major problem for the people on the shore, because now they are negotiating or waiting for a report to come back to see if they can take their waste material to Winterton versus St. John's. The reason for that is the cost for those smaller communities. I know communities in my area travel to St. John's, to Robin Hood Bay, but it is a tremendous cost to them. I know we have to do something with the garbage, and hopefully sooner rather than later –

AN HON. MEMBER: It is not garbage; it is waste.

MR. BUTLER: Waste, I am sorry. The hon. member keeps correcting me - the waste and the landfills.

I have to say, the cost to those smaller communities is tremendous. They are trying to make an arrangement to go to Winterton. Now, rather than eleven communities, I only read this past week, I think it is all the way from Whitbourne area all the way down the shore and back up the Conception Bay side to Western Bay that find themselves in the same position.

Hopefully, Mr. Speaker, the day will come when all of this is corrected and maybe there will be regional facilities for all that is to be carried out, and it will not cost so much for the residents of the various areas.

Another issue, Mr. Speaker, I guess is our tire storage and recycling program. I know on a couple of occasions we felt that was corrected, that we had found the right solution to it, but we know full well that we are still stockpiling them in Placentia and I believe in other areas, and it is costing government. I believe this year it was announced that it would cost an additional $500,000 just to stockpile them. Hopefully, in the very near future the government will find a way to see that this is not a problem anymore.

Another issue that came up this year was the water quality. I know it came about because of a report that came in from another province, but through it all hopefully we have all learned a lesson. Once this was checked out we feel fairly confident with the numbers of communities that have safe drinking water and that the systems are checked properly. I know government has thirty-six of those inspectors, but the report that I saw recently showed there were, I believe, six vacancies.

Mr. Speaker, water quality is a very serious concern. It even came up in the Auditor General's report. The concern that I had – I know samples of water are tested in the various communities, but I called a couple of the communities in my district and the concern that they had as well is that the inspectors, and I am not saying every town, but the inspectors didn't go to the actual facility where the chlorine is entering the system. Taking samples from various businesses and various homes, that was fine, but I think if the inspectors went to – I am not saying they don't go to some of them, but I know a couple they didn't go to. If this chlorine that wasn't authorized to be used, if that was in storage there they may have detected it. Thank God, it wasn't to the point where anyone because sick or anything over it. It is good to know that the issue has been looked into.

The other issue I want to touch on is poverty reduction. I know the government has a system in place. We hear it often from members on both sides of the House, because government members are on this side as well. Sometimes I get lost when I hear the applauding behind me. I think it is for me, but it is not. Mr. Speaker, they have a system and other provinces in our nation are looking to implementing the same program. That is good, but, Mr. Speaker, we still have a long way to go. There is no doubt about that, because I was reading the other day - the hon. Member for St. John's North, in one of his speeches last year. He made it very clear - I do not know if I will go along with his statement because he said he felt that they were going to be in power for another twelve to sixteen years. I do not know if I would go along with that part, but he did say he felt very strongly about poverty. He made it very clear that even in that timeframe maybe we will not be able to get it to the point where we want it in this Province. Then again, hopefully we will. Even though government felt we would have the lowest percentage of poverty in the Province for our country within a ten-year timeframe. It is all fine to say that, but hopefully that will happen.

One of the things I know I would like to see is - the Poverty Reduction Strategy, we agree with that but I think we have to see the real evidence, what is really happening there. Maybe a social audit is the way to go so that a report card can be given. I know the coalition of religious leaders against poverty, they were also advocating for that. So, hopefully the minister in his wisdom will do just that.

The way poverty is defined with a low-income cut-off, some of the figures to me were startling. In this report - and I think this was back in 2004 so it might not be totally accurate at this present time. They stated that a family of four living in rural Newfoundland - and they named the community, they named the town, Baie Verte - is considered to be living in low income, in poverty, with an after tax income, if they are less than $20,844. Then if you move into, a family of the same size and you move into Grand Falls-Windsor, they need an after tax break, they need an income of $23,856. If you move the same size family right here in the City of St. John's, an after tax income of $26,948.

I know government this year has many initiatives to help combat poverty in this Province, like the elimination of school fees and many other issues, but still I think if we have to get the families up to a taxable income, after taxes to the figures I just announced, no doubt - and government has increased the minimum wage, but if you have someone working thirty or thirty-five hours a week for fifty-two weeks a year, they are a long ways from those figures that I just released. Hopefully, over a period of time that will be corrected, but to say - regardless what the figure is, the main thing is to see that our people who are below that line now, in the not to distant future that issue will be corrected.

The other issue I want to touch on just briefly, I guess, are some issues that are under the heading of Municipal and Provincial Affairs. I have to say, any day that anything comes forward that I believe is good, and there is lots of good in the Budget, but there are lots of issues that have to be dealt with. The announcement that the minister made with the infrastructure program, the percentages that the municipalities will have to pay, I think it is just wonderful. It is something that I guess is a lifeblood for our, not only our medium-sized towns but our smaller towns, to know that they are on a 90-10 basis. The larger communities, which cover all of the ones in my district, are either 90-10 or 80-20. I think that speaks very highly.

One of the things I would like to make a comment on is our Community Enhancement Programs. I have to say, Mr. Speaker, a tremendous amount of good comes out of those programs. Even though they are only small in nature and some districts get more money than others, I have no problem with that because some areas have more concerns and, I guess, a greater percentage of unemployment than the other centres. Over the past couple of years I think I got somewhere in the vicinity of $52,000. I could not believe that I only got $52,000 from the Community Enhancement Programs, which are wonderful projects -

AN HON. MEMBER: Lots of jobs there.

MR. BUTLER: Lots of jobs there, as the hon. member says.

What really confused me was when I saw my member up in Harbour Main district and he got $140,000 or $150,000 and my hon. colleague who was on this side of the House then for Carbonear, not the new member, the previous member, he had $150,000 or $160,000. I could not believe that my district was so rich and had the two poor ones on each end. I am just calling upon the minister this year, when he looks at the program, make it a little bit more.

I have to say, the work that is done with those projects, $5,000 or $6,000 to some community hall or some sporting event where the facility that they use, whether it is a field or an indoor attraction, it is tremendous. Not only that, it helps a family to not have to go on social assistance in that particular year. It may not be a high EI program, the money that they receive, but at least they have dignity. By having their insurable earnings, they can probably get on one of the EI top ups to the federal program and make it all that much better for them. So, that is one of the things I would like to mention there.

When it comes to the Avalon Waste Management, I know there is a lot of work that has to be done, hopefully, over the next few years. We all know of the Dog Hill incident. That has gone by the wayside. A new committee has been put in place, I understand. A couple of individuals from out in my area are members on that, not in my particular district but in adjacent districts. There is a lot of work that has to be done. I have to say that those towns - it has to be looked at, Mr. Speaker, when it comes to the cost for them of bringing their waste to the Robin Hood Bay landfill. Believe it or not, I got it all right that time. I never mentioned anything.

One other thing - I know my time is running down, I only got fifty seconds left. One other thing I would like to mention is in reference to Human Resources, Labour and Employment. Back a few years ago the minister of the day, in her wisdom - twenty or twenty-four offices were closed. She used technology as the reason for it. That is true. She made another statement today about technology, and we know how it works. I have to say, and I am not saying all twenty or twenty-four offices should remain open, but they did close in my area and the workers were transferred to Carbonear just for a short period of time. Now I think they are here in the city when it comes to income support. I just wanted to make a comment that residents who have to use that system are finding it very difficult, even though - I am not arguing about the technology side of it, but they feel they are not being treated fairly and they cannot get to see the actual worker that they are dealing with. From time to time, people who need transportation on a quick notice, they are unable to get it the way they could before, because they could actually go into an office and ask for that support.

Mr. Speaker, I will give you the pleasure of not having to stand and say I am out of time. I just want to thank you for the opportunity.

MR. SPEAKER (Osborne): The hon. the Government House Leader.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We are going to fix it, right? A minister replying to a non-confidence motion gets an hour if he so desires. He may not desire.

Mr. Speaker, thank you very much.

I want to take a few minutes - I do not know how many minutes, but I certainly want to take a few minutes - to take part in the Budget debate this afternoon.

Before I do, though, Mr. Speaker, I want to take the opportunity as well, because this is the first time since the House reconvened and since the election in October that I will have had an opportunity to speak in a general debate in the Legislature. I have spoken, of course, on numerous occasions, in introducing bills or private member resolutions, or Question Period or whatever, but it is the first time I have had an opportunity to speak in a general debate where you can be wide-ranging and hit on a lot of topics.

In that context, I certainly want to take the opportunity to congratulate all members who were elected to this place in October past, those who were re-elected and those who were elected here for the first time. Mr. Speaker, I have had the privilege of being elected to this Chamber on eight occasions. While that is not a record, I understand that since Confederation it ties a record.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: There is only a handful of people: Ed Roberts, former Lieutenant-Governor, Paddy Canning, Tom Lush – there is a handful, half a dozen people, I understand - perhaps Mr. Smallwood himself, I am not sure - a half a dozen people who have been elected that number of times. So I am tempted, in one way, to go once more. I don't know –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: There are certain people out there perhaps listening to this, this evening, who will have other thoughts in their head, but sometimes it is tempting.

Also, of course, in that context of running and being elected here for that number of times, in about a year from now - I believe it is October of next year - I will have had the privilege of being the longest serving member in this Legislature.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!MR. RIDEOUT: Again, a good friend of mine, a person I had an opportunity to serve with, actually, Mr. Canning, Paddy Canning, who represented Burin-Placentia West, is the longest serving member of this Legislature right now, at something over twenty-seven years, I believe. Come some time in the next few months, I will pass that. It is a tremendous privilege, I don't mind saying. I feel privileged and honoured. I didn't realize, when I came in here as a young twenty-six-year-old in 1975, that I would still be here today and have all of those years accumulated in experience. So, to all those people over the years who have put their faith and their confidence and their trust in me, it is humbling, and I want to say I am humbled by their kindness and by their support.

I have managed to be elected in more than one district. It was a privilege to represent the people of Lewisporte district for almost ten years, I guess; I was elected there in 1999, and I left there in 2007. It was a tremendous group of people to represent. I made some tremendous friends there, Jacinta made some tremendous friends there, and we enjoyed immensely going to Lewisporte and being part of the Lewisporte community. It certainly enriched us, and enriched our lives, and hopefully we were able to make a contribution to the overall good of the communities in that district in the time that we spent there; but I decided in September, or I guess around September, that there was an opportunity to go back home, an opportunity to go back to my political roots, to my birthplace, to the place that had given me nourishment and encouragement over the years as a young person who had political aspirations.

I have never covered up, or tried to cover up, the fact that I have had political aspirations from the time I was a teenager, to the time that I arrived in this place, up until this day. I make no bones, Mr. Speaker, or any apologies, about having political aspirations. I would encourage young people in Newfoundland and Labrador today, despite what they might hear about politicians, to aspire to an elected political career. It is a privilege and an honour that is bestowed only on forty-eight people, every four years, in this Province, to come here at their wish and as a result of their vote, and to be their voice and their representative in this House. That, in my view, is the highest calling that any citizen can have in Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: I encourage young people to aspire to be leaders, to be political leaders in their towns, in their communities, in their Province, in their Country, and I am sure they will. Just as we were young and idealistic thirty-odd years ago, there are young idealists out there today who are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They want to change the world and they have the fire and the vim and the vigour and the vision and the determination to make a difference, and I hope they will come forward and do that.

In that context, as I said, Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate all members who have been elected here, those who have been re-elected and those who have been elected for the first time. I want to congratulate Mr. Speaker for accepting the onerous task of presiding over this place, and yourself as Deputy Speaker and Deputy Chair of Committees and so on. It is not always easy to preside over this place. We saw it today, perhaps, particularly during Question Period when temperatures rise and voices rise accordingly, but you know that is Parliament. This is not a junior debating society. We do not come into this place and silently and quietly go about our business. It is a Parliament. That is what it is all about. Now, it has to happen with decorum and dignity and respect for each other, and nine point nine times out of ten it does, but when it doesn't Your Honour very quickly makes sure that we are brought in line and carry on as good Parliamentarians do. You know, it is a pleasure to be part of this place and to serve in this place and to be part of this government.

Mr. Speaker, I want to take a moment or so to talk about what we are doing here. We are debating a motion of no confidence, in parliamentary terms, a non-confidence motion in the government. Mr. Speaker, this motion was put down by the Official Opposition. In other words, three people in this House believe that this government should fall. Do the people of Newfoundland understand? Did Newfoundland and Labrador just get the message of what I just said? There are three people in this House who believe that this government should fall. That is what a non-confidence motion is. If we were to pass this non-confidence motion at the end of this debate, which we shall not - the members on this side of the House will ensure that it will not pass - but if we were to pass this motion, Mr. Speaker, it would mean that the voice and the opinion of the people as expressed in October past will have been nullified and we will be back knocking on doors the day that this motion passes. Now, that is the reality of what we are debating here today. That is what, in reality, this motion, boiled down to its simplest terms, means. It means that the three people who form the Official Opposition have no confidence in this government despite the overwhelming confidence that the electorate had.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: Despite the overwhelming confidence expressed in this government and the leader of this government only a few months ago, three people are now saying, we have lost the confidence of the people, we deserve to lose the confidence of the House and we should go back to the people and have it all done over again.

Mr. Speaker, I understand parliamentary parlance. I understand parliamentary procedure to some degree, I suppose. I have been here long enough, I have learned something. I hope I have not been that dense. I know that a vote of no confidence in the government or a motion of no confidence is a parliamentary tool. I understand that. It is a parliamentary tool for people to have a debate and to point out what they believe are the downfalls of the government. It is not a toy, it is a tool that they can use and they are free in the parliamentary system to use it. But, let there be no illusions, Mr. Speaker, and let the word go forth today that this motion will be defeated as it ought to be defeated.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: If you are to believe in polling and polls, there is hardly any difference today in the way the people feel about this administration, this Premier, this Party, this Government. There is hardly any difference. If there is any difference it is probably on the upward side of the scale. There is hardly any difference in the way people feel about this government today than they felt when they went and marked their x seven or eight months ago. There is hardly any difference in the confidence that they have in the ability of this government to govern and rule this Province competently, with compassion, with understanding and trying to perform as good a service as humans can for the good of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: There is hardly any difference, Mr. Speaker.

We have to keep that reality in mind when we are called upon to debate this motion, because we are debating a motion of no confidence in the government. That is what we have to keep in mind.

Really, Mr. Speaker, what is it we are talking about? The people who proposed this motion are saying that the largest roads budget we have ever had in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador is no good. What kind of message is that to send to the people of this Province? That is a ridiculous position to take. You go out to any district around this Province, including districts represented by the Official Opposition, where there is going to be $2.5 million or $3 million or $3.5 million worth of capital investment in roadwork those days, and ask those people are they satisfied with the progress this government is making in that particular area, I would say, Mr. Speaker, that people would give a resounding yes, just as they gave a resounding yes only seven or eight months ago.

When you stop and realize, Mr. Speaker, that four years ago when we took over government the capital roads budget for all of Newfoundland and Labrador, the whole of the Province, all forty-eight districts, the capital budget for road improvement in this Province was $14 million; $14 million four years ago. Today, the provincial capital roads program stands at just $80 million.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. RIDEOUT: Yes, at one point, but I am talking about when we took over. You are right, it was $6 million at one point.

Just imagine, Mr. Speaker, things were so bad, things were so difficult, that when we were trying to put our first budget together as a government in the fall, in early 2005, we had to tack on an extra $40 to the registration fee for vehicles. To get what? To get an extra $7 million to put into pavement. We didn't have the money in the till that we could redeploy and put into roads, it wasn't there. So we decided that even though it wouldn't be popular, our roads were in such bad shape, they had deteriorated so much, that we had no other choice, as a government, but to try and do something. We therefore attached an extra charge of $40 per vehicle onto everybody's registration fee to give us $7 million, that is what it gave us, so that that year, our first budget in our first year as a government, we could proudly say that we were going to have $23 million in our capital roads program. I believe we put it up to $30 million after, but that is what we were looking at. We were looking at the possibility of having to make hard decisions about a whole range of things, Mr. Speaker, in those days, and what has happened?

There are those in the Opposition, in particular, and those who would like to see us pass this motion, I suppose, or they would not have put it down, would like to see it pass, there are those who believe that we have just been lucky. Well, you know, Mr. Speaker, it is like Churchill said about the chicken, "Some chicken! Some neck!"

Luck – I will tell you what has been luck for this Province. It has been luck for this Province to have the most visionary leader that we have seen since Confederation!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: That has been the luck for this Province.

I will tell you what has been lucky, Mr. Speaker: it is to have the most determined Premier that we have had since Confederation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: To have a Premier and a leader who is not prepared any day of the week to say: Take it, boy, it's all you're getting, and go home. That is all!

That is what John had to say: Take it or leave it, Danny. Take it or leave it, Loyola. Take it or leave it, because there is no mo. Go home, there is no mo.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: Well, Mr. Speaker, he stared them in the eye and he brought home a lot more.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: You do not get that kind of leadership, Mr. Speaker, from somebody who is not determined, from somebody who is not bold. You do not get that kind of leadership from somebody who does not have a spine, who does not have determination, who does not have grit. You do not get that kind of leadership from somebody who is prepared to blink and take the first offer that is put on the table, jump on the horse and gallop from Ottawa back to Newfoundland as fast as they can get here and say: That is what we got because that is what was offered to us.

Is that luck, Mr. Speaker? If that is luck, I am prepared to take it, I can tell you that.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: You know, Mr. Speaker, the people, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, saw that "luck". The people of Newfoundland and Labrador bought into that "luck". The people of Newfoundland and Labrador bought into that vision, they bought into that dream, they bought into that determination, because they could see that there was a chance that this place was going to rise by its bootstraps, despite the history and despite the failures and despite our own giveaways. Despite our history, a leader had arrived. A man had arrived on the spot who was not going to let this happen again, and everybody -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: - everybody, with the exception of perhaps 15 per cent or 20 per cent of the population - I don't know what the vote was against us in total in the last election, but somewhere around that - Mr. Speaker, everybody, practically everybody, in the Province, in every bay and cove and harbour around the Province, you could feel it; you could feel the pride. You could feel that there was something that had happened in this Province after our Premier renegotiated the Atlantic Accord. Not only did he bring home $2 billion, Mr. Speaker, but he brought home something more important. He brought home dignity!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: He brought home a new pride to this Province, Mr. Speaker. You could see a new step and a new bounce in the people of Ming's Bight or Round Harbour or Snooks Arm or Coachman's Cove or Fleur de Lys or the North Coast of Labrador. All over Newfoundland and Labrador there was a new bounce in our step because we felt something, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: If you want to call that luck, Mr. Speaker, that is the kind of political luck that I like to sign on to any day. That is why we feel so proud of our leader and our Premier, because it was so easy for him to take the crumbs when the crumbs were dangled. It was not so easy, facing a billion dollar deficit, facing a public service about to go on strike for more, as they deserve more, facing all of those demands, the easiest thing for our Premier and our leader to do was to take the crumbs and hope that the crumbs would satisfy the masses. That was the easy approach; but no, Mr. Speaker, our leader and our Premier was not one to take the easy approach. He was the one to see the big picture. He was the one who wanted to be able to see where we would be twenty years from now. He is the one who had a vision of what this place would be like when the Lower Churchill contract runs out in 2041, for example. He is the one, Mr. Speaker, who could see the big picture, and how the pieces could fit into the big picture, and make this Province a better place.

Could we predict that oil would go from $50 or $60 a barrel to $100-and-something? Perhaps not, but I will tell you: you didn't have to be an Einstein to know what direction it was heading. You didn't have to be an Einstein to figure out, if you got a good basic agreement so that you could control your resources, so that the rent from our resources would return to us, for us to decide how they were going to be spent, and not be siphoned off to the national government – you didn't have to be an Einstein to know that the trends were in the direction that we would, as a result of that, control our own future, control our own destiny, be masters of our own house. You didn't have to be an Einstein; you had to be a leader, Mr. Speaker, and that is what we had.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: Now, Mr. Speaker, there are those who say that it is shameful and sinful - in fact, the word used is immoral - to talk about reducing the deficit and paying down the debt so that we might have something a little bit better and a little bit more manageable left for our children to manage when we are gone from here. Isn't that the dream of all of us?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: Isn't that why we are here?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: So that we will leave this place, this place we love, this old rock out in the North Atlantic, isn't it why we are here, that we can leave this place a little better than what we found it? Isn't that why we are here?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: Or are we here to spend everything today, so that we can bask in the euphoria of political populism? Are we here for that?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: No.

MR. RIDEOUT: Are we here for that, so we can all be called good guys and gals, and we love you, and spend it all? Don't pay down the debt; let your children worry about that - realizing, Mr. Speaker, that there are fewer and fewer children coming to worry about that and we are going to be an older and older society. As all of us grey-haired crowd here creep up, there are fewer and fewer coming to support us and support the system.

I think, Mr. Speaker, it is a noble goal to pay down the debt, because every dollar, Mr. Speaker, every dollar you free up in interest payments today, is a dollar we will have to spend forever. Forever!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: Now, we can be raving socialists and want that dollar to go to Wall Street in New York, or to Zurich in Switzerland and say to heck with tomorrow, we will let somebody else worry about tomorrow, or we can be prudent people who take advantage of a situation that we were able to build into a clear advantage for ourselves to do all kinds of things to make the social fabric of Newfoundland and Labrador stronger today by investing those dollars wisely.

That is what we have tired to do in health care and education and infrastructure and roads and poverty reduction and all of those - a fair salary increase for our employees. We have tried to take advantage of the day, invest it, but at the same time let's do something about the long term. One of the biggest things we can do about the long term is not to spend like drunken sailors today and to heck with tomorrow, it is spend prudently today, improve our lot today, do what we can today, but for God's sake, cut down on the amount of commitments and liabilities that we are going to pass on so that when the oil is gone there will be a tomorrow.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: If that is immoral, Mr. Speaker, I am volunteering today to join the brigades of the immoral. If that is immoral, I am volunteering to lead the charge of the immoral brigade that is going to go from one end of Newfoundland to the other.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: What does some of the dictionaries say about immoral? It says: Something that is morally evil. Paying down the debt so that my grandchildren will have a greater opportunity to succeed in Newfoundland and Labrador and be able to invest every dollar that they put into the Treasury of this Province into something they want to invest it in rather than send it to Wall Street, that is immoral? That is what? Morally evil.

The definition goes on to talk about something immoral as being impure, obscene, unprincipled, vicious, or desolate. I am sure there are many definitions of immoral, but that is what the socialist hordes would want to inflict on Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: I am all for people who have a social conscience. I have a social conscience. I am a Tory, a Progressive Conservative, a red Tory. I will stack my social conscience up against any socialist conscience in this Province.

I want to see widows taken care of. I want to see people who are poor taken care of. I want to see seniors taken care of. This Budget and this government does all of that, but we do it with a social conscience, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: We do it with a social balance. We do it with what one Premier of this Province used to call fairness and balance. We do it with prudence, Mr. Speaker. There is no point of spending every copper we got. We can do it, and do nothing on the debt. The words were that the Leader of the Socialist Party used, her words were: Mr. Speaker, I am not opposed to putting some money down on the debt - she did not say how much - not at all. I am not opposed to putting some money down on the debt but it is absolutely unacceptable and immoral for us to take $1.3 billion, she said. Yes, she said it. She said: I will say it again, it is immoral and I have no problem in saying that.

AN HON. MEMBER: Who said that?

MR. RIDEOUT: The Leader of the Socialist Party, that is who said it, Mr. Speaker. It was not the Leader of the Official Opposition or any member on this side. It was the Leader of the Socialist Party. The New Democratic Party is a Party that I respect, it is a Party of the late Tommy Douglas and others that brought a lot of great social concepts and ideas to Canada that other parties, in co-operation with them, particularly the Liberal Party of Canada, took and made into public policy and made into law. We are proud of that, Mr. Speaker. It is part of the Canadian heritage. It is part of the Canadian way that we would do things that way, but it is not part of the Canadian way to say that if you would like to pay down the debt so that you can free up a few dollars for tomorrow, so that you can make things easier for those who are going to take place after we leave here, it is not the Canadian way to accuse people who think that way of being immoral. That, I find, absolutely insulting. That is what I find so repugnant about what was said here, Mr. Speaker.

We have such positive news to tell in this Budget, Mr. Speaker. One of the pieces of the positive news is how we are tackling the debt. We are not tackling the debt at the expense of widows or orphans or infrastructure or education or health. We are investing in all of that, but we are tackling the debt in a prudent, planned manner. For God's sake, when we started we had the highest per capita debt in Canada. We still do as far as I know. Even though we have paid down a billion and a bit, we still have the highest per capita debt in Canada. Next year, hopefully, we will bring it down below the $10 billion mark.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: Do anybody realize what I said? We will bring it down, hopefully, below the $10 billion mark. We will bring it down in the single digits for the first time in a long time.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: Mr. Speaker, I am not against running a public debt. I was part of a government for years that had no choice but run a public debt. If we were not going to ask people to give up their dentures and their eyeglasses, we had no choice but run a public debt. That is how bad it was in this Province. There was no government that I am aware of, Liberal or Conservative, there was no government that I am aware of that were prepared to ask individuals to give up their dentures and their eyeglasses. It never came to that. Nobody, I do not think, would make the argument that we should not - you know, having taken care of, in a prudent manner, all of those social needs, having taken care of all of those social needs and if you still got a few dollars left over after you have budgeted for those social needs, after you budgeted for those advancements, if you still got a few dollars left over after you have done that, who, Mr. Speaker, in their right mind is going to brand that as immoral and something that we should not do?

I do not think there is anybody in Newfoundland and Labrador, not a socialist - a socialist would not brand it. A raving socialist might, but a socialist would not brand that as being immoral. A socialist would not brand that as being something we should not do, a goal we should not strive for, something we should not attain. Nobody, Mr. Speaker, in their right mind would brand that as being something that is immoral. Imagine, immoral! What was it I said the definition was? Morally evil, impure, obscene, unprincipled, desolate. Thank God, Mr. Speaker, that we do not have that kind of leadership in this Province any more.

You know, Mr. Speaker, I remember a lot of things over the thirty-odd years I have been in public life, but I remember having this as my credo. Every time I have gone to knock on a door or every time I have put my name on a ballot paper, despite what the editorial commentary might be, despite what the political commentary of the day might be, I have always had this as a credo: There is wisdom in the masses. There is wisdom in the crowd, Mr. Speaker, the crowd being the ordinary Newfoundlander and Labradorian out there in Joe Batt's Arm or LaScie or Fleur-de-Lys or Ming's Bight or Makkovik or Nain, wherever they might be, St. John's, Corner Brook, Paradise, Carbonear. The crowd, wherever they are, there is wisdom in the crowd. The crowd know and understand what the best plan for Newfoundland and Labrador is.

They know and understand, and they know, Mr. Speaker, because we have been able in this Budget to make a piece of history. We have been able to make a piece of history and you have to trace that back to the line in the sand that I talked about in my opening remarks, where a leader is prepared to stand his or her ground and say, no more giveaways, this is what we need to turn this place around. The cards are lined up in a way that we perhaps can achieve it, so we are going to go all out to achieve it. To heck with the consequences, we are going to go all out to achieve it. That is a piece of history that has been made in this Province, Mr. Speaker, and as a result of that, we are able to stare the debt in the face. We are able to stare tomorrow in the face. We are able to stare it down, because we have taken conscious decisions to have a social conscience today but a balanced social conscience today, investing in the social needs of our Province and the social fabric of our Province today, but making it better for the next generation to be able to carry on and handle.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: That is the piece of history, Mr. Speaker. It took four years. Those who want to brand it luck, good luck to you. It took a lot of determination and a lot of grit and a lot of understanding and a lot of staring down great odds to make that luck a reality. If we did not have that kind of leadership then we would be nowhere. That is why we are able to balance our Budget in four years. That is why we are able to have four consecutive years. That is why we are able to have a balanced budget.

Now, nobody can predict with any great certainty where the price of oil is going to go, or the price of minerals for that matter. If you invest in your social program and in your infrastructure program and in your capital program as best you can, based on the best advice that you have and the best information in front of you, if you do all of that and at the end of your fiscal year you end up being better off, well that is a good piece of money to put where? To put on the future, to put on the debt, to get that down so that every dollar of interest you save is a dollar you can spend forever. That is the kind of stuff that I would like to do.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: Why did we take most of the $2 billion from the Hibernia advance and put it into pensions, Mr. Speaker? Why did we do that? I never heard any outcry in the Province that that was the wrong thing to do. In fact, I heard quite the opposite. As a matter of fact, if you look at the election results, then there was no great outcry that the Province took that pot of money and put it where? Into pensions of people who were dependent on the public purse for their pension.

Why would that have been the case? Why would you do that? Well, Mr. Speaker, there was a legal obligation on behalf of the government to pay out our pensions. Contracts were legally and in good faith entered into going back ages, going back eons in time, going back to Mr. Smallwood's days, going back to the 1960s. Contracts were entered into that obligated us to pay out pensions. It was a PC government, under Peckford, that finally vested those pensions, because up until that time the money used to go into general revenue and we paved roads with it, we built bridges with it, we built schools with it. We used that money. Everybody knows we used the money out of the general pot to do all of the things that needed to be done, deserved to be done. I am not criticizing that. I am just stating the fact, that that is what happened.

As a result of not investing our pensions, the pension fund for teachers and public servants in particular, uniformed services and all of that, were billions of dollars behind. They were billions of dollars in debt. All of that unfunded liability was there, accruing to whom? Accruing to the taxpayers of Newfoundland and Labrador. Well, we looked at that, Mr. Speaker, with this $2 billion cheque, and I know that there were a lot of people who looked at that $2 billion cheque with a jaundiced eye. There were a lot of people who looked at that $2 billion cheque and they had visions of pavement and hospitals and schools and salary increases. They had visions of a whole lot of things coming out of that $2 billion cheque. Again, that would have been that the politically popular thing to do. There would have been no criticism of the government, I do not expect, if we had taken that $2 billion and dedicated it to that kind of investment.

Mr. Speaker, with all of those problems staring us in the face, with almost fifty years of deteriorating infrastructure staring us in the face - you know, Mr. Speaker, talking about fifty years of infrastructure staring us in the face, I represent a district today on the Baie Verte Peninsula and part of Green Bay and the Springdale-King's Point-Harry's Harbour area, that after sixty years or Confederation have about 100 kilometres of road that has yet to get its first centimetre of pavement.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. RIDEOUT: Well, Labrador never even had the roads built, so that is even worse.

Do you know what? People are, rightly so and understandably so, looking for their roads to be repaved and reconstructed and recapped and all that. I still have a district in rural Newfoundland where there is about 100 kilometres that still does not have the first centimetre. I sat around a Cabinet table that looked at that and said, no, the right and proper and prudent thing for this government to do is to take that $2 billion and by and large invest it in pensions.

Why? You invest it in pensions because we stop the bleeding. We put the plan, in most cases, in all cases eventually, I believe, on a sustainable basis, so that it can sustain itself with the contributions that the employees are making and with their employer making. You free up forever the $50 million or $60 million or $70 million or $100 million a year that you had to put into it to keep it alive. That $50 million or $60 million or $70 million or $100 million a year can be used for your pavement and it can be used for your infrastructure and it can be used to build your ferries and it can be used to build your hospitals and it does not cost you any money. It is your money and you can determine where it goes. It does not have to go to Wall Street. That is why we put the money into the pension plans, Mr. Speaker. That was a hard political decision to make, back in those days, let me tell you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: It was a hard political decision to take when we had our colleagues down in the caucus room every day on our backs saying, we need another kilometre of pavement. We had our colleagues on the other side of the House coming to us, as ministers, every day of the week, saying we need something extra for our hospital, or we need something extra for our schools, or we need something extra for that. You've got lots of money now. You got a $2 billion cheque; take it out of that.

No, Mr. Speaker, we did not give in to that kind of - we did not take that approach. We took an approach that was bold, I think. We took an approach that, in my view, was principled. We took an approach that was prudent. We said, we will put the money where it will do the most good for all of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: For those who argued that it was doing the most good for a few thousand, who happened to be people dependent on the public purse for their pensions, don't forget: all the rest of us were on the legal hook to make good on those pensions.

We would have to give up, if we had to; there would not be a court in the land, Mr. Speaker - the Government of P.E.I. tried this under the late Premier Joe Ghiz. They tried to take away contractual requirements on pensions. It got to the Supreme Court of Canada and they were told they could not touch those things. They were constitutional guarantees, contractual guarantees that could not be touched, so they were enshrined in the law of the land.

If you could not afford to meet the payments out of the general revenue, you would have to take the dentures away, you would have to take the eyeglasses away, and pay the pensions. That is what you would have to do, Mr. Speaker, if your lot did not improve, if you did not make those necessary, hard decisions.

If we did not stare down, back two or three years ago, and resist – it is pretty tough for a government to resist spending, let me tell you, Mr. Speaker. I have been around a long time and it is much easier to make decisions to spend than it is to make decisions not to spend, I say to my colleagues. So it is pretty tough for a government to stare a $2 billion cheque in the face and say, no, we are going to take that and we are going to invest it so that we can get the best bang for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, and that was by investing in our pensions, by making our pensions stand on their own feet over time.

Then, on top of that, because it was a good time and the interest rates were down, we took the $2 billion from the Atlantic Accord, but is that all we did? No, Mr. Speaker, that was not all we did. Because interest rates were down and it was a good time to borrow, we went and borrowed about another billion dollars and put that in the pension plans, too, so that the pension plans were now well along the way to solvency and to paying their way, and to being there forever for the employees they were meant to protect.

That, Mr. Speaker, is management. That is leadership. That is what this government did.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: I would say, Mr. Speaker, that was a government exhibiting a clear social conscience. I would say, Mr. Speaker, there is no soul in Newfoundland and Labrador today that would brand that as immoral. I would say, Mr. Speaker, that every person out there, everybody out there, would see the sense in taking that kind of an approach.

As I said, Mr. Speaker, I will join that brigade any day. Any day of the week, I will join that brigade if it is going to lead to those kinds of improvements for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, for generations.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: You know, I am not prepared to give up having roads paved in my district, or new schools built in my district, or hospital expansions. I am not prepared to give up any of that, and I should not have to. I am not prepared to do it, Mr. Speaker, and no government should have to do it - and we do not, and we will not do it.

I tell you, Mr. Speaker, I am prepared to stand here today - and go to the electorate again if I decide to go, and let them pass judgment on me - I am prepared to stand here today and say that I have no hesitation at all in trying to improve the lot of future generations. I would like nothing better than by the time I leave this Legislature, whether it is three or four years time or ten years time, I would like nothing better, Mr. Speaker, than to have a zero public debt in Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: That would mean, Mr. Speaker, that there would not be a yoke around the young people of this Province when they come in here.

Now, we do not need to give up anything to get there. We can have our social conscience and our social programs and build our infrastructure. We can do that because we have been prudent, good, managers, but we can also, Mr. Speaker, take that burden of debt that we have accumulated for a good reason - nobody ever said that we did not do good things in piling up the debt that we piled up over sixty years. There are roads and bridges and schools and hospitals and public servant salaries, all of that contributed towards that accumulation of debt over sixty years - but what a proud day it would be if we could leave here at the end of our mandate and have that debt wiped out. I don't know about my colleagues, but I would go out of here walking on air, Mr. Speaker. I would pretty well fly out of here, knowing that my grandchildren, if there are going to be any of them live in Newfoundland and Labrador - I don't know if there will or not - they would inherit a Province, or at least they would have the ability to be able to borrow again at good rates, reasonable rates.

Is there anything wrong with paying your Visa card if you can afford to pay it?

AN HON. MEMBER: Nothing wrong with it at all.

MR. RIDEOUT: Nothing wrong with it at all, Mr. Speaker, in my opinion, and I believe that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have bought into that. I believe, Mr. Speaker, that the opposition - not the Official Opposition - I believe that the opposition in this Province is –

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. RIDEOUT: Mr. Speaker, do you know something? I heard a murmur from the hon. Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi. She can get up and murmur all she likes when I sit down. Do you know something, Mr. Speaker? I hope I have the fortitude not to interrupt her. I hope I have the fortitude not to interrupt her with any murmurings from me. There may be others, but I hope I will be too much of a gentleman to interrupt her when she gets up and carries on with her immoral speeches from yesterday.

AN HON. MEMBER: The sermon.

MR. RIDEOUT: The Sermon on the Mount we heard here yesterday, Mr. Speaker.

I have no hesitation at all in saying to my fellow Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that I hope that during my time in this place - and I do not know whether it will happen or not, it is a lot to hope for; there is $10 billion left yet - I would like to go out of here with a clean sheet. I would like to go out of here with the debt gone, Mr. Speaker. I would like to go out of here with a new government coming in, in four years time, that did not have to face any debt whatsoever.

Now, that might be too much to hope for. Is there something wrong with that, if you can also balance the social needs of our society at the same time? If I were up here advocating that as a principle at the same time I was advocating taking dentures and eyeglasses from our needy, I would deserve to be labelled as immoral. Yes, it would be immoral. I am up here advocating, doing all of those social things that we ought to be doing to improve the lot of the people all over Newfoundland and Labrador, to improve our education system, our health system, improve our contribution to seniors, to build on our poverty reduction platform. I am advocating all of that. I am part of a government that proudly proclaims that as a balanced approach to the needs of Newfoundland and Labrador. We are all part of that. So we are not to the right of Attila the Hun over here. We are trying to have a balance. We are trying to take advantage of good planning. We are trying to take advantage of good fortune. We are trying to be prudent and responsible and fund good programs.

Do you know the program that is going to mean the most to my district this year and in years to come? The new municipal infrastructure arrangement.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: I want to compliment my colleague, the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: It is not easy to come in and convince your colleagues who have been around for a long time, to come in as a new minister, as he did just after the election, and convince your colleagues that you should take a turn and do something differently. It is not easy, but he did, and he was successful. Not only did he get us to take a turn, but he got us to take such a turn it was unbelievable. We went from a fifty-fifty municipal cost-sharing arrangement in this Province where hardly a community in my district could afford to apply, a rural district that had lost its faith, not only in the fishery, Mr. Speaker. The fishery had devastated rural Newfoundland and Labrador, yes it has, and the decline and all that kind of stuff in the fishery and in the stocks, but the forest industry, out-migration, the mining on the Baie Verte Peninsula.

There was a time, Mr. Speaker, when I was first elected on the Baie Verte Peninsula, where if you did not have a job people looked at you as if there was something wrong with you, and there was, because there were plenty of jobs. Students in the summertime had plenty of jobs. There was no such thing as unemployment. We went through this downturn where people and communities, in particular, could not afford their fifty-fifty. Every single community in my district today, as a result of the initiative by this government and this minister - there are forty communities in the District of Baie Verte-Springdale now. One of the largest rural districts in the Province, I suppose, in terms of communities. There are forty of them, Mr. Speaker. Every single one of them qualifies for the ninety-ten cost-sharing arrangement.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: Am I going out to my district and tell them that that is immoral, Mr. Speaker? Not on your life. I am going out there and I am bragging about what this government has been able to accomplish for our rural municipalities. During the election I was into little places like Beachside and Rattling Brook and Jackson's Cove. Those little communities around the bottom of Green Bay that had large populations years ago and were left with large municipal infrastructure and could not afford to fix the leaks. They could not afford to keep the roof patched on their fire hall because at fifty-fifty they could not look at putting in an application. Well, Mr. Speaker, today as a result of the activities of this government, they can dream again. They can put in an application.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: Beachside or Harry's Harbour or Jackson's Cove or Silverdale or Ming's Bite or Round Harbour or Pacquet, any of those communities now, Mr. Speaker, can submit an application for consideration and if it is approved, they can very well look at a 10 per cent contribution. That is using the wealth of all of Newfoundland and Labrador to affect all of Newfoundland and Labrador, just like we are able to do in Happy Valley-Goose Bay with their new treatment system and in Corner Brook with their new treatment system. You know, Mr. Speaker, investing in our people is what it is all about, and that is what this government has done with this Budget.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: Mr. Speaker, I started off by saying I have been here for awhile and I have, yes. I have seen the tough times in budgeting in this Province, as have some people on the other side. There are times when governments in the past had to make some pretty, pretty tough decisions. I have seen them. I have experienced them. It is much easier, as I said a few moments ago, making the decisions to spend wisely and prudently and invest appropriately and pay down a bit of debt. Not all of it, but over time pay down our debt. That is the prudent approach, the cautious approach, what I believe is the right approach and what I believe the people of Newfoundland and Labrador support. Because I tell you, I believe there is a new future for this Province. There is a new day, Mr. Speaker. We have entered, as a matter of fact, that new day. I spoke about it earlier in terms of the confidence and the pride and the bounce in people's step that you find even in rural Newfoundland where people were predicting the dire straits and the death of many communities. There is a new confidence, Mr. Speaker. There is a new vitality. I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, I have been to the mountaintop and I see a new Newfoundland and Labrador. I see a new Newfoundland and Labrador. I see a new rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: I see a rural Newfoundland and Labrador where people are proud to work in Baie Verte or Grand Falls or Springdale and go to their home in Round Harbour, Snooks Arm, Ming's Bight, Pacquet or Woodstock. That is the real, rural Newfoundland and Labrador that I see because there will be a paved road there. There will be basic infrastructure like good water and sewer, good services. That is the new Newfoundland and Labrador that I see, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. RIDEOUT: I see a new Newfoundland and Labrador where people who grow up and are educated are ready to take on the world. They can go to Fort McMurray or they can go to any of the major financial centres of the world and the business communities of the world but they are from Ming's Bight, or they are from Fleur de Lys, they are from rural Newfoundland and Labrador. If they want to, they can come back to this place. If they want to, there is a living there for them. That is what I see in this Province, Mr. Speaker. That is the difference that this government has made. That is the difference that this Premier and this leadership have made. It has given people that view.

Why should the little boy or the little girl who grows up in Fleur de Lys not have the same equal opportunity as the little boy or little girl who grows up in Fort McMurray, Alberta? Why should a Newfoundlander be any less a Canadian because they grew up in a rural community and a rural municipality? Why should they not have access to good drinking water and a paved road because they grew up in rural Newfoundland? That day is gone, Mr. Speaker, there is a new dawn that has arisen in this Province. There is a new reality that has come to this Province, and people see it, people are proud of it. It is not immoral, Mr. Speaker. It is good leadership, it is the future, and that is where we are going, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order, please!

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

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

I am very pleased to have another opportunity to speak to the Budget. I know I am speaking to the amendment that was made to the Budget, but all our speaking is in the context of the Budget, and I am very happy to have another opportunity to do that.

Once again, I think I am going to start what I have to say from what was said by the previous speaker, as I did yesterday. I had my beginning point for today, but I think I would like to do some response.

The first thing I would like to do – and I think I am doing this mainly for the public, for those who are watching us, and maybe for my colleagues as well – is to point out what is obvious, and it is obvious by the fact that we have three parties in this House of Assembly, that in Canada we have more than three parties on a federal level and that each of those parties has a particular position, has a particular set of policies and has a way of seeing the world. People choose to vote for those parties, and we do have people choosing to vote for each of the parties and that is why each of the parties has somebody sitting in a Legislature, whether it is our Legislature or whether it is the Legislature in Ottawa.

There are times when the numbers are more or less representing a party, and we all know that there are all kinds of dynamics that create that to happen. There have even been times, and I think they were the lowest times when it happened, where some Legislatures had only one party represented, and it was one of the worst things they experienced. I know that happened in New Brunswick at one point and it was the worst possible government that they ever had. They really found it very difficult having an Assembly made up of all of one party.

One of the things about our society is that we are all different, there is diversity, and we have different positions when it comes to social programs and we have different positions when it comes to economics. That is who we are as a people. That is who we are on this Earth. No matter where you go, that is the reality of who we are.

Let us take, for example, economics. If we had four economists in this room, professional economists, and put a question to them with regard to the economy, we would probably get four different answers of how to deal with that question. If we presented an economic problem to them, we would probably get four different positions with regard to solving that economic problem, because that is the nature of who we are. We have different visions and we have different ways of looking at things.

The government and my hon. colleague have the right to have their position, and I as an individual member in this House and I as a leader of another party have a right to have my position. What we do in this House, I think, is present those different positions to people. If we did not have democracy, if we did not believe in it, then we could have all forty-eight of us here all saying the same thing. We do have a democracy and we do have diversity and that is why we are here and that is why I was elected. That is why each of us was elected, because there were people who wanted us as individuals and who wanted our party here in this House. So, we can take any issue from the Budget and look at it and we are going to get more than one position.

My hon. colleague talked about what happened when the Atlantic Accord was signed and the government decided to take the $2 billion and put that $2 billion towards the teachers' pension. At that time, and I would still say it, I said that I disagreed with putting the $2 billion down. I did not say I disagreed with putting money down on the pension. I said I disagreed with putting $2 billion down on the pension. I tested that. I tested that with economists, and I tested it with economists who did not identify themselves as people who voted for the NDP, for the party that I represented. They were economists who looked at the issue and my question to them was: Is it really necessary to pay down the whole thing? For example, if $1 billion were put down on the teachers' pension and then a plan put in place for the rest of the payment and the other billion used for something else, would that have been acceptable from an economic perspective? The answer was, absolutely. I said, would that have been acceptable from the perspective of satisfying creditors, and the answer was, absolutely. This is what was said to me by economists. My gut told me that, the bit of knowledge I have told me that, and that was confirmed. There are different ways of doing everything. What I am questioning is the way that government is choosing to use the money, and I have the right to do that. I have the right to put that out and I have the right to explain to people why I see it differently.

I am going to use a very, very down-to-earth example. This down-to-earth example some will probably say, oh it does not fit, but it does fit. Here is the down-to-earth example. If I, as the head of the family, as the owner of a house, owner with a mortgage, with two or three children and a partner, if I said, you know what, I really hate having the debt and I would like us to pay down our mortgage in seven years instead of twenty-five, and if in doing that, number one, it meant that I did not have enough money to really heat the house, if it meant that I did not have enough money to feed my children properly, if it meant that I could not educate my children, that my kids were going to come out of university or college with heavy debts on their shoulders because I could not help them with their education, if it meant that I could only pay for visual care for two children and not for three of them, if it meant that I could take care of dental care for two children and not for three of them, I would not be doing my job as the head of the household.

Not to come across as being too learned, but I think it is important for people to know that the word economics comes from a Greek word that simply means managing the household. That is why it is not crazy to take a household image to talk about economy, because no matter what level we are talking about it on, managing the household is what we are talking about.

It concerns me greatly when I see such a focus on money going down on the debt, the speed with which it is happening. My learned colleague, my hon. colleague, talked about staring down the debt and that this government is so proud because it can stare down the debt. Well, I hope that my colleagues and this government, if this government is in place, let us say you are in place in ten years' time, just let us say that happened, if you are still looking at seniors who cannot get home care, I hope you are ready to stare them down. I hope you are ready to look them in the eye and stare them down.

If we still have single moms who cannot afford child care, and if the child care goes up because there are no regulations, because it is totally privatized, and they cannot meet the increase in child care, I hope you are going to be ready to look them in the eye and stare them down.

If – I am not going to say if on this one. We have pensioners, people who worked for government, public pensioners in this Province, who are living in poverty, who are going to food banks. How can you look them in the eye, and how can you try to stare them down? It blows my mind. I cannot understand it.

I can stay in the present on this one, too. We have workers on minimum wage, living in poverty. How can you look them in the eye? Are you going to tell them that you are going to stare them down?

That kind of image really frightens me; because, in staring down the debt in the way that has been described by my hon. colleague, the Minister of Fisheries, by using that language you are saying you do not care that, in staring down that debt, you are adding to the social debt, that you are adding to the other debt.

All I am saying - and I think people out there are hearing it very clearly, or else all of the people who come to me and talk to me on the street, and people who send me e-mails, and people I get phone calls from, they are all lying to me - all I am saying is that there is another way to do it, there is a more balanced way to do it, and that it will not mean anything in ten years time if we have no debt if we have not put in place a system for child care, for public child care, if we have not put in place a system for home care that is a public system, if we have not put in place a universal pharmacare program. If we do not have those things in place after all of the money that we will have made from the offshore, if we do not see those things in place in ten, fifteen or twenty years, then I despair.

We have an opportunity right now in this Province to do things differently. We have an opportunity to be unlike Alberta, to not do what they did in Alberta. Alberta, yes, does have people who are wealthy. Alberta has an upper middle class that is doing very well, but Alberta has - and this is not an exaggeration, this is a reality - shelters in Calgary, one shelter in particular where 1,000 people stay a night. One thousand people - that is not a joke. I am not making it up. That is a reality.

Some of those 1,000 people have jobs, but the jobs they have do not pay them enough to get affordable housing so they literally have to sleep in a shelter. That is their affordable housing, a free shelter - 1,000 people in one shelter - and there is more than one shelter in Calgary. We have people in Calgary who are sleeping in their cars because there is no affordable housing.

You see, we have an opportunity, as a Province, to not have that happen. We have an opportunity to make sure that we do not have this terrible wide gulf between those who are benefiting and those who are not benefiting.

One of the things that has been true about us here in Newfoundland and Labrador, and it is a statistical thing but it is an important fact, is that we actually have had the narrowest gap between those who have and have not in our Province.

People often hear about the gap between the wide and the poor, and the gap is widening. Well, for us it was not true. For us, we had one of the narrowest gaps. Even though we had people who did well and we had poor people, it was more balanced. We had more of a middle class in between and the gap was not as big.

Unfortunately, with things happening the way they are now with our economy, our gap is widening. It is starting to move in that widening direction. This will be a new thing for us, so we have the opportunity to stop that.

If, for the next ten years - I am just taking ten as a figure; I could take more than that - we have budgets that continue on the path we are on, number one, we are going to have a much wider gap between the rich and the poor in this Province; and, number two, we are going to have a tremendous social debt that was created on the backs of the people.

I do not know how, in any conscience, the government that is sitting here now can do that and say that is acceptable. I do not know how members of this government can stand on this floor and say that they are socially responsible, to say that they have social consciences, to call themselves red Tories, while at the same time they are putting in place a fiscal policy that is not going to work for people in need.

It will not matter to the people who have money - and you do not have to be a millionaire. It will not matter to those who have good jobs and who have health care plans. Those people will be able to afford whatever they need, but the middle downward, the lower middle, lower class, are going to find it harder and harder to exist in this Province. They are already finding it hard. That is going to increase.

We have been so let down. There is so much that could have been in this Budget. There is so much that this government could have started to think about doing. There is so much that a plan could have been put in place for, so that in ten years time we have more of what we need.

What was really promised to our young people in this Budget? What was really promised? You know, what are we doing around employment? What are the things that could have been put in place for employment, programs that should be Province-wide for youth at risk. We have some programs here in St. John's, we might have some over in Corner Brook, I am not sure, but we have a lot of youth at risk. Why don't we have Province-wide programs to meet with them?

Why don't we have, you know, really serious programs around youth addiction, around prevention of addiction, and early intervention programs everywhere in the Province? That all seems so logical; why aren't we putting money into that? You know, it would not take a lot of money to do those kinds of programs. Half of that $1.3 billion that went down on the debt in the last Budget could have done an awful lot.

 

Imagine if we had taken $750 million and put towards some of the programs that I have been talking about here. Seven hundred and fifty million would have gone down on the debt, $750 million towards programs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS MICHAEL: What I am talking about is -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

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

Whether or not those watching heard all of that I do not know, but I think I said clearly that I would take half of what went down on the debt and use half of that. Then the other half would go down on the debt, and economically that works. You slow down the process of paying down the debt. It is economically sound, it is economically valid, and I want the people who are watching this program, I want the people who do follow what happens in the House of Assembly, I want those people to understand there are different ways of doing it, whether or not my colleagues here in the House understand that there are different ways of doing it.

We have had governments in this country who have done it differently, and it has worked. We have had governments in this country who have done it differently, and who have had balanced budgets. We have governments in this country who slowly paid down debt, and took care of the people in their Province at the same time, and put in place child care programs, put in place universal pharmacare programs, put it place home care programs, put in place programs that paid people for their work, so that they would not be living in poverty.

None of that is stupid. None of that is illogical. It happens; it is done. So, I am not going to give up calling for this. I am not going to give up saying that we cannot ignore the fact that we have at least a twenty year disinvestment of social infrastructure in this Province. We have so much to catch up with. So, what do we want to do – have forty years of disinvestment? Do we want to have thirty years of disinvestment that we then have to deal with? We have to start dealing with it now. Common sense tells you that.

I will come back to my example of the family. A family has to take care of itself. You have to identify the basic needs in the family, and you have to budget yourself to take care of all aspects of your economy, and one of the aspects of your economy is your debt. Every family has a debt. Some have a bigger debt than others and some have a debt that is pretty overwhelming, but what they have to deal with at all times is managing that debt and also take care of all the needs. I do not know how more simple I can make it, Mr. Speaker, because it all seems so extremely logical to me.

AN HON. MEMBER: Look at our Budget and (inaudible) understand.

MS MICHAEL: I have read the Budget very well, Mr. Speaker, and that is why I do not understand, because the Budget does not make sense.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask members for their co-operation.

The hon. Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi has been recognized by the Speaker, and I ask members to allow her to speak.

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

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

What the government is going to have to do, and this is what I do not see happening, is realize that right now at this moment, yes, we have money, and paying down the debt is one way to go with it. Partially paying it down is another way to go with it. At the same time, no matter what it is doing….

I think my time has run out, Mr. Speaker.

By leave, Mr. Speaker?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Does the hon. member have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I will not take long.

What I would like to point out is that, as we pay down the debt, and I have no problem with putting money towards the debt, we also have to look at what we are going to do with our economy, number one, to diversify the economy, to look at real employment creation, to look at our renewable resources in this Province, and to put in place a plan so that in twenty or thirty years, when we no longer are getting a billion dollars a year from oil and gas, that we will have put money into the creation of a diversified economy, especially with our renewable resources - with fishery, with forestry, and with agriculture – and also a community-based economy, so that when the oil dries up, so that when we are not getting that billion dollars a year, or three-quarters of a billion a year, that there will be jobs, that there will be employment, and that there will be programs that we can sustain for the good of our people.

I think, Mr. Speaker, I have rounded out what I wanted to say today. You never know, I might get another opportunity to speak to this as well, and I look forward to that.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me a few more minutes.

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

MR. RIDEOUT: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I think we are close enough to the end of the parliamentary day now that we will move adjournment; but, before I do, I want to take the opportunity, for the benefit of members, to point out that the Estimates Committees begin their work tonight.

I believe there is agreement between both sides that we will start as soon as the Legislature adjourns, and the Resource Committee will meet here in the Legislature right after adjournment to consider the Estimates of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

For the benefit of members I will advise, as well, that I believe the Government Services Committee will meet tomorrow morning at 9:00 o'clock here in the House to consider Transportation and Works, and that the Resource Committee will meet tomorrow evening, after the House adjourns, to consider Tourism, Culture and Recreation.

I believe that this is the schedule that has been arrived at, by concurrence anyway, so I just pass that out for members' benefit.

Mr. Speaker, I do now move that the House, on its rising, adjourn until tomorrow, Wednesday, at 2:00 o'clock, and that this House now adjourn.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is that this House do now adjourn.

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

The motion is carried.

This House now stands adjourned until 2:00 o'clock tomorrow, being Wednesday.

On motion, the House at its rising adjourned until tomorrow, Wednesday, at 2:00 p.m.