May 22, 2008              HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS              Vol. XLVI   No. 31


The House met at 1:30 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order please!

Admit strangers.

Today we certainly want to extend a warm welcome to three schools who are visiting our House of Assembly. We would like to welcome twenty-two Grade 8 students from Smallwood Academy in the District of Terra Nova. The students are joined by their teacher, Ms Glendene Barrow; chaperone, Ms Berdina Connolly, and bus driver, Mr. Bruce Lush.

Also joining us today are twenty-one Grade 8 students from Our Lady of Mercy School in the District of St. George's-Stephenville East. Among these students, I might add, is Byron Bennett, the grandson of the former MHA for St. George's, Ms Hazel McIsaac, who was the first woman elected to the House of Assembly after Confederation and she served from 1975 to 1979. These students are joined by their teachers, Ms Darlene Sexton, Mr. Ivan MacDonald, Mr. Chris Hutchings, and parent chaperone, Ms Janelle Bennett.

The third school joining us today is St. Thomas Aquinas School from the District of Port au Port. There are fourteen Grade 7 students who are accompanied by their teacher, Mr. Jim Conran, and chaperone, Ms Lori Ann Young.

Welcome to the House of Assembly.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

Statements by Members

 

MR. SPEAKER: The following members' statements will be heard: the hon. the Member for the District of St. John's West, the hon. the Member for the District of Placentia & St. Mary's, the hon. the Member for the District of Humber Valley.

The hon. the Member for the District of St. John's West.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to recognize a young resident of my district.

Jessica McErlean, a thirteen-year-old student at I.J. Sampson Junior High School, is a member of Team Newfoundland and Labrador that will be travelling to Calgary later this week to participate in a national Skills Competition.

Jessica earned this right by placing first in the prepared speech competition, both at the intermediate level in her school in November, and again in March at the College of the North Atlantic with her speech entitled: How Skilled Trades Programs Can Take You Places.

Mr. Speaker, I have been told that Jessica has an amazing talent to captivate audiences, while at the same time delivering a very important message concerning skilled trades in our Province.

I ask all hon. members of the House of Assembly to join me in congratulating Jessica on her achievements thus far and in extending best wishes for her competition in Calgary.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in this hon. House to pay tribute to the Genesis Employment Corporation of Placentia, a community-based supported employment agency serving the Placentia and the Cape Shore areas.

Mr. Speaker, supported employment provides job search assistance, placement and on-the-job training for individuals with developmental disabilities.

Recently, I was pleased to attend the Genesis' Annual Employment/Supporter Recognition Night, in partnership with the Argentia area Chamber of Commerce, marking the eleventh anniversary of Genesis in Placentia. As always, the event was exceptionally well attended.

Mr. Speaker, during that time, the corporation has generated over 165,000 man hours of employment. Genesis has provided meaningful employment to forty-three clients, with up to thirty people working at any one time.

This year, Mr. Speaker, twenty local businesses participated in this worthwhile initiative. The Fox Harbour Library was the recipient of this year's Employment Merit Award, which recognizes the employer who has made an outstanding contribution to the employment of individuals with developmental disabilities.

Unfortunately, Genesis has lost its CEO, Loreli Loder, who has left the organization to take up another position. She has been the backbone of Genesis for seven years, and the driving force behind its success, and we wish her well in her future endeavours.

I ask all hon. members to join me in congratulating the board, the staff, the business partners of Genesis, for eleven years of meaningful contributions to the lives of these individuals.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KELLY: Mr. Speaker, I stand in this hon. House today to pay tribute to the community of Cormack. Cormack is now using its new community centre for civic functions.

Mr. Speaker, on May 10, I attended a special event at the new centre. It was the thirteenth annual Firemen's Ball that was held in conjunction with an evening to recognize the volunteers on their significant contribution to their community. All volunteers, including the twenty-three firemen, were recognized for their special work they do on behalf of all citizens in their community. It was so nice to have all volunteers recognized and made feel special as part of their community's picture.

Mr. Speaker, Cormack had its beginnings after World War II, when land was made available for veterans to move to new careers in the agricultural sector. This was indeed a creative economic development project designed to assist veterans and their families begin a new life.

Mr. Speaker, the new facility is an accomplishment of the entire community. They are to be congratulated for their vision and strong belief they have in the future of their beautiful town. Rural communities in our Province can enjoy economic success through outstanding local leadership like that being demonstrated by the people of Cormack.

Mr. Speaker, I ask all members of this hon. House to join me in paying tribute to Mayor Warwick Hewitt and the residents of Cormack for this new facility, demonstrating such remarkable pride.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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.

It really gives me great pleasure today to stand in the House and recognize the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Miawpukek Band Hunger Strike of April, 1983. I, along with many people here in St. John's, were quite honoured to be able to walk in solidarity with them in that year, twenty-five years ago.

The Miawpukek Band, at that time known as the Conne River Band, had gone a full year without any operational funding. The community received 85 per cent of its operating money from the federal government, money that was funnelled through the provincial government; however, the government of the day had held up $850,000 for over a year in an attempt to force the Band to accept its participation in the Band's decision-making.

The Band had unsuccessfully negotiated for these funds to be released directly to the Band. The government would not compromise so the people of Miawpukek, at that time, as I said, known as the Conne River Band, took affirmative action.

Not only did the hunger strike result in the $850,000 being handed over to the Band; the federal government also agreed to the establishment of key services in the community. In 1984 the Band received Reserve Status and for most of us, I am sure, the rest is history. There was no looking back for the Conne River Band.

The hunger strikers were: Michael Joe, Jr., now known as Chief Misel Joe; Aubrey Joe; Michael G. Benoit; Rick Jeddore; Chesley Joe; George Drew; Billy Joe; Andy Joe; Wilfred Drew.

I ask the members of this hon. House to join me in honouring those who participated in the hunger strike and who were, without any doubt, willing to give their lives, if necessary, to assure justice for the Aboriginal People of Conne River.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Statements by Ministers.

Statements by Ministers

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

I rise today to inform all Members of the House of Assembly that the Canadian Union of Public Employees – CUPE - has ratified the collective agreement that was reached on April 24, 2008, between CUPE and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. T. MARSHALL: Mr. Speaker, the ratification vote was 95 per cent in favour.

This agreement spans four years with salary increases of 8 per cent in the first year and 4 per cent in each of the following three years. As Premier Williams has said, this is a good deal for the members of CUPE and a good deal for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

With a 20 per cent salary increase over four years, this agreement recognizes the valuable contributions that members of CUPE have made to the people of this Province on a daily basis; yet the agreement is also sustainable in regard to all of the demands on the Province's finances. This agreement also reflects our government's acknowledgement of the sacrifice our public employees have made in achieving greater financial stability in our Province in recent years. The deal includes a larger increase in year one of 8 per cent in recognition of the contribution that they have made. This agreement also provides increases in shift differential rates and increases in standby provisions.

I was very pleased, Mr. Speaker, to hear through the media that CUPE National President Paul Moist, at the annual CUPE convention here, referred to this agreement as probably the best deal in the country. We have consistently said that we fully intend to negotiate collective agreements that are reasonable, responsible and sustainable, and that is exactly the deal that has been reached with CUPE.

On behalf of Premier Williams and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, I would like to thank Mr. Wayne Lucas and the CUPE negotiating teams for their professionalism throughout the entire process. We look forward to concluding other collective agreements with public employees that, like the CUPE agreement, are in the long-term best interest of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I thank the minister for an advance copy of his statement, and congratulations to the CUPE members who have overwhelmingly voted in favour of this contract, 95 per cent, as the minister said.

CUPE, of course, is one of the smaller sector unions in this Province – public sector unions. I understand they are one of the smaller ones, with NAPE and the NLTA and the Nurses' Union, of course, being more substantial in numbers. I guess we will see in due course whether the template that government has set down for CUPE, and which has been accepted by CUPE, will be acceptable to those groups.

As we are aware, the pathologists are certainly in the process of making a special case for themselves and we, of course, know where the nurses stand. They are also expecting some kind of special treatment and they are trying to make a special case, a strong case, to suggest that. I guess we will see in due course where the other majority of public sector unions in the Province stand at the end of the day.

Thank you.

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

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

I, too, thank the minister for the advance copy of his statement, and I congratulate CUPE, its members and the government, on a successful collective bargaining process.

Of course, I, too, look forward to hearing that the other agreements come to a conclusion. I hope that will happen fairly soon. To use the words of the minister's statement, part of "…long-term best interest of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians…" is having workers who are happy - happy with the reimbursement that they get for their work and with their working conditions. By having workers who are happy in the workplace, then we will ensure that the services that are being offered to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will be top-notch.

I encourage the government to keep that in mind as they continue with the process and, of course, I am sure that the unions have that in their mind as well.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further statements by ministers.

The hon. the Government House Leader.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, on behalf of all hon. members, I offer congratulations today to a group of highly talented and motivated students from Stephenville High. They are the winners of this year's Marine Advanced Technology Education Centre regional underwater robotics competition. I would also like to congratulate students from Heritage Collegiate of Lethbridge, who took second place in this year's competition.

These students will join a team from Eric J. Lambert School in Churchill Falls and the legendary Easter Edge robotics team, comprised of post-secondary students, at the international ROV competition next month in California.

Each of these teams designed and built a remote operated vehicle or ROV. These ROVs, Mr. Speaker, are technically advanced machines and are the result of months of hard work, creativity and expertise.

I have every reason to believe that our four teams will shine at the world competition. Last year, this event was held in our Province, the first time it had ever taken place outside the United States. This Province was chosen because of the exceptional, world-class facilities at Memorial University and the Marine Institute. At that time, both the Eastern Edge and Heritage Collegiate teams took second place in their respective age groups. What's more, Mr. Speaker, in the two previous years Eastern Edge has claimed the top prize at the world competition.

Mr. Speaker, it is students like these who will carry this Province forward as the premiere location for cold ocean research. Last year, we invested $1 million for the creation of a new School of Ocean Technology at the Marine Institute, as well as almost $90,000 for the establishment of an advanced Command and Control Centre to receive live broadcasts from international ocean exploration projects. This year, we are investing $1 million in MUN's Ocean Sciences Centre, as well as funding to support the Faculty of Engineering. We are making these investments so students can access the highest quality post-secondary training.

Newfoundland and Labrador is rapidly emerging as a hotbed for ocean and marine technology industries. In the St. John's region alone, there are now more than forty small- and medium-sized enterprises that have developed innovative ocean technologies, products and services. From offshore systems evaluation to underwater acoustics and integrated marine navigation, the Province's ocean technology enterprises are achieving world-wide prominence; and, it is the students from Stephenville High, Heritage Collegiate, E.J. Lambert and so many others from schools across the Province who will make these businesses grow.

Mr. Speaker, I offer sincere congratulations to all team members and their teachers, and on behalf of this hon. House I wish them the best of luck at the world competition next month.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to thank the minister for an advance copy of the statement and to say that we, too, on this side of the House, want to congratulate Stephenville High on taking first place in this regional underwater robotics competition, and also to Heritage Collegiate in Lethbridge for placing second. I also understand that St. James School from Port aux Basques, from my hon. colleague's District of Burgeo & LaPoile, were into the competition as well when it took place here; I think it was at MUN or the Marine Institute or whatever.

Mr. Speaker, I know in the Conception Bay North area there are similar competitions that our students get involved in, but I think they are above water; they are not the underwater competitions.

Having said that, I want to congratulate all of those who were involved and wish them every success as they join with Eric J. Lambert School from Churchill Falls and the Eastern Edge group as they travel to the world competitions.

I guess it goes to show the wonderful talent that we have in our young people here in the Province, coupled with the facilities at the Marine Institute and Memorial University, is something to be dealt with and we want to wish them every success.

I understand Eastern Edge, as it says in the statement, took first place on two occasions in the world competition and we want to wish them every success again this year.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

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

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

I join in congratulating the teams who have been successful, not only this year but in past years. It is really great for us to have this wonderful growth in the ocean-based sector in our Province because this is really a major part of what our future should be: having industry that is involved in new technologies and new, exciting ways of dealing with our marine environment, and looking at, in particular, ways in which we can save that environment, ways in which we can build up fish stocks that have declined.

This is very encouraging, and I encourage the government that I really do not think we can invest too much in industries in this area.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further statements by ministers.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in this hon. House today to report on the latest trade initiative of the provincial government.

Newfoundland and Labrador is home, as many people would know, to dynamic business and academic communities. In markets around the world, our companies and institutions are earning a reputation for excellence and innovation - as we just heard.

To facilitate continued growth, it is essential that we have the necessary infrastructure in place to position the Province on the global stage and enable our businesses to grow and succeed.

Trade is a very large and very important part of our provincial economy. Newfoundland and Labrador - surprisingly to some people, probably - ranks third in Canada for exports per capita. We rank higher than any other Atlantic Province, higher than Ontario, higher than Quebec, and higher than British Columbia.

To help open new doors and opportunities for our businesses and institutions, we have signed Memorandums of Understandings with the State of Rhode Island, Ireland, and, most recently, Iceland.

These MOUs have fostered positive working relationships – relationships that have enabled our business and academic institutions to target new markets and explore new opportunities.

In fall 2007, we also entered into the Southeastern United States-Central and Eastern Canadian Provinces Alliance.

The objective of the alliance is to present opportunities for businesses to enhance commercial exchanges, promote two-way investment, and encourage technological linkages between provinces and states.

More importantly, it creates opportunity and eliminates any potential barriers to entry for locally produced goods and services. In 2006, the Southeast United States states represented $482 million in trade activity to the Province.

The alliance will meet annually and alternate between countries, Canada and the U.S., with the first meeting scheduled for next month in Georgia. I am happy to report to the House of Assembly today that St. John's has been selected as the site of the 2009 meeting, the first meeting of this organization in Canada.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. TAYLOR: The conference will attract between 300 and 400 distinguished guests including premiers, governors, industry leaders and company executives. Throughout the conference, businesses will connect with businesses; local businesses will be able to meet directly with key audiences; and site visits will be co-ordinated for visitors to view the Province's world-class facilities and see first-hand the depth of opportunities in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The provincial government is a committed partner to improving the Province's trade and export development opportunities. The 2009 meeting of the alliance marks an exciting opportunity for the Province's innovative enterprises to grow their business with our trading partners to the south.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: hear, hear!

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

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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

Some persons, of course, the naysayers of the world, might question the government expense on these types of initiatives. I, for one, am a firm supporter of it. I think MOUs, trade shows, conferences, initiatives, anything that advances the people and the businesses in this Province on the world stage to make them more competitive or more successful, I think, is certainly a wise investment.

There is no question and no reason that we are one of the country's biggest exporters when you look at our fisheries, our forestry, our mining and, of course, our oil; it puts us on the world scale when it comes to being an exporter.

The world today is a much smaller place. We hear about the global economy, and given the Net and how quickly things happen today, we have to be involved in that global economy in a big way and that only happens if the businesses and the people involved have the support of governments in order to do these things. There is an evaluation process, no doubt. We have had some instances where companies just do not come in and pick up the money and grab the cash and run. There is an evaluation process in place. As long as the process is followed, due diligence is done and it is properly evaluated, we in the Opposition are certainly supportive of these types of initiatives.

Thank you.

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

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

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

This is good news. It is always good news. Of course, our history as a Province is exporting. We have been exporting our stuff right from the beginning. I think the difference now, which I think is very important, is that the exporting is being done by companies that are grounded here in Newfoundland and Labrador, not companies that are outside of our Province, taking our resources and exporting out to themselves. This is good news, what is happening through the ministry that the minister is representing.

I do think, though, that there needs to be more effort, and I know the minister knows this, I do not mean effort is not being made, but we have to make sure that there is a lot of outreach to small and medium-sized businesses and that they are getting the opportunity to access the export markets and access the funding that government has made available. I understand that there has not been as much of a take up on some of the funds as one would have hoped. We saw that during some of the Estimates meetings. I encourage the department and the minister to make sure that a lot of advertising, a lot of outreach is made, especially to the small and medium businesses in the Province so that they, too, can benefit from these export agreements.

Thank you very much.

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.

Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Minister of Transportation and Works stated that she felt strong-armed or intimidated by the former Deputy Premier to give him extra money for roadwork in his district, and this happened while the Premier was in Houston. Mr. Speaker, the Premier returned from Houston on May 8, according to his appearance in the media on that date. The Minister of Transportation and Works announced the extra money in a press release a full week later on May 15.

I ask today, Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister if she had concerns about this extra funding, she felt somehow threatened or strong-armed or pressured, I believe were all the adjectives that she used, into making this decision, I ask her: Why didn't you speak to the Premier in the week leading up to your announcement and have this sorted out?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, I acknowledged in this House yesterday to my hon. colleague that I had erred in judgement, when my gut feeling told me that I should do some consultation with the Premier's office. I did that, Your Honour, and I take full responsibility for the judgement I made but I would like to say to the hon. member there, it would have been very easy to sweep this under the rug but that is not my feeling and not my principles so I went and did consult with the Premier. There was a process to go through -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MS WHALEN: - and I have to tell you that the ultimatum that the Deputy Premier had put to me in a conversation that he would walk, he did just that yesterday,

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Maybe the minister can tell me if her consultation with the Premier was on or before May 15 at the time she made the public announcement?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, I have a number of conversations with the Premier's office. I cannot tell her the exact time or date but I did have a number of consultations about this issue.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: It is a regular thing on the other side, Mr. Speaker, when Cabinet ministers are questioned that they forget specific details. We have learned that over the last few weeks, like when they had conversations and who they had them with.

Mr. Speaker, this morning on the Open Line show the former Deputy Premier stated that he had never put pressure on the Minister of Transportation -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to continue with her question.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

In fact, it was the minister who contacted him on this issue.

I ask you, minister: Did you make this call and, if so, why did you state yesterday that you were strong-armed into giving the funding and to making the announcement?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, I had a couple of conversations with the Deputy Premier. In one of those conversations the Deputy Premier asked for an extra million dollars and his words to me were: If I don't get this for my district, I will walk. I took that to be a threat. Obviously, the Deputy Premier called that yesterday. He resigned when he did not get the extra million.

I want to say here too, that there is a message here; everybody has to be treated alike. The Deputy Premier at that time, I felt carried a lot of weight in this House and I looked up to the Deputy Premier. When he gave me that ultimatum, I did not want to see him walk but there was no choice, my gut told me otherwise. I had made an error. I own up to that, I take responsibility for that. I would say to every member sitting in this House here that I would say all of us at some point or other have erred in judgement and I regret that very sincerely. I regret that error in judgement.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My question was very simple, and that was, who initiated the contact with regard to this funding arrangement and this announcement? Was it you contacting the member, minister, or the member contacting you?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Transportation and Works.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, as with roadwork, there are a number of contacts made with all MHAs, back and forth, to take their input for their districts, the kind of issues that they lobby for. I had no different with the Deputy Premier. I had a couple of conversations with him, as well as I have had with other MHAs.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Media reports have also indicated that the Minister of Municipal Affairs was as well intimidated and felt his position was under threat and strong-armed by the former Deputy Premier as well.

I ask the minister: When did this occur, and how much money would have been coerced from your department as a result of that strong-arming and threatening approach?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DENINE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The recent program I announced is a multi-year capital works. That is for the larger centres. In doing so, Mr. Speaker, I contacted all the MHAs that had multi-year capital works, and I had a conversation with all of them, exactly what was going to happened.

I did contact the Deputy Premier at the time to let him know what was happening and, yes, we did have a discussion. It was not a very pleasant discussion, I might add, and one of the issues was the fact there was insufficient money there for him.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I ask the minister, if he can tell me how much money was committed to the Member for Baie Verte-Springdale at the time that he felt threatened and pressured and strong-armed by that member to provide money?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DENINE: Just a correction there, Mr. Speaker.

When the money is dealt with in multi-year capital works, it is not done to a district. It is done to a municipality. In terms of the municipality, there could be one or two in each municipality and it is done to the municipality.

So, after the discussion - a very heated discussion we had, a very aggressive discussion - there was $875,000 given over three years. So, it is roughly around $250,000 per year.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Maybe the minister can provide for us the details of additional funding that the Member for Baie Verte-Springdale was requesting at the time?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DENINE: I am not sure if I got all of the question, I was trying to listen to what was happening there. This money is allocated to a municipality and the money is done in bulk. For example, the municipality Multi-Year Capital Works will come in with a list of what they want to do, priorities, and we will basically look at the priorities and try to share it out as equally and fairly as possible, and then it will be up to the municipalities to decide their priority list.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The minister is indicating that he had committed to $875,000, I think, over a three-year period.

My question is very simple.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask members for their cooperation. There are questions being asked, ministers are having difficulty in hearing questions and the Chair is having difficulty not only hearing the answers but hearing the questions. I ask members for their cooperation.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank you for your intervention.

I would like to ask the minister: What was the additional amount of money that the member was requesting, for what community within his district, and was that money granted?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DENINE: Mr. Speaker, as I just said, under the multi-year program there is a bulk of money that is allocated to a municipality that applies under multi-year. There is another program, the Municipal Capital Works Program, which is a separate program.

What happens is, when they send in their priority list the municipalities will determine their priorities. When the money was given it wasn't for a specific item. The municipality then would have to fill out Schedule A, send it back into us, and then it is approved.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Did the minister at that time make the Premier aware as well that he was being strong-armed by a minister to try and give him money for his district? Was that reported to the Premier's office at that time or only after this occurrence with the Minister of Transportation and Works became public?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DENINE: Mr. Speaker, just being new into the Cabinet back in November, I took it upon myself, the responsibility for that department, and when something happens I try to do it as best I can, to the best of my ability, to decide which way I will go. I don't have to run to the Premier with everything that happens. The Premier expects me to handle it and I hope I handled this as best I could.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

My next question is for the Premier, because it is quite obvious, Premier, that you have ministers who are unable to fend off the lobby tactics of their own colleagues, and make decisions that are firm that they are prepared to stand by.

I ask you: Does this cause you any certainty in their ability to be able to carry out and exercise proper judgment in doing their jobs as ministers in your government?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: I have certainty now, because Tom Rideout is gone.

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, it seems like yesterday the Premier made a statement - I read it in the paper this morning – that, even if the Member for Baie Verte-Springdale did not table their resignation, he was about to ask for that resignation.

I have to ask you, Premier, because we have seen other ministers here, and in particular today the Minister of Transportation and Works, who is not being reprimanded in any way for making an error in judgment, or a decision within the department that was not in due process of that department.

Mr. Speaker, I ask the Premier: What will be the disciplinary action of him, as a Premier, to a minister in a case where those ministers breach the process that has been outlined within their department and their responsibilities?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, it would be totally inappropriate for me to discipline or reprimand or deal with a minister who has been threatened, while I am out of the Province, by my Deputy Premier, with his resignation, in order to get extra money for his district. She has indicated that she has made an error in judgment by granting it to him under a threat of resignation. She said it several times. She cannot do any more than that.

As far as I am concerned, the minister has basically acknowledged her mistake; however, the most important thing here is that we have a minister of the Crown that was threatened by another minister of the Crown with a resignation in order to get money from that minister of the Crown. That is totally inappropriate.

His resignation stands, and I am quite pleased with it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, this is a Premier who did not think it was even necessary to take action or to call for a resignation of his Health Minister at a time when that minister did not even read his briefing notes and be informed on one of the major health disasters facing the people in this Province - a sure sign of incompetence.

I have to ask the Premier: Why is that you are so keen today to take actions where the Deputy Premier was concerned? Is it because he was in disagreement with you, and not just in non-compliance and incompetent in his job?

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Health was Parliamentary Assistant to the former Minister of Health, had been in that department for a long period of time. He is trying to manage that department under a lot of stress, under a lot of difficulty, and manage this government and the people of this Province who have had health problems that certainly were not caused by this government. He has done that to the best of his ability.

If he happens to know about a problem, and understands it, then if he decides not to read a briefing note that is his prerogative; I am not upset over that. Nor am I - if a minister makes a decision in good faith, which is done in good faith in order to prevent what she thought would have been an embarrassing resignation to this government while I was away, of the Deputy Premier, and she acted in good faith, she now acknowledges that was a mistake, then I do not have a problem with that.

You know, our Code of Ethics says that we cannot undermine the democratic traditions. That is the Code of Ethics that is being passed; it is going to be passed in this House. We cannot allow that to happen. You know, I am sure -

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

PREMIER WILLIAMS: I am sure Mr. Rideout's intentions were well-intentioned for his district; however, he knows and I know, and everybody in this House knows, and the people in this Province know, that it is inappropriate to threaten a minister of the Crown.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Just a quick interruption; I ask hon. members to refer to members by the district they represent, or by their portfolio.

The hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

You know what the real irony in this situation is? It is that you have the former Deputy Premier who was out there lobbying for extra funds, Mr. Speaker, for an issue in his district, but what happened in 2004? In 2004 the Premier intervened, himself, in the VON strike in your own district, Mr. Speaker, on the West Coast of Newfoundland, and allocated extra funding to that group, against what we saw as knowledge of the Minister of Heath and Community Service at the time. In fact, it led to the resignation of the Member for Topsail at that time, in that position.

I ask the Premier: Why is there a double standard today? How are the actions of the Member for Lewisporte, in lobbying for extra money not allocated for his district, any different –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to pose her question.

MS JONES: - than you accessing money for an issue in your district?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: The difference is that the Member for Baie Verte-Springdale threatened a minister of the Crown. That is the difference. That is very clear; it is very, very obvious. I cannot tolerate it, and I will not tolerate it, and my Cabinet will not tolerate it, and my caucus will not tolerate it.

That is the clear distinction. I cannot say it any more. I have said it to you four times. The worst thing about this is that you were once a minister of the Crown and you understand exactly what I am saying, and you know that it was wrong to do what he did at that particular point in time.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The other side to this, that has become very clear, is that there was no conversation between the Deputy Premier and the Premier with regard to this issue.

I ask the Premier: If this individual, who was your right-hand man, cannot get a face-to-face meeting with you to deal with these issues, what does that say about the dialogue within your own government with the rest of your Cabinet ministers?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: The former Deputy Premier met with my chief of staff and asked if he could get an extra allocation for $1 million for his district. He was told by a senior official in the Premier's office that was not going to happen because the money was not available, and he could not get it because the money had already been allocated.

He came up, then, two days ago – actually, he was asked to come up by the chief of staff - and was informed that, that money was not available; that, in fact, the decision that had been reached by he and the minister, the agreement that had been reached by he and the minister, had to be rescinded. Then he said he was going to resign and he would table his resignation. There was no request for a meeting with me.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Maybe the Premier can tell me today what roadwork would have been scheduled for the District of Baie Verte-Springdale that has been cancelled as a result of this. What communities will be affected, or what piece of roadwork has been cancelled?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: I have no idea, Mr. Speaker. It was money that was improperly obtained and it does not matter. If there is a need in that district then over the course of the time that we are in office, for the rest of this term, it is certainly a need that we will look at on a priority basis. If it is necessary, we will get it done. If it is not a priority then we will not be able to get it done.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We did make an inquiry to the Department of Transportation and Works this morning to find out what that $1 million would have been allocated for, for roadwork that had been cancelled.

Mr. Speaker, I will ask the Minister of Transportation and Works, because we did not get the information from the department; they were going to look into it: What piece of work was to be done with this $1 million? Now that it has been cancelled, how will that affect that area?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, the hon. colleague is referring to the $1 million. There is no extra $1 million for that district.

We will assess that district, the needs that are there we will look at, and we will work within the budget that we have right now that was prior allotted to that district.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, I say to the minister: When you committed to the $1 million - under whatever restraint you claimed to have committed to it - you must have at least been looking at a piece of roadwork that would have been done.

I ask you, Minister: What section of roadwork was to be completed by the $1 million investment, whether it is there today or not?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, there is a four-year plan submitted for that district. We are now looking at that four-year plan and we will identify the work that needs to be done in that district, within the confines of the budget that was allotted, $2.5 million. We will certainly assess that district.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, the Premier stated yesterday, in response to one of his questions, that school children travelling on a rough section of road somewhere within the Province will now get this extra funding.

I ask the Premier: Can you tell us what road that is, where it is located, and which member approached you for that extra funding to do that work?

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: It was a road, one of the roads going to or leading from Long Island. There was an issue with respect to safety on that road and the reason being was, my understanding is that a bus route had been reallocated to that particular road for children, a school bus, on the clear understanding and on the commitment from the member at that particular point in time that, in fact, that road would be brought up to standard in order to ensure the safety of the children. That is where that money will be going.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I have asked twice in this House now in the last week if we could have the names of the individuals who sit on the Conflict of Interest Advisory Committee, as recently as Tuesday. Surely, the government puts millions into communications; this is not a big task.

I ask the Minister of Natural Resources, who responded last Tuesday, I ask again: Can we have the names of the individuals who sit on the Conflict of Interest Advisory Committee and the dates of their appointment?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS DUNDERDALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I have committed to provide that information to the House. As soon as it is gathered, Mr. Speaker, and I have time to attend to it, I will provide that information and it will be done before this session of the House is complete.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

God forbid, if we ask for something that is really complex, getting a few names of who sits on a committee.

Mr. Speaker, last week we had the fundraising caper of Mr. Andy Wells, which was in violation of the Conflict of Interest Act. This morning, Mr. Wells was on Open Line supporting a mayoral candidate in the upcoming St. John's by-election. Now the Public Utilities Board is a quasi-judicial body. The head of a quasi-judicial body is supposed to be independent, supposed to be unbiased, and not be giving political endorsements. It is absolutely inappropriate, it is contrary to the provisions of the Conflict of Interest Act and it creates an apprehension of bias.

I ask the Premier: Will you advise Mr. Wells to cease and desist from this activity, bring him into line, or else dismiss him, because he obviously got no respect for the laws of the Province?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I can inform the Opposition House Leader that there has been a close review of the Conflict of Interest Act, that we have been looking at sections 14 and 15 of the act, and the issue raised here today will be taken under advisement and will be examined by this government.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that government's mega-dump concept will not be in place for a number of years, yet many communities need a solution to their serious waste disposal problems right now.

I ask the minister: What does government intend to do -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, I ask the minister: What does government intend to do to address the serious problems which need to be addressed immediately?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DENINE: Mr. Speaker, I will take it, but I am not sure of the question. I will probably infer the question, is that -

AN HON. MEMBER: Tom Rideout (inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. DENINE: I think the Opposition chastised us once for about being rude.

Mr. Speaker, right now the Waste Management Strategy is moving forward; 2010 for the Avalon, 2011 and 2016 for the Western. Labrador, we are waiting for the report to come back on and see where that is going to go from there.

Mr. Speaker, we talk about - the Western one is 2016. If it can be shortened up, it will, and if it cannot then we will look at 2016, but the other two are 2010, 2011.

I am not sure if that is the question.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, Fogo Island is offering government a crystal ball into what will occur in many communities in this Province once they eliminate the teepee incinerator system. Residents suggest that in that community the rat population has exploded, Mr. Speaker.

I ask the minister, I do not know if this government is predicting that a Pied Piper might come along, but I am asking this government, what will they do to see that this problem is solved with a lack of composting programs in this Province?

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Order, please, for the last time, and the Chair will have no hesitation in indentifying members by their district if they continue to interrupt.

The hon. the Minister of Environment and Conservation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, in November of 2003 this government signed on to a Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment commitment to eliminate teepee incinerators in this Province.

Mr. Speaker, there are three issues identified. One of the main areas to tackle this problem was to eliminate teepee incinerators in Newfoundland and Labrador because they account for 27 per cent of the national dioxin and furan emissions that go out into the country. There were forty-one at that time in 2003. We have that number from forty-one down to twenty-five and we are very committed to eliminating those twenty-five by the end of this year, all for the reasons of health for the people of the Province.

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 heard the member for - I think it was Government Services saying they were toxins. I say he must be sniffing them by the way he is acting over there today, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, already we are hearing reports from community leaders of increasing dumping in the wood roads in this Province.

I ask the minister: Does she see this as a serious problem, and how is the department dealing with it?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, we are eight months away from the deadline to eliminate teepee incinerators and we are not going to throw in the towel right now and give up, and say: Do you know what? We will go ahead and let you expose these people to dioxins and furans.

We have a committee between the Department of Government Services, the Department of Municipal Affairs, and my department.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

MS JOHNSON: We have a steering committee in place and we have committed to meeting with all twenty-five communities over the next coming weeks to ensure that there are alternatives in place.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

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

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

Mr. Speaker, in answers to questions yesterday, and again today, the Premier has made it clear that he plays an essential role in the approval of the money that goes to roadwork in the Province, both during the budget process, prior to, and obviously afterwards, because since the Budget he has said no to the Member for Baie Verte-Springdale for more money and he has said yes to the Member for Lewisporte for more money. So, he is essentially involved in that process.


I would like to know from the Premier, why he has chosen this area to be so closely involved in?

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

I ask the Member for Gander for his co-operation.

The hon. the Premier.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

PREMIER WILLIAMS: As the Premier of the Province, I have responsibility for all departments generally. Unfortunately, I can't drill down to all the details at every department. From our perspective, as a department, there is an official in our department who liaises with the minister and her officials. There is also a caucus liaison who liaises with caucus members and ministers with regard to road allowance. That procedure is disseminated through all these. It is very rarely that I have to meet with a member or a minister over roads. As a matter of fact, I am sure I can probably count on one hand the number of times that has actually happened.

This is a different experience, but generally I oversee it and I also look at the allocation for roads generally to make sure that I feel it is fair. That is why I was particularly informed of this particular incident in Baie Verte-Springdale, because in fact that district had already gotten, over the last seven years, over $20 million in road money allocation. That was more than any other district in the Province. Therefore, I was trying to keep things somewhat symmetrical although there still are disparities.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS MICHAEL: Mr. Speaker, I would like to know from the Minister of Transportation and Works what the criteria are for approving the roadwork that is going to be done in the Province, because obviously your department goes through a whole process of coming to an agreement. What are the criteria that you use?

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS WHALEN: Mr. Speaker, there is a process that the department goes through, but one of the emphasis that we do put on is that safety comes first. We try to address all of the safety issues that are prioritized in our Budget when we are doing roadwork.

Over the past number of years, we have put significant dollars into our roads infrastructure. It was in deplorable condition prior to taking office in 2003. I am very proud today to say that we have invested $182 million in road infrastructure this year.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The time allotted for questions and answers has expired.

Presenting Reports by Standing and Select Committees.

Tabling of Documents.

Notices of Motion.

Answers to questions for which notice has been given.

Petitions.

Petitions

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

MR. TAYLOR: You are not ratting on somebody, are you, Roland?

MR. BUTLER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I stand today to present a petition on behalf of the residents of the Conception Bay North area, who have made their concerns with the shortage of doctors, and I want to advise all my hon. colleagues across the way, it has nothing to do with rats whatsoever.

Mr. Speaker, on a more serious note, it is a major issue in that particular area of the Province, and no doubt probably in other areas of the Province, but more so here recently we hear so many people coming forward. I would like for everybody to get a copy of our local paper The Compass today, and just see the complaints that are put forward by residents from the Conception Bay North area. Mr. Speaker, it is worthwhile for anyone to read it. We have the town councils coming on side, the joint councils, the Joint Mayors' Associations, with regard to general practitioners.

We know it is probably a problem is various areas of this Province, but we find it very difficult there; people do not have doctors. If you read The Compass today, there are some people who have been waiting as high as three and four weeks to see a doctor to get their prescription filled, and that is uncalled for.

I do not blame the government for it, but I am just calling upon the government to listen to the residents of that area and other areas of the Province when it comes to this issue, and hopefully recruitment and retention can be the order of the day.

Mr. Speaker, I present the petition on behalf of those people, and hopefully government will try their best to do something about it, not only in my area but throughout the Province.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further petitions.

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

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

I am pleased today to be able to rise and present, again, more petitions with regard to the concern that people have in the Province with regard to a Province-wide 911 service. The hundreds of names that I am presenting today, that go along with the prayer that I have already tabled here in the House, are from the Marystown, Creston area.

Again, these are people who are quite concerned, both about the lack of 911 and, related to that, the inconsistency of emergency response services that they have on the Burin Peninsula as well, and these two things go together.

Once again, I say to the minister responsible, I know that his department is starting to look at this issue and they have begun taking part in meetings that go on in Atlantic Canada with regard to uniform services around emergency response and 911. I encourage the minister to respond to these petitions by being able to table in this House, as soon as possible – I know they are working on it – a plan that will show people exactly when we might be able to have universal 911 in the Province. We know that this will take many years to happen. It cannot happen overnight. My understanding is that it could be up to five years. If we start now to really take action and to put a plan in place, it probably would still take about five years before we would get universal 911.

On behalf of the petitioners, especially the petitioners today from the Marystown, Creston area, I encourage the minister to speed up this process as much as possible and to at least get a plan presented to us here in the House so that people can be assured that, down the road, 911 is going to be there for everybody.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Further petitions.

Orders of the Day.

Orders of the Day

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I would like to call Order 6, to move, pursuant to Standing Order 11, that the House not adjourn at 5:30 o'clock p.m. on today.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is that this House do not adjourn at 5:30 o'clock today, being Tuesday, May 22.

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

The motion is carried.

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, further, I would like to move Motion 7, pursuant to Standing Order 11, that the House not adjourn at 10:00 o'clock p.m. on today's date.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is that this House do not adjourn at 10:00 o'clock p.m. on today, Thursday, May 22, 2008.

All those in favour of the motion, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

AN HON. MEMBER: Nay.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is carried.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I move for leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Amend The Liquor Control Act, Bill 37, and I further move that the said bill be now read a first time.

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that the hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board shall have leave to introduce a bill entitled, An Act To Amend The Liquor Control Act, Bill 37, and that the said bill be now read a first time.

Is it the pleasure of the House that the minister shall have leave to introduce Bill 37, and that the said bill be now read a first time?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

The motion is carried.

Motion, the hon. the Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board to introduce a bill, "An Act To Amend The Liquor Control Act," carried. (Bill 37)

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Liquor Control Act. (Bill 37)

MR. SPEAKER: This bill has now been read a first time.

When shall the said bill be read a second time?

MS BURKE: Tomorrow, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

On motion, Bill 37 read a first time, ordered read a second time on tomorrow.

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill 30, An Act To Amend The Partnership Act, be now read a second time.

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 30, An Act To Amend The Partnership Act, be now read a second time.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Partnership Act." (Bill 30)

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased to rise today to introduce Bill 30, An Act To Amend The Partnership Act.

This bill proposes to add a new Part II to the Partnership Act dealing with the formation and registration of limited liability partnerships and extra provincial limited liability partnerships in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker, is the last of the Canadian provinces to implement such legislation, besides Prince Edward Island, providing for limited liability partnerships. These amendments will remedy that situation by providing full shield limited liability to partners and allowing professional businesses to form a limited liability partnership.

Under the amendments included in this bill, partners in a limited liability partnership will generally have protection from personal liability for the debts of the partnership and the other partners; however – and this is very important, Mr. Speaker - a limited liability partner will not have this protection in instances of negligence or wrongdoing by that partner.

These amendments also contain a number of provisions to ensure that those who deal with the limited liability partnership are aware of that fact.

Under the current legislation, Mr. Speaker, each of the partners in a partnership is personally liable for the debts of the partnership and the other partners. This is often less than an ideal business structure, Mr. Speaker, as it means that the personal assets of every partner are at risk from the actions of every other partner as well as the partnership employees and all debts incurred by the partnership. This would speak, Mr. Speaker, from a personal experience, to someone like myself, coming from a law background in terms of a law firm, the Opposition House Leader, for example, the Minister of Finance, and some other members of this House; the way law partnerships are set up, basically each partner would be liable for the debts or acts of the other.

A limited liability partnership, Mr. Speaker - and this is a common form of business structure around the world and, as pointed out, is a common form of business structure in this country except for ourselves and P.E.I. - is a partnership in which the partners have protection from personal liability for the debts of the partnership as well as the other partners. Now, I will explain that again in a second, Mr. Speaker, to put it in common language for members of the public to understand.

This limited liability afforded partners is similar in many ways to limited liabilities that shareholders of an incorporated company enjoy. It also provides many of the same benefits: protection of personal assets, the ability to focus on the business of the partnership, and certainly for all parties as to what assets are available to creditors.

The lack of limited liability partnership legislation in Newfoundland and Labrador has also meant that limited liability partnerships in other jurisdictions have been discouraged from doing business here. These amendments will make this Province a more attractive place for limited liability partnerships to carry on business.

Now, Mr. Speaker, this new act will impose a number of requirements on limited liability partnerships in order to protect those who deal with them. Most significant in this regard is that a partner will not have limited liability in instances where there has been negligence or wrongdoing by the partner. Now, I will try to explain that in simple language, Mr. Speaker, and I am sure that the Opposition House Leader will correct me if I am wrong, but if myself and the Minister of Finance are in a law partnership together - again, I use law. There are other types of partnerships but I use law because it is one I am familiar with.

If myself and the Minister of Finance are in a partnership together and the way it currently stands, my personal assets could be utilized to satisfy his debts or whatever debts they may be. However, in the new, with the limited liability partnership, it relates to the business of law and what we are doing together. So that if the Minister of Finance had some personal, financial problems, which we would hope the Minister of Finance certainly would not have, then what would happen, I would currently be responsible or could be responsible for that if our law partnership was sued.

The way it will now work, however, is that with limited liability that the assets of the firm, whatever those assets may be - they could be money, they could be equipment in the office, they could be assets, obviously, except our trust accounts which would belong to other parties, the individual clients. So, what would happen then is that they would all be open to creditors, especially with negligence or wrongdoing, because that is what we are trying to protect people against, Mr. Speaker. If there is negligence of one partner then obviously the other partner is liable, but the general thinking - again, I am sure the Opposition House Leader will correct me if I am wrong. The general thinking is that I should not lose my house because my business partner could have personal debts. However, when it comes to those assets that are within the firm the public is fully protected.

Again, if I am going to use this example of lawyers, I should also point out that lawyers are heavily insured. We, or at least I used to when I was a lawyer. I am not sure if I still am. I do not know if someone could help me with that but, in any event, lawyers carry up to, I think it is $1 million in liability insurance and also there can be additional liability insurance purchased.

Essentially, what the new act does, Mr. Speaker, it protects the innocent partner. However, in cases of wrongdoing or negligence, then all of the assets of the firm are available to satisfy the judgement. So, what we are trying to do is protect the public, while meanwhile protecting the innocent partner. Again, there are other limited liability partnerships, as we see in recent sessions, other than just lawyers.

Most significant, Mr. Speaker, and again, I repeat this, is that a partner will not have limited liability in incidents where there has been negligence or wrongdoing by that partner. In other words, if I commit an act of negligence or wrongdoing, then my personal assets would still, if I understand this correctly, my personal assets are still liable to satisfy that judgement.

As well, in order to obtain and maintain their LLP status, limited liability partnership, and if you look at a lot of law firms, accountant firms, will have LLP after them. The partnership must register at the corporate registry, notify clients of their change in status, and include the letters LLP in their business name. They must also make an up-to-date list of partners available to the public at all times, and remain in compliance with all the relevant laws and requirements.

This bill, Mr. Speaker, as in many other Canadian jurisdictions, places restrictions on the types of businesses able to register. It limits the use of LLPs, or limited liability partnerships, to members of eligible professions that are regulated under an act; such as doctors, lawyers and accountants. That again, Mr. Speaker, the reasoning for this is perhaps obvious, but we want to make sure that these LLPs are governed by a profession. There are self-governing regulations, such as the - and I think we have done this a number of times. The Minister of Government Services, we have introduced some legislation during this session.

This approach has been adopted in limited liability partnership legislation in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. So what we are doing here today, Mr. Speaker, is nothing earth shattering. We are simply trying to bring our legislation in line with legislation in the rest of this country, and to allow then for consistency throughout the country, both for the individuals or professions who want to benefit from limited liability partnership, and individuals or professions in other provinces who want to engage in practice in this Province.

In those provinces, and in this bill, Mr. Speaker, professional partnerships are permitted to use the LLP structure only if the profession is expressly authorized by, or under its governing act, to carry on the practice of a profession through an LLP, and if the partnership has met any prerequisites to the authorization established under the governing act. Again, I refer to the Law Society Act because that is one to which I would have personal experience.

Government has received direct representation from certified general accountants or CGAs, certified managerial accountants, as well as public accountants, with respect to the formation of LLPs in this Province. Further, Mr. Speaker, this government has consulted with and has the support of the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador with respect to LLP legislation.

Mr. Speaker, I am a firm believer in uniformity in legislation as we move across this country. In a federal estate, where there are provinces that make up the state, there should be, as much as possible, uniformity and consistency in legislation. I would suggest that these amendments are positive. They bring us in-line with the rest of the country. They will make this Province a more attractive place to do business, while at the same time, providing a balanced level of protection to those who do business with the limited liability partnership.

Again, as in all pieces of legislation that this government is looking at, the public interest or protection of the public is a primary concern. Unfortunately, we have seen, in various professions over the years, that issues of negligence arise. That perhaps can be expected, even though negligence is certainly a higher breach than simply a mistake. Negligence requires a breach of a standard of care that the reasonable prudent practitioner in, whichever profession, would have complied with. There has to be a special relationship between the parties.

What we have in terms of protecting the public and establishing though that innocent partners are not liable for wrongdoing, because unfortunately - and the Law Society and some other professions are not immune to this. We have seen over the years a number of instances whereby there has been conduct that certainly resulted in significant adverse consequences for the public. What we have tried to do as a government is balance these competing interests but always maintaining and protecting the public interest.

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss this amendment to the Partnership Act. I ask for the support of all hon. members in passing this bill, and I look forward to the comments of the Opposition House Leader in relation to the same.

Thank you.

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

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate an opportunity to have a few words in second reading on Bill 30, An Act To Amend The Partnership Act.

Albeit, I come from a legal background, I certainly do not profess to be, nor am I informed or properly informed or expertly informed when it comes to partnerships. I had a lot of dealing with corporations. Of course, there is basically three ways a person can carry on business. My understanding was you either do it as a sole proprietor, an individual, or you do it as a corporation, which means you would get incorporated under another law of this Province, called the Corporations Act, and the third way was by way of a partnership. No matter which way you do it, there has to be rules and regulations surrounding how you can conduct yourself in that form of business and, as the minister points out, we are basically playing catch-up here again.

We are not bringing in a partnership act, that already existed. We are now here amending the existing partnership act because we need to be in step with the times. We were not up to scratch when it came to some methods and concerns when it came to operating as a partnership, and that is what these amendments here address. We will certainly be speaking in favour of them. I personally do not understand them. Maybe the minister can educate me on this, too, and I say this in all seriousness. I cannot determine in my head the distinction between a limited liability partnership and a corporation. It seems to be very fine lines and I really do not understand the legal distinctions of it. I do not profess to be an expert on it but I can gather from the tenor of what I read here, the intention is to put us in step with the rest of the country, to afford the protections to the partners who are in that type of business arrangement, but only to a certain extent, i.e., if you do everything reasonable and proper and you act in good faith and so on, there shall be certain protections for you. Just because you are operating in partnership with someone else, you should not lose, necessarily, everything that you own and possess simply because someone else does something improperly. So that builds in these appropriate protections from that respect but, at the same time, the public interest piece is protected. If somebody does something negligently or not in good faith, they of course are still going to pay the piper, as it were, and they are going to be on the hook for it.

We will be speaking in favour of this particular piece of legislation. I am pleased to see, as well, that the department that is responsible for this piece of legislation, the Justice department, of course, that they did consult with people who deal with this thing in the field, i.e., the Law Society Act. So we certainly, Mr. Speaker, will be speaking and voting in favour of this, and I will not belabour the matter any further.

Thank you.

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

MS MICHAEL: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

No, I would like to tell the Minister of Justice, he did not get that seat. He got the next one he ran for. I just want to be on record, minister. I just want to be on record also, obviously, supporting this bill.

Government has the responsibility for protection both of individuals as well as corporate bodies. This piece of legislation is taking on that responsibility.

As has been pointed out by both the minister and the Opposition House Leader, this bill also puts us in step with the rest of the country, and so puts our Province on an equal footing with regard to being a place where people will want to come, companies will want to come, to do business.

Again, just to put on the record that we are speaking for this bill and I am happy to give the support to it.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: If the hon. the Minister of Justice and Attorney General speaks now he will close the debate on second reading of Bill 30.

The hon. the Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I would like to apologize, in my rush, to the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, but I am going to blame it squarely on the shoulders of the new House Leader who had me on my feet.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank both members for their comments and I close debate on this issue.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Minister of Justice closes debate on Bill 30 in second reading, An Act To Amend The Partnership Act.

This bill has now been read a second time. When shall Bill 30 be referred to a Committee of the Whole House.

MS BURKE: Now.

MR. SPEAKER: Now.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Partnership Act," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House presently, by leave. (Bill 30)

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I move that Bill 29, an amendment to the Legal Aid Act, be now read a second time.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act." (Bill 29)

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair is ready to hear continuing debate - this debate was adjourned at an earlier time – on An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act, Bill 29.

The hon. the Opposition House Leader.

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate an opportunity to have a few words with respect to Bill 29, An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act.

I will just get my papers in order here.

The minister spoke at length on this issue last week, and this, of course, concerns the right to, under the Legal Aid Act in the past – I just misplaced my papers there. This is an amendment to the Legal Aid Act whereby justice is now going to provide for counsel of choice in certain circumstances and under certain conditions.

The minister made some very worthy comments and certainly explained the matter. I still have some issues and this is, of course, the appropriate place in second reading to raise these concerns so that when we go to the next stage, the Committee stage, by that time the minister will have had an opportunity to check out the details and provide the details so that we do not delay matters unnecessarily in Committee stage.

First of all, I am aware personally that in the past there were instances where certain persons charged with certain offences did not automatically have a choice of what counsel they could have, and it became an issue to the point where people quite often made applications to the Trial Division judges to get their own personal lawyer. I know when I was in the department, for example, I was the subject of several Supreme Court orders whereby Supreme Court justices ordered that individuals be allowed to have certain counsel and that the bills be paid. I do not recall the exact details of what cases they were, but I know there was one involving a Mr. Buckingham who practices here in the Province. There was an actual order from the courts.

I am just wondering now - I think it begs the question - if albeit we are going to change it so that in the case of murder, manslaughter and infanticide, that an individual will now, under the Legal Aid Act, be permitted to have their own counsel, I am wondering how that is going to stack up against the existing practice that someone can still apply to the Supreme Court and say: I am not satisfied with the $60 an hour arrangement.

I heard the comments of the same Mr. Buckingham in the public media, once the announcement was made recently that this new system would be brought in, he indicated - and I noticed; I paid close attention to what he said - that he is in favour of the fact that you can now, an individual charged with these serious offences, select your own counsel through the legal aid. You are not required any more just to have the legal aid lawyers do it, but you can actually choose your own, but he was not overly optimistic, I do not believe, from his comments, to the $60 an hour thing. I think his comments were to the effect that I have checked my office and we see what we can do and we will try our best to do it, but I think that we can fully expect down the road that the $60 an hour fee is not going to cut it.

I have seen and heard the amount of money that the minister has put in the pot for this year to deal with this issue, but I am just wondering, and I guess we will only know with experience whether it pans out or not. It depends on how many murder trials you have, it depends on how many people select counsel outside of the legal aid, and therefore that will determine what the dollars are.

I am not certain, either, was there any consultation done with counsel in this area at least - because most of the major trials take place here in the Northeast Avalon, murder trials and so on, and manslaughter trials - I am wondering if there was much consultation with the local Bar who practice in the criminal field as to what the buy in would likely be into this type of program. I think everybody recognizes it as a positive step in the sense of giving the accused a choice of counsel, but that is only going to be successful, of course, if the local Bar buys into the $60 an hour piece.

The other point I would raise is, I am not sure but I thought I heard the minister say that there was a limit. Because, obviously, if it is $60 an hour and the person is hired to do that, is there any cap on the number of hours that the person is allowed to put in? Because that may be a determinant as well, whether the Bar buys into this thing, because obviously different trials have different complexities and require different amounts of time. Obviously, if you are going to go to a full-scale, all-out trial versus if someone is going to plead guilty to one of these offences, it makes a difference in terms of hours.

I am just wondering, as part of the package, if there is any further detail the minister can provide to us in terms of: Was there consultation, and what are the number of hours that would fit under such a tariff? Is there any limit on the number of hours that a counsel who were so engaged would be limited to in that particular case?

I believe he mentioned a figure of $400,000 was put into the pot for this year. The other thing – I actually have a problem here with the wording, and I am not sure if the minister can help me with this. I will read it exactly because I do not want to mix it up here. Under the section it says, :Where the application is for legal aid with respect to an offence of murder, manslaughter or infanticide the applicant may select a solicitor employed by the commission or a solicitor in private practice in the province…" – and this is the next phrase that I am totally lost on – "…except a solicitor whose name has been removed from the panel, other than upon his or her own request, however, this subsection does not place an obligation on that solicitor to act for the applicant".

Now, I am at a complete loss as to what that wording means, "except a solicitor whose name has been removed from the panel, other than upon his or her own request". So I am assuming there is a panel of some sort, that the Legal Aid Commission has, and anybody who is prepared to have their name on that panel, if the person wants to select that counsel, they would do so, and then the counsel, of course, signs on to the requirements that they are left with, whatever the tariff regulations are – $60 an hour, and how many hours – but I am just wondering, what do we mean here when we say, "except a solicitor whose name has been removed from the panel…".

For example, what if the Legal Aid Commission has removed a solicitor's name from the panel or does not have their name on the panel, but yet that solicitor is the one who the accused person chooses. I am somewhat at a loss here. Maybe it is just a case of semantics where I do not understand it but it certainly not very clear. I am just wondering if there is a clearer way to put it there than it currently states, because I just don't understand the English import of it. I am at a loss in that regard. I think that is very important because we are here to try and make a system work better. We are trying to do something positive here. I can see right now where that wording is froth with difficulty and if there is some way from a language perspective that it can be cleaned up a bit - maybe a different section or more explanation. I am at a loss to see how it fits.

Except a solicitor whose name has been removed from the panel, other than upon his or her own request; I read it on the one hand to be, that my name would not be on the panel because I wanted it off myself, but are there circumstances where my name would not be on the list because the commission did not put me on the list? What are the details surrounding this panel? Who creates the panel? How do you get on the panel? Any information and instructions that we might have in that regard would certainly be helpful.

Again I go back to the original point I made because I think it is important. Does the minister expect - I know he expects, but does he anticipate that counsel are going to buy into this or will we see a repeat of what currently happens when someone is not satisfied, i.e., there is an application to the court? Because, albeit good intentions, we are not going to get very far along – just to use Mr. Buckingham for example, the media figure on this, if Mr. Buckingham says, thank you very much, I will represent Mr. Citizen, the accused person, but I am not prepared to do it for $60 and I am going to make an application to the court again.

I am just wondering if there has been any anticipation – there is nothing here that outlaws or prohibits the counsel's and the accused's right to still make the application to the Supreme Court. I did not know if there was any way to prohibit that and prevent that. Albeit this is a well intentioned piece of legislation, if people want to circumvent the system, and no doubt they will, if an individual could not get paid $100 an hour or $200 an hour why are they going to work for $60 an hour?

I am wondering as well, is there any piece whereby the regulations surrounding this issue - does that become a part of the regulations under the Legal Aid Act, the $60 thing, the tariff thing? Is that done by regulation and so on? I just want some details surrounding those types of issues, so at least if we ask them here and if it might be helpful in making something more positive and acceptable to the Bar and to the accused and make it right that we could have that information right here now. I think it would assist in the process.

Mr. Speaker, I do not have any further comments. I look forward to getting some responses to those concerns when we call the matter in Committee.

Thank you.

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

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

I am pleased to be able to speak to this bill as well.

As was pointed out by the Minister of Justice when he presented it, this is an extremely important issue because every individual should have the right to be fairly represented in the legal system. Allowing, especially for these serious offences, the full access to representation is extremely important. It really does not matter, ultimately, if it turns out whether the person is innocent or guilty because everybody has a right to be not just represented but fairly represented. Even when a person is found guilty there are always nuances around guilt and the most experienced lawyers are the ones who sometimes confine those nuances that can be very important to what a person ends up having to serve in terms of time and those kinds of things which affect that person's life in the future. Guilt or innocence does not matter, it is the right of a person to be adequately represented.

I am pleased with the bill, but I too have similar questions as have been put forward by the Opposition House Leader. I may be saying it in a different way but I would like to repeat them. I find about four limiting factors in the bill with regard to the individuals being able to access representation. One is assuming that because the person is going to be able to access representation from a solicitor who the person wants that they are choosing somebody who they think is going to give them the best representation.

My questions: some are the same as and some are slightly different from the Opposition House Leader. The first one: in terms of the $60 per hour, how was that tested? What was the consultation that led the minister to seeing that as a fair number to put forward? Now he did, in making his presentation the other day, indicate to us that this obviously is going to be asking for a fair bit of good will in the legal profession, of people who are going to be willing to work not exactly pro bono but almost pro bono, when you compare the $60 an hour to what the individual might be used to getting in his or her private practice. I would like to know what was used to come up with that; what were the criteria that led the minister to that.

Another limiting factor is the limit of the number of hours. Now, I do remember the Minister of Justice telling us that there was a limited number of hours, and I wrote that down, but I did not write down the number, so I will ask him to repeat that number. Again, I have a similar question: What was used to determine the number of hours? Because of the fact that if, for example, not enough hours have been allowed, a person could end up getting partway through a trial and then no longer be able to pay their lawyer. Are there any contingencies going to be put in place with regard to that limiting factor of the number of hours? If it is only based on an average, what happens to the trial of the person that is way beyond that average? To me, we are recognizing a right in this bill but we are limiting the right, and that is my concern with that.

Then, of course, another limiting factor is - and I know this is hypothetical, but - what if each solicitor that the person names says no? Then the person can ultimately end up not being able to get anybody that he or she wants to choose anyway.

I understand that limits are sort of necessary, but I would want to make sure that the limits are minimized as much as possible so that we do not give with one hand and take back with another hand. That would be my concern.

This is an issue that has been - while on the one hand we are talking about offences of murder, manslaughter or infanticide, it is not just an issue for men; it is also an issue for women, and I would want to make sure that, whether we are talking about a concern for a woman because she is connected to the person who has been accused, or whether because she herself is the accused, I would not want to see a woman limited in any way in having her rights represented. I want concerns allayed for women with regard to this new bill coming in, that it is going to be something that is going to work, because I really liked what the minister said when he made the presentation, that this is not just for the accused, this is also for the victim, because it will assure that trials will happen in a timely way and that things are not dragged on unnecessarily long, and by having access to the solicitor one is choosing, one would hope that expectation of the minister is going to take place.

So our concern is not just for the accused but also for the victims. Again, that is my concern and that is why I would want to be sure that we make sure that the limits that are here are not going to be limiting to the point where the amendment will not work.

I think these are my major concerns, and I do want to commend the minister on his efficiency in bringing in important pieces of legislation with regard to our justice system. I am really pleased to see that, and I am sure that he will either have answers to the questions I have posed or, if he feels that he does not have an answer nailed down, I trust that he will want to pursue the issue a bit further.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

If the hon. the Minister of Justice and Attorney General speaks now, he will close the debate on second reading of Bill 29, An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act.

The hon. the Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The questions and issues raised by both members opposite are very valid. They are ones that I will just need a short period of time to find answers to, and to refine my answers, Mr. Speaker. I can do that in the Committee stage, and I would move for the closing of the debate at second reading, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Is it the pleasure of the House that Bill 29, An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act, be now read a second time?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

The motion is carried.

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act. (Bill 29)

MR. SPEAKER: This bill has now been read a second time.

When shall this bill be referred to a Committee of the Whole House?

MS BURKE: Now.

MR. SPEAKER: Now.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House presently, by leave. (Bill 29)

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair would like to back up a little.

Since he did not go through all the proceedings on Bill 30, and ask for a vote, he will do this at this time.

Is it the pleasure of the House that Bill 30, An Act To Amend The Partnership Act, be now read a second time?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

The motion is carried.

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Partnership Act. (Bill 30)

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Partnership Act," read a second time. (Bill 30)

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I move now that Bill 20, An Act To Amend The Members Of The House Of Assembly Retiring Allowances Act, The Provincial Court Judges' Pension Plan Act, The Public Service Pensions Act, 1991, The Teachers' Pensions Act And The Uniformed Services Pensions Act, 1991, be now read a second time.

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that Bill 20, An Act To Amend The Members Of The House Of Assembly Retiring Allowances Act, The Provincial Court Judges' Pension Plan Act, The Public Service Pensions Act, 1991, The Teachers' Pensions Act And The Uniformed Services Pensions Act, 1991, be now continued in second reading.

Motion, second reading of a bill, "An Act To Amend The Members Of The House Of Assembly Retiring Allowances Act, The Provincial Court Judges' Pension Plan Act, The Public Service Pensions Act, 1991, The Teachers' Pensions Act And The Uniformed Services Pensions Act, 1991." (Bill 20)

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

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate an opportunity.

My comments will be very brief concerning Bill 20. I did have the benefit of listening to the Minister of Finance last day when he introduced second reading on this particular Bill 20; and a very straightforward explanation. In fact, the explanations contained in the explanatory notes on this bill are very helpful in and of themselves. The minister did a good job, as well, of presenting that information.

What we are doing here basically is; again there are certain acts and certain circumstances that were not covered off under these pension plans. We are dealing with the Members of the House of Assembly Retiring Allowances Act, the Provincial Court Judges' Pension Plan Act, the Public Service Pensions Act, the Teachers' Pensions Act and the Uniformed Services Pensions Act. There is a whole pile of people who are impacted by these various pension plans, and the intent of this piece of legislation is to clean up some of these issues that existed and have come to light with the passage of time.

What we are dealing with here, of course, is, what if a plan member died and there was a circumstance of: what if the person died before they were ever receiving their pension, and they didn't have a principal beneficiary such as a spouse or kids? What would happen in that case? What this is doing is cleaning it up so that now those provisions will be looked after. Circumstances, I guess, or fact situations - when you draft a law the first time around you don't always contemplate or anticipate all the circumstances and over the passage of time a situation comes to light and you realize when you look at the law - you say, my God, we didn't cover that off, or that is not covered off in that particular law, we need to fix it.

What we are doing here is we are going back in some of these cases and fixing it. Sometimes you have to make what they call transitional arrangements. You try to be fair to people. These are people who contributed to various pension plans over the years, and they want these protections and coverages for the money that they contributed to the various pension plans.

We will be, and are, supportive of this particular Bill 20.

The only question I would have for the minister – and I am sure being the Minister of Finance he has the knowledge far more than I do. I like these Second Reading Stages because it gives you an opportunity as a member of the House, that if you don't understand something you can ask the questions. We are obligated, I feel, that we should ask the questions rather than accept things at face value. This is not just a case of getting a book of work done here in the House. There is an obligation to read it, there is an obligation to understand it, debate it and propose amendments if you think they are in order and so on.

Mine is a fairly straightforward question. It just came to me when I was looking at the explanatory note section here, in paragraph two particularly. What does commuted value of the plan mean? Now, there may be a very simple explanation of that. I am just wondering what commuted value of a pension plan means? That may seem very simplistic to some people but I really do not know the answer. I guess, they tell me there is no such thing as a stupid question. They say if you do not understand, ask. The minister may have a very straightforward, simple answer for me, but as I read through this it struck me that I understand the intent of what the amendments are getting at but I do not know the definition of commuted pension value. What does that entail? That would be my only question that the minister, when he gets to committee stage or at closing of the second reading, if he has that information at this fingertips we would certainly appreciate it if he might be able to educate me in that regard.

Other than that, Mr. Speaker, we do not have any further comments to make in second reading on this bill and we will be voting in favour of it.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

If the hon. Minister of Finance and President of Treasury Board speaks now he will close the debate in second reading of Bill 20.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

I thank the hon. Opposition House Leader for his comments. Fortunately, I will be able to answer his question. In the remarks I made previously, I think I did give the answer to the definition of what is called commuted value.

Commuted value was a question I had myself, and the best explanation that I can give is that it is the full value of the pension as opposed to some lesser amount. In the situation we are trying to rectify here, which is the case of if you have a government employee before retirement, who passes away before retiring with the pension having vested, in most situations the commuted value, the full value of the pension would get paid to either the spouse or to the estate, but there was one anomaly.

It was in the case where the pensioner died or the employee died in pre-retirement, the pension has vested. There was no spouse but there were children. In that case the commuted value was not paid. In that case the children, while they were of age, while they were under eighteen, or under twenty-four attending school, that they would get 60 per cent of the pension that the deceased employee would have been eligible to until they were no longer of age. When they stopped being of age, they would get paid to the estate or paid to them the total contributions that the member had contributed, plus interest, less the benefits that had been paid out. That amount was less than what would be called the commuted value, the full value. That was not fair. So the pensions benefit act, which regulates pensions, provided that the full commuted value had to be paid. In this particular situation that was not happening. So we want to rectify that. The purpose of the legislation, of course, is to rectify it.

There is a definition here in my notes. It says: commuted value is the present value of the deceased plan member's earned pension entitlement to the date of death. It represents the amount of money that would be required to be invested in another retirement vehicle to provide the same level of benefit promised by the plan. I guess it is a sum of money that if you had to put it in some other plan would give you the same pension.

With that, I thank the hon. Opposition House Leader for his comments and I would urge passage of second reading.

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Is it the pleasure of the House that Bill 20 be now read a second time?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

The motion is carried.

CLERK: A bill, An Act To Amend The Members Of The House Of Assembly Retiring Allowances Act, The Provincial Court Judges' Pension Plan Act, The Public Service Pensions Act, 1991, The Teachers' Pensions Act And The Uniformed Services Pensions Act, 1991. (Bill 20)

MR. SPEAKER: Bill 20, has been now read a second time.

When shall Bill 20 be referred to a Committee of the Whole House?

MS BURKE: Now.

MR. SPEAKER: Now.

On motion, a bill, "An Act To Amend The Members Of The House Of Assembly Retiring Allowances Act, The Provincial Court Judges' Pension Plan Act, The Public Service Pensions Act, 1991, The Teachers' Pensions Act And The Uniformed Services Pensions Act, 1991," read a second time, ordered referred to a Committee of the Whole House presently, by leave. (Bill 20)

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole and consider Bills 20 and 30.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole to consider certain bills and that I do now leave the Chair.

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

The motion is carried.

On motion, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole, Mr. Speaker left the Chair.

Committee of the Whole

 

CHAIR (Collins): Order, please!

We are now ready to begin debate in Committee on Bills 20, 29 and 30.

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: Mr. Chair, we referred to the Committee Bills 20 and 30 only. We did not refer 29 at this time.

CHAIR: Bill 20. We are prepared for debate on Bill 20.

CLERK: Clause 1.

CHAIR: Shall clause 1 carry?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

Clause 1 is carried.

On motion, clause 1 carried.

CLERK: Clauses 2 to 18 inclusive.

CHAIR: Clauses 2 to 18 inclusive, shall these carry?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

Carried.

On motion, clauses 2 through 18 carried.

CLERK: Be it enacted by the Lieutenant-Governor and House of Assembly in Legislative Session convened, as follows.

CHAIR: Shall the enacting clause carry?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

Carried.

On motion, enacting clause carried.

 

CLERK: An Act To Amend The Members Of The House Of Assembly Retiring Allowances Act, The Provincial Court Judges' Pension Plan Act, The Public Service Pensions Act, 1991, The Teachers' Pensions Act And The Uniformed Services Pensions Act 1991.

CHAIR: Shall the title carry?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

Carried.

On motion, title carried.

CHAIR: Shall I report Bill 20 carried without amendment?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

Carried.

Motion, that the Committee report having passed the bill without amendment, carried.

CHAIR: Now begin debate on Bill 30, An Act To Amend The Partnership Act.

CLERK: Clause 1.

CHAIR: Shall clause 1 carry?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

Carried.

On motion, clause 1 carried.

CLERK: Clauses 2 to 3 inclusive.

CHAIR: Clauses 2 to 3 inclusive, shall those carry?

All those in favour, ‘aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, ‘nay'.

Carried.

On motion, clauses 2 and 3 carried.

CLERK: Be it enacted by the Lieutenant-Governor and House of Assembly in Legislative Session convened, as follows.

CHAIR: Shall the enacting clause carry?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay'.

Carried.

CLERK: An Act To Amend The Partnership Act.

CHAIR: Shall the title carry?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay'.

Carried.

On motion, title carried.

CHAIR: Shall I report Bill 30 carried without amendment?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay'.

Carried.

Motion, that the Committee report having passed the bill without amendment, carried.

CHAIR: The hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: I move, Mr. Chair, that the Committee rise and report Bill 20 and Bill 30.

CHAIR: It has been moved that the Committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again.

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay'.

Carried.

On motion, that the Committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again, Mr. Speaker returned to the Chair.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Placentia & St. Mary's.

MR. COLLINS: Mr. Speaker, the Committee of the Whole have considered the matters to them referred and have directed me to report Bill 20 and Bill 30 carried without amendment.

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair of the Committee of the Whole reports that the Committee have considered the matters to them referred and have directed him to report Bill 20 and Bill 30 carried without amendment, and ask leave to sit again.

When shall this report be received?

MS BURKE: Now, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: Now.

On motion, report received and adopted.

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I would like to now refer to the Order Paper for today, and go to number three on the Order Paper, Concurrence Motions of the Resource Committee.

We will start the concurrence debate from our Estimates Committee, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair is ready to hear reports on the concurrence debate from the Resource Committee.

The Chair recognizes the Chair of the Resource Committee, the hon. the Member for Bonavista North.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HARDING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am pleased to begin the concurrence debate on our Estimates.

As I mentioned yesterday, the Resource Committee reviewed the Estimates for six different departments. These were: the Department of Business; Environment and Conservation; Fisheries and Aquaculture; Innovation, Trade and Rural Development; Natural Resources; and, Tourism, Culture and Recreation.

Yesterday, as well, I thanked the members on the Committee. In addition to the regular members that we did have, we also had three alternates who filled in for the regular members who could not attend, and I would like to acknowledge these now: the Member for St. John's East, the Member for St. Barbe, and the Member for Humber Valley.

I would like to probably just, first of all, give a brief overview of each department whose Estimates we debated during our meetings. There were a lot of questions asked by the members on the Committee and, equally so, there were some great answers given by the ministers and officials in each department.

First, just a brief overview of the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation. This year we are seeing an increase in that department's budget of almost $6 million. More than $3.5 million of that, the extra money, is going into our culture and heritage sector. There is more than $2 million going into tourism marketing and strategic product development.

I think those of us who have been following the budgets of the years since we have been in office have seen that each year that department has increased its marketing budget by $1 million. When our government took office back in 2003-2004, I think there was something like $6 million in marketing for tourism in our Province. Today, in this year's budget, that has doubled and we are now seeing $12 million in the marketing budget of the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation.

I think the results of that, Mr. Speaker, can also be observed when we see that non-resident tourists coming to our Province over the past four years, that trade has increased by 15 per cent.

The Department of Business, Mr. Speaker, for the people who are not aware, this is a department whose main purpose is to try to promote and encourage businesses from the rest of Canada and internationally to come and set up in our Province. With respect to our own businesses, local businesses in the Province, we do have other departments that take care of these, departments such as Innovation, Trade and Rural Development.

This year, that budget for the Department of Business has been projected to be increased by more than $33 million over last year's actual expenditures. A lot of this money will be dedicated to large scale investments in business ventures and infrastructure through its business attraction fund.

The Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture: this year we are seeing almost $6 million extra money put into that department. There is an additional $1.5 million in seafood marketing and support services. I think what is important about this initiative is that there is going to be greater concentration on marketing of our fish products in the European market. That is certainly a good way to proceed in view of the situation with respect to our dollar now as compared to the US dollar where most of our fish products have been going.

There is also an extra $2.5 million in the Fisheries Innovation and Development programs. These will be initiatives to diversify and strengthen the fish harvesting and processing sectors of the fishery.

There is also going to be another $2 million in other executive and support services including the government's Fishing Industry Renewal Strategy.

Mr. Speaker, I move on now to the Department of Natural Resources. That department is one of the largest departments in government, I guess, and it is responsible for the forestry sector, for agrifoods and also for our mines and energy sectors.

Gross expenditures of that department for this year, 2008-2009, will be $467 million. That is an increase of more than $374 million over last year's actual expenditures. These expenditures will occur in all divisions of the department.

The greatest increase is in the energy initiatives; approximately $320 million of capital investment in the Energy Corporation of Newfoundland and Labrador. These funds will be used mainly for its participation in oil and gas activities and other energy projects, such as the Lower Churchill.

There is also a fairly large increase in the Agrifoods Development section of the Department of Natural Resources. Last year the department spent approximately $16 million and this year that is going to be a little more than doubled and going to $32.8 million. I am glad to see, Mr. Speaker, that a part of that increase is with respect to the development of the cranberry industry in the Province. I am pleased with that, because I do have a major employer in my District of Bonavista North who is keenly interested in this development.

Just to give you some perspective of what the cranberry industry will potentially mean to the Province: if we develop 1,000 acres of land, bogland, which is not used at all now, if we develop 1,000 acres of bogland in the Province for cranberries it will mean roughly $15 million coming into final product production added to the economy of our Province. It will also mean that there will be approximately $30 million in private investment going into the development of that industry. I guess the most important thing is that we should see approximately something more than 400 new jobs, full-time and part-time jobs, created by the development of the cranberry industry. Mr. Speaker, I am really pleased to see our government take that initiative.

The Department of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development: we see in that budget this year an increase of more than $14 million over last year's actual expenditures. Approximately $5 million of that increase is going into the Innovation, Research and Advanced Technologies sector which includes our Oceans Technology Initiatives.

There is almost $5 million extra in Economic Development and diversification initiatives and projects throughout the Province. This fund will concentrate also - probably the big contributor to this initiative is that it will leverage funding from the federal government and from the private sector.

Also, there is almost $2 million extra in Strategic Industries Development and $3 million extra to further support small and medium sized business in the Province.

The other department that our committee reviewed was the Department of Environment and Conservation. In that department we are seeing an increased expenditure this year up more than $7 million. These increased expenditures for that department will be occurring in Pollution Prevention, in Water Resources Management, and other areas of environmental management and protection.

There will also be improvements to the provincial park system, coming from funding in that department. Also, improvements to the management of Crown lands, which I am sure a lot of people in the Province will be glad to see, that the services being offered by the Crown Lands Division will be expected to be much improved from what it currently is.

Mr. Speaker, having reviewed the Estimates of those departments, I would also like to make a few comments with respect to the Budget in general. I have been out in my district since the Budget was announced, three or four weeks ago, and I have talked with a lot of people in my district, and I certainly have to say, that there have been an awful lot of favourable comments with respect to this year's Budget.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, I spoke with a life-time Liberal out there who told me that our current Finance Minister is the best Finance Minister that this Province has ever seen.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HARDING: Mr. Speaker, when you talk about budgets - I think there is more money coming to my district now as a result of the comment that I just made. Anyway, Mr. Speaker, I guess when you look at budgets, there is no such thing, there never has been and I do not suppose there ever will be, what you would call a perfect budget; a budget where you see everything being able to be given to whatever has been requested. That has never happened, and I do not suppose it ever will.

We only have to look at the Province of Alberta. Alberta has been reaping billions and billions of dollars from their oil resources for years. We as a Province, Newfoundland and Labrador, is relatively new into that source of revenue. If you look at Alberta, and you listen to the radio and the television, you will hear that they still have problems with health care, they still have problems with their schools, they still have problems with road building and construction, and they still have problems with people who are homeless in the Province of Alberta. Mr. Speaker, where we are new to these additional monies we see coming to the Province now, we certainly are on the right track, and as time goes on things will no doubt get better.

Earlier on during the session, several members from the Opposition and the NDP made reference to a couple in St. John's who are having very difficult times. I am sure every member in this House understands and appreciates the situation that those people were going through. While I say that, Mr. Speaker, I can also say that every member in this House can look at their own district and see dozens and dozens of cases just as bad or even worse. These are things that we have to look at as time goes on.

A point that I want to make, Mr. Speaker, and something that people in the general public should remember, is that since our government took office in 2003-2004, over that four-year period we are putting more than $700 million into health care in this Province, over and above what was put in back in 2004. Mr. Speaker, I think we can all realize that if we take the full $6.5 billion of this year's Budget, if we take that full amount and put it into health care, we will still have problems. That is just the way it is. That is part of this problem that we took over when we formed government back in 2003.

We also know, Mr. Speaker, that there are limitations to our funds. Even though we have this extra revenue coming in from our offshore resources and our energy resources, even though we have that, Mr. Speaker, we still have to live within our means and do the best we can with what we have. One thing for certain, Mr. Speaker - and we all should agree – is that spending more money than what we take in is not sustainable. That is something, Mr. Speaker, that we inherited a few years ago. The Liberal Opposition now are saying that they had no money when they were in government, but, Mr. Speaker, they did have money. They borrowed billions of dollars. In the last two or three years of their term, I think it is something over three billion dollars that that government borrowed, and drove up our debt to something over eleven or twelve billion dollars. Mr. Speaker, that is something that we as a government changed. When you are doing that, when you are spending more than you are taking in, that is not good for us as individuals, it is not good for business and it is certainly not good for government. Our approach, Mr. Speaker, as most people in the Province will agree, is now paying dividends for every man, woman and child in this Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HARDING: Mr. Speaker, this government made some tough decisions when it first got in government four years ago, very difficult decisions. People that we know were adversely affected by some of the moves that we made, but the decisions that our government made back four years ago is why we can cut personal income tax for every working person in this Province; it is why our income tax rates have gone from the highest in Canada to the third lowest in Canada in just a matter of a few years; it is why we could eliminate the 15 per cent tax on insurance this year; it is why we can reduce the motor registration rate from $180 back to $140.

These three initiatives in themselves, Mr. Speaker, these three alone have put $179 million back into the pockets of the taxpayers in this Province. That is money that will be used to create more jobs, especially by businesses. It has been estimated, that this current fiscal year we will see approximately 3,300 new jobs created in this Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HARDING: Mr. Speaker, also because of the moves that we have made, that is why we can put an extra $266 million into our health care operations and an additional $133 million this year into health related equipment and infrastructure. That is why we can put an extra $70 million into our education system and that is why we can put an extra $12 million into our Poverty Reduction Program.

Mr. Speaker, I can go on with the positive initiatives that this government has taken but I know that my time is beginning to run down, so I will have to sort of summarize.

I would like to comment on probably one of the greatest initiatives that any government has made in this Province with respect to the new cost-sharing arrangement for our municipalities in upgrading their infrastructure. Our municipalities, especially the small rural municipalities, were pretty well at a loss, pretty well strapped for cash. They could not find the means to upgrade or restore their services, such as water and sewer, their fire equipment, whatever other municipal infrastructure that they had. So, this new initiative now of providing each municipality that qualifies - and in my district in particular, every single municipality in my district now that qualifies will qualify for the ninety-ten cost-sharing arrangement. For every $100,000 of expenditures in capital works from this year on, that the municipalities in our Province now will only have to contribute $10,000. The remaining $90,000 will be contributed by the Province.

Mr. Speaker, a couple of other points I want to make, is that in 2007 - to show that we are on the right track. In 2007, our unemployment rate went down to 13.6 per cent. Still much higher than we want to see it, but still it is a major improvement over what - and it is the lowest actually, in the past twenty-five years.

Another point I want to make when it comes to the employment part, is that in 2007 our employment numbers, people working in the Province, actually working in the Province, when we talk about all the out-migration, but just listen to this. Last year, in 2007, we had 219,000 people employed in this Province. That is the highest number of people we have had employed in this Province for the past thirty years. So, that again, Mr. Speaker, says that we are on the right track.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. the member to conclude his remarks.

MR. HARDING: May I have leave, Mr. Speaker, just to conclude?

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

AN HON. MEMBER: Yes.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. member by leave.

MR. HARDING: Thank you very much.

All I want to say, Mr. Speaker, based on what we have provided in this year's Budget, our government has laid a solid foundation, not only in one sector of the Province but right across all sectors of the Province. We also have to remember this very important point, that our main source of revenue is coming from our non-renewable resources. That is why now we have to take steps to address the debt that we have. Now is the time we have to use that money to build up our infrastructure, or rebuild our infrastructure. Now, Mr. Speaker, is why - while we are doing that we also have to commit, which we are doing and doing in a great way. We have to commit revenues to social improvement and economic growth.

Mr. Speaker, based on that, now I will conclude my remarks.

Thank you very much.

MR. SPEAKER: Before the Chair recognizes the hon. the Leader of the Opposition, the Chair would like to recognize some guests in the gallery.

With us and joining us today are the members from the Town of Bonavista, Mayor Betty Fitzgerald, councillor Glen Little, councillor Bramwell Mouland, town manager Calvin Rolls and the town clerk, David Hiscock.

Welcome to the House of Assembly.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I certainly want to rise and contribute to the debate today, the Concurrence Debate on the Budget, and the one that, at this particular time, is looking at the Resource Committees that have been already explored outside of the House of Assembly under the Estimates.

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to start off by talking about a number of these departments. As you know, under the Resource Committee, they deal with the Department of Business; the Department of Environment and Conservation; the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture; Department of Innovation, Trade and Rural Renewal; Natural Resources; Tourism, Culture and Recreation.

Mr. Speaker, I understand I have an hour to speak on this particular debate. So, I think I will start with the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. I say, this is indeed a department that has taken an interesting turn of events in the last twenty-four, thirty-six hours within Newfoundland and Labrador; a department right now that is left without a minister as of yesterday, as the Member for Baie Verte-Springdale tabled his resignation to the government that he would not longer sit in that capacity. I understand now the Member for The Straits & White Bay North will be acting, or the alternate minister, until such time that someone else is appointed to that portfolio.

Let me just say, Mr. Speaker, when we were examining the Estimates of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, I was the critic for that department and the one who examined those estimates. In fact, for over two hours one evening, here in the House of Assembly, with the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, the former minister, the Member for Baie Verte-Springdale, sitting across from me, who provided me with answers to every expenditure that was ongoing within that department; in fact, a department in which we have seen expenditures grow and the mandate of it expand in the last year or two years under the leadership of that particular minister.

Having said that, Mr. Speaker, at that time I certainly did not think that the minister would be vacating that position any time soon. It is a rather unfortunate situation, I would say, that has developed in the Province, with that member tabling his resignation as the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture and the Deputy Premier and the Government House Leader, holding only one position now, and that being the MHA for the District of Baie Verte-Springdale.

Mr. Speaker, this is not the first member we have seen who has been in a high profile position within the Cabinet of the Williams government, they like to call themselves - they do not call themselves the government; they call themselves the Williams government -

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member to use the name of the district that the member represents, or the portfolio they represent. The member ought to know full well that it is unparliamentary to name members by their name.

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, I do apologize. I do apologize, Mr. Speaker, but I have heard other members in this House refer to it as the Williams government, and I do apologize if that is unparliamentary.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. member for her co-operation.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

So, Mr. Speaker, let me get back to the point that I was about to make here. The point that I am about to make is that this is not the first time you have seen a high profile Cabinet minister inside of the government opposite, Mr. Speaker, who has had disagreements with the Premier, disagreements inside the Cabinet or the caucus, and, as a result of it, have either tabled their resignation or been forced out.

This is not the first incident. In fact, Mr. Speaker, if you want to go back through history – and I think CBC Radio did a fairly good job on it this morning, when they were playing the song, Another One Bites The Dust, and they used a couple of examples. The first example they used was the example of the Member for Topsail, when she was the Minister of Health and Community Services. At the time that member was the minister, there was a strike going on in this Province. It was out on the West Coast of Newfoundland, and it was the Order of Nurses, the VON, Mr. Speaker, the nursing order on the West Coast, and they were out on strike. They wanted increased benefits in their salary, but there was no way - the Department of Health said there is no way, the minister said there is no way, we can do this. You are not employed by us. We make grants to your association - and so on and so forth.

What happened when the Premier went out there? The Premier showed up. Here was a protest right at the golf course where he had a golf tournament ongoing, a fundraiser for the Conservative Party of Newfoundland and Labrador at the time. People had just paid big bucks, Mr. Speaker, the business community, to tee off at a hole out there with the Premier, and all of a sudden he shows up and at the gate of the golf course and here are the nurses. They are looking for money.

Well, you know, that got settled pretty quickly. Pretty quickly those nurses were told, no problem, we will give you the extra money that you need. Guess what? The Minister of Health and Community Services was not made aware of it – was not made aware of it - and within a very short period of time, Mr. Speaker, when the minister had arrived back in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador - I think she was outside the Province at the time - she came back, and her deputy minister, she went before the microphones, Mr. Speaker. She went before the microphones. In fact, I still have the full-page article that was in the paper on the day, Mr. Speaker, that she decided that she would resign as the Minister of Health and Community Services in this Province, and she cited, Mr. Speaker, that it was because of differences in management style with the Premier of the Province.

That is what she said, Mr. Speaker. That is what she said. In fact, Mr. Speaker, she went on to say that decisions were taken by the Premier in her department without her having knowledge of it. As a result of it, Mr. Speaker, she tabled her resignation. She says: I will not be belittled in this way - that was the message that I read into it - I will not be dictated to. I am a woman of character and strength. I will govern in the responsibilities that I have been given and I will not tolerate this kind of stuff. As a result of it, Mr. Speaker, she departed her way with the Cabinet and with the inner circle of the government.

She is not the only one, Mr. Speaker. She is not the only one who has left the circuit, the inner circle. What happened, Mr. Speaker, with the former Member for Ferryland? We do not know the exact circumstances of what happened. Mr. Speaker, we do not know the exact circumstances but we do know that over the Christmas recess, somewhere between the Christmas tree and the turkey, Mr. Speaker, the Member for Ferryland came to a conclusion in his political career - a conclusion, Mr. Speaker, that he would no longer share the inner tables of the inner circle of the government opposite. In fact, Mr. Speaker, he was fated to join the enemy camp of their federal cousins to accept the new position as the ambassador, the fisheries ambassador for Newfoundland and Labrador, serving with the hon. Loyola Hearn, Mr. Speaker, serving with the hon. Loyola Hearn, who had become the number one target in the enemy camp for the government opposite.

We do not know the circumstances, Mr. Speaker, but we know that he left the cozy inner circles of the workings of the government to join the enemy camp of the federal cousins in Ottawa and he did it, Mr. Speaker, somewhere between the festive season and the new year. We know that, Mr. Speaker; that was when everything shook down.

Then, Mr. Speaker, prior to that we had another situation - imagine this - a situation where a member stood up for the people in their district. Fabian Manning, the former Member for Placentia & St. Mary's, stood up in this House and stood up in the media for the people of his district when the government opposite tried to push policies on Raw Material Sharing down the throats of the fishing industry in this Province, when the Member for the Straits & White Bay North was the Minister of Fisheries, Mr. Speaker, and was seated on that side and that end of the House and stood every day and said that we are going to bring in the Raw Material Sharing. The galleries were full of fishermen here, Mr. Speaker, who were saying we do not want Raw Material Sharing in this Province. Do you know something? They were not going to buy into it, and they never bought into it, but one member, one member inside the government, had enough guts and enough gumption to stand up to the Cabinet, the minister and the Premier, and say that I will stand with the people who elected me and sent me here. Guess what happened to him? He was shown the door. The message, Mr. Speaker, came from Houston. In fact, if I were the Premier I would stay out of Houston because things don't go that well when he goes to Houston. I don't know if it is all the sun after the cold, foggy weather in Newfoundland and Labrador, Mr. Speaker, and he gets sunstroke when he gets on Texan soil, I am not sure, but every time he seems to show up down there, there is a problem.

Mr. Speaker, let me tell you what happened. There was a circumstance going on in this Province at the time, and not only was it Mr. Manning that was ready to support the people that sent him here to represent them, there were a lot of other members on the government side and you know who you are. You know who you are, who were ready to go out and stand with your constituents at that time too. You were ready to do it. There are a number of you who sat and patted Fabian on the back in those days and said, boy, I am going to be with you. When the message, the telegram, came from Houston from the Premier, and it said, you have got a decision to make as a caucus, it is either going to be me or him, well guess what, boy? Nobody was patting Fabian on the back then, were they? No one was saying, good for you, standing up for your people, then. No. It was more like, see you later, Fabian, have a good life. See you later. We are sticking around.

Before the message came, Mr. Speaker, there was tears shed in the caucus room, we heard. There were tears, Mr. Speaker. The Kleenex was flowing from both ends. They were all sad, they were depressed, they were heart-wrenched, Mr. Speaker, because one of their own had to make a difficult choice, and so would some of them in the days that followed. They knew it, Mr. Speaker. I was told there were more tears shed that day in that caucus room. Then, Mr. Speaker, when the telegram came, when the telegram came from Houston and the boss said, it is either me or him, they all hauled their horns in then and Fabian was on his own. Fabian was on his own then, Mr. Speaker. No one was clapping him on the back then. Nobody was ready to take to the trenches with him at that time, because it was easier to kowtow than it was to stand up and have backbone and face him on the issue head-on, and do what you thought in your gut was the right thing to do.

There are always consequences to bear when that happens, Mr. Speaker, and we saw the consequences. Not only was Mr. Manning escorted out of the caucus from that day, but he was escorted right out of the caucus, Mr. Speaker, and forced to sit where I sat, Mr. Speaker, thirteen years ago, over here in the corner by himself as an independent member, Mr. Speaker, independent of the government. That was what he did, Mr. Speaker. He was booted out. He was given the boot and he was no longer a part of that caucus.

Mr. Speaker, there were lots of issues around it, lots of issues around members in that government, Mr. Speaker, who were shown the door. It was all over disagreements. In fact, I remember, going back to the Fabian issue, the story about the member for Terra Nova. The Member for Terra Nova was to have lunch with Mr. Manning on this day and was going to stand up for the people of his district as well. Oh, he was determined. The Member for Terra Nova was determined. In fact, it played on the radio. Mr. Manning was on the radio. I believe he told everything except what they had for lunch. He told everything else, what the Member for Terra Nova had to say, how he was prepared to stand up for the fisherpeople in his district, but as soon as the message came he pulled his horns in and he pulled them in really quickly too.

Mr. Speaker, so that is a number of people on the other side who we have seen, because of disagreements with the government, were either forced out or had to take leave or table a resignation. Do you know what is ironic about all of this? It is only when there are disagreements. It is only when there are differences of opinion.

Today, history will show in this Province that you have a politician of thirty-three years of stature and service to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, regardless of what political stripe, who right now - and everybody knows this - carries the weight of the government. I know that, Mr. Speaker. I have watched it in this House. I watched in this House since 2003 who has carried the weight of that government in House of Assembly. It was the Member for Baie Verte-Springdale who just tabled his resignation. He not only came to the job with the experience, but he came as a mentor to many of the members who joined the ranks of that government. I have seen it happen day in and day out in this House of Assembly. I have seen him coaching, I have seen him mentor and I have seen him teach them the rules and procedures of the House of Assembly.

Yesterday, Mr. Speaker, when his resignation was tabled and he was condemned by the comments of the Premier, there were nothing only the shouts of hurrah coming from the members opposite; a totally disrespectful display for any colleague no matter what the circumstances, I say to the members opposite. Irregardless of circumstances under which the gentleman resigned, irregardless of the events that have taken place, there was no reason for the displays of disrespect that I have seen amongst the ranks in that government as a result of this. In fact, Mr. Speaker, it was nothing short of disrespectful in my opinion. After you serve your time, work side by side with people, I cannot imagine how you could look down your nose and be so condemning within hours of an individual's departure.

Not only that, Mr. Speaker, the individual we are talking about, a former Premier, a man who held various Cabinet posts within the government, whose has been a pillar of the Conservative Party of this Province for over twenty years, who probably recruited, Mr. Speaker, half the people who are sitting in the chairs in this House of Assembly today, probably went out and knocked on doors for half of them - in fact, I know he did and I could name them. I could name a good lot of them who he knocked on doors with in the last election and got elected in this Province, Mr. Speaker.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS JONES: The member for Grand Falls says it was not me, so I guess that makes it alright for you to go out and cut the legs out from under him, does it? Well, Mr. Speaker, to me that is unjustified as well. If you have no respect for the people who you serve with - how can you serve with people and have no respect for them, I say, Mr. Speaker? That is what we have seen here.

Mr. Speaker, because he did not knock on doors with me I will get on the media and on the open lines and I will say what I like and I will condemn him and I will undermine him and I will degrade him because he did not knock on a door for me. Well, Mr. Speaker, that is the sorriest commentary that I have ever heard, I say to the hon. member. In fact, I cannot believe you actually said it. I cannot believe you actually said it!

Mr. Speaker, there are a number of members in this House who that individual did knock on doors with. In fact, Mr. Speaker, when they got to this House he was the one who orientated them into their jobs and they know that. They know that, Mr. Speaker. You would never say it today, as one by one since last night they have been taking to the airways. It is almost like they drew a number out of a bag; and now it is my turn. I will go on at 8:00 o'clock and I will go on at 9:00 o'clock and I will go on at 10:00 o'clock and I will call in the morning and I will call after coffee break. Well, Mr. Speaker, it was almost like there was a memo that went around inside the government caucus that said, this is your scheduled time slot for the open line show to get on and to take a dart at the former Deputy Premier of the House of Assembly, Mr. Speaker. That is exactly what it sounded like. That is exactly what it sounded like, Mr. Speaker.

It was unbelievable that you could sit there and listen – actually, since October, in the eight months I think since the election, I have never seen so many government members on the airways in twenty-four hours in my entire life. I bet, if you had VOCM go back and look at the statistics you will find that this was the most callers to an open line show by government members since the election in October. I would bet you any money. I would almost put money on it but I am not a betting woman, Mr. Speaker, so I will not do that. I can guarantee you that the numbers would show that without a doubt. Without a doubt, Mr. Speaker!

Anyway, you know what I find so ironic about all of this? Notwithstanding the fact that two weeks ago in the House of Assembly, I think back the first week in May, when the former Government House Leader, the Member for Baie Verte-Springdale, stood up in the House and gave this rip-roaring speech, Mr. Speaker, the speech that was supposed to shatter the timbers of Opposition parties around the world in terms of how great a government they were - do you know something, Mr. Speaker? Every one of them over there was applauding. They were jumping out of their seats. They were so excited. They had so much support for this individual, but where is all of that to today, Mr. Speaker? Where is all of that today?

They have one of their own left howling in the wilderness now because they have been told again to click your heels, stand in line and march to the drum of the Premier of the Province. You are not supposed to have any allies that I tell you you are not supposed to have. You are not supposed to go out and support a colleague when I am dismissing them, Mr. Speaker, because that is exactly what it looks like. It looks like you have all been hauled into line and told exactly what to do, including what time to appear on the Open Line show and what to say when you get there.

Mr. Speaker, do you know what I find with all of this? Is that we have seen incidences in this Province before where ministers have gone out and done things that would imply incompetence within their jobs but have been no repercussions whatsoever. Every time a member or a minister has disagreed with the Premier of this government they have been shown the door, forced out or brought down in some other way, and at the end of the day everybody turns on them, not just the Premier but everybody, collectively, inside the government.


Let me just talk about a couple of things. The Member for The Straits & White Bay North, when he was the minister - or still is, I guess, the Minister of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development - when he was on the Open Line shows reading from a Cabinet paper, a Cabinet directive. Did he get reined in because of that? Absolutely not! That was an excusable action, Mr. Speaker, by the minister at that time. He never got reined in for going on the open airwaves and reading private, secret, confidential Cabinet documents. Absolutely not!

What about when we heard testimonies of ministers, testimony of the current Minister of Health and Community Services at the public inquiry into the ER-PR Hormone Receptor Testing in this Province, when he sat on the stand and could not provide the information because he did not read his briefing notes at the time; a Cabinet minister who is in a department that is managing the largest disaster of health care in our public history, and he does not read his briefing notes and that is acceptable actions of that Cabinet minister. There were no repercussions. He was not reprimanded. In fact, the Premier almost tripped up in the roll of carpet, in the runner of the carpet getting before the microphones to defend the minister, saying he was the best Health Minister he ever had. He had no one else over there that could replace him. Now, I do not necessarily doubt that either, but he said he had no one else over there to replace him. Well, Mr. Speaker, that minister did not have to suffer any repercussions - absolutely not! - because he did not read his briefing notes on the largest public health disaster ever to happen in our history in the Province and he, the minister, in charge of the department.

I will get to you, I say to the Minister of Natural Resources. I will get to you now in a minute.

Mr. Speaker, he never read his briefing notes, and that is acceptable? Oh, yes, that is no problem.

Mr. Speaker, then of course we have another case today which has brought about the resignation of the Member for Baie Verte-Springdale as the Minister of Fisheries and the Deputy Premier and the Government House Leader, in that he was strong-arming, threatening and applying pressure to a Cabinet minister. Now, I have been a Cabinet minister and I know full well the responsibility of a minister, and I know that no minister should take kindly to any threat, but, more importantly, no minister should kowtow or bow down to do something that they fundamentally believe is wrong.

What does it say about a minister who can be pushed over and worn down and browbeaten by one of their own colleagues? What does it say about a minister who takes a decision one day and then two days later cannot defend that decision? Within hours, cannot defend the decision that they have taken. What does that tell you about that particular minister? Well, it tells me that that particular minister is not able to carry out their responsibilities if they can be browbeaten by one of their colleagues by saying: I am going to resign, or I am going to do something else. Well, that is not that minister's responsibility. That is not that minister's responsibility. Why wasn't the individual told to go talk to the Premier, I am not dealing with the issue?

Mr. Speaker, I think what happened is that the minister did find the money and did agree to give the money and announced the money, and it was not until the announcement was out that the Premier reined in the minister and reined in the Member for Baie Verte-Springdale because it went against what he had originally said, and he did not like that. He did not like that so he reined them in. As a result of it, the member had to make good on his threats or he was going to be shown the door anyway, as I understand it in The Telegram this morning.

Mr. Speaker, there are lots of examples of incompetent ministers within that government in which there was no action taken by the Premier. In fact, they could easily just say: Oh, I had forgotten. Oh, I had made an error. Oh, that was not good judgement. All of a sudden, everything is brushed under the carpet and everything is fine. Disagree with him, take a different opinion, stand up and show a bit of backbone and a little bit of courage and see where you are going to end up then. Incompetencies are tolerated but ‘opinionation' is not. That is how I see it and that is how a lot of people in this Province see it today.

Mr. Speaker, there are lots of issues. I talked about the VON strike. The VON strike is one issue in which the Premier, without the consent or the discussion or knowledge of the minister, goes out and announces money because it was in his own district. It was interfering with a PC fundraiser or golf tournament that day and he wanted to fix the problem and make it go away. Of course, it worked and it did happen.

What about the school in Exploits? Another decision, in the middle of a by-election, in fact, when the Premier went down there and single-handedly said: It does not matter how much money was budgeted that year for new school construction. It did not matter how much money was already spent or what was left. It was not about haggling over dollars then when they went against the recommendations of the school board and said right there on the spot, in the middle of a by-election, desperately trying to win a seat at the time in the Province, went out and said: Don't worry about it; we will give you your new school. We will give you the school.

What about the fibre optics deal? I laughed because I heard members talking about the backdoor, doing things through the backdoor. I think it might have been the Minister of Government Services talking about doing things through the backdoor. Well, Mr. Speaker, the biggest backdoor deal I have seen done in this government since I have been here was the fibre optic deal. In fact, it never ever came to the light of the public intentionally but accidentally, I say to the members opposite, and they know it. The fibre optic deal, the $15 million deal that was cut to the friends of the Premier, Mr. Speaker, that was all done through the back door, I say to the members opposite, all done through the back door. Don't get up and talk about doing things through the back door when this was the perfect example of a deal that was done right through the back door. There was no Request for Proposals, there were no tenders; there was a hand-selected consortium of business people that just happened to be, Mr. Speaker, in some way or another, affiliated with the current government.

What a coincidence. What a coincidence, Mr. Speaker. It would almost make you think that they were hand selected for sure; but, Mr. Speaker, that was a back door deal, a $15 million back door deal that was cut directly by the Minister of Industry, by the Premier, by a consortium of companies that he had been affiliated with in a previous business life, Mr. Speaker, and that was all through the back door.

What about, Mr. Speaker, when the fish processing licence in Gaultois was taken out of Gaultois by the Minister of Fisheries of that day who happened to be the Member for The Straits & White Bay North. The Member for The Straits & White Bay North, who was the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture, took the processing licence out of Gaultois, and where did he put it? Right in his own district, Mr. Speaker, right in the Town of St. Anthony.

I have heard the members on the Open Line. I heard the Member for Grand Falls this morning talking about you cannot be doing things to try and win votes in your district, and all this kind of stuff. Here, Mr. Speaker, the Member for The Straits & White Bay North, at the time, when he was the Minister of Fisheries, pulled the fish processing licence right out of a community in this Province and put it right down in his own district – right down in his own district.


Mr. Speaker, if I wanted to sit down and reflect, I could probably come up with about 100 examples of things like this that have been done within the Province. A number of the members, I heard them on the Open Line shows and they were talking about the member was lobbying for money, the member was trying to go out and put more money - pork-barrelling the fund for his district. Pork-barrelling was the word they kept using, and things like this.

Mr. Speaker, let me just say that there is no monopoly on those things happening inside of that government, no monopoly on that. In fact, if I wanted to sit down and take the time, but it is not worth the effort for me to do it, but if I wanted to take the time and sit down, I could probably find a case where every Cabinet minister here has, in their portfolios, taken or removed or instrumented a service in their own district and it was done for political gain.

MS DUNDERDALE: (Inaudible).

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Natural Resources is challenging me to find one. I do not know, I might have to take the time to go and look through her department because she is issuing me a challenge, Mr. Speaker, but I would not have to look too far in the Minister of Education's department, I can tell you that. I would not have to go beyond the first page in the Estimates book for that department, Mr. Speaker, to find out the amount of things that have landed in that district as a result of the minister and the member being the Minister of Education.

So, don't go talking about out there influencing votes in your district, Mr. Speaker. We even have cases –

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS JONES: The Minister of Natural Resources will have twenty minutes to get up and make a speech as soon as I am finished, Mr. Speaker, and talk about whatever she wishes to talk about. Defend her colleagues, Mr. Speaker. She can get up and drive the knife into the Member for Baie Verte-Springdale, and fall in line with all of the rest of them over there if she so chooses, Mr. Speaker, but let me just say this: How many Cabinet ministers over there have given out cheques, out of their department, to MHAs to present departmental cheques?

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS JONES: No, you want to talk about out trying to encourage votes. The Member for Terra Nova was one of the ones on the Open Line show this morning, Mr. Speaker, trying to protect the position of the government, trying to drive the wedge into his former colleague whom last week he thought was wonderful when he gave a rip-roaring speech in the House.

Mr. Speaker, how many times has that happened? We even have photographs, I say to the Member for Terra Nova, photographs of ministers who have given cheques to backbench MHAs to present in their districts. What is that, I say to the hon. member? What is that, if it is not trying to influence support in a constituency, Mr. Speaker? - Trying to influence support in a constituency.

Mr. Speaker, they are asking: What is wrong with that? I will tell you what is wrong with it. You can't talk out of both sides of your face, I say to the hon. minister. You can't talk out of both sides of your face; that is what is wrong with it. You cannot be on the Open Line shows and you cannot be in the media saying how a member is in lobbying for money to try and influence votes in his district when you are doing the very same thing yourself.

Don't be hypocritical in your approach to this, Mr. Speaker. Be honest. Tell it like it is. That is what I am doing and you do not like it, but I am telling it like it is. There are many times there have been cheques from ministers' departments given to backbench MHAs to present at functions in their district, Mr. Speaker, and what is that if it is not influencing votes and support in a district?

Well, Mr. Speaker, I think it is, so don't get on the radio and say that you should not be doing this, and this is what it is all about, when you are actually out there doing it yourself; because, Mr. Speaker, that is a very hypocritical approach to be taking.

Mr. Speaker, let me just talk about a few other things as regards this.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible) so sensitive.

MS JONES: No, they are sensitive because they know you have hit a nerve. They know what you are saying is truthful, and they know that everything I am saying is factual. In fact, every word, almost, I have used has been from a transcript of a government member in the last twenty-four hours, because you can get access to the transcripts of everything you say. Well, almost every word I used, when I used threatened, when I used browbeat, and when I used pressured, and when I used bullying, when I used strong-armed, they were all words of the members opposite, Mr. Speaker, in describing their colleague. I do not know how they could have stayed in the Cabinet with him, because they have him made out to be a monster at this point, Mr. Speaker. I do not know how they stayed in the Cabinet and in the caucus with him, because the kind of language that they have used in characterizing this individual I have never seen before in my life.

Mr. Speaker, I may have to ask for protection from the Member for Terra Nova. I may, so I ask that you be aware, Mr. Speaker, that I feel like I may have to ask for protection from that member.

Mr. Speaker, let me talk about another incident, and this is an incident to do with the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs. When did this issue arise? I think, Mr. Speaker, he probably went to the Premier with this after the story with the Minister of Transportation and Works broke. This is what he said, Mr. Speaker: he felt his position as a Cabinet minister was under threat by former Deputy Premier Tom Rideout.

What clout that man had! The characterization of words that is used to describe this individual, I have never seen or heard in my life, for a former colleague.

Mr. Speaker, it is quite obvious that the alliances within that government run very thin. They are very short and they are very thin because, Mr. Speaker, a week ago, if you can be praising the individual who is governing the House and governing the business of that government, as that member did, and praising them and supporting them as they are condemning the Opposition in the House of Assembly, but yet today they are out using words that characterize this individual, their still colleague but former Government House Leader, as a monster, in my book, Mr. Speaker; talking about him as being threatening, as being bullying, as pressuring people and as strong-arming individuals. Pretty harsh and critical language, I say, to his colleagues that sit there, pretty harsh and critical language to be using in referring to an individual who only a few days ago you were ready to back, Mr. Speaker, and walk to the edge of a cliff with. How things change, and how quick they change.

Mr. Speaker, what we do not know from the Minister of Municipal Affairs – we do know that he felt his position was under threat as a Cabinet minister, we know that much - what we do not know is how much money the member wanted. We do not know how much money was granted. We do not know if the threats towards the minister, as he states, actually worked in deriving any kind of benefit for the Member for Baie Verte-Springdale at all. Maybe he did not cave in. Maybe he looked at it and said, I am the minister here and I will make the decision. Perhaps that is what he did, Mr. Speaker, and if he did, he did the proper thing, because that is his job, if he did that. Mr. Speaker, if he caved in only to be told by the Premier, you should not have, now retract, now back out, now dig yourself out of this hole, well that is a different story. Mr. Speaker, so we will have to wait. I am sure we will find out as time goes on.

Mr. Speaker, I heard the Member for Gander on the radio this morning, and the Member for Gander said, well we cannot always get everything we want. Well, I guess, Mr. Speaker, the most contentious prize up for grabs in Gander today is the new MRI machine. So, we will have to wait and see. Maybe the Member for Grand Falls, after her devoted speech on the radio this morning, backing the government and the Premier, maybe she will get the MRI machine now for Grand Falls, Mr. Speaker. It was not two hours later when the Member for Gander jumped in too, and he had to get his few words in, because he did not want to be outdone by the Member for Grand Falls, because the stakes are high now, Mr. Speaker. The stakes are high in Central Newfoundland, because they are putting their bids in on the MRI equipment. I know that, because I have heard from them. I have heard from people in Grand Falls and I have heard from the people in Gander. In fact, Mr. Speaker, they both make very legitimate arguments for this equipment and the reasons why it should go in their facilities. I say to the Member for Grand Falls-Windsor, she should rest easy now because the Member for Gander said this morning, we cannot expect to get everything. He said, Mr. Speaker, on the open lines, we cannot expect to get everything, and we live with the decisions that are made. I say to the Member for Grand Falls-Windsor, I would be smiling today if I were you.

AN HON. MEMBER: Buchans.

MS JONES: Buchans. Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans.

I would say to the Member for Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans, I would be smiling today if I were you because the Member for Gander has already conceded, in my opinion. He has accepted the fact that he cannot win them all, that he cannot get everything, that he may not be on the list and therefore his chances are getting very, very short. They are getting very few in terms of being able to obtain that equipment.

Mr. Speaker, if there was anything good out of the commentary from the member this morning that might be something good, because there was nothing else good there, I can tell you that. I listened to every word he had to say.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS JONES: Oh, my dear, I tell you I multi-task. I can read, I can listen, I can think and I can talk all the one time, I say to hon. members. I am multi-tasked. I do not need three hours in the morning to listen to the open line. I can have two meetings, read a book, make my phone calls and listen to the open line, I say to the hon. Member. If I have to I will eat breakfast in between that as well. I am very multi-tasked, so that is not a problem.

Mr. Speaker, getting back to my point with the Member for Gander, I did not hear a lot of other things that he said that were of any relevance. Other than the fact that he was prepared to cast aspersions upon his colleague, other than the fact that he was prepared to characterize his former Government House Leader in a light that was not too flattering, I did not see any other purpose for his call, other than to ensure that he was in the good books of the Premier, that he was backing him up and that the Member for Grand Falls would not get all the money for the health equipment. That was the only purpose I could see in his call.

Mr. Speaker, the phone was hardly chilled when the Member for Terra Nova appeared on the airways, because he is not to be outdone by the Member for Gander, I can tell you that. When it comes to looking for the attention of the Premier, looking to be in the good books, looking to get the good-boy pat on the back, I am going to tell you, the Member for Terra Nova is not to be outdone by the Member for Gander.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS JONES: Successively, you will find that when one member is prepared to get up and support the Premier and talk about how wonderful he is and how good he is and how he is godlike in every way, well then, Mr. Speaker, the Member for Terra Nova is not far behind his heels, I can tell you that. Before the receiver is down, the numbers are being punched in, Mr. Speaker. They may even be on speed dial, but it does not take very long.

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to talk about that for a little while today because I think it is an important issue of public interest in this Province. Any time that you see a high profile individual in the calibre of the member for Baie Verte–Springdale who resigns his seat as a Deputy Premier and a Cabinet minister and a Government House Leader, those things are of extreme public interest to the people of this Province. Mr. Speaker, they have questions and they want to have answers.

Mr. Speaker, every person has their reasons for doing the things that they do. In fact, I made it well known to the Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs today, that there are no worries I will resign as the Leader of the Opposition over $1 million. If he does not want to give me a $1 million, that is fine, but I will not be resigning. I made that quite clear to him today, Mr. Speaker, and I make it clear to everyone here. Everybody has their own prerogatives for doing the things that they do, for standing on their own principles, Mr. Speaker. That is what it is all about. Whether you agree or disagree with the approach, whether you agree or disagree with the action of consequence, it is all about being able to stand on the principles, Mr. Speaker, that you are comfortable with. If you cannot do that, well then, Mr. Speaker, I do not think you should be in a place like this. I honestly do not. There has to be governing by some level of principle in decisions that you make.

Mr. Speaker, I certainly will not cast aspersions or pass opinions on what the member has done. I am not going to characterize him in the light that other members have characterized him in, in this House of Assembly, nor will I do so with other members as they leave this place. We come here to do a job, we do it to the best of our ability and, I guess, we take decisions and we live with those decisions. Mr. Speaker, any time that things like this happen, it is always a matter of public interest to the people of the Province.

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Natural Resources has stepped outside of the House of Assembly, but I am sure she will be back. I was going to save my comments till she came back because she challenged me earlier about Cabinet ministers in terms of doing things to support individuals or to gain support or whatever the case may be. Mr. Speaker, it took me a few minutes on my feet to –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please.

I remind members that they should not refer to members as being absent from the House.

MS JONES: I do apologise, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Natural Resources did challenge me earlier in terms of saying, oh, what have I done in my position as a Cabinet minister? Mr. Speaker, it did not come to me at the time, but after a few minutes on my feet, multi-tasking as I do, it did come to me about the Bull Arm incident. The Bull Arm incident, in which one in the name of Joan Cleary was appointed the manager and chief operating officer of the Bull Arm facility. Who was Joan Cleary, Mr. Speaker? A past Tory candidate for the Conservative Party of Newfoundland and Labrador, with strong political connections to the Conservative Party, to the Minister of Natural Resources and other ministers within her Cabinet and her caucus. It slipped my mind for the minute because I did not have any of the stuff written down but as I was standing on my feet I thought about the whole incident at Bull Arm.

MS DUNDERDALE: A point of order, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER (Osborne): The hon. the Minister of Natural Resources on a point of order.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS DUNDERDALE: Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition said that she could offer examples of where every Cabinet minister over here had made a position in their own district that somehow advantaged them. I challenged her to demonstrate how I had done that.

I also want to point out, Mr. Speaker, that Joan Cleary was appointed as the CEO of Bull Arm long before I came to the Department of Natural Resources.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

There is no point of order, a point of clarification.

I recognize the hon. the Leader of the Opposition.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Of course, there is no point of order.

Let me just continue with my story about the Bull Arm Site Corporation, Mr. Speaker, because maybe the minister needs to be reminded of what happened out in Bull Arm; reminded of the reasons why her friend and past former candidate within the Conservative Party ended up being fired from the Bull Arm Corporation; why she ended up being fired at the end of the day because of how contracts were being handled out there. Mr. Speaker, it was under the watch of that particular minister. It was that minister who stood in this House everyday and took the questions. It was the minister who just spoke that had to get up and try and defend the actions of Joan Cleary, and did defend them until the probing continued and continued to the point in which Ms Cleary ended up being fired because it was the appropriate thing to be done at that particular time. That is the truth of the matter and that is what happened, Mr. Speaker. The minister is really getting her back up because when you hit a nerve over there this is what happens.

The Member for Terra Nova has not been quiet since the minute I stood on my feet, which, in fact, is a little over fifty minutes ago; has not been silent since I stood on my feet. Every second word comes out of my mouth he is shooting a phrase back across the floor to me. It just goes to show the level of disrespect that exists on that side of the House, not only for their own colleagues like we have seen with the Member for Baie Verte-Springdale, but the disrespect they have for everyone else in this House of Assembly, regardless of the debate, regardless of the issue, regardless of what they are talking about, Mr. Speaker, they always have to be sitting there shouting and yelling, being disrespectful and probing. I say to the Member for Terra Nova, that in nine minutes and twelve seconds you will have an opportunity to stand on your feet, Sir. You will have an opportunity to get up and talk for the next twenty minutes, not sit in your seat and yell across the House like you have been doing for the last half an hour.

Mr. Speaker, it is quite obvious that every time you get close to an issue that has scorched this government, an issue in which they know that wrongdoing has been done on the inside, they are intolerable to it. Intolerable, absolutely! They do not want to hear it. They do not want to talk about it but it does not take them long to run out to the media airwaves or to run somewhere else and give their big speeches about all of this.


I am going to tell you, Mr. Speaker, this is one member who will not be put in a verbal headlock by the members opposite. I will tell you, they can shout from their seats all day. They can shout all day but I will not be put in a verbal headlock by the members opposite. You are going to need a bigger thesaurus than the one you have if you plan on doing that, I say to you, minister. I can guarantee you that.

Mr. Speaker, let me just talk about another couple of issues within this department that are important issues because we are talking about the Natural Resources expenditures, but it was important to characterize what has been happening because there is a lot of public interest around the fact that a prominent minister has resigned his seat at the Cabinet table. It should not come as any surprise because anytime there are disagreements inside of that government, anytime there is a disagreement with the Premier that is usually the way it is. You will find that every other member, regardless of the relationship they had with that individual or that colleague, once they are outside the circle of the Premier then you can be sure that they will not be outside with them. They will all stay inside. They will shout from the inside and they will throw the daggers and they will throw the arrows and they will do whatever it takes to make the government's position defensible. If they think that people do not see that, you are kidding yourselves, because they do see it. They do see exactly what is happening and they see through the whole façade that is being created around this particular issue, too.

Mr. Speaker, yesterday we had a motion in the House of Assembly, another issue relative to the fishery. We had a motion on the floor of the House, presented by the Member for Lewisporte, with great intentions, and I had no problem supporting the motion. The problem I had is that the motion did not call to action any kind of action, in fact, to be able to tackle this issue. All we were doing was asking for an all-party committee to go out there and advocate on behalf of the fisherpeople in this Province to ensure that they would get a fair hearing, to ensure that their views would be brought to the attention of the federal government and they could see in the foreseeable future, hopefully, some remedies for this particular problem, but that was not on for government. That was not on.

They wanted to let the public know all right, that: Oh, we understand your issue. Oh, we support your issue. Oh, we will write a letter to the federal minister. Well, Mr. Speaker, I have been writing letters to the federal minister for the past year. In fact, I have written them to three different ministers in the federal government. I have had discussions with members of Parliament on this particular issue, but it still has not moved. It needs a greater call to action if you are going to get some results on it, but that was voted down by the members opposite. They did not want to do that. They did not see any validity in it. In fact, do you know what they said? They were narrow-minded enough, small-minded enough to think that the Opposition wanted a trip to Ottawa. Now can you just imagine that?

Well, Mr. Speaker, my budget allows me to travel to Ottawa whenever I need to, to meet with ministers. My budget allows me to travel to Ottawa to meet with ministers whenever I need to on behalf of issues in my district, or as the Leader of the Opposition, on behalf of any issues that are of concern to the public in Newfoundland and Labrador. So what a lame excuse, Mr. Speaker. What a lame excuse.

MS DUNDERDALE: (Inaudible).

MS JONES: I would like to ask the Minister of Natural Resources what she just shouted across the House at me?

MS DUNDERDALE: (Inaudible).

MS JONES: Mr. Speaker, I should tell the Natural Resources Minister to read the regulations and rules governing members in the House of Assembly, our expenditures - and we are permitted to go to Ottawa. This is the second time you claimed to know legislation that governs this House, minister, and you obviously do not. That is the second time. The last time you got up on a point of order that was supposed to go to a conflict committee. So maybe you should read the legislation that governs the House of Assembly and try and understand it before you start shouting across the floor about things you know nothing about.

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, let me just say this: we are permitted, as MHAs, all forty-eight of us in this House are permitted to travel to Ottawa, to meet with Members of Parliament on issues related to their district, and I, as the Leader of the Opposition, have the authority to be able to do so on any issues relative to the public in this Province.

So, for some people in this House to have a small enough grasp of issues and understanding to get up and say that this was a free trip to Ottawa shows the narrow-minded thinking that exists within the government, I say, Mr. Speaker, when there are 850 families in this Province that have been wrong done by under Revenue Canada taxation laws and are owed up to $30 million in revenues, and the government opposite can only look at it as being a free trip for some Member of the House of Assembly. It is absolutely deplorable and despicable, I say to the members opposite. In fact, it would not have cost the government a cent; because, any members who were part of that all-party committee would have been members, I am sure, who would have represented districts of people who were affected and could have travelled on their own district funds to be able to do the work of that particular committee.

The Member for Lewisporte, when he closed his comments, said, we won't support some silly committee. Well, Mr. Speaker, I am sorry to hear that is the characterization of committee structures that the member likes to refer to it as silly. I have seen a lot of great work in my day done in this Province by committees, and they were not silly committees either. They were committees with substance, with purpose, Mr. Speaker, and with objectives, and they were able to accomplish those objectives on many occasions.

In fact, even with all-party committees, because I was a member of a few all-party committees, when I was in Opposition I was a member of an all-party committee on the sealing industry in this Province. When I was a member of government, I was a member of an all-party committee on changes to the FPI Act, and when they stopped the closure of plants in Harbour Breton and Triton and Bonavista and Fortune; and, Mr. Speaker, I was a member of an all-party committee that looked at the Gulf cod stocks and the joint ownership of the fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, not all of those committees got the results that they wanted to get, but let me tell you what they did get. They did get their issues elevated to the top of the list by the federal government. They did get hearings face to face with ministers and prime ministers. They did get results, although it may not have been everything that was set out in terms of what was needed to be accomplished, but they did get results and I have seen those results first-hand.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, this government talks about committees as silly committees but they are the same government who went out and did the red tape committee, went out and did the transportation committee, went out and did the committee on seniors. This government does committees on all kinds of issues, and members over there have headed and chaired those committees. Yet, when it is asked for by the Opposition it holds no validity. It is called silly. It is called a free trip. It is called things to try and justify their own opinions, which is absolutely ridiculous, and they know that.

The fisherpeople of this Province who are affected were counting on this Legislature to be able to bring forward something of substance to act on their behalf, and that failed to happen in the House of Assembly yesterday and that is unfortunate. I guess government members will have to defend their own actions as it relates to that.

Mr. Speaker, that will conclude my comments on the Resource Sector Committee of the House of Assembly.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Grand Falls-Windsor-Green Bay South.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to get up and have a few words on concurrence on the Budget debate and go over some of the items that I feel are very important and, of course, to back up the sentiment of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador saying that this is the best budget that we have ever seen. It certainly has been, and a lot of people are commenting on it.

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to congratulate the members of the Committee that I sat on, the Resource Committee, when we looked at the Budget Estimates for the departments. There were six departments that we looked at. I want to congratulate the ministers for such a great job that they did explaining the different sections of their Estimates. Of course, those departments were: the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture; the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation; the Department of Environment and Conservation; the Department of Business; the Department of Natural Resources; and, the Department of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development.

Also, I would like to thank all the members of that Committee: the Member for Labrador West; the Member for The Isles of Notre Dame; the Member for Bonavista North; the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi; the Member for Lewisporte; and, the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair.

It is not my first time on the Resource Committee. I have been there now - this is my tenth year in politics. Of course, I am probably considered one of the older members here now. The only one who is allowed to call me poppy is my granddaughter. Looking around the House here today, I think I am the longest-sitting member in the House right now, except for the Member for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair, but it has been a learning experience every day.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. HUNTER: The member, of course, the Chair, has been here longer than me.

It has been a learning experience every day. We all learn things and we all can reflect on the days when something went wrong, or there was a heated debate over something, and that is politics. Politics does not change, no matter if you are in Opposition or on the government side; you are still always debating something. You are always putting your best foot forward, working for your district, fighting hard for the people who put you here.

Of course, you have to realize, too, there are responsibilities as being part of a caucus, whether it is the Opposition caucus or the government caucus, and I think everybody here knows that. We know that when we put that foot forward you do not know what is going to come out of it. You do not know what the next step is going to be. Sometimes we fall; sometimes we run. For the most part, the members that we have in this House of Assembly are all good members, intelligent, a lot of young members, who are working very hard for their districts. I feel very lucky to be a part of this House of Assembly here today, and I am very lucky to be on the government side that came out with such a great Budget, with our Minister of Finance, that I have to say I have a lot of respect for, and he has certainly worked very, very hard to come up with this great Budget that he has come up with.

You do not have to look very far in the Budget before you can see all the good things. I guess if we wanted to, we could look in the Budget and try to point out things that are not in there, but we do have a lot of good things in it.

The Budget is such a big budget, of course, this year, over $6 billion is going to be spent by this government. Of course, with some of the sectors, you take the education sector, this year it is going to spend over a billion dollars, almost $1.3 billion for education. We could have said that we were going to have a cut in education spending. That is not in the Budget. The Budget is an increase in spending in education.

We could be talking about a Budget with a cut in health care, but that is not true. We have a Budget that got an increase in health care, and this health care budget, Mr. Speaker, is a big budget also; it is over $2 billion, almost $2.4 billion, being spent in health care in this Province.

That tells you that these things are not little things. These things are big items, big capital costs, and big costs to the taxpayers. That is who has to pay, to foot the bill, for this Budget, the taxpayers of the Province. Of course, we are very lucky to get royalties and taxes from our resources, which are a very, very important part of us being successful in this Province.

Now, while we were going through the Estimates last week we took each department and we went through each department that estimated what their spending would be for the year. Mr. Speaker, you can look at any of these departments and see how great a responsibility this government has, how great a responsibility the Premier has and Minister of Finance, to make these figures work for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

In Natural Resources alone we have a budget estimated this year for $452 million-plus, and it is a lot of money to spend. It is not easy to find a balance when we are looking at spending taxpayers' money. We have to try to do the best job we can to be responsible to the taxpayers of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, even in some of the other areas of the Budget we just take for granted that things are really good sometimes. You have to look at some of these facts and figures that we have in the Budget, Mr. Speaker. The GDP increased by 7.9 per cent this year in consumer and government sector spending. The unemployment rate fell to 13.6 per cent, a reduction of 1.2 per cent, and this was the lowest rate in twenty-six years, Mr. Speaker. We have personal income tax growth of 4.3 per cent with a personal disposable income growth of 5 per cent. This is very significant in the pockets of the people Newfoundland and Labrador. Our government is committed to putting money back into people's pockets. This year, this Budget, is certainly going to prove to be true for that fact, that we are putting money back into people's pockets so they can handle extra things in their lives, the extra increase in gas prices and other things. By putting this money back it certainly alleviates some of the hardship on lower income people.

Mr. Speaker, we also see a retail sales growth of 9.5 per cent. That is a pretty significant increase. With residential construction we have an increase of 9.9 per cent with over 2,652 housing starts. I mean, that tells you something there alone, you know, that when everybody started talking doom and gloom and about the out-migration we are still building over 2,600 houses in this Province. Of course, with an in-migration now of over 2,000 people in the Province this year - these are all significant things that make this Province more successful, more viable.

It is important that we recognize what these changes mean, what it means to rural Newfoundland and Labrador. It means that, even though some of our younger people are commuting to work back and forth to the mainland, some of our smaller communities are going to survive. They are going to be sustainable because money is coming back into the Province and people are paying taxes in their communities. Now, with the new announcement on our cost-sharing for municipalities, this is going to make a significant difference to the people of our Province particularly in the rural areas. Municipalities with a population of over 7,000 will still have to have a greater share to pay with a 70-30 split. Just look at the municipalities with a population under 3,000, with a 90-10 split, 90 per cent being paid by the government and 10 per cent being paid by the municipality. That is going to make a lot of difference to small communities.

I know in my district alone we have a number of communities that would not get things done in the next few years if this had not happened. Because of that now, we are going to see some water and sewer projects and some very, very important infrastrucute projects in these small communities. I have to commend the Minister of Municipal Affairs, the Minister of Finance and this government for taking that big step. There probably was a lot of debate and a lot of haggling over how far we should go, but I am sure that this was the right decision. It was the right decision for the future of rural Newfoundland and Labrador. It was a decision that, even though some people do not realize it right now, when the times comes, when they have to make an investment in infrastructure in their communities, they are certainly going to be proud and glad that this government made that decision. I am certainly in favour of that and I certainly thank government for doing that.

Mr. Speaker, this year the government has committed $673 million on infrastructure, increasing the Province's six-year infrastructure to an investment of over $3 billion. Mr. Speaker, that also creates an estimated 6,500 person years of employment throughout the Province.

These are good things that we can all be proud of. We can all shout and rejoice because money is being spent in rural Newfoundland and jobs are going to be created. It gives people an opportunity to stay where they want to stay, in their communities, and to contribute to the Province by staying here. It is a tough decision for younger people to make when you look at the big dollars being made in Fort McMurray and other places, to make that decision to stay here in Newfoundland and Labrador to work for a lot less money. I am glad that a lot of them make the decision to live here but still work out there, and someday, hopefully, they will move back and work and live here.

Not only that, Mr. Speaker, but I have seen it in my district in the last few months a number of families moving back. I know there were at least six families in the Green Bay South area that moved back in the last couple of months from Fort McMurray who are working in their trades making almost as much money in Green Bay South as they were making in Fort McMurray. The area is certainly doing well. There has been a lot of employment created the past year or so in Green Bay South and a lot of younger trades people are certainly taking advantage of these new jobs coming in there.

Not only that, but in the Grand Falls-Windsor area, Mr. Speaker, we have seen a housing boom in the last couple of years. There are approximately four housing developments in here now with, I would say, over 200 houses going to be built this year. That shows that even with the uncertainty with AbitibiBowater, there is still a lot of confidence in Central Newfoundland. There is a lot of confidence in the government now because in the past we have seen people saying, we do not have confidence in the way things are being run, we do not have confidence the way the Province is going downhill, but now you are starting to see people come back to say, we have confidence again. Even though we have some niches and some downturns in different areas, the overall picture looks good for the Province. The overall picture in resources looks good.

We certainly have big developments in the way of mining in my district, in all Central Newfoundland. My colleague from Grand Falls-Windsor-Buchans, my colleague from Exploits and my colleagues from all around Central are certainly sharing in the increase of excitement in Central Newfoundland when it comes to jobs and new jobs being created.

It is not easy, just the same, Mr. Speaker, because the expectations of people are very high. When they come back and when people move, they expect big things, but unfortunately it takes time to fix all the problems, it takes time to do the right things.

Mr. Speaker, even when you look at the past ten years - when I came in here ten years ago, I sat in Opposition for four years, and things are pretty quiet compared to what they were when we were in Opposition. When we were there with fourteen members, some of them were real bulldogs and of course they kept people here long hours into the night debating. We sat many nights. Of course, the issues are pretty well the same issues as they are now. It is rural Newfoundland, it is infrastructure, it is roads, it is hospitals, and health care and education, and we work very hard in pushing to make this Province better. Every MHA here, when they go into their districts, can certainly feel the heat when it comes to things they need for their districts, and the people who elected them.

If anybody thinks that being a politician is an easy ride – and it is a great job, and it is an honour to be in this House, I have no problem saying that, and I certainly enjoy representing the people of Grand Falls-Windsor-Green Bay South, but anybody who asks me how politics is, I always say: Well, boy, it is 99 per cent very hard work, and very stressful work, and it is 1 per cent glory, but that 1 per cent glory, I guess, sometimes pays up for all the hardship and all the fighting you do. That 1 per cent makes you feel good to get up in the morning and say I am going back at it again today, and do my job; but it is not easy. I remember back when I was in Opposition; there were troubles. There were troubles in the government of the day.

We always knew what was going on in the government caucus room, from outside, a day after. The next day you would get rumours of this and that and, I tell you, it was not an easy ride at the time. If people think that politics is that easy, back then I remember, during Premier Tobin's day, it was – I mean, there were hard times in the Liberal caucus at that time; and, of course, when the leadership came up, then it became real exciting.

It became real exciting when the members were running for leadership, and the wheeling and dealing and the promises and the rumours of candidates buying votes. I mean, that is politics. We hear all those stories. Something that comes to my mind in particular is on the night of the leadership convention, when the new Premier was picked, and the acting Premier of the day - they had a bit of trouble. This is what I heard now. I have no facts on this, but I just heard that they were saying: How are they going to get all the candidates on stage? So, the acting Premier, Premier Tulk, went to Mr. Efford, put his arm around him, and said: It's time to go up to the stage, Mr. Premier.

Of course, Mr. Efford, with a big smile on his face, had no problem with going on stage, and when he got up on the stage, of course, then Mr. Grimes was announced the winner and the new Premier. I will never forget, that day, the look that was on Mr. Efford's face.

So, when the Opposition get up and they start talking about stuff that goes on, on the government side, they had better not forget sometimes what went on in their caucus rooms and what went on with their leaders and their politicians.

We had quite a bit of fun debating stuff and, of course, bringing up issues with the former government. It was tough days, I have to say, when we had to deal with the Premier of the day, and ministers, and we had a very hard time trying to get through at the time to different ministers and departments.

I remember one time when I was in Botwood. I was the forest and agrifoods critic, and I was asked to attend a meeting in Botwood, by cabin owners, because Abitibi was going to take the bridge out of one of the cabin areas. Of course, I went to the meeting and the Premier showed up, Premier Grimes showed up, and, of course, we had a very heated debate. It was not a very nice situation to be in, but I felt I had a responsibility, as the critic, to be there to represent the cabin owners who wanted me there, and I did that. It took a while for both of us to cool down, and a few months to move on from that situation, but we did and that is the way politics works.

I remember with the Voisey's Bay debate, and we would get up here and we would talk about the deal with Voisey's Bay, and Premier Tobin was up saying not one spoonful was going to leave the Province - not one spoonful. Of course, we know what happened. There was more than a spoonful went out, but hopefully this is going to work out for the better, for the people of the Province, when we get the plant up and running and get processing and create more jobs and more revenue for the Province.

Then, again, with the RMS situation, that was a very tough one for us. Those who had fishermen in their districts, it was very hard, and we had a great debate. We did what we had to do. It wasn't easy on any politician at the time. There was a lot of protesting, a lot of lobbying going on, and it created a lot of stress for a lot of members, but we got through that. We got through Voisey's Bay, and we got through RMS.

Of course, then the strike came on and that was very stressful at the time. A lot of members took that head on. We stood there, we stood our ground, and we did the best we could. We made the best decisions that we could at the time, and a lot of people respect this government for that. I know there are not a lot of members left who could tell the story of what we went through in those times, but they were tough times. For me, especially, it was tough, with my situation with the unions and my kids and that. We took a beating day after day after day, taking a beating on that, and it was not easy.

So, if anybody out there thinks that politics is an easy way of life, I tell you, from day to day there are a lot of challenges. There are a lot of challenges for the Opposition members. There are a lot of challenges for ministers. There are challenges for us backbenchers. There are challenges for everybody. Our EAs, and all of the people who work around us, the front line workers, are challenged every day with issues, debates, needs, wants and expectations. They are so high that it is hard for us to even imagine.

Mr. Speaker, again, getting back to this, I wish I had more time. My time is gone. I never even started on the highlights of the Budget, but there are so many there to go through.

AN HON. MEMBER: Leave.

MR. HUNTER: I certainly wouldn't mind having leave to clue up.

Mr. Speaker, with this Budget –

MR. SPEAKER (Collins): Order please!

The hon. member's time has expired.

AN HON. MEMBER: Leave to clue up.

MR. HUNTER: A couple of minutes, yes.

MR. SPEAKER: A few minutes to clue up, by leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: To clue up.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave, a few minutes to clue up.

MR. HUNTER: A few minutes to clue up, okay.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I thank the member for leave.

I wish I had a little bit more time to go through some of the departments.

Like I said, there are six departments that we went through on the Resource Committee. There is a lot of money involved. There are a lot of good things coming in the Budget.

I have to respect the Opposition members for the good questioning and, of course, they did not take advantage of the time. They could have dragged on and dragged on. I know, on the meetings in my Committee, we did our Estimates in a good way and a professional way with the members in the Opposition, and they did a very professional job. I thank them and commend them for being such professionals at that, and some good points were brought out.

Hopefully, I will get another three or four years sitting on the Resource Committee.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate the time.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

MR. PARSONS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I appreciate an opportunity to have a few words. I guess, under the timelines we are operating under today, I will probably be the last speaker before supper break at 5:30 or so.

I don't mind giving the Member for Grand Falls-Windsor-Green Bay South the leave any time he is going to compliment the Opposition, and I appreciate his kind words and gestures.

He made a comment, however, that was very telling. He started off his comments by saying politics does not change. I think, Mr. Speaker, politics has changed. I think politics in this Province has changed drastically even in the last twenty-four hours. In fact, I think it is historic what we have seen unfolding in this Province in the last twenty-four hours. I am referring, of course, to the resignation of the Government House Leader, the Deputy Premier, and the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

It has changed in a way – I have been here ten years. I got elected the same day as the Member for Grand Falls-Windsor-Green Bay South. I am in my tenth year. In the ten years I have been here, there is a nastiness that has permeated the House of Assembly that did not always exist here. I say that in all seriousness, and it is not only in the House of Assembly. There is a nastiness that is in the community, and you sense it on the Open Line shows.

I guess there was an old saying - and I am not going to attack anyone here. It is not a matter for me to judge who is right and who is wrong, or who took the high road, but I get a sense that there are some low roads that people are tempted to go down here, and I think that is unfair and I think that is unfortunate for the system. I guess there is a biblical saying: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I think that applies here. I think this issue, this debacle is being dealt with totally improperly, for a lot of reasons, because it casts aspersions upon all of us. I think there is improper communications at play here. Most importantly, I see the reputation of a very competent, good human being unnecessarily being threatened and unnecessarily being sullied. I see absolutely no reason for that. I do not understand the why, for example. This is not a public, policy issue where someone puts a policy forth and someone might feel that I disagree or I agree with that.

I noticed this morning, for example, someone called to me and used a very unfavourable term to describe what government members were doing today on the Open Line show. They called them the Kool-Aid kids. That is what the term was that a caller to my office used this morning. I thought that was very unfortunate because that speaks to all of us who are involved in politics. It speaks to all of us. Of course, they are referring to the Jonestown situation where people ‘messianically' followed Jim Jones to the point where they swallowed and drank poisoned Kool-Aid. The reference by calling the government members that, no doubt, was to suggest that government members, like lemmings, would walk over the cliff for the Premier. They did not care what they had to do. That is an unfortunate impression that is left out there in the public domain.

This issue between the Premier and the Member for Baie Verte I think ought to have been dealt with far differently, much differently. I do not think members of government need to be blind faith to the point where you question someone's character. By the way, I have probably had more dealings with the Member for Baie Verte then even members on the government side in the last ten years. He got re-elected back in 1999 after an absence from politics. I would say, notwithstanding - and I do not hesitate in saying, notwithstanding we have been of different political persuasions, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the MHA for the District of Baie Verte, and there is nobody in this House or outside of this House who has more disagreements than me with the Member for Baie Verte. I have fought with him tooth and nail about House issues in here and legislation and how things were going here. I have rowed and fought with him on the Board of Management. I did that in the old days of the IEC. I have fought and rowed with him when I wanted stuff from his department for communities in my district, but we never crossed the line. We never crossed the line to ever take the mutual respect that we had for each other as people and cast it aside. That is what I see happening here.

The Member for Gander this morning, who is he to cast the first stone and suggest that something is wrong here? Who is the Member for Terra Nova on talking about what happened? The Member for Terra Nova again, over there now, commenting again and not paying respect to anybody who ever stands up in this House and makes comments. Who is the Member for Terra Nova to go on the Open Line shows? He does not need to carry the Premier's suitcase on this issue. You do not need to carry the Premier's suitcase on this issue. The Premier is a big boy. The Premier can look after himself. The people will decide the rights and the wrongs of this. That is what will happen here.

The Member for Harbour Main, a fine gentleman, I have dealt with him in the ten years he has been here but I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why he would be on the Open Lines and he used words that talked about the character of the Member for Baie Verte. We only have to go back a few years and get into the watch situation, talking about casting the first stone. I am saying, we all have a history, and if we are going to get so petty that we are going to be at it all the time.

The Member for Humber East, for example. The Member for Humber East must be having a very trying time because he is a man of integrity; I have no doubt about it. I understand, for example, he has a very close friendship with the Member for Baie Verte, very close. So, that makes it tough for a lot of people. All I am saying is that when these personal issues get relegated to Open Line talk shows and attacking people's personal characters -

MR. ORAM: You're not fit.

MR. PARSONS: Again, the Member for Terra Nova over there shouting: You're not fit! Now there is a respectable man who stands up in this House and it shows that he has the respect for this institution.

MR. ORAM: (Inaudible).

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

MR. PARSONS: Thank you.

I would love to talk about that, Mr. Speaker. The Member for Terra Nova is talking about the judge's job. Again, that was an involvement between myself and the Minister of Justice at the time, the Member for Humber East. It was a case, again, where a story that transpired between myself and the minister of the day, was told by the minister to the Premier and the Premier put his spin on what he wanted. That is what happened. That is the truth of it. The biggest disappointment that I had in the issue – and, by the way, I have not taken it to the point where I would ever hold it against the Member for Humber East to that extent, but I was very disappointed in him and how that was handled. Very disappointed. In fact, I am sure he must have cringed from time to time as to how he did handle it.

On that issue, as well, of course. That reminds me, I did, by the way, go through the process that time to apply for a judge. I absolutely did! Judicial counsel did the interviews, there is a list done up - I am sure it is in the minister's office now. In fact, I asked here in the House one time if they might even table the list, because I was curious to see where I was on the list. In fact, I know where I was on the list. I know where I was on the list. I asked the former minister if he would actually table that list, but of course we never, ever got it tabled.

I will go back to my point of importance here, and that is my comments about the Member for Baie Verte. As I say, I have dealt with him. I have had more arguments probably with him than anybody. I found him to be a man of principle. I found him to be a man of integrity. I found him to be a man of his word. I found him to be fair; very passionate. He stood up here - the last time I remember he gave a detailed speech in this House was on May 7, and anybody who listened to it, it was pure fire and brimstone. It was a good, old fashioned political speech, and everybody grew ten inches in their seats. Everybody grew, their shoulders were back, because he was so passionate about what he said. That is the kind of respect I have, and I have no problem in saying that to a competitor, to a foe. In fact, we almost ended up running off together because in 1999, I was the candidate for Burgeo & LaPoile the first time, and the minute the Member for Baie Verte was on the CBC saying: I am not sure where I am going to run, whether it is going to be Lewisporte, or Burgeo & LaPoile. I always said to him after: Thank God you ran in Lewisporte, because you would have been a formidable foe. No question about it.

I just want to say, hats off to the Member for Baie Verte. I wish him well in his future, whatever he might choose that to be, and I just think we should keep this to a civilized level. It will all come out in the wash. It is not going to end today. We do not need to be personally attacking anybody. Just let it be. It will all blow over in politics, as everything does, but we should not sacrifice, I believe, that gentleman. I think that is what is happening now, is that somebody feels the need to sacrifice him for some reason, and I do not think that is absolutely necessary. In fact, he used the words this morning, I heard him on the Open Line show. The words he used were: He was cut to the core. I can appreciate that, because here is a man who gave almost thirty-three years of his life to politics, to public service. No doubt he had his ups and downs but was extremely successful at it. I am sure he served the party well. I am sure he served both parties, when he was a Liberal and then he crossed the floor and became a Conservative. He served both parties very well and he was known. I am sure today there are a lot of people in the PC party who have respect for that gentleman and will continue to have respect for him.

On the issue of Estimates, of course, I have to say that I took part in – there are six different headings under this particular one, and I happened to have the benefit of sitting in as the critic. I did the Business one, the Innovation, Trade and Rural Development and Tourism, Culture and Recreation. Very informative process! It is an opportunity where you get to question the ministers and see just how much they know about their departments. You can see how much they don't know. There are times when you cannot get answers because they just do not have them and you get undertakings and they provide you with the information, and that is very helpful because you cannot always flesh out in a Question Period the details of any particular issue. That is a very helpful process.

By the way, the Minister of Justice and I, since he has come in the House in this election, have had a few tussles here in the House and so on, the cut and the thrust of debate, and I appreciate that. I like that. I think we will both grow further and we will get experience and that is a good process. There was an issue that is in the public domain today. I was going to bring it to the minister's attention in Question Period but I did not get an opportunity. I am sure it will be out in the public domain before too long. It is there now, actually, I was called today. That is the issue - you talk about judges and the propriety of who becomes a judge and the process that you go through and so on.

The word on the street is that a certain gentleman by the name of Mr. Babb, who is the current president of the PC Party, who was a former candidate, I do believe, in the District of Carbonear back in the election of 2003, the word on the street, at least in the legal fraternity, is that Mr. Babb is going to be appointed to the Provincial Court. It will be interesting to see what happens there. I do not know the gentleman, I never, ever met him, but I am sure he is probably qualified. It will be interesting to see if political favouritism plays any role there.

That is a legitimate concern in the legal fraternity. They have asked the questions. The questions are being asked: will the current Minister of Justice and the Premier appoint Mr. Babb to the bench? What kind of message will that send? Where is he on the list? That is the question. That is what is out there and we will see in the near future. The government will make a decision. Again, people judge the government by their performance in those issues.

It seems whenever you raise certain issues here that are sensitive the government members just get so sensitive and upset about them. I would think it is a legitimate question if somebody in the Law Society happens to call me and say, look, there is some talk on the street that Mr. Babb is going to be a judge. Can that ever be true? I would say: Well, maybe he is. He could be number one on a list, I do not know. I know he is certainly a practitioner. I know he has practiced for a long time. I have never had the benefit of practicing with him, but that certainly does not take away from the man's abilities.

All I am putting forward is that the question is out there again about perception, that should there be somebody who is a president of the PC Party - we saw that happen, I say to the Minister of Natural Resources, back in the bull Arm situation with Ms Cleary. A government that was open and accountable and transparent and do it fair and all of that stuff - and we saw what happened there. That particular appointee proved, I do not think I am going so far as to say, incompetent. The issue was the person let contracts and did not comply with the law of this Province.

With the greatest of respect for the minister, once that was known and brought to her attention, this minister had the gumption to ask that lady to resign. I appreciate that. I respect that. That does not take away from the obligation's right to ask the questions. Once it was put to the minister, the minister checked it out. It took two or three days of in the House asking successive questions and getting details and facts, but I compliment the minister. When the time came and she had done the due diligence on it and figured it out, she said: Yes, this person did not play by the rules. So, she asked that person to step down. That is how the process is supposed to work.

We have another thing again about perception – and I raised the question today about the conflict of interest piece. The minister is checking it out, and I anxiously await the minister's response to my questions about Mr. Wells. I think anybody would agree that it is a fair question. First of all, we had the dinner affair. All I am saying is, we have a person who is very high profile in this Province, Mr. Wells, as the Mayor of St. John's; sometimes controversial, but very actively involved in politics as the Mayor of the City of St. John's - often controversial would be a fair statement, I would think – who went on the Public Utilities Board. Folks, the Public Utilities Board is a quasi judicial body. It is almost like a court. It is made up of people who make decisions that impact people's lives, everybody in this Province. All of a sudden you have this individual out having a fundraiser to pay off his personal debts. I think that was a legitimate question. What does the government say? Well, we will check it out but we don't think it is, so that is the end of the case.

That is not what the law says. The law says we have an advisory committee that, if you think there is a conflict - number one, if he was going to do something, the onus is on him. The onus is not on the government. The onus is not on any member of the Opposition. The onus was on him to apply to the committee and find out if what he wanted to do was okay, and that did not happen. As far as I know, that did not happen. Yet, when you raise these questions, you are some kind of a nasty person because you asked: Did a person comply with the law?

That is like asking for the members on the committee. We have millions and millions of dollars invested in this government in communications specialists, directors of communications, printing machines, Web sites, and yet I ask a simple question in here, of the Minister of Natural Resources: Can I find out who is on the advisory committee? - a week ago - and you get told: Oh, yes, we will get it for you. We will find it for you before the House closes.

Now, come on. In all seriousness, how can a Minister of Natural Resources look up and say well, we will get it for you, and just leave it at that, if you are truly open, you are truly transparent and you are truly accountable?

I suspect we do not have a committee. I suspect we might not have it. I am anxious to see their appointment dates, actually. I am anxious to see the dates that they got appointed. Because, what would be harm in showing who is on the committee? Is there some reason that we should not know? I don't think; it was a publicly struck committee. It was stuck by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council. I am sure the minister could have run upstairs and said: Get me that list out of the shelf, wherever it is, in the file, of who is on the advisory committee.

That is not rocket science. That does not take a judicial inquiry. That does not take a public inquiry. That takes a minister saying to someone, give me the list. That is what this is all about. It is frustrating, when you talk about being so open and so accountable and yet we run into these kinds of roadblocks all the time.

Again, today, a man on Open Line this morning, Mr. Wells again, endorsing somebody for the mayor and this person is going to sit on the Public Utilities Board. What happens if the mayor becomes the person he did not endorse? That is a perception of bias. What if it is Mr. O'Keefe, the person he did not endorse, who ends up being the mayor, and he goes before the board? Now, he is up dealing with a Chair who has already said he is not his favourite person; that is not who I wanted to be the mayor.

There is something wrong with that picture, and that is why he should refrain from those things. That is why he should abstain from those things. It is all about the perception. You do not see a judge going out - he might vote, everybody has the right to vote, but you don't see a judge on the Open Line show saying: Oh, I think such-and-such is the better candidate - because it is not appropriate.

Everybody is entitled to their opinion, and Mr. Wells will get to vote like everybody else, but he has taken certain responsibilities on when he goes to the Public Utilities Board and he should abide by those. That is all we are saying, follow the rules.

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, my twenty minutes are just about out. I have twenty-seven seconds left. I look forward to tonight. I understand we are going to continue to debate on other Estimates Committees that will be reporting back, and I understand from the Government House Leader that we will be back here after supper to continue the debate.

Thank you.

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, just as the hon. member has indicated, by mutual agreement we will break now. We were going to break at 5:30, which is almost that now, and we will resume this debate plus other debate at 7:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER: This House now stands in recess until 7:00 o'clock.


May 22, 2008             HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY PROCEEDINGS           Vol. XLVI    No. 31A


The House resumed at 7:00 p.m.

MR. SPEAKER (Collins): Order, please!

This House is now back in session.

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, I move that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole to consider Bill 29, An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act.

MR. SPEAKER: It is moved and seconded that I do now leave the Chair for the House to resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole to consider the said Bill 29.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

All those in favour, please say 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

MR. SPEAKER: Contra-minded, 'nay'.

Carried.

On motion, that the House resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole, Mr. Speaker left the Chair.

Committee of the Whole

CHAIR (Collins): Order, please!

We will commence debate on Bill 29.

The hon. the Minister of Justice and Attorney General.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Chair, I am going to now try to address the questions that were raised by the Opposition House Leader and the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi. A lot of the questions were very similar and very valid points. There was one that I needed to check on.

First, in relation to the question raised by both the Member for Burgeo & La Poile, and the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, was the issue of whether or not lawyers would agree to work for the fee of $60 per hour, compared to their normal rates.

As I pointed out yesterday – I think it was yesterday we talked about this bill, or the day before yesterday – there is a certain reliance upon the private Bar to engage in this process. Quite frankly, there was no consideration given to raising this rate beyond $60 an hour at this present time. The rates, by way of comparison, in Nova Scotia, I think, are around $85 to $90 an hour, and it is similar in Ontario.

So it well accepted across this country that, because of the nature of the legal aid plan and the dealing with indigent accused, that the contribution from government to that plan is such that their lawyers work on a lower rate.

Obviously, while I can't say there were no concerns expressed about the rate, it is not something that I particularly felt comfortable with trying to raise this year, simply for the fact that we were – this is a piece of legislation that has been on the books for a while, and the fact that I was going before Cabinet seeking an extra $400,000 for the legal aid budget, I did not feel it was appropriate at this point to try to raise the legal aid rate.

By way of comparison, as I have indicated, some of the private lawyers who will hopefully conduct these trials will be working downtown at anywhere from $200 to $300 an hour. The commission inquiries, or the Commissions of Inquiry, as I have indicated, the rates paid by the Department of Justice range between $150 and $200 an hour.

In relation to that point, the $60 per hour is one that is essentially non-negotiable at this point if they wish to take on a legal aid case; however, as the Opposition House Leader pointed out – it is a valid point, Mr. Chair - is the issue of: Are we going to be inundated with the types of applications that we have seen in the past with the Attorney General, where the application is made to the Attorney General to pay for legal fees?

The case that the hon. member referred to, the Opposition House Leader referred to, was actually a decision of Mr. Justice Malcolm Rowe in a case called R. v. David Patrick Fleming, where Mr. Fleming had been unrepresented at trial. He was represented on appeal. In fact, I argued his case in the Supreme Court of Canada. It went back for trial. He was not satisfied to have legal aid counsel, and he made application to the court for the appointment of counsel.

Mr. Justice Rowe, in recognizing that there was a constitutional right to counsel, as I pointed out, did not accept that there was a constitutional right to counsel of choice, but in the exceptional circumstance of that case the Attorney General was ordered to pay at $100 an hour.

One of the key factors that have to be taken into account there, and one of the reasons we do not want to get into these Attorney General applications – I will move to the next point – is the issue of – and I will come back to consultation with counsel - the issue of the tariff. We refer to it as the legal aid tariff, and the one that is there historically now is simply unworkable.

How the tariff would work - they would be done by way of regulation, as the Opposition House Leader pointed out - the regulations would outline, in a general way - to answer the Member for Signal Hill–Quidi Vidi's comments - the number of hours that would be allowed under the tariff, but that would not be set in stone.

For example, I can say to both members, the experience of counsel at legal aid and in the private Bar over the last number of years - and, again, it is something that I had extensive involvement in - is that the preparation for a murder trial can generally be looked at, at around 300 hours. That would include preparation for the preliminary inquiry and preparation for the trial.

If we start with a starting point of 300 hours, then what you look at is a trial itself. Trials can range, as I indicated yesterday, from the three weeks it took to do one person's trial to four months it took an unrepresented accused. If you look at a trial, then you allow the preparation of a trial could range from fifty to a hundred hours and then two hours per day, per court day, so that allows for an extra ten hours per week. That would be in addition to the 300 hours preparation.

What happens is the tariff gives the director of Legal Aid the discretion. I will give you an example. In one case I did where there was a complicated DNA issue, I wrote a letter to the director and there was extra time given to deal with that. If an application arises during the trial that no one expects, then the director could give an extra fifty hours there.

What it is, is an attempt to outline for the lawyers what you are getting into. This is public money so you cannot be given a blank cheque. In other words, you cannot go and spend 1000 hours – now I want to, very quickly, break 300 hours down for you. When you look at 300 hours and a forty-hour work week, that is seven and a half weeks to prepare for a trial. That is a lot of time. If you are preparing for appeal that is a different issue because the transcripts are there for review for writing factums

When we came up with the $400,000, that was not an arbitrary figure. We looked at the number of cases each year, how much it would cost for each case, and we figured that $400,000 would next year, because there would be an overlap, get us through this year, but it would also give us a gage to see where we were going.

First, there will be consultation, I point out to the Opposition House Leader, with the private counsel as we move towards the preparation of this tariff in terms of - the 300 hours is a good starting point. There could be two hours a day. We will look at issues of second counsel that arose out of Lamer. We will look at extraordinary circumstances allowing for more time. To alleviate the concern expressed by the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, if an individual is in the middle of a trial – trials can go on for various reasons. Courts and lawyers are not very good at predicting the length of trials, but if that trial is scheduled for three weeks and it goes six, well obviously it has to continue and the individual has to have a lawyer.

The second thing - and this is certainly not something that we would want ever to see utilized - once an individual is on the case as a solicitor of record, well they have to apply to the judge to leave the case, and it will never happen over money. If there is a breakdown in solicitor-client relationship that is one thing, but I am satisfied from my dealings with the Executive Director of Legal Aid in the past - and I told him today when I spoke to him to answer a question raised by the Opposition House Leader, that he should get a copy of Hansard to see all the good things I said about him the other day - and I am really confident, because he has been there for a long time, that he knows how to deal with these situations and he will deal with them sensibly.

What we have is we have lawyers now who cried out for this change for many years. We are saying as a government: This is the money that we can offer you right now. We are not saying that you cannot come to us next year or the year after and look for a change, but right now there is flexibility in the number of hours that can be given, there is no flexibility in that $60 an hour, and hopefully by giving the right to counsel of choice we will avoid the situations we have seen in the past with the Attorney General. By way of explanation, there is no restriction here, for example, based on experience, that a lawyer has to have certain experience. The person can choose the staff solicitor. We are confident that we will put together a tariff that will outline the regulations and be fairly acceptable to everyone. There will be consultation with local counsel in relation to putting the tariff together.

Secondly, what I would like to say to the Opposition House Leader is, there was an informal consultation with counsel because the Opposition House Leader would be aware, trying to convince lawyers - if they thought they could get the opportunity to make presentation on increasing the rate, obviously they would. There is no one going to argue that what we have here is acceptable, but I did not really want to open that up. I was more interested in the principle here, that there is a very real interest of an accused person in the right to counsel of choice, that the public has an interest in the expeditious disposition of trials, and thirdly, that the victims of crime, as pointed out by the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, are not left in a situation where things go on forever.

The other point raised - and I think it is an important point, because we have seen that there is the issue of remands at the penitentiary – is that quicker trials get people off remand.

That is the extent of the consultation. I will say to the Opposition House Leader that the issue of that particular wording he referred to, that was one that caused me concern . I am certainly willing, if anyone can come up with a better way to word it. When I read it, you may choose a solicitor employed by the commission or a solicitor in private practice in the Province, except a solicitor whose name has been removed from the panel, other than upon his or her own request, while I can inform the Opposition House Leader that is the wording that was used in the previous Act, and oftentimes when legislation or amendments are changed there is a tendency to use similar wording, what it means, for the benefit of the members opposite, is that there are three groups of lawyers who can represent an accused person.

First, the panel is comprised of individuals who are interested in either doing criminal law, in this case culpable homicide because that is what we are dealing with, so that their names on the panel are voluntary and that they have to send their names in. You will see a number of criminal law firms in the city, and there are a number of lawyers who will be interested in doing these cases at legal aid rates. Then the eligible lawyer will be a lawyer who is on the panel. So, that is the first person. If the name is on the panel they can choose from that. However, if an individual who is charged with culpable homicide, be it murder or manslaughter, says, well, I want this person, and that person agrees to represent them, that lawyer, but his or her name is not on the panel it is simply a matter of putting their name on the panel. In other words, they can be added at any time at their own request.

The third group of lawyers is, the person who was on the panel, for whatever reason, removed their name, and we will see that. As the Opposition House Leader knows, there are times in lengthy careers where lawyers switch from one area of law to another. We could have someone whose name was on the panel, but their name came off. They can simply put their name back on the panel.

In other words, it is not up to the Director of Legal Aid to determine who goes on the panel. It is not whether I like you or don't like you that you end up on the panel. The right to counsel of choice has to mean exactly that. If you want a lawyer to represent you when charged with a serious offence, and that lawyer is willing to represent you, then their name can be put on the panel if they are not already there.

However, there is a caveat, and you will see there the way it reads: other than upon his or her own request. In order for a lawyer to represent an individual in any court in this Province, they have to be of good standing in the Bar. For example, over the last couple of years I went to Nova Scotia and did a murder case. I simply had to show a certificate of standing, that I was a member in good standing with the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador because of the mobility agreements that are in place. If you are disbarred, for example, or suspended, then you are not going to be on the panel because the Law Society has determined, at that stage - and I don't know if I am correct on this, Mr. Chair, but it would seem to me that with a self-governing body the only person that can either suspend or disbar a lawyer would be that self-governing body. I think there is a Right of Appeal to a court. Essentially, if there is a suspension or disbarment then you are not in good standing. That is what that is meant to cover, I say.

There is one other issue, and this has never happened, but there is another issue. There is the famous case of the lawyer in Ontario who got caught billing for legal aid twenty-five hours in one day. Unfortunately for him he did not realize, I guess, that there are only twenty-four hours in a day. He went into the next day and that was –

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. KENNEDY: This wasn't simply a mistake. Apparently, this was quite regular so that the billing improprieties led to him being disbarred. If legal aid runs into a problem, for example, where there are billing improprieties, similar to the kinds of situations - the rules - that we are expected to comply with or the use of trust accounts, then the Commission would look at that. They could refer it to the Law Society, but what I am told by the director of legal aid is that if, all of a sudden, you claim for fifteen minutes too much one day then that is not going to get you in trouble, but if there was a pattern of billings, because the director of legal aid taxes every bill, and it is outlined in the legislation, so that in order for a person's name to be taken off the panel the Legal Aid Commission would make that decision and there would be right of appeal. So, again, what we are trying to prevent against here is arbitrary or capricious decision-making on the part of any authorities, or simply the matter of: Well, I don't like you so your name is not going on the panel.

CHAIR: Order, please!

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

MR. KENNEDY: Just one –

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

CHAIR: By leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: Yes.

CHAIR: By leave.

MR. KENNEDY: Thank you.

I think, when I look at my notes, there were four or five points raised by the Opposition House Leader: the $60 per hour; whether or not there was consultation with local counsel; the issue of the tariff; the solicitor – that wording of the solicitor panel - and then the regulations tariff, et cetera.

The one other point I would outline for the both the Opposition House Leader and the Member for Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi, is that there is no restriction here in terms of, if you are charged with an offence, if you live in another part of the Province and you want a lawyer from St. John's, and that lawyer is willing to represent you on the tariff and the hours allowed, then you can choose your lawyer. If you are living in St. John's and you want a lawyer from Corner Brook or Port aux Basques or Happy Valley-Goose Bay, again, there is no restriction within this Province in terms of allowing for counsel of choice.

This is a very important point in Labrador; because in Labrador, as the Opposition House Leader is aware, we would only have, if I remember correctly, two or three lawyers in private practice in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. We would have mostly legal aid counsel, staff solicitors, and then in Labrador West we would have a couple of lawyers at the most.

Essentially, we have tried to structure this to allow for the widest possible access to counsel of choice within the Province, so we are trying to adapt the rules and regulations, but I will say in conclusion to both the members opposite that this will be a work in progress; that we have to watch the costs of this; that we will see how it is working; that we do know now that there will be some overlap for the first number of years, but I am confident, and hopefully I will not be standing up in this House too long from now saying my confidence in the altruism of my fellow lawyers has been misplaced. I do not expect that. I do expect that individuals who are charged with culpable homicide and given the right to counsel of choice will find lawyers who are willing to represent them.

Other than those comments, Mr. Chair, I am willing to answer, if there are any further comments, or answer any further questions that the members opposite may have.

A bill, "An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act." (Bill 29)

CLERK: Clause 1.

CHAIR: Shall clause 1 carry?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: Contra-minded, ‘nay'.

Carried.

On motion, clause 1 carried.

CLERK: Be it enacted by the Lieutenant-Governor and House of Assembly in Legislative Session convened, as follows.

CHAIR: Shall the enacting clause carry?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: Contra-minded, ‘nay'

Carried.

On motion, enacting clause carried.

CLERK: An Act To Amend The Legal Aid Act.

CHAIR: Shall the title carry?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay'.

Carried.

On motion, title carried.

CHAIR: Shall I report the bill carried, without amendments?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: All those against, 'nay'.

Carried.

Motion, that the Committee report having passed the bill without amendment, carried.

CHAIR: The hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: I move, Mr. Chair, that the Committee rise and report Bill 29.

CHAIR: The motion is that the Committee rise and report Bill 29.

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

CHAIR: Contra-minded, ‘nay'.

Carried.

On motion, that the Committee rise, report progress and ask leave to sit again, Mr. Speaker, returned to the Chair.

MR. SPEAKER (Fitzgerald): Order, please!

The hon. the Member for Placentia & St. Mary's.

MR. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, the Chair of the Committee of the Whole reports that the Committee have considered the matters to them referred and have directed him to report Bill 29 carried without amendment.

MR. SPEAKER: The Chair of the Committee of the Whole reports that the Committee have considered the matters to them referred and have directed him to report Bill 29 carried without amendment, and ask leave to sit again.

When shall this report be received?

MS BURKE: Tomorrow.

MR. SPEAKER: Tomorrow.

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, we would like to return to the Orders of the Day, number three, as we had been debating prior to our recess at 5:30 p.m. We would like to refer back to number three, Concurrence Motions, and under that section (a) the Resource Committee.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS POTTLE: Mr. Speaker, I rise here today with great pride and honour to represent the beautiful District of Torngat Mountains.

The Torngat Mountains District represents the five Inuit communities of Rigolet, Makkovik, Postville, Hopedale, my home community, and Nain, and the Innu community of Natuashish. This area of our Province is affectionately known as Northern Labrador.

I would first like to thank my husband Eddie, children Joey and Danielle, who supported me in this decision and campaign. As well, I thank my parents, Frank and Judy Dicker, who encouraged me and continue to support me in my new role as MHA. I extend my thank you also to my extended family and friends, leaders with the Nunatsiavut Government and the Innu Nation, who live within the Torngat district and offered their support throughout my campaign and who continue to work with me.

When I made the decision to seek the seat for the Torngat district, it was important that I choose a strong campaign manager. My choice was immediate, as I chose a long-time friend and colleague, Mr. Eddie Gear of Hopedale. Eddie worked long and hard on my campaign, and I am deeply saddened to share with my hon. House today that just last month Eddie lost his battle with cancer. I am thankful to have had him as an integral person in my life and career.

As each member will know, my campaign is perhaps only as good as the people involved. I want to personally thank the countless volunteers who worked tirelessly, day and night, on my campaign. Words cannot express my level of gratitude to you all.

As I went door to door and community to community, I was continually greeted by enthusiastic support and well wishes, especially from the many Elders who are such a part of the social fabric of Northern Labrador. Again, I owe thanks to the many individuals who opened their doors and homes to me during my campaign.

When I campaigned in my district, one of the choices I made at that time would be to establish my constituency office within the district. I am pleased to report that my constituency office is located in the community of Hopedale, within my district, close to the people I serve. It is important to note, Mr. Speaker, that this is the first time the constituency office has ever been located in the Torngat district.

I am pleased that Martha Winters-Abel, a much respected Inuit woman from Hopedale, has joined me as my constituency assistant. A career in politics was not something I had ever imagined for myself, although I have always been political and fought for my community and Northern Labrador.

Prior to my life in politics, as a businesswoman, I never lost an opportunity to voice my concerns to any member of the government. My colleague, the hon. Member for Lake Melville, can attest to this, as when he was Minister of Transportation and Works I made sure that he was aware of each and every transportation issue that we had in Labrador's North Coast.

I started my working career as a teacher and was the first graduate of Memorial's Northern Native Teachers Degree Program.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS POTTLE: After teaching for a number of years, I followed a personal dream to open and operate a small gift and variety store. A few years later the opportunity arose to construct a new hotel in my community. I pursued that venture and since that time expanded into other business ventures.

I was honoured when the Premier spoke to me about seeking the seat for the Torngat District. Knowing he also came from a business background I admired his leadership in our Province in turning around a fiscal disaster while making historical investments in infrastructure and social programs. In particular, I was impressed with Premier Williams as he has demonstrated commitment to understanding the needs of Aboriginal peoples, especially women and children, and has taken measurable steps to address these issues. With much thought and consideration I decided that I could play an integral role in addressing the issues in my district and represent the voice of Aboriginal people in this great Province.

I want to thank the people of the beautiful Torngat Mountains for their support and assure them that I am committed to work for the benefit for the people in my district.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS POTTLE: I want to personally thank Premier Williams for his ongoing support since my election, and know how proud and humbled I am to have been invited into Cabinet as the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. With this position comes a great deal of responsibility and expectations. I am truly grateful for the support of the Premier, my Cabinet colleagues and caucus as I have eagerly worked in my new role advancing the many issues and interests of Aboriginal people throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Torngat Mountains District has a great deal to offer to this great Province. With the vast mineral development of Voisey's Bay, the potential development within the central mineral belt, tourism potential through the establishment of the Torngat National Park, forestry resources, the crab and turbot plant in Makkovik and the stone quarry near Nain which is milling anorthosite to be produced into tiles, table tops and headstones, the future of my district is rich in opportunity.

There are also many needs in my district as there are in other districts and within our Province. In representing the people of the Torngat District there are a few key areas where I plan to focus my attention and continue some of the great initiatives the Williams' government has already implemented.

Mr. Speaker, as I stated earlier, my six communities are also represented through two distinct aboriginal groups, the Innu Nation, and the Nunatsiavut government. Since my election, I have worked closely with the leadership of these two organizations, and I will continue to engage with them on initiatives that improve the lives of people within the district. Although a great part of the population of my district falls within these two aboriginal groups, I recognize that we have a number of non-aboriginal people who live in my district, many of whom have moved to these communities as nurses, teachers and other professions, and chose to remain. I recognize and value their contribution to our communities.

My number one priority is to work towards bettering the lives of the youth within the Torngat District. I intend to work towards implementing the delivery of programs and services for our youth. We have already begun this work through the Labrador Travel Subsidy, funding to the Torngat Recreation Commission and the Aboriginal Sport Circle. I want to enhance this and other programs for our youth. Recreation is a key area for our young people. With the isolation of our communities, recreation programs are a healthy outlet for our youth, and we will continue to invest in efforts that improve their health and well-being.

Mr. Speaker, one of the key areas for me, within my district, is the uptake on provincial programs. Since coming in to office, I have learned that the uptake of provincial programs within my district is extremely low. There are many provincial programs that benefit the people in Northern Labrador, such as the oil rebate program and the Medical Transportation Subsidy. I have addressed this with the various community councils and groups within my district, so that we can work collectively to assist people, and they can avail of the programs and services this government has available to them.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS POTTLE: The need for full-time policing for the community of Postville was voiced in great detail to me during my campaign, and the community has made it its number one priority. Living in an isolated community with no full-time police detachment is a major concern. This is why I was so pleased to join the hon. Minister of Justice and Attorney General recently for meetings in Torngat Mountains, where issues of policing were discussed with local leaders and residents. This gave the Minister of Justice a first-hand picture of the justice issues and other challenges facing northern communities, while also building on the number of meetings and discussions we have collectively had with Aboriginal groups. I will continue to work with my hon. cabinet colleague on this important issue while building on investments announced in Budget 2008 which included some $690,000 for six additional RCMP officers and two support staff positions for Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, my district represents the most northerly area of our Province with the greatest geographical challenges. We have no road connection between communities. Each community is isolated, only permitting travel by air year round, coastal boat from June to November and snowmobile travel in the winter and spring months. With these geographical challenges come transportation challenges. Having operated businesses in the district for the past thirteen years I am very familiar with the transportation issues my district faces.

As MHA, I intend to work closely and build upon the meetings and discussions I have had with my colleague, the hon. Minister of Transportation and Works, to ensure that the transportation issues of my district are brought forward and to ensure that the Torngat district continues to be represented on her Ministerial Advisory Committee.

There have been many improvements in the transportation services in my district under the William's government. The Air-Foodlift Subsidy has helped residences avail of fresh produce at reasonable costs. I am pleased to note that Budget 2008 saw an annual increase of $200,000 to the subsidy for a total annual investment of $600,000

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS POTTLE: Future improvements to this subsidy in the coming year will see further enhancements as we continue to work to ensure that all Labradorians have access to nutritious foods at a reasonable cost.

The Labrador Transportation Subsidy has been fundamental for the operation of a groomed trail system in my district. For many communities this is their winter road and a crucial link to adjoining communities and Happy Valley-Goose Bay. I intend to work with the organizations involved in this program and my hon. colleagues from Labrador to see continued improvements to the Labrador winter trail system. I was particularly pleased to see the investment of $275,000 for a new groomer for the community of Postville in the Budget 2008.

Mr. Speaker, affordable housing has also been a major issue in my district. Since entering office I have been actively engaged in meetings with the Nunatsiavut government regarding housing issues. As well, I have been engaged with the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation and Torngat Housing Association, who are involved in providing housing in my district. In my capacity as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, I expect to make a significant announcement concerning Aboriginal housing in the very near future.

Mr. Speaker, I believe women are the strength and foundation of their communities and this is especially true in the Aboriginal communities within my district.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS POTTLE: Throughout the history of Innu and Inuit people, men were often away for long periods of time hunting, trapping and fishing. Women were left to care for the family, gather wood and fish and small game hunt themselves. With the social challenges facing these communities, Aboriginal women need to be supported as they move forward to improve the lives of Aboriginal women and families throughout this Province.

I am proud that the Williams government has invested in the advancement of Aboriginal women through contributions to the provincial Aboriginal Women's Conference providing funding to examine ways to implement the National Aboriginal Women's Summit's recommendations and dedicating a minister solely to Aboriginal Affairs with a woman at the helm.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MS POTTLE: Mr. Speaker, this is a whole new life for me. Life in Northern Labrador is unimaginably different from life in our capital city, but I am committed to this role and honoured to represent the fine people of Torngat Mountains.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

Before I get into the order of business, on behalf of the members of our caucus I want to congratulate the Minister or Aboriginal Affairs, the Member for Torngat Mountains, on her maiden speech here this evening, and to say it was truly a wonderful job. It was almost like I was reading a book because I heard so much about that wonderful district by the former member. It was almost like I was reliving it all over again. I want to congratulate you and keep up the good work, working for the people in your district.

Mr. Speaker, I guess each and every one of us, when we come to this hon. House, have our stories to tell, what we were doing in the past and why we came here to represent our people. I guess each and every one of us, there is no exception. From time to time, when we listen to the comments back and forth across the House, it is almost like we are bitter enemies, but I do not believe in that.

I know we have legislation coming in about our Code of Conduct, and I have to say that it is a wonderful piece of legislation, but I think each and everyone of us has to look at ourselves in the mirror before we vote on that piece of legislation. Hopefully, on a go forward basis, not only will we perceive to be what we are attempting to be in the public but also among each and every member here in the House.

I listened with great interest today to the Member for Bonavista North when he was having his opening speech with regards to the concurrence. He made comments about even some of the wealthier provinces in our country, that still have problems with health care and with the roads. No doubt about it, Mr. Speaker, that is correct, but let me assure you, having watched the House of Assembly from time to time in different provinces, members of the Opposition, even through they are in Opposition, do get up and criticize the government for just causes. It is an order of the day.

I can remember being on the government side when there were – I am not quite sure - seventeen or nineteen very vibrant members. Mr. Speaker, you were one of them yourself in the Opposition and you kept the government to their feet. I have to say, the debate back and forth is what is it all about, but I guess from time to time we also get carried away and say things like – there were some comments I heard here today, like an hon. member shouting across, you are not fit, and stuff like that. I do not think it should be in this hon. House.

I have to say, I listened with great interest a few days ago to the Member for Bair Verte-Springdale when he was up giving his wonderful speech. He mentioned what it was like in the past and governments not having the funding. He was a part of a government at the time, and I am sure the former Administration was the same, when the funds were not there to carry out the work of the things that can be done today. He mentioned how a deficit was not all that bad because it they did not have a deficit some of the services that have to be offered to our people would not be available.

Mr. Speaker, we are here this evening with regard to concurrence, when it comes to the heads of expenditure for the Resource Committee. I have to agree with the hon. member today when he thought that the meetings went very well. I congratulate the Chairperson from Bonavista North.

I had the opportunity only to attend one lot of meetings with regard to the Resource Committee and that was Environment and Conservation. I want to say, Mr. Speaker, that each and every heading that we attended, I though they went very well. I thought that each and every minister answered the questions that were put before them, and if not they passed it along to the people in their departments, their officials.

I just want to touch on a couple of issues when it comes to the department that I was, I guess, critic for, Environment and Conservation. We had our meeting here and each and every individual took a turn asking questions to the minister, and whether we like it or not sometimes you do not get the answers you are looking for, but at least the answers were forthcoming and very straight forward.

One of the issues we dealt with - and I know it came up in the House before and we hear about it in the media - was about the caribou action plan. The minister explained what funding is going into that program this year and what their intentions are; to see that it is carried out properly. No doubt that has to be done, even though we hear in the public from time to time various stakeholders and individuals who are hunters. They have their different opinions and they believe honestly that the coyote is the main culprit, I guess, the predator for the caribou. However, this study is going ahead regardless whether we like it or not and there is $15 million being spent in that particular program over a period of five years. At the end of the day, hopefully it will be money well spent and be worthwhile so that our caribou herds have to be protected and hopefully they will be by the end of that particular time.

Another issue that came up during our estimates was the communities that have to use the Teepee incinerators. We know that announcements have been made and there is a certain deadline, however some communities still express concerns. They call us, and that is why we bring the questions forward. Some of those isolated communities, I cannot remember the community now, but on the Labrador coast - we saw it on the news just this past week how they are saying that it could cost them $100 to have their waste taken to a landfill site. I cannot believe it, I said, Mr. Speaker, taking it to a landfill site would cost them $100 a month, $100 a month to transport it by water.

I have to say, my hon. colleagues always pick me up when I use the word dump, unfortunately, but it was used between myself and the Minister of Environment and Conservation. We agreed that word had to be used on one particular site. She agreed with me.

That brings me, I guess, to another topic that we did discuss, and that was the landfill that is located on the New Harbour road or New Harbour barrens we call it between my district and the district of the Member for Trinity-Bay de Verde. I have to say, I drove by there this week and I can understand why people are so concerned about what is going on there. It has been there for many, many years. We heard about the PCBs, the – I cannot think of the word now, but anyway the PCBs.

AN HON. MEMBER: The canisters.

MR. BUTLER: The canisters.

AN HON. MEMBER: Transformers.

MR. BUTLER: The transformers; that is the right word. The transformers that were supposed to be cleaned in Makinsons were carried over from my district now, but I also say it was the hon. member's district a few years ago, and that was carried to this waste site.

I have to say, if you are driving by there you will understand why I use that four letter word from time to time, because it is a terrible situation - the minister agrees with that - and driving by now it is getting to the point that even the sides of the highway are becoming littered with everything that you can mention coming from that site.

I know there is progress being made. Hopefully, that situation will resolve itself fairly quickly and the site will be closed. I know in the Budget this year there was funding for a particular type of membrane, once it is cleaned up, that will cover that site so the rain will not get down through it and the waste will not be carried out into the streams and into the ponds in that particular area.

I notice one thing, and I haven't had a chance to mention this to the minister yet, I do not know what is doing it, and maybe it has nothing to do with that area, but travelling through there this weekend, on one particular day when I was going over to the park on the Trinity Bay Shore, there were four seagulls that were dead on the side of the road. I don't know, they could have been shot for what I know, but people are telling me it is whatever is happening in that site – and that is only on the side of the road, out by the main entrance of that particular landfill. They are saying it is worse than that on the inside, Mr. Speaker.

I am also hearing that possibly - there was an article in the paper saying that - I don't know if the contract is actually let or not, but on the verge of being let. The minister says no, but I understand there were proposals in. The article in the paper said that they were going to remove two tandem loads of waste. I do not know what a tandem truck is going to be like with two loads to take away from that site. I would say, like the article said in the paper, it will take about 200 loads to clean up that site.

That is not being critical to the people who operated that site. Many of the towns in that area now are finding difficulty; there are meetings going on now, wondering if they can bring their waste to Winterton before the final, I guess, proposal comes in and they may have to bring it to the Robin Hood Bay site. Mr. Speaker, that was one of the other issues that we discussed during those Estimates.

Another one that we went through was the serious issue, I guess, in the Province with regard to the stockpiling of tires: two major sites where there are, I guess, hundreds of thousands of tires there now. The other concern that we have now is that there are rumors that many of the municipalities now will not take their tires to those particular sites because of the cost and other reasons.

Some of the concern that I expressed at that time during our Estimates meetings was: What should happen, God forbid, if there was a fire took place on one of those locations? The minister assured me, hopefully, that there are ample services there from either the local fire departments or others who will come forward to assist if something like that should happen.

So, Mr. Speaker, when it comes to the Estimates meetings, with regard to the Resource Committee, on the Committee that I met with, I thought they were very worthwhile and some good information was brought forward.

I also want to take a few moments now to touch on some other issues, and I guess I will elaborate on them further when we go into the other concurrence committees. One of those has to do with health care.

I cannot say who made this comment – I think it was today I heard this - someone saying about issues being swept under the rug. Probably that has happened in the past, but I can assure you one issue, whether intentionally or not, that was swept under the rug is a long-term care facility for the Conception Bay North area, because that is not something that was done politically. It was done by officials in a department who did all the assessments and surveys that had to be done, and it was determined that facility had to be done in the Conception Bay North area.

Now, where they built it at that time did not bother me, and if it goes ahead today it does not bother me whose district it is in, or what have you, but it is a facility that has to go ahead, and the sooner the better. We have been - I guess I can't say the word promised, but - we have been advised over the several years now, saying that there was funding there to have this assessment done again. One minister told me there was $500,000 to do some work on it.

The sad part about it, I guess, and where the people are coming from, with regard to that particular facility, there was so much work being done. It was even to the point where three of the towns in that area – Carbonear, Harbour Grace and Bay Roberts – the three towns were asked to put proposals forward, more or less, to say, if this site should come to your town, what can you do with tax breaks and what have you? It was even to that point.

They even determined that the facility that you required there was a 247 bed facility, and there were times they were talking about, for financial reasons, I guess, for financial reasons, that it could be built attached to the Carbonear General Hospital. I guess that is understandable, even thought the setting does not seem right for a long-term care facility, but that is what was recommended, a 247 bed facility – and to know that was so high on a priority list, so high on a priority list, and now to know that, I say, it is not even on the radar.

Five or six different facilities, five or six, have come forward, and I am not complaining about where they are going. Those people need a long-term care facility as well, Mr. Speaker, but, having said that, the people - I heard the mayor speak out about it, from Carbonear, recently. The two facilities are there, they have served their purpose, and I am looking forward to the day when government will be able to say: Listen, we are going to look at this issue again in the Conception Bay North area.

I know this year in the Budget there was funding announced for long-term care facilities in other areas, and I have no problems with that whatsoever. I think the possibility was there; they are looking at two sites for St. John's. Sometimes when I hear that - not being against anything that happens in this great city of ours, but sometimes - where we are in close proximity, I wonder: Is that the plan, that the one in the Conception Bay North area may not get a green light and that the people will have to travel here.

The other issue with regard to health care – and I have brought in many petitions on this one - comes down to the general practitioners. I know we heard on the evening news that a deal has been struck with the specialists. That has been ongoing for the last couple of weeks, and that is all wonderful, not a problem, to know that hopefully that will resolve that situation and we will not find ourselves in the position that we do today with the serious involvement that happened there with so many women's lives being affected.

When it comes to the general practitioners, Mr. Speaker, the same concern is being expressed in my area and in the other districts adjacent to the District of Port de Grave. It is not only me standing and saying this; we have received letters from the joint councils expressing concern on behalf of the residents in all their towns. I know there was even a letter sent to the ministers on this. We also have letters from various individuals and other groups who are putting forward recommendations that the government would see to it that they would recruit additional general practitioners for the area.

Recently, I know, it came before a council meeting in Carbonear and other councils, the serious concern. The Mayor of Carbonear and other councillors in that great town expressed a concern that it is going to be a deterrent for people moving to that area, knowing that probably this is a concern.

Mr. Speaker, only this week - and I mentioned this today with my petition - in the local paper The Compass, our paper out there, one lady said they were waiting up as high as three weeks to see a general practitioner to even get a prescription filled. Another one went on to say: I don't have a doctor but I have two children and I have to go to the emergency unit at Carbonear and wait as high as four and five hours to get in; and, once you get in, you are tying up a specialist or someone who is probably having to deal with an emergency. It could be an accident, it could be a serious illness, but they have to go there regardless of what the situation is.

I do not think that is called for, in this day and age. I do not just blame government for this, but I think everything that can be done through Eastern Health and through our government, we have to try to settle that issue.

Another lady mentioned that her doctor is in St. John's. He left that area, he moved to St. John's, and she has difficulty getting transportation; and, when there is someone to bring her into the doctor, it is very difficult for her to get an appointment in here because they are just as busy.

Mr. Speaker, another gentleman mentioned that his doctor moved from Carbonear and went to New Harbour. I think, the return trip, he has to travel 100 kilometres. That might not seem that far for a lot of us. Some of us travel that back and forth to get here to work, I guess, but then again for other people – and he does not have a doctor in that area. As well, his family, they have to go to the emergency unit at Carbonear, Mr. Speaker.

Some people have to wait seven or eight weeks. I guess there are people all throughout the Province who have to wait seven or eight weeks to see a general practitioner. To get to see a specialist - we know what the wait-list is once you get to see a general practitioner, but after that, once you try to get to see the specialist, it takes a tremendous amount of time.

There was another gentleman who said his doctor is in the office seven days a week. He does not have any time for his family. He is just trying to keep up with the concerns that are coming forward from the people he represents. Some of those general practitioners out there, I can tell you, they have a tremendous caseload and they try to do their best, but unfortunately, with the low numbers there, to know that so many people do not have the opportunity.

Mr. Speaker, I mentioned this before and I have to mention it again because each and every day I get calls with regard to the provincial drug program, and we know we have a good provincial drug program. There are three or four. There is the Assurance Plan, and there is one for seniors and one of those who are on income support at different wage levels, but, Mr. Speaker, there are many people who go to their general practitioners, who go to their specialists, and are prescribed medications, and when they go to their pharmacy to pick it up they are told that they do not qualify for it. That is very unfortunate. I have even had cases where people were told through the Prescription Drug Program that the amount of medication that your doctor prescribed for you, we cannot pass along to you. If it is two pills a day, they are told that they can only have one.

That is not fair, Mr. Speaker, there is some breakdown there. From time to time, when we get up and bring up those issues, it is not in regard to bringing them up and criticizing government, or downing government's plans. We know there are millions and billions of dollars being spent now in health care and education and so on, but, Mr. Speaker, it comes to a point when you bring those issues forward. It is not just for the sake of complaining. It is for the sake of bringing issues forward on behalf of the people you represent in your district, not only me but the full forty-eight of us who have the privilege to come here and represent the people who elected us.

As the Minister of Labrador Affairs and the Member for Torngat Mountains said a little while ago, it is a pleasure to come here to represent those people and to be able to say, Mr. Speaker, that is why we are here and for no other reason.

I think my time has expired, Sir, so I thank you for the opportunity and hopefully I will be able to speak again later on, in concurrence.

Thank you.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for The Isles of Notre Dame.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DALLEY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I want to begin this evening and certainly congratulate my colleague and the Member for Torngat Mountains on her maiden speech. Certainly, with her experience and her knowledge and her background and roots, I am very confident that the Aboriginal issues in this Province will be very well represented.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DALLEY: Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak about the Estimates Committees.

Before I get into that, I just want to preface it a little bit by talking about, I guess, my experiences so far in being a new MHA. Certainly, there have been a lot of new experiences during the last six months that I have been a part of this House. Indeed, the Estimates Committees themselves were quite an experience. I had an opportunity to sit in on the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, the Department of Innovation, Trade and Rural Development, the Department of Environment, and the Department of Natural Resources. I certainly want to compliment the ministers and their officials in the very valuable knowledge and information that they were able to provide during these meetings. There was certainly a great line of questioning and, from a personal perspective, it was very insightful as to how each department works and certainly the responsibility that goes with each department.

The Estimates Committees themselves take a look at what I consider to be the mini-budgets of government. Each minister is responsible for budgeting for their departments, and then they have to be accountable for the decisions that are made. That is not unlike the big Budget, which was announced a few weeks ago; and, if I could, I would like to speak about that, certainly in reference to the mini-budgets that were part of the Estimates Committees.

The historic Budget that was released just a few weeks ago, it was certainly a great opportunity for me to be a part of the budget process, but I have to say it was quite an experience as well. As a new MHA, when I reflect on other years when I was in the private sector, certainly at budget time I would take a look at the budgets from a personal perspective, how it impacted me personally, how it impacted the people around me, and certainly some of the issues that I was involved in day to day, and I think that is where we get, on a daily basis, reaction in the public and in the media and so on how the Budget specifically impacts people, individuals and groups.

I have to say, once becoming an MHA, I quickly learned that with budget processes and government decisions you quickly take a different perspective, and it is important, where you take a district perspective, how these decisions impact your district and how these decisions impact the Province.

As well, through my experiences with the Budget, the Opposition as well has a responsibility to question and ask important relevant questions about the Budget and to seek answers on behalf of the people of the Province. They do have the luxury of cherry-picking issues, and we do see that from time to time, but again it is a role of an Opposition to ask questions and I have to say, I certainly compliment the Opposition. There are times when I certainly respect their line of questioning, and I will reference as well there are times when they kind of tend to stray from the issues and get into some personal attacks and I just want to speak about that later.

From a Budget perspective, the message has been clear. I think, obviously, this government is on the right track. We have heard from a lot of leaders out there around the Province, and the reality is that we are doing what is right, but the big reality is that we cannot do it all in one Budget. What we are seeing, and what I have seen as a new MHA, is some very responsible, sustainable decisions are being made that are going to give us an opportunity to address the needs of this Province.

The Budget process itself, you know, I have asked a few questions about the Budget process and I can assure the public that it is simply not an overnight process. It is a very long process, and it is a very important process. We hear a lot of talk about consultations. Many people referenced it as a waste of time, but if we look back on the consultations we have seen the Minister of Finance travel this Province and we have heard talks about the debt clock and all the concerns, and all the concerns that we were going to put all the money on the debt and not address the needs of the people.

Well, I think if people step back and reflect on this Budget, there is more investment in Labrador, there are health and education infrastructure needs being met, there is continued support for the fisheries renewal program, and there is investment in aquaculture. I say, through the consultation process, the Minister of Finance clearly heard what the needs of the people were.

We have also had my friend and colleague, the Member for Ferryland, go around and do a minimum wage consultation. Through that process, we heard clearly the importance of increasing the minimum wage. As well, in talking to the member, he heard clear as well from the business sector: How are we going to deal with this? We support it, but we need some support as well.

I can say, that message was heard. The Budget delivered on those concerns with a reduction in retail sales tax on insurance premiums, increased payroll tax exemptions, and we have seen a further reduction of personal income tax. That consultation process allowed people to present their concerns, and obviously they were heard.

Perhaps from my own personal perspective the greatest consultation process was the election itself, an opportunity to go door to door to meet with people and to hear personal concerns. The Premier was in my district several times, and I know he has travelled every inch of this Province, and it is also important to see our leader step out into the Province to hear the concerns of the people.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DALLEY: I have to say, when we look at the Budget, we see improved cost-shared ratios for municipalities, we see increased support for seniors, we see increased home care wages, we see a reduction in motor vehicle registration, and I could go on and on, but I think the message is clear: the consultation process works and the message was heard loud and clear.

Again, I think, from my perspective, it is important that we temper all of this, in this great Budget, the fact that it cannot be done in one Budget, but we are on the right track. We are making the right decisions. We are laying down a foundation to grow this Province in a very, very positive direction, and we certainly look forward to the years to come and even look forward to next year when we can say that we are finally off equalization.

Mr. Speaker, if I could take a moment on a couple of issues, there are many from the Budget that directly impact my district but two in particular that I think of. One is the municipal cost-shared ratio. I am not going to get into the details of that. Many members have spoken about it. It is out there, it is great news, and it is very important, but when I look at this initiative I look at the big picture and what it really means for our municipalities.

While we are going to see some infrastructure improvements, I think what we are going to see, finally - the volunteers, the many great volunteers on our municipal councils who sign up for municipal council with the reality they are only tasked with the responsibility of managing debt, well, this initiative, while it may not happen overnight, is going to allow volunteers who stepped up on municipal councils to try to make a real difference to their communities, this is going to give them a chance. This is going to inspire people to get involved in municipal councils. This is going to bring out the leaders of our community. This is going to give them a chance, when they get their financial houses in order, to bring their water and sewer, their gravel roads, and their water, up to 2008 standards, a great initiative that is going to have a huge impact in my district.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DALLEY: Mr. Speaker, another issue that was addressed in the Budget is relative to several communities in this Province, particularly the island communities, what I call our most rural areas of the Province, and I have two particular areas, Change Islands and Fogo Island, that are so dependent on the ferry service.

We just went through a difficult winter in my region, with ice conditions, ferry conditions, and I heard from many, many constituents. I heard from transportation committees, and I committed to work with them, and I did. I would say the biggest issue that I have dealt with since being an elected member is the ferry issues, and I am very proud to do that, because I recognize and understand the importance of the ferry to their way of life. I will say, the people I talk to, they know they live on an island and they understand there are difficulties, but they deserve and they want equal and fair opportunities to travel to the mainland when necessary.

I am very pleased with this Budget, in that we have seen an announcement regarding the ferries in this Province. We are seeing a $1.6 million investment for commercial travellers and freight, to achieve road equivalency. That is a big initiative, and I know the people on Fogo Island, the business people, and the business people of Change Islands, are going to be very pleased when this is rolled out. It is going to have a huge impact on their bottom lines, it is going to help address some of their other issues, and it really is a significant piece of work for this government.

As well, we are seeing a $33.9 million investment in the construction of two new provincial ferries under the ferry replacement plan, and we are seeing an investment of $7.5 million to upgrade ferry terminals and wharfs.

Mr. Speaker, this investment is not going to solve all the issues with the ferry service. There are going to be ongoing issues, and we have to commit to work with the people of our islands to do what is right and what is needed, but I am particularly pleased to have joined this government and see that one of our initiatives, one of our commitments to our most rural areas, we are going to see, because of this commitment - we already see a recognition by government - we are seeing an action plan. We are seeing targets and goals set that will eventually see a modern fleet of ferries in this Province. That day we look forward to, and I know the people of my district anxiously await ferry improvements and we certainly commit, as the government has committed, to do what we can to support this absolutely essential service.

Mr. Speaker, I could go on about the Budget, and the importance of the Budget, and what it has done for this Province, but I want to get back to speaking about some of my new experiences. I witnessed one today – well, in the last couple of days, I guess - it has been a new experience for me, particularly when I look at the dynamics of the House. I have always had an interest in the House of Assembly and politics, and the dynamics of how it all works. I witnessed something here today that, from a personal perspective, was certainly interesting and certainly a new experience. I want to say, I am not totally naive on what to expect in this House and what to expect when you become a member of government. You put yourself out in the public. I guess you are fair game, to some extent, but in here in this House I want to make some comments on what I have witnessed today.

I certainly do not want to get into personal attacks. I think we have seen so much of that in our history and, to be quite frank, I do not think the public enjoys the personal attacks. I do not think it leaves the whole career of politics, and being involved in politics, very desirable for people out there in the public. What I witnessed today, and I understand there is a certain spirit in this House and there are certain objectives that the Opposition have, and objectives that government have, but I have to say, the sixty-minute rant and roar that I saw today – and the audacity of members opposite to lecture the government, to give us a lecture on respect and to give us a lecture on shouting and yelling. Well, Mr. Speaker, I want to point out that there are two sides to this House. It does not just happen on one side. It was a little bit skewed today, what we saw in the presentation this afternoon. We saw today an opportunity to discuss Estimates budget matters and I know, I guess, it is fair game in some of these issues, but we saw almost an attack on almost every member of our government. I understand that is fair game but I have to say, as I did earlier in complimenting the Opposition, it is certainly enjoyable when they stick to the issues and they ask the right questions.

Personally, I find it educational because I am listening to ministers and getting some good answers, but when they stray from the issues and they jump into individual Cabinet ministers and referencing the incompetence of Cabinet ministers, that is when I kind of sit back and reflect and think about my own experiences. I would kind of like to share that a little bit because, even though this is about the Natural Resource Estimates Committee, it just seemed today like we are really focused on the human resources of government, the people of government. If I might, I would like to share my own personal experience in the last six months. I could go individual, but I have lobbied hard on behalf of the people of my district and I have to say I am overwhelmed with the support and the accessibility of the ministers and their staff. I am certainly very pleased with what I have been able to accomplish to this date for the people in my district.

With this rant today, I want to be sure and let the people know that there are two sides, there are two opinions here. Let me point out, when you listen to the rants about our ministers - what about our ministers?

We have a Minister of Justice, a brand new minister, who is already improving our court system and is already restructuring our prison system. We have a Minister of Education who has listened to the public, who is engaged and finished an ISSP review, who listened to the math concerns from stakeholders and brought in an Excellence in Mathematics Strategy, who recognized the decline in our student population. We now have a new teacher allocation formula. What struck me about this minister, because I attended the press conferences, this is not another review that is put on a shelf to collect dust. This minister adopted the recommendations, stepped up, and we are moving forward with implementation. I have to admire that, for that minister.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DALLEY: We have a Minister of Business who is engaged and on target to reduce government red tape by 25 per cent, a great initiative for this government, because we have all heard the complaints from the business community.

We have a Minister of Finance who just delivered the best Budget in the history of this Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DALLEY: We have the largest surplus we have ever had, but we did not get that by not spending. We are spending more than we have ever spent before.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DALLEY: We have a Minister of Health - and no disrespect to the ministers, but - I believe he is the hardest-working minister that we have in government, who is addressing the many challenges in our health care system, day after day after day.

We have a Minister of Human Resources, Labour and Employment, who is leading the Poverty Reduction Strategy that is a model for the country.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DALLEY: We hear comments today about our Minister of Natural Resources. Well, when you hear those comments, don't forget to stop and consider that this minister is leading the energy development in Newfoundland and Labrador that is the envy of North America.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DALLEY: We have a Minister of Municipal Affairs who walks with a background in the very field in which he ministers, and this minister is responsible for the most significant capital works funding arrangement in our history. That is going to make a real difference in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DALLEY: Mr. Speaker, the next person I want to make some reference to – I want to be sure here, because I know how it is going to be perceived - I want to talk about the Premier for a few minutes, and I want to be clear. It is not about me buttering up to the Premier about my aspirations. Any aspirations that I have, I am confident that my hard work will take care of them.

I want to speak about the Premier. One thing that I want to point out, because I keep hearing it, and I keep hearing it in the media: Oh, you are coming to the defence of the Premier. You are going to defend the Premier.

How ludicrous a statement is that? Do we forget that the Premier took on Paul Martin and won?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DALLEY: Do we forget that the Premier went on national TV and took on Paul McCartney and won?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DALLEY: Do we forget that the Premier has stood up to Prime Minister Harper and will win? The Premier will win the battle.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DALLEY: The Premier does not need the Member for The Isle of Notre Dame or anyone else in this House to stand and defend him, and the people of this Province well know it and couldn't be more proud.

Mr. Speaker, when we talk of new experiences in being a new MHA, I get asked questions all the time: What is it like? To be honest, I really cannot answer them well yet, but one question I get asked a lot is: What is Danny like? What is the Premier like?

Well, that I can answer from my own experiences in the first six months because I have observed – and, to be honest, sometimes when you listen to members opposite you would almost think that he is not fit to be the leader of this Province. Well, I say otherwise. If I had to describe the Premier from my own experiences, he is a man who rolled up his sleeves. He is driven by vision and passion and, God knows, determination, to make the tough decisions, to make the right decisions - but not only to make the right decisions, Mr. Speaker, but to make the right decisions for the right reasons. He is a man of principle.

We can look at the Premier, and what he has accomplished, but I want to say, when we look at and consider sometimes the rant and the roar, and we consider the job of the Opposition, I want people to consider and to remember, it is not a fluke, it is not luck, it is not easy, and I am sure we would all agree we are not perfect, but when you want to consider our Premier, you consider the numbers. Five years ago we were a $1 billion deficit and in just five years, under his leadership, we are $1.4 billion dollars in a surplus. That does not just happen overnight.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DALLEY: Mr. Speaker, my time is up and I would want to sit down. I just want to say, for the many questions that I get asked, the many questions I get asked about the Premier, if you had to describe this man, to describe him in one word, I would have to say, personally, that the man is absolutely brilliant.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The time allotment of three hours for the Resource Committee debate has ended.

The motion is that the report of the Resource Committee be concurred in.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: ‘Aye'.

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

The motion is carried.

Motion carried.

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

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, continuing with the Orders of the Day, number 3, Concurrence Motions, we will now call section (b) of that, Social Services Committee.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is that the report of the Social Services Committee be concurred in.

The hon. the Member for Ferryland.

 

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUTCHINGS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, this evening is certainly a welcomed chance to speak in the concurrence debate in regard to the Social Services Committee, which I chaired, and I would just like to review, once again, those departments in terms of the Estimates that we reviewed with the committee: the Department of Education; the Department of Health and Community Services; the Department of Justice; the Department of Municipal Affairs; the Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment; and, the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.

Yesterday, I thanked the members of the committee. I would also like to certainly thank my colleague from St. John's North, who is an alternate and who sat in on one of the committees as an alternate, so thank you to him.

Mr. Speaker, indeed, it was an interesting process for me as chair. Last year, I sat as an alternate on some of the committee but this year as chair it certainly is an interesting process because we had the chance to go through the department, hear many questions, much insight into the operations of the department in terms of expenditures, in terms of future estimates, and where this government is heading in terms of investments for next year on the budget. It was indeed interesting.

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to touch on a few of the departments and some of the initiatives of government I speak to, in terms the Estimates. The first one I would like to speak to is the Department of Human Resources, Labour and Employment, and some of the initiatives in terms of the Budget, and the investments being made by this government in that area that is indeed so important.

Mr. Speaker, one of the big things identified from a Human Resources, Labour and Employment perspective that we saw in the Budget was looking to the future. We all know there are exciting things happening in Newfoundland and Labrador. We have seen some great changes in terms of the number of people employed, the number of disposable income, employment itself; unemployment has started to fall. Obviously, it is not where we want it to be but it is starting to fall and we are getting more employment. We have a multitude of projects and numerous initiatives that are started and certainly on the horizon that are going to come. We have challenges in terms of our labour market, in terms of ensuring that our young people today both are educated and everything is made available to them in terms of they know what is available for them in careers, so we can match up the human resources we need to build our industries and to supply the manpower that is needed, the person power that is needed, for the projects that are here and that will come in the future.

In the Budget we saw $1.4 million to develop a Youth Retention and Attraction Strategy, and it is about encouraging our young people to stay, live and work in this Province. That is so key as we move forward. With our demographics, in terms of our aging population and where we are, we need our young people here. We also need to attract those who do not reside here any more, or people who have the skill set and want to come back here to build the industry and to build projects we have, that they have an opportunity to come back. Indeed, that is extremely important.

As well, in this Budget we saw over $1 million to meet increased demand for post-secondary training and job training supports directly to those persons with disabilities. This government is reaching out to all possibilities in terms of attracting people to the workforce, and doing what is needed to provide those supports, especially in the area of disabilities, to anybody who can engage in the workforce, and we can assist them to do that. This government and this department are certainly reaching out to do that, and no doubt are having success and will continue to have success.

We have also seen over $1 million to expand the Career/Work Centres, with the establishment of six additional locations in the Province. This allows us to have resources right around the Province, regionally, so that people are aware of what is happening in our economy, and they have assistance in terms of entry into the workforce, knowing the needs that they require, and employers knowing what is there in terms of labour and what they can attract.

We have also seen investments in community-based employment and labour market programs. We have certainly seen investments in terms of labour market information, which is so important. We need to know what human resources we have in regions and communities around the Province. We need to tap into that, and employers need to know what is available so they can tap in, in terms of growing and expanding their businesses, which is so important.

We have also seen investment for an International Registry and associated Web site to provide a direct means for workers and employers across the country to have access to what is happening here, what types of skills and what type of labour force we require, and, as well, for those around the world to see what we require so they can come and certainly want to live here, raise their families, and work in this environment.

Mr. Speaker, there are many initiatives, certainly, in Human Resources, Labour and Employment. We have all known, and it has been spoken about before, the Member for The Isles of Notre Dame spoke to the Poverty Reduction Strategy, which is certainly recognized nationally for the initiatives we are taking and the success we are having. It is certainly envied by many in the country and looked to, in terms of direction and how others need to proceed, and copying some of the initiatives that are being taken by this government and by this department.

Mr. Speaker, as part of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, one of many elements of it, I had an opportunity in January to be part of the minimum wage review. In the Blue Book in October of last year, in the election, we made a commitment to consult, to look at how we would implement that in terms of getting to $10 over a period of time, and we would consult. We did that. I had an opportunity to visit ten locations - two in Labrador, eight on the Island - and consult with a variety of stakeholders, individuals, employer groups, labour, and all interest groups, to come forward to speak on that issue. What we heard was that no one was against raising the minimum wage. It was recognized that it was an initiative of government that was supported, and people recognized that. The concerns we did hear, in some regions of the Province things are doing quite well; the market is dictating what the wage will be. In other areas, in rural Newfoundland in particular, small- and medium-sized business said to government: We have no problem with that, but what can you do in terms of regulations and costs that employers are incurring now to assist us?

Some of the thing we heard: What about the tax on insurance? It is a huge burden. Can anything be done with that? We heard recommendations of: Let's phase it out; maybe we can phase it out over a period of time.

What did this government and this minister do in the Budget this year in 2008? We eliminated the 15 per cent insurance tax, took it off the books. One of the other items we heard in our consultations around the Island and in Labrador, in terms of the business community and driving the economy, was the payroll tax that is currently being paid. Employers said: That is burdensome to us in some regards. Can that be moved? So this government moved from a threshold of $600,000 to $1 million. So, over 300 employers basically do not pay that tax any more.

Mr. Speaker, we went out, consulted, listened to stakeholders, listened to what they have to say, and indeed proceeded to act on that. That is what we did in this Budget in 2008.

Mr. Speaker, I want to speak on one of the other committees in terms of health. All of the committees, we certainly had a great line of questions, very intuitive in terms of where this government is going in terms of expenditures and estimates over the next fiscal year. The Department of Health is a huge department. We had well over four, maybe five, hours of a session, but it was informative. I certainly congratulate the committee on their questions, and the minister and his staff on taking us through that and outlining the directives of this government, and there as so many in particular in terms of what we are doing. I just want to highlight a few of those in terms of Budget 2008.

The Budget overall is going to grow about $2.3 billion. That is direct investment into our health care - $2.3 billion - and that is significant. We know we have challenges. We are dealing with them. We are investing. The minister is taking a lead on that. We saw today, again, with the announcement of investments in terms of pathologists and oncologists, in terms of that need that is required in the Province. This government met, consulted, determined what the needs were, and stepped up and are meeting those needs for the benefit of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and certainly for our health care system in general. That is over and above the investments we made in Budget 2008.

We have seen $79 million, close to $80 million, for new and redeveloped health facilities, $52 million to purchase new technologies, new equipment, and more than $10 million dedicated directly on cancer initiatives. So there is a whole range of other initiatives this government has identified and is moving forward in Budget 2008.

Are all of them met? No, Mr. Speaker, but it is strategic, it has been directed, we are looking at issues of immediate concerns, we are dealing with them, and we will certainly move forward over the next few years with that.

Mr. Speaker, another area in terms of the Estimates that our committee looked at was certainly the Department of Education, and we all know the many investments that have been made since this government came to power. Particularly, we are seeing an increase of $70 million in the education budget, to $1.1 billion. We are seeing almost $90 million allocated for new school construction, repairs and maintenance, and that is an increase of over $40 million dollars over last year, Mr. Speaker.

Another $4 million dollars will be spent to increase teaching resources, $2.5 million to implement the recommendations of the ISSP and Pathways Report, so we are moving forward. As pointed out earlier, as well, for my colleague who spoke prior, this is an initiative by the minister and the government that identified a need, consulted, and then moved forward to deal with it. That is how this government operates, Mr. Speaker.

Those are some of the general comments in terms of the Estimates. I would like to comment in terms of some of the initiatives of this government in terms of dealing with our students, student debt reduction. We continue to freeze tuition rates to make us probably the most competitive in Atlantic Canada and very competitive in terms of the country - if not the best, very close to it. Once again that gets back to, I spoke earlier in terms of youth retention, our young people, allowing them to access post-secondary education, doing the best we can to ensure they are the best educated and they have easy access, and we continue to do what we need to do to assist them.

Interestingly enough, I had an e-mail from a university student from my district a few weeks back. I will just reference it in terms of what young people are saying in terms of the initiative this government is taking in the area of education and post-secondary.

He says: I spoke to you several times last fall in regards to the up-front provincial grant program. Having just finished my first year of university, I decided I should write and say how appreciative I am of such program. As a result of the up-front grant, the repayable amount of my loan has been reduced by 20 per cent. It is encouraging to see a government invest in post-secondary education, and helping to alleviate the burdens placed on the student population.

Mr. Speaker, that is what this government is all about –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. HUTCHINGS: - reaching out and recognizing where assistance is needed, and certainly doing the things we need to do.

Mr. Speaker, another budgetary issue I would like to speak to, and it has certainly been spoken to in other debates here in the House, is certainly in regard to Municipal Affairs, and the announcement made in terms of capital infrastructure by Municipal Affairs.

From my district, which is mainly a rural community – it is about twenty-six rural communities, all of them with populations under 3,000, outside of the portion of the City of St. John's, the Goulds area, which is part of my district - it is so important for those smaller communities.

This government recognized that there were tremendous challenges for small rural communities, in terms of raising financing, in terms of replacing infrastructure, or even putting in initial infrastructure that is so vitally required in terms of maintaining our rural communities. This government is certainly committed to this, and this program that was delivered by the Minister of Municipal Affairs certainly, once again, makes everybody know – there is no mistake - this government is certainly investing in rural Newfoundland and continues to do so.

What this does, this capital budget and the ninety-ten ability to finance, it allows those communities that, in the past, had to come up with fifty cent dollars, forty cent dollars, and could not do that, now they are able to do that. Whether it is road infrastructure, whether it is upgrades to water systems, whatever the case may be, now they have access to funding to do that infrastructure program, which is indeed so important.

Again, it is a tremendous investment in terms of this Budget and in terms of developing public policy that meets the needs of the people, meets the needs of the people all throughout Newfoundland and Labrador, which is so important.

Mr. Speaker, just overall I would like to go back and make a comment terms of where we are today in this Province in terms of financial, in terms of our social programs, and building them and moving forward. I think this Budget is about the future. Right now we are seeing unprecedented growth in terms of, obviously, our natural resources, in terms of the return we are getting on them, but we are making strategic decisions. We know the non-renewable resources will not last forever, but strategically we are investing that in infrastructure and we are certainly having a balance between paying down our liabilities and our debt and investing in that infrastructure, which is so important.

To move forward, we have to reduce that liability, we have to reduce that debt. On the other hand, we have to continue to invest in our infrastructure, in our communities, and we are doing that. We have gone from an $11.6 billion deficit down to $10.3 billion, and all indications are that will continue, so that bodes well for the future. It bodes well for our ability to invest and certainly to make a reduction in the amount of money that we spend on that debt, and certainly interest and those types of things that we can now take and reinvest in our infrastructure and in our social programs and in our communities.

The Finance Minister, when he spoke in his Budget, spoke of fiscal health and economic strength going hand in hand. Indeed, it does. Fiscally, if we are strong we can do the things that we need to do. We are doing that now, and no doubt we will continue to do it.

Looking to 2008, Mr. Speaker, where we are now, we are expecting to see capital investment increase by 15 per cent. We are seeing capital expenditures again expected in Hibernia, Terra Nova, White Rose, and in the oil and gas sector, of almost a billion dollars. So things will move forward and we will continue to do the things we need to do in terms of programs to build our communities and build our towns and build our cities, but how do we maximize? All these things that are happening, we have to make sure that we maximize the potential that we have today.

It is a very critical time in our history. Certainly, this Premier and this government have no doubt seized the opportunity and are moving forward to make sure that indeed we do maximize what is happening today for the better of tomorrow for everybody.

Indeed, in this Province, it is an historic time. We are turning the page from a social and economic perspective. Who would have thought that we would not be labelled have-not? Now, as it looks at the end of this year, I think we will have about $18 million that we would receive in equalization, and the year after that it looks like we will be coming off equalization.

It is so tremendous for a Province like ours that we can be self-reliant, and that is where we are headed, but we only get there through strong leadership, strategically investing, and a balanced approach through fiscal health and being able to pay down our debt, but as well to invest in our infrastructure and our social programs, and that is what we are doing.

The other component I like about this Budget is certainly our taxation policy. I talked about attracting people to the Province, and asking people to stay, and people wanting to stay. One of the great incentives is the taxation policy. This government indeed, again this year in the Budget, reduced personal income tax by 1 per cent. Last year we saw, as well, a significant reduction in personal income tax, which puts us very competitive in the country in terms of personal income tax, and no doubt puts money back in people's pockets. That is what drives the economy, disposable income for people to put back in their pockets, and that is not just for a select few. That is for everybody: low-income earners, middle class, singles, seniors, it puts money back into their pockets to assist them with the services that they need. In fact, the two-year tax policy has seen almost $230 million returned into the hands of the residents. I mentioned the elimination of the insurance tax premium, with almost $94 million put back this year - employers, individuals, volunteer groups, everybody in our communities - and $75 million over the next several years.

Those are some of the initiatives and the strategic direction that this government is taking to ensure that we have the environment and we are getting there in terms of, people can live and certainly have more disposable income, and we will, as I said, through Human Resources, Labour and Employment, continue to reach out and make sure that we have the labour force that we need as we move forward and as we develop and continue to grow.

Mr. Speaker, it is certainly a privilege for me to speak on the Budget and those few points. There are many points to be made and I am certainly glad to have the opportunity. I congratulate the Minister on the Budget and I am delighted to be part of this government as we move forward.

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 certainly want to speak with regard to the committee and the initiatives that the member just talked about, a number of initiatives that are being looked at within the government.

Mr. Speaker, there are a couple of comments that I wanted to make, because I think I do have an hour to speak so there are a number of things that I want to address over that period of time. First of all, I heard the member for Twillingate and Fogo, when he was on his feet making a speech, Mr. Speaker.

AN HON. MEMBER: The Isles of Notre Dame (inaudible).

MS JONES: Oh, I am sorry, The Isles of Notre Dame, Mr. Speaker. I stand corrected by the members opposite. I am glad to see that they are attentive and they are paying attention.

Mr. Speaker, the Member for the Isles of Notre Dame said in his speech that he really liked it when the Opposition would stick to the questions, and they would ask good questions and stick to the issues; but, Mr. Speaker, what he really, really means by that phrase is he likes it when we make speeches and ask questions that do not raise the ire on the backs of government. That is what he really means, Mr. Speaker.

What he means is that when the tough questions start getting tossed out on the floor, and when harsh realities are explained to government members, it is not always appreciated and valued in the same way.

Mr. Speaker, he said the member likes to talk about Cabinet ministers, and I did today. I talked extensively about Cabinet ministers today because they deserved to be mentioned, Mr. Speaker. They deserved to be mentioned in my address to the House of Assembly; but, of course, he was somewhat slighted by the comments that I had made and they certainly were not well received, at least with the Member for The Isles of Notre Dame.

Mr. Speaker, let me just say to him that, while he may thump his desk today and while he may sing the praises of a number of these ministers today, let him be aware that the moment that he ends up on the bad books of the Premier that attitude will change as well. We have seen that already with the Member for Baie Verte-Springdale, and how quick that can happen.

Even again tonight in the newscast, his colleagues in the Cabinet still going to the airwaves and casting aspersions upon the character of their colleague. It is absolutely deplorable, I say, and it is unprecedented in anything that I have ever seen in this Province in my entire life.

Anyway, Mr. Speaker, I want to talk about a few things in the Budget. I had my opportunity to have that discussion today in the House of Assembly, and tonight I want to talk about some other critical pieces that government is dealing with that are of tremendous public interest and public concern in the Province.

Mr. Speaker, a number of members who have gotten up and spoken here, especially those who have come to this House in recent months, talked about the revenues of the government. What I do not hear any of them talk about is how these revenues are generated within government, and where this money comes from.

I actually heard one of the members talk about how the Premier took on this Prime Minister and took on this company and took on someone else, Mr. Speaker, as if he were in a boxing ring and he was suited up with the gloves on and he was ready to have a smack at whoever came along. That was the vision that was going through my mind as I listened to the member talk about how the Premier was taking this one on and taking that one on.

Well, Mr. Speaker, in all the taking on of individuals that the Premier has done, what has been the real result that has been yielded from it? That is the question that I would like to hear the answer to as debate goes on this evening. What has been the real result that has been yielded here? I have not seen it.

In his challenge to Prime Ministers in this country, what have we really gained? We have gained an isolation of the federal government as it relates to the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador. We have gained the prestigious position of being shut out of many negotiations and funding arrangements. We have lost the complete dialogue with our federal counterparts on a government-to-government basis, as I can understand it and see it from where I sit, Mr. Speaker. Is that really the result that we have yielded here? Because the big bucks did not come home; the big cheque did not materialize. There were no long-term agreements that exempted resources from the equalization formula, or non-renewable resources from the equalization formula. That was the objective but certainly not the result at the end of the day.

In every boxing match there is a prize, I say to the hon. Member for The Isles of Notre Dame who talked about the Premier going at it with everyone and everything that crossed his path. Usually, when you step into the ring, you step out with a prize. Well, I have not seen the prize materialize. I have not seen it to date, Mr. Speaker.

Let me tell you what has happened in this Province, where the revenue that the government opposite enjoys spending and talking about today - not that I have any great problems with any of the expenditures that they are making. I have problems with some of them, and I have talked about some of that in the House, problems when you put $15 million into studying caribou but yet you are denying seniors in this Province an opportunity to have home care. Yes, some of those things, I think, Mr. Speaker, when you weight it out in the context of the real value that you get for the money you invest, I think some of the decisions they have made may have been the wrong decisions. However, there are a number of decisions that they made that I think may have been the right decisions, and are decisions that we have advocated for, that we have lobbied for – infrastructure, in particular, within our own districts and within the Province - that needed to be done, and I do not think anyone can deny that a lot of the infrastructure that is being built in this Budget is that which is badly needed and long overdue. You will not hear me stand in the House and challenge a piece of that infrastructure to date, because most of it I see the real merit in investing in it.

Mr. Speaker, the revenue itself is coming from, today, the oil and gas industry, and everyone knows that. It is coming from the mining sector on a much smaller scale, but the bulk of it is coming from the oil and gas sector in this Province. Mr. Speaker, it is oil revenues like we have never seen before in our history.

Members talk about when previous governments were here, previous Liberal governments. They always like to talk about what other governments did. Well, let me just tell you that other governments maintained services in this Province at a time when the budgets were the lowest and the revenues were the lowest at periods in our history, and that is what members tend to forget. They maintained services in schools and hospitals at a time – maybe not to the levels they wanted to, maybe not at the investment targets that they wanted to, maybe not staffed to the levels that they had hoped for, maybe not with pay ratios to the scale of which they desired, but they maintained services and they did it at a time when the bulk of the revenue was not from $130-a-barrel oil but they did it, Mr. Speaker, at a time when there was less mining and production in this Province. They did it at a time when there were only one and two oil fields producing and oil was selling at the market value of less than $25 a barrel.

I remember at one point during the previous government's mandate when oil went down as low as $18 a barrel, the same oil today that is $130 U.S. traded on the market. Quite a difference, I say to hon. members, but they maintained the integrity of a system through a transitional period, through a period while they were still building and investing in projects like Terra Nova, like White Rose, like Voisey's Bay, like Bull Arm, and like Duck Pond Mine, all new developments in this Province that occurred under the previous Administration, of which they did not get the opportunity to see the royalties and the reserves from those developments.

It is another government, your government today, that is seeing the product of that work, and is seeing the results of those visionary developments that occurred in this Province going back for the last decade-and-a-half. Mr. Speaker, that is fine - I have no problem with that - but at least acknowledge it. At least acknowledge it. If you are going to get up and talk about the surplus revenues and the royalties that are being administered by the government, at least acknowledge on whose watch these deals were done and where those royalties and those revenues today are coming from.

Now, Mr. Speaker, we saw a Budget this year with a projected historic surplus of $1.4 billion. We also have reached a point in our history, and I think the Minister of Finance said it very eloquently on Budget Day, a day in our history when we will not have the dependence on the Upper Canada – the citizens of this Province - like we did in the past, but rather roles have now reversed, and reversed to the point where I think every single person in this Province should feel proud to be able to stand up and say independently that we do not need to be at the peril of Central Canada and the federal government any longer, that we are producing revenues and providing for the people in our own Province. I think every person, every single Newfoundlander and Labradorian, played a role in getting us to where we are today, and they should all be very proud of it. I am very proud of it, Mr. Speaker, and I don't mind saying so.

The other thing is that the Minister of Finance, in his Budget, also projected a surplus next year. Even once we come off equalization, there is still a surplus projected of about $500 million next year.

AN HON. MEMBER: Five hundred and forty-four million dollars.

MS JONES: Five hundred and forty-four million dollars next year.

Mr. Speaker, remember that those projections were done and based on a very modest price of oil in the marketplace. I think the number the minister used was $87 a barrel when he did his projections on Budget Day, but you look at where the price of crude is today, fluctuating between $128 and $130 a barrel, you do not have to be an economist or an accountant to be able to figure out that the surplus is not going to be $544 million next year but rather, Mr. Speaker, it is going to be closer to $1 billion, I would project, already, to the minister, next year - unless, of course, we see the bottom falling out of the oil industry. Right now, if you look at all of the projections right around the world, not just in North America, but all the people and all the players in the industry today, right around the world, are projecting that the price of crude in the marketplace is going to go higher - higher than we are actually seeing it today.

Mr. Speaker, when you look at the amount of money that government will have to spent, not just this year but going into next year, ensuring that we maintain the same levels and capacity of pumping at all the oil fields that we have today - and we know that there are going to be expansions with Hibernia South and we know that there are going to be expansions with White Rose. We are also hoping, Mr. Speaker, at some point that government will sign a deal, a deal they can call their own, I say, an oil deal that will be a hallmark of their government finally. Maybe we will see that with the Hebron project. Who knows?

Anyway, if we maintain the levels of drilling and are pumping at the same capacity on a daily basis in this Province as we are today, with the way prices are going our surplus next year is going to far exceed $544 million. That is what people need to realize. It is going to far exceed that. In fact, I would suggest it will double that before the end of the next fiscal year.

Mr. Speaker, when I stand in the House of Assembly and I lobby government for different initiatives and for different funding, I take no guilt for it, I feel no guilt, I feel like I owe no apologies to anyone for doing that, because I understand the fiscal situation of the Province as well as anyone. I understand where the money comes from, where it goes, where it is budgeted, how it is distributed and how it can be projected year over year.

I understand as well, Mr. Speaker, that there are components of budgets that have to be maintained, components that deal with program spending within government, which covers the regular programs and services that are delivered on an annual basis by successive governments, no matter who they are.

I understand there are requirements for paying down debt and paying off the debt in order to alleviate the interest on those debts and the pressure they bring to bear over the long-term for governments, both present and future.

Mr. Speaker, I also understand that there is lots of flexibility when it comes to one-time spending of money, and we have seen that this year. We have seen lots of flexibility in the way that monies are being spent.

Mr. Speaker, I make no apologies for raising issues that are of public concern, that put financial demands on government, because that is my job here. That is why we had no problem, day after day after day, raising issues in this House regarding pathologists and oncologists and doctors in general in this Province. We had no problem doing that because once we sat down with people in the medial association, people within Eastern Health, pathologists themselves, people like Dr. Denic and all of this staff, and we grew to understand what the real issue was there, we realized very early on that we were in a crisis position in this Province and something needed to be done.

Following our understanding of that issue and raising it in a very public way to elevate it out there and to help other people understand what the implications on their health care system would be, as these pathologists vacated positions, we started seeing that very thing happen. We started seeing pathologists resigning in this Province because of workload issues and because of salaries and benefits. We started seeing them look to other parts of the country, Mr. Speaker, where employment was fostering much better dividends for them and a better quality of life. Therefore, those were the factors we had to deal with.

Mr. Speaker, lots of members in this House wanted to blame it on the Inquiry, wanted to blame it on the fact that Opposition members were asking questions about the Cameron Inquiry and undermining the professional level of skills that were being provided in this Province, within laboratories and within our pathology sector, but it was nothing to do with that. It was absolutely nothing to do with that. That is how issues get derailed. Those are the side shows that are always complied around issues to take away from the real problems that exist. Over time, Mr. Speaker, day after day asking questions in the House, we finally convinced the government to sit down with the pathologists. In fact, they went to meet them. After two weeks they went to meet with them. Guess what, Mr. Speaker? They started to realize as well that there was a problem here.

Then another pathologist resigned and then there was more media and more questions. Then there was another meeting, a meeting this time where full understanding was brought to bear on government, and they realized at that point that without intervention they could see the erosion of this entire service within our Province and we could not afford that. For that to happen, it would mean that there would be cancer patients all over Newfoundland and Labrador without adequate services for testing, for diagnosis and for treatment of those critical illnesses.

They knew that with the resignation of people like Dr. Fontaine and Dr. Carter, that there would be huge vacancies in the diagnosis and treatment of people who are suffering from cervical cancer and breast cancer in this Province, and that was a big risk to take, especially in a Province where all the national statistics are showing that we have some of the highest rates of cervical cancer.

Mr. Speaker, we do not make any apologizes for continuing to raise that issue with government and in the House of Assembly, because it was an important issue. When government finally realized it was important, they decided to do something about it.

Mr. Speaker, I have had an opportunity to look at the offer that the Minister of Health and the Premier made to the pathologists today. I looked at it but only the sketchy details of it, Mr. Speaker, because they did not call me into the boardroom to give me a full briefing in what they were offering.

MR. WISEMAN: Sit down and I will tell you about it.

MS JONES: The minister says he will tell me about it, and in forty minutes and fifty-one seconds you can do just that. Mr. Speaker, I will wait for him to get up and tell me exactly what the deal is, because it is important. It is important in this Province.

Today, Mr. Speaker, government announced they would spend $6 million to deal with this problem that was critical and they realized it was critical. That is the approach that should be taken. Day after day, when I stand in this House and advocate for services or advocate for resources for people in different sectors of our economy, and I try to get shut down by the members opposite and I get booed at half the time, Mr. Speaker, and I get told that I do not know what I am talking about, all of these kinds of innuendo that go on here, it does not matter. I have broad shoulders, they are strong shoulders and I can handle any of it. So, I will continue to do that. This is just one example which I wanted to outline for you.

Mr. Speaker, the deal that this government has just struck with pathologists outlines to me that there is an understanding there, that there are often going to be times when you have to move outside of what we deem to be pattern bargaining in this Province. There are times when that will happen. This is full demonstration of it.

I understand that the Premier was quite quick in the news conference to say, do not read too much into this, this is not a template for other unions or for other sectoral groups. Mr. Speaker, the template that has been created here is one that comes out of urgency and critical attention that is required for any sector of the economy. This just happens to be a sector within our health care.

Mr. Speaker, let me just tell you now there is another group within this Province that we see is in a critical state as well, and that is the nurses in this Province. Almost everyday, Mr. Speaker, I either get emails or phone calls from nurses in one area or another of this Province, and every time the issues are the same. It is around shortages, it is around workloads, it is around call back and it is around no vacation time. All of these issues are what are continued to be raised. I know members here have gotten a lot of the e-mails that I have received as well, government members, because they came from individuals in their districts to me. I know it was copied to them and they are fully aware of it.

Mr. Speaker, the other morning, as part of nurses' week, the nurses' union held a breakfast and they invited all forty-eight MHAs in the House of Assembly to attend the breakfast, to have a presentation to better understand the issues around nursing and the kinds of challenges that they face, not just in this Province with recruitment and retention but all over the country. We were called there and it was very well explained to us actually that this is a national problem, not just in Newfoundland and Labrador. Our job is to deal with our own problem at home, Mr. Speaker. Our job is to deal with our problem here, because while it is a national or international problem that will not be the piece that we will deal with. At the end of the day, it is this Chamber, it is that government, that deals with the critical piece that affects us the most, and that is the nurses, their vacancy rates and the amount of pay that is being offered to them in Newfoundland and Labrador. That is the only piece we have any control over, I say to hon. members; that is the only piece we have any control over. Even if we did want to go out and recruit and solve the problem for the rest of the nation, it is not our mandate, it is not our jurisdiction to do that.

Mr. Speaker, a lot of members did show up for that breakfast, including the Minister of Health and Community Services. I was glad to see so many members there, because it at least spoke to the fact that they too were concerned and wanted to hear what the nurses' union wanted to say. Mr. Speaker, I hope their message was registering with government members. I hope it did, because the message that I took from it was very clear, and the message was this: that we are the lowest paid in all of Canada, that right now nurses in Atlantic Canada and places like Nova Scotia, although they have a huge vacancy rate as well, are being paid 18 per cent to 21 per cent more than nurses right here in Newfoundland and Labrador. That is the difference, that is the wage gap that exists just between Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia. If we want to look at the wage gaps right across the country, they continue to grow, and in some cases they grow up to, I think it was 34 per cent and 36 per cent difference in wages gaps.

That has to be addressed. Can that be addressed under the pattern bargaining? It can, Mr. Speaker, depending on the pattern, but the pattern that we are looking at today will not address that problem. It will not address that problem! The only way that the wage rate that CUPE has just accepted, and therefore accepted the precedent for other unions to fall in line in this Province, under those salary and benefit agreements, the only way that is going to get anywhere near where the nurses want to go is that government will have to be prepared to look at reclassifications within the nursing profession. That is the only way.

Mr. Speaker, outside of doing the reclassifications, the only other option that I see right now, in being able to deal with the huge disparity in wages that is there, is to look at a separate agreement that will look directly at their issues, how to recruit and retain nurses in the Province, how to maintain the services within our health care corporations, and how to ensure that they have benefits and pay that is at least on par with the rest of the country. Mr. Speaker, I do not just mean on par with Atlantic Canada, because we are not losing our nurses to Atlantic Canada. In fact, we are not losing our nurses to Central Canada. We are losing our nurses to Western Canada, to the provinces of Western Canada and to the United States. That is where most of the nurses are going who are leaving this Province

Mr. Speaker, we will keep raising that issue because we think that at some point the Minister of Health and the Premier will again have to call in the nurses, just like they had to call in the pathologists, and they too will have to really understand what the issue is here, and what needs to change in order to fix the problem. Hopefully we will see them get to that stage. Until then, Mr. Speaker, we are going to continue to discuss the issue and we are going to continue to raise the issue.

Mr. Speaker, the other issue I want to talk about is homecare. This issue, I have to say, Mr. Speaker, is an issue that has touched me, probably more so than any of the other issues that I have raised in this session of the House of Assembly. It has touched me because I have intimately gotten to know a lot of people in this Province who have been impacted by the homecare program that we currently offer. I have gotten to see them, Mr. Speaker, face to face. I have gotten to understand their issues. I have gotten an opportunity to sit down and discuss with them in detail the circumstances which they find themselves in.

I have to say, I have been touched by their issues to the point that not only do there need to be change for the long-term, but there also needs to be some immediate intervention on their behalf to try and make things better. That is why, Mr. Speaker, we introduced a motion in the House of Assembly calling upon the government to implement a home care program on a temporary basis until the longer review could be done, to ensure that those who were eligible under the new income level set by the government - and what I am referring to is the income level in which seniors can receive the supplement, or the Seniors' Benefit, offered by the provincial government. That was at a level of about $31,000 a year. I do not have my note in front in of me, but I think it was $31,000 and another amount of money, maybe $400 or $500.

Mr. Speaker, my point is this, we were asking, that in the meantime these people who required homecare in the Province would at least have an opportunity to seek emergency homecare services for a period of time until a longer term solution was worked out. We asked, in fact, that government look at giving them about ten hours of emergency homecare and then review it on a case by case level.

We were not talking about people who needed someone to come in and just do cleaning and cooking in their house, but we were talking about people who needed help with bathing, with dressing, with mobility, with preparing meals because they have no other way to access them or no one else to do it for them, but very personal levels of homecare that were required.

The motion was voted down in the House of Assembly. Okay, I can accept that government's prerogative is to accept any resolutions or members' motions that we put forward for debate. They can stand, debate the motion, and at the end of they day they have the prerogative to vote it down, but to vote it down and offer no solution to deal with the problem is what does not sit right with me. It is one thing to say to me, as an Opposition Leader, or to my Opposition caucus, that the idea that they you are giving us to fix this problem on a temporary basis is just not on and we are not going to accept it. It is one thing to do that, but it is another thing when you cannot provide a solution on your own. That is where I have a problem. With a full government department, a full Cabinet, and ballooning budgets and surpluses that everyone talks about and you cannot come up with a temporary solution to look after seniors and people with disabilities in this Province who cannot get home care, Mr. Speaker, on a temporary basis, there is something wrong with that.

We understand, and government has made a commitment, that they will look at the financial assessment tools. All that means is that they will look at how they calculate whether you are eligible for subsidy or not. Therefore, if you want home care you go in to a social worker and you give them how much income you make, how much your rent is on your house, how much your light bill is, how much your car payment might be, whatever the case may be, whatever your drug cost is, and that is all calculated. They allow for you to have a certain amount of money to live on. They allow for you to have somewhere between $550 and $650 a month to be able to live on, two people in a house. The rest of your money then goes to cover off your home care services. Mr. Speaker, that is leaving people below the poverty line and that is wrong. You are trying to rise people up in this Province out of poverty. You get up and you talk about how you have the best strategy for poverty reduction in the country. Well, on paper it does nothing for anyone. Don't just put it on paper and send it around the country as a strategy to reduce poverty, but actually go out and do something about it, and don't induce poverty on other people. That is what is happening here.

When senior citizens in this Province have a joint income of $25,000 a year, and then they are required to give up $12,000 to $13,000 a year of that income for home care services, you are asking them to live below the poverty line. You are inducing poverty in that household. You are not rising them up, you are not giving them a hand up and taking people and families in the Province out of poverty by those kinds of actions. In fact, you are reducing them to a worse level of poverty and a worse level of dependency then they have ever been in, in their lives, in most cases.


Mr. Speaker, I talked about the Connors family, Pat Connors and his wife, because they were people who were brave enough and desperate enough to go to the public airwaves to talk about their situation. Do you know how hard that is for a lot of people? Do you know how hard it is for people to want to go publicly and talk about the very personal things that are impacting their lives, the struggles that they are in, in trying to provide care for a spouse or a family member, the struggles they face in trying to deal with their disabilities or their illnesses, or the struggles they have in trying to purchase medications, Mr. Speaker? Do you know how difficult that is for people and how humiliating it can often be?

Just think about what levels of desperation provokes people in those situations to have to go public. I have thought about that, Mr. Speaker. Do you know something? It has to be difficult for those people. It has to be difficult to air your very personal problems like that on the public airways as a cry for help. That is where it has gotten and that is sad, Mr. Speaker. That is sad!

Today, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Connors has learned that he will need home care for his wife very soon and very urgently, and we are working with him and working through the Department of Health to try and deliver that service for him. We know that it is going to be only delivered, Mr. Speaker, if and when he is prepared to live below the poverty line and he and his wife are prepared to be able to live and feed themselves and maintain their home on an income of $12,000 a year. That is what is sad and unfortunate, because they are pushed into positions where they have no other choice.

That is just one incident, and I talk about them because, in my books, they have become the face of this problem in our Province. They have really been the champions of this issue. We have only provided another venue for them in the House of Assembly to bring their issue here to the attention of government. It is really Mr. Connors and his wife who deserve the credit for elevating the issue of home care and the plight of the people who depend upon it in our Province, to the level of where it is today.

I am going to say to the members opposite: it is a problem that is not going to go away. Do not think, because the House of Assembly closes the end of the month or the end of next month and the Opposition goes home and they are not here standing before you every day, that that issue is going to go away, because it is not. It will not go away. It is a serious, serious issue, Mr. Speaker.

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MS JONES: The minister is right, I will not let it go away. Because I think it is within his capacity to do something about it, and I think that government has the resources to address it, and to do so, Mr. Speaker, to the benefit of these individuals; to not only take them out of the corner they find themselves in, but to give them a level of dignity to be able to deal with their illnesses and their disabilities that they are faced with in their own lives, give them some level of dignity to be able to manage their way through the serious issues that they find themselves faced with from a medical perspective.

I am not going to give up on that issue. I will not give up on that issue, because I know that the revenues of this Province are still ballooning. I know, Mr. Speaker, that the royalties from the oil and gas are still climbing, and I know that the budget projections by the Minister of Finance are going to practically double before we get to the next budget year. So, am I going to give up on trying to get homecare benefits for people in this Province so that they do not have to drain their bank accounts, so they do not have to take all of their old age pension cheque or all of their disability cheque to go out and pay for homecare services? I absolutely am not. I am not going to give up, until there are some results for those people, because they deserve to have them.

The other issue, Mr. Speaker, I want to talk about is oxygen, and those in our Province whose every single breath depends upon the equipment and the oxygen that they have; every single breath they take. I am going to talk about this for a little while, and then I am going to tell some members a story, because it is going to absolutely astonish you. It is a true story, and it happened in my own district. Mr. Speaker, first of all, let me just say this, the people who I have talked to who are dependent upon oxygen to take every breath every day in this Province are also tasked with a huge bill; a huge bill. Now, to some of them the cost is minimal, I will agree. If you look at $150 a month as being a minimal cost, well then it is minimal. Others, Mr. Speaker, pay as high as $600 a month for oxygen. It depends upon how often you need it, it depends on how much you need of it, and all those things have an impact, and they have an impact on a lot of people.

There are 4,400 people in this Province who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders. They are people who are dependent upon oxygen every single day through one capacity or another. We know there are about 300 people Province-wide now who are getting oxygen under subsidized government programs, meaning either on low income assistance or under some other program being provided for by government. We also know that there are hundreds and hundreds more, Mr. Speaker, who are not receiving any kind of subsidies. Mr. Speaker, this is what concerns us.

We have looked at what has been done in other provinces across the country, and I know that ministers opposite often say, well, they are always talking about what is being done in other provinces across Canada. Mr. Speaker, you always measure yourself against something. You always have to be measured against something if you want to know what your success rate is or how unsuccessful you may be. Our gauge in this Province is with the rest of the provinces in Canada, whether you want to accept that or whether you do not. They will say, well, you know, what about the things we are doing better than other provinces in Canada? I have no problem acknowledging that, Mr. Speaker. I am sure there are many things that we do in Newfoundland and Labrador that are much better than are being done in any other province in Canada. I am sure there are many things, Mr. Speaker. I do not have a list in front of me that I can give you right now, but I am sure if I sat down and took two minutes I could probably fill out a page, Mr. Speaker, but there are also things that we are doing that are not comparable to the rest of Canada and one of those things is the policies that we have around the home oxygen program.

Mr. Speaker, we know that almost every other province in this Country, except Newfoundland and Labrador, have programs for funding home oxygen to the general public, not just to people who are under government assistance programs like social assistance, but rather, Mr. Speaker, they have funding to these people in the general public right throughout the Province. Some of it is on a co-pay system. Depending on what your income is depends on what you pay. Others are fully funded, Mr. Speaker.

There are different programs throughout the country that are being provided, but in Newfoundland and Labrador we have not done that. What we saw in the Budget the last time, and I acknowledge, Mr. Speaker, that it was a good initiative, was for portable oxygen to be provided to certain people in the Province. Still, it is a select group. The minister knows that. There are a number of people who are still not going to be able to access even the portable oxygen program, and only several hundred, I think, from what I understand who will be able to access that program that just came out. There are hundreds and hundreds more who will not.


Mr. Speaker, it is a start. It is the beginning of acknowledging that there are people in this Province who depend upon oxygen every single day who cannot afford it, but it does not go far enough. Our job is to push government to go further, to take it a step further, to ensure that those people out there, Mr. Speaker, who are living on seniors' allowances, for example, of $1,100 a month and expected to pay $450 and $500 a month for oxygen - it is unrealistic. That is actually happening.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, let me just tell you this story, because I said I was going to tell you. I have a person in my own district who uses oxygen and has for a number of years. When the individual was on social assistance, because they were not able to work because of their illness, they were receiving subsidized oxygen coverage from the Province. As soon as their spouse turned sixty-five and they were able to get an old age pension cheque they were no longer eligible for the subsidy. They had a bill that was running with Vital Aire – I think it was Vital Aire. I should not be saying that because I am not sure right now. I cannot remember the name of the company. There are two in the Province I know. Anyway, they had a contract with a company where they were leasing equipment. Of course, like every company the bill was not paid. Every month the lease was there, the lease was there and the lease was there. Keep in mind where I live, now. I live in the remotest regions of the Province, on the Coast of Labrador. Mr. Speaker, in the middle of the winter I was dealing with the file for this particular constituent. I was calling the Department of Health, I was calling social workers and I was actually even calling the health corporation, the clinics and everywhere else to try and find a way, even checking the clinics, Mr. Speaker, to see if they had any portable oxygen equipment that they could loan out that this person could borrow because they could not afford to pay the rent on the equipment that they had and they could not afford to buy equipment.

No, Mr. Speaker, after all of that – I think at the time I even called up Western Labrador trying to find equipment in the hospital up there and I could not find any. Mr. Speaker, at the end of the day I had to contact the company to see what we could work out, to see what could be done. After a while, of course, like any company - they are a private business - they want their money. They will take it so far. A year goes by, a year-and-a-half goes by, and these people cannot pay for their equipment on a monthly basis. They just cannot do it. It is impossible on the income that they have. What happens? I get a call one day, my EA calls me - and I do not know if I was down in the House or if I was in a meeting - saying that the company has said they are going to go in and they are going to take the equipment because they own it and the bills are not paid. Now, how do you deal with a situation when a company is going to come in and take the equipment that they own, and have every right to do because it is not paid for, but this person is dependent upon that oxygen to survive, cannot go without it for more than a-half-an-hour at a time? How do you deal with a situation like that?

I had to deal with it, but is it resolved today? Absolutely not! It is still not resolved. Do they still have the equipment? Yes, by the good graces of the company. Mr. Speaker, it took a lot of talking and it took a lot of wheeling and dealing. I do not know but next month they are going to come and want their equipment again or want their bills paid, because we still have not been able to work out a resolution that has been acceptable to everyone. At least they had an understanding that without the oxygen this person could not survive, and without that equipment there was no other means to provide it.

Is that the desperate measures that people should have to be faced with in this Province? I do not think so, Mr. Speaker. In fact, I do not think any MHA in this Province should have to be going to those kinds of lengths for people. We do it because there is no one else to do it, but they should be able to call up the medicare programs in this Province, and based on their levels of income, when they cannot afford critical medical therapies and treatments, they should be able to call up to their Department of Health, to their health corporation, and have those services provided to them. That is the way it should operate.

Mr. Speaker, I will tell you now that I am not going to give up on this particular case. I will not give up on it. These people should not have to live with the stress that they have lived with, the stress of wondering how you are going to pay for the very equipment that gives you the breath in your body every single day. That is not a stress and a worry that they should have to be concerned about.

Mr. Speaker, if this was a family that was earning $40,000 a year, I would be talking to them and saying, you have to learn to pay your bills, but when your income is less than $20,000 a year - I am trying to remember the exact figures, but I think it was probably around $16,000 on an annual basis – and all of a sudden you are being told that you are not eligible to get any kind of subsidization on the rental of the equipment, there is something wrong with that.

Mr. Speaker, that is just one case. I could tell you a number of stories, but I only have ten minutes left and I want to get on to some other issues. The point that I am trying to make is this, that irregardless of great announcements that might be in the budget, do not put your head in a bubble and think that there are no more issues or no more concerns. That would be a very arrogant move at the best of times, and certainly not one that is going to be to any benefit to the people you represent or to the people of the Province, in general.

It does not matter to me how government reacts when we raise these issues in the House, issues around nurses or doctors or homecare or people with disabilities or oxygen or Medicare or access to prescription drugs or out of the Province travel benefits and so on. That is another issue that I will get into at another time. Mr. Speaker, we will continue to raise those issues, because they are important to the people you serve and we serve. We know that the fiscal resources are inside of government to deal with many of those programs. Mr. Speaker, while many members would not like to hear us discuss it and talk about it, we will continue to do so.

Mr. Speaker, there is one other issue I want to talk about before I conclude. I am saying one other issue, there might be two more, but we will see. I only have nine minutes left. Mr. Speaker, this government talks about being open and accountable. I think, in the couple of months that we have been in session in this House of Assembly, we have shown time and time again areas where this government has not been open, has not been accountable, and has not been transparent. In fact, Mr. Speaker, we have had to ask, time and time again, for reports to be tabled in the House of Assembly, even though the Premier went out and said, all reports would be tabled within thirty days or sixty days. When questioned by the media, he said he would go on a hunt through the Cabinet rooms, on a hunt through the ministerial suites. He would find all the documents that need to be tabled and he would lay them out for the public. Mr. Speaker, a month or six weeks later, we had to stand in the House again and ask for documents and reports.

There are dozens of issues that speak to the fact that this has not been a government that has lived up to the kind of expectation that they wanted people to have of them, an expectation that we are fully open, we are fully accountable, we are fully transparent.

In fact, Mr. Speaker, let me just tell you that this week alone, in the House of Assembly, on one issue, I asked for six different reports or pieces of information to be tabled. In one Question Period, on one issue, I asked for six different reports that had been conducted and paid for by the taxpayers of this Province, that, Mr. Speaker, I have good assurance or at least a strong feeling that they are in the possession of government. If they are not, I would be very surprised. That is around the Lower Churchill project.

Mr. Speaker, the first thing I asked for was the latest cost estimates for all the components of the Lower Churchill project. I believe this was in Question Period on Wednesday. I am trying to think now, although it is only Thursday. Tuesday, I guess it was, in Question Period. I asked for that and there was no such thing, Mr. Speaker. That was not going to be released to the Opposition. They did not have those estimates at that particular time, but if they could get their hands on them, if they could get them together, though, Mr. Speaker, they said that at some point they would table them in the House of Assembly. Now, that might in 2008, it might be in 2010, it might not be, Mr. Speaker, until 2011, and it might be another government, Mr. Speaker, that has to table them in 2012. Who knows? Mr. Speaker, we will have to wait and see, but we will keep asking for them.

The same Question Period, the same issue, Mr. Speaker, we asked the government for the study that was done and paid for, actually over $100 million spent to pay for this study through the Province of Quebec, on wielding power through that province, what the capacity was on their lines. We actually, I think, contracted or commissioned Quebec Hydro to do that study and paid for it at a cost of around $100 million, I think it was, and I would have to go back and check the figures. I do not mind being corrected because my memory only goes back so far at a certain time in the evening. Mr. Speaker, this would have been going back about three years ago now. We asked for that study, but anyway, we have been told by the Premier that he has not seen that study yet, so maybe it is over in Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro. I have no idea. The study deals with the open access and the transmission of power through the Province of Quebec and looking at whether the transmission lines have the capacity to handle the more than 2,000 megawatts of power that we want to generate through the Lower Churchill Development Project. Those were two things I asked for in the open and accountable session, Mr. Speaker, that the government claims to be running over there.

The other things were on the MOUs. Remember last year they talked about the MOU they had signed with the State of Rhode Island. Mr. Speaker, in order to get to Rhode Island you have to pass through a number of others states, the State of New York and the State of Massachusetts. You have to pass through parts of the Province of Quebec, I think, Mr. Speaker. I suppose you can go down through New Brunswick, pass over the border and go in through New York, go up through that way. Mr. Speaker, nevertheless you have to go through other provinces in Canada, you have to go through two other states in the United States, if my geography serves me correct, in order to get to the State of Rhode Island. We have an MOU with the State of Rhode Island, but no one wants to tell us what is in that MOU, Mr. Speaker. I do not know what it says. We all know that you have to have power purchase agreements. They are required and they are an essential part of the calculations of the financial feasibility of any project, especially a project like the Lower Churchill.

Having said that, Mr. Speaker, we do not know what this MOU with the State of Rhode Island is. It might be just an MOU that says, if you can get the power to us we will buy it. It might be the Province saying, if we develop it and we can get the power to you we will sell it to you. How do we know what is in the MOU? We do not know, Mr. Speaker. What I do know is in order to get power to the State of Rhode Island you have to go through other states in the Eastern Seaboard and you have to go through other provinces in Atlantic Canada. You would obviously have to have some kind of agreement with those provinces or those states as well.

The other thing we asked for was an MOU that was signed with Nova Scotia. Mr. Speaker, that was signed with Nova Scotia Power and Emera . That was an MOU, and again that goes back to just a few months ago when we heard the Premier of Nova Scotia on over there in that Province trying to talk about the big potential to purchase power from the Lower Churchill Project, Mr. Speaker. I tell you, I almost laughed because here they are out in Nova Scotia making announcements about purchasing power from the Lower Churchill Project in this Province that we have not seen an iota of detail on yet at this stage. Mr. Speaker, at the rate it is going I do not think we are going to see anything any time soon, but I stand to be surprised on that one. There was nothing forthcoming on that.

The other thing we asked for, the fifth thing we asked for, is the market analysis and all of the associated economic plans with regard to the market study. We all know, in assessing the financial stability or profitability of this project, we have to identify the markets early on. We know that we have to project where the power needs are going to be in this country or in North America within the next twenty-five to thirty-five years. If we are not doing that, then how are we going to develop a full market study and determine the financial feasibility of this project? We know that at this stage and this juncture if government is on top of this file at all they have the market analysis done and the study done into where their potential markets are going to be. We asked for the information. That information, in their open, transparent government that they have, was not forthcoming at all. In fact, they just like to throw innuendo back and forth across the House and not deal with it.

The sixth piece was on the study that the minister said was completed and showed that the Maritime route - and that is the route that comes down through the Coast of Labrador or across to the Labrador Straits, across the Strait of Belle Isle, down the Northern Peninsula, across the Gulf of St. Lawrence and ends up over in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia. Mr. Speaker, she indicated to me in the Estimates Committee that the Maritime route that was being looked at was both technically and economically feasible as it related to the Lower Churchill development project. It is not good enough to just say that, we want to see it. We want to see the study that was done on the Maritime route that shows us that technically it can be done and that it can be done economically.

When you look at economically, what does it mean, Mr. Speaker? Maybe they are going to amortize this project over thirty years to make it feasible, or economically feasible, to be done based upon that particular route. Maybe it means that if we were to go a different route, we could amortize the project over ten years and start seeing payout. The capital investment required would be lower. Saying it is economically feasible - but it is feasible to what ends? That is the piece that we are trying to get at; to what end.

I could say, Mr. Speaker, that buying a house that is $500,000 or $1 million on my salary is feasible but buying one at $250,000 is also more feasible, Mr. Speaker. It is more feasible because I can pay it off in twenty years as opposed to forty-five years. When you get someone saying to you that we have looked at the Maritime route and to bring the cable down to southern Labrador from the Lower Churchill and run it across under water-

MR. SPEAKER(Osborne): Order, please!

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

MS JONES: Just a few minutes to clue up, Mr. Speaker? I did not realize.

MR. SPEAKER: Does the member have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: Yes.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MS JONES: Thank you.

Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, to say bring the cable down, run it across The Strait of Bell Isle, run it down the Northern Peninsula, out the West Coast of Newfoundland, run it underground through the Gulf of St. Lawrence, land it somewhere in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia, where we know right now in New Brunswick the capacity is not there to transport the amount of power that can be generated from this project, is going to require extensive upgrades to the system there and then to run it into the New England states and the Eastern Seaboard. Mr. Speaker, maybe it is feasible to do, but feasible to what ends?

That is all we are asking. What will be the profit margin? What will be the pay out? What will be the amortization period used to make it feasible? That was the reason we were asking for the information. That was in one Question Period, in one set of questions. We asked government for six particular studies and agreements that they had referred to in the public and none of it was being tabled to us.

Mr. Speaker, the other issue that we raised around that project was the one to deal with the Innu Nation. Of course, the Premier true to form when he heard what Peter Penashue had to say from the Innu Nation, was right out there in the airways, Mr. Speaker, having a smack back at him, I think, like the Member for the Isle of Notre Dame likes to use. He took him on, Mr. Speaker. Well, he took on Peter Penashue too this week as he takes on every single individual who dares to speak out and challenge the government. Well, Peter Penashue is acting in the interest of the people he serves, and that is the Innu people in Labrador.

Mr. Speaker, it is alright for the Premier to go out and say we have to have redress on the Upper Churchill before there is a Lower Churchill deal negotiated. It is alright for him to do that, but it is not okay for the Innu to go out and say, we want to have redress on the Upper Churchill before there is a Lower Churchill agreement. I did not hear anybody in the Innu Nation say you have to cut me a check tomorrow to right the wrongs of forty years ago. No. Mr. Speaker, that is what negotiation is all about.

Mr. Speaker, when the Premier dealt with the issues raised by Mr. Penashue he was very blunt with his comments, and that is telling the Innu they should be treating them with respect and things like this. People have every right to demand what their expectations are of government. That is all that was happening here. If there was an opportunity to do a deal - and everyone knows this, everyone in Labrador knows this, and surely everyone in government knows this - that if you are going to get a deal on the Lower Churchill Project then you need to be able, Mr. Speaker, to negotiate with the groups that are going to be primarily impacted. The rest of the people in the Province will stand to gain the benefits but they will not have to suffer the consequences and the environmental consequences that come with projects of this magnitude, but the Innu people will have to, Mr. Speaker. The Innu people will have to and so will the Metis people, and so will the other people in Labrador, especially those who will be impacted by this development through the flooding of their lands, the destroying of the environmental aspects that they enjoy today, the hunting, the trapping and the logging industry in those particular areas. They have to be dealt with, Mr. Speaker.

I think the claim was a legitimate one that was being made by Peter Penashue. I am going to tell you, the comments from the Premier the other day as they relate to the Lower Churchill are very telling comments, Mr. Speaker. In my questioning, I questioned about the relationship with the federal government in which they talked about getting loan guarantees, in order to be able to do this project, from the feds, but there are no discussions on those fronts. I talked about the negotiations with the Innu and redress on the Upper Churchill, but we know how they felt about that. There is no movement there to secure a deal or a settlement in that regard, Mr. Speaker.

Then, Mr. Speaker, we talked about the wielding of the power or the transmitting of the power. Mr. Speaker, we soon found out that there was no information forthcoming on that.

When you have the Premier out there saying the chance of doing this deal is 50-50 at best, and you know that government is not doing anything to bring the feds on side to get the loan guarantees, to secure a deal with the Innu, to negotiate with the Metis and to be able to look at where the firm markets are to wield the power you start to wonder, Mr. Speaker, how far off the radar this actually fell with this government. You start to wonder how far off the radar it has fallen, because at one point this was their single, number one issue, and this was going to be the hallmark of that government, Mr. Speaker, and this was the deal that they were going to do.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Does the member still have leave?

MR. RIDGLEY: No.

MR. SPEAKER: The member's leave has expired.

MS JONES: Thank you, Mr. Speaker

I would just like to note that it was the Member for St. John's North who withdrew leave.

Thank you.

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

MR. COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted this evening to be able to rise in this House and make a contribution to the debate; the concurrence debate on the Social Services Committee Estimates.

Before I do, Mr. Speaker, I would like to join with my colleague from the Isles of Notre Dame in expressing my congratulations to the hon. Member from Torngat in her presentation tonight, the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. Obviously, from her comments and from the way she conducted herself, the needs of Northern Labrador, and indeed the Aboriginal community, are going to be well served.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. COLLINS: Mr. Speaker, I know we have a wide range, a wide latitude in the topics we can address in this debate, but today, in listening to the opposition members speaking in this concurrence debate, they took us on a political tour, Mr. Speaker; everything ranging from the fate of former members, the Member for Baie Verte-Springdale, the incidents of recent days and the fate of the Member who sat in this seat prior to my election. They criticized the Premier's style of leadership. It even went back to Confederation at one point; the hon. Opposition Leader. They talked about Open Line, a little commentary on the open line shows. They even addressed multi-tasking. The hon. Opposition Leader talked about her ability to multi-task. It was sort of anecdotal political history, Mr. Speaker, an odyssey of sorts, a journey through the political underworld, and I am wondering what it had to do with the Estimates.

The Leader of the Opposition in particular, Mr. Speaker, was very entertaining in her hour-long speech. I am beginning to think the ability to stand on one's feet and wax eloquently for an hour or more must be something you acquire as you grow in this job. It is a knack or a skill or an aptitude, I am sure, that you acquire with experience in this job.

I come from an educational background where in the classroom you had to say something worthwhile or there was no point of you being there. After that, I had a career in law where if you did not say something worthwhile the judge got you out of there in a hurry. So, I am having a job being able to fulfill the requirements of this position.

The Opposition Leader this afternoon was at her feisty best. We were worried over here for a while because since she took over as Leader of the Opposition she had been somewhat subdued, has not been herself. Last year in the session of the House - she sat where the hon. the Member for Port de Grave does now - she was at her fiery best every time she was on her feet. We missed that this year, but it came back this afternoon and we are delighted to see it.

She has the ability to go on, and reminds me somewhat of her former Colleague for the District of Grand Falls-Buchans who sat over there where the hon. Member for Conception Bay South sits now. She had an uncanny knack of going on for hours, saying nothing but could go on for hours. At one time she went on for six hours, someone tells me, on a Budget Debate. That must be a skill that you acquire in this business. I do not know if I am going to be around long enough to acquire that skill.

The reason I mentioned that is because this debate is on the Estimates, and we heard anything but Estimates. I will give her, her due, the hon. the Opposition Leader, she came back to task tonight, albeit in a more subdued manner. She came back tonight and spoke on issues that perhaps, in some way, might have had some vague connection to the Estimates. This afternoon, as I mentioned, it was a virtual audacity to the political underworld that was very entertaining, but had nothing to do whatsoever with Estimates.

This is from members who have spent hours and hours in an Estimates Committee going line by line examining estimates, but yet, in debate, could not find anything to criticize or debate when we got into debate on the Estimates. They have looked for breakdowns on spending, breakdowns for this year, breakdowns for last year and they went away with an undertaking to have more information. I do not know what they will ever do with it. No stone unturned to examine the Estimates in committee and today, in the debate, we heard nothing on it.

That to me, Mr. Speaker, is living proof - since they could not find anything to criticize all afternoon, that is living proof of the outstanding nature of this Budget, how great this Budget is, of how historic and outstanding this Budget is, unmitigated proof, conclusive proof, of the greatness of this Budget, that they found very little to come up with in terms of criticism. There are nine hours in this debate and if in the nine hours they only find that much to criticise, what an endorsement of this Budget. What an endorsement that would be. What an endorsement of this government. What an endorsement of this Premier. Nothing more needs to be said, Mr. Speaker, if that is all the criticism they can come up with of these estimates. Nothing more needs to be said. Their silence says it all.

Now, having said that, I have to be kind, I want to compliment the members opposite and the task that they have to do. The members opposite – now, there is a dividing line over there; not the ones to the right. I have to compliment them on the task that they do. When the Opposition Leader said today that she could multi-task, well that whole Opposition can multi-task. I compliment them on that, because they have to be ready for questioning in the House, they have to be ready to respond to ministerial statements, they have to be ready to go through all the estimates, and there are so few of them to do that job. The work ethic cannot be questioned. The diligence cannot be questioned. It is a tall task that they have; a tall task.

To quote the great Winston Churchill: never has so much been expected by so many from so few. So, hats off to the Opposition. They are not there by chance. The fact that they were elected in the wave of the blue tsunami that went through this place last October is a testimony to their standing in their districts. I have to give credit, Mr. Speaker, where credit is due. They are diligent soldiers.

It is good to see the Opposition Leader today being her feisty self and carrying on for an hour and entertaining us – little substance, but high entertainment, old time politics, nothing to do with estimates but good stuff.

Mr. Speaker, on the other hand I want to refer to the Estimates. I sat on the Social Services Estimates Committee, and I just want to recall a little incident. When we finished the estimates on education - I happened to chair that committee in the absence of the regular chair - the clerk turned to me and said: Do you realize that we just passed over a billion dollars' worth of estimates? Staggering figures! Education, $1,127,661,900 - I cannot even say the figures. Health and Community Services - we did that one too- $2,341,044,700. I do not know how they do it in the States. In the States they get into trillions. Mr. Finance Minister, I do not know if we could handle that.

MR. T. MARSHALL: We will get there.

MR. COLLINS: We will get there.

HRLE, $307 million plus the $4 million for Newfoundland and Labrador Housing; Municipal Affairs, we debated $241 million; and in Justice we debated $210 million. In our Estimates Committee alone, Mr. Speaker, we debated estimates of over $ 4 billion. What a staggering amount! Every time I cash my check I think on these figures and realize how relevant it all is.

I want to just go briefly through the various Estimates that we dealt with. We dealt with education. In Education, Mr. Speaker, we are talking about $1.1 billion. I want to make special reference to $88.8 million allocated this year for new school construction. I am very pleased, Mr. Speaker, to be able to say that a junk of that money is going to spent on a brand new state-of-the-art high school in Placentia, in my district.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. COLLINS: It has been a while since we built schools, this government or any government, in this Province, Mr. Speaker, so a lot of study and research and design work has gone into that, because this is sort of a template school for future building. There is an added component to this particular school in that Vale Inco contributed almost $2 million to enhance the development of that school. It made the design work a little bit more complicated because they had to incorporate almost $2 billion worth of extra money into the design. I am looking forward, Mr. Speaker, to tenders being called in the near future so that we can get moving on that this summer with the hope to reaching the target of our official opening September 2009.

There is another $3.56 million spent to increase teaching resources, $2.4 million to implement the recommendations of the ISSP and the Pathway's report, a further $27.2 million going into the public post-secondary system, continued tuition freezes and so on and on, and on and on the list goes.

There is one particular one I want to highlight and it does not match the figures that we just mentioned, but that is the area of pre-skilled trades in high school. That to me is one of the best investments, I think the greatest far-reaching investment, that this government is going to make. The future for our high school students – what a better time to graduate from high school than these times. I have, Mr. Speaker, if I might digress, attended numerous high school graduations in my day, and spoke at dozens of them, and it is always a challenge to find what message to give to high school graduates. We have heard all the clichés, and I am sure my colleague here from Grand Bank has done enough of it, and people here from education backgrounds. The old clichés come out at a high school graduation. You know, you are now going out into the world, and so on – you have heard so much of that - and the future is now opening up to you and the world is at your door. You hear so much of this stuff, and you always wonder how to come up with something new.

Well, there is no trouble to come up with something new now, Mr. Speaker, when I go to a high school graduation, because there is one simple message, these people are in the right spot at the right time. What a time to graduate from high school in this Province. There is $750 this year added to the upgrade in the high school fabrication suites, in support of the Futures in Skilled Trades and Technology program, and that is putting back into the high schools a program that was there, to a certain extent, years ago, when the high school students had an opportunity to get introduced to the skilled trades; a no better, no more important initiative than that today, Mr. Speaker, because that is where the future of most of our high school students is going to bet.

Not to in any way take away from university training, and university careers, and we will have them, but the emphasis is on skilled trades. This Province is going to need skilled trades. We started the movement, the initiative in this government, with my colleague, the hon. Member for St. John's North, in his chairing of the Skilled Trades Commission. The government, the department, has implemented the recommendations of that Commission, and we are on our way. We have to be on our way, we have no choice but to develop skilled trades' education in this Province. This initiative into the high school pre-skilled trades is a tremendously important initiative. I want to highlight that.

With regard to the Department of Human Resources, Labour & Employment, we debated the Estimates of that department, and the highlight, of course, of that department, in my estimation, is the anti-poverty component; $100 million this year in the anti-poverty component. That is the jewel in the crown, as far as I am concerned, of this government – leading the country, in terms of praise from various jurisdictions.

Mr. Speaker, I was impressed with the comments of the Premier on Victory Night at the Newfoundland Hotel, the Fairmont Hotel, when he said the focus of this government will be on a socialist agenda. It must be sweet news to the hon. Member from Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi. As I went around my district in the campaign, the people that I paid particular attention to were seniors because I had a big concern about seniors. With the great economic developments going to happen in this Province, nothing is going to go down, everything is going to go up, and I did not want the seniors to be left behind. My big concern was that the seniors would fall through the cracks, and those people on fixed incomes.

Mr. Speaker, this government, over the last two budgets, have been paying attention to just that. Fifteen million dollars this year going to seniors; $1.4 million going to improve housing especially for seniors; and $15 million, as I mentioned, going to fund initiatives to meet the needs of seniors and others who require long-term care in community support services. That is in addition to the improvements of the drug prescription program, access to housing and so on. The socialist agenda dealing with those most vulnerable people who are needy, who need it most, this government is paying attention to that. I am delighted with that.

We move on to Municipal Affairs, which is another Estimates Committee, another department, we debated. I am only going to make one mention of the issues in Municipal Affairs and that is the cost-sharing ratio on infrastructure projects. That is the greatest news we ever heard in the small communities in this Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. COLLINS: Mr. Speaker, I had nineteen years in municipal politics, sixteen of them as mayor, and I know what it means to these communities to have that kind of a cost-shared ratio on the books. The government listened, listened to councilors and listened to mayors. They listened - $84 million for all types of infrastructure projects this year. I say, hats off to the minister. Great job! Well done!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. COLLINS: Health and Community Services Estimates was another we debated; $2.3 billion. We are not going to get into the details of that department, but I do want to thank the minister. A few months ago the ultrasound machine broke down in the health care centre in Placentia. There was a great concern in the medical fraternity there because it is an important tool in diagnosis and something they could not do without. After a conversation with the minister, and approach to the minister, within twenty-four hours we had a commitment from the minister and Eastern Health to have it replaced. Within a month there was a new ultrasound machine back in place. I want to thank the minister for that.

Speaking of the minister, what a job this guy has! Talk about multi-tasking. What a job this guy has! What a job this guy is doing!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. COLLINS: You know, if anything ever happened to that minister, there is a lot of talent on this side of the House. The Premier has a pleasant situation. He has a lot of people to draw from, myself excluded. I will not take any credit. He has a lot of people to draw from, but I do not know who he could get, Mr. Speaker, who would replace the job that this minister is doing.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. COLLINS: He gives the Speaker fits in answering his questions. He needs nine hours concurrence debate in answering question instead of forty-five seconds, but he does a great job.

Another committee in Estimates we did was Justice. Mr. Speaker, if ever the justice system in this Province needed an injection, if ever it needed a breath of fresh air, if ever it needed a kick in the you know what, then our new Justice Minister is just what the doctor ordered.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. COLLINS: Those of us who knew him in his former life know what he is like. The justice system certainly knows what he is like. We always said he was saucy but we were being kind. What an impression he has made in such a short time. The brand new rookie crashed out of the starting line-up with no time at all in the minors. He did a great job. The justice system will never be the same after this minister is finished with it.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. COLLINS: To clue up, Mr. Speaker, just a few other highlights that we did not address in our committee but I thought needed to be highlighted because they need to be repeated and repeated and repeated. The tax off insurance, a tremendous initiative: reduction in fees especially motor vehicle registrations and personal income tax, all putting money back in the pockets of taxpayers.

There is a little item in that. You will have to look for it in the Budget highlights but it is there, not very much money $650,000, and it is for the volunteer and non-profit sector. My congratulations to this Premier for recognizing the importance of the volunteer sector in this Province. It is a tremendous initiative to set up a special component of a department dealing with that. It is only $650,000 but it is a great step, a great initiative.

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker - I only have a short time left. My time is up. Do I have leave for a couple of minutes to clue up, Mr Speaker?

MR. SPEAKER: Does the member have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: Yes.

MR. COLLINS: Mr. Speaker, a couple of days after the Budget came down I recall reading The Globe and Mail, and what an experience it was to see on the second or third page of The Globe and Mail two big articles. The first article explained the economic woes of the Province of Ontario, and right next to it, the economic direction up of the Province of Newfoundland. What a turnaround! The Premier's comments in there, that we are willing to help with our weaker sisters when the time comes, that was the coup de grâce.

I went to law school at the University of Ottawa, and I spent three years there; a great city. I loved the experience. Most of the people there were from Ontario. Their vision of Canada ended with the Ottawa River because on the other side of the Ottawa River was Quebec. They knew that somewhere beyond Quebec was Eastern Canada. They said to me: Oh, you are from down East. I said: Yes. They said: I was down east one time. I said: Where did you go? Fredericton. That was their concept of Canada.

What a turnaround today we have with the direction the Province is going. Now that is not to say – Ontario will always be the center of Canada, there is no doubt about that. They might think they are the center of the universe, but they will be the center of Canada for some time. It is such an experience to see where we have come from.

What a Budget, Mr. Speaker! Most finance ministers, I would think, would ask themselves: Do I spend more? Do I cut services? Do I pay off debt? Do I invest? What do we do with money? Well here is a finance minister who not only has record spending, not only has a record payment on the debt, not only has a record surplus, but a record, period, on all counts. What a turnaround!

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. COLLINS: Equalization payments this year were $18 million. Next year we come off equalization. What a future! He always makes such he couches the proper language: prudent investment; prudent spending; and prudent decisions. That is what got us where we are.

It is a testimony to a great team lead by a great leader with unprecedented vision, unprecedented passion and unprecedented determination. Next year should be the biggest party this Province ever experienced. The sky is the limit! Masters of our destiny, masters of our House, upward and onward!

Thank you very much.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

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

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

I am very pleased to be able to speak this evening during the concurrence discussion under the Social Services Committee. It has been an interesting couple of weeks, almost three weeks now. Being the only person representing the Third Party in the House I had quite a time because I attended thirteen of the Estimates meetings, and with the small staff that I have and myself, was able, I hope, to have brought an informed presence to those meetings and asked questions that were helpful questions. I hope I had a presence that overall was beneficial to everybody, because that is my goal here.

I am very happy now tonight to be able to bring some of those discussions to a conclusion. It might be the only time that I get to speak in Concurrence. It might not, we will see. I think it is important that I do it and I am happy to be on my feet.

It was hard to figure out where to start and I decided today to pick up the Budget Highlights. Lo and behold, I got my inspiration for how to start what I wanted to say tonight. It is right at the very top, the first page, under The Economy. When we look at the economic performance for 2007 and see these highlights that on the surface look great, personal income growth of 4.3 per cent and personal disposable income growth of 5 per cent - that looks really, really good. When I read that I think about the fact, number one, that that is an average, that there are an awful lot of people for whom the 4.3 per cent growth in personal income is not a reality.

I know that there are members in the House who, when I get up and speak this way, say that I am being negative, but I say that my responsibility is to bring to this House the reality of people's lives.

We all know that a lot of people are benefiting from our new found wealth in this Province. We all know that middle income people and up are doing better. But, we have a responsibility and the government has a responsibility for everybody in the Province, not just for the people who already have or the people who have the resources to do better. The government has a responsibility for everybody. When I look at our personal disposable income growth of 5 per cent I think of the people in our Province who have no disposable income. That is not 100, it is not 200, it is not 1,000, it is thousands of people in this Province who have no disposable income. Every cent that comes in goes out in survival. They cannot save, they cannot look to the future because they have no disposal income. They cannot buy luxury items, they are going to food banks, they have no disposable income. My disposal income probably went up by 5 per cent, but I know too many people who have no disposal income. When I look at the Budget I am looking at it from the perspective of those people.

When I look at the Estimates, for example - let's just choose one estimate - I look over to the estimate under Income Assistance, under Human Resources, Labour and Employment, and I see that the allowances and assistance under income support only went up by under $200,000. Why is that? Because, all we do for people who are on income support is index what they are getting. What they getting is keeping them in poverty. We just index that. We do not have any plan for a major increase in what they are getting on income support. People who are on income support, who were on it last year, who are on this year, and who will be on it next year can take for granted that they are not going to see a 4.3 per cent in their personal income because the index was much less than that. They are certainly not going to see an increase in disposable income because they have no disposable income and they are not going to be anywhere near having disposable income.

When I read this line in the Budget Highlight that is who I think about. I think about the pensioners who are living on fixed income and public pensioners who are on a pension that has them living in poverty. That is who I think about when I read this and I know that they did not have a 4.3 per cent increase in their personal income. I think about people who are working for minimum wage and who are waiting another two years before that will even go up to $10 an hour, which, by the time it goes up - I have said this before in the House and I will say it again - to $10 it is not going to be worth the $10 of today. They are not looking at a 4.3 per cent increase. That little increase they got is not 4.3 per cent of their income. Neither has their disposable income gone up. That is who I think about when I think about this line here, about our personal income going up.

When I look at that, when I read that, I think about the single parents, the single women who are out there with two and three children, who are trying to work, who have insufficient childcare subsidies and who are trying to make ends meet. Believe me, their personal income did not go up by 4.3 per cent this year, and neither has their disposable income gone up, because they have no disposable income.

What upsets me is that my colleagues in the House can acknowledge that these situations exist, and then say that it is alright that we have a system that is not taking care of these needs. I believe we have a basic flaw in most of our systems, whether we are talking about our drug care program, whether we are talking about housing needs, when we talk about people needing medical supplies, when we talk about homecare, no matter what it is that we talk about. We have systems that are flawed, because there is always somebody who is on the edge, who is in need and for whom the system is not working.

What I have heard here in the House, which really distresses me – and I mean that very sincerely when I hear it. When I hear a minister respond to me that he or she knows that there are these people who are in desperate need and the system is not working for them, but they are going to have to wait another one or two years before the system might work for them, that really distresses me, because the system should work for everybody who is in need.

If we are talking about homecare, anybody who needs it should be getting it. If we are talking about drug cards, anybody who needs it should be getting it. If we are talking about medical supplies, for example, for patients with diabetes, anybody who needs it should be getting it. The fact that these people are not getting it is very interesting to me, and the fact that my colleagues in the House can say, that is alright, really upsets me.

I heard a very interesting thing on open line this morning, and I am going to quote it because it does pertain directly to what I am talking about here and it does pertain to the budget. There was a person on open line who talked about the people falling between the cracks, and the host of open line made a very interesting comment, and I am going to quote him. I will not say it without giving him the credit, because it really made me think when he said it. He said: They are not falling between the cracks. He said: Don't you understand, the system is not just working for them. I thought: that is really good. They may be falling between the cracks but they are cracks that the system actually creates.

So that, the senior citizens who cannot get home care, they are falling between a crack that the system creates. The way the system is working, the fact that the assessment that they have to go through is based on their gross income instead of on net income, if you are going to do that kind of assessment, the very fact that there is assessment based on income means that they cannot get home care. It means, probably in some cases, they cannot get a drug card. That means that we have a flawed system.

When I have looked at systems, for example, around drug care and drug cards and home care in other parts of Canada - and I am not just talking about the so-called have provinces, I am not just talking about Ontario. I looked at all of the provinces, and most of them, Alberta included, have provisions. That is the kind of thing that we need. For example, even where there is co-pay for something - and this is true in home care in particular, and this is one I am really sure about - that even when there is co-pay there is still a clause; co-pay if you can pay. In other words, if there is somebody who cannot afford the co-pay it is not forced on them, they get the home care. They are assessed and the need is covered. That is what we do not have here in our Province and that is what really bothers me.

That is why, for example, when the Minister of Health and Community Services has stood time after time after time, when I raise the issue of home care and when I talk about people who cannot access it because they are just outside, and cannot he see that as an emergency that needs to be taken care of, neither in his mentality nor within the regulations that are inside our system does there seem to be any room to recognize that we cannot say no if people are in need. Yet, that is what we are doing and that is what I cannot understand, especially when we have the income that we have now, when we have the revenue that we have now.

When I was going through the Estimates, and I certainly did not have the resources to do this, I was looking - of course, this is probably part of the surplus number - I was looking at all of the places where money did not get spent last year for all kinds of different reasons. All the reasons were legitimate. All the reasons seemed very legitimate. It was not something I could say, oh, that is terrible. When I looked at all of the money that did not get spent and I thought about the people who were in need in the Province and could not get their drug card and could not get home care and could not afford child care because the amount of money went up and their assistance did not go up, their subsidies did not go up for them, and then I saw all the money that did not get used, that was very disturbing for me. I suppose a lot of that money is part of that surplus. We are going to have that surplus again next year and we are going to have it again the year after. I question the mentality of maintaining surpluses to the degree that we are maintaining them. I understand having surplus, I do not understand having it to the degree that we have it, not when we have people in need. That is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for me with how this government is doing its financial planning.

I have had people on the government side stand and sort of hint that I do not know what I am talking about, hint that I do not understand budgets, hint that I do not understand financial planning. I understand all of that and I have experience in all of it. I also know, as you know, that there are different ways of looking at planning economically, that there are different philosophies, there are different economic philosophies. Obviously, those in government and myself, there is a divide between us. I do know that there are economists out there who one would consider to be not radical economists who would say that we have enough revenue in this Province right now to improve our social programs, to put money down on the debt and to have a balanced budget.

MR. T. MARSHALL: That is exactly what we did.

MS MICHAEL: No. We did not put enough down, Mr. Minister, this is the problem, not while we have people in need the way I have described. We are not putting enough money into our social programs.

It is disgraceful that our Income Support only went up by $200,000 when we have so many people living in poverty on Income Support. When I think of a young woman in her thirties who right now is completely disabled, both physically and also emotionally, who cannot work and all she can get from HRLE is $600 a month, if she did not have a family who could help her out and give her some money, how could she possibly live? That is not acceptable.

We also have a system that is alienating people. I did not talk about this in the Estimates meeting, but I knew I would talk about it when I stood in the whole House. I should have asked, maybe, in the Estimates meeting: What kind of evaluation has been done with regard to how the new system inside of HRLE is working, with regard to people on Income Support?

The stories that I am getting from people – and I am getting them fairly regularly – is that the whole system of having to deal with a phone line, which you can call for hours before you can actually get through to somebody, and when you finally get through to somebody you still are not getting the help that you need, that this has become very alienating for people who are on Income Support.

We have really created something that is causing them extra stress, and what we have to think about is our responsibility for that, because it is bad enough being on Income Support. That itself is stressful enough, because you are there for a reason. You cannot work for some reason or other. There is a reason why you cannot work. That is stressful enough. Then, when you have to meet a system where you cannot see a human being face to face – you go to an office and you deal with phones, and if you do get to see a human being once, that is about it, and then you just have to deal with people on the phones, and you feel like you are not a human being, you feel like you are only a number. That is very alienating, and adds to the stress that people on Income Support are feeling.

This is serious. This is not a joke, this is not making up, this is reality. I guess I should have asked the minister – I am sorry he is not here right now – I should have asked him in Estimates, what is it –

MS BURKE: Point of Order.

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

MS BURKE: As we notice, Mr. Speaker, it is not parliamentary to mention that the member is not here.

MR. SPEAKER: Yes. I remind the member that we cannot refer to members a being absent from the House. It is unparliamentary.

MS MICHAEL: Yes. I apologize.

I have forgotten my train of thought now.

I am sorry that I did not ask in Estimates about evaluation of the system, because the word I am getting, especially here in St. John's, and I suspect it is true in rural communities as well, I do not know, but I know here in St. John's the word I am getting is that people on Income Support feel totally alienated by the system that is now in place with regard to dealing with people, because it is inhuman. They do not feel like that they are being treated as human beings. They feel absolutely frustrated.

I know one person, for example, who finally, through days on the phone of trying to talk to people, got some income support approved. The person was still confused about what, really, she was going to get, and she asked, could I have an explanation of what it is I am getting?

What did she receive? She received two cheques; neither cheque had any explanation on it of what the cheques were covering, and she had specifically asked: I am really not sure; will I receive something explaining all of this to me?

So she had to get on the phone again, spend two days on the phone again, trying to get through to somebody to get an explanation.

She came to us – and this is a fact, this is what we have to realize; these things are happening - she finally received a letter and the letter had the signature of her case manager on it. There was no name written, just a signature, and it was absolutely impossible to figure out what the name was, absolutely impossible. There was a phone number printed underneath, and the number was printed in such a way that I could not make out what the phone number was. We had to get my constituency assistant to phone our contact in HRLE, give her this person's number, and say: Can you please find out for us who the case manager is and what that person's phone number is?

That is the kind of thing that people are experiencing – and we don't have enough money to put more money into income assistance? There is something wrong. Don't make fun of me with this kind of an example. These examples are repeated over and over; repeated over and over. These are the people we have to take care of. Our system has to work for these people. You may think these people do not vote and it does not matter if we take care of them. They do vote, and we have to be sure that the system if working for them.

That is what concerns me, and I will continue to be concerned by that, and I will continue to be distressed by that, and I will continue to speak to it, because I continue to have people every day say to me: Please continue saying in the House what you are saying.

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

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

MS MICHAEL: If I may just clue up, please?

MR. SPEAKER: Does that member have leave?

AN HON. MEMBER: By leave.

MR. SPEAKER: By leave.

MS MICHAEL: So, I will continue saying what I am saying; because, as I said, people who voted for me, people in my district, people who are not in my district and who did not vote for me, have said to me: What you are saying is important.

That is why I am here. That is why we have more than one political party in the House, so that we can bring all of the realities together, that we can challenge one another and hopefully, as we continue doing our work, we are going to, more and more, be doing better work for the people who right now are not being taken care of.

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SPEAKER: The hon. the Member for Grand Bank.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am certainly pleased to rise this evening and have a few words on our deliberations on the Estimates Committee.

I, myself, sat on the Social Services Committee and I would like to first of all start out, as my colleague a few minutes ago did, by recognizing that we were engaged with the Departments of Education; Municipal Affairs; Human Resources, Labour and Employment; Justice; and Health, with in excess of $4.2 billion, Mr. Speaker.

I want to make a couple of comments. First of all, to say thanks to all those who served on the committee with me, but I also want to acknowledge the preparedness of the ministers and staff who presented themselves at the committee. It was a thoroughly enjoyable opportunity for me. They were certainly very well prepared, and all of the ministers whose presence I was in certainly displayed great knowledge of their departments and what they were doing.

Before I move on, I would like to also acknowledge Minister Pottle who gave her maiden tonight, who certainly gave a -

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, who gave –

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

I remind the hon. member not to refer to the minister by her name.

MR. KING: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Minister Responsible for Aboriginal Affairs, who gave her maiden speech this evening, did a fine job and certainly is doing a fine job in this House.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: She certainly does a fine job in caucus and in this House representing her constituents.

As well, I would certainly be remiss if I did not point out the enjoyment I had for the feisty and animated speech of the hon. Member for the Isles of Notre Dame, who certainly also gave a wonderful speech here this evening and I want to compliment him.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: Mr. Speaker, I would also like to just mention for a moment comments from Your Honour there relative to a few comments from the Leader of the Opposition. I think you said that they found him high on entertainment and low on substance.

I have an aunt, Mr. Speaker, one of my favourite aunts - I hope she is not watching - but my uncle tends to say that once she gets on a rant she never lets facts get in the way of a good story. I tend to think we see a lot of that here in the House from the Leader of the Opposition.

I want to take off on a couple of things, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the Opposition made a statement that I would like to just touch on for a moment: that in her experiences thus far from this government - and to quote, I think, or should I say paraphrase - we haven't seen the prize yet. The Province is seeing revenues from the oil and other projects but we haven't seen the prize.

What I would like to do is take a few moments to talk about my own district, Mr. Speaker, because I think the people in the District of Grand Bank probably are having trouble with their vision, or something, because they have certainly seen the prize. At least that is the feedback that I am getting from the Budget. I would like to touch on a couple of pieces, if I might, and I am going to categorize them in two ways, Mr. Speaker. One that I am going to talk about, I will call putting money back in the pockets of constituents.

I will touch on a couple of things, because clearly the feedback I am getting from my constituents, as I travel to the district every single week when the House closes, is that people are happy with many of the initiatives that we have taken in the last Budget and the last couple of Budgets. Of course, one of the most recent would be the elimination of tax on insurance.

Mr. Speaker, that is a significant investment. My district is primarily a fishing district, a lot of inshore fishermen who pay high taxes on their boats, in addition to all those who own homes and automobiles, and the elimination of tax on insurance is a significant influx of cash into the pockets of people and constituents of mine, Mr. Speaker.

The other couple of pieces I would like to touch upon with respect to money in people's pockets, of course, we have once again reduced income tax. We have reduced income tax for people in the Province, and that means real money, real savings of money for people; money that they will not be paying out in taxes to government; money that they will not have to budget out of their revenues, and they will have to factor in to more spending.

Also, Mr. Speaker, with respect to money in people's pockets, we have increased the Seniors' Benefit, the Seniors' Benefit for singles. Just last evening, Mr. Speaker, I had a call from a gentleman in my district who just became aware of that, and explained very clearly to me that it was a tremendous benefit to him. He is living alone and is certainly finding struggles, like many people, to deal with financial hardships. I am very pleased with that announcement.

The second piece, Mr. Speaker, I would like to touch upon with respect to that item is what I would call the quality of life issues. There are a number of initiatives announced in the last Budget in particular that build upon announcements in previous Budgets, that I believe will significantly enhance the quality of life for people in my district. I will touch on one of the ones that have been mentioned many times tonight, that I think will have a number of significant impacts, and that was the announcement, of course, by my colleague, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, relative to the municipal infrastructure program.

In the first instance, Mr. Speaker, municipalities in my district – all municipalities will qualify for the ninety-ten cost-share ratio, which is significant. What that will do, Mr. Speaker, is a number of things. First of all, it will cost considerably less money for communities in my district to invest in projects that will allow them to improve the infrastructure in their communities, to improve water and sewer services, to improve roads in the district, and that, Mr. Speaker, will improve the quality of life for people in the communities.

The other thing, though, Mr. Speaker, it will do, it frees up money that communities would have previously invested into these projects so they can use it for other things: for firefighting, for recreation commissions and recreation programs, swimming pools, arenas, and all kinds of other things that add to the quality of life in those communities.

Mr. Speaker, I say that was a great announcement by the minister and I thank him for that.

I say to the minister, who is here this evening, that those thanks are coming from all the mayors in my communities that I met with last week, and it was echoed by every single community. I was asked to pass that along to the minister, that is was a good news announcement.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: A second issue for me around the quality of life, Mr. Speaker, is certainly the announcement by another colleague of mine, the Minister of Transportation. My district in particular received $2.5 million, which is significantly more than we have gotten in the last five or six years combined, I believe, Mr. Speaker, and it is going to mean a huge difference for the travelling public. We have a lot of commuters in my district who travel regularly back and forth from all parts, to Marystown in particular, and to other places such as Grand Bank and St. Lawrence, who work in the fishery and travel from small communities.

This is going to be a significant investment and it is a part, from my perspective, of a four year plan. As I said to the minister in our many discussions about this, in my advocating to her for the needs of my district, to try and address those, we have a four year plan and, like everyone else, we will probably never get to meet all of the needs that exist; but, Mr. Speaker, I say to you this evening that $2.5 million will go a significantly long ways in improving the quality of life and the roads in my district, and what people have to face on a daily, and it will assist in improving, for health and safety reasons, those roads that buses travel over transporting our children.

Another issue that is significant around the quality of life, Mr. Speaker, for me is heath care, as it is for all of us. I think most members in the House who have been speaking during this session always have something to say about health care.

Mr. Speaker, one of the probably biggest issues in my district over the last number of years has been the Grand Bank health care centre and our desire and need and push to replace that. I have to thank the Premier, Mr. Speaker - and that is not in this particular Budget, because we started that process perhaps two years ago - but I have to say thank you to the Premier because the Premier was in my district, along with a number of previous Ministers of Health and current ministers who are in other portfolios, and this government has announced the completion of the facility. In this Budget, the Minister of Finance included the final allocation of funds that will see, for us – hopefully with an opening some time early fall – an opening of a brand new Grand Bank health care centre and a totally refurbished Blue Crest Nursing Home, which has been the home for sixty long-term care patients. Coupled with that, I say thank you to the Minister of Health because, as part of that project, we have reopened ten beds in the St. Lawrence long-term health care facility as well.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: It is certainly great news in health care, and there are many other things that have happened at the Burin Peninsula centre, including, of course, the dialysis unit that we opened just last fall, prior to Christmas. There is a digital mammography unit going to be installed there, and many other good things happening with that facility that serves all of the residents on the Burin Peninsula, so I certainly want to pay tribute to that.

As well, from my own personal background, education has always been front and centre for me. I spent twenty years or so in the profession, and I certainly have the great opportunity right now to work with the current Minister of Education as her parliamentary secretary. While all of the good things in education over the past have not occurred in this particular Budget, they do need to be mentioned.

Certainly, the two biggest ones this year that do have a great impact on my district, where we have a number of very small schools, is the new allocation model for allocating teaching resources to schools, and the new process, the ISSP process, and the outcomes of that review which will see us have an enhanced delivery of special services and student support services to those students who need extra services and supports in the school system.

I say to you, Mr. Speaker, as somebody who has worked in the system for a long time, and worked with school boards for an extremely long time, those are two issues that we have been advocating for constantly on a yearly basis, so I am extremely pleased to have been part of the department, with the minister, and to see that brought forward and accepted in this particular Budget. I know, I have heard already, that it will make a significant difference to my schools.

Of course, the secretarial allocation announced this year as well will provide a greater presence in most of my schools, and a greater opportunity for teachers and administrators to avail of the support of secretaries. That also is an issue that school boards have been asking for, for quite some time.

Of course, over the last number of years, as members would know, we have made significant investments not only into the school maintenance budget where we brought it beyond where it was before the previous government, the previous Administration opposite, reduced it to ninety-two cents a square foot right now. We have also invested significantly in not only new school facilities but major construction and renovations.

Mr. Speaker, having said a couple of those points, I just want to go back once again to a couple of comments made by the Leader of the Opposition. The second comment that I noted was that, in talking about the increased revenues of this government, and in talking about some of the decisions that we made in the budgetary process, the leader remarked - and I will say it as a paraphrase, because I may get it wrong, but I think it said something like – at least when we were in government we maintained services.

Mr. Speaker, I will submit that the leader is probably right, and I will grant her that; we certainly have not maintained services on this side of the House. We have enhanced services in this Province in every aspect.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: In health, education and social services, we have enhanced services. I can touch on many aspects of that and I probably will in a few moments, Mr. Speaker, if time permits, but I certainly say to the member opposite that we have not maintained services; we have enhanced services, and every minister who has talked about their department on this side of the House, Mr. Speaker, I think has clearly indicated a vision of where we want to go, as a government, and that includes further enhancing services. It does not talk about maintaining or reducing services, let me say that to you.

One of the things, Mr. Speaker, one of my colleagues talked about a few moments ago, was about new experiences in the House, and things you observe. I guess we have all, those of us who have been elected for the first time, are having new experiences here.

One of the things that I observed very similar in this House to my previous occupation, when I worked with the school board, I use the term armchair critics. I have always said this: any time any of us are put in leadership positions, whether it is serving out in the public in non-elected positions or whether you are in here and you are serving as the elected representative of your district, I have always said, Mr. Speaker, and I maintain this, that the easiest job in the world is to be an armchair critic, because you have nothing to do but to sit back and pass judgement on those who are making decisions - like has been done over the last couple of days for a number of ministers in this House, and the Premier, and other members of caucus - nothing to do but sit back and pass judgement, and in most cases, Mr. Speaker, in my experiences, passing judgement with perhaps less than 10 per cent of knowledge of what really happened in a particular situation.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: The other comment, Mr. Speaker, I will bring out, that my uncle likes to use when my aunt gets rambling, he also likes to say she is rather reckless with the truth.

I submit to you that there is a bit of recklessness in this House from time to time when it comes to sharing stories – on the other side of the House and on the left side of the other side of the House might I say, Mr. Speaker. Not on the right side of the House; on the left side of the House.

I certainly want to say, Mr. Speaker, as I talk about the armchair critics and I talk about a number of the issues that we faced over the last number of weeks and perhaps number of days, Mr. Speaker, I certainly want to say a couple of things. Number one, my experience has been very positive. My experience with the Premier and Cabinet and caucus has been one of collaboration and consultation. It has been one where I have certainly felt very included in discussions. I feel tough decisions have had to be made in certain instances and they continue to be made. For those of us who are not always privy to the information, if you want to make a real informed observation, it is very difficult to do unless you are totally aware of the facts.

I will say, Mr. Speaker, I am new to the House, so I do not know how often it has happened. I will say to her credit, that I am not sure many ministers have stood in this House like the Minister of Transportation and said that, I believe I made a mistake and I would like to fix it. I give her credit for that, because I know she has taken a lot of criticism.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: I know she has taken a lot of criticism, Mr. Speaker, but I certainly want to lend my support to her, as well as the Minister of Municipal Affairs, who has taken some criticism. I submit to you that these ministers are doing what they believe is right and they are working together as a team with the rest of us.

I also want to, in my short time left, Mr. Speaker, pick up on a couple of things. The Leader of the NDP made a few statements that I would like to just elaborate on for a couple of moments, or perhaps react to is a better way to put it. One of the statements I noted there was, it is alright that we have a system that is not taking care of needs; suggesting that government believes it is alright that we have a system that is not taking care of needs. I have said this before, Mr. Speaker, in this House and I am going to say it again: some members ought to realize that there is not a monopoly on caring for people in this Province. There is not a monopoly on that

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: I did not get elected, Mr. Speaker, on the promise that I was going to reduce services and say to heck with people in my district. That is not what I campaigned on. Members who want to stand in the House and stand on platitudes and feel that they can claim that moral high ground ought to realize that. There are forty-eight members in this House and while there might be different visions about where we are going and different roads to get there, Mr. Speaker, we all got elected on a premise that we want to do what is right and proper for the Province.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: Let me just say a couple of things, because a question was raised that did not get answered. I want to raise the question and I want to just say a couple of things. The question was, in the context of the first statement: what have you done? That was the question, as I recollect it, Mr. Speaker, and I will say paraphrase because I do not know if I am allowed to quote. I am something like the Justice Minister, I am not quite used to the decorum or protocols here yet, so I tend to go off sometimes.

Let me talk about a couple of things. I do not want to get the Justice Minister riled up, so I better move on. Let me say a couple of things, Mr. Speaker, about that question; what have we done. I am going to quote some things, probably, that many of my colleagues have said. Let us talk about what we have done in the last couple of years. If you want to talk about the social side of things, if you want to talk about what we have done to support families, low-income families and families that are struggling to survive, I wonder, does the fact that we eliminated the cost of textbooks for schools help that, Mr. Speaker? Do you think it did?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: What about those families who no longer have to pay fees for students to go to school, Mr. Speaker?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: What about the gentleman who called me last night and said thank you, and say it to the Minister of Finance, because I am a senior, I am single and now I get a double benefit.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: Or the enhanced drug plan that we have seen tremendous improvements on over the last couple of years. I wonder, do you think that has enhanced the quality of life for some of those people? I pose the question.

Another, perhaps, small one, Mr. Speaker - but I am going to say this one and I am going to point it out to the Minister of Finance, because this is one we are all proud of. It did not take a lot of money, Mr. Speaker, but we announced in this Budget, through the Minister of Finance, improvements in the Opening Doors programs.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: I know in my district one disabled young man who today is working. Yesterday he was not working, he was on social assistance and did not want to be there, and today he is working.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

AN HON. MEMBER: What is his name?

MR. KING: His name, Mr. Speaker, is Tony Ducey, a friend to all of us.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite, the NDP Leader, talked about our responsibility to the Province, and living up to our responsibility. Let me say this to you, let me say this to the members in this House, we have a huge responsibility, Mr. Speaker, because our responsibility is to manage the affairs of the Province, and that includes managing the debt and it includes investing in social programs and social services. I submit to you, that is what we have done over the last four to five years since we have been in power and we have been the government of this Province, Mr. Speaker.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: With leave in advance, if you do not mind me asking, Mr. Speaker, let me say this to you: When the member opposite stands up and points across to this side of the House, Mr. Speaker, and says this is no joke, let me say to you, sir, as I say to everybody watching this evening, nobody over here takes this as a joke. We take our jobs very seriously in this House and every single thing that we do.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. KING: Mr. Speaker, none of us take this as a joke. We take our jobs very seriously and we are doing the best that we can for this Province. I submit to you that we are getting great vision from the Premier and we are getting great leadership from Cabinet and caucus.

I will close with that.

Thank you.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. SPEAKER: Order please!

The hon. the Member for Port de Grave.

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

I had the great privilege a few minutes ago to call a couple of constituents. They were wondering what we were doing in the House at this hour in the night. I tried to explain to them this is what you call a hobnail system, hobnailed boots. What happens, Mr. Speaker - and I will explain it to the general public out there - this usually happens at the ending of a session each and every year, I guess. It happened under the former Administration when the boys were in Opposition. I see some of them laughing now. They used to carry this on for a while. It is a thing that happens, Mr. Speaker - I mean we understand that we have to have business, there is so much business to be done and we have to be here a certain time to do it. We all know there was an election back in October and the House met for the first time on, I think it was March 10. That is why we are doing this now, Mr. Speaker. The summer season is coming up on us, we are all anxious to get out and do what we have to do over the summer months, so we have to spend a bit of time here tonight and no doubt we will do the same thing Monday night, probably Tuesday night and again on Thursday night. Whatever it takes to get this done is why we are here sitting late in the nights.

I cannot help but mention a couple of comments that my hon. colleague from the Isles of Notre Dame made today, and I understand where he was coming from. He had an excellent speech, I admit that, had a good speech, but he went into saying two or three things about how the Premier dealt with two or three other individuals. The first one he named was Paul Martin. I mean anyone in Newfoundland, any organization in Newfoundland, could have gotten that money from Paul Martin because he wanted to try to hang on to his minor government that he had in Ottawa.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. BUTLER: The other gentleman he mentioned, Mr. Speaker, was Paul McCartney. The only thing that came out of the deal between the Premier and Paul McCartney is that Paul lost Heather and the sealers lost the Hakapik. That is the only thing I saw that came from it.

Mr. Speaker, with regards to the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, I guess school is still out on that one and we will wait to see what happens. We all want to see a good relationship with Ottawa and what is best for this Province to come our way, Mr. Speaker.

The hon. member mentioned the millions of dollars that are coming into the Province and rightly so, but he did not go far enough to explain where most of it comes from. I do not think that was intentional, Mr. Speaker. I do not think that for a minute. We all know, through the Budget, we were advised through Estimates and everything else, that 27 per cent, I think, of the Budget comes from the federal government in one form or another. Mr. Speaker, we know there was so much money that came from the Paul Martin deal and it went to a good cause, it went into the pension fund. The rest of the money that we enjoy now, each and every district is getting a portion of it. I am glad I am getting so much from the Minister of Municipal Affairs and from the Minister of Transportation and other ministers and hopefully there are things that will happen in my district through education.

Mr. Speaker, we have to realize that the funding that we enjoy today, a great majority of it, comes from projects that were started by former administrations of all political stripes. We have to realize that.

 

I think my hon. colleague for Grand Bank mentioned an individual, and he mentioned his name so I guess there is nothing wrong with me mentioning it. I am going to miss the e-mails now from Mr. Ducey. He has gone to work. We will probably miss our e-mails and I am sure we will probably miss him on the open line shows.

AN HON. MEMBER: Congratulate him.

MR. BUTLER: Oh, guaranteed! I will congratulate the gentleman.

 

Mr. Speaker, I want to go back to where I finished the last time I was up with regards to the health care, because we know we are debating the concurrence now on the Social Services Committee. There were four committees that I happened to be sitting on and met through this committee: Education; Municipal Affair; Human Resources, Labour and Employment, which included Newfoundland and Labrador Housing. Three, I am sorry! I have to say they were excellent meetings.

I do not agree with what my hon. colleague said here today, that personal attacks took place at the Estimates. I cannot speak for other Estimates, but I do not think there were any personal attacks from the ones that I was involved in, from any members. Each and every minister and their officials did what has to be done. They answered the questions to the best of their ability. Like I said earlier today, sometimes you do not get the answers that you want.

When it comes to health care, I did not sit in on that particular one but I want to conclude on some of the issues with regards to the health care. We are very pleased that there is so much money going into health care this year to take care of the many problems that we have in this Province.

My mind takes me back to when this government - some of the members were there in the Opposition, and I remember the former Member for Ferryland, he was known as the ambulance chaser because every day he came to the House with some issues pertaining to the health system. I am going to tell you he had his facts in place. Then I remember also the Member for St. John's West, she did a masterful job, I have to say. She brought in many issues with regards to health care.

It is amazing when you think back eight or nine years ago, many of the issues that they brought forward are issues that we are bringing forward today. That just goes to show you cannot take care of everything over night. That is not being critical to a minister or to a government, but this administration has been there five years and we can still come to this House with issues that were brought forward by the former members when they were in opposition; basically the same issues.

We talk about the oxygen issue. I have to say, there were two individuals in my district – unfortunately, both of them passed away since this issue came to our attention - one of them was an individual who was just hooked up to oxygen in their home and was unable to go out and get out around the community. The other individual was in hospital and needed some special medication that they had a big difficulty with and could not get it. Up until recently, that issue was still not resolved. Those are the types of issues we bring before government.

I am not saying that everything is bad out there. I know the minister mentioned the other day, we have to focus on the good, and I think we do focus on the good, but we also have to be realistic about the issues that many of our people are facing. Only recently, Mr. Speaker, I think it was a Private Member's Motion brought forward with regard to people who require homecare. We know many people require homecare.

MR. WISEMAN: (Inaudible).

MR. BUTLER: I have to say to the Minister of Health, I am going to stick to the health issues tonight, I think. I am not going to the woodlands tonight.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, we learned when we had that Private Member's Motion, that 64 per cent of those who require and receive homecare in our Province are sixty-five years of age and over. It is very important that they stay in their homes, Mr. Speaker, and that is why we bring it up and ask for more assistance, because they want to remain in the comfort and security of their own homes. If they have to move out, and many people do have to move out, once they move out, the cost to government, regardless of who is there, is approximately $4,200, Mr. Speaker, per month. Not only that, it disrupts the family atmosphere by someone having to move from one place to the other.

Mr. Speaker, only today – I think it was today – a release came out with regards to the nursing issue in the hospital here in St. John's, the Health Sciences, where they stated that from time to time, double digits of people admitted, double digits are waiting; no rooms for them to go to. We heard the other day at the breakfast, which someone else mentioned, which was a wonderful experience – for me it was, and all the members who were there. I am sure there was a lot of information that we received. At that time it was stated very clearly that there are rooms in the hospitals that are vacant, but there are not enough nurses to really look after patients if they were placed there, Mr. Speaker.

MR. WISEMAN: (Inaudible) it was a national issue.

MR. BUTLER: Oh yes, guaranteed, they said it was a national issue.

They also told us some staggering figures, I say to the minister.

MR. WISEMAN: (Inaudible).

MR. BUTLER: They did so, and they mentioned to us that, at the present time, there are 255 nursing seats in the Province. That is going to be increased this year through the Budget, we understand that. The graduation rate they gave us: in 2005 there was 78 per cent who graduated, for 199 nurses, and in 2007 there was only 68 per cent who graduated.

MR. WISEMAN: No, the graduation rate has always been that high (inaudible).

MR. BUTLER: I have to say to the minister, I just copied this off the fax sheet that she gave us, and the retention rate overall is 60-plus some odd per cent, Mr. Speaker.

The nurses in this Province are going through a very difficult time, and we saw today where the minister and the Premier, in their wisdom, settled a deal with the specialists in this Province, and that is wonderful, but we also have to look at those people, the nurses, and they are going through a very difficult time. As a matter of fact, at that breakfast there was one young lady there who is graduating this year, is my understanding, and she was asked by an hon. colleague opposite what her plans were. She said her plans were to stay in this Province.

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

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Minister of Health and Community Services, on a point of order.

MR. WISEMAN: I say, Mr. Speaker, I do not like doing this but there was a fax that just got mentioned a moment ago by the member opposite as he talked about the attrition rate of the graduating class at the Schools of Nursing.

To say that there were 200-and-some-odd nursing students who start at the beginning of the year and only 68 per cent graduate at the end of the program is somewhat of an insult to those who are in the program, because –

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

I ask the hon. minister to make his point of order and not to enter into debate.

MR. WISEMAN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and I will try to be very brief.

Clearly, I think the statistics shared the other day talked about a much higher graduation rate but I think the 68 per cent made reference to a retention rate.

I just want to clarify that point.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

There is no point of order.

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

MR. BUTLER: Mr. Speaker, I thank you for that wonderful ruling.

I say to the minister, I think what I said – that is what I copied it from – I think it says on that sheet you have there – I did not say there were 255 nurses; I said there were 255 nursing school seats in this Province. I think, Sir, when you put your glasses on you will see the facts as well as I did.

Mr. Speaker, I am prepared to sit down and let the minister get up on another point of order and clarify what I just said is correct.

Mr. Speaker, the other thing I want to mention, that was mentioned to us, is the number of nurses here in our Province who leave and eventually end up in one particular place that I am aware of, Alberta. It is shown that those people who are travelling there - in four years there were 222 nurses who, for various reasons, left our Province, and not because they wanted to; they left and went to another Province because of better benefits, I guess, better working conditions and what have you.

Mr. Speaker, they also did a survey. We were told that there was a survey done. What would you do if the working conditions do not improve in this Province? Forty-six per cent of them, Mr. Speaker, stated that they will either retire, resign, move to casual status, or move outside the Province. Mr. Speaker, those are startling figures.

There was another lady there, I believe she was from one of the schools, and she made a comment that this year she felt that it was going to be a crisis here in our Province when it comes to nurses in this Province this year.

I know the minister is smiling, but we do have a problem with nurses in this Province, Mr. Speaker. I am not saying that government is not going to try to do something towards retention and look for other people possibly to come to our Province, because we know all too often there are issues where other people from other provinces come here to try to get nurses to move to their area, or move to the United States of America. We know many of them go there. I think someone made the comment: Why would you go there if the working conditions are just as bad as what they are here?

I have to say, Mr. Speaker, they have better benefits there, they have better working conditions, and they are being looked after, and that is why. It is unfortunate. They want to stay here, Mr. Speaker.

Another issue that came up recently, very important, about our health care system - and this has nothing to do with whether there are negotiations on or not; I am not bringing it up for that reason, but there are other people known as the skilled trades. They play a very important part here in our Province, Mr. Speaker. They came here to the House of Assembly the other day, and I think their concerns have to be listened to. No doubt, the Minister of Finance said that he had met with them and that he was very optimistic that something could be done to help alleviate their situation. It is very crucial that we hang on to those people, along with our doctors and our nurses, because they play a very important role here in this Province, to see that the work is carried out in our health care system.

I notice my hon. colleague from Grand Bank made a comment when he was up a little while ago that they are totally aware of all of the facts, and that is what they base their decisions on. I know the hon. Member for Grand Bank, when he was in his former position, was totally aware of all of the facts when it came to a situation in my district with regard to the schools out there. On one of them, we had a meeting. The board met at Coley's Point Primary and we were made aware of what the situations would be throughout the Province, or for the district, for the Eastern board. One of the decisions made was that the Grade 4 students had to be taken from Coley's Point Primary and moved to Amalgamated Academy. I hope it is going to happen this year, but I know that year we were told that the students would not move, they could not move, those students could not move, unless the renovations had taken place at Amalgamated Academy.

I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, those students were moved last year. They spent the full year there. Hopefully this year in the Budget - I know there are all kinds of funds there - one of those days we will find out and hopefully the additional classrooms will be adjoined to Amalgamated Academy so those Grade 4 students who moved there last year, spent a full year there, using whatever rooms they could get them in, so that they could attend that school – and it had to be done. I know it had to be done, but we were promised that the work would be carried out at that time; because Coley's Point Primary is an old school, a forty-some-odd-year-old wooden structure, and when the consultant's report came down a few years ago it was recommended that that school would be replaced with a new school. Hopefully that will come, Mr. Speaker, but I do not think it is in the listings at the present time to deal with that issue.

Mr. Speaker, some other issues I want to bring up, because education was one of the departments that we dealt with through the Social Services Committee, I have to say that there were many topics that were brought up and the minister and her officials were there and gave answers to each and every question, also with the spending in the one-liners.

One issue from time to time that we ask questions on is in regard to the School for the Deaf. We do not just ask the minister those questions because we want to ask the questions about that particular facility. We ask them because we receive correspondence from parents and from students, and they do have a legitimate concern.

I understand - the minister explained very clearly last week - I think this year, to stay in the residence, there are only going to be five students there. A lot of the people think that, where mainstreaming is taking place – and we understand, the minister explained it - how a lot of the parents want their children to stay in their own communities. The letters that we receive, some of them think that they are not getting the proper education for the problems that they have by attending this particular school.

MS BURKE: (Inaudible) a year for each student to stay.

MR. BUTLER: I understand the minister, and she stated that very clearly, that it costs $125,000 for each student who stays.

MS BURKE: Per student.

MR. BUTLER: Per student.

Mr. Speaker, the difficulties that some of those individuals have, I have to say, that amount of money, it may seem like a lot of money, but to keep them in an environment where they can do what has to be done and where they can be trained properly, I think this should be reconsidered.

Mr. Speaker, we also know about the new teacher allocation plan, and we have received many phone calls from school throughout the Province saying they are going to lose units, other schools saying they are going to gain units. The minister has explained very clearly that this plan is not finalized, but at the end of day, hopefully in September, maybe in the fall session, we will see if it really pans out the way and works out the way they think it will. Hopefully it will. Hopefully it will, because what we are concerned about is the children who are receiving the education. Whatever can be done for them, in whatever part of the Province it is, we hope that is what it will come to, Mr. Speaker.

My time is running down, Mr. Speaker. I was only going to take a few minutes because some other people went overtime and I was going to compensate for them, but I want to thank you for the opportunity and I am sure I will get an opportunity again.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

The hon. the Member for the District of Kilbride.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DINN: Mr. Speaker, I was going to get up and say: Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, bless this bed that we lay on. I thought I had night prayers to say. Anyway, I am glad to be able to get up and have a few words.

I think I would call this my sophomore maiden speech. I think there were three times in this session of the House I have been prepared to speak on Supplementary Supply, Interim Supply and the Budget, but, because we have such a great group and large group of people on this side, and some of us over there, I never did get a chance.

The first thing I wanted to do, I guess I have most of you here now - and I am not going to speak too much to the people who are out in the audience because I am sure they are all asleep; there are very few listening at 11:14 p.m. – anyway, I want to congratulate all of my colleagues here in the House. I have to say one thing: I am very, very impressed with the quality of the people that we have here.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DINN: I have listened to maiden speeches for the last few months and, I tell you one thing, the talent here is extensive.

We also talked today about people wanting to be in Cabinet. Here is one person who has no aspirations about being in a Cabinet. Actually, I have two options that I am thinking about. I have two options that I am considering when my political career is over. I am either going to go farming in Labrador, where there is great agricultural potential, or I am going to play hockey with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

AN HON. MEMBER: Go to Labrador.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. DINN: Any of you Toronto fans, you can imagine what I think of your team.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. DINN: Personally, it is no good of me - I was going to thank people but there is no one listening –

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. DINN: - so it is a total waste of time. I will have to thank them at Bidgood's.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. DINN: One of the things I wanted to mention now, and I guess some of you guys run across this also, there is a lot of people who, because the House was not opened until after Christmas, thought that we were off.

I had a number of people come to me at different times after the election, saying – and during the winter - boy, you must have gotten some rabbits this year. You weren't doing anything; you were off all the time in the woods.

A lot of people should realize that, even though the House is not open, there is lots of constituency work to be done every day. Most of the days, we are here in the office doing things.

Mr. Speaker, my District of Kilbride is the same as all the other districts; we have our needs and our desires, we have our infrastructure problems, but during this next three-and-a-half years I have a few projects that I want to concentrate on: a high school for the west end, which is not a reality yet but is getting there; a community centre for Southlands – it was only this morning that I met with a group down at Loyola Hearn's office from Southlands, and we are hoping to get a community centre there; we need a better recreation centre for Kilbride; we need to upgrade the main road through Kilbride and Goulds. Anybody who goes through Goulds and Kilbride, if you have a CD player, don't expect it to work and play the whole song, because you will get all kinds of interruptions. Upgrading at Brookfield Road is another important thing.

Now, as a person who spent twelve-and-a-half years in municipal politics in St. John's, my district is –

AN HON. MEMBER: (Inaudible).

MR. DINN: God, what happened?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. DINN: Was I talking that loud?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. DINN: I thought I took a nap.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. DINN: Not everybody (inaudible)?

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Oh, oh!

MR. DINN: I will go on until the morning anyway. I call the roosters in Goulds all the time.

Anyway, just to mention, as a politician for a number of years in the St. John's area, I know my district very well, but I also know one reality in politics: you don't always get everything that you want done right away. It takes time to get everything done. It does not happen overnight. A good example of that is some of the stuff we have been talking about over the last few days about roads.

My district, this year – and I am going to hear a boo here, I bet you – my district got $3.5 million for roads.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: What?

MR. DINN: Now, it is for the busiest road in Newfoundland, I would say, Pitts Memorial Drive, and I share Pitts Memorial Drive with two of my colleagues from Mount Pearl, so that probably explains why. This is provincial money. You will notice I did not talk too much about that; I kept it quiet. Anyway, that is what is being spent.

Also, in the 2008 Budget, it approved an infrastructure program for St. John's for $34.5 million. Now, $34.5 million is the largest amount of money that St. John's has gotten in Multi-Year Capital Works Programs since the Multi-Year Capital Works Programs started here in this Province. As a matter of fact, I was on City Council for all of the previous ones. It is also the first time that St. John's, who I hear is going to borrow, under the old 50-50 ratio – this is a rumour, I have not verified it - and if they do it will be the first time that all the priority lists that were passed in to the minister will be approved and done. This is kind of significant, I think.

AN HON. MEMBER: What a minister!

MR. DINN: Yes, what a minister.

I just want to say a few words – look at the time go. Look. Someone pressed in on that and made it go quicker, I think.

I want to make two comments about Budgets in the past. Since I came here, this is my second time, my second election, I guess. I have been here a little over a year. Since the time I came here I have seen two Budgets. There is a trend that I see in both of these Budgets. We brought in initiatives that are not just for one select group of people but for everybody across the board, and I think that is very important.

We brought in free textbooks in 2007, not for just some but for all. The provincial income tax cuts that were made in the last two Budgets benefit all income earners, not just a few. As a matter of fact, last year I sat here in the House and listened to the Opposition – I have twenty-six seconds left - I saw these income tax cuts being criticized. Trivialized, I call it. The middle income earners who never, ever, got a break for years saved anywhere from $500 to $1,500 in taxes. I thought that was significant.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DINN: Good night, everybody. May God bless.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Hear, hear!

MR. DINN: Sleep well. Have a good nap.

MR. SPEAKER: Order, please!

Is the House ready for the question?

The motion is that the report of the Social Services Committee be concurred in.

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt this concurrence motion?

All those in favour, 'aye'.

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Aye.

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

SOME HON. MEMBERS: Nay.

MR. SPEAKER: The motion is carried.

The hon. the Government House Leader.

MS BURKE: Mr. Speaker, at this time we will adjourn debate for this evening and we certainly look forward to continuing in the House next week, on Monday at 1:30 p.m.

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'.

This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. of the clock tomorrow, being Monday.

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